I often find myself daydreaming about how I could really make a difference here in Cameroon. When I look around me I see people trapped in their traditions and who literally cannot imagine any other way of life. I see poverty so extreme that some have no source of water other than a dirty river, and they are always sick. Their children die from measles, and improper sanitation, and lack of access to medical care. I see people that deal with conflict the only way they have ever seen yelling in the streets and threatening each other with machetes. And I sit in my house and teach my kids about how America is sending people to live on Mars while looking at my neighbors cooking mice right out my window. Kids look in wonder at our kitchen faucet because they have never seen anything like it. I long for something more for them. I know that these people could have so much more. So, my daydreams these days come in the form of solutions to these problems.
Education is the Future for Africa
An article I read recently has sparked some new ideas when my mind drifts. In this article an author named Neil Gaiman makes the case that one of the greatest ways that we can encourage future generations is to make sure they are literate, reading, and daydreaming. This quote was especially interesting to me:
I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?
It's simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.
His description of China rang true to Cameroon as well. And so this has kindled a new daydream for me: my dad is adopted (true story) and we do not know who his parents were. So, one day we find out that his birth father is Bill Gates (or someone as rich) and he decides to make up for lost time, he is going to give each of his grandchildren $1B. So, here I am, in Cameroon with a billion dollars. What could I do to make a difference? Start building libraries.
The illiteracy rate in the villages around us is astronomical and I only know of a handful of Cameroonians that read for fun. So, to start, I build a library here in Dimako. And I hire someone to liaison with the local schools and kids start taking field trips to the library and are read to and taught from an early age how to read and how to write. We encourage them to think of new planets and machines that make food out of thin air and genetically-modified-malaria-resistant mosquitoes. Then we start printing their stories and reading them to other Cameroonian kids that think up more stories. I believe that a project like this would dramatically change Cameroon if done well. Cameroon is replete with resources and I do not doubt that with the right changes it could eventually be a financially independent country. And I genuinely believe that education is their future.
Education Will Not Save Africa
But I want to tell you the story of an educated man. He was born to the family of a billionaire, not unlike my imaginary grandfather. His father was a hard worker and a frugal man that liked to take his family on trips and picnics. His father tragically died when he was 10, but left him an inheritance of around $25 million. He grew up going to the best schools available and was a good student eventually studying economics and business administration at a university. He apparently was involved in charitable work while he was at school and enjoyed writing poetry, reading, and playing soccer. At this point his life begins to get blurry. Some say that he finished a degree either in civil engineering or public administration. But some say he decided to drop out of college without finishing.
We do not know exactly where he began to develop extreme views, but after he left college he began to use his money and influence to help jihadists that were fighting in Afghanistan. And by the age of 31 he was beginning to form his own organization committed to jihad elsewhere, after the Soviets had left this war-torn country. This organization expanded and grew over time and in 1990 FBI agents raided the New Jersey house of one of his associates and found evidence of copious plots against the United States. This educated millionaire was involved in numerous bombings and mass killings including an attack on the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001 that killed over 2,000 people.
If you have not figured it out, this highly educated terrorist was Osama Bin Laden. He is one of many well-rounded men that have terrorized our world. In fact, some of the men that we have grown to hate the most (Hitler, Stalin, greedy CEOs) were born and raised in countries with high literacy rates and well educated themselves. This leads me to conclude that education will not save Africa. Education changes people, drives innovation, motivates response against corruption, and has potential to reshape the economy of Cameroon, but it does not solve the biggest problem. Education can never change the heart.
Africa Needs Jesus
The Bible tells us that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). The problem with having a sick heart is that you do not know that it is sick. You think the problem is money, or education, or your neighbor, or Wall Street, or Western civilization. That is why Jeremiah says it is “deceitful.” Having a sick heart is a self-blindness under the effects of which you can learn a great deal of things, and recognize all of the issues with others in the world, but your deepest problem is nowhere to be found. And what makes that predicament so bad is not that we are yelling at others or dying in medical ignorance. It is so bad because it separates us from the Creator, the God who made us. The prophet Isaiah tells us, “but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (59:2).
And in fact, it is a problem that we as humans cannot solve on our own. You see, we cannot change our own hearts. We cannot even understand on our own that our heart is the problem. And even if we knew the problem and knew to seek after God, he would not listen to us because he has hidden his face because of our sin. Neither money nor education can change that. Yet another prophet, Ezekiel gives us an idea of what we need:
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (36.26).
In order to be right with God we need a new heart. Our sick-stone-heart can never please God no matter how well-informed it may be. This is evident in the lives of the men that I have mentioned above. And it is evident in my life and in the lives of my neighbors. We need more radical change than education has to offer. Education cannot save Africa. Only Jesus can save Africa. Paul clues us into this in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come.” It is only through Christ that we can become new. We cannot change ourselves, we need Jesus.
I have not abandoned education (or my library idea). There is a reason that where Christianity has spread around the world so has literacy. We are a people of the Book, and though it is not a requirement, literacy helps greatly. But in the end, I know that education by itself will save no one. Education does so many wonderful things, but it also makes smarter thieves, harder to catch murders, and brilliant despots. There is no doubt in my mind that the future for Africa is in education, but the salvation of Africa rests in Jesus alone.