There have been missionaries in Africa for several centuries now, but when the AIDS crisis exploded, then many more Christians came to Africa to try to help, with the majority of them focusing on building orphanages. John Donnelly, a reporter working on the AIDS epidemic wanted to know if these Christians and their charities were doing any good. In this book, he examines secular celebrity projects, like the schools started by Madonna and Oprah, and he follows the story of one deeply religious man, David Nixon.
I am surprised at how the celebrities seem way out of touch with reality, though I guess I shouldn't be. They spend tons and tons of money on amenities that the children they are trying to help really don't need, which means a lot of money is wasted and a lot of people do not get the help that they should. I am also surprised that the Christians going over to Africa seem to think that orphanages are the best way to help the children, even though study after study has proven that that is not the case. Children who have extremely poor parents or no parents at all are usually much better served living with other family members than being housed in a large institution. I find it troubling when I am sure that these people would not want American children housed in an orphanage and yet it is good enough for African children.
I like how the book centers on one person trying to make a difference. David Nixon is a deeply religious man with very good intentions, but even at the end of the book, one is left wondering how long he will last helping the poor in Malawi. He learns the importance of listening to the leaders in another culture and how plans will always need to be changed. By the end of the book, he has changed his mind about many assumptions he had when he first arrived in Malawi.
I think this is an important book to read, especially for congregations that want to help African children. Reading about Nixon's revelations will help mission workers and money donors have a more clear-cut answer as to which direction their help should go. Perhaps the next church group will not be so eager to build another orphanage or to just give away products, but will invest in education both to educate the children and to educate the farmers in how to better produce crops. Education and love is always the key-not handouts and not orphanages.
Have you read The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver? A novel with a similar theme to Twist of Faith -- Kingsolver's best work, at least among the ones I've read.
Gosh, now I want to read Twist of Faith, and re-read Poisonwood Bible. I'm gonna have to get a bigger apartment for all the books...