Monday, June 16, 2008

A Continent of Orphans

Every journey is filled with interruptions, unexpected twists, and surprises. Such happened this past Tuesday night at Annual Conference when the "Hope for Africa Children's Choir" sang for our evening worship service. These 23 Ugandan children provided lively singing and dancing. The congregation was responsive even to the point of clapping along with the drumbeats underneath the singing. Everybody seemed to be enjoying it, but I just never could get with it. As I sat there all I could see were 23 lovely children who were orphans. Not a single one of them had a living mother or father. And they were 23 of several hundred who were enrolled in the same Ugandan school.
My problem was two books recently read. One was entitled Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza and told the story of the mid'90's Rwandan genocide. The author survived by hiding for 91 days with seven other women in a small bathroom. Immaculee Ilibagiza's story was both inspiring and terrifying. Almost everyone in her family was killed during this tribal bloodbath which took the lives of over a million Rwandans. The second book was entitled There is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene. This Atlanta woman woman went to Ethiopia as a journalist and returned as an adoptive parent. In her book she speaks of Africa as a "continent of orphans." When she wrote her book in 2006 there were an estimated twelve million HIV orphans in sub-Sahara Africa. A United Nations report she read predicted there would be twenty-five to fifty million orphans by 2010. She was overwhelmed by what she read. This mother of five children wrote about this moment of being overcome by the unthinkable number of orphans by writing, "Who was going to raise twelve million children? That's suddenly what I wanted to know. There were days that Donny and I thought we'd be driven insane by five children. Who was teaching twelve million children how to swim? Who was signing twelve million permission slips for school field trips? Who packed twelve million school lunches? Who cheered at twelve million soccer games?...Who will wake in the middle of the night in response to eighteen million nightmares?...Who will help them grow up, choose the right person to marry, find work, and learn to parent their own children?" She responded to her own inner struggle by going on to answer her own questions. "Well, as it turns out, no one. Or very few. There aren't enough adults to go around."
With all this in my head, I simply could not hear those children singing. All I could see was a vast host of children like them, some, victims of HIV and malaria, some, victims of tribal genocide, and all of them without a father or a mother to help them grow up. The books were given to me and I read them with some reluctance because they were not stuff I normally would choose to read. All I wanted from the children was an evening of music. Suddenly, it was about more than I expected. Suddenly I was forced to see with great clarity something I did not want to see and did not want to think about. For me it was one of those God moments that provides not answers about what I should do, but instead provides a call to struggle. So, I will continue the journey, but for awhile at least, carrying with me the unresolved issues of this moment of revelation.

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