I didn’t know what to expect when I started formulating ideas for this project, and now that I’m in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, I still don’t. I’m here for about seven weeks, interning for an organization called Save the Children. When I applied for this opportunity, I found my starting point in a quote by Nicholas Wolsterstorff: “the Christian scholar participates as Christian in those social practices that are the disciplines. Those practices are not a project of the Christian community, nor are they the project of some anti-Christian community. They are human; they belong to all of us together – just as the state is not for Christians nor for non-Christians but for all of us together. And now to make my opening point again: the mode of the Christian’s participation in these on-going, ever-changing, social practices is to think with a Christian mind and to speak with a Christian voice.”
This passage articulated my feelings as I have begun to look at the world through a theological lens. While here Wolsterstorff is specifically talking about academic disciplines, his insight extends further (although ‘academic’ discipline should not be left behind—to engage the world theologically, I’ll absolutely need to use my mind). My special interest in this project is in development work. It’s a broad arena, with plenty of non-government organizations involved, and governments as well. It’s a complex arena, where there are likely plenty of motivations, many of which are very genuine and authentic. And it is an arena which belongs not solely to Christianity, but to humanity. So what does it mean to be a Christian in this setting?
Another person that puts it well, I think, is Leslie Newbigin, who points out with clarity that “our dialogue [as Christians] with people of other faiths must be about what is happening in the world now and about how we understand it and take our part in it” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 179). In Newbigin’s terms, what I am hoping to do here is to discover what is happening in Burkina Faso now, understand it (to some degree) with a theological mindset, and take (some small) part in it. I am in the health and nutrition department of Save the Children, working (along with a peace corps worker) on Save the Children’s EVERYONE campaign. (The first thing I’ve learned from development work is that there are a lot of acronyms… a lot.) The campaign is oriented towards achieving Millenium development goal 4, which seeks to reduce under-5 mortality by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. Much of what I have been doing is reading a French report for one region of Burkina—the Cascades—located in the far west of the country, and using that information and other resources to try to answer questions from the EVERYONE campaign outline (in English). The language issue has been a challenge, but hopefully will be a good challenge, although it can be draining to always have to work to communicate.
One important thing I’ll certainly have to keep in mind is the fact that I’m here to learn, not to teach—perhaps living with a member of the Peace Corps who has been here for over 19 months will be a helpful reminder that my 7 week stay in an apartment with electricity, running water and a refrigerator is comparative luxury. I ought not complain too loudly…although on a hot night like tonight when the power goes out, sleeping without a fan will be difficult.