Things I Didn’t Know (But Should): October 23rd Edition

This post is a part of an ongoing series Things I Didn’t Know (But Should). For sixteen weeks, I’m featuring news articles from the developing world. The goal of my “experiment” is to build awareness and learn something. I’d very much like to see the world as Jesus sees it, with compassion and empathy I want to see myself as part of a larger community. I want to learn to pray for people in other parts of the world. I want to see Jesus increase the size of my heart. By sharing this experiment with you here at Momentary Delight, I also hope we can engage in a conversation and grow in understanding together.

Yesterday evening, the United States Presidential candidates talked about foreign policy. When there’s any discussion of American Foreign Policy, the debate inevitably turns to the role played by the United States on the world stage. What causes are important to our nation? For those causes we deem important, what is an appropriate response?

While I believe these are important questions for nations and policymakers to discuss, these are also important questions for us as individuals. What causes are important to me? What causes should be important to me? If a cause or an issue is important, what is an appropriate response?

As a person of faith and a follower of Jesus, I also find helpful to ask God about my response to the world? It’s not an easy question to ask and we can easily be overwhelmed by the problems around us. Overwhelmed, it’s easy to raise my hands in frustration and say, “I can’t do anything to fix this!”

Bruce Main in his book Why Jesus Crossed the Road discusses Yale Professor Nicolas Wolterstorff’s commentary on Matthew 5:4. In this passage Jesus tells us, “Blessed are those who mourn.”

Wolterstorff shares how this beatitude calls Christians to be “aching visionaries”—people who have caught a glimpse of what God’s world should look like and mourn when they do not see that vision realized. When we see hunger, blindness, and violence, we should mourn because it falls short of what God wants for humanity. (Bruce Main, Why Jesus Crossed the Road)

For this week’s Things I Should Know, I am going to talk about the Democratic Republic of Congo. A September article from Human Rights Watch discusses M23, a group of Congolese rebels who mutinied against their own military. The rebels are widely thought to be supported by the Rwandan government and are responsible for human’s rights violations in the DRC, which include summary executions, rapes and forced recruitment of soldiers. Over thirty young men and boys were executed for trying to flee from service to the rebels. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has named five leaders of M23 as “among the worst perpetrators of human rights violations in the DRC, or in the world.”

Refugees Fleeing the Fighting Between the Congolese Army and M23

One young recruit told Human Rights Watch, “When we were with the M23, they said [we had a choice] and could stay with them or we could die. Lots of people tried to escape. Some were found and then that was immediately their death.” (Human Rights Watch) [This is one of the less graphic accounts of atrocities]

In examining a strange twist to the story of M23, Pete Jones of the Manchester Guardian reports how the rebel group is funding itself. One of the still remaining attractions that brings foreign tourism dollars to the DRC are the rare mountain gorillas that live near the border. Apparently the rebels are trying to exploit the interest of western tourists in these rare gorillas. They’ve enlisted ex-park rangers lead tours to view gorillas, while charging tourists upwards of $350 a day.

It’s hard to imagine why any tourist would want to engage the services of murderers for the purpose of a tour. Looking beyond the issue of whether you would feel personally safe on such a tour, why would you want to solicit the business of people who are killing pregnant women and children?

Pete Jones interviews one tourist Abdel who answers the question of why anyone would want to undertake a tour with M23:

I want to be able to see the gorillas without lots of other tourists around, but this is also an experience that will allow me to see many things I’ve never seen before. . .I am keeping an open mind. The situation there is complicated; it’s not as simple as saying ‘the rebels are bad, the government is good’

While it’s hard to comprehend why these western tourists would engage a tourist agency operated by a group of known murderers, part of me understands how it happens. I don’t believe these tourists are bad or evil people.  Rather, these tourists fall into the same trap as many of us. They compartmentalize their experience and their actions. They aren’t soliciting murderers. They are looking at rare endangered gorillas and they are learning about life in the Congo. It’s a once in a lifetime cultural experience. It’s not as if anyone is getting directly hurt by it.

All of this makes a kind of sense to me, because I am often prone to this same line of compartmentalized thinking.

I rationalize, temporize and compromise, all for a reasonable cause and all the while I turn a blind eye to the consequences of my actions. Although, it’s really easy to condemn these tourists, I realize how I frequently compartmentalize my life and actions. I engage in disassociation and try to shut off my feelings and my conscience.

In view of how I often compartmentalize my life, perhaps the easiest thing for me is to remain ignorant. The less I know the better.

In undertaking this experiment, and in learning about other parts of the world, I’ve wondered and asked myself, “How will this project change me?”

If learning about other parts of the world makes it more difficult for me to compartmentalize, and if hearing these stories gives me a greater appreciation for the consequences of my actions and how I relate to the world, maybe this project will yield something good and change me for the better.

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