Eugene Cho

Africa is beautiful: The danger of how we frame the story of other nations and people.

Thank you for your prayers.

After about two weeks in Kenya and Tanzania, I’m back in Seattle. I spent most of my time in Kenya to assess ODW’s partnerships and projects in response to the worst drought the Horn of Africa (Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia) has encountered in the past 60 years. I have some both encouraging stories and difficult stories to share – as well as images – some of which I’ll share and some that’s best not to share.

But before I share some upcoming posts about things that discouraged me, encouraged me, and the rise of skepticism and cynicism in development, I wanted to share a post detailing how much I’ve enjoyed my two weeks in Africa, my first trip to East Africa, and my third visit to this beautiful continent.

In fact, this post may be the most important of the ones I share about my trip – even if it doesn’t directly engage the main purpose of my trip: to assess ODW’s Horn of Africa response.

The responsibility in story-telling.

It’s important because the last thing I want to do is perpetuate a false picture of how Africans or for that matter, people of all “developing” countries are perceived as helpless, hungry, needy, incapable, etc.

For some, the quintessential image of “Africa” is the image of a young African boy with the bloated stomach, snot running down his nose, eyes dazed, and flies peppered around his head. You’ve seen this image, haven’t you?

Are there those that are hungry, thirsty, and living in desperation? Unfortunately…yes.  But such can be said of those in our respective countries – even sadly and poignantly in the country I love and call home called America.

My point is that to reduce the tapestry, identity, narrative, history, and fabric of an entire continent (comprised of many different countries)  to one angle is irresponsible, dangerous, and simply…wrong. Even if that angle might be accurate, to convey that angle without the context of a larger story is dangerous.

Time and time again, I’ve been asked – passionately, politely, and at time, angrily – by my African friends and colleagues something to this extent:

Eugene, we know you run a development and humanitarian organization. Thank you for your work but as you share the stories of difficulties and pain, don’t forget to share the stories of beauty, hope, courage, and love. Please be responsible in your story-telling.

Please tell your western countries that the whole of Africa is not dangerous, war-mongers, child soldiers, starving, helpless, and desperate. Please tell your folks that while we appreciate love, prayers, and support, we are not in need of the “Western White Saviors” (or Asian Saviors for that matter).  We are proud. We are beautiful. We have a history; We have beautiful stories and songs. We are not perfect but we, too, are created in the wondrous image of God. 

Indeed.

It’s with that in mind that I share some pictures I took during my visit. Mediocre pictures that don’t do justice to the beautiful countries and to the beautiful people I had the privilege of meeting.

Some pictures from Kenya and Tanzania:

Picture above: An amazingly beautiful day as we traveled the not-so-often traveled nomadic roads near SE Kenya. We were hosted by the Islamic Foundation and enjoyed an incredible walk  through those fields. The word beautiful does not do justice to what I saw.

Picture below: I worshipped at St. Peter Anglican Church in Chamwino, Tanzania. I had the honor of preaching there that morning. There were five choirs that sang about 9 or 10 songs. Each was spirit-filled and wondrous. My favorite was this women’s choir. They soared – spiritually and literally.

The beautiful music of the Gogo people being shared at the 5th Annual Wagogo Music Festival in Tanzania.


As we drove around the most bumpiest and pot-holed roads I have ever encountered in my 42 years of life that made me combat the food I consumed in the mornings, there were some views that eased and erased any nausea I was experiencing. This was one of those views on one of those drives to a project site: Landscape. Sky. Clouds. Giraffes.

Perfect.

The food of Kenya. Delicious. I would thrive in these parts of the world because rice was served with nearly every meal. FTW. I don’t unfortunately have any food pictures from my visit to Tanzania because I was too busy eating. Goat never tasted so delicious.

This six-year-old girl managed several smiles. About 8-10 months ago, she and her family (including her 5 siblings) traveled (by foot and cart) nearly 200 miles to escape the worst drought that has hit this region in about 60 years.

The Wagogo Music Festival. Song. Dance. Prophetic lyrics. I’ll need to share more because I was stunned by the lyrics.


Sunset in Kenya.

Yes.


Somali Kenyan IDPs (internally displaced people). They left their homes. Everyone lost most of their livestock. But they maintained their commitment to their tribe, their neighbors, their families, and some of the most colorful and beautiful clothes I have seen.

