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Extreme games

"Extreme games" Continued...

Issue: "John Roberts: Bush's pick," July 30, 2005

He visited Western efforts that turned poor but struggling Africans into panhandlers, and left the efforts themselves dependent on constant fundraising: "The organizations bought cheap land rather than good farmland and then spent their money on good housing and good cars." As his fourfold vision-an AIDS orphanage that is "African, simple, pragmatic, and replicable"-took shape, he took out an $85,000 second mortgage, sold a boat and tools, and had $140,000 to put into an African start-up.

He traveled to South Africa repeatedly, scouting out communities for orphanages and looking into productive farms that, after a one-time purchase, would allow Agathos efforts to be self-sustaining. He saw the importance of building relationships in the villages where he would locate, and-as a person who had been away from Africa for nearly three decades-looked to some Westerners with more recent experience.

The person he chose to be the "village coordinator" for his pilot project in Loskop had his own wounds to heal. John David Borgman, a vigorous 63-year-old who wears a neat ponytail, grew up the son of a church elder in Connecticut and graduated from Wheaton in 1964. (His best-known classmate: Speaker of the House Denny Hastert.) Mr. Borgman joined the Marines, went to Vietnam in 1967, and flew 181 missions in a single-seat fighter that carried bombs, rockets, and machine guns.

Later he called in air strikes and gained a ground-level view of war as hell: "I was part of devastation and destruction. I felt like I was losing my soul." He lived in the United States for a while, then volunteered for 10 years in Tanzania while his wife (born in the Ivory Coast) taught school there. He adopted not only a different hemisphere but a different part of his name: "I grew up being called David, but the military called me John. When I came to Africa I let the Borgman part of the name drop off." He now goes by J.D.

Six years ago he purchased for $80,000 and moved to a beautiful 150-acre ranch just down the road from Loskop. One morning last month, as he drove milk from his eight goats to a woman who takes care of 25 children, he spoke of how "Africa's been good for me. It's helped me to let go of a critical spirit, a lot of pride-like mainstream Christianity." He criticizes "American individualism" and says, "Here, the community is important. The community is my family-that's what giving up my last name signified."

As a visionary CEO, Rob Smith also recognized that he needed someone to create order-a chief operating officer. Volunteering for the role for six months is Scott Brinkerhoff, 51, who graduated from Houghton College nearly three decades ago and spent the next 28 years teaching and coaching at a Christian school. He resigned last year. His first wife (and the mother of his two sons, both now involved in missionary and international development work) died 14 years ago. Like Mr. Smith and Mr. Borgman, Mr. Brinkerhoff was following Christ in working at Loskop and also trying anew to pioneer a vision for the church and himself.

Bold, sometimes-wounded healers in frontier conditions are playing a role in the Agathos plan to develop more homes for orphans that are culturally African. Mr. Smith noted that some programs try to Westernize children, but his goal is to have the children live as Zulus-with some Western improvements, since "a flush toilet is better than a pit toilet." He said his objective is not to instill Western culture but Christian culture, which includes a sense of law and a willingness to work.

That's an ambitious goal, and to move it along Mr. Smith is looking for income-generating businesses that can prevent the further growth of "a welfare mentality throughout Africa . . . people always looking for handouts from Europeans and Americans." He notes that a coffin-making company is likely to have lots of sales over the next 10 years. Children at the orphanage have chores that require effort but offer rewards: In the afternoon they put on rubber gloves to pick up garbage, with the incentive of being able to blow up those gloves into balloons when work is done.

Mr. Smith is also concerned about bicycle chains. He started out having two bikes held in common by the 32 children currently on site, but from now on will give them, and lesser toys, to particular children: Property unowned is soon property broken or lost, since no one has much personal stake in maintaining it. Loskop itself is providing further evidence of ownership's importance: A close-by, government-provided community center now has broken windows and is rarely used.

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