Thursday, April 23, 2009

One Door Closes and Another Opens

Dear Friends,

It seems that the MalawiHart experience is done for now. Thank you for reading and following my experience in Malawi. My comments will now be more about the situation in Malawi and less of a personal reflection. Please feel free to follow them on my new blog. Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More Arrests

I did a radio interview to call attention to the unjustifiable, street-level arrests that followed my deportation. It is a wonderful thing to live in a free country. Throughout history and even in today's world, it is a rare blessing. The freedom I thought was normal is actually the rare exception. There are things like rich and varied food, complete medical care, and world class education that a poor government cannot yet provide for all its people. Other things, like a free press, the ability to speak your mind, and the right not to be detained without charge and to know the charge on which you are detained are things that any good government can immediately provide. In short, not every government can provide all that their people need, but any government can and should stop abusing its citizens.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


So it would seem that I have been "exposed" which is an odd thing since I was never hiding.

It would seem that I have used "unpopular ways" to raise funds which is odd because being unpopular is not a very good way to raise funds.

A government minister has deemed me to be a threat to "public safety and order" which is odd because I have committed no offense against anyone.

I have been sent away from a country I have grown to love and returned to a country I have always loved. And now I must say that I hope Malawi will one day be blessed with leadership that does not use the police force to intimidate those who advocate other policies. I pray for the day when the people of Malawi will be blessed with the freedom and safety I have returned to in the U.S.

As I was being rushed around from one police office to the next, it occurred to me that perhaps Mr. Nyondo should add a section about freeing the police from political influence to the government organization portion of his policies.

But for those who have expressed concern, I'm fine. I have "toured" the Lilongwe jail, and been given an up-close demonstration of how the police work from the junior officers to some of the most senior levels. Certain of them were very professional and others demonstrated petty corruption (taking money from my wallet) and brazen disregard for the law (seizing my computer without a warrant). They have given me a more thorough insight into both the ugliness and the potential of their legal system than I could have gained in any other way.

To those who have treated me well, thank you. To the others, you are forgiven, but I pray that the time will soon come when you are no longer able to oppress those who are vulnerable.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

When Others are not so Blessed II

Last week I asked the question of how we are to live as rich, full people in a poor, hungry world. If I really wanted to hear what you think I probably should have made the wildly outrageous claim that every rich person should give away all his money and then I would have had the privilege of hearing your thoughts as you corrected my error. But I didn't do that, so I still don't know what you think.

Last week I'm afraid I came dangerously close to holding myself up as someone who helps the poor. I'm not. Once in a while I give a beggar some food. But I don't know how to really help these people. Maybe I'll learn. But my theory is that, until then, I will use my time and energy to help someone who knows how to help them. Maybe last week's question was too personal or maybe no one else has a good answer either. I've heard a lot of guilt-tripping, a lot of "somebody do something" sermons, and a lot of "support me" mission speeches. Some of those things may be okay, but they really never quite answered the question in a way I can understand.

Like I said last week, I really don't have a solid, logically consistent answer to the question. But I do have a few convictions that help me think about it:

1. It is very clear from the Bible that God cares enormously for the poor, the widows, and the orphans and that a Godly person will care for them as well. This includes tangibly meeting their needs and defending them from those who exploit them.

2. I firmly believe that we are not called to guilt and that permanently living with guilt about these things is not good or right. God does not ask us to do more than He gives us the strength or ability to joyfully do. But sometimes He does give us the strength and ability to do way more than we have the guts to try.

3. God gives us good blessings and He wants us to thank Him for them and enjoy them even if He has not given the same blessings to someone else.

4. God wants us to use the blessings He has given us to bless others.

5. How God works with other people is often beyond what we are able to understand.

6. Love will always cost us something and we are called to deny ourselves to follow Him.

But I really don't like lists of "principles to live by". Let me try to get at this another way.

When I was a young child, there were highlights to my life. I still remember them. They were the times my dad would take us swimming in the creek with a tractor-tire inner tube, the times my mom would take us swimming at the public pool in town, the times my parents or grandparents took us out to eat at "El Vaquero" -- the height of fine dining in my young life --, the times the McCloy family came over for dinner and games, and when I got money for my birthday. I still remember the first time my Granddad gave me $50. It was a fabulous amount of wealth to me and more than I ever really thought I'd have. I enjoyed the power and possibilities more than I enjoyed actually spending it. I weighed my options for months after that. And I remember being overwhelmed by my riches all over again when I realized that I could buy a digital watch with a light and a stop-watch for $20 and still have more than half of the money left. It was a glorious moment. I really don't remember what I did with the other $30 except for facing the sobering reality that $2 of it went for sales tax on the watch. That's when I realized that, with large purchases, the tax adds up.

