Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

For Christmas: the news from Zimbabwe and other fronts

It will be hard for us, in the midst of the economic crisis around the world, to muster up the energy and generosity to care about the indescribable suffering of Africa and other impoverished parts of the world. A friend from India who is presently working in Cambridge (Mass) writes this compelling passage about Zimbabwe:

"In India, we are used to hardship and poverty, but how do we account for problems such as economic uncertainty, job loss and the foreclosure of homes in America, especially when millions of people are involved? It is a fact that there is a genuine sense of fear and anxiety all around us now. However, some analysts have pointed out that the current economic crisis in the U.S. is integrally rooted in the consumerist culture that developed in the West over the recent decades. The pattern of consumption, lifestyle changes and comforts that Americans got used to over the last quarter century were truly unsustainable both economically and ecologically. If, therefore, the present predicament helps all of us to focus clearly on the Gandhian dictum, 'We must live simply so that others might simply live' that would indeed be worth it.Even as we are caught up in the 'lifestyle problems' of our own societies, let us not lose sight of the far more severe challenges faced by people elsewhere. Zimbabwe is one example. Over a short period, that country has moved from the worst possible political and economic crisis to a grave situation in the health sector. In Zimbabwe's cholera-ravaged townships, the dying today make their final journeys home in wheelbarrows and pushcarts, turned away from clinics by nurses too overworked and underpaid to care much about who survives and who doesn't. Early this month, 71 year old Tarcisius Nerutanga was summoned to the clinic in the Budiriro township. There he found his 27 year old son, Allan, dumped on a wooden bench outside, racked with severe vomiting and diarrhea. 'They didn't say anything. They just said, "Take him home,"' Nerutanga said. He carried his son home where Allan died last Monday. The young man died grieving that his life was over before he could rescue his parents from their grinding poverty. Allan's mother Loveness sat on the concrete floor in their tiny room, weeping silently. She recalled: 'He just said, "Mom, we're a laughing stock. We die a laughing stock." ' "

This reminds me of a story a few years ago about two dozen illegal immigrants who died of suffocation locked in the truck that was smuggling them over the border from Mexico. As far as I know, a number of them were never identified. They suffered terribly and died nameless.

As we celebrate the birth of our Lord, we will surely want to remember how the Bible teaches us that God knows us each by name. Part of our calling this Christmas season is to raise our eyes above our own circumstances and reflect upon those who have no names or identities in society because of their extreme poverty and lack of resources. My husband and I are trying to raise our year-end contributions slightly in order to do our teeny bit to help take up some of the slack from those who have lost even more than we have. The photo on the cover of The New York Times yesterday must reach the consciousness of all but the most hardened: young boys squatting down at street level, their faces close to the pavement, trying to pick up a few kernels of corn spilled by a passing truck. Imagine it!