I have been banging the drum pretty loudly in conversations and in social media about what I see as the senseless slaughter of Cecil the Lion. For anyone who cares to know, here is the fourth of a five-part series explaining why I am so outraged about this tragic event.
I am an American, and I care what the world thinks about America.
In the geographic center of Africa lies the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is the poorest country in the world. In 2013, the average income was $394. (Zimbabwe is second at $589.) The Congo has the highest proportion of undernourished people (70% of the population) of any country. In rural areas, only 11 percent have access to water compared to 75 percent in urban areas. More than 5 million Congolese have lost loved ones to conflict, disease and malnutrition.
I have never been there. But I know a number of people who have. The church Aprill and I attend has a growing presence in the Congo. One effort is our model girls’ school in Kananga and other schools in Tshikaji. We also assist in the development and implementation of sustainable accounting and human resources systems, strengthening healthcare services and partnering with Congolese churches to improve the quality and sustainability of life.
The last church we attended had a similar involvement in Ethiopia – a school and camp in Langano, and various ministries to women, children and church leaders throughout the country, including the capital of Addis Ababa.
To a person, everyone I know who has been to the Congo or to Ethiopia to serve would tell you they do this in the name of Christ. But having spent a year on mission in a foreign country, I can tell you they are known in country as “the Americans.”
America has a rich history of helping others. We are among the most generous countries in the world. When disasters strike on our side of the globe (and throughout the world), we are usually among the first to respond, most often the most generous in our financial support and often stay on the ground the longest.
Even so, America remains one of the most hated countries, primarily because of what others see as our success and our affluence.
I love my country, and while I don’t want our generosity and our service to the world to be for the sake of gratitude, I don’t want our reputation further tarnished by Americans solidifying a stereotype that we do not care. Aprill and I donate to international relief efforts and to benevolent initiatives in developing countries, and I know many, many people who do. We would never spend $50,000 to squander the life of a beautiful, majestic and endangered animal, and I cannot endorse anyone who does.
I want the efforts of my American friends and people like them to be what we are known for. I don’t want people to know Walter Palmer the American. I want people to know Jim Martin the American, a good friend of mine who, as I write, is in Africa on his own, personal mission. He has decided to take what he has learned in starting and running a business – particularly obtaining financing – and assist people in ways to micro-finance their own businesses.
I don’t want people to think of an American as a dentist who breaks their laws and destroys a national treasure. I want people to think of Hunter and Tait Flint, a young American couple who run Burka Coffee Estates in Tanzania. From the Burka website:
Our estates follow a traditional agro-forestry system whereby coffee is shade grown under mostly indigenous trees. We are committed to maintaining the right balance between our productive and non-productive areas. Our staff housing and villages provide secure homes for our workforce and their families, while forests, grasslands and other areas not conductive to coffee cultivation are preserved. Merging ecologically and socially stringent standards, we offer a consistently superior product guaranteed to delight the most discerning coffee buyers and roasters.
There are many more I am certain. These are the Americans I want held up – people and organizations that truly care, and are creating long-lasting change to whole communities and entire societies. While trophy hunting may indeed be legal in Zimbabwe, the good done by whatever percentage of the $50,000 spent to kill Cecil finally makes it to conservation or social programs is nothing compared to what that same $50,000 could have done for a girls’ school in Kananga, Congo, a women’s shelter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, or a small business that would create jobs.
And we’d still have 20,000 lions instead of 19,999.
Next, part 5: I am an optimist, and I don’t want to die disappointed.