I say all this because there's not much that can give me that childhood thrill anymore. I may have experienced some version of it when I got a scholarship to college, got to study abroad, and first fulfilled my dream of working at the White House. But it's not the same. The only time I really get that birthday money thrill is when I have set aside money to give away to someone who needs it. It's that same feeling that I don't know what I'm going to do with it, but whatever it is will be wonderful. The money can just sit there in all its glory until I find that perfect thing. And then, I can spend it -- carefully to make sure I get my money's worth -- but freely because it is there to spend.

But even more than money there is time and talent. Each person gets an allotment of personal time and abilities. It's a thrill that rivals my birthday money when I realize that I have a unique mind and personality and that I have 24 hours a day to manage and refine these things so that I can be a blessing and so that I can give my Creator the joy of seeing me live out what He created me to be. I get to continually roam this world of possibilities looking to see where I can grow my mind and soul and where I can spend this bit of time, ability, and money that I have been given. Someone may look on the child's-birthday-money high I get out of this little adventure and smile like the adults who watched me spend my $50. And that's okay. As a slightly jaded adult, this is the closest I get to experiencing the sheer joy of a child with a fabulous wad of money in his pocket. I'm not about to give it up just because someone out there has a bigger wad of money. Neither am I going to give it up because someone out there finds his petty $50 to be boring and not worth the excitement.

Monday, March 30, 2009

When Others are not so Blessed

So if you are willing, I'd like to know your thoughts on something. How should we should respond as affluent people in a world of poverty? (This blog does have a comments section after all.) I've never heard a satisfactory answer to this question and it's nagged at me for some time. It's not the kind of nagging that comes with much guilt but the kind that comes from having to live the answer to a question you don't know the answer to.

This question seems more stark since I've been in Africa but I'm not sure nearness or distance should change the answer. We all live out an answer in practice even if we don't have one in theory. Right now, I live in a third world country and I live a life somewhere between the world I came from and the general standard here. In the U.S. I drove a car, lived in a house with heat and a/c, washer and drier, microwave, and dishwasher and I ate out at mid-level restaurants pretty much when I wanted to. When I wanted to go somewhere, I bought an airline ticket and went.

In Malawi most people do not have their own vehicles, they live in thatched houses and cook over a fire. They don't eat much protein and sometimes don't eat much at all. When they do have enough to eat, it is a very monotonous diet. It's a small country but most people -- even in the middle class -- have never traveled to the outside.

In Malawi, I ride a motorcycle and live in a solid house with a refrigerator (a recent addition) and a hotplate. There are electric lights too and clean running water but no hot water. I eat all the protein my body wants but don't have nearly the variety of food I used to eat. I wash my clothes in a tub by hand and hang them out in the sun to dry. After five months of trying and waiting, I'm due to move into a more spacious house with screens (rat-proof and mosquito-resistant) on April 1st. It will have hot water too. I'm really looking forward to that.

So those are the facts of what I have done. On the one hand, I live a very comfortable life here. I look out for myself. I stay comfortable, clean, and well-fed. And I do it all without having to work very hard. This is way beyond what most Malawians will ever have. On the other hand, I could have a lot more if I hung onto my old job, moved up the ladder, and spent it all on myself. For the moment, I'm caught somewhere in the tension between the fabulous world of American luxury and the dire world of African poverty.

I haven't done it much, but today I did the American luxury thing. I drove to the lake with my roommate Dominic. We swam, ate a good meal, drank pop, read, walked on the beech, and rested. We did what tourists do. We packed as if we were driving through a harsh desert, making sure we had everything we'd need to get from this side to the other without having to stop. Then we got on the motorcycle in our comfortable suburban neighborhood and drove through a picturesque country full of the tell-tale signs of poverty and suffering until we reached the resort. Along the way we dodged goats; drove past hundreds of children wearing dirty, ragged clothes; saw picturesque women struggling under balanced loads of wood, water, and food; and men pushing colossal loads up hill on their bicycles then careening down the other side. We drove past bellies bloated from malnutrition and parasites. We just whisked past all the suffering on our way from one pleasant place to another. Going there for our own pleasure.

