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Friday, March 09, 2012

My Take on KONY 2012

Mary Kay writes: 

It has been fascinating to me to watch KONY 2012 go viral this week.  This is the first time I personally have seen this phenomenon, partly because I am “a clueless old fogie” (as my high school senior would put it) and partly because we live in Ghana, where we are just beginning to explore all the uses of social media.  True confession:  I only figured out how to participate in Twitter this week, follow me at @ghanawaterwoman.  It has been doubly interesting as it follows on the heels of and illustrates two books that Charlie and I have been reading lately about the new world social order – ala Facebook and Google – What Would Google Do and Public Parts, both by Jeff Jarvis (@JeffJarvis and  Watching the video gave me more insight into how the web could be used to form a critical mass for change – ala Tahrir Square, or Yemen, or Libya, or I guess even Wall Street (though I still haven’t figured out the whole “occupy” movement).

The video does bring attention to one of the major problems in Africa over the last 50 years– that of child soldiers.  But Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Rebellion Army are hardly the only ones involved in this practice.  Child soldiers have been used in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and elsewhere, as well.  The movie does bring infamy to Joseph Kony, but since he has been under indictment by the International Criminal Court since 2005, I would argue that he already was infamous.  In the end, all KONY 2012 does is vilify Joseph Kony and call for his capture and prosecution.  Easier said than done since he is hiding out in dense and sparsely populated jungle and could be in one of three or four different countries in Central Africa, in a geographic area approximately half the size of the United States.  After all how long did it take the FBI to find Eric Rudolph, the Atlanta Olympics bomber, when he was hiding out in the mountains of North Carolina?  Or for the international community to find Osama bin Laden, for that matter?  And why pick only on Joseph Kony?  Three other leaders of the LRA are also under indictment for the same crimes against humanity.  A two others were indicted in 2005, but have since died, so the charges against them have been dropped.

My biggest beef with the movie and the KONY 2012 movement is that it doesn’t really address the underlying issues in Uganda that led to the formation of the LRA or provide any solutions.  Let’s say we arrest Kony, try him, execute him.  Or that he dies in a gun battle when they try to arrest him.  What happens next?  What will keep another from stepping into his shoes?

Many of the blogs and news sources I have read on the internet, from people living and working in Uganda, and more importantly, from Ugandans themselves, don’t see Kony as their biggest problem anymore.  Yes, he is evil, and did atrocious things.  But he is not nearly as active in that part of Africa as he was 10 or even 5 years ago.  His power has diminished greatly.  But the conditions that led to his rise to power are still in Uganda and throughout Africa.  Corruption.  Oppressive governments.  Grinding poverty.  Malaria and HIV/AIDS.    Lack of access to health care, or potable water, or sanitation, or education.  Kony and the LRA may have abducted as many as 70,000 children over the course of his rebellion, and certainly they killed more than that.  But approximately 4,500 children die every day from preventable waterborne diseases, most of them in Africa.  And 1,400 children die every day in sub-Saharan Africa from malaria.    EVERY DAY!  That would equate to over 50,000,000 children from these two causes alone, over the 25 years that Kony has terrorized children.  And this does not include the children who are ill but recover.

Of course, there are plenty of organizations that are mobilizing around the issues of malaria, waterborne disease, education, or other issues as well.  You can google any of these topics and find heart-breaking videos of the impacts of disease and poverty on God’s children in Africa (or Asia or the United States for that matter).  I can point you to a lot – and I can show you my own photographs and videos. 

But the myriad issues in Africa, or specifically in Uganda, have been going on for 25, 50 or even 100 years or more.  They are too complex to distill into a video like KONY 2012.  They won’t be solved overnight, or in 2012, or with the arrest or death of one person.   The United States can’t just “come to the rescue” like some governmental version of Superman.  And these problems certainly won’t be solved without the input and effort of Ugandans and other Africans.  Africans should be engaging in conversations, whether face-to-face or on Facebook, Twitter and the like, with other Africans about what they see as their greatest problems, most significant needs and their proposed solutions.  Then we in the west can follow along, learn, and in turn ask how we can best support and encourage them to achieve their dreams and meet their own needs. 

THAT approach, my friends, is community development.  That is development with dignity.  That moves past colonialism, or neo-colonialism, or the Western “we’re here to fix you (and remold you into our image)” mentality.  That would recognize and celebrate the image of our creator God in Africans.  And that is what I pray that I am learning to do, with sensitivity and love.

I have cried until the tears no longer come; my heart is broken. My spirit is poured out in agony as I see the desperate plight of my people. Little children and tiny babies are fainting and dying in the streets.  (Lamentations 2:11, NLT)

Friday, March 02, 2012

Water Is Life

Water is Life. We all have been thirsty, we all understand. Whether in the hot summers of Georgia, the hotter and more humid equatorial tropics of Houston or southern Ghana, or on the even hotter, dusty semi-arid savannahs of northern Ghana, “water is life” is not just a saying – it is reality. Here in Ghana, water is deeply ingrained in the local culture. Any time you visit anyone anywhere - city or village, office or home - Ghanaian culture and hospitality demands that you are offered water to drink. That is always the first order of business – before even introductions or stating your mission. If you are not offered water, by oversight or because you are visiting clueless expats, it would not at all be rude to ask for water. Once you have traveled around Ghana at all, even here in Accra, it is easy to understand why. This is a hot, dusty place, and you get thirsty so quickly. Dehydration easily turns into a headache or worse here. 

When we dedicated the borehole at Koduakrom last Friday, I had the opportunity to share a few thoughts with the assembled villagers. I reminded them of the role water plays in their culture of hospitality. You could see the heads nod in agreement. Then I told them the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well from John 4. While the Samaritan woman gave Jesus water to drink from the well, He gave her something much more valuable – Living Water! And despite the sin in her life, her religious traditions, her gender and her culture – all barriers that could have blocked her from receiving this gift from Jesus – she accepted it. 

The people of Koduakrom have been blessed with the gift of safe drinking water. The village will have plenty of potable water throughout the year. Their children will be less likely to get waterborne diseases. They will be able to share this water with visitors and weary travelers who come to their village. All of these are great, life changing benefits to the village. But how much more life changing will it be if they share the Living Water that Jesus offers with each cup of drinking water! 

In the US, we are blessed with abundant access to safe drinking water. And we are blessed with abundant access to Living Water as well through our churches, media, books, seminars, even the internet. But do we link the two together as Jesus did? Do we introduce Jesus when we offer a glass of water to a visitor who may not know Him? 

"Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:10-14, NIV)