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{Political unrest,
Rebel Militias,
Stomachs swollen with emptiness,
Water polluted with disease,
HIV,
Gender violence…

…And we all want to know, who broke Africa?}

A clip from Micah Bourne’s spoken word, “Who Broke Africa?”

We commonly hear or read about Africa painted in this light.

Movies, books, CNN, BBC– Most often, media portrays Africa by her weaknesses rather than her strengths.

We hear of how Africa is unable, incapable — in need of us and our saving, our interventions, our rescue.

And I won’t pretend the weaknesses aren’t there. I won’t gloss over the injustices suffered–but I will challenge our need to constantly portray this continent, in its entirety, as one that can have its problems solved by the great white hope and the great white hope alone.

~

You see, for a while now, I’ve been uncomfortable with people telling me I’m amazing or that what I do is amazing.

Am I part of an organization that does cool stuff? Is what God has done in and through Abide Family Center so far pretty amazing? YES. Absolutely.

And I know these compliments are coming from a good place, I do. But the honest to God truth is that I am a messy, broken, young woman in her mid-twenties, who doesn’t like to be bothered by caregivers in our emergency housing on her days off or after hours. I’m a selfish, often self-seeking person trying to sustain my faith and figure out how God could love me unconditionally and pour out His grace so freely.

So I promise you, I am not amazing and I get uncomfortable that living and working in Africa, heck, visiting Africa for two weeks, is enough to have people singing my highest praises and electing me a saint.

~

In working through the book When Helping Hurts with our interns and reading it for probably the third time in the last few years, I think I finally realized why I get so uncomfortable when people treat me like a super hero for doing what I love in a place that I’ve chosen to live.

We’ve focused so much on what Africa lacks, that our presence, in and of itself, on this continent, is praiseworthy.

If Africa is really as badly off as it has been portrayed, I must be amazing for choosing to live here.

But here’s the thing, it’s really not.

In the book, the author talks about different kinds of poverty- Spiritual poverty, poverty of being (how we view and understand ourselves), poverty of community, poverty of stewardship (how we use the resources that have been entrusted to us in the world) and yes, material poverty.

I am poor, just not materially poor, by the world’s standards.

What I do not suffer from in material poverty, I assure you I make up for in some of the other areas.

And I think that’s what makes it so hard for me to be told I’m amazing or to just sit back and accept the praises I receive as well intentioned.

The idea I want to shatter? That I am this super selfless American who gave up her life at home to serve the poor in Africa.

Are the clients we serve materially poor? Yes.

But, almost always, they are wealthier than I– Spiritually, in their being, in community, in stewardship.

So when you start praising me and I redirect you to the stories of our families who have overcome serious adversity, it’s not because I’m trying to be humble, but because I honestly believe that’s where your focus needs to be.

~

I want to be a part of telling a new story of Africa– A story where we focus on her strengths, where we focus on her areas of wealth, not her areas of poverty.

Because I believe once we start telling this story, we will respond to the poverty much differently.

This will probably make it harder for people to be in awe of those of us who come and live here. It should help to challenge the hero complex and our incessant entitlement to do whatever we want in this part of the world {I wrote on this here }.

~

When you learn of the strong African leaders and qualified professionals who are working to address the very problems we claim to be the only ones caring about, it will probably be harder for you to look the other way when young folks with high school diplomas start playing doctor and performing medical procedures.

When you hear of passionate pastors and churches who desire to meet the needs of orphaned and vulnerable children, it will be a lot harder to just swoop in and start flooding the country with international adoption programs without first considering the African church as a force to meet this need {look into what Saddleback Church is doing to partner with the Rwandan church in this}.

When you understand vulnerable families as capable and when you begin to focus on their strengths, you will shift your intervention and response to one that breeds independence, rather than dependence.

Because, believing that someone can and will succeed plays a huge role in whether they do or not.

And in order for me to believe that the folks we serve will succeed, I need to focus on their wealth, not their poverty.

This is why I ask you to re-direct your attention away from me and away from those of us you probably encourage too much– Oh yes, we need encouragement, but we also need our egos deflated a bit. We are young, we have a lot to learn and we are not the solution to every problem. We need wisdom, guidance and we need accountability.

So please, don’t just decide I’m amazing because I live in this part of the world– challenge your views and assumptions about Africa and understand that, most often, the real heroes you’re bypassing while praising me– they are incredible. They have a great deal of wealth and if you listen long enough, it will be harder to pity and much more likely for you to envy them.

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