INTERNATIONAL DESK: The problems of small newly independent nations that need help. AFTER SEVERAL days in the heat, dust and dirt of the "fourth world" I was enjoying the respite. It was 10 o'clock at night, but the hotel's restaurant was still crowded. Not surprising, because it was just about the only place in town where the food was edible, the beer cold and the air conditioning functioning.
In this poverty stricken country it was the best place for Westerners to congregate. They could meet each other and perhaps rub shoulders with some of the country's educated younger generation — tomorrow's leaders.
I had been chatting casually with a young man. He was a good conversationalist, intelligent and well-informed. Suddenly he said seriously, "Let's go where we can talk."
"We are talking," I said. "What's wrong with here?"
"No, outside. I want to really talk."
He got up quickly. Somewhat reluctantly, I followed him out into the street. It was still stifling hot and crowded — as usual. He led me through the throng to his car — an old French model of uncertain vintage.
"I didn't want to talk in there," he explained as we drove into a gloom, away from Main Street. "Walls have ears, if you know what I mean."
Then he said, earnestly, "What do you think of my country?"
"I have been telling you all the evening that I think it is fascinating."
"Yes, but really, honestly, you as a Westerner, what do you think of this?" He gestured at the ramshackle shacks, the filth littering the streets, the homeless families bedded down for the night on the sidewalk.
"Well — to be honest — I think it is a terrible shame."
"Yes. You see, I know a bit about your country!" I explained, "I know that you have resources, raw materials, fertile land and an abundant energy source in your rivers. You don't have overpopulation and your people are not savages. Most are literate, cultured and intelligent. You have the potential right now to be a prosperous nation — perhaps the richest nation in the region. But nobody seems to care. Nothing is taken care of. You all seem demoralized and apathetic. That is why I say it is a shame."
My young friend looked at me sadly. "What you say is right. You know what has happened? Since we became independent, our country has lost its way."
He continued: "Many of us, the young people, are very dissatisfied. But we are not foolish. There is always talk of overthrowing the government. But in our saner moments we know that that isn't the answer. We know that this problem is not just the fault of government."
"Why does your country reject help from outside?" I asked. "Because we value our independence. You see, we know that foreign aid has strings attached. With the aid comes obligations — and that is what we are afraid of.
"You see for years, our country was a colony. Our people were second class citizens in their own land. Our traditions were subjugated to Western and European customs. But we are a strong people. We value our ways, our customs and our religion. So when we gained independence, we decided — no more interference. We would go our own way."
"But your way hasn't worked, has it? Look at the results."
"Yes, this is our dilemma. We know we need help. But whom do we go to? We are a freedom-loving people, and we take our religion very seriously. The Communist countries would help us, but at what cost? We have seen what happens in other countries — soon it would be the end to our culture as we know it. We cannot afford to sacrifice a way of life for tractors, dams and power stations. "
"What about the West? They would help."
"Yes. We would like the things that you could give us. But you also would bring your culture. We look at your societies today and we say — no thanks. We may be poor, but our families are not breaking up. Divorce is rare. Children respect their parents, the elderly are loved and cared for. The streets of our cities are safe to be in at night. We are afraid of your way of life. Materially, you are better off, but — ."
He stopped the car and looked at me. "My people have lost their way. We need help. But whom can we trust? Isn't there anybody who can show us the way?"
I saw something in this young man that I had not seen before. He was not just a radical or a fanatic. He deeply loved his country and had genuine concern for its future.
He and his country are not unique in today's world. Many smaller states seem to be losing their way.
Wealthy nations are often quick to criticize poorer countries for their problems; not without cause. Although it is certainly true that the "first world" consumes more than its fair share of the world's wealth, poorer nations often do not use what they do have to best advantage. Greed and corruption is not the exclusive vice of the rich nations. The poor exploit each other. And ignorance and superstition often means foreign aid is wasted.
But it is also simplistic and grossly unfair to blame all the problems of the developing world on their own systems. Not every third and fourth leader is a bloodthirsty dictator. Not every official is corrupt and self-seeking. Many are highly educated, deeply dedicated and concerned men and women, trying to act in the best interests of their people.