Filed under: , , , , ,

19 Responses

  1. Incredible, Eugene.

    And I’m encouraged by your commitment to tell Africa’s full story. Unfortunately, all Americans get is that one angle from the TV ads, meant to pluck (manipulate) heartstrings. They parade people around, the same way the humane society parades abused animals around, to heap guilt on the audience and giving little dignity to the people.

  2. KC says:

    Another thing we often forget: Africa isn’t homogenous as a continent (Asia isn’t, either). The cultural, climate, and political differences between, say, Nepal and Japan? Pretty big. The differences between Ghana and Uganda? Also pretty big, despite the letters in common. There are different countries, and different regions within countries, and each have different environmental/political situations going on.

    The sunsets are quite possibly all gorgeous, though.

  3. Bill C. says:

    Great stuff, Eugene. Reminds me of one of my favorite Ted Talks ever:

  4. Dan H. says:

    Thanks for sharing Eugene. Our community has been encouraged by this TED talk along the same lines as your post. It is a beautiful and complicated land filled with very dear brothers and sisters.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html along

  5. Carrie says:

    Beautiful Eugene! My African husband appreciates when non-Africans can see the beauty in the land and in the people and celebrate the many cultures and people grops in the vast continent despite the pain that also exists in many parts. Having visited a few countries in Africa I am also thankful you are sharing the beauty of Africa here! Thank you and I look forward to reading future blogs by you on your African experiences and learnings. Good stuff indeed!

  6. Emily says:

    Thanks for your insight, Eugene. This is an extremely important point for us as American Christians to understand — particularly those of us who want to be involved in social justice efforts.

    My husband and I recently wrote a post on this issue evaluating a case where a popular American “justice” movement co-opted the story of other people. Is that movement really doing justice?

    http://ethnicspace.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/konylonialism-2012-the-colonization-of-story/

  7. Ann says:

    This is excellent, Eugene. You reminded me of Chimamanda Adichie’s wonderful TED talk on “The Danger of a Single Story”.

  8. Adele Sakler says:

    i visited Kenya 25 years ago when i was senior in high school. i was part of a Catholic youth group and we raised money to go because we were invited to participate in a huge youth conference there. i SO found the Kenyans to be welcoming, beautiful, and happy people. Thanks for painting a much more HOLISTIC picture of this lovely nation.

  9. Eric says:

    I adore you and your writing, but am conflicted with the ease in which “Africa” is used as a singular entity while, at the same time, trying to argue against simplistic or reductionist thought. Discussing Africa as a monolith perpetuates the very thing you are arguing against, I think.

  10. I really appreciate your perspective. I hope that more and more people (in the church, especially) adopt this sort of grace and integrity, particularly in our approach to missions,

    Your post reminds me of this recent article in the Boston Review about media portrayal in [the continent of] Africa. A bit long, but its heart reads much like yours.

    http://www.bostonreview.net/BR37.4/jina_moore_africa_journalism_colonialism.php

    LaTricia

  11. Karen says:

    Yes. This is really a challenge sometimes, raising an African child with a healthy self-image while living in a culture that only remembers or knows the negatives associated with her heritage.

  12. Sybil says:

    I love this: “Please tell your western countries that the whole of Africa is not dangerous, war-mongers, child soldiers, starving, helpless, and desperate. Please tell your folks that while we appreciate love, prayers, and support, we are not in need of the “Western White Saviors” (or Asian Saviors for that matter). We are proud. We are beautiful. We have a history; We have beautiful stories and songs. We are not perfect but we, too, are created in the wondrous image of God.”

  13. […] to any other African nation’s story, history or experience. For further thoughts on this, read Pastor Eugene Cho’s blog (who also traveled with World Concern to Kenya and […]

  14. Nick says:

    Great post. Look forward to reading future posts on your other experiences while there.

  15. gcc says:

    This is a very beautiful and inspiring story. It teaches us we should always have an attitude of gratitude because we can always be in a worse situation. May God continue to bless this strong and courageous woman and her children.

  16. […] let me encourage you to please read a post I wrote entitled, “Africa is beautiful: The danger of how we frame the story of other people and nations.” I want to make sure that I don’t perpetuate this monolithic perspective where people […]

  17. Matt Brough says:

    Thanks for this post. I returned from a 2 week mission studt trip to Malawi and much of what you share here rings true. It has been a struggle to tell the full story. One thing that blew me away was the unbelievable competence and ingenuity of people on the ground faithfully serving their communities really eye opening to see that we in thr West and North are not necessarily the problem solvers Blessings in your ministry and and work with ODW and great post!

