One of the most frustrating things to me when talking to men and women of African descent is this constant use of the term; “motherland”. I have actually come to hate that term. Maybe that is not what I mean. I guess I hate the way the term is tossed about like something of great dignity and pride, but there is no real commitment to anything other than lip-service to this glorious motherland. I would say to most people of African descent who use this term’ I am glad I am not yo’ momma!”
Jesus saw it coming. The Savior could see it in the eyes of the Pharisees. Apparently, they were quick to point out how good they were about taking care of their moms and dads. They were quick to point out how they honored their parents by their lives and life choices. Jesus, however, saw through their make believe honor because He could see that despite their lip-service to their parents, they actually despised and hated their parents and were ungrateful children.
In those days, as in many parts of the world today, a parent’s wealth was not only measured by their physical possessions, but by the children they had. Children were indeed an inheritance from the Lord, as there was no such thing as social security, medicare or Medicaid. Parents had to depend upon their children in their old age, when infirmity and disability would strike them down and bring them discomfort and pain. It was this heritage upon which they could depend when they could no longer care for themselves.
The Bible tells us such in Psalm 127:5 that children are an heritage, a fruit a reward and the source of happiness to parents. That is, children are to bring a parent pride and joy and to be a source of pleasure and comfort. My question to all of us who claim African heritage; “How are you treating yo’ momma?”
Jesus noted in Matthew 15 that some of the Pharisees had obviously done well for themselves. They had enough money to spend, enough houses to live in and enough stuff to retire with to live comfortable lives. But, when it came to taking care of their mothers and fathers, Jesus saw that they only paid lip service to it, giving a lot of bravado and bragging, but refusing to actually provide for their parents. How would Jesus view how you treat ‘your momma, the motherland?’ Would He say; “I am glad I am not yo’ momma?”
Let us take a good look at how we live and how yo’ momma lives.
Africa is without a doubt, by any record, by any count, the home of the most misery in the world today. There is more disaster, more disease, more famine, more poverty and less hope for recovery within the continent of Africa than anywhere else in the world. Your motherland, yo’ momma, is in misery and what are you doing about it?
Where are the black Americans in missions? Or as my daughter Keturah put it; “Why are all of these white people here?” For too long this job of carrying Christ to the nations has been allocated almost exclusively to white missionaries. Current estimates are that there are over 46,000 missionaries from the North American shores. Of that number, about 250 are of African American descent.
Why are we so few in numbers? Have we abandoned the call? Do we not read the same Gospel? Do we not share the same burden? Do we not identify with the downtrodden and outcast of the world? Are we not able to meet the call? Are we not prepared? Do we not have the resources? When we answer all of these questions we are still faced with the original query posed by Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Life expectancy is falling within most if not all of Sub-Saharran Africa from the mid-50’s to as low as the mid-30’s. Within these same nations, the scourge of AIDS is producing child soldiers, from millions of orphans and abandoned children. There are an estimated 20 million orphans from AIDS within
Your mother is dying and you are living. Though AIDS continues to devastate the African American community, it has not in anyway approached the numbers that your mother is dealing with.
Your mother is poor and you are rich. African Americans enjoy a lifestyle that commands a total of….., while your motherland has an average income of…,
Your mother is unlearned…, while you have more universities at your disposal at this point in time than ever in your history.
Your mother is naked…, while you spend money on…, designer clothes.
Your mother is dying of thirst and diarrhea from bad water, while you spend money on expensive wines and liquors…,
Your mother is…
It is often argued that indeed we are our brother’s keeper, but the problems are so big at home to even begin thinking about support overseas. A woman recently approached me and said, “Dr. Johnson, as soon as I hit the lottery, I am going to send you a big donation.” I have been told by others that I need to approach the millionaires in our society, the rich black people for support. I think by this they mean the Michael Jordans and Oprah Winfreys of the world.
