This article was originally published by IDENTITY
Nov. 15, 2011
by Palmer Chinchen
One man cannot lift a house. That’s what Malawians say when they are ready to build a new nyumba (home) for their family. They rally the people of they village to come together to make mud bricks. The clay (dothi) is dug from a damp pit near the swamp and carried in brick-shaped wooden hoppers from the pit to the home site, where the clay will dry before being stacked into a kiln and fired. The hoppers are toted with a jog, so the mud will settle and form a solid brick. It’s back breaking, exhausting. One man can make a few dozen mud bricks, but thousands are needed. It would take him weeks, on his own. Physically he is unable, One man cannot lift a house. But when the community responds, they will do it in a day.
And everyone knows, when it’s time to build their home, they will remind him, one man cannot lift a house. And he will come, he will carry mud for them too.
I’ve spent about half my life in Africa, and that’s one of my favorite things Malawians do. They never leave a man to build his home alone, but together -- out of the mire and clay -- they lift a house.
On this side of the Atlantic we don’t think much about needing the village, because we try to do it alone.
. . .
One of my great passions is to see an end to extreme poverty. It sounds audacious, but I think it was Jeffry Sachs’ writing that first convinced me it can be done.
Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia University (The End of Poverty), says by the year 2025 we can end extreme poverty. Some call Sachs the smartest man in the world – I think they’re right. He has used his “shock economics” to turn fledging economies around.1 And he‘s convinced that if affluent nations and people pool their resources -- and it only takes one percent of our wealth -- we can end the plight of the poorest of the poor.
The effort, however, must be massive and concentrated.
. . .
As we talk about ending extreme poverty, I would advocate that we point our attention toward Africa, and here’s the reason.
Bono has famously said, “There is a continent—Africa—being consumed by flames. When the history books are written this generation will be known for the Internet, the war on terror and what we did—or did not do—to put the fire out in Africa. We must engage as individuals and communities to confront these issues.”2
Bono is right, the world’s landscape is peppered with dire places and people, but the most desperate are in Africa.
I was doing an interview with a radio station in Ohio when the host opened it up to callers. As soon as he did a man phoned in and said, “I’m calling to say I disagree with you Palmer. I don’t think people need to go to places like Africa to meet the needs of this world, we have enough problems right here in Ohio.”
“Really?” I asked, with skepticisms heavy in my voice. “In Ohio are women chain to trees and sold into slavery, because that’s what happening in Sudan? In Ohio do starving parents trade their toddlers for a bag of maize in the dry season, because that’s what’s happening in Malawi? In Ohio are eight-year-old boys forced to carry guns and kill their own families, because that’s what’s happening in Uganda? In Ohio do babies die every thirty seconds from malaria, because that’s what happening across the continent of Africa?
The fires are burning in Africa, that’s the reason our passions, abilities, and resources must be poured out there.
I believe the reason we have been unable to put out the fires in Africa is because we haven’t fought them with enough fire hoses. If your house is burning, one hose will not put the fire out. But what if you doused the flames with a hundred hoses?
That’s why we must collaborate, and make our efforts massive and concentrated.
And we don’t have to give or do enough to make poor countries or poor people rich; we simply have to do enough to help them get their foot on the first rung of the economic ladder. When countries get their foot on the ladder of development they generally are able to climb upwards. But if a country or person is trapped below the ladder and the first rung is too high off the ground, they can’t even get started.
. . .
And here’s where it begins, with individuals giving their their lives away to change what’s broken in this world. It starts with one farmer in Ohio show a farmer in Malawi how to irrigate more effectively. It starts with churches, and circle-of-friends, and communities adopting one village to give them clean water. It starts with countries caring about other countries and putting medical facilities in every region.
It starts with one person.
That one person is you.
COLLABORATE AND SHARE
My challenge to the church – Christians everywhere – is to collaborate and share. When we begin to pool our resources, and abilities, and passion we can make right what is wrong in this world.
In Robert Fulghum’s memorable essay, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, he makes a list of all the life-long lessons he learned in kindergarten. My favorite lesson on his list is, Share Everything.
In the Bible, Luke writes of a moment when a frustrated man approaches Jesus and pleads, “Jesus, tell my bother to share with me!” 4 In response Jesus tells this story: A man has a huge harvest, more than he will ever be able to eat. In fact, he probably has enough to last the rest of his life. But instead of sharing, he builds bigger barns. He doesn’t need it and still he won’t share it! And then something highly unexpected happens… he dies.
Jesus’ point is, share! Share everything. It’s just stuff.
I don’t know what it is for you that God is telling you to share, but you know. We all know.
Share What You do Best
God gifts each of us with unique and beautiful passions and abilities. Use them for God.
I was recently in Malawi with Steve, a US Airways pilot from my church. He led our team that spent two weeks loving orphans of AIDS. Steve brought stacks of Xerox paper. In every village where they cared for children, Steve spent his time teaching kids how to build and fly paper airplanes. Share what you do best.
Dustin is twenty-four and repairs motorcycles for a living. So when I was recruiting dirt-bikers to ride the jungle trails of Liberia to give away 2,000 pairs of shoes -- that people of The Grove left behind on our Barefoot Sunday -- I called Dustin first. He said yes in a heartbeat. Last summer Dustin and nine others, spent two weeks sloshing down muddy trails on dirt-bikes, in the middle of rainy season, to give shoes away to people recovering from a devastating civil war. Share what you do best.
Jack is an architect in Phoenix. Sometimes he draws churches. When I told Jack I was heading to Haiti with a team to rebuild a pastor’s house and church, after the earthquake, he said, “I’ll draw the building plans for you.” “Ah, that would be great Jack,” I answered, “but I’m sorry to say we don’t have money to pay an architect.”
“No Palmer, I’m not asking to be paid, I want to make my drawings a gift to the people of Haiti,” Jack explained. But Jack didn’t want to draw the buildings in Phoenix, he said he needed to meet the Pastor and hear from his people. So Jack flew to Haiti with us and sat under tarps on Bellevue de Montagne listening to the dreams of a people hoping to put their country back together again. Now, with Jack’s drawings in hand, we start building their dreams this Christmas. Share what you do best.
I think your life shines brightest when you are sharing what you do best.
Share Your Life
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower… take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it.” 5
That’s the really hard one, sharing your life. But that’s the call of the Christ follower. He wants more than “belief,” more than a “decision.” He wants more than your money – sometimes giving money gets us off the hook -- or your things… He wants your life.
On this side of the Atlantic, we are a blessed people. Like the man who built barns, we have a lot, we know a lot, we can do a lot. And when that’s the case, the God of the Bible says, Turn your blessing into a blessing for others. That’s how he said it Abraham, “I will bless you… and you will be a blessing… and all people on earth will be blessed through you.” 6
God said that to Abraham, now he says that to you… because one man cannot lift a house.
1. Jeffery Sachs The End of Poverty. New York. Penguin Press. 2005.
2. Bono, quoted by Scott Morrison (speech, Parliament, London, England, February 14, 2008).
3. Mark 2:1-12
4. Luke 12
5. Matthew 16:24-26
6. Genesis 12:2-3