In his book Subversive Sabbath, A.J. Swoboda says, “The litmus test for true Christian ethics is how those who follow Christ love and serve and bless those who do not.”
Annalena’s best friend, Maria Teresa, said, “To love people is not religion. You forget about religion completely.”
Another friend of Annalena, Antoinette, said, “The true love is to give freely, to give, give, give.”
And Annalena herself said, “Every error comes from my inability to love. How hard is my heart!”
Annalena is remembered for her love.
In this final quarter of Stronger than Death, Annalena left Somalia for Italy, then returned to Africa, unsure of where she would settle. She began treating TB in Borama, Somaliland.
Here, we get some closure. Annalena began speaking out against FGM. Because she had spent time – so much time – with Somalis, in their culture, adopting their ways, she was in a place to speak about a practice that is wrong. She didn’t walk in as someone who, like me, has no frame of reference or experience with FGM. She had been there, she had witnessed it, and her daughters had gone through it. What’s even better is that she offered to hire those women who decided to stop earning a living as circumcisers. It’s one thing to tell people, “You can’t do this anymore because it’s harmful,” and quite another to give people a new way forward.
Answering our questions from the past couple of weeks, Rachel says in chapter 15, “When is it appropriate for an outsider to speak up and challenge a local practice? I believe the answer is, when they have earned the right to do so…It requires time and an openness to move beyond the surface.”
Annalena began having trouble in Borama. She didn’t know if she was dealing with MDR-TB or HIV, but she knew that people weren’t being cured anymore. This was dangerous for her. There had already been rumors against her, and suddenly there was proof that she wasn’t helping.
We knew from the prologue (if not from the book title) that Annalena would die. What we didn’t know was what would happen to the work once she was gone.
This is a stressful part of my husband’s and my life here in Kenya. We see that work was started in many areas, the person in charge left the country, and the work stalled, incomplete. We always wonder whether we will be able to move on successfully. If work doesn’t continue when we leave, does that reflect negatively on us or on those we left in our place who refused to continue the work? Is there a way to ensure that the leaders we are training will actually step up when the time comes? If they don’t, is that a sign that the work we’re doing really isn’t necessary?
Way back in the days when Annalena was in Wajir, similar treatment facilities were started, and none of them were successful because the success seemed to rest on having a leader who ran the treatment as sacrificially as she did. Would her staff continue the work in Borama after her death? I was so thrilled to read that they did!
In the final chapter, Rachel wrote, “It might not be as terrible as Westerners imagine for people to be left to their own resources…the resources were available. It is never true that without humanitarians, people have no resources. What Borama needed, and what Annalena provided, beyond access to some specific resources, was knowledge and hope. Her example inspired people to move forward on their own.”
Annalena was an amazing and extremely unusual person. The main lesson I learn from her is that I have so much room to love people more and so much need for humility and understanding as I relate to others. One last quote before we close this book:
“None of us is a hero. We are not even necessary. Life and sickness, goodness and evil, health and hope will continue down the generations. Our life will be poured out here and it might not matter. But if it does make a difference for just one person, that will be enough.”
Come on in to the comments! What is your take-away from this book? What have you learned? Do you have any lingering questions?
What’s Coming up:
Who’s ready for a little Jane Austen? In March, we will be reading Emma, and this delightfully charming matchmaker will hopefully amuse you with her imperfections. We will have a special interview (and a giveaway) here in Book Club on March 3rd, and then start discussing Emma on March 10th! Here’s the schedule:
March 10th: Chapters 1-14
March 17th: Chapters 15-29
March 24th: Chapters 30-43
March 31st: Chapters 44-55