A Flag and a Bible

The Pilgrim’s Pensieve #18

Our country is in trouble. Our debt stock has never been higher since the economic meltdown of the year 2000. We also have a  national power crises with no discernible end in sight. A couple of days ago I had only an hour and a half of power. It’s even affected how I blog. Business are being shut down due to the power situation. The cost of power when it is available is high and when it isn’t available the fuel to run generators is also pricey. Even though international fuel prices have globally reduced, in our country it is still high. Civil servants are not being paid and government institutions are struggling to run. The current government is too inept to actually solve the problems. I could go on and on. As I was talking with my parents about these things I could only humorously quip, “At least we aren’t Zimbabwe.”

With a young nation like ours, fraught with crippling problems since independence 59 years ago, it is very hard to be proud of our country. Our very first president, Kwame Nkrumah, was also our first dictator imprisoning his former friends and benefactors in the fight for independence. He was overthrown whilst in another country to widespread national approval. It set our nation down a path of political instability until another dictator by the name of Fl. Lt. J.J. Rawlings reluctantly returned the nation to democratic rule in 1992. Within that time, many nations who were our economic peers like Malaysia, have far outstripped us. Even our neighbour Côte d’Ivoire, which had recently suffered a terrible civil war, is fast catching up with us. They have taken our spot as the number one international producer of cocoa and they now supply many things to us, which we used to give to them, including electricity and yam. Again I could go on ad infinitum about our many woes. Whenever I think of these things, which is often, I ask myself one question: how can I be patriotic in a country like this?

The great Abraham Lincoln said, “Do not ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” What happens when it seems your country does not really care about you, when those who run it are filled with self-interest and greed? How do you serve a nation where everyone is out to serve themselves? Even those who are supposed to know better, like those in our universities who have been educated abroad and have seen a better way of doing things, behave in exactly the same way as the political rabble that governs and influences. What is worst of all is that the same people who cheat and steal during the weekdays are the same ones in church on Sunday. (The church’s role in the failure of our country is something I cannot really address here.) It so hard to see any hope for the country. In the midst of all this how can you be patriotic? How can you sing the national anthem and say the pledge with absolute confidence in the land of your birth. Don’t get me wrong, every nation has its problems. The sad thing with us is we are repeating our errors on a crazy and futile infinite loop.

Someone dear to me is about to further her education in the U.S., another country with its own share of troubles. Her godfather is a very wealthy business man and former diplomat. He advised her not to come back into the country saying there is nothing here for her. Many Ghanaians abroad share the same sentiments. Beyond the remaining family whom they visit during holidays, many Ghanaians feel there are better opportunities overseas than in their homeland. Self-enforced exile seems better than returning.

This loved one also has a friend in Zimbabwe who already schools in the U.S. The situation is so dire over there he cannot withdraw his own money from the bank to make payments so he can go back to school. I was not kidding when I mentioned Zimbabwe. The country has been going through massive economic and political unrest in the last couple of weeks. As I pondered my own questions of patriotism I wondered how anyone could be patriotic in a country worse than mine. Then I saw on Twitter talk about Zimbabwean nationalism and some Pastor Evan.

What many people do not know is that during the 80s Zimbabwe was a thriving, fast developing country. It was far better off economically than Ghana was in the same period, during the oppressive military regime of Rawlings. Ghanaians who went there talked about its beautiful streets and the prosperity in the land. Then Mugabe happened. It got so bad that by 2009 the Zimbabwean dollar had utterly collapsed under hyperinflation as high as 79.6 billion %. In April Evans Mawarire, a preacher in Harare, sat at his desk wondering how he would pay his children’s school fees. Something in him snapped and he began to vent his frustration on social media. With the Zimbabwean flag draped around his neck he looked into the camera and said,

“When I look at the flag it’s not a reminder of my pride and inspiration, it feels as if I want to belong to another country.”

I identify so much with his statement and I imagine countless other Ghanaians do. However, he did not stop there. He admitted because of the passiveness of people like himself the nation had gone to the dogs. He vowed to not let his country down again. He encouraged other Zimbabweans to stand up and take back their country and not give in to the corruption that had crippled their once proud nation. To his utter surprise this and other earnest pleas triggered an avalanche of social media responses. It finally hit critical mass on July 6th  with the largest national sit-down strike in over a decade. The student stranded in his own country I earlier mentioned said he had not seen anything like it. People simply packed up and went home. The streets of Harare were empty. People had had enough. For his troubles last week Pastor Evan on suspicion of trying to overthrow the government was arrested. At his hearing 50-60 lawyers willingly jumped to his defence and the case was quickly dismissed by a brave judge.

I am no expert on Zimbabwe and I will not pretend to be one. Mawarire is one person in a long line of brave men and women who have stood up to the tyranny of Mugabe and his goons. Also the situation in the country is very dire. There is literally no money, unemployment is over 90%, plus there is a severe drought in Southern Africa. However, God has used this unknown political quantity to nudge the nation of Zimbabwe over the brink to act for herself. Mawarire’s battle cry, #ThisFlag, has gone far beyond the internet and the borders of Zimbabwe. What he is leading has never been seen before. Protests were for change were even held outside 10 Downing Street by Zimbabweans in exile. Right now the unwitting leader of this non-party affiliated movement is in South Africa for fear of his life but still fighting the good fight. All this reminds me of the prophet Zechariah who said, “Do not despise the day of small things.”

