My generation of Americans are labeled as “the most risk averse generation since the Great Depression” (source). The source article is focusing on financial risk, but we are risk averse in every other sense as well. Pregnant with my first child, I combed websites for moms, looking for tips and advice. There was a mom insisting that everyone who loves their children must buy a certain product because it is the very safest option. Whoever chooses a different brand to save money does not love their child much. I assume she was trying to justify the price tag to herself. She was convinced that, with this product, her baby was guaranteed to be free from risk.
Between Stranger Danger and Baby Jessica, my generation learned in childhood that bad (but preventable) things happen to kids. If that weren’t enough, we were also school-age when incidences of school shootings began to fill the news. Now as parents, we believe our job is to make sure that nothing bad ever happens to our kids – and there are so many threats! We are Marlin in Disney’s Finding Nemo. Add to that the internet, the 24-hour news cycle, and a complete overload of information…
I am sure many of us in this cross-cultural community have had friends, relatives, and church members from our passport countries cancel their trip to visit us because of a single event in our host country that made international news. They constantly ask us, “Is it safe?!” But, as I like to point out to those who know me well, we didn’t cancel our trip to visit churches in the US after shootings took place in churches in more than one state.
In this week’s chapters of Stronger than Death, Annalena moved to Somalia. They weren’t allowed to have visitors, though, because it wasn’t safe. “If Somalia wasn’t safe enough for visitors, how was it safe enough for long-term staff?” Indeed. Miriam Martinelli said, “But at that time we weren’t afraid of everything… We didn’t have the internet or cell phones or news reports.” Even though people weren’t generally as alarmist as Millennials in the 21st century, they still did not allow long-term staff to receive visitors in Somalia. Then, civil war “broke out in earnest” on Dec 30, 1990.
There was so much insight in this section about the way the international community responds to conflict within a country, about western attitudes towards Africans, and about White Saviorism. Instead of quoting entire chapters here, I’ll trust that you are reading it with me!
Amid the conflict in Somalia, NGOs would travel around with armed guards, like warlords. Meanwhile, Annalena lived “as if the war didn’t exist.” I really admire that. “The default expectation is fear and self-protectionism.” But, Sister Marzia, an Italian nun in Somalia said, “I am one person. They are so many. So, we stay. Annalena was that way, too. We are not more important than them and we believe in heaven.” Can we just pause for a minute and consider that last sentence again?
Rachel quotes a piece from The Atlantic entitled “The White Savior Industrial Complex”: “In these scenarios, the desire of the foreigner to serve takes precedence over best practice and the foreigner is the one who gets to define that service.” Though Annalena was white, and though she saved lives, she doesn’t fit into this category because of her attitude and her posture. Her starting point was to do no harm and to consult those who were being helped.
Rachel asked, “When do outsiders step in, and how? And when do they stand idly by? To most, it seemed the options were military intervention or impotency. Annalena forged a third way.” She used the skills she had developed, and she loved people well. And Antoinette said, “I can say Annalena was love, and if love is faith, Annalena had a mountain.”
After all that, Annalena wrote, “I feel so inadequate.” It’s a hard truth to face, but we are inadequate. We see ourselves with the disciples asking Jesus to send 5,000 people home so that they can eat because we can’t feed so many! Jesus asks us, “What do you have?” Only five loaves of bread and two small fish. He asks us to give it to him, even though it is small and inadequate. It’s not enough. But he is. All we can do is faithfully offer what we have and trust him to do the rest.
Let’s talk in the comments. What is sticking with you from this section? What questions do you have?
Next week, we will finish the book, reading chapter 14 through the epilogue.
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!