Restoring a Continent

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The students milled around me, asking a thousand questions in broken English. “How old must you be to drive an automobile?” “What is the temperature in the United States?” “How are your schools?” “Do you know the ‘Honorable’ Barack Obama?” The students proudly wore school uniforms that were worn and faded with age. Their black school shoes were tattered from overuse. Their white teeth shone brightly in contrast with the darkness of their skin.

Africa Kids.JPG I was speaking to school children in Eldoret, Kenya. I had been trying my hardest to answer everything they asked me until the question of one older boy stopped me in my tracks. “You came to Africa to help us, yes?”

I nodded slowly as I looked around the group and faced the sincere eyes of the children. “I did come here to help Africa, yes.”

The boy, Moses, watched me patiently as if he wished to decipher the true meaning behind my words. “How do you plan to help us?”

“How?” I stammered. My mind raced. What did he mean, how? I wanted to help. Wasn’t that enough?

“You say you want to help Africa. How will you help us? We are hungry. Many have AIDS. Kenya is in great need. How are you going to change these things?” I detected no sarcasm in Moses’ voice. He truly wanted to know my plan to help his people.

I shook my head, feeling helpless. “I do want to help you. I do…but I’m only sixteen. I’m here to teach you more about Jesus Christ for now, but as time passes, I know that God will give me the opportunity to do more for Africa.”

“What will you do?” Moses pressed.

My heart sank as I dodged the question. “Let me think about it,” I finally said.

I traveled to Kenya, Africa for two weeks when I was sixteen years old. I experienced many things while I was there that impacted my heart to its very core. I rode in a rickety canoe across Lake Victoria. I encountered armed street children who were high from sniffing glue. I touched a wild cheetah and went on an African safari. I had the opportunity to meet the child that I have sponsored since I was a freshman in high school. I tasted ugali and mandazi. I bartered in a Kenyan market. I stood in small buildings with dirt floors and no electricity, and I listened to people who had nothing in the literal sense of the word sing again and again, “He has done so much for me that I cannot tell it all…” I embraced AIDS orphans and saw the face of poverty with my own eyes. When I stepped off the plane back onto familiar Texas soil, I was changed completely. I saw nothing the same way.

Sad child in Africa.JPG When I first arrived back home, I made several promises to myself. No longer will I ever use the term “I am starving” when there are millions of people across the globe who know the true definition of starvation. I now think before I make small, meaningless purchases when 80% of the earth survives on less than $10 a day. If I am not careful, I will spend quadruple that amount of money when I go to the movies or the mall. I try to appreciate school more than I ever have before, because there are children who would give everything they have to be able to attend school a few times a week.

With every meaningless promise I made to myself, Moses’ earnest voice echoed through my thoughts. “What are you going to do to help my country?” I had gone to Africa with a plan to change things for the better, but I left with the feeling that Africa had changed me.

I have wanted to go to Africa for as long as I can remember. The thought of traveling to that forsaken continent always intrigued me. In my young mind, I would imagine myself sweeping through Africa with food and clothes and restoring each country to health and happiness. I was eager to immerse myself into the tribal cultures. I could see myself speaking fluent Swahili and leading murderous headhunters to Jesus.

When I actually traveled to Africa, my expectations had changed, but I still was sure that my visit would make an impact—and it did. The people were astonished and grateful that a girl from America would come and visit them. My team painted a school. We built restrooms. We fed the hungry. We preached the good news about Jesus. However, when I arrived to see the mass hunger, disease, and poverty, I realized with dread that “saving Africa” was far beyond the grasp of my small hands. I could not save Africa on my own.

There are approximately one billion people in Africa, and about 300 million of them are children. One in five of these children are currently orphans. Africa is lost in patterns of drought, warfare, corrupted governments, and the lack of education. This continent needs our help to get back on its feet.

Even if you never once travel to Africa and see these issues for yourself, you can still have the opportunity to lend the African people a hand. There are so many humanitarian efforts that are focused on improving the harsh conditions and poverty in Africa. You can sponsor a child with an organization such as Christian Relief Fund or World Vision. When you sponsor one of these children, you transform his life and the lives of his family—and even the lives within the child’s surrounding community! You can support efforts like Invisible Children that are focused on ending wars and genocides in Africa. You can donate (or raise) money for world hunger programs by sending letters, starting fundraisers, and talking about these issues with your friends. If you have no money to send and no time to spend, then pray for the restoration of Africa. This continent desperately needs your prayers. I wear a bracelet every day that I purchased while I was in Kenya to help me remember to pray for the needy in Africa and around the world.

When I traveled to Kenya, it changed my perspective on the entire continent of Africa. After I was able to personally experience these stories and memories for myself, Africa was no longer a faceless, mysterious continent that I read about in National Geographic or heard about on World Vision ads on my computer screen. I saw poverty with my own eyes, and I now cannot follow Christ’s will and not try to make these issues better. James 1:27 talks about how true religion means helping orphans and widows in their distress, and as a Christian, you have been given a calling to follow this verse.

On my own my simple efforts to help Africa do not amount to much. However, if the body of Christ can work together to end poverty in Africa, then we can make a difference together. Matthew 17:20 says, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” I am not asking you to move a twenty thousand foot mountain. I’m asking you to make a difference in the lives of people who need your help. Eradicating poverty in Africa is surely within our reach.

Emily Whelchel is a high school student in Amarillo, Texas. She enjoys writing, playing the guitar and piano, and working at an inner city ministry in her spare time. She has a passion for Africa. Check out her blog.
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