It is the choice I made. And since it is the best I know, I really don't feel guilty at all. I have been stressed and stir-crazy. I haven't gone outside Lilongwe in three weeks. There is a beautiful lake I haven't seen, so I went. It was a great day.

I think that how we should live as rich people in a world of poverty is an important question. And I don't think there is an obvious answer. As a matter of fact, most of the answers I have heard have some obvious problems. So I'd like to ask, if you're willing to share, what answer do you live in your own life? Are you comfortable with your answer? Do you feel guilty about it? Is there an answer you could live without feeling guilty?

I have a few ideas that inform my choices and I'll share them next week. But I would really like to hear what you think in the mean while.

Thanks a bunch.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I have worked every day since March 5
Long days
Correspondence, pictures, moving houses, laundry, taking dictation, planning, writing
obsessing over edits, and staying up late to work on the website with friends in the U.S.
Late nights with a rat just out of reach in my kitchen
A dragon fly slobbering around the light
making weird shadows
and mosquitoes that want to eat my feet
The gecko ate a cockroach
It was a fight
and he won
I like my work but even good work wears until you forget that it is good

Today it all waited.
It was the wildlife preserve
where animals are in “enclosures” not “cages”
(Enclosures that look a lot like cages)
A crocodile, a python, a lot of monkeys, and two crows with broken wings
A river I would like to canoe
and lush green paths where you can walk slow and not care
Friends and a playhouse meant for kids
Jazz music afterwards with something to drink

There are a thousand things I could have done
A thousand things I “should have” done
And a thousand things it is good I have not done
Because it is good to rest

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Prepared to Fail? II

This week I spoke again with the "good man" from last week's blog entry. He has lived most of his life as a missionary in Africa so I asked him what he sees as Africa's future. How will Africa break it's cycles of oppression and poverty? He really didn't have much of an answer except to say that he has hope that it will happen. He told me a bit of the history and then he said something funny; he said that he tells newcomers not to talk too much to the old guys because he doesn't want them to be discouraged. It was a gentle way of saying that he was telling me discouraging things but didn't want me to be discouraged. He thought I would fail but still wanted me to try. He is hopeful but the facts don't seem to support that hope. His hope has been forced into a deep patience that almost threatens to overwhelm it and yet this kind of patience is the only way for hope to survive decades of discouragement. It is hope buried and stifled under infinite patience like a man hiding under the cold snow to stay warm.

Hope long delayed is a strange thing. I look with admiration on those who have led successful fights for freedom. I know what to make of them. They fit my belief that good men should stand up and that God will bless their efforts to protect the vulnerable and the oppressed. But I don't know what to do with the centuries that preceded these people -- centuries in which the oppressed were not rescued. Centuries in which people lived and died with hope turned to a despair that is more bitter because it comes from crushed hope. I may not belong those who, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant." But I do resonate with King's impatience toward those who claim to agree with his cause but say the time is not right. Those who pretend that time will heal injustice if we just wait. How can I learn to act on the conviction that now is the time for righteousness and justice knowing that righteousness may not win this battle? Righteousness may not win in my lifetime. This has been the case in the lives of many better men.

I also share MLK's frustration with the sort of person "who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: 'I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods . . . '; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.' Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

That is why I am sometimes offended at the admiration Malawi gets for being a "peaceful," "non-violent" country. Oppression, abuse, and injustice are rife. Rape, taking widows' property, rulers who loot the country's resources for their own benefit, exploiting habitually passive, powerless people. The praise comes from those who prefer "a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice."

So it is also with those who prefer to get along with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, Iran, Egypt, Libya, Palestine, Israel, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Kenya . . . fearing to disturb the status quo in favor of a "positive peace which is the presence of justice." Choosing to stay on the side of the powerful and leaving the poor with no advocate. When good people become infinitely patient with the plight of the poor, it is the poor who suffer. They really suffer.

If you have time to read the rest of MLK's Letter From a Birmingham Jail I think you will find it to be time well spent. We could stand to have many more people like that in the world.