Monday, April 7, 2014

My Brother's Keeper

Last week, I was driving back to the Africa Theological Seminary from the central business district of Kitale.  As I came around a bend in the road, I saw on my right a mass of people that had gathered.  It looked as if someone was being beaten.  People were running across the road to watch.  One man ran across the road and jumped right into the fray.  I looked to see if it was the result of an accident, as mob justice can sometimes kick in, but I didn't seen any evidence of an accident.

I felt sick.  Nauseated.  I wondered if I should stop.  I kept driving...

...Let me back up a bit.  One of my biggest fears of living in Africa is getting into a car accident.  I have heard horror stories of what has happened to expats who get into car accidents.  No matter who's fault it is, if you are an expat, it will be your fault.  And driving is a challenge with few traffic laws, pedestrians, bikers, motorbikes, cows, sheep, and goats all over the road. 

In Liberia, I bumped a pedestrian on a busy road with my side-view mirror, while going about 15 MPH.  A mob of sorts ensued. The police were right there.  They stood, watching, and as I found out later, hoping a fight would start so that they could fine and pocket the bribes.  Other times the police would say, "Call us when it's over and we will come and take a report - we aren't armed or equipped."

About two months ago, we were driving to Kakamega and came up on an accident that had just happened; it was a rural area.  A car had hit a motorcycle, which then hit two pedestrians.  The car fled, leaving three very bloody victims at the scene.  We took one injured person in the car with us and rushed to the hospital in the next town.  While there, the people who caused the accident showed up.  They acknowledged responsibility and said that they fled the scene because they were afraid of mob justice.  They watched from a distance, saw us pick up one of the victims and followed us to the hospital.

Back to the present...

As I continued driving, I was plagued with guilt.  Should I have stopped?  Could I have convinced anyone to stop the beating?  Could I have been able to make myself heard?  Would I have become a subject of attack as a white person, trying to interfere?  Should I go back?  I kept driving.  I began praying for the person. 

The next day, I heard that a man had been beaten in Kitale for stealing maize.  He had died during the night.

I felt sick again.  So very sick.  The man died. 

Martin Luther King Jr is quoted as saying, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Was this man's blood on my hands?

Another flashback to Liberia, and the many people who knocked on our gate, day and night, looking for help.  I remembered the one man who came for help because he was sick.  Our response was to recommend he go to the hospital as we were not doctors.  [This was after a stream of people and exhaustion on our part; we were grumpy that day and resentful of the requests.]  He died the next day.  We felt guilt for a long time after that.

I flashed back further to a time when I worked with severally emotionally impaired junior high students.  When they would get into a fight, I would often jump in the middle as I couldn't stand to see two people fighting.  I would get in trouble for this, as I was told that the emotional strain would be much higher if they hit their teacher than each other and that I should just stand by and watch.  

How do we decide when to get involved?  How do we decide when not to get involved?  I teach risk management - is there a percentage of risk that needs to be factored in?  If there was a fifty percent chance that I could have stopped that beating, should I have stopped?  What about ten percent?  How do we make decisions like this?

I thought about my kids and how they have already lost one parent.  I thought about Michael and our desire to spend many years together.  I imagined many people telling me I should not stop - that it would be unsafe for me.

I thought back to the number of times that people have told us not to do something that seemed illogical or unsafe at the time:
  • Don't move into the Madison-Hall area of Grand Rapids, where there is high crime and drugs...especially with two young children.
  • Don't move your children from Oakdale Christian to Jefferson Elementary Public, a school that is failing and slated for closing, where they will be the only white kids.
  • Don't lose your job at Calvin College over sending your kids to Jefferson - this is your livelihood, your career.
  • Don't move to post-war Liberia, where there is high crime and little rule of law....especially with your two children.
  • Don't stay in Africa after Bob's death.  Come home where you can be with family and friends and recover from your loss.
  • Don't move to Kenya by yourself.  Take a position in Grand Rapids.
  • Don't get remarried - it will threaten your ministry.
Hmmmm.  Apparently I'm not very good at listening to the advice of loved ones.

I am to love my neighbor as I love myself.  That means caring about his provision and protection.  I am my brother's keeper.

I don't know who that man was.  I don't know why he stole maize.  I do know that regardless of his sin, he did not receive justice that day.

As I processed this with Michael during the week, he reminded me though this is a horrible event, God has the final word.  God's justice and salvation story will have the final determination on this story, even as we don't know how that unfolded story looks.

And I can't assess ahead of time what to do in these situations when faced with danger.  I can only to do my best to love my neighbor and be his keeper one day at a time.  I know that part of loving my neighbor involves protecting myself for the sake of my children and Michael, as well as my work.

I will fail sometimes and sometimes I will get it right.  [In fact, as I wrote this post, I received an email from the US Embassy warning all Americans to stop travel to Kenya and those who reside in Kenya to assess their personal safety due to recent attacks from Al-Shabab.  I believe I am safe.  But if the attacks were to move closer to Kitale, at what point would I choose to leave?  Which neighbor do I choose to love in this case?]

I don't know if I failed in the instance of the man who stole maize.  But tomorrow I will try again.