Things Fall Apart


This week I finally read, Things Fall Apart by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe (1958). The plot focuses on the effect Christian missionaries and British Colonialism had on a group of villages in Nigeria.

The topic was interesting to me for several reasons. Several books I’ve been reading lately have set the stage for questions about “cultural redemption.”

One is Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. I’m not crazy about Mortenson’s writing style, but I was fascinated by his insights into Afghan culture. His life’s work shows the wisdom of humble social reform, rooted in the study of a culture’s true fabric. Mortenson shows how taking the time to listen well, humbly observe, and respect can maximize healing in desperate places.

Another related book is called When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert, et al. This is a Christian book that evaluates the way modern ministries often roll into “needy” neighborhoods, trying to force fast change. Fikkert argues that we are all impoverished in some form or another: fiscally, physically, spiritually, relationally, emotionally... and that we can only minister effectively when we realize our mutual need. In a related article, Fikkert writes:

"Until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good. Research from around the world has found that shame is a major part of the brokenness that low-income people experience in their relationship with themselves. Instead of seeing themselves as being created in the image of God and as having inherent value and worth, low-income people often feel they are inferior to others and incapable of improving their situation. On the other hand, those with higher incomes tend to feel a sense of superiority -- what Myers calls 'god-complexes' -- believing that they have achieved their good fortune through their own efforts and abilities and that they have been anointed to save the poor. When the rich fail to embrace their own 'poverty,' their engagement with the poor tends to hurt both parties by reinforcing their distorted view of themselves and one another."

If you’ve ever read Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, you will remember how all this relates to the core dilemma Lewis posited. It’s possible to think we are loving, when in truth we are attempting to consume. Forcing. Straining. Pushing. Until things fall apart.

Reading Achebe’s words, I felt a little defensive. Neither of the so-called “missionaries” in his book seem to really know Jesus. So, while trying to burst one unfair stereotype, Achebe actually ends up reinforcing another. I suppose in 1958, that pot needed stirring. Today, it seems disturbingly cliché.

Also, as a woman, I was horrified to read about the treatment females and children received in Nigerian culture. Colonialization might have wrecked the touchy man-sense that dominated village life. But what about the wife who had been beaten or the child who had been abused? Penetrate those hearts, and perhaps we would hear a different story altogether.

That said, I was still saddened by the arrogant, hostile change pushed upon Nigeria. I found myself asking how Mortenson’s principles could have applied in this situation. I wondered how Fikkert’s call to humility might have made a difference. I wrestled with how a non-consuming, life-giving love like Lewis promotes might be offered to an entire village in need.

I also found myself asking how all of this might transfer to adoption. Particularly an inter-cultural adoption. What dangers are inherent? How can we be sure not to make the same mistakes in the microcosm of our little family?

A dear friend of mine is adamantly opposed to international adoption. His argument is old, and you’ve probably heard it. He feels like it is a horrible thing to remove a child from his/her native culture and force a new one upon him.

I understand the gist of what he’s saying. Ideally, every child would live with a loving birth mother. No children in the world would be abandoned. No baby would ever end up in a hospital bathroom, or in an alleyway, or on a street corner in a box. That would be best.

But the reality is that kids are dying right now because the ideal isn’t an option. Watch The Dying Rooms on YouTube, if you want to see what’s really happening. I know the sidebar says that stuff ended in ‘94, but it didn’t. I know people who have seen such horrors within the year.

So, how do you move into a brutal culture, into a threatened life, with respect and humility? How do you offer what you have to give without consuming? How do you respect someone's past while giving him a future? How do you continually acknowledge your own poverty, so that the relational currency can flow two ways?

How do we relate to the culture that wounded our son -- that would have snuffed out his great potential -- yet also provides a brilliant heritage for him? How do we relate respectfully, gently, as co-learners and co-bearers of the struggles he will face? How do we help him know our deep, forever joy over his union with our family, while honoring any connection he feels with his past?

How do we talk about the needs we’ve seen in such a way that others are inspired to help, without stirring up the British to charge Nigeria?

I don’t know. But that’s what I’m thinking and praying about tonight. Any thoughts?

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About This Blog

Welcome to our family’s adoption journey. As you read, you will see us stumble and take wrong paths. You will see our hopes surge and fall. You will see the gaps in our humanity, and how our God realigns us to His purposes over and again. We think the messiness of this process is important. Sometimes walking with God isn’t a neat, linear package that can be summarized in bullet points. More often, life ebbs and flows around our plans, while God works His sovereign wonders from it all. We are learning so much through this journey. And we are super excited about our new son. If you’d like to join us, we’d love to have you along for the ride.

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