How do we get news from Africa?

Stories about Africa aren’t always in our mainstream news. Yet, I still like to keep informed about where we are working, so today I share some of the great alternative news sources with stories from Africa.

1. Kenyan Elections

Important Kenyan elections are coming up on March 4th! Since the violent response to the last presidential elections, many organizations have been working to ensure a peaceful process this time.

You can read helpful updates about the coming election here:

The website is an initiative of the African Great Lakes Initiative, which “promotes peace activities at the grassroots level in the Great Lakes region of Africa (Burundi, Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda).” Let’s keep praying for a peaceful election on March 4th.

post-election violence workshop

Post-election violence and reconciliation workshop in Eldoret, 2010.

2. Food Shortage in Malawi

The United Nations Department of Public Information recently published an informative article about the current food crisis in Malawi.

I asked Canaan Gondwe, our partner in Malawi, for his view of the situation: “Yes, there is hunger in the southern regions of Malawi and the president is everyday on the roads distributing maize to thousands of people. Subsidy program seem to have flopped. Farmers can get coupons to buy fertilizer but you can sometimes hardly find the fertilizer on the market.


Malawian farm with corn

My visit to Kubadwa Tembo’s farm in Manyamula in July 2011.

“The past 3-4 years we had our food basket full but in the last year it has been empty. WHY? Lack of political will to agriculture programs and a “top down” approach to agriculture production. There is a need to involve and hear from people at grassroots level.

“In the north of Malawi, we are better off. A lot of food is transferred south from us. Manyamula is not very bad. Most of the members from the MAVISALO cooperative are entrepreneurs and their economy is stable. Most of them are Small Business Fund beneficiaries and this makes me happy and at ease. This shows that the SIA project is positively assisting the people.”

3. Africa Today

For people who like to listen to their news instead of read it, there is the short and eclectic Africa Today podcast from the BBC. (You can listen to the news stories on your computer, or transfer it to a iPod/iPad.)

Yesterday’s episode had a news update about the clashes in Mali, opposition in Egypt, and a beautiful story about Malian musicians singing for peace. It’s a good mix of culture, continental politics, and local stories from many countries across Africa – all with a African perspective.

**And after you’ve read the news, I invite you to experience a moment of prayer, with this, from Del, about how we can influence the world:

We can, in balance, rhythm, and alignment with God, and in working with others, open ourselves as instruments for God’s symphony, prayer-soaked members with hearts open wide to be used by God, instruments of love and caring.

Who’s afraid of diversity?

Building peace means sometimes being uncomfortable. It requires listening to the other side with respect and being civil when telling others about your beliefs. Peace often means compromise, allowing differences to exist side by side. This can be uncomfortable and it can also be freeing and expansive.

Agree with Me

City of Toronto's Coat of Arms and MottoMany proverbs tell us that this diversity worth perusing: “united we stand, divided we fall” (Aesop); “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” (Helen Keller); and “diversity our strength,” the motto of the City of Toronto (soon to be my home).

I was recently shaken by a discussion with someone about interdenominational Christian nonprofits. He works for a non-denominational organization but was concerned about working with Spirit in Action because I didn’t agree with his interpretation of a particular bible verse. That he wanted to limit his interactions based on beliefs, albeit sharing the foundation of our mutual Christian faith, shocked me.

I understood that for him, to “agree to disagree” on a point of faith would necessarily mean compromise and, therefore, loss; that this compromise of beliefs would make a group weaker. However, I have found that requiring everyone to agree on specific, narrow rules does not bring strength. Welcoming multiple views breeds flexibility and trust, rather than shutting conversation down with only one way to view things.

Diversity our Strength

SIA local coordinators from all over Africa sing together in Kenya

SIA local coordinators from all over Africa sing together in Kenya

The strength of Spirit in Action is bringing people together from many different traditions for a higher good overall rather than separating people along dogmatic lines.

In fact, our missions of compassion and social justice require us to see God in all people and to serve our neighbor as we serve God. This also frees us all to do our work of fostering prosperity, rather than spend energy forcing people to believe a specific doctrine. This openness then actively encourages personal exploration of each person’s relationship and path with God.

When I visited SIA partners in Malawi last summer, I asked about the variety of denominations represented in the group. “SIA is the one place where Catholics and Protestants come together,” was the answer I got from Canaan Gondwe, the local Small Business Fund Coordinator. This response brought a sense of pride. Inter-denominational collaboration allows each person to respond to the call to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God, rather than the call to shun those who are different.

Spirit in Action local coordinators; building peace

Similarly, Benoit Malenge, the Small Business Fund Coordinator in Rwanda, reported that people of many beliefs came together, “sharing a meal, without discrimination since they are all members of Spirit in Action, who came to share the gifts.” This place of openness brought a community together, beginning to build peace after years of war in the area.

In the end, let’s stay focused on our mission, remembering the words of John Comenius, a 17th century philosopher, “Let us have but one end in view, the welfare of humanity; and let us put aside all selfishness in consideration of language, nationality, or religion.” Can we be comfortable with this, and proceed as the peacemakers we were called to be?

Nonviolence and the Promotion of Peace

I have long been intrigued by the connection between peace and prosperity. When people are safe and free I believe they are better able to participate in their local communities and economies. As they become involved, they create prosperity and security for themselves and those around them. It all starts with peace.

Del Anderson, Spirit in Action’s founder, wrote often about finding peace within oneself and sharing it with others. In 2002 Del wrote, “Being and expressing this peace and participating with God in bringing peace here on earth as it is in heaven is an activity of being a co-creator with God. Bringing peace on earth is being in God’s grace activity and also brings forth a flow of health to mind and body.” In other words peace brings empowerment.

How do we begin to think about peace in a world so full of conflict? Mark Kurlansky’s book, Nonviolence: 25 Lessons from the History of a Dangerous Idea starts by exploring the concept of nonviolence – choosing to explain nonviolence as not merely opposition to violence but also as a positive action towards social change and equality. This is similar to what Martin Luther King, Jr. is advocating for when he says in his “I Have a Dream” speech, “Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.” Oftentimes a violent person expects the victim to react with violence, however, if one can react by standing firm in love and peace it catches the aggressor off-guard, creating space for social progress.

I know this all sounds like a far-fetched dream but Kurlansky makes a great case for the possibility of nonviolent revolution. Also, The Friends Committee on National Legislation provides some great information about the effectiveness of diplomacy and development for the “peaceful prevention of deadly conflict”. Similarly, I am encouraged when I read about the work of the Nonviolent Peaceforce, which sends trained peacekeepers into conflict areas to encourage productive discussion and protect citizens. They point out that peace and diplomacy are much cheaper than war and armies.

Creating peace is a difficult and important job! At Spirit in Action we pray and act for peace with this thing Martin Luther King, Jr. calls “soul force”. We call on the spirit inside each of us to be put to action, which creates a positive force toward understanding, support, and empowerment. On this Memorial Day I hope you will join me in celebrating those brave souls who have stood up for a better world through nonviolence and the promotion of peace.

I will end with a blessing my Grandma Barbara often says: “May peace prevail on earth and in your heart.”

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