Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Faith Works 1-06-07
Jeff Gill

Thinking About Africa

Thought about Africa lately?

Darfur you likely know a little about, though my word processing program puts a red squiggle under it.

Windows Vista won’t let the new Office do that, I suspect, thanks to George Clooney and others who have worked hard, to little result so far, but some, to get more international attention to Sudan’s brutality.

Somalia and Ethiopia press against the Horn of Africa, trying to make enough noise to distract the major players across the Persian Gulf. Even the millions who watched "Black Hawk Down" couldn’t all spot Mogadishu on a detailed map, though.

Yemen and the USS Cole, first salvo in our current conflict, technically in Arabia but trading partner with most of the east coast of Africa, where terrorist bombs blew up in two African capitals before 9-11 was a date, not a phone number. Which two? Look ‘em up.

And after you figure out where Kenya and Tanzania are, note that the Congo (the one that used to be Zaire) is just west of them both, where three million (Four? Five?) have died the last few years in what is jestingly called a civil war, as neighbors all place bets and markers and their own players on the board.

Twenty million orphans are going to be wandering this continent by 2010. 20. Million. This in a place where ragtag armies already seek out soldier children to shape in their own vicious image, and AIDS will give them potential raw material beyond imagining.

The Bush administration, often criticized for an apparent obsession with the fellow they just hung, turns out to have better peripheral vision than many of us thought. Turns out that since 2001, when the US gave $1.4 billion in development and emergency aid to Africa, we deployed $4 billion in 2006, and President Bush has committed nearly $9 billion by 2010. Something about those 20 million orphans struck a chord, pragmaticlly or altruistically.Or some combination of both.

Church groups across a wide spectrum – Rick and Kay Warren, Sojourners Community, the Islamic Societies of North America, Jewish relief organizations, the Unitarian-Universalist Association, to name a few – have all tried to turn our attention, as a nation with global influence, to problems in Africa. They start with genocide in Darfur, and continue through HIV’s spread leaving 10% of all the continent’s children with at least one dead parent. Africa is more than just problems, though that seems to be the chief export. The one billion souls who live there are Christian, Muslim, and still a swath of animist believers. Just a few months back, the bishops of the United Methodist Church met in Maputo, Mozambique, on November 2 for their fall 2006 meeting. Not just an American body, there are conferences in a number of places, but the most overseas are in Africa.

Their historic parent body, the World Anglican Communion, of which The Episcopal Church is part from this country, will have a meeting of their chief leaders, or "primates" as primary bishops of their national churches, in Tanzania next month. Episcopal leaders, or bishops, that preside over African dioceses are offering theological insights and arguments that run counter to American and European trends.

Given that 50 million of the 77 million Anglicans in the world live in Africa, those bishops carry some weight. How will they throw that weight around?Africa now sends missionaries to the West, not vice versa. And the visitors who return to the scene of former missionary endeavors find that the land of bushmen and squatter’s camps and dictator’s palaces is now also a land of skyscrapers, apartment buildings (with elevators), and subdivisions. There are townships filled with scrap-built housing, but there are also paved streets with mailboxes.

TV stations in Africa compete with the internet to deliver news, and iPods (well, more often off-brand knock offs from Indonesia, but still) dangle from kinte cloth tunics with specially tailored pockets for that and the cell phone.

Have you thought about Africa lately?You really should.On Monday, Jan. 22, the week after the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, Denison University will host a special guest in Swasey Chapel at 1:30 pm. Tsidii Le Loka-Lupindo is an international recording artist, Broadway performer, and powerful public speaker, whose heritage is from her father’s side out of Lesotho. Don’t know where Lesotho is? Go look it up, but check southern Africa for nations surrounded by other countries.

As big as Lesotho is (you say "Lee-sue-too," by the way), the size and terrain of West Virginia, it is a small country in the vastness of Africa. Like Wales in the British Isles, Lesotho has musical tradition and cultural reach far beyond her size.

Tsidii will sing and speak and tell stories out of "the real Africa," she says. Not the Africa of war, crisis, AIDS, and poverty, though that is part of the story, but the whole Africa, Africa entire.Come join Denison that afternoon if you can, and either way, think about Africa.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; reach him at