For those of us who have come to Africa as adults, the "mother continent" has a special place in our hearts. We love its landscapes from Table Mountain in Cape Town, to the endless savannas outside Nairobi, to the starkly dramatic Sahara. We love its people and their varied cultures the bronzes of Benin, the stone sculptures of Harare, or the compelling Dogon carvings of Mali.
Counterbalancing the joyful and colorful chaos of Africa's markets and airports, the careful courtesy and attention to networking with which Africans greet one another, and the delicacy of their art are huge challenges: environmental disasters (volcanoes, drought, erosion), ethnic hatreds, religious conflicts, mismanagement, economic underdevelopment, and grinding poverty. It seems as though the magnitude is beyond human ability to cope. What can one person do, confronted with so much?
I've found it helpful to step back and remember that the Bible promises that no problem is too big for God. The mind of Christ, which Paul encouraged us to have, is indeed comprehensive enough to direct us to what we're able to do. The all-inclusive Love that John wrote of is ample enough to comfort all suffering humanity and to impel us to open our hearts to our brothers and sisters worldwide. So I often start by praying to see more of God's omnipotence and omnipresence. That helps me erase the feeling of hopelessness.
Where do we start on specifics, then? In 1897 Mary Baker Eddy wrote to her church at Concord, New Hampshire, "From the interior of Africa to the utmost parts of the earth, the sick and the heavenly homesick or hungry hearts are calling on me for help, and I am helping them" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," pg. 147). This was a bold statement from New England. How was she helping Africa? She was not on site, conducting literacy classes, developing clean water systems, or mediating in conflict- resolution exercises. Given her approach to other problems, she was, we must assume, praying listening to God's direction. This listening sometimes produced surprising actions, as when, 11 years later and in her late 80s, she established this newspaper with its motto "to injure no man, but to bless all mankind." Its in-depth coverage of world events has helped me and many other readers focus our prayers.
A few years ago my wife, while processing refugees, was caught in the bloody coup in Sierra Leone. She was trapped in a hotel as lawless forces were approaching, and managed to get a call to me before communications shut down. Suddenly, this African tragedy became personal. Here was a case where prayer was needed right away. For several days I prayed to see that God was in control and that He would guide my wife and others to safety. I prayed that she would know what to do at the right time. After almost a week, the phone rang. She was calling from a neighboring country and, with 100 other women and children, had found a place on a United Nations tugboat, and had been evacuated safely. During the week, she'd also been praying nonstop, and a way to safety opened up. She was home the next day.
This experience points the way to me. Prayer, recognizing God's control and guidance, has an effect on international events. Right when we read or hear news of a problem in Africa, we can pray to have a clearer sense of God's unwavering love. Perhaps we won't ever know how our prayer helps another. But Paul promised, "God is not mocked ... he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:7, 8). What we reap from our prayers is the conviction that life everlasting is for each one of us, God's image and likeness our brothers and sisters everywhere.
The heavens declare
the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.... Their
line is gone out through
all the earth, and their words
to the end of the world.
Psalms 19:1, 4