This is amazing that Christians think that people who never profess a knowledge of Christ should support the work of evangelizing the world for Christ. Is it their job to do this work? Whose calling is this? Shouldn’t the Christian to whom the Bible is written, be responsible for advancing the cause of Christ?
Whose job is it to support missionaries? We somehow have the mistaken notion that we must have a million dollars to perform the work. Quite frankly, of the $4,500 per month we raise for our support, the majority comes in $10 per month and $20 per month shares. The average black American church with 200 members or so could easily support our work if each member gave just $22 per month. That amounts to about seventy cents per day, or the amount we spend on cigarettes, sodas, cable television and other essentials of life.
Jesus was very clear on this subject of big gifts. He made it clear that the widow’s mite was sufficient when given with a spirit of love Mark 12:42. The God whom we serve was able to take the little boy’s fish and bread and make a meal to feed thousands John 6:9. Why are we hoarding the little bit we have? Why is it important for us to collect so many things of this world? Don’t we recognize Paul’s admonition that we are becoming dung collectors (Philippians 3:8)? We are storing up things in this life and not being rich towards God (Luke 12:21). We are building a legacy within our homes for our children to observe and to follow.
We show our children that we only give to God’s work when it is convenient and not when it is inconvenient. We show God to be a God who only requires us to give when we have everything in our home. We show our children and the world that unless our God has blessed us in the manner we feel is comfortable, we need not worry about giving to missions.
We now show God that we can’t depend on Him to provide for us, so we must provide for ourselves. We tell the non-Christian world that providing for the poor around the world is only necessary when we have enough to buy all of our stuff at Christmas. We tell the non-Christian world that it is only necessary to give to the poor when we feel we are no longer poor. We are only our brother’s keeper if God gives us enough. Otherwise it is the rich man’s responsibility. It is the government’s job. We can always just pray and let God do the work. Unless God gives me more, I am not my brother’s keeper.
If we don’t get exactly what we want and how we want it, we feel we have been cheated. We won’t give to the poor unless we have all we want. We ignore the example of the poor Macedonian Christians (2 Corinthians 8) That church gave out of deep poverty. They gave themselves fully to God and God met each of their own personal needs with an unlimited source of his grace and goodness. We hunger for more of the world when God wants us to hunger for more of himself.
I know this desire for more of the world. I wrestle with this desire for more. As a boy growing up in America, I wanted for so long to know if we were the poor people. I had heard that black people were poor. It was somehow apparent to me that I was indeed black. I knew that having more was part of the American way of life. I learned this on television and radio. I saw it in the newspapers. Everyone wanted more. Everyone deserved more. Everyone could have more if they just worked long enough and hard enough.
I bought into this American dream of having more. I felt that if I studied hard and long in school I could achieve this American dream. Unfortunately, or fortunately I was later to learn that it takes more than just hard work, it takes a whole lot of grace when you are of a darker hue in this nation.
God provided for me sufficient grace in the form of a godly mother and grandmother and aunt. They taught me more about the importance of giving than the obsession of getting. My mother showed me the importance of living a life that reflected God. That reflection of God she showed me was a God who gave His best to people, not because they deserved the best but because He was able to give the best. I learned very early on that getting and having is temporary and deadly, but giving and sharing is eternal and life giving.
We never get what we deserve. Cain did not get what he deserved when he killed his brother and arrogantly approached God with the question; “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It was as though he was saying to God; “Why didn’t you keep an eye on him God, after all, if you had protected him, he would be alright!” My mother and my grandmother taught me that I needed to be responsible for the poor and helpless.
I learned very early on that I was my brother’s keeper as I listened to Dr. Martin Luther King expound upon the issues of not just black America, but a world that was caught up in corruption and war and hate and civil unrest. Dr. King brought the Viet-Nam conflict to the forefront of black America thought when we were more settled in wrestling with the racism we faced in our own lives and made us see that oppression anywhere in the world is just the same as oppression on our front door step. I learned from Dr. King that I am my brother’s keeper.
