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I’ll Trade you a Cracker for your Faith

Many of the international organizations doing charity and relief work in Africa are faith-based. On the positive side, one can see this as driven by the injunction in many religions to commit our lives to those less fortunate than ourselves. The darker side is represented by a comment made by an American Christian missionary here in Uganda to my in-laws. He said he works here because “the souls are cheap.” In other words, the per-conversion investment, in dollars, is much less than it is in countries with more robust economies.

I like to believe that most of the people working here for religious reasons are motivated by the first drive rather than the second, and many charities of all religions dispense their services without regard to the faith of the recipient. There are, however, a number of organizations that require recipients to convert or proclaim a certain faith before they will help them.

Excuse me for my bluntness, but that’s just dumb.

Can you Buy Souls?

A recent article makes my point here without even going beyond the title: “Several Christians Hastily Convert to Islam for Clothes.”

A group of Christians has suddenly converted to Islam in order to receive free items donated by a Dubai-based company and the United Arab Emirates Red Crescent.

This comes after Muslim landslide victims from Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda (locally called Baduda) who were relocated by the government to the western Ugandan district of Kiryandongo received items donated by a Dubai-based company called Al Crownfolest and the Red Crescent society of United Arab Emirates.

The donated items, worth over $500,000, and solicited by a Ugandan-based local NGO called Iganga Islamic Development Association were distributed last Thursday. Among the items donated were over 3,000 new pairs of trousers, 1,000 copies of the Islamic holy Koran, 500 T-shirts, 2,000 belts and thousands of skirts. The items included no Bibles.

That’s some good stuff, if your home just got washed away by a landslide and you have nothing left.

[As an aside, notice the Christian bias of the writer. If you read an article about World Vision distributing Bibles, would you ever expect to see a mention of the fact that “the items included no Korans?” It wouldn’t even warrant a mention.]

The article goes on to quote one of the converts, Isaac Kule, who says he “converted to Islam because of two reasons. One, so that I get some of the donated items, and two, because ministry of health encourages us to get circumcised as one of the ways of reducing on the risk of getting infected by HIV-AIDS.”

I have to wonder, though, if it “counts” as a conversion if you are doing it because of the goods you may receive rather than because of the God you may receive.

Who Should God be Mad At?

If I were God, or Allah, or Zoroaster or whoever (and I’m not, by the way), I wouldn’t be mad at the people who converted. I’d be proud of their resourcefulness. The people I’d be pissed at are the people who withheld services from those in need because of their faith.

Again, while this example happens to be Muslims only providing services to Muslims, it could just as easily be a Christian or Jewish aid group doing the same. Is it really just about the numbers? Is it really doing “God’s Work” to add names to a tally sheet regardless of what it took to get them there?

Professing a certain faith shouldn’t be a prerequisite for receiving services, it should be a result of it.

Walk. Then Talk.

Since you asked, here’s what I would like to see. I would like to see missionaries of all faiths live such inspiring lives, rooted in the values taught to them through their Holy Books, that people come to them asking what drives them in life. You shouldn’t have to go out of your way to tell people about your faith – it should be evident in your every action. And if you live this way, you will get far more “real” conversions than any “faith for services” program you might have set up.

Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala
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