Faith, action and Somalia: A reflection

Joe Mason is a regional faith organizer for ONE in Missouri and is passionate about mobilizing the Church. He shares a reflection of faith and advocacy after a recent trip to the Horn of Africa below:

kids joe mason
As I walk along the dry, dusty road that leads to Garissa, my teeth feel the gritty earth that is carried for miles across the desolate plains in the northern regions of Kenya. My mouth feels parched, and my lips are cracked. My thoughts continue to return to a plastic bottle of water purchased in Nairobi several hours earlier. I’ve only been in this harsh environment for a short amount of time, and my body is reminding me that without continued hydration, it will soon begin to suffer.

My mission is to capture images of the famine that has overtaken this part of the earth, and my driver casually tells me that it has been five years since this area has seen any significant rainfall. I soon begin to see them walking along a broken road that leads to the border of Somalia. The dry, cracked terrain opens up into fissures that are wide and gaping. The people resemble skeletons, covered in skin, traveling with what remains of their herds of livestock. Around the necks of their livestock are yellow containers — symbols of what they need the most -– water. Some have been walking for days, even weeks, looking for relief from the arid conditions that they’ve faced for so long. My guide mentions that most of these people are living on three meals per week. Since their animals are their lifeblood, they suffer along with them. The meat and milk that a goat or camel provides can sustain a Kenyan during difficult times. But their animals are dying from a lack of nourishment caused by the long drought.

But a glimmer of hope shines in the middle of this crisis. Relief organizations are hard at work trying to sustain lives in the short-term by distributing food and drinking water. Governmental and non-governmental organizations are doing their best to stop the bleeding that pours from an environmental and political wound requiring stitches, if not surgery. But some see beyond the wound, to the source of the injury. I’m soon taken to a pilot development program sponsored by a thriving faith organization within Kenya. It’s a working farm and orphanage, often taking in children that are left at the doorstep. In sharp contrast, I walk through lush vegetation, irrigated by a system that redirects rivers and locates underground water sources that can be used for human consumption. Multiple bore holes mark spots where future wells will be drilled. Along the way, I hear the chirping of thousands of baby chicks, being raised in a massive housing unit and cared for by a local Kenyan workforce, assisted by an energetic bunch of children. They lead me to another building, where an unpleasant odor indicates that a healthy group of pigs are living nearby. Kept fed, watered, and tidy by the older children, these pigs produce enough meat to sustain the orphanage and then some. But nothing goes to waste here. The odor that I noticed on the walk over to the pigpens is even used in the form of methane, to heat the ovens that cook the meat.

In short, this is an incredibly successful development program that will soon be used as a model throughout northern Kenya. People of faith, investing their lives in the future of this beautiful country and its citizens, are living out their beliefs by creating sustainable solutions to a massive problem. They are caring for the spiritual and physical needs of a people who are created in God’s image. They are doing the work that the church is commanded in scripture to carry out. In my mind I can hear Jesus telling them in a gentle, but powerful voice, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me…”

It’s my belief that God’s heart aches for the “least of these” around our world. We must do everything we can to make sure they are cared for. Governmental and non-governmental organizations must work together to see Africa become all that it is (in some places) and can be (especially here in the famine). Because I believe on that day, I saw Jesus in that orphanage. He is living in a land suffering from the effects of a harsh environment, from the effects of a political climate that sometimes gives in to the evil of corruption, and from the effects of a broken economy that doesn’t allow everyone the opportunity to work their way out of extreme poverty. It’s time for us to speak out, to stand up, and to act. I truly believe that this is the heart of God.

Tell Joe what you think on Twitter: @joemason733