The McCann’s have been blessed by another wedding. There are certain events in the life of parents that stand out from all the rest. For us, the occasions of our daughters’ marriages are cases in point. The latest wedding unfolded something like this: Barry asked Martin for Catherine’s hand on December 27th. In late January, when Sandra was at Virginia Theological Seminary, she was asked if we could return on May 8th to the US and present at a symposium in honor of Dr. Richard Jones, retiring professor of Mission Theology and World Religions. Rich had been supportive of our work in mission, and Sandra was interested in returning. She wrote asking Martin if a return trip in May to VTS was possible. He replied that the expenses were considerable, but it would be more feasible if there were a wedding planned for the same time frame. So Sandra called Catherine, who assured her mother (in no uncertain terms) that there would be no wedding in May. It seems that Barry had not yet proposed! However, on February 19th with finished ring in hand, Barry asked Catherine and by February 21st St. Thomas Church, Columbus, GA, had been secured for a wedding on May 16th. It was the beginning of a whirlwind.
Caught up in the fury were friends and Barry’s lovely family, as we were in Tanzania and Barry and Catherine both live in New York. On the weekend after the engagement, sister Elizabeth and Catherine’s best friend, Sarah Watkins, along with her mother, Elizabeth Ogie, flew to New York. In two days gown and dresses were procured, invitations ordered, and registry set up. Barry’s mother, Nancy Freeman, addressed the invitations and made many trips from Atlanta to Columbus arranging for a magnificent rehearsal dinner. Friend Joan Redmond and Elizabeth Ogie tirelessly made all the arrangements for the reception. Rick McKnight, Music Director of St. Thomas, graciously organized a virtuosic multi-instrumental musical setting. Others arranged flowers and hospitality baskets while others provided engagement parties, traditional weekends, a splendid video, a wedding day luncheon and golf outing. In our humblest opinion we thought the wedding was a great success due to the concerted effort of the many who gave so generously of themselves. Our hearts continue to be filled with gratitude and joy.
The newlyweds, after a honeymoon in South Africa, are moving to Shanghai in July. Barry has accepted the position of Managing Director of Arc China, an investment firm working in venture capital to stimulate business in second and third-tier cities in China. They are currently on a preliminary trip to find an apartment and to enroll Catherine in language school.
The working part of our US trip was to present at Rich Jones’ retirement symposium. Our entry was to present the The Albino Crisis in Tanzania. This has been an ongoing problem, particularly in the lake region of Tanzania, where some 50 albinos have been killed for the sake of their body parts. The local witch doctors sell these body parts to miners and fishermen for the purpose of increasing their prosperity. This debauchery began sometime in the fall of 2007 and continues to the present time, despite efforts by the Tanzanian government to stop it. Martin presented the history of the plight and the medical aspects of the genetics.
Albinism is an autosomal recessive gene, and if both parents are carriers of the gene, on the average 1/4th of their offspring will lack melanin pigment in the skin and retina of the eyes. Poor vision and sensitivity to UV light are the major problems. The incidence of albinism in Tanzania is about four times that in the West. It is estimated in Tanzania to have a prevalence of one in 4,000 with over 173,000 people being affected.
The Kiswahili derisive term for people with albinism is Zeruzeru, which means ghost. They are generally discriminated against. With poor eyesight they fall behind in education. With no melanin pigment they are prone to developing skin cancers. Present efforts are to register those affected and to give them protection from harm. Hopefully their medical problems will be addressed as well. An insightful documentary by Peter Ash can be found at www.underthesamesun.com. He is a white Canadian man with albinism who has publicized the plight of albinos in Tanzania with his organization.
Our Diocese of Central Tanganyika runs The Buigiri School for the Blind where several albino children also attend. Because albinos are partially sighted they can read to the children learning Braille and also prepare themselves for when they can no longer see to read. We asked a close pastor friend whose ten-year old son Thomson is an albino how they were coping with the wave of killings. Daniel replied: We just have to trust God. Sadly, Thomson knows about the murders as he listens to the radio. His parents warn him to stay away from strangers, a hard thing to do in a culture where everyone must greet everyone. A friend from the UK has just sent tuition money for Thomson to attend Buigiri School beginning in July. He is beyond himself with joy to have the chance to be with others like himself and in a safe environment in a very good school. Thomson is number one in his fifth grade village school class.
The picture below was taken at a confirmation that shows both blind and albino children of The Buigiri School for the Blind.
Sandra defined the role of the witch doctor in the present plight of albinos and developed the role of witchcraft that pervades all of Africa. Religion in Africa is suffused with a belief in the presence of the supernatural in everyday life. The definition of witchcraft, as with all things mystical and illusive in nature, is hard to pin down, but basically it is a belief in a manifestation of evil believed to have come from a human source. Certain people have these powers, which can be used positively or negatively, but witches are generally believed to use their powers negatively. Witches are thought to have the power to make one rich or lucky in love and such rewards often require a human sacrifice, even one’s own child. Witchcraft encourages the abuse of albinos. The latest outbreak against the albinos is thought to be driven by the increasing poverty of the miners and fishermen in northern and western Tanzania. The body parts are used in different ways. The fisherman may weave the hair of the albinos into their nets. The miners might sprinkle the blood or ground up bones around the entrance to the mines or on their tools.
The fact that many who sacrifice human life become rich has led to the theory that an individual, who in essence makes a pact with the devil, loses all fear of anyone or any system. They can then lie, cheat, or steal with impunity. While most of us find this incomprehensible, we might be able to relate this phenomenon of making a pact with the devil (getting rich by immoral means) to those responsible for the get-rich-schemes that have brought on the latest economic crisis. While people may not have been physically murdered, surely many have had their dreams and hopes killed. Many people cannot feed their families because they have lost their jobs and their homes. Many who have lost everything have committed suicide. Sandra concluded that perhaps our own version of occult economics, a term of anthropologist Pat Caplan, is not as far removed from witchcraft and voodoo as we might like to think.
For those interested in reading more about witchcraft beliefs in contemporary Africa, Sandra recommends Imagining Evil edited by Gerrie Ter Haar and available on Amazon. This is a series of essays on the various forms that witchcraft takes throughout many different countries in Africa. Another recommended book, Real Power (Jesus Christ’s Authority over the Spirits), by the Principal of Msalato Theological College, the Reverend Canon Moses Matonya, is also available on Amazon. In this recently released practical small book Moses explains spiritism and gives his opinion as to why the church, after more than one hundred years in Africa, has nearly universally failed in eradicating witchcraft and related phenomena among the people, including the Christians.
Msalato’s graduation is in two weeks. Final exams are this week. The arrival of summer visitors has already begun with four people from Virginia Seminary and one from Seabury Western having just departed this morning. We expect the Very Rev. Richard Martindale from Trinity Episcopal in Columbus, GA, on Thursday and the Dean of Virginia Theological Seminary, the Very Rev. Ian Markham, Ph.D., on Sunday. They will be speakers at various graduation events. Dean Markham will be the keynote speaker for our first theological conference the week before graduation on June 28. It is entitled: Engaging the Muslim and the African Traditionalist.
More on these things in the next newsletter...until then, please continue to remember the people of Tanzania and us before the heavenly throne of grace. It buoys our spirits immensely when someone tells us: We pray for you everyday. What a priceless gift!
Joy and peace,
Sandy and Martin