The remarkable truth about empowering young men is that it is possible. As a Christian, I see a connection between Things Fall Apart and our failure to empower the boy-child. How can this be, when we should safeguard boys?
Background to Things Fall Apart
Things Fall Apart is one of Chinua Achebe’s unforgettable books. It is a tragic portrayal of Okonkwo, an ambitious and respected man in Umuofia. Though he appeared to be brave, Okonkwo experienced internal fear. His father, Unoka, was a gentle coward who enjoyed music and conversation.
Okonkwo considered such pursuits as being emotional and ‘soft’. Because of this, Okonkwo considered his father as a failure. Strangely enough, Okonkwo’s rash personality brought trouble upon himself and his family. In the end, Okonkwo failed to discover the remarkable truth about empowering young men.
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The remarkable truth about empowering young men
Things began falling apart for Okonkwo after Ogbuefi’s wife was killed at Mbaino. Okonkwo was quickly sent Okonkwo to Mbaino with an ultimatum. Mbaino was to choose between war or providing a young boy and a virgin as compensation.
Two days later, Okonkwo came back with a young virgin and Ikemefuna, a fifteen year-old boy. The virgin was given to Ogbuefi Udo in replacement for his dead wife, while Ikemefuna went to live in Okonkwo’s household. Ikemefuna become wholly absorbed into his new family.
With time, Nwoye, Okonkwo’s son came to consider Ikemefuna as his elder brother. Ikemefuna also came to consider Okonkwo as his father. Okonkwo’s family, made up of three wives and his children, treated Ikemefuna as their own flesh and blood. Three years later, the Umuofia clan decided to kill Ikemefuna.
My father, they have killed me
“I want you to have nothing to do with Ikemefuna’s death,” one of the elders warned Okonkwo, “because he calls you his father.”
The next day, Ikemefuna accompanied a group of elders. He was happy that Okonkwo was escorting him back to his village. He could hardly imagine that Okonkwo was not his real father. At the end of three years his father had become a distant memory.
As they kept walking, Okonkwo withdrew to the rear. When one of the men drew his machete, Okonkwo looked away. But the blow wasn’t deadly enough to kill Ikemefuna.
“My father, they have killed me!” Ikemefuna cried, running towards Okonkwo.
Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and killed Ikemefuna. He did not want to be seen as a coward. When Okonkwo returned home that night, he was never the same again. His whole world came tumbling down.
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Reasons why existing programs fail
What happened between Okonkwo and Ikemefuna still happens today. If not handled well, the plight of the boy-child can lead to the falling apart of families. Ironically, most organizations that seek to empower vulnerable people focus on providing relief. Why is this happening?
There are three reasons, which include:-
- Many organizations believe that handouts are the solution to eradicating poverty. As a result, they often provide relief to people who really need development. This kind of mindset and response has been adopted by men that are considered as father-figures.
- Relief is easier than conducting personal development. It is much simpler to drop food out of airplanes and ladling soup out of bowls. This isn’t the same with developing long-lasting and time-consuming relationships with vulnerable people, which may be emotionally exhausting.
- It is easier to get donor money for relief than for development. “We fed a thousand people today” sounds better to donors than “We hang out and developed relationships with a dozen people today“.
Because most of young men who need empowerment are poor, the above reasons apply to the way men in church relate to them. Most Christian men seem not be having time for young men. The best thing most of them do is to introduce the young men at the church office so they can be given relief.
This can be attributed to what Darrow Miller refers to as “evangelical gnosticism. Evangelical Gnosticism is a sacred-secular divide in which God is lord of the spiritual realm-Sunday worship, devotions, evangelism and discipleship. However, it is largely irrelevant to the “physical” or “secular” realms-business, the arts, politics, science, and poverty alleviation. This sacred-secular divide severely cripples Christianity and makes it irrelevant to the day-to-day functioning of our individual lives and culture.
Finally, it is important to note the following. A majority of the women in our churches are single, divorced or widowed. These women have one thing in common. They have sons who need a father-figure. This fact applies even to married women. In the African context, all adult males are fathers. This means that every young man looks up to you and I as a father.
It is every Christian man’s core mandate to step into the gap. By doing so, we will be able to become father-figures to the many young men in our churches. When we empower young men in our churches, we end up strengthening the Body of Christ. The women in our churches may appear to be having everything together. But they need our collective intervention. Contact us for opportunities where you can make a difference. Together, we can turn the remarkable truth about empowering young men into a reality.
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.