Friday, August 10, 2007

Arrival at the Orphanage

This is part of a continuing series of reflections by Sam McDonald, Episcopal youth minister from the Diocese of Ohio, on his 6-week trip to Tanzania and South Africa.

"Pilgrimage is belief in action." Phil Cousineau The Art of Pilgramage

This book I am reading is challenging in me all sorts of ways in how to frame and see this time in Africa. Cousineau writes, “Imagine your pilgrimage as a metamorphis. Through simple acts of intention and attention, you can transform even a sleepwalking trip into a soulful journey. The first step is to slow down. The next one is to treat everything that comes your way as part of the sacred time that envelops your pilgrimage.”

As a Youth Minister, I am constantly enveloped in searching to make the sacred come to life for others. I am finding myself searching for the sacred here in Africa. Eliade writes, “The sacred is always the revelation of the real. An encounter with that which saves us by giving us meaning to our existence.”

I have preached a sermon that life is NOT the pursuit of happiness, but the pursuit of meaning. I don’t think I have ever completely unpacked that idea, but perhaps it flows back into the “revelation of the real”, as a gift of the sacred experience, whatever form that may take and integrating that revelation more intentionally into your life. Here in Africa, for me, it is the people, in the midst of extreme poverty, sharing themselves with us.

We left from Arusha, stopping to get supplies, and running a few errands, which included as short stop to see Mwasiti. Mwasiti is the oldest of the children from the orphanage, and is the young woman a group of teenagers from St. Paul’s helped give scholarship money so she could attend college and law school Mwasiti is currently working at an internship at a law office. The drive to her office was some of our first close up experiences of the level of poverty of which we are totally sheltered from in the United States. We drive through a collection of brick shacks and Meredith explains that this is considered a nicer neighborhood since the houses are made from brick, and not mud or dung. (We experience those villages later in the day out in the country on our way to the orphanage.) Mwasiti comes to greet us, and she is everything and more that Meredith describes. She is gentle, smart, warm, articulate, and has a smile that makes you immediately feel welcome.

I will soon come to know that this welcoming nature, Karibu!, defines much of the spirit of hospitality of the people in Tanzania.

Read the entire post here.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Stop Trying To "Save" Africa

This article from the Washington Post should be required reading for everyone working with the MDGs and global mission. It gets to the heart of the unique gifts the Church has to bring to the Millennium Development Goals. As Christians, we see people not as economic entities or as things broken that need to be fixed. We see each person as a uniquely gifted creation of the divine, bearing the image of God. For us as Christians, the work of the MDGs is about all of us bringing our gifts to the table and seeing where God is calling us to use those gifts together for the building up of the whole Body of Christ and the healing of the whole world. For us as American Christians, the most important virtue we need to bring to the table is not material generosity (though that is important, too), but humility.

Please circulate this widely. If your congregation is working on the MDGs ... or planning a mission trip or pilgrimage .. or in any other way engaging in global relationship-building (and I hope you are!), find time to read this together, discuss and pray.

The sin Iweala names is sin borne out of our best intention ... but it is sin nonetheless. And addressing it is not only important for Africa (and other places) but for our own salvation and growth together as Christ's body.


By Uzodinma Iweala
Sunday, July 15, 2007

Last fall, shortly after I returned from Nigeria, I was accosted by a perky blond college student whose blue eyes seemed to match the "African" beads around her wrists.

"Save Darfur!" she shouted from behind a table covered with pamphlets urging students to TAKE ACTION NOW! STOP GENOCIDE IN DARFUR!

My aversion to college kids jumping onto fashionable social causes nearly caused me to walk on, but her next shout stopped me.

"Don't you want to help us save Africa?" she yelled.

It seems that these days, wracked by guilt at the humanitarian crisis it has created in the Middle East, the West has turned to Africa for redemption. Idealistic college students, celebrities such as Bob Geldof and politicians such as Tony Blair have all made bringing
light to the dark continent their mission. They fly in for internships and fact-finding missions or to pick out children to adopt in much the same way my friends and I in New York take the
subway to the pound to adopt stray dogs.

This is the West's new image of itself: a sexy, politically active generation whose preferred means of spreading the word are magazine spreads with celebrities pictured in the foreground, forlorn Africans in the back. Never mind that the stars sent to bring succor to the natives often are, willingly, as emaciated as those they want to help.

Perhaps most interesting is the language used to describe the Africa being saved. For example, the Keep a Child Alive/" I am African" ad campaign features portraits of primarily white, Western celebrities with painted "tribal markings" on their faces above "I AM AFRICAN" in bold letters. Below, smaller print says, "help us stop the dying."

Such campaigns, however well intentioned, promote the stereotype of Africa as a black hole of disease and death. News reports constantly focus on the continent's corrupt leaders, warlords, "tribal" conflicts, child laborers, and women disfigured by abuse and genital mutilation. These descriptions run under headlines like "Can Bono Save Africa?" or "Will Brangelina Save Africa?" The relationship between the West and Africa is no longer based on openly racist beliefs, but such articles are reminiscent of reports from the heyday of European colonialism, when missionaries were sent to Africa to introduce us to education, Jesus Christ and "civilization."

There is no African, myself included, who does not appreciate the help of the wider world, but we do question whether aid is genuine or given in the spirit of affirming one's cultural superiority. My mood is dampened every time I attend a benefit whose host runs through a litany of African disasters before presenting a (usually) wealthy, white person, who often proceeds to list the things he or she has done for the poor, starving Africans. Every time a well-meaning college student speaks of villagers dancing because they were so grateful for her help, I cringe.

Read the entire article here

Upon Arriving In Africa

Sam McDonald, youth minister at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights, OH, has embarked on a six week trip to Tanzania and South Africa. He will be periodically posting updates letting us "tag along" with his experiences and thoughts. Keep checking back!

