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Theology Thursdays: The Joseph Paradigm: Toward a New Pan-African Vision by Charles E. Blake, Sr.

*Note. After reading an interesting article in Charisma News titled "Black Christians Urged to 'Reach Back' to African AIDS Orphans", we decided to direct our viewers' attention to the following address given by Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr. in February of 2003.

Sometime around 1998, I met a pastor from Boston by the name of Reverend Eugene F. Rivers 3d. He, members of his church and a broader circle of associates had been involved in a variety of vital spiritual and social action pursuits locally in Boston, but also, nationally and internationally. We shared and discussed many visions and dreams regarding the black church, African-Americans, and people in general. We discovered a mutual love for and commitment to the people of Africa, and a deep concern regarding the plight of Africa’s descendants around the world. His role as a social activist and mine as a church leader provided for us the opportunity to participate in very refreshing and productive dialogue. His dream of a pan-African, church based, coalition focused on mitigating a host of negative circumstances facing the Black world, captured my imagination.

In April 2000, we co-founded the Pan African Charismatic Evangelical Congress to advocate on behalf of the dispossessed of African descent. Among other things, the Congress would challenge the Black church to engage in foreign and development policy, with an initial emphasis on reversing the AIDS pandemic.

In April, 2001, founding members of the Pan African Charismatic Evangelical Congress, along with a team of pastors from across the nation, were the guests of Harvard’s Center for International Development which hosted a special workshop on children orphaned by AIDS. Jeffery D. Sachs, distinguished professors, and other leading experts in the field briefed us and other individuals who were concerned about the African AIDS pandemic. We ended our time at Harvard with a very enjoyable visit with Henry Louis Gates, at the Department of African American Studies.

During the CID briefing we received the latest, and most accurate data and projections regarding the devastating effect of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Those statistics were shocking and appalling, but they are even worse now. Now, an estimated forty million individuals are living with HIV worldwide, 90% (or about thirty-five million) of whom live in Sub-Saharan Africa. At least three million of that number are children under the age of fifteen.

AIDS and other rampant infectious diseases mutually reinforce one another. One million people die each year in Africa from malaria. The number of malaria deaths may be as high as 2.5 million. Two million people die from tuberculosis. Those who are HIV positive are more vulnerable to these infectious diseases.

To make matters worse, the African AIDS pandemic is being worsened by food shortages. More than 777 million people across the globe go to bed hungry each night. Many of these people are in Africa, and many of them will die. The United Nation’s World Food Program estimates that 38 million people in Africa are not only threatened by hunger, but by large-scale starvation. HIV positive African farmers and agricultural workers are often too sick to farm the fields. In certain cases, corrupt governments manipulate land and food for political gain, further increasing the suffering of those already suffering from AIDS. In other words, AIDS is affecting every aspect of life in sub-Saharan Africa.

As of February 2001, seventeen million Africans had died; with at least twenty-five to thirty-five million others still expected to die before the end of the epidemic. Despite the advances in treatment of HIV infection and AIDS enjoyed by the West, a projected forty-two million, and possibly as many as fifty-two million individuals will die from the disease in sub-Saharan Africa.

That number in the U.S. would constitute about twenty-five percent of our entire population. Anywhere else on earth, the projection of such an alarming rate of fatalities would set in motion a world-wide humanitarian effort many times greater in magnitude than anything we have seen, or will see, for the benefit of the people of Africa.

Prior to our time at the CID Workshop, our group, The Pan African Charismatic Evangelical Congress, wrote open letters to the President, editorials to various newspapers, and held news conferences at the National Press Club. In each case we addressed the HIV/AIDS pandemic, calling also for increased global funding for AIDS, debt relief and other development concerns. Our voices joined the voices of many others who also challenged the Administration to take leadership in fighting Global AIDS.

