What is it about the culture here that seems to delight in perpetuating the myth that Africa is a monolithic place, rather than a continent of over 50 nations with hundreds of different ethnic groups represented and over a thousand languages spoken?
Here are a few recent observations:
1. An update goes out from our church. In describing part of someone’s story, it mentions that she served in the Peace Corps in “Africa”. Now that is technically true but tell us what country she was in for goodness sake.
2. I receive a beautiful 2013 calendar in the mail from a mission organization that does critical work flying people and supplies to remote areas all across the globe. The photos are stunning, a number are from Indonesia, one is identified as being from Lesotho, but 3 others are of some unidentified countries in “Africa”.
3. I recently met with a young man with Nigerian parents who was born and raised in the US. After getting a degree in international relations, he signed up with a mission agency to serve in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to his deep passion for conflict resolution. He didn’t however speak any French. When the organization realized that he’d need to speak French in a French-speaking country, they transferred him to Namibia, a country in southern Africa which has a history of strong ties to Germany. To him, it felt like such an arbitrary decision and was an extremely unsettling experience, as if one African country could just be inter-changed with another one.
Geography like history is not just important, its crucial to our understanding and experience of particular places and people.
This season as we move through Advent, in anticipation of the world-altering event of Jesus’ birth, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the God of the universe entered our world in a specific historical moment and into a specific Jewish culture.
So as we talk, think, read about Africa, let’s pledge not to participate in the conspiracy of silence. Let’s demand to make known which specific countries these “African” events are occurring in, so as to enrich our understanding of the complexity of this fascinating continent.
These are teachable moments – let’s not allow them to pass us by.