Toilets and Christianity
By Tim Harlow
I have three daughters, so I have many bathrooms. I even added one when I finished the basement.
My niece is now living with us as she interns for a year, so when my oldest daughter is home from college there are five women in my house, plus me. Having a lot of bathrooms seemed like a good idea.
Then I went to Africa.
I visited the slums of Nairobi. In Kibera, for example, there are a million people living in one square mile, with no working bathrooms, no electricity, and no running water, except what they steal out of a pipe that comes from who knows where. So people use “flying toilets.”
What is a flying toilet, you ask? It’s the slang term for relieving oneself in a plastic bag and throwing it out into the walkway or the ditch that runs in front of your “home.”
Seventy percent of the people in Nairobi live like this. They live in slums with tin roofs and dirt floors, and some estimate as many as 40 percent have HIV/AIDS. My missionary friend told me approximately 80 percent of the women in these slums use their bodies as a way to survive, trading sex to get food for their children, wood for their fires, or whatever they can get.
In a culture rooted in polygamy and complete lack of female rights, in a culture where “safe sex” has no meaning and “clean health practices” is an oxymoron, what hope do they have? About 8,500 people die every day due to AIDS. That’s the equivalent of 20 fully loaded 747s crashing every single day!
Where is the hope for Africa? Amazingly, the answer to that question came from the Massai man who ran the Christian Missionary Fellowship (CMF) clinic outside of Narot. He said, “The only salvation for Africa is the church.” Whether it’s the tribal polygamy and female circumcision (mutilation) of the Massai, or the slums of the city—the church is the answer. The Kenyan government denies the slums even exist. The elders of the polygamous tribes are not remotely interested in changing centuries-old male sexual domination.
The only hope is the church . . . for two reasons:
When we teach the African people about the Bible and they learn the practices of biblical marriage and monogamy, they will be safe from the spread of disease and stop the horrendous treatment of women. One of the Massai men who now works at the clinic was engaged to be married in a few months. He is a firm believer in Christ and Christian monogamy. He said the new slogan for Christian Massai is “one and done.”
When Christians act like Jesus and help care for the modern-day lepers, we can make a difference in the world. For $3,000 we could build a set of bathrooms and a church building. For a dollar a day, a family could pay to support one child and make a lasting impact on his or her life—as well as change an entire community.
Have you ever really listened to the seriousness of the tone of Jesus’ words about children? “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:4-6).
I met Phanice at the Kibera slum.
She has five children, and AIDS. Her husband, now deceased, gave it to her; she didn’t know and had nothing to do with contracting it. I won’t see Phanice again. She was weak and won’t survive the year. What will happen to her kids? Usually the oldest child sets out to take care of the rest. One report said that of 30 million people in Kenya, 2 million will be AIDS orphans by 2010. And that’s just one country.
What bothers me the most is that I met her children. A statistic is one thing, but a child is another. Her son was there when we talked to her. Collins was 14. He was sharp, good looking, and the missionaries told us he’s so intelligent he should be in a gifted high school. Look at him. He looks like any other beautiful child who might be walking around the school where your kids go.
But he was not in school because it would cost $500 a year, and there was no way the family could afford it. They can’t pay the $17 monthly rent on the cubicle made of mud and trash they call home in the slum. (I am now sponsoring Collins for $80 per month through CMF, and he is attending a private high school.*)
Here is where it hits home. I have a 14-year-old. And she will go to one of the best high schools in the state, and the college of her choice. She has a bathroom she shares with only one or two sisters. And all the food she needs. And . . . you get the picture.
Thankfully, she understands this and already supports a child overseas. But the point is, friends, we have a responsibility as believers in a Lord who always loved and cared for the children—to walk as his disciples. When you put a real name and real face on these people, it makes all the difference in the world.
Coming home was hard. It’s so good to come home after a trip like that. I missed my wife and family, and I was anxious. But the experience of walking into my bedroom and realizing that we saw a room that size in the slum that 20 people shared, without electricity, fresh air, water, or a bathroom, is something I can’t put behind me.
I have a program on my laptop computer that plays a slideshow of random pictures on the side of my screen. The other day, I couldn’t help but notice the contrast as it went back and forth between my pictures of the slums of Africa and my kids on the ski boat we rented last summer.
I’m not trying to lay a big guilt trip on you. Just a small one. Most of you reading this will never get to Africa . . . most of my congregation won’t either. That’s why it’s important all of us try to do something.
A dollar a day could change a child’s life. A church working together could change a section of the slum (our church just signed up). A group of churches working together could change a country. Christians working together could alter the history of the worst plague ever to hit humanity.
And as they and the people around us take notice that the church is actually acting like Jesus, our ultimate goal may also be reached. Which, of course, is to take as many people with us to Heaven as we can.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
There are plenty of organizations you can help. Christian Missionary Fellowship led us on this trip, but there are many others. As a matter of fact, it’s possible someone on the missions committee at your church already has a heart for AIDS ministry.
Isn’t it about time the church took back the job of caring for the world? God bless Angelina Jolie and Oprah Winfrey, but they are only fixing the problem in this life. We have life to give for now and for eternity!
After hearing Bono, the lead singer for the group U2, talk about the importance of our involvement in the AIDS crisis at a church conference, one guy was in the bathroom when two other gentlemen entered. Unaware of his presence, one said to the other, “So, what did you think of Bono?”
The second guy replied, “Well, before I went into the session I wondered if Bono was a Christian. By the time he was finished I wondered if I was.”
*Parkview Christian Church conducted a campaign to support children, and to date has “adopted” 833 new children from Africa and local ministries.
Tim Harlow is senior pastor with Parkview Christian Church, Orland Park, Illinois.