Columnists > Voices

Condoms or compassion?

Helping Africa requires the hard work of personal involvement

Issue: "Supreme Court fight," July 23, 2005

Americans visiting Namibia, Zambia, and South Africa are often struck by the boldness of the condom-promotion campaign sponsored by governmental and international organizations. Posters decorated with crude drawings of talking condoms, spouting slogans such as "I am safe" and "I can protect you against AIDS," decorate the gate to the teacher's college in Katima Mulilo, Namibia.

On condom-advertising billboards, athletes and musicians brag that "I treat my partner the way I want to be treated." In Zambia, billboards proclaiming "Say YES to Condoms" display sponsorship by World Vision Zambia and other organizations. My wife and I did not see any billboards suggesting abstinence, nor did we see ads showing children's faces and a message along the lines of, "Your love tonight leaves them orphaned next year."

At the Children of Zion (see "One church, one orphanage") home last fall, an itinerant Zambian artist painted in the dining room a mural memorializing four of the children who have died from AIDS since the home opened; the painting depicts Jesus and the man who donated the land for the home surrounded by the young victims. When the painter returns he will add to his work a portrait of Lazarus, a toddler who died last Thanksgiving.

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The consequences of immorality are also evident in the blood and organs of Mateo, a Children of Zion 9-year-old who one afternoon was racing around the orphanage grounds on a bicycle. The next day he ran a fever of 104, so volunteer Jodi Canapp drove him to the office of a sympathetic doctor about six miles away. The doctor's waiting room was full but he poked his head out of his examining room and called for "the boy from the children's home."

The doctor examined Mateo, prescribed an antibiotic, and noted that even though Mateo didn't yet have an infection in his lungs or kidneys, one could soon develop because of his HIV-positive status. Because of him and others, the home has adopted careful routines for tending cuts, washing clothes and urine-soaked sheets, and changing diapers. But none of that is obvious to the children who are hugged and cuddled all the same. And Mateo a couple of days later was recovered and again racing around-for now.

At least that diagnosis was clear. Some other illnesses are mysteries. Nine-year-old Emelia has had a mysterious skin ailment resulting in sores the size of oranges. Dosages of prednisone almost completely cleared her of sores but she couldn't keep taking it without other problems kicking in, so the medical fund set up by Mount Zion church was tapped to buy an airline ticket for her to fly to Maryland to be treated by a dermatologist who has volunteered his expertise.

To get the documents needed for her to leave the country, though, missionary Gary Mink had to drive her to the Namibian capital of Windhoek, a 13-hour journey. One day just after breakfast he loaded Emelia and her suitcase in the old car and drove off-but three hours later she was back at the children's home, looking a little confused but still happy. It turned out that the car broke down after 30 miles; they had hitched a ride back and now had to tow the car back to the farm.

Finally at 3:30 the car was back and Mr. Mink was ready to go in the orphanage's other vehicle. Emelia, carrying new shoes and not wanting to get them dirty, climbed in for the long drive to Windhoek. This time they made it, and two days later the two were back, stamped papers in hand. She soon was on her way to the United States and, suitably enough, had July 4th as her first full day in America, perhaps on her way toward freedom from sores.

That's compassionate conservatism at work-personally becoming involved with those in need instead of merely dispensing condoms or dollars. It's hard work. At the missionary's house next to the children's home two Adirondack chairs sit in a tranquil spot under a shade tree overlooking the blue Zambezi River. Mr. Mink says that he and his wife Rebecca figured they'd find a half hour each day to sit in them, but now they are rarely used.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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