|| - 02.20.2007
|Africa. When I was in grade school, the textbooks called it “The Dark Continent.” In my naïve mind, I thought that was because everybody’s skin was dark over there. I learned over time that it was dark for so many other reasons. Poverty was one. Drought was another. Disease, lack of education, genocide, hostile and crooked governments, and wars.
I went to visit Ghana, in West Africa, about 15 years ago. My impressions were many, but I changed my personal mental textbook to read “Africa: The Colorful Continent.” Yes, all the problems still exist. Progress has been painfully and devastatingly slow for the continent. But I saw so much color over there. The diverse wildlife. The bright plants. The people were joyful and full of song and rhythm. Their clothes were either bland western hand-me-downs, or their own startlingly colorful and bright traditional fabrics. I wanted to see less western clothes and more of theirs! I wanted there to be hope for this beautiful place and people.
Well, fifteen years after my own visit to the continent, I find in my heart a continual fascination with the contrast between the Dark and the Colorful.
I want to know more. I don’t want just another tearful ‘gross-me-out’ talk. I don’t like people trying to guilt me or shame me into doing something charitable. But, ‘gross-me-out’ talks DO open some eyes. I guess I can take another ‘gross-me-out’ talk. But ‘gross-me-out’ talks are only a momentary taste of the chronic and every-waking-moment horror that some humans exist in for their entire lives. And yet, in the past, they haven’t done much more to me than, well, gross me out. I get a tear in my eye and feel so sorry for those people over there. But moments later, I’m back to my own reality. Comfort, a closing hymn and benediction, and the race to lunch because I’m ‘starving.’
So how do we really make a difference in the world? Can I really do something about Africa?
Not too long ago, probably a year, I saw a young lady named Jena get up in front of a church I was visiting, and she began talking about Africa. I had seen Bono make his appeals to governments around the world to wake up and make a difference by canceling debts and getting involved. But Bono is a superstar—(and governments are actually listening to him.) But something struck me about Jena, who is not a superstar, and the way she helped us in that room see it all so personally. The need for change. How we can help. I was moved. She very articulately spoke of the connection between clean water for the Africans and the HIV/Aids emergency. She was representing BLOOD:WATER MISSION, a new organization started by my friends in the band Jars of Clay.
Jena has since been back to Africa several times to visit locations where help is needed. I received her emails from Africa as she updated friends at home on the situations she encountered. There is too much to tell without it becoming a gross-me-out talk. But one little quote from one of her emails expresses a lot to me:
“I've come to dread Saturdays because it is the
day of too many funerals. This stuff is real.”
Don’t worry. I am not going to launch into an appeal for you to do something about Africa. But I recently toured with Jars of Clay, and listened nightly to Dan describe to the audiences what BLOOD:WATER MISSION is about. So I just want to highlight their idea.
They intend to raise the money to dig 1000 wells in 1000 villages in Africa. Why wells? Because clean water is literally beneath the feet of millions of Africans who cannot get to it, and must spend their entire days walking sometimes 10 or more miles just to carry back a pot of filthy water for cooking, bathing, and drinking. It’s actually undrinkable. In a nutshell, providing a well of clean water in a village keeps women at home so they can become part of their local economy. Clean water in a village means less people die from the waterborne diseases they drink down like poison every day. Clean water in the village means moms are home with their kids, raising them, teaching them, decreasing their likelihood of promiscuity and practices which spread HIV. So clean water leads to clean blood, too. It’s a simple idea. But it is something. Will it change Africa? It will change a small part of Africa for a handful of people. Maybe it will change 1000 small handfuls of Africans. Every small thing is part of a process.
I want to see the Dark become more Colorful. I know there is hope. I just wonder what I can do. It doesn’t have to be big. I remember Somebody saying, “If you give a cup of cold water in my name, you’ve done it for me.” He didn’t even say “a well” of cold water. Just a cup. I guess the little things matter to him. Maybe there is something I can do afterall.
There are all kinds of appeals out there to be involved and give and make a difference. There are tons of great causes to be part of and to be passionate about. Everybody’s passion is different. Nobody can require anyone else to share in their personal burden. Many of you are already involved in something that makes the world better. So no pressure. I’m just offering another way to be involved. Please take a look at the BLOOD:WATER MISSION website. Just so you understand a little better.