These leaders know that their countries are poor, and that they must progress. But in which, direction? And at what price? This is the dilemma.
So they experiment. They veer to the right or left, East and West for help and example. Some embrace communism, looking to Karl Marx and Nikolai Lenin for the answer. Some follow the path of Western-style democracy. Some go to the brink of one or the other and then pull back violently, reverting to traditional ways, customs and religion - take for instance, Iran. But others, seeing the results of capitalism and communism (and all the other 'isms'), prefer to seek their own course. Only to find that that doesn't work either.
The price of true nonalignment is often enervating, stultifying, stagnation. And then, because an economy can't stand still — the country begins to-literally-fall to pieces. But it is too easy for the casual visitor to take a quick look around at the wreckage, shrug his shoulders and say, "Well, if that's the way they want it."
Those who have lived all their lives in the rich and powerful nations often under-estimate the pride and passions of other countries. Armed with perhaps little more than a flagpole and a seat in the United Nations, small countries nevertheless want to hold their heads high as they try to make their way in the world.
About a year ago, I had the opportunity to visit what was then the Gilbert Islands — a remote group of tiny islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. In mid-1979, they became the independent nation of Kiribati. I remember the pride and joy in the eyes of the national people as they showed me what was to be the new flag. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is all too easy to not take the hopes, dreams and aspirations of little nations seriously.
In August last year the Caribbean island of Dominica was devastated by a hurricane. Most of the homes were destroyed and agriculture was set back two to three years. A friend wrote to me, "When the first international aid teams came and saw the extent of damage, they suggested that we evacuate the islands!"
Evacuate the island! How could they? It was their country — the only place on earth that they had the right to call home.
Some years ago the miniscule British colony of Tristan de Cunha had to be evacuated because of a volcanic eruption. The inhabitants of the tiny island were taken to Britain for refuge. But once it was safe to return, they all, with only two or three exceptions, volunteered to return. Because their rocky little islet was their home.
Home is much more than just a physical location. It is a way of life, a way of doing things. It is where you 'and your people belong and feel comfortable and secure. Although there is no great virtue in letting your home fall down around your ears, you must ask — what is the cost of modernization?
So back to my friend and his question — "Isn't there anyone who can show us the way?"
Since I am a Christian, I was not going to recommend a system that leads to atheism. But because I am a Christian, I could understand his misgivings about our Western way of life.
Take an objective look at the society the West has built. Can we see why other people might say - Thanks, but no thanks. Man does not live by gross national product alone!
Of course, there is an answer to the question, "Who can show us the way?" Regular readers of The Plain Truth know that answer. As the apostle Paul said (Romans 3:12), we have all lost our way, and only the intervention of God can prevent us from losing everything else as well. Left to himself, man would wipe himself off the face of the earth. But just before we do that, God will send Jesus Christ back, to take hold of the reins of government and rule the earth.
That is the answer. My friend, and his problems, helped me to see why it is the answer in a way I had not thought of before.
It is easy for us to anticipate this coming Kingdom of God as the solution to our own everyday problems. But the need for Christ's return is so much greater than that. The prophet Isaiah, speaking of Christ's millennial rule said, "He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment on the earth: and the isles [even the remotest atolls] shall wait for his law" (Isaiah 42:4).
Think what that will mean to nations that have lost their way and have nowhere to turn. At last there will be Someone to trust — Someone, to look to. Christ will show by the fruits of His rule, that His way works.
No wonder that in the coming Kingdom of God, all nations shall flow to His seat of government to learn of His ways, so that they can follow His example (Isaiah 2:2-3). Then and only then will there be Someone who can show them the way — not only true religion, but in all aspects of their development; industry, agriculture, education — yet preserving all that is right and good of their national customs and traditions. There will be no longer a first world, second world, third world and fourth world. It will be one world-working together — learning to live in harmony and peace.
Nations will trust one another, so that they can learn from each other without fear. The most hopelessly backward, poverty stricken country will become, under Christ's wise and understanding rule, a homeland to be proud of. And never again need a country lose its way.