Sunday, May 15, 2016

Beautiful and Broken

A view from the top of Lingira Island, looking out over Lake Victoria.

My island home is a beautiful place. 

I know my (biased) opinion is shared by others since visitors also make the same observation.

Imagine a tropical island with diverse trees and flowers, profuse birds and interesting wildlife, puffy clouds liberally painted across an expansive canvas, cooling breezes blown off the vast lake, views of incredibly striking sunrises and sunsets - each one taking your breath away. Night skies are studded with precious age-old "gems" - seen more clearly above when away from city lights.

Lapping on the beaches, the lake water is an ever-present source of one of earth's greatest treasures - life-giving water.

There are no cars and motorcycles (except maybe one) and thus no artificial pollution and annoying traffic jams, unless you count the cows and goats loitering on the walking paths.

A rainbow and island huts.

The island villages seem quaint with their narrow meandering paths twisting between the crowded grass-thatched mud houses. Bright-eyed children with big smiles play here and there, creatively recycling discarded items for their playthings.

Many agree the island is a beautiful place.

But, like the rest of the world, the island is also marred and broken.

A forest of trees has been slowly reduced for more urgent needs like firewood or making charcoal to cook food to fill hungry stomachs. Poor planning means replanting has not taken place. And, without the plentiful trees, less rainfall means the island is drier than it used to be - and gardens, animals, and people suffer.

Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world and Africa's largest, is far from "fresh" or "clean." Human pollution has contributed to extremely high levels of e coli and other harmful bacteria. Wading and swimming risk exposure to sickness or disease-causing parasitic worms.

While the removal of the forests made way for more gardens, an on-going struggle exists between the farmers and the apparently richer and more powerful animal owners. Hungry cows and goats can easily decimate an acre of crops, which took a family days and weeks to cultivate. Local leaders' laxity and corruption stifle justice and fairness.

Health care is limited or non-existent on many of Buvuma's 52 islands. Simple, preventable sicknesses and injuries may go untreated, becoming gravely serious. At times the wide-eyed children display signs of malnutrition and worms, with their unnatural orangish-brown hair and swollen stomachs.

Adult supervision is limited as siblings only a few years older are left in charge of younger brothers and sisters, ensuring they are fed, taken to school, etc. Consequently, child predators or those seeking sexual satisfaction take advantage of loose moral codes, offering paltry payments in exchange for stealing virginity, introducing life-altering diseases, or causing unwanted pregnancies. Girls and young women are often seen as commodities in the villages.

As reflective of the greater culture, men dominant in the islands - taking the women they want as "wives," until another catches their eye. Domestic abuse and violence are more common than not.

Children of the islands.

Most children grow up in mixed and fractured families, with siblings of different mothers or fathers. Larger families are often parceled out, with kids put in the care of an aunt or grandparent, whoever is deemed more able to feed and care for their basic needs.

Selfishness, ignorance, poverty, disease, abuse, exploitation, injustice ...these comprise the underlying reality of the islands...

...of the world...

...of my heart...

...apart from the Gospel.

Every day I desperately need the Gospel of Jesus, to embrace the fact God loved me, though unworthy and deader than dead in my sins, and not seeking Him in my sin-blinding stupor.

God saw us as beautiful, but very broken. His incredible love took action, sending His precious and holy Son Jesus into such a broken, sin-wracked world to a life of humility and humiliation. God sent Jesus to buy us back - to redeem us from slavery, from darkness, from sin, from death, from separation from our Heavenly Father.

The powerful, redemptive Gospel of Jesus is for my heart, for your heart, for your neighborhood, for my neighborhood. Yes, the world is very broken, deeply scarred by sin, but it is not beyond God's amazing redemption.

In the split second after the Fall, God enacted His redemption plan, relentlessly and passionately pursuing His image bearers - for thousands of years, even in this very moment and the next one. He has not given up, nor should we. At times, the situation of the islands (and the world is general) is overwhelming and discouraging, but God asks us to continue living and declaring the Good News, until He says "time's up."

And, until the time is up, we must embrace the God News, believe it, apply it, share it, declare it, shout it. We must live it and proclaim it every day, to every person, in every possible way.