I have often had to be reminded of my calling to my brother. As I went through school in the ‘60’s, 70’s and 80’s, it was indeed a long time. Lawrence University in Wisconsin, University of Michigan Medical School and Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia for training in surgery, I often forgot about my brother.
As I finished training in surgery in Philadelphia, I shut out the horrors of the world around me and began to focus on me, myself and I. What did I want in life? What did I need in life? After all, don’t I deserve more? I’ve been poor for so long!
That is our theme song as a people today. Don’t we deserve more? Of course we do. Cain did not get all he deserved either, did he? What more did Cain deserve? Cain deserved hell. What more do we deserve? We deserve hell. But God who is rich in mercy for His great love for which He loved us, even when we were dead in our sins, hath quickened us together with Christ. Ephesians 2:4-5. God did not give us what we deserve, He gave us His only Son as the only way to eternal life.
But Lord, we have been poor for so long. We’ve been down for so long Lord. Don’t you see our sad estate? Lord give us more! We prayed for more. We prayed for freedom from slavery. We prayed for freedom from the whip of the master and from the vicious reprisal of former slave owners after the Civil War. We prayed for relief from Jim Crow segregation.
We prayed for jobs. We prayed for voting rights. We prayed for fair employment. We prayed for equal representation in government. We prayed for fair courts. We prayed for good schools. These are important things. These are necessary things. We need these things to survive.
We have not gotten all we prayed for or adult friend for something which now you remember would have been harmful. God reminds us in Matthew chapter 7 that God is a good Father who will not give a serpent to us if we ask for a fish. We are told that every good and perfect comes from our Father; James1:17. God wants us to have the best. He would not have us suffer when we would ask for things which are harmful to us. We really don’t need nor want all of the things we pray for. It would be like that Chinese curse; ” may all of your wishes come true.”
We have, by God’s grace, not gotten all we pray for. Many of the things we have accomplished in our individual lives are not a result of answered prayer, but of selfish motives and greed. Our homes today are broken by divorce and drugs not as an answer to prayer, but because of our self-reliance.
We have not gotten all we prayed for. However, we have made some gains. We have not and given the present trend of things in America will not get our full share. This does not preclude us from being our brother’s keeper.
As I came to the realization that I was given the privileges I had not for self, but to give to others my priorities started to change. Why had all of those people suffered for so long in order for me to get to where I am today? Right now, I admit people to hospitals and operate on those people in the very hospitals that 30 years ago I could not be treated in myself. Why has God given me such a legacy today? Why did He do it? I believe He knew I would wake up one day and remember I am indeed my brother’s keeper. God wants us to wake up today and remember that in the midst of all of our struggles, we are our brother’s keeper.
Our brother is of course not just in Africa. God has never called us the brotherhood of Africans. This is certainly the worldview. We get sentimental and misty eyed about helping out the poor African brother. We romanticize about the great kings and great empires and great thrones of Africa. We forget of course that in order to have kings and great empires and sitting on great thrones, there had to be some little people with little gardens sitting in little outhouses.
When it comes to the glories of Africa, we are more interested in the glory of animals than the glory of its people. We watch movies such as Godzilla and National Geographic specials and marvel at the animal life which is guarded against poachers killing, elephants, rhinos and other endangered species, but turn away from the news on CNN or BBC which reveal the massive killing of human life, a less endangered species, with millions of men women and children killed yearly in wars, famines and disasters.
We have made Africa to be a nation of nothing but great things when the Bible is quite clear that there is wickedness in every heart and every corner of the world. Psalm 14:2-3 tells us that God looked down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there were any that did understand and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Even Africa at its glory was nothing but filthy rags, just as the rest of the world is without Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
We are not called just to Africa. We, as members of the body of Christ are called to the world in need of the Savior. We are called not just to the materially impoverished of Angola in Africa, but the spiritually impoverished of Austria in Europe. Our brother is in this sense, anyone who is in need of the Gospel of Christ. God would not give His only Son to accomplish such a limited activity of evangelizing Africa.
