Safety and Security by Menno Plett

I recently returned from a trip to Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. During this trip I spent some time considering the whole issue of safety, security and well being. We place a high value on these three in our lives, and for me it has been informative to look at those in the context of other cultural and social settings. Here are some of my thoughts growing out of recent experiences.

In Tanzania we came upon a horrendous accident on the road between Dodoma and Dar es Salaam. The sun had just set, and a combination of narrow roads, non-existent shoulders, poor lighting and vehicle breakdowns had resulted in a truck running into the back of a stalled truck. The driver was killed instantly, and soon after we arrived traffic was already backed up for a kilometre in both directions. Throngs of people were milling about to see what had happened. Where were the emergency vehicles? Where are the police? How will this situation be addressed? These are questions we ask, familiar with a context where emergency crews are on the spot minutes after a mishap. That is not the way it is in much of the world. The way we live is more of an exception, and not the norm in much of the world. Do not understand me to say that we place a higher value on life and well being. It is more of a comment on the disparity in the world. The kind of services we believe to be our right are simply not affordable to much of the world.

In Uganda I spent some time with our partners in the eastern part of the country. The secretary there had two very bright young boys, who loved to play, kid around and demonstrate their counting skills. They were the picture of vibrancy and energy. Their father had passed away from Aids, and their mother is HIV positive. Her health is beginning to fail, and she finds it difficult to be at work regularly. What does the future hold for those boys? Will they grow up to realize the dreams of their parents and those of their own? How is their mother able to carry on daily chores, realizing the future her young boys are facing?

How do we respond to the needs of the many in this world who experience a seemingly precarious living situation? One response is to shut ourselves off, and to concentrate on looking after those nearest and dearest to us. The dangers of travel and contracting diseases such as Aids and malaria can so overwhelm us that we could respond by saying we’re being irresponsible by exposing ourselves to undue risk.

Another response might be that we look at all human lives as being of equal value. That includes our own, but also that of the truck driver in Tanzania and those young boys in Uganda. We are all created in God’s image. In my understanding, no one of us has intrinsically more value in God’s sight.

With that as a background, we look for ways in which to live the evangel, to live "the good news." For some of us this might mean working with the poor, the homeless, the powerless and the parent less. It may mean living in or travelling to parts of the world where the masses are daily living on the edge of survival. It may mean exposing ourselves and our families to some risks, and although one does not want to do so recklessly, it should not be surprising that this is a natural outgrowth of our understanding of what it means to be engaged in building God’s Kingdom. Being salt and light can take many forms.

In a recent conference we were asked to identify what it was that most energized us during the past number of years. I could think of a number of work and travel experiences, but in truth the most energizing for me have been the Sunday mornings that I have been able to share in worship in a variety of African settings. With a backdrop of war, drought, illness, and a variety of factors that could lead towards a feeling of insecurity and hopelessness, I have been singularly struck by the corporate faith, worship and praise I have experienced in so many countries in Africa. The hope and courage expressed so beautifully in African rhythms and songs, has been a truly energizing and life giving experience for me.

I praise God for the gift of Africa and her people who continue to teach me important lessons of making Christ’s love understandable to those many that cross our paths daily.

Menno Plett is a member of Community Mennonite Church who works for World Relief Canada.
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