Why American Compassion Won’t Save the World

Sending care packages abroad has marginal impact, because people have to eat 365 days a year

“We,” Westerners with a rescue mentality, will never solve “their” problems. As I write this, the country is being rocked with a national scandal the newspapers are calling “Cashgate.” High public officials and politicians have siphoned into the national treasury and the country is broke. The country’s health care system, always threadbare at best, has collapsed. Donors – 40% of the government budget – have suspended their donations. 

 

I just read where a mid – sized church in the central United States had a one-day event in which church members put on plastic gloves and caps and spent all day packing food for hungry children overseas. One problem I have with this is the statistics I read. Out of 7.1 billion people in the world, 870 million, or about one out of eight, suffers from chronic hunger. In Africa, the stats are even grimmer: nearly one out of four. Africa in recent years was making modest progress, but since 2007 the number of hungry in Africa has increased about 2 percent per year. Sending care packages abroad has marginal impact, because people have to eat 365 days a year, and no church anywhere has the resources to meet the need (870 million X 3 meals a day = 2,610,000,000 meals – every day). Allow me to tell about personal experiences while here in Africa.

The Bible college where I teach had a dedication service for the new chapel one Sunday afternoon. The who’s who of local society attended, including the lord mayor of the city with his British-style chain around his shoulders. It was announced that there was a reception in the dining hall following the service. When the guests arrived in the dining hall and saw snack food lying on the tables, there proceeded a frantic free-for-all in which whole plates were whisked into purses and jacket pockets, accompanied by pushing and shoving. We have since changed the way receptions in the dining hall are conducted.

One day my late wife was pulled away from a ladies’ Bible study because she had a nursing background and a woman had just had a set of quadruplets. She visited the woman in the (for lack of a better term) hospital, and bonded with her. She decided to get involved in this woman’s life. It seems she was the second wife (polygamy is legal and common in Malawi) of a human derelict of a husband. So she had me go with her to buy up a load of food and carry it to the woman’s hut out in a nearby village. I have a video of us walking through the rain and then sitting in the hut, presenting the woman and her brood with the food. Two or three days later, the husband showed up at our house. He said they needed more food. What happened to the load from the other day, we asked. Oh, he said, the rest of the village came by and collected their share. We had to tell him that we never committed to feeding a whole village. Two of the babies died.

“We,” Westerners with a rescue mentality, will never solve “their” problems. As I write this, the country is being rocked with a national scandal the newspapers are calling “Cashgate.” High public officials and politicians have siphoned into the national treasury and the country is broke. The country’s health care system, always threadbare at best, has collapsed. Donors – 40% of the government budget – have suspended their donations.

The basic problem is that all too often people in this region of the world go through life believing that their well – being is someone else’s responsibility. I tell my students that in the history of the world, no society has ever been developed by a “donor community.” Societies that need a donor community usually end up being chewed up and swallowed. The ball is in their court. Such problems as food insecurity will only be alleviated when Africans oust the kleptocracy that has ruled since independence and demand, and achieve responsible, transparent government that acts to serve in the public interest.

Larry Brown is a minister in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a member of Central South Presbytery, and serves as Professor of church history, world history, hermeneutics and missions at the African Bible College in Lilongwe, Malawi.

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