Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Miracle Drugs

I’m a longtime U2 fan, and I was thrilled a few months ago when my brother surreptitiously slipped me a copy of their new CD inside a hollowed-out book and mailed it through the post office. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is fantastic, and helps me cope with homesickness.

One song is rattling around with special significance these days – the second track, “Miracle Drug.” In the song, Bono goes on and on about how he longs for solutions to aching problems: “I’ve had enough of romantic love/I’d give it up/yeah, I’d give it up for a miracle drug …” Knowing Bono’s ongoing efforts on behalf of debt relief for Third World countries and engagement with the poor of Africa, I can’t help but think he’s also yearning for a “miracle drug” for some of the world’s bigger issues.

Like alleviation of poverty in places like Cameroon. Like putting an end to the spread of AIDS, malaria, cholera. Like providing clean drinking water for communities. Like putting an end to corrupt governments.

But it’s clear that Bono’s wish will remain unfulfilled. There is no miracle drug. There is no silver bullet, no magic formula. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Especially in Africa. Period.

I wish there was. We need a solution for all those things. The world is dying to be a more just, more equitable, more loving place. Like any good Westerner, I crave a simple solution to these societal ills that I can then tackle with faith and hard work, and then – voila! I want to see results … healthy children, happy faces, beautiful institutions.

I used to think that the “miracle drug” was “conversion.” I figured that if everyone simply had a born-again experience with Jesus, then everything would change. All of a sudden, we’d all start to live by the Golden Rule -- and the kingdom of God would immediately come on earth.

But that’s not what happens. Sadly, we find it very difficult to live by the Golden Rule. Especially us Christians. Truth is, even if every Christian in America lived according to a strict standard of personal morality, that wouldn’t change the social structures that still exist which enforce oppression and sin.

Because the miracle needs to be worked, not only on individual lives, but on the systems that govern and regulate our lives. And there are no easy answers to changing these systems.

For example, I had the privilege of sitting in on a conversation about public education in Cameroon. I was stunned to discover all sorts of sad facts about the state of the school system. Schools are overcrowded, understaffed and under-resourced. Teachers are poorly paid, and so often accept bribes from parents to promote students. Male teachers sometimes accept sexual favors from young girls in return for good grades. Instead of reusing and recycling textbooks, the government ministry of education publishes new books every year, which must be purchased at exorbitant rates by parents and students.

The system is broken. It will take more than one man or one woman to fix it. It will take more than rhetoric, good intentions, and cash. It will take more than a miracle drug.

Yesterday, a man came to my gate. He’s been attending John Wesley UMC in Yaounde, but he’s become a bit desperate. He’s a refugee from Democratic Republic of Congo, with a wife and two kids, both of whom are in the hospital with malaria. He has no job, no money, no food for his family. He’s behind three months on the rent of one small room.

He didn’t know what to do. And I couldn’t help but wonder, “Where’s this guy’s miracle drug?” If I hand him some money, it will get him through a few days or weeks. But he can’t get a job, can’t return to his home country, can’t do much of anything but hang on and hope. Is it enough to say, “Hey, Jesus loves you. Keep praying and hoping”?

I don’t know anymore. But I’m pretty sure that there is no easy answer, and maybe that’s enough of a start.