When I saw A Twist of Faith: An American Christian’s Quest to Help Orphans in Africa advertized, my curiosity instantly peaked. I’m not a disinterested third party with merely intellectual curiosity. I spent my formative years growing up in East Africa with my parents involved in non-profit work, my dissertation is on African theology (particularly ecclesiology), and I’ve always had Africa on my heart.
So, intrigued but a bit anxious, I requested a review copy (Beacon Press: thank you!). Many questions ran through my mind. Would Africa be portrayed as a hopeless place full of tragedy (as it often is in Western media outlets)? How would a Western, conservative Christian respond to the complex situations in Africa? Will this book educate Westerners who want to be involved in Africa, giving them more wisdom and knowledge about how to best get involved?
John Donnelly’s book weaves together the tale of David Nixon, a man from a broken home who comes to believe in Jesus Christ’s claim on his life, and feels pulled to help orphans in Malawi—but he soon finds out that having a true desire to make a difference, and resources to share, are not enough to set things “right” in the lives of those he meets. Donnelly portrays Nixon as a driven, honest, hard-working man, to be sure, but also a naïve one, at least at the beginning. Nixon learns the hard way that handing out money and resources can lead to dependency, among other problems. He must develop relationships with local leaders, negotiate local politics, and deal with cultural differences. While he does succeed in helping local orphans with schooling and food, Donnelly details the twists and complications that change Nixon’s plans, and change Nixon himself. I don’t want to give away the book’s ending, so I’ll stop the story there.
The first thing I would hope readers take away is a sober realization that how help is offered matters very much. Should Westerners, particularly Christians, care about Africa? Absolutely! On the other hand, simply sending a check to a person or organization one knows little about is not wise, and may even harm the Africans on the receiving end. When you decide to give, learn more about what you are giving to, what their goals are, how they work, etc. Learn as much as you can, and seek out ways of helping that work with local leaders and churches, offering aid that will empower (not create dependence), and not offer a drastically different way of life than the rest of the local people can manage. If you (assuming a Western reader here) have a desire to help a more needy portion of the world, if you are a church leader involved in your church’s outreach or aid programs, if you are personally interested in dedicating your life to helping the less fortunate in another culture, this book will help you to think through some issues that will likely arise wherever you go.
Go here for a trailer for the book.