Drought and famine in the Horn of Africa
A Christian Science perspective: A former immigration official in a refugee camp shares insight on how to include in prayer those affected by drought and famine in Somalia.
Scenes of mothers and children at risk in drought-affected areas of Somalia and Ethiopia cry out to everyone. Eleven million people affected by the declared drought, including half a million children seriously at risk, face dire environmental conditions as well as political unrest. The picture seems bleak, with donor fatigue already an issue as the more affluent countries face their own economic crises and wonder how to help the Horn of Africa.
The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya is the center of the aid relief programs, and thousands are walking four and five days’ journey to find assistance there. I remember working in that refugee camp a number of years ago, when Somalis numbering 6,000 fled there to escape civil war and atrocities in their homeland. The work before us was daunting – we had to process these families for resettlement as asylees in safer countries. As an immigration official, I found the work before me larger than just completing the refugee interviews and paperwork required during hot 14-hour days in the camp. To me, the task before us was to find a standard for treating these Somalis with love, compassion, and brotherhood.
I turned to God in prayer during those relentless days in Dadaab, and decided to see all of us, refugee families and aid workers, as living under God’s care and His governing love. A psalm promises, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Ps. 23:4). This was very applicable to our situation in the camp. I saw these families not as victims or participants in corrupted regimes’ plots to control masses but as children of God, dwelling in His kingdom of love and tenderness. As a result, my experiences with the Somali families were delightful and full of brotherhood and joy. I was able to process many families for resettlement in the West with success and ease, and they opened their hearts and their refugee tents to me, showering me with unending glasses of hot tea and gifts they had crafted in the camps.
Today’s drought-ridden situation is compounded not only by political problems that still exist in Somalia, but also by environmental predictions of no rain in sight for crops, animals, and people. In contrast, God’s law, which speaks of tending His flock and never giving up, is still right there in Dadaab. A hymn from the “Christian Science Hymnal Supplement” promises, Feed my lambs, tend my sheep,/ Over all a vigil keep .../ When they wander, when they stray, their protector be” (Natalie Sleeth, No. 439). This has been a real comfort for me as I pray for my brothers and sisters in the camps in Kenya.
This summer I was teaching a class on world affairs for adults, some of whom were interested in helping the world through prayer. We were discussing the plight of the Somalis, and we began to explore prayer-based solutions to the problem. “God’s love knows no boundaries,” one student said. I was reminded of Mary Baker Eddy’s description of the "Kingdom of Heaven": "The reign of harmony ... the realm of unerring, eternal, and omnipotent Mind...” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 590). It was comforting to know that no one could stray beyond God’s tender care and love for each of us. As a watchful, attentive shepherd, God is not going to let us escape from the flock. It was a wonderful discussion with the students as we embraced and enfolded all God’s children in our thoughts.
When we endeavor to see God as our life, supporting and nourishing us and our neighbor, we are making a practical difference in meeting the needs of the world. No child of God’s is outside His care, beyond His boundaries. No one is left out. No one is a statistic in a conflict or an international disaster. We are all included in God’s design. “Science and Health” assures us that “Love is impartial and universal in its adaptation and bestowals. It is the open fount which cries, ‘Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters’ ” (p. 13). We are all at that fount, together, drinking in God’s love.
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