I have just finished reading John Ortberg’s book Who Is This Man? As I went through the book I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Pastor Evan and figures like Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Men who have indelibly marked the world for the better through their faith in Jesus Christ. Pastor Evan’s approach is particularly reminiscent of Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s approach to the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s in the U.S. Instead of staging violent protests and plotting the overthrow of the government, he is working within the confines of the law to bring a change. Working through a corrupt system to save it from itself is the very essence of the incarnation. God became a man, an innocent man taking our sin upon himself so that we could gain his righteousness. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the incarnation did not begin when Mary conceived. The thread of incarnational theology can be seen all the way from Genesis.

When Israel was in exile in Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah told them to pray for their captors. This was the real context of Jeremiah 29:11 as I explored in another post. God did not want them to rebel against their captor’s government. Instead, he wanted to prosper them in a foreign land which would also require the prosperity of their enemies. The Israelites did not like the message at all. The problem was they had forgotten their original mission was to be a blessing to all people. The Babylonians were also God’s creatures and he cared for them as much as Israel. You might be wondering how this has got anything to do with the incarnation. They were meant to carry God’s presence into a dark world and be the liberating light that saves a sinful people from their ways. This is the mission the Son of Man eventually accomplished in Israel, who in God’s eyes had become as wayward as the nations she looked down on.

How does this relate to my current predicament on patriotism? The apostle Peter, drawing on this thinking in Jeremiah 29 and other passages, described the early Christians as spiritual exiles. As believers we belong to a heavenly country but we live in the present world. As I explained in Heaven on Earth, this does not mean our hope is heaven when we die so let’s forget about the world. The Christian hope is not heaven but heaven on earth. We belong to God’s kingdom, that is, we live according to God’s will and authority. However we find ourselves in a world that does not run according to God’s wisdom and dominions. This is what has rendered us as spiritual exiles and pilgrims looking for our homeland. We are in this world but not of it. We are not looking for our homeland to escape our present situation. Rather we wish to bring our homeland, that is, the wise rule of God, into the land of our spiritual exile. Our mission is to work with God to bring heaven on earth.

Pastor Mawarire is contributing his quota in this divine mission. He is enacting and implementing the Gospel by not giving up on his country. Rather, through the power of God’s spirit, he is participating in it to redeem it. This unprecedented move is sign of new creation, God’s power and wisdom to transform a corrupt world to his glory. As I write these things you might think I am making too much of a simple man. Evan would himself agree and this is precisely what convinces me that his campaign is spirit-inspired. He is not a giddy idealist or a self-centred seeker of fame and fortune. This entire campaign has already cost him so much. He freely admits he was a part of the problem that got them into this mess. He is very much aware he is not the first to seek  change. He also knows there are many more challenges ahead and the path to true change is long and difficult. That unique mix of humility and grace, with stark realism and nation changing aspirations can only be inspired by one man, Jesus of Nazareth. His life is the ultimate example of such wisdom, courage and virtue which continues to influence men and women to this day.

Pastor Mawarire has shown me that it is possible to be patriotic in a difficult time. That the Gospel way of doing things, even though it is long difficult, is still workable. Like many of those who read this post, you and I will probably never start a national revolution. However we can play our part by resisting all forms of corruption and evil that come our way, living out the righteousness that Jesus so dearly purchased for us.

Above all, apathy is killing this nation. We just can’t be asked any more. If we all give up, nothing will definitely change. God is able to take small things and turn them into something great. Let’s all do the right thing and always act in the interest of our motherland Ghana, no matter how small or insignificant it might seem. God’s power and wisdom is not limited by our abilities. Remember, he made the world out of nothing. Your small sincere contribution is more than enough.

I want to end on a rather sombre note. Pastor Evan was an unknown Baptist preacher out of Harare. People like Emmanuel Makandiwa and Uebert Angel are huge church figures who live in wealth and opulence. These people claim to be genuine men of God but how have they helped their nation, filled with God’s creatures? I had listened to a lot of Uebert Angel’s messages during my fellowship days and there was not a single mention of his nation’s plight. I rather saw a petulant peddler of miracles to a desperate people. Now if these are the sort of figures we consider real “men of God” then the African church has a huge problem. Where is the empathy, the compassion, the courage, the thirst for truth and justice in the land? Did Jesus die so we can have Lamborghini’s and Rolls Royce’s, as Angel unashamedly brags in the face of national poverty and unemployment? I remember he went to a South African church to teach on how to gain wealth meanwhile his own country is broke. If the Spirit’s work can only be judged by the number of accurate prophecies and stunning miracles that take place while the world around us suffers, then we have completely missed the mark. We need to go back to the Bible and rethink what it truly means to follow Jesus Christ.

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