So what has God given us to accomplish this great task? He has given us everything we need and quite often everything we asked for. According to the 1996 US census report, there are 34.2 millions black people in America. The median income was for that period $26,520. That means that black workers make approximately in one year what the average Kenyan would make in about 70 years.
In other words, the average black American made in one year what the average Kenyan would make in almost two lifetimes. Not two years, two lifetimes, as the average Kenyan is paid a salary of $300 per year. Compare that $300 per year to $26,520 per year. A recent report from the United Nations reveals that 1.5 billion people live on less than one dollar per day.
Now you might ask; “Is the cost of living cheaper in Kenya?” I would answer, “yes and no.” What we consider to be essentials for the cost of living don’t figure into the Kenyan economy. There are many people in Kenya who have yet to board a motorized vehicle of any form. There are few homes in Kenya with electricity. There are few homes with indoor plumbing. There are few families having such luxuries as beds and blankets and pillows. The very idea of eating more than one meal per day is a luxury to many people in Kenya today and very often that meal consists of nothing more than a handful of cornmeal. The newspapers of Kenya for the past few weeks have relate stories of whole communities, families and friends starving to death. Can you imagine what it is like to watch your children starve to death?
So, I ask you; “Is the cost of living cheaper in Kenya?” In a sense it is. That is why life is so short with the life expectancy of Kenyans dropping to below 50 years of age. Living is not cheaper, life is.
Life is cheaper in many parts of the world. So we turn off our cable television because we don’t want to see just how cheap it is. As we in Black America boast of the fact that African American owned companies earned over 32 billion dollars in 1992 with spending continuing to spiral we continue to ignore the plight of a world that is facing economic meltdown.
We black Americans boast of spending close to 4 billion dollars on foods and beverages from Black owned companies and continue to disproportionately suffer from obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and gallstones, diseases which come from eating too much. We don’t want to see the pictures of people huddled around a pot of boiled grass and tree leaves in Sudan, trying to feed their starving children.
We flush our toilets with cleaner water than most people of the world are drinking today. We buy $150 dollar sneakers to wear to $5 movie and eat $5 worth of popcorn and candy for a night on the town, while the average family in the world is trying to find a way to make a life for a day in the village. We spend more on lotteries and casinos as a people, on games of chance, while most women in the world are taking a chance at even getting pregnant as they don’t know if they will survive the pregnancy with no doctor in the village. In Nigeria the oil rich nation of west Africa, a woman getting pregnant takes her life in her hands. If she becomes pregnant in January of this year and joins like 100,000 other women, the likelihood is that 3000 of them will die in pregnancy by August. Compare that to 9 of 100,000 deaths for women in the US during pregnancy.
People in much of the world sit on a dirt floor around an empty table, searching the house for a few coins, watching, waiting, hoping and praying ‘Give us this day our daily bread, while we sit around the table with not enough room for the pots and pans of food, won’t say a prayer of thanks over supper because we might miss what’s on television, as we pray; ‘Give us this day our daily number.’ It is no longer ‘all to Jesus I surrender’, but ‘all to Visa I surrender’ as our song of faith is in prosperity of the nation whose god is the dollar and not the God of our fathers.
The parents in many parts of the country we serve won’t even take a chance at naming a child before two years of age because it might not live, but die of hunger or diarrhea. We scratch out the lucky lotto number at the convenience store full of food, while they scratch the dust in the ground looking for food and water. Who has the better chance of winning? We lose at the lottery that day and go on to buy a coke and a bag of chips. They lose at looking for food and water and go on to boil some grass and leaves from a tree or meat from a diseased cow that died in the field.
