By Galen Dalrymple
One of the most distressing aspects of the part of Africa I have seen and heard about from my fellow interns has been the view in the African bush and culture about human worth. I don’t pretend to speak for all cultures or places in Africa, but I have heard facts and stories about treatment of other humans that make my skin crawl.
Africa has long been a war-torn continent and that continues even to this day. Some is the result of the clash of religion: Islam versus Christianity, tribal religions and Christianity, or rival superstitions run amuck. One thing that is common is the low value placed on human life. Perhaps that is partly due to what one fellow intern described as Africans “survival mentality” that labors just to keep soul and body together for one more day. Life in the rural parts of Africa (the bush) is a brutal struggle. The small village behind the tree line in back of the training center is impoverished. Our leader here told me that the average per person income there is about $1 US per month. Not per day…per month! There is so much disease and death that perhaps they have become desensitized to the value of human life; I don’t know.
The wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone have led to some of my intern companions telling me hair-raising stories. One brother from Liberia had to flee for his life to literally live day and night sleeping on the ground in the bush. For those who have never been here, that is a terrifying concept because the bush literally is crawling with biting, stinging insects, snakes and animals. He had to endure that for several months. He tells of seeing barricades constructed of human intestines that were strung between two posts and tied at each end. He tells stories of the rebels who would launch an operation against a village and before entering the village they would hold a meeting to decide what kind of operation they would conduct:
- Operation No Hand – where a hand was chopped off of every person;
- Operation No Foot
- Operation No Eyes
- Operation No Ears
- Operation No Arms or No Legs
- Operation No Love – where the lower jaw was chopped off of everyone in the village
One of the most horrifying aspects of this was that the most ruthless of the soldiers were mere children who had been given guns and machetes, who killed totally without remorse – even with glee.
The soldiers would find a pregnant woman and then engage in a debate among themselves, taking bets on whether she was carrying a boy or girl child in her womb. After the betting was finished, they would cut the woman open, remove the baby and see who won the bet. Other atrocities against women were mentioned that are just too horrible to describe.
The value placed on women is virtually nil, though they work hard from sun-up until after dark. In many cultures, women have no standing but are viewed as possessions. In parts of Ethiopia, the bride price (value) is ten cows. In Nigeria it is two cows, but in Kenya, it is only three goats. Women and young girls are often seen as mere possessions to be used by men. In some of the cultures, polygamy is very common. Elsewhere, marriage is virtually nonexistent as people simply live together with all the resulting cultural, physical and spiritual issues that result from that practice.
Due to the level of poverty in the bush, a girl may sell her body to any man willing to pay her the equivalent of a mere fifty cents. It is a large amount to the poor, more than she could make in any other way. While we know, as Christians, that this is wrong for so many reasons for both the man and the girl, we need to also be moved with compassion by the conditions that lead to such situations that a girl would be so desperate for something to eat that her intimacy is sold and her life put at risk for disease and death, for just fifty cents. It is easy to condemn such things from the comforts and confines of an America church, but much harder when one is in the bush face to face with that young girl.
In the village behind the training center, young girls are “married” to a man when the girl is as young as 10 years of age. While we were there, one young girl of just 15 who had two children, committed suicide by drinking poison. The pressures of being a wife and mother to two young girls at only 15 years of age were apparently too great to bear. I was told that because it was a suicide, they would not bury her, but took her lifeless body out into the savanna to be consumed by the insects, animals and elements.
How the heart of the Lord must weep for such situations! How desperate should our prayers be to overcome the effects of sin and the fall for these people, while still recognizing our own spiritual depravity as well!
These stories and the people affected by them are the reasons we are here. We have come to engage in God’s work to transform lives and help change the present and future generations and eternity itself for these cultures and peoples, by the grace and power of God. There is no quick answer, but God is never in a rush. He is patient and long-suffering, but we must not interpret that as complacency on His part. He is not complacent. We must not be, either.
Galen Dalrymple works for Medical Ambassadors International (medicalambassadors.org) as the Field Curriculum Coordinator and lives in Northern California with his wife, Laurel, and yellow lab, Lucy. His passions are his family, photography, travel, and doing what he can to alleviate suffering and injustice as a call from Jesus.
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