Africa has a branding problem.
If you close your eyes and think of Africa, what do you see?
Are you picturing dynamic leaders bustling about in business suits? Or are you picturing the “wretched of the earth”— men loafing, distended bellies and flies in the eyes?
Andrew Rugasira, founder of Uganda’s Good African Coffee, recently spoke at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit and asserted that many us of harbor a stereotypical “basket case” image of Africa, that it’s all chaos and corruption and need.
Well, you might say, Africa seems in fact to be a basket case. There are men loafing and distended bellies and flies in the eyes. But that is not all there is to Africa.
There are also God-given rich resources and great potential. This question of our perception of not only Africa, but all of the developing world, is central to how we respond to the needs we see.
When we see the flies, we give handouts — which can promote the self-perpetuating cycle of dependence on the one hand and condescension on the other.
When we see potential, we focus on development.
According to Good African Coffee’s Web site, which promotes trade with the developing world rather than aid,
“Unless there is a radical shift in the way the world sees Africa, there is no foreseeable hope of ever reaching the Millennium Development Goals of universal primary education, poverty reduction and the elimination of avoidable infant deaths that were set for 2015.”
With this “basket case” view of the developing world, do we really believe it will develop … or do we somewhere in the back of our minds blithely check off giving as our “do good” opportunity, without reference to the end results? Checking our perceptions will revolutionize our response.
But besides this pragmatic reasoning for changing our stereotypical view of “the bottom billion,” we have a much deeper reason.
We are the Body of Christ.
Compassion partners with churches in the developing world — they aren’t our subjects or our charity cases, they are our partners. But beyond partnership, they are our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
In the first century, Paul advocated between the Macedonian, Corinthian and Jerusalem churches (check out 2 Corinthians 8-9).
The Corinthian church struggled with moral issues, being from a very worldly city, but they also were wealthy and wise and earnest. The Macedonian churches were poor, but full of joy and generosity.
How would Paul have wanted the various churches to view one another?
That the Corinthians would look down their wise noses at the poor and helpless church in Jerusalem? (“Here come those needy Jerusalemites, needing our money again.”)
Or that the Macedonians would judge those carnal Corinthians? (“Those Corinthians may have money, but they don’t have the Spirit like we do.”)
By no means! They were to view and treat one another not through the filter of their weakness or need, but as dear and beloved brothers and sisters in the faith.
Jordan Linscombe, Compassion’s Church Engagement Manager, says
“Partnership is important because we better understand others in Christ’s Body, ourselves and the One whose love brings us together.”
As we partner with our brothers and sisters in other countries, we have the opportunity to operate as the Body of Christ — each of us playing a different role, each learning from and being edified by the other as we draw closer to Christ Himself.
This isn’t our chance to be the heroes and saviors. This is our chance to be a family.