Farouk Aman is young boy for instance living in southern Sudan. Farouk happens to be a Christian. He is just 17 years old. His chance of living to 30 is very small. For you see, Christian men and women in Southern Sudan are being chased on foot for hundreds of miles and executed by having their throats slit open by their Muslim enemies Their children are running into the hills to escape their Muslim captors and yet are being sold into slavery today, while we in Black America boast that our black owned car dealers sell over 6 billion dollars per year of products we don’t even produce. We would not walk the distance to work that these people are forced to run for their lives, yet we continue to try to buy the finest autos and ride in the latest style because we want to keep up with the “Joneses”.
God has given us all that we need to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters around the world. We have more than 9,000 physicians who claim African descent. There are over tens of thousands of nurses who claim African descent. Lawyers, architects, builders, teachers, preachers, artists, entertainers by the tens of thousands, many of whom call Christ Lord and Savior.
In a recent report in the Philadelphia Inquirer, it was noted that over 89,000 African Americans graduate from college every year. When do we say we have enough education to help our brother? If we claim to know Him, He admonishes us in Luke 6:46 for calling Him Lord and not doing the things which He says we should do. John 14:15 Jesus tells us that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments.
Just what is the black church doing in missions today? This is done from a survey of over 150 churches. One of the problems in the black church is our perspective of “affirmative action.” We don’t mind affirmative action when it comes to our getting what we deserve from the government. However, when it comes to doing our fair share in missions, we feel the pie is too small to share.
We don’t want the small pie we have of our income and members to be shared with some other ministries in some other place. Our pastors have the idea that if they support ministries other than those that are at the front door, they won’t have enough money to place out a new welcome mat. We want to look good in the community. We want people to come to our church and note that the ministry is prospering and doing well. We feel we can’t do that and support ministries overseas. We limit God by our own limitations. We limit Jesus could do no work in those places where there was no faith.
The typical African American church budget would read something like this; as taken from a survey of over 100 black churches in the southern United States. Church ministry to itself; building and maintenance 65% Emergency fund 26%; Funds going outside of the church 5%; of this, 4.2% for denominational expenses; UNCF 0.4%; Classic home missions 0%; Global Missions 5%. The total budget was $120,000 with a membership of 100-200 members.
There is more money spent on the men’s breakfasts and women’s auxiliaries in the typical black church than is spent on the primary call of going into all of the world to win souls for the kingdom.
The AME church reported on its 8,000 congregations with 3.5 million members. As of 1993 the total overseas ministry income was 250 thousand dollars. This represents seven cents per member per year or approximately $31.25 per church per year.
The NBC USA in 1992 was giving 51 cents per church member per year and when the cost of inflation is added in as a factor, this represents a 22 percent decline over 41 years from 1951.
It is obvious that we as black people have put our money where our hearts are. The average amount spent on entertainment by black people as recorded by the US Department of Commerce is $772, yearly, per consumer. whereas we spend a total of 22 cents per year in missions as a people of Christ. Just where are our hearts and where are our treasures?
What are His commandments? Are we our brother’s keeper? Who is my brother? Who is my neighbor, the rich young ruler asked Jesus in Luke 10:29. Just who am I supposed to help Lord? Of course Jesus responded to the man’s rhetorical question by reminding him that anyone in need was his neighbor. The man really didn’t want to know the answer.
Lord I have kept all of the commandments since I was a young boy. I have honored my mother and father. I have gone to church and given my tithe and left off all the big three sins, alcohol, avarice and adultery. What else should I do? Matthew 19:21 rings so true as the man asked Jesus, what else he should do. Jesus told him to go and sell all he had and give to the poor and that he would find treasure in heaven. The man went away crying because he had collected a lot of stuff and couldn’t see selling it for meeting the needs of the poor. We really don’t want to hear the answer to the question; “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We are afraid we might leave the room in tears too.
Why is it that we have yet to join the work that is before us? What are we waiting for? Are we not our brother’s keeper?
I would contend that indeed we are our brother’s keeper. Cain knew it all along. In fact that is why he asked the question. He was hoping that he could fool God. He was testing God’s memory.