This helped to influence President Bush to recently propose a 15 billion dollar package that includes $10 billion in new money to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean over five years. This amount of money seems very large until one notes that the Administration also recently proposed a 26 billion dollar aid package to Turkey if that nation will assist us in the war with Iraq by providing launching sites for our forces. Africans are dying at a phenomenal rate, and a host of orphans will suffer hunger and death if substantial assistance is not provided. If food, medical care, and orphan care are not furnished, and if a host of other provisions are not made, the whole infrastructure of the continent will even more rapidly decline, and possibly collapse. The economic well being of Africa cannot be attained if AIDS is not defeated, and the orphans provided for.

The African AIDS pandemic is taking place in an increasingly unstable political and economic context, which may further exacerbate the crisis. For example, Africa is ripe for a significant increase in radical, militant, Islamic influence and Sharia law. Sharia law eliminates women’s rights, religious and political freedom. The imposition of this system of government is already spreading across Africa at a phenomenal rate. In the last three years one third of the Nigerian states have proclaimed Sharia law. Christians and the adherents of other faiths have been persecuted, imprisoned and even killed.

Industrialization levels in Africa remain low and unemployment continues to rise rapidly. Corporate colonialism extracts as much, if not more, from the land and the people than the colonial powers did. Some corrupt, dictatorial rulers, with their equally corrupt lieutenants, enrich themselves, while their nations and people drown in poverty. The educational systems of Africa are desperately in need of renewal and provision. The AIDS pandemic robs the continent of its workforce, and reduces the ranks of schoolteachers faster than the educational system can replenish them.

In the course of our AIDS advocacy, I became convinced that writing letters and articles, and holding press conferences was not enough. We needed to do much more. Available constituencies, resources, and involvements did not constitute adequate fiber from which we could weave durable and acceptable world-class organizational fabric, or accomplish greatest good.

We needed to promote broad scale African American awareness of the plight of our brothers and sisters in Africa. We needed to motivate African Americans with new paradigms and approaches to alleviate an African disaster of epic proportions. We needed a movement as intense, and comprehensive, as was the Civil Rights Movement in the nineteen sixties. We needed to instigate, not a temporary response, but rather, a new pan-African vision for mobilizing a comprehensive response to the AIDS pandemic, and to enable Africa’s children on the continent and around the world to launch a strategy of empowerment. We needed a leverage point that would enhance and strengthen our immediate and long-term effectiveness. I believe that leverage point is the Pan African Vision.

Though the hearts of many are touched by the tidal wave of infection that sweeps across the continent, Africa itself, and its people, are at the top of no international constituency’s list. Who longs to see the nations of Africa rise to power beside the other nations of the world? Who longs to see the nations of Africa rival the other nations of the world in wealth and prosperity? Who longs to see Africa rival the rest of the world in technology and science? Who longs to see Africa take charge of herself, and announce to the rest of the world that all of Africa must benefit from and receive payment for any resources taken from it? Who longs to be a committed and faithful friend of Africa? Does Africa have a natural external constituency, a national ally? African Americans are and should be the natural allies of Africans.

Black people in the U.S. must realize that, by virtue of our relative wealth and access to levers of power, we are blessed and strategically positioned. With all our challenges, problems and difficulties we have much to be thankful to God for. But, not only are we still here, we are blessed. We are better off than the black people of any nation on the face of the earth. Our enemies tried to destroy us, but we are still here.

In the Old Testament, Joseph had two dreams or visions that molded his sense of identity and destiny. Because of his dreams his brothers hated him and sold him into slavery. Blacks were also sold into slavery, many times by our brothers in Africa. Like Joseph, our forefathers endured many trials, much humiliation and suffering. But, Joseph held on to his dreams. He maintained his relationship with God, and lived on the highest possible moral level, even amid great temptations and adversity. Because of this he was able to endure and to maintain his sanity.

Through a series of supernatural and providential events Joseph was blessed by God to become the vice-president of Egypt. We through a series of phenomenal and supernatural events have by God’s grace come to success and power in this land of our captivity. Blacks now direct the foreign and military policy of the most powerful nation on earth: Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Joseph realized this blessed promotion had taken place so that he could fulfill his God-given destiny of reaching back to those same brothers who sold him into slavery and save them from starvation and death.

