I have stumbled upon one of my favorite books. It’s called On the Edge of the Primeval Forest, and tells the story of a European doctor who ventures to an isolated mission station in the equatorial jungles of 1910’s Africa.
Around the house stood the huts in which the white man’s labourers had lived when the trade was in full swing. Now, half-ruined, they served as sleeping places for negroes who passed through. On the second day after our arrival, I went to see whether there was any one in them, but no one answered my calls. Then I opened the doors one by one, and in the last hut saw a man lying on the ground with his head almost buried in the sand and ants running all over him. It was a victim of sleeping sickness whom his companions had left there, probably some days before, because they could not take him any farther. He was past all help, though he still breathed. While I busied with him I could see through the door of the hut the bright blue waters of the bay in their frame of green woods, a scene of almost magic beauty, looking still more enchanting in the flood of gloden light poured over it by the setting sun. To be show in a single glace such a paradise and such helpless, hopeless misery was overwhelming … but it was a symbol of the condition of Africa.” (p. 121-122)
That doctor’s name is Albert Schweitzer. Child prodigy. Deacon. Bach organist. Eventual Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Physical misery is great everywhere out here. Are we justified in shutting our eyes and ignoring it because our European newspapers tell us nothing about it? We civilised people have been spolit. If any one of us is ill the doctor comes at once. is an operation necessary, the door of some hospital or other opens to us immediately. But let every one reflect on the meaning of the fact that out here millions and millions live without help or hope of it. Every day thousands and thousands endure the most terrible sufferings, though medical science could avert them. Every day there prevails in many and many a far-off hut a despair which we could banish. Will each of my readers think what the last ten years of his family history would have been if they had passed without medical or surgical help of any sort? It is time that we should wake from slumber and face our responsibilities! (p. 123)
Perhaps the world has not changed so much in the passage of a century.
Ever since the world’s far-off lands were discovered, what has been the conduct of the white peoples to the coloured ones? What is the meaning of the simple fact that this and that people has died out, that others are dying out, and that the condition of others is getting worse and worse as a result of their discovery by men who professed to be followers of Jesus? Who can describe the injustice and the cruelties that in the course of centuries they have suffered at the hands of Europeans? Who can measure the misery produced among them by the fiery drinks and the hideous diseases that we have taken to them? If a record could be compiled of all that has happened between the white and the coloured races, it would make a book containing numbers of pages, referring to recent as well as to early times, which the reader would have to turn over unread, because their contents would be too horrible. (p. 124)
Again, time passes slowly in some part of the world.
We and our civilisation are burdened, really, with a great debt. We are not free to confer benefits on these men, or not, as we please; it is our duty. Anything we give them is not benevolence but atonement. For every one who scattered injury some one ought to go out to take help, and when we have done all that is in our power, we shall not have atoned for the thousandth part of our guilt. That is the foundation from which all deliberations about “works of mercy” out there must begin. (p.124)
Atonement. Our whole world is built upon slavery. Something else that hasn’t really changed.
““The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”