Why Not Africa?

When I was about to graduate from St. Olaf College in 2002 (that sounds like so long ago), all I wanted to do was move to Uganda and work for FINCA, helping them with their micro-loan program. Instead, my friend Laura got the job. I was already over being disappointed though as I knew in my heart before the rejection letter came that I wasn't going to get the job. After living and studying in Tanzania, I realized how valuable education truly is and I wanted nothing more than to help eradicate poverty and preventable diseases in less developing countries through improved education. But that wasn't the only thing searing my heart. One of the other things I realized soon after I had landed on Africa's East coast, was that people there who believed in God and Jesus as their Lord and Savior, actually believed in God. They were unlike most Christians I knew at home in the U.S. These Christians knew what spiritual warfare was having had spells cast on them by witch doctors. They knew what it meant to trust God for their daily bread, as most were subsistence farmers living only on what they and their neighbors grew-they truly were dependent upon God for rain and sun (I think I'm still dependent upon God for sun, not rain so much). They knew the value of weekly coming together to learn more about God, to worship God, to offer the Church their first fruits (literally) and to encourage one another in their faith so much so that they would easily walk for an hour to get to church and then spend 3-4 hours together, even if their gathering place was simply a tree (and not an actual enclosed building with seats).

20130605-215259.jpg They knew what it was to pray for the sick, care for those on the streets and take in the orphans (even, and perhaps especially, in a country where children's' parents were daily being taken by AIDS...at that time about 12.5 million AIDS orphans lived in Sub Saharan Africa alone). Churches there were growing because when the Christians would pray for the sick, they would get well, and when they prayed for the dead, they would be raised back to life, and when they prayed for the blind, the blind would see. They knew what it was to have joy and peace that surpasses all understanding in all of their circumstances. They were the ones starting clinics and hospitals and schools. When people became Christians, their communities began to look a lot like heaven...

So when I didn't get that job with FINCA, I knew why. Because even though I loved my East African home and wanted nothing more than to return and live in a hut with little to no belongings, that I might have a chance to make a difference in a less developing country, my heart was broken for something else. I longed for the people I went to church with at home in Minnesota (or who by then had left the church) to experience the kind of Church and Life-giving, community-transforming, heaven-bringing Christianity that I got a taste of living in East Africa with some of what I would call the most well off people on the planet.

I would be lying if I said that I was excited about what my calling was (I distinctly remember sitting at the dinner table with my parents telling them what I knew I was called to, and crying; they were not happy tears...some people don't want to be sent to Africa, I didn't want to be sent to America!), and I would spend several years running from it. But I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that my heart breaks no less today than it did 13 years ago for people in my homeland to experience the kind of Church that i genuinely believe God longs for everyone to be a part of. Call me an idealist or crazy, but I think that that the Church really is still supposed to be the actual Body of Christ establishing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth today, and that Body is to be only a taste of what is yet to come...

What if that kind of Church actually existed in Minnesota and people here could get the same taste for heaven in their mouth like I did halfway around the world?

Tanzania, a wealthy poor country


The first time I went to Tanzania (East Africa) was in 2000 to spend a semester studying at the University of Dar es Salaam.  The first thing that I realized when I got there was that my "non-expectations" for my time there were entirely wrong (I thought I was going there without expectations, but when I realized Tanzania was nothing like what I expected it to be, I also realized I had expectations of what I thought I would find). :) In the midst of abject poverty (at the time, Tanzania was typically one of the top 10 poorest countries in the world), I discovered some of the happiest people I'd ever met, delicious food, generosity that humbles a Westerner, and a hunger for education like I had never known.  See, in a country of more than 30 million people, only about 0.03% of the population has more than a high school education.  Yes, that says 0.03%.  It was during my first visit to Tanzania that I realized why it is that education is so important.

While I studied there, I took an economics class.  One day, outside of class, I ran into a classmate of mine who wanted to talk about the class content with me.  While doing so, I realized he was simply regurgitating exactly what the professor had taught in our lecture.  I found this exceptionally odd coming from a culture that prides itself in thinking creatively and outside the box (let's face it, there isn't a whole lot of creative thinking as far as econ is concerned, but there's still room for it).  As I began to pay attention, I started to put my finger on why it was that Tanzania continued to remain as underdeveloped as it had (malaria, dysentery, AIDS and child-birth were the top causes of death...all preventable issues in this day and age).  Tanzanians are taught in Swahili through 6th grade, and take an English class during Primary School.  When it comes time to go to Secondary School, all classes are taught in English (mostly because it's a lot cheaper to get education materials written in English than in Swahili).  To get by the language barriers, students will write their notes in English (verbatim what the teacher has taught them), translate them into Swahili so they can study the notes, and then when it comes to testing time, will write verbatim the answers in English as the material was taught in class.  This same process is used at the University level as well.  This whole translating back and forth between the two languages forces the students to rely on rote memorization rather than comprehension.  And we wonder why there aren't new developments in education, health care and anything beyond subsistence farming in the country.

There are a couple of major factors contributing factor to there being so few people getting more than a high school education.  1) In the rural areas, most parents have at most a 3rd grade education.  Since they cannot imagine their children being anything more than farmers, they take their children out of school after they complete 3rd grade.  2) Children are required to wear school uniforms and shoes to school.  These costs are often unaffordable to most families.  And while primary school may only require the purchases of a uniform and shoes, students must pay to go to Secondary School.  So, simply put, the majority of the population cannot afford to go to school, so they don't.

Tanzania truly is an incredibly wealthy country, as it is filled with the greatest resource on this planet:  people!  Human capital is our primary resource in this world.  And Tanzania has a lot of it.  Each of us is born with potential and purpose and destiny.  But when it comes to this being actualized, we are not equal.  Most of Tanzania's population will not be able to live out their fullest potential simply because they do not have access to education, adequate health care, and clean drinking water.  Because of this, Tanzania will remain one of the poorest countries.  I look forward to a day when this reality changes, for the people of that country have the same value, dignity and worth as those of us who live in countries that no longer struggle with those challenges.