And in accord with this “Joseph Paradigm,” I propose that God has blessed African Americans in the U.S. not just for ourselves, but that we might be “Joseph” to Africa. We must reach back to our 750 million brothers and sisters in Africa, and share with them directly, and also become advocates and proponents of African aid and development assistance. The developed nations of the world have taken so much from Africa, and it’s time to give back to Africa.

The U.S. has invested 100 billion dollars in Israel’s 7-8 million people (eight billion dollars per year), and historically only about 200 million dollars per year on Africa’s 750 million people. African Americans must become for Africa what Jewish Americans have become for Israel. African Americans should become the advocates, representatives, collaborators, and business agents for the nations of Africa and the African Diaspora.

And may I further propose that our failure to recognize and pursue our destiny may be a reason for much of our present despair and downward drifting. When a people lose their sense of destiny and purpose, they will lose almost everything else. Almost everywhere you find people of African descent, they are the poorest, most malnourished, unemployed, uneducated, most oppressed people; and, in that place, they exist at the bottom of all social strata. This is a direct and indirect result of slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism, corporate colonialism, racism, and discrimination.

There are just over 30 million African Americans in the U.S., that statistic alone will give you some idea of the scale of 40 million orphans on the African continent by the year 2010. We cannot allow 40 million children in Africa to live, suffer, and die without all the help we can give them. We cannot allow the majority of the 750 million people in Africa to struggle and die on an average income of less than 200 dollars per year without doing something to help them. If not us, who? If not now, when? If not here, where?

As a church leader, I strongly believe that the African American church has to step up to the line and bear as much of this burden as possible. Before asking corporations, foundations, and individuals of wealth, I have joined with a team of churches and individuals from across the U.S. to raise funds on behalf of the Pan African Children’s Fund (or PACF), which has launched a multi-million dollar campaign called Save Africa’s Children. These funds will be used to support institutions and grassroots initiatives that serve orphans in sub-Saharan Africa. PACF employs a comprehensive approach to orphan care, incorporating principles developed by UNICEF and UNAIDS.

We have recently made appeals to 46 thousand black churches, and we have raised approximately two million dollars. Many churches have participated. Denzel Washington and John Gregory have given substantially to the cause. To date, we have provided financial support to more than 60 orphan care institutions. Our goal is to contribute to one thousand orphan care institutions and community-based initiatives by the end of 2003, and many, many more in the future.

But caring for and providing for the orphans must be only a first step in pursuit of the vision. The AIDS orphan crisis presents a compelling opportunity for direct involvement of the U.S. black church in global justice concerns. Through advocacy, U.S. black church leaders can influence institutions that shape the global response to the crisis. These include multilateral financial institutions (such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund) and donor agencies (such as the United States Agency for International Development) as well as elected officials, world-renowned academics and research institutions working on global AIDS and related development issues.

Church leaders can galvanize much-needed domestic support within the public and private sectors for progressive AIDS and debt cancellation legislation. Perhaps more importantly, black churches can bring their own financial and institutional resources to bear on the lives of millions of orphaned children. At minimum, black churches can financially support organizations working with AIDS-affected children and advocacy groups working to address AIDS and related issues gripping the Continent. As we consolidate church support and involvement, we will also move to involve every segment of the African Diaspora, and corporate, governmental, and individual friends of every color.

We as church leaders need help from others, such as the black intelligentsia. The role of the intellectual is to tell the truth; to bring critical thinking and analysis to bear on issues concerning the human condition. You have a special role to play in reversing the African AIDS pandemic. As intellectuals, you have the ability to think critically about these complex issues and formulate humane policies. You have access to elite opinion makers, think tanks, foundations, policymakers, and legislators. These resources can be marshaled and deployed on behalf of Africa’s dispossessed. Imagine the power in having black intellectuals work with the black church on policy issues related to Africa! Daniel served in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar. He was distinguished by his intellectual prowess. God used Daniel and his skills to help the Jewish captives. You can use your skills to help Africa’s most vulnerable – its children.

I propose that this is something worth working together for. When a people find something worth working for, then they become people of purpose. When people find a purpose, they find meaning. And when they find meaning they find significance. And when they find significance, they find a reason to discipline themselves morally, ethically, and spiritually. And when significant disciplined people bring their whole being into conformity with their purpose, they find greatness, prosperity and success; and they accomplish any goal that they set.

Martin Luther King was energized by his dream. With the great challenges we face, we need to dream bigger than ever before. We need to dream of revolutionizing our communities for good. We need to dream of turning our young men from death and destruction, and toward moral and personal excellence, as well as intellectual, and economic productivity. I see our young men memorizing medical manuals and mathematical formulas, rather than vulgar, dehumanizing, gangster lyrics and gang signs. We need to dream of inspiring our daughters so that they will defer sex and motherhood until after pursuing higher education and marriage. We need to dream of the nations of Africa standing shoulder to shoulder with the other nations of the world as equals.

We need to dream of black people everywhere joining together in a pan African world community for cooperative mutual enhancement, and advancement. That is the vision, and that is the leverage point from which we can move the world.

We must not look only to others to heal our wounds. We cannot defer action while we wait on and plead with others to begin loving us, we must love ourselves enough to take charge of our destinies. No matter how benevolent any U.S. government or any other major government of the world may become, we will never be its first priority. It is only when we become first priority in our own minds that we will make significant progress as a people.

You might say I am dreaming too big … But I say unless your dream is big enough to require a miracle to bring it to pass, God will diminish your resources so He can get the glory. He will reduce your assets, so that you need a miracle that will bring Him glory. He will handle things in such a way that people will say, “Only God could have done that.”

Gideon’s experience illustrates this fact. Gideon had 32,000 soldiers. He probably felt that, even against 100,000 of the enemy, he had a fighting chance. God said, “If you think you have a fighting chance, I’d better reduce your assets.” Gideon then only had 10,000 soldiers, but still retained a hope that skillful strategy might gain the victory for his army. But, because of that hope God reduced him down to 300 soldiers. At that point he said, “Only a miracle from God can gain the victory for me now.” God said, “That is what I have been waiting for you to say. Now, go in my power and win the victory.” We need to dream dreams so big that only a miracle will bring them to pass. And then, we need to give glory to God.

There are others who might say that it is too late for the Black race. Too much time has passed; too much damage has been done. But, I came by to tell you that God never starts until it’s too late. Lazarus was sick. Jesus learned of it and said, “He’s not sick enough.” Lazarus then died. And Jesus said, “He’s not dead enough.” When Lazarus had been dead for four days, Jesus finally appeared. Everyone promptly informed Jesus that He was too late. Jesus said, “I never go to work until it is too late. It may be too late for you, but it not too late for me, Lazarus come forth.” Lazarus came forth from the grave, alive and well.” It is never too late, for God.

Still another group might remind us of our meager resources, and say that we don’t have enough. But, I would respond that God never starts until there is not enough. Jesus waited until a multitude of 5,000 was down to two fish and five barley rolls and then he ordered the disciples to feed them. The disciples suggested, “We don’t have enough, send them away to find food.” Jesus said, “Bring your not enough to me.” When He had blessed it and broke it, their not enough was more than enough. With God involved, your not enough is more than enough.

One last group might assert that the situation is simply hopeless. But, may I affirm that it was a hopeless situation when Jesus was hung on a cross. It was a hopeless situation when his blood and His life drained from His body. It was hopeless when He died and was buried. But, Oh, what a beautiful morning when hopelessness was devastated, and the King of Kings and Lord of Lords arose from the dead! If He overcame that hopeless situation, then He will help us to overcome the challenges we face.

So let’s dream some big dreams, and let’s attempt some great endeavors. Let me close by telling you, “I see you in the future, and you look much better than you look right now.”

Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr gave this address to the Harvard Community at The Memorial Church, Harvard University on February 27, 2003. It appears on the website of The Pan African Charismatic Evangelical Congress

Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr. is the founder of SAVE AFRICA’S CHILDREN and senior pastor of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles, CA

Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

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