I can’t explain it, but this morning I woke up with a heaviness for the people of this country that we live and work in, like someone had tied a big weight to my back and with every step away from the comfort of my bed it’s load hung on me with increasing severity.
Then later, as I went out into the city to run errands, I could almost feel the sadness in the eyes that I could not help but look into as I passed on the street, the woman who sat alone on the dirty sidewalk, her clothes torn to shreds and tears streamed down the cheeks of her pained expression. The young boy who stopped to beg at my car window as I sat in traffic, and the complicated look in his eyes, one of struggle, and pain, and frustration. Then, as I continued to slowly make my way across town it seemed that the hurt was everywhere, and I can’t find words right now to describe how it felt, but I wished with everything in me that I could help each and every one of them.
It was like the whole city was groaning under the pains of an epic struggle to get ahead, each person carrying a weight of the generations that have toiled these fields before them, and yet grasping at a future they have only heard about but not yet tasted.
Then, just as I started to feel overwhelmed, as I began to cry out to God for the people in this place, an Ethiopian man reached out the window of the car in front of me and held out a banana to a young girl who had been begging along the side of the road. She jumped to her feet to grab the precious gift from his hands, her face beamed with pride as she broke the fruit into two and offered half to her friend, and together they smiled, and giggled with joy as they devoured the small pieces in nearly one bite. Then they both returned to the car and thanked the man over and over again. He was one of them, one who had found a way to get past all of it, and he was offering his hand to some of those in need.
I don’t know how to explain to you how that moment impacted me, how that simple gift and the joy that it gave to these two small girls, dove deep inside my soul to touched a place that has long become hardened by all that I have seen and been through in the four years that I have lived in this place.
Its incredibly beautiful here, and yet deeply pained, joyous and tragically crippled by the past. As you look around at a city reaching for the sky with it’s hundreds of mid-construction skyscrapers, it’s a mix of memories from the past when only 20 years ago this was a communist country, a place that endured the most tragic of famines, a place of terrible suffering.
The truth is though I am an optimist when it comes to Africa, I see this continent as a place in the middle of dynamic change, one where pain and suffering are here today, but that they are on their way out the door, and instead development, jobs, and prosperity are winning and will eventually take their place. I know it is not going to be easy, and I know all to well the obstacles that stand in the way of these things coming to pass. And today, the sadness I felt was a glimpse of the tough road that lies between here and where it is that we are going.
It won’t be easy, but this I believe is the generation that will get this place where it needs to go.
I am sure of it.
The Ethiopia that I see today is already drastically different that the one I saw four years ago when our family arrived, the road map has been drawn and the people know where it is that they are going. Getting beyond poverty and to success is within grasp for an increasingly large part of the population here.
I believe that right now is a great time to be alive, not because we get to play with fancy gadgets that tell us reviews of all the restaurants in our area, but because we get to see Africa shine, we have front row seats to the most drastic and beautiful transformation of any people at any time in history. Too long has this continent struggled under oppression, too long has the rest of the world taken advantage of the people and resources of this place, but not any more.
It’s Africa’s turn.
I said it before and will say it again, things are hard today, and when I look around I see not a battle already won, but I feel the singed hairs from a burning heat of an ongoing struggle, yet I also see signs on every corner that the worst is behind us, take for instance just a few numbers here, and what they mean for the future.
In Ethiopia the birth rate per woman has gone down by 25% since the year 2000, meaning that parents are now better able to care for their children, and pay for the education that is so desperately needed to move this country forward.
Thanks to many generations of dedicated missionaries, a now almost entirely locally lead evangelical church is thriving here, and has been growing by an average of 6.7% per year, a majority of that coming from newly converted Christians. The transformation of Ethiopia is one not just of economy, but increasingly of beautiful thriving trust in God as well.
For the past seven years Ethiopia has topped nearly every chart as one of the worlds fastest growing economies, but the best part is that things are just getting started, only recently have the massive infrastructure projects undertaken (equalling 20% of GDP in 2011) been able to lend a hand to locals who seek to get ahead. Now paved roads reach nearly every corner of the country, where only 10 years ago virtually nothing outside the city of Addis was anything more than a dirt trail out into the wild bush. Or take a look at the newly formed Commodities Exchange that is helping to ensure that the profits from agriculture sales reach the hands of the farmers who worked the earth and not middle men who before were able before to keep it all to themselves.
Yes, per capita income may be still among the lowest in the world, but with access to technology and an increasingly legitimate infrastructure this generation is finally able to attain something that none before them has been able to. The truth is at this point in time Ethiopia still possesses is one of the most sought after resources in todays global society, low-cost-labor. Jobs, jobs and more jobs are coming to town, and giving the people who work them the ability to change their lives in a way their parent’s never could.
Are there obstacles? Yes, but is there hope, oh yes there is!
True, this kind of optimism and hunger for success is only partially taking root, but as time goes on I see it more and more, I see it in the work ethic of the people who come to work every day at Bring Love In, I see it in the locals who we are partnering with in the medical investments that I administer here, and I see it in the way that our mothers are teaching their new children who were once orphans about what a beautiful life they can build for themselves in this place.
The mantra of the nineties was “get out as fast as you can because you will never make anything of your self here” but that is increasingly being replaced by, “No where else in the world will you be able to find the kind of opportunity that you see here”. Ethiopia has changed.
What that means for you and me is a change as well, we need to spin on it’s head the way that we see Africa, because what this place needs is not just handouts, but our trust and support for the future as well, this is a place where the old is on the way out the door, and one of the best things we can do is to start helping envision a bright future instead of thinking this will be a continent that needs our charity forever.
One of the best examples of a gross misunderstanding of what Africa needs is the American government’s USAID food program where in 2011 more than 500 million dollars was give to Ethiopians in food support for the poor, but in that same year only 5 million was given towards agricultural development. In-effect this program did not seek to build a future self reliance, but rather future dependancy. Instead we need to focus our effort on creating markets, investing in trade, and building infrastructure for growth and self sustainability. Just in the same way that missionaries came so many generations ago and then worked to hand over the leadership and development of the local church, we as those who support Africa need to be looking towards building a sustainable future, one that we don’t own, but rather help to build and support.
If you want to help Africa, invest in Africa. Put your money and efforts into things that build leaders, in projects that support infrastructure growth, and the future. And I don’t just mean that you have to give your money, I am fully confident that African investments are one of the best places to put money today, not only is wild growth possible and entirely plausible, but it helps Africa in a way that no handout ever could.
Good things are coming, it won’t be long before you will be reading the stories of African entrepreneurs who are changing the world in ways you and I could never have imagined.
In the mean time, join me as we pray for and support those who shovel these dusty roads up and pave a bring future.
Bring Love In is here because we have a dream to build up the leaders who will take this place from where it is today to where they want to go tomorrow, you need not look further than the eyes of the kids in our family here, kids who only a year ago were living in a government orphanage, unwilling to hope for anything in their future, that are now talking about becoming doctors, and leaders, and dreaming about ways that they are going to change the future of the place they are proud to call home, to see that something amazing is underway. Something I would not miss for the world!