Column: Doesn’t take a genius to see that China’s catching up

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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SHANGHAI – Bill Gates has a question he likes to ask when he talks about globalization:

Twenty years ago, would you rather have been a B student in Poughkeepsie or a genius in Shanghai? And how about today?

(Texans can substitute Mesquite or Waco for Poughkeepsie, if it makes you feel more geographically comfortable.)

Twenty years ago, the B student in Poughkeepsie would have had little problem finding a good job, probably in middle management somewhere. He would have led a productive, happy existence, living in what 90 percent of the world’s population would consider luxury.

And the Shanghai genius would have been stuck in one of the poorest countries in the world, burdened by an autocratic state still recovering from Mao’s bizarre economic policies. It’s a no-brainer: The kid in Poughkeepsie would have led a better life.

But today? I just returned from 10 days in China, and I can tell you that the geniuses of Shanghai today are starting businesses, building skyscrapers and making more money than they can count.

The B students in Poughkeepsie – or, for that matter, Dallas – should be worried.

Since the early 1980s, when the “A Nation at Risk” report was released, Americans have worried about how their students compare with competitors overseas. (Of course, the concern goes back even further; witness the Sputnik-inspired emphasis on science education in the 1950s.)

As everyone knows by now, our test scores are nothing special when compared with the rest of the world. For a long time, though, that didn’t matter much; America’s other economic advantages – a free market, access to capital and relatively low levels of corruption – were big enough to keep our edge.

But the rest of the world is catching up. China’s development areas – like Shanghai’s Pudong area, and the Shenzhen area around Hong Kong – are swarming with money. New skyscrapers seem to go up every night.

(As a fellow journalist muttered when we drove into downtown Shanghai from the airport: “This place makes Manhattan look like Tulsa.” There are 2,800 buildings at least 14 stories tall in Shanghai, with plans for an additional 2,000.)

America has gotten into a lather in the last few years about offshoring – about all the good jobs we were losing to Mexico or China or India. The sunny-side-up interpretation was always that these were mostly low-skill jobs we were losing – the simpler end of manufacturing and such things as call centers.

The really good jobs, economists argued – the ones that take a college degree – were here to stay.

I’m not so sure. Want to hear some scary statistics?

In 2002, China graduated 460,000 new engineers. America graduated 73,000 – and 25,000 of those were foreign-born students attracted to the quality of American universities.

(In years past, those foreign students would have overwhelmingly stayed in the U.S. after graduation and added to the economy. But nowadays, many head back to the new opportunities available in China, India or wherever they came from.)

In 2000, only 17 percent of American college degrees were in engineering or the sciences; 52 percent of Chinese degrees were.

Which is why many