There has been a lot of anticipation on my part for this trip to Africa. I am so grateful to Alan Gates, our rector, and to the vestry and parish, for asking me if I would be interested in making this trip with Meredith Bowen to Tanzania, and then to meet up with Rich and Mary Nodar in South Africa. So many people at St. Paul’s have been asking me in the months leading up to this week if I was excited, and wanting to know about the trip. But frankly, I have been so busy planning and also leading 6 weeks and 100 people on mission trips to Harlan County, KY, I wasn’t as present to the leading up to this trip to Africa as I might have otherwise been.

However, I have been giving several unexpected gifts in preparing for this Summer. I keep using this word “trip” in describing my time in Harlan, and now Africa. I am going to stop doing that. Last Spring, we brought Rob Burlington to speak with those involved in Youth Ministry at St. Paul’s. Rob is the Youth Minister at All Saint’s, Atlanta and I admire his work and ministry there. Rob taught us about the experience of pilgrimage, and explored with us what it means for people of faith. In our time with him, I realized that in fact, our “trips” to Harlan, KY are as much a spiritual pilgrimage for us who go, as much as it is a mission trip to build homes for the needy and to come to know and love the people of Appalachia. Let there be now doubt, we do go to serve others as an imperative of our faith, but know I am seeing us as pilgrams, who go to offer ourselves AND to be open to receive what is offered to us from the people and the mountains, by the unearned grace of God.

That insight, and Rob’s encouragement, led me to frame this time in Africa as a pilgrimage for me as well. He introduced us to a book, The Art of Pilgramage by Phil Cousineau. It really is a wonderful book, and I would encourage everyone to read it regardless of how much a pilgram you may think you may or may not be. Even a walk around the block in the morning can be a pilgrimage for you! Phil Couseneau writes that all is required to be a pilgrim is a longing ( a “Holy Longing” is what he says Goethe called it) to be caught up in a deeper quest for meaning.

Cousineau writes that a pilgrim pays attention to the details of the ordinary, because beauty is a by-product of ordinary things. He writes, “We can only discover the real thing though deep observation, by the slow accretion of details.”

So, on my pilgrimage to meet my longing for deeper meaning, one of my Spiritual Disciplines will be to pay attention, be present, to the people, the sounds, the details of ordinary life and maybe I will get the slightest glimpse of the real. Pilgrims are often giving gifts for their journey, and many of those who went to Harlan this Summer filled my bag (and my heart) with gifts for my pilgrimage. One was a book of quotes and inspirations from Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She wrote an inscription on the inside, rightly reminding me to “be present to as much as possible in Africa”, holding me accountable to the same expectations I have for those who go to Harlan.

So, what have I noticed already that has touched my soul?

-On the LONG plane ride from Detroit to Amsterdam, I had the honor of sitting next to a young Bulgarian violinist. She came to the U.S. at age 13, but goes back every year to see family. She was reading from a small book the whole time, I asked her what it was. She explained that it was her Prayer Book, written in Slavic, and that she was doing her best at reading the Psalms. She wasn’t proficient enough to read all the words, but she said, “I really am just reading it because I am a nervous flyer, and somehow, this book always comforts me.”

-The Amsterdam Airport provided some fun relief in the middle of our trip. The CafĂ©’ and Shops are fun. Jeanie and I snuck off to “see the little museum”, which we absolutely did, . . . .right after we popped into the Casino located in the airport and blew $10 in Euros on the slot machine. Jeanie really is the spark plug of vitality for us all. I needed to do some laughing after the long flight. (by the way, we really did make it to the museum, and it is really neat, and small. It had a wonderful exhibit of Dutch Realism, which was striking! I think CMA ought to do something like it at our airport)

-Another long flight from Amsterdam to Mt. Kilimanjaro Airport. Flying over the Sahara, and seeing an oasis here and there is amazing. I rode next to a wonderful Welshman who consults with NGO’s who develop water and sanitation projects in Tanzania. I have him my St. Paul’s Card, and hope to hear from him.

-Upon arriving at Mt. Kilimanjaro Airport, I knew things we going to shift gears. It is a small reagional kind of looking airport even though it serves international flights. Upon setting foot in the airport at 9pm local time, the electricity went out! That certainly woke me up, and encouraged me to pay attention! The lights came on again after a few minutes, and proceeded to go out again about 3 more times. Very exhilarating experience.

-Electricity is certainly at a premium and hard to come by. Meredith arranged for a driver to pick us up he is wonderful! The parking lot of the airport Is filled in darkness, no lights. There is a long line of drivers all with cards with the names off all the people arriving. I took a mental picture of it.

-Our driver loads all the luggage on top of the Land Rover type vehicle. He explains he need to go buy some rope in the airport to tie down our stuff. He returns with an old truck tire inner tube. Luckily, Meredith had a pair of scissors, and Murato and I began to cut strips of rubber to serve as tie-downs.

-We arrive at the Bella Luna around 11pm. We grab a quick snack of freshly baked flat bread, catch our breath at the huge thatch roofed/open air dining room. Head to our lovely small rooms and quickly fall asleep insides the mosquito nets draped over the four post bed.

-4:30am, we are all awakened by a precocious rooster outside our rooms. This is soon followed by the beginning a repeated calls from the Mosque for morning prayer. First he calls out, then chants, then calls again. Its mystical, mysterious, I know I MUST pay attention to it, because it is stirring something inside me. I am compelled to wake up, and sit and listen. When the cycle ends, I open up my Prayer Book and Bible, and realize I should be reading the daily office and lection during my pilgrimage. I am using Forward Movements Day by Day to serve as a reflection on each days readings. I feel like I have truly arrived in Africa.