I dread going into Kamwenge town at the moment.
Because I am sick of talking to the torrent of people who enquire about Maranatha Health. About the factory. About why we are STILL not back at work.
I love that people care. If anything this entire drama has just made it blatantly, 100%, no-way-around-it obvious that the health service we provide in Kamwenge is an absolute necessity. We have the support of the community. No issue there. Whatsoever.
But on entering every shop the conversation plays out something like this:
Interested friend/acquaintance/random stranger who knows me: How is Maranatha?
Me: We are really suffering, all of us are seated. You know it’s tricky.
Friend: Eh, Sorry, I know. These leaders of ours. [shakes head] And we really need Maranatha.
Me: I know. We are trying. But you know, these leaders in Kamwenge, they don’t even care.
Friend: They are too corrupt! They have really eaten money from this thing. And now it is taking long. Why don’t people come and shut this factory down! I have heard that [insert ridiculous rumour here]. Is it true?
Me: No. That one is not true, this is what is happening [explain what is happening].
Friend: But really, how far? It is taking long. We can’t manage without Maranatha. People are dying.
Me: I wish you would tell that to your leaders, to the district. They need to hear that from all of you people!
Friend: Ah, but why? They can’t even listen to us. They will just laugh….
This is followed by a detailed story of a relative/friend/child who they know has either died in Kamwenge recently because Maranatha is no longer working, or has paid ridiculous amounts of money to get the treatment from outside the district.
Then I do the obligatory shaking of the head and clucking of the tongue to express my disappointment at the situation. Then the conversation moves on to other things.
This happens in every shop. I even went to buy a phone charger the other day and the boy in his late teens in the electrical shop who looks way-too-cool-for-school in his chains and muscle top had this same conversation with me.
It gets tiring witnessing an injustice like this up close – with all of its ugliness and corruption and stupidity and unblinking carelessness thrust into my life. The frustration of being so tightly woven into the fabric of the issue; knowing that I have to keep watching no matter what, because I can’t just shrug my shoulders and walk away when it gets too hard. The vulnerability that it’s my fight, my story, my life that is affected, as much as the lives of the people of Kamwenge.
Michael and I can’t imagine our life without Maranatha, without Kamwenge, without Africa. It has been a part of our journey, our identity, our purpose for so long now…
Whilst there have been steps made, meetings had and reports written from several key ministries that express self-evident truths about the illegality of the factory, no-one has yet provided Maranatha Health with exactly what we want (and need) to be able to return to work:
A willingness for someone to stand up and pronounce that, yes, it is within my authority and jurisdiction and responsibility to force this factory to shut and move. Well, we may still succeed. We will know, either way, within the next 2 weeks.
However, our greatest sadness comes from the state of the Kamwenge district leadership.
Since we have moved here, we’ve heard story after story of district officials eating money. Of serious all encompassing corruption. Government money in Kamwenge often does not get to its intended recipient – that much is clear. The average citizen in Kamwenge town will tell anyone who will listen that Kamwenge District is more corrupt than others – that there is a culture of entitlement and a lack of accountability within the leadership, and has been for many years.
But somewhere, in the back of my mind, I have always hoped that perhaps I am simply being too cynical. Believing too many of the rumours. Missing out on the opportunity to hear the positive stories.
But now I have sat in a room and heard the top leaders in the district, telling us that we should just go to another district, that it isn’t their business what happens to Maranatha. I have had conversations relayed to me about technical staff within Kamwenge bragging with others that they have the money to take their children to the next district for treatment, so what do they care if Maranatha leaves.
This is one of the greatest evils I have ever been confronted with: Individuals accepting leadership positions that are charged with the responsibility of representing and protecting the citizens of an area. Draining every last drop of finances and power and hero-worship and VIP treatment and personal benefit available from that position. Then taking even more – that which is not legally and rightfully theirs to take. And then, at the end of all that, knowingly making decisions that will bring suffering for the community, against the will of those they are representing.
One of my strongest character traits is empathy. But there is no way I can empathise with some of the characters we have been dealing with in Kamwenge. Because it is not humane, and I am human.
And so whether we end up staying or have to pack up and re-invent our life somewhere new, whether Maranatha lives on for another 100 years or if next month we must pack our bags for Australia, the most difficult hurdle that is yet to come in this battle will be something I perhaps did not expect.
Grief for the people of Kamwenge, that their leadership continues to fail them on such a grand scale.
Grief that there is such evil that exists, that it is moving around and amongst us all the time, clawing its way ahead and swiping at the good endeavours in this world.
Grief that most of the time, injustice wins out, while a God whose quiet pleas for justice whispered into the hearts of men so often floats away, unacknowledged. It will only be because of this God and the stubbornness of a few of us that it may not win this time.
Grief that the church so often fails to be the voice of justice and truth when it is needed most.
Grief that I have no power to change most things in this world, this country, this district, this town. That there are a million more small battles like this one that happen every day, with people far more fatalistic and used to defeat than we are, who will give up much earlier.
But in the sadness that sits heavy on me when I witness the indifference of leaders to the plight of the poor, I have found comfort in knowing that I am not alone in this struggle against my own grief; many before me have experienced that same tiredness in their soul:
“Accustom yourself to look first to the dreadful consequences of failure; then fix your eye on the glorious prize which is before you; and when your strength begins to fail, and your spirits are well nigh exhausted, let the animating view rekindle your resolution, and call forth in renewed vigour the fainting energies of your soul.”
-William Wilberforce, leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade.