"... Sub-Saharan Africa boasts an exceptional demographic dividend,"
says Nigerian-American author Dayo Olopade. "It's the youngest world region - 70 percent of the population is under thirty years old. The existence of hundreds of millions of young people on the march from innocence to empowerment has upside and downside potential."
The latent power of young people to play an active role in the shaping and re-forming of their communities and countries is one of the hidden assets Olopade explores in her 2014 book, The Bright Continent
The book functions as an appreciative inquiry across all of African and a corrective to what she describes as "the biggest lie in modern history: that poor and passive Africans exist only in the shadow of Western action." From youth and nature to social relationships and technology, it zeroes in on areas ('maps' she calls them) that are all too easy to ignore as outside interventionists rush in with good intentions and preconceived ideas about how best to help. Its opening chapters are being used to orient our own delegation of young adult travelers to Iringa next week - equipping them with questions, curiosities, and the sage advice for all reporters and observers: "Don't think, but look!"
For the next two weeks, four young adults from three different Saint Paul Area Synod congregations will be immersed in a 'Youth Camp' with fourteen young men and women from across the Iringa Diocese - two specially selected from each district. They will gather in the morning for learning sessions, travel together on field excursions, and share in afternoon activities. Then they will close each night with Table Talks about their common Lutheran/Christian identity, youth and young adulthood, vocation, and the call to take part in a church and a movement that is always reforming.
They will be challenged to check their expectations alongside their luggage and to observe, carefully and intently, the skills and dreams of their cross-continental kin - to see the drive and the hustle that animates their peers. They will celebrate shared joys and wrestle with common challenges. And, quite likely, they may encounter the 'tug' of the Holy Spirit as they explore what God might be up to in their lives as well.
And so we ask you to pray for them. Pray for Craig and Michael and Jessica and Tina and the fourteen young adults from Iringa. Pray for the communities that send them and the communities that will receive them. Pray for learning and fellowship and the welcoming of possibilities for being church in a new day... We trust that it will be one incredible journey.
With gratitude and excitement,
The Rev. Peter Harrits, Director of Bega Kwa Bega and Assistant to the Bishop