Seeing the need in Africa is overwhelming to western eyes, and well, to any eyes. Seeing it firsthand, you get a vast feeling of helplessness - that it all seems very unrepairable. The continent, it seems, is in full despair. But can we say that?
We see the townships, the shack communities, we see the flooded homes, soggy mattresses, if any mattresses. We see the need for shelter, food, and clean water.
Then we look to the children and we see their wide smiles. How is it that these kids can smile and laugh without food in their bellies? Without parents at home, or without parents at all. And without a proper home (in western minds at least).
How is it that after this, after a feeding scheme, the kids could run and play with us, after being reminded that their stomachs are hungry - most still hungry? The joy they contain is overwhelming, bubbling over to change and raise the expressions of our faces. It's not hard to decipher which is more puzzling, the fact that there are masses of starving children or the fact that the masses of starving children are so joyous.
I chatted with a young man named Thando, a new found friend of mine, as we walked through his home, a township of shack homes called Kuyamundi. He told me he could not live any other way, or in any other place. This is his home. He told me I was welcome to live with him in his shack for a year. An invite I didn't take lightly. He said that I would see why he said what he said, that I would learn a few things (and indeed I would). But, I think I already see. Of course, on a low understandable level, but this is how I think Thando feels - and how I think I am coming to feel more and more:
Thando and I are both Christians. He and I both know that the United States is filled with more than its share of the rich, the self-absorbed, and the distracted. An American will say, " God has blessed me with these TVs, toys, and clothes, this beautiful house and expensive car." I think both Thando and I speculate that maybe these things are not blessings. That statement sounds harsh; but maybe these "blessings" are built as distractions. Distractions that skewer our view of God and the world. The toys can fog our ideas of what is important in life. The cars can drive our understanding of God, that He is good because he has given us nice cars. This of course is not the case for everyone, but it is evidently the fact in many American homes.
But here, to Thando, that is not the case. The possessions are nonexistent. There are less distractions, exempt the reality of very visible poverty. And that may not be a distraction so much as a challenge. Thando is a member of a leadership group (under a mission organization called Kuyasa) called Hats and Glasses. The point is to find and train the leaders of 'tomorrow'. Thando doesn't want to leave his community because he wants to grow it and change it for the better - not in a possessional way but in a spiritual way.
It is a strange reality that a young man such as Thando would not choose to leave a simple shack for what would be a nicer home in our minds. Nonetheless, it is a reality, and it is a hopeful one. He knows that there is more out there than a fancy home, an expensive car, and fashionable shoes. He knows that those items come and they go. He knows more than the average young person, let alone the average young person in the States.
And so I wonder, here in Africa, were does the need end and the blessing begin?
South Africa is a beautiful country filled with the fingerprints of God.
- Jesse Poole