As I write this, it’s nearing 5:00 a.m. in Nigeria on Tuesday morning. Still dark outside, those sleeping in the town of Chibok do so with gripping anxiety. There, mothers shush their little ones to listen for the voices of their teenage daughters. There, mothers pant frantically with an unending nightmare, knowing as hours slip away, so do the chances of their daughters returning home alive.
In case you haven’t heard, nearly two weeks ago nearly 200 teenage girls were kidnapped from their school dorms in the small town of Chibok. In the middle of the night, Muslim extremists took the girls against their will to whereabouts unknown. The Nigerian government is looking for them, though who knows to what degree of intensity. These kidnappers, a group known as Boko Haram hold a strict view of oppressing women. In fact, their namesake actually does mean “western education is forbidden”, meaning specifically education of girls.
The story is harrowing in and of itself. In such a politically and religiously divided nation, is it realistic to expect these girls to be returned home safely? Can national officials put pieces together and find the girls? Will this spur a civil war or a mass genocide? Are these girls already being sold into sex slavery, counted as another nameless face of a sleazy industry?
Let’s start with perhaps the most alarming question: why are you just now hearing about this?
If this happened here in the U.S., you’d know about it immediately and have 24 hour coverage on at least a dozen stations. If it were in France or Great Britain, CNN would share hourly updates and President Obama would spend time on the phone getting briefed by European ambassadors.
But in Africa, things seem to matter less. The faces blend together. The political stakes are lower. The economic ramifications- not as great. 200 girls missing is sad. Its reason to pause and acknowledge the evilness, but spending great amount of time and attention on it isn’t necessary.
We’re all at least relatively familiar with the Holocaust; the brutal extermination of millions of Jews by the Nazi army led by Adolf Hitler. What you may not know is that this month marks the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan Genocide, in which members of the Hutu tribe killed off somewhere between a half million to a million members of the Tutsi tribe. Many were killed by machete, and Hutu people who refused to participate in killing their Tutsi neighbors were executed themselves.
You probably only heard about Rwanda from the popular film a few years back Hotel Rwanda. The devastation from the three month long genocide has had long ranging effects on the people and infrastructure of the country. Many Tutsis (and some Hutus) that survived the mass killings were raped and intentionally infected with HIV. Many orphans who had no home struggled to survive and died of hunger or disease. Chances are, you never knew about any of it.
Africa is a far away land. We visualize it either as a beautiful land filled with exotic animals and safaris or as a desolate place suffering from poverty, hunger, disease, and constant political warfare. What we don’t see it as often times is a place of people with great worth. We don’t see the people for their God-given beauty. We can’t seem to see past their afflictions or sins.
Who cares about Africa? The continent does little for us politically as a nation. They have some good resources, but not enough for us to spend much money and, for that matter, time in charitable help. Perhaps the issue is the one thing we just don’t want brought up: most of Africa is black.
There lies in many pockets of the world still a sleeping giant of racism that exists only in our subconscious. Sure, most of us have come a long way. We’re not drinking from separate water fountains or sitting in different seats in dining places. Our kids go to school with one another. We all work, vote, and have the freedoms to do as we wish. At least this is true in America.
The problem is we’re still used to viewing black people as equals. All we did was shift the dial from “tolerate” to “equalize” blacks to whites, when really we should recognize the great beauty in black people that God created.
We don’t view Africans as people of beauty. We view them in our own terms of value and worth. We don’t see them as God sees them. We see them as distant charity cases. We see them as victims of their own sins with their great sufferings from HIV. We see them as restless animals, peoples who will never change from their terrible savagery.
Because we have such a low view of Africa, the news important to their numerous countries is a mere afterthought in ours. Simply put, their tragedies are not our tragedies. Their hungry bellies are not ours. Their missing children are not our missing children.
Still, we have to believe that the Nigerian mom will wake up in a few hours weeping, desperately searching for any clue to help find her little girl. A Nigerian father will spend his day praying and hoping his daughter isn’t the victim of sexual violence; that she is safe wherever she is. As any parents would do in America, or France, or Canada, or any developed country if their child was taken away: they would cry, scream, and pray.
You may not hear any more about the Nigerian abductions. You’ll have to search for it; don’t wait for Fox or CNN to update you. Meanwhile, pray for God to give safety to the stolen girls. Pray comfort for those families that are frantically seeking answers. Pray for swift justice for their captors.
And pray that God would open our eyes to the beauty of Africa, and break our hearts with compassion for the cries of 200 girls lost in the wilderness.