  18. […] one thing I’ve learned, personally, is how easy it is easy to reduce people into projects. Mutuality. Reciprocity. Dignity. These are critical because God never intended people to be […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

stuff, connect, info

One Day’s Wages

My Instagram

Back safely from Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. Thanks for your prayers. 
I have numerous stories to share but for now, the following came up in every conversation with Iraqi/Syrian refugees:

1 Have tea with us. Or coffee. Or juice. Or something with lots of sugar in it. Or better yet, all of the above.
2 We want peace. We want security. 
3 We hate ISIS. 
4 We just want to go home.
5 Please don't forget us.

Please don't forget them... Father, please bless and protect these Iraqi and Syrian "refugee" children that have already endured so much. Protect their hearts and mind from unfathomable trauma. Plant seeds of hope and vision in their lives. And as we pray for them, teach us how to advocate for them. Amen. "We don't call them refugees. We call them relatives. We don't call them camps but centers. Dignity is so important." -  local Iraqi priest whose church has welcomed many "relatives" to their church's property

It's always a privilege to be invited into peoples' home for tea - even if it's a temporary tent. This is an extended Yezidi family that fled the Mosul, Iraq area because of ISIS. It's indeed true that Christians were targeted by ISIS and thatbstory muat be shared but other minority groups like the Yezidis were also targeted. Some of their heartbreaking stories included the kidnapping of their sister. They shared that their father passed away shortly of a "broken heart." The conversation was emotional but afterwards, we asked each other for permission to take photos. Once the selfies came out, the real smiles came out.

So friends: Pray for Iraq. Pray for the persecuted Church. Pray for Christians, minority groups like the Yezidis who fear they will e completely wiped out in the Middle East,, and Muslims alike who are all suffering under ISIS. Friends: I'm traveling in the Middle East this week - Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan. (Make sure you follow my pics/stories on IG stories). Specifically, I'm here representing @onedayswages to meet, learn, and listen to pastors, local leaders, NGOs, and of course directly from refugees from within these countries - including many from Syria.

For security purposes, I haven't been able to share at all but I'm now able to start sharing some photos and stories. For now, I'll be sharing numerous photos through my IG stories and will be sharing some longer written pieces in couple months when ODW launches another wave of partnerships to come alongside refugees in these areas. Four of us are traveling together also for the purpose of creating a short documentary that we hope to release early next year.

While I'm on my church sabbatical, it's truly a privilege to be able to come to these countries and to meet local pastors and indigenous leaders that tirelessly pursue peace and justice, and to hear directly from refugees. I've read so many various articles and pieces over the years and I thought I was prepared but it has been jarring, heartbreaking,  and gut wrenching. In the midst of such chaos, there's hope but there's also a lot of questions, too.

I hope you follow along as I share photos, stories, and help release this mini-documentary. Please tag friends that might be interested.

Please pray for safety, for empathy, for humility and integrity, for divine meetings. Pray that we listen well; To be present and not just be a consumer of these vulnerable stories. That's my biggest prayer.

Special thanks to @worldvisionusa and @worldrelief for hosting us on this journey. 9/11
Never forget.
And never stop working for peace.

Today, I had some gut wrenching and heart breaking conversations about war, violence, and peacemaking. Mostly, I listened. Never in my wildest imagination did I envision having these conversations on 9/11 of all days. I wish I could share more now but I hope to later after I process them for a few days.

But indeed: Never forget.
And never stop working for peace.
May it be so. Amen. Mount Rainier is simply epic. There's nothing like flying in and out of Seattle.

#mountrainier
#seattle
#northwestisbest

my tweets

  • Every convo with Iraqi/Syrian refugees included: 1 Have tea with us 2 We want peace 3 We hate ISIS 4 We want to go home 5 Don't forget us || 2 days ago
  • Back safely from Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan to assess @OneDaysWages' partnerships & to film mini-documentary on refugee crisis. So many emotions. || 2 days ago
  • Pray for Mexico. For those mourning loved ones. For those fighting for life - even under rubbles. For rescue workers. Lord, in your mercy. || 2 days ago
  • Don't underestimate what God can do through you. God has a very long history of using foolish and broken people for His purposes and glory. || 5 days ago
  • Father, bless these Iraqi and Syrian refugee children that have already endured so much. As we pray, teach us how t… twitter.com/i/web/status/9… || 6 days ago
  • Pray for Iraq. Pray for persecuted Church, minority groups (Yezidis) and Muslims alike who are suffering under ISIS: instagram.com/p/BZF2j6Ngrna/ || 6 days ago