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Praying for God's transformation in Africa

By: Mercy Amba Oduyoye

© Peter Williams / / WCC

What in the world would Africans want to see transformed?
© Peter Williams / WCC
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Transformation has become almost a cliché. Everything needs to be transformed: individual lives, cultures, economies, societies… all. But it is not often that God or grace are named in this context. We simply state the need for transformation. As if we hoped to lift ourselves up by our boot straps - that is, for those of us who have any footwear at all.

It is, therefore, the prayer for God's grace that attracts attention in the theme of the upcoming World Council of Churches 9th Assembly: "God, in your grace, transform the world". "God, in your grace," "There, but for the grace of God," "God be gracious to us," - these and similar phrases are common in the language of Christian spirituality. We pray for grace. Now we ask God to be gracious and bring transformation to the world.

What in the world would Africans want to see transformed?

A recent BBC programme featured a book in which the author likens genocide to bullying and points out that both come out of treating the other with contempt or as though they were not human.

The programme was being aired as I read sister Thandeki Umlilo's Little Girl, Arise! In her book, Umlilo deals with the abuse and incest she suffered from the male members of her household - namely her father, uncle and two brothers - and the silence of her mother in her days of torment. She felt that her humanity had been violated and her person held in contempt. [1]

Laments on the situation of Africa have become our regular fare when we Africans meet.

The impunity covering those who wield power in Africa and how they deal with citizens is proverbial. The impunity of people paid to serve the public - at frontiers, on the roads, in offices, even at the markets - is to be experienced to be believed. Bribes of different kinds, tardiness in delivering services, are not punished, while victims have no recourse to justice. TV programmes continuously decry these practices but nothing changes.

All one can do is to cry out : God, in your grace, transform this situation, grant us respect for the humanity of the other. Yet our lamentations are also a protest that says that we do not accept the status quo and an expression of our hope that things will mend.

Imploring God's grace

The question I keep asking myself is: what makes us think that God will undertake the transformation of the world? We have been created with free will and taught how to live as beings in the image of God. What more do we expect of God?

Human beings have a way of testing God until "holiness" consumes all that is unworthy of the presence of God. Wheat and tares are left to grow together until the harvest. But ultimately, the harvest comes, and the wheat and tares are separated for different destinations. We know all this, and yet we cry God, in your grace, transform the world.

I often wonder whether we do so because we know that our sinfulness cannot overshadow the image of God in us. Maybe we do so because we affirm that our creator and judge is also our redeemer. My experience is that where the fire of faith smoulders in the ashes of wrong, we affirm that the grace of God will fan the dying embers into active flames.

Often faith lies dormant, allowing unbelief and scepticism to direct our responses to the changes around us. If the wrong is environmental degradation, we respond by pretending that it cannot be corrected. For how can we maximize economic gains if we keep trying to curb our emissions of harmful gases?

If it is unfair trade practices, we argue that only free trade will boost the economy, overlooking the fact that free trade hurts those whose home markets are captured by subsidized exports. We laud globalization when it benefits us and overlook how it excludes free movement of people around the globe, especially of those who are judged to be a liability to profit-making.

When we do all this, all that is left for those who hurt is to implore the grace that guards the vulnerable and the helpless.

    We certainly do not deserve to be saved
    We made the beds in which we lie
    But we know that by the grace of God
    We shall wake up and get up and move out.

When our minds are transformed, our priorities will change and we shall begin to see the world as God sees it. By God's grace, we shall not remain as we are. We shall be clothed with compassion, respect for the other and joy in doing what is right before God.

God, in your grace, transform the world. Begin with me, so that I can become an instrument for the transformation for which we pray.

(*) Dr Mercy Amba Oduyoye is the director of the Institute of Women in Religion and Culture at the Trinity Theological Seminary in Legon, Ghana and founder of the Circle of concerned African women theologians. A former WCC deputy general secretary, she is a member of the Methodist Church of Ghana.

[1] Thandeki Umlilo: Little Girl, Arise! New Life After Incest and Abuse, Cluster Publications, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, 2002. 174 pp.