June 30, 2008

Poor Nations, Rich Nations
by Pastor George Van Alstine

During Vacation Bible School, I had the pleasure of developing a theme center that emphasized our global connections by focusing on five nations around the world. The nations were chosen based on natural connections in the ABC family and strategic locations on various continents. Our nations were:
Monday – Ghana
Tuesday – Mexico
Wednesday – India
Thursday – South Korea
Friday – China
I had a half-hour session with each of the four age groups. I was helped by a variety of “consultants,â€? who were usually natives of those nations.

At the Monday Ghana session I was helped by Lauren DeVaughn, who had been part of our church’s mission team to that country in 2006. With the youngest kids, we emphasized pictures of children, toys and native customs. With the older groups, I decided to do a little education about global realities.

One conversation left me shaking my head. I pointed out that the continent of Africa had included many of the world’s poorest nations, and that the continent as a whole had very little of the world’s wealth. I asked the group: “From what you know of world history, why do you think Africa is so poor? What was the main cause?â€?

One girl couldn’t wait to get her hand up, so I called on her. “Communism!â€? she said with assurance. I pointed out to her that the major causes of Africa’s poverty had their effect four hundred years before communism became a world force. Apparently, from her schooling or her parental training, she was used to hearing all the world’s problems blamed on communism, and that was her reflex reaction.

A boy was the next to raise his hand. His answer was a little less confident: “Bad leaders?â€? Maybe he was aware of the chaos around the election in Zimbabwe, where strongman-president Mugabe was systematically rigging his re-election, while his nation’s inflation increased over 1000%. I agreed that there had certainly been many bad leaders in Africa, but they had usually inherited a political and economic mess when they entered office.

To answer my own question, I took the kids back on a historic journey that went something like this:
“About six hundred years ago the nations up here (I pointed to Europe on the map) all began to build bigger and better ships. They started to explore the coastlines, farther and farther from their home base. What they were looking for were things to trade, so that they could make more and more money. All of these countries—Spain, Portugal, Holland, England and France—were in competition with each other to get the most and best things they could from the ‘undeveloped’ countries they visited. In Ghana they found gold, and in South Africa they found diamonds. What do you think they gave to the Africans in exchange for gold and diamonds?â€?
One little boy answered without hesitation: “Nothing!â€? I said, “You’re right; nothing!â€?

Then I asked: “Does anybody know of another natural resource the Europeans got from Africa?â€? And, after a short pause, one girl said, almost beneath her breath, “People.â€? Wow, what insight! I went on to talk about the slave trade. Lauren told them about her visit to Elmina Castle in Ghana, which was the last stopping-place for many slaves bound for Europe and the Americas. She told them that a third of the slaves died in the boat trip across the ocean, and the rest would never see their homeland or freedom again.

I wanted them to understand that our own country has also contributed to Africa’s poverty. Even before America became a nation, the merchants in the Colonies worked hard to build ships so they could compete with European nations for the riches of Africa, including slaves. These American traders became just as ruthless and greedy as those from Spain, or England, or France.

I don’t know whether any of the children went home and told their parents about Pastor George’s revolutionary anti-American remarks. I was actually just reviewing historical facts. On the Fourth of July we celebrate many of the truly glorious qualities of our wonderful Nation, but it’s good for us to remember that some of our success as a people has come at the expense of others, such as Native Americans, Mexicans, and Africans.

It’s important for individual believers to keep reminding themselves, before God, of their sinful past and the tendency toward sin in their nature. In the same way, it’s important for a nation to acknowledge its bad behavior as well as its finer qualities. We honor America best on our patriotic holidays by reminding ourselves of the whole truth about its history and heritage.
“Put them in fear, O Lord, that the nations may know themselves, that they are only human.â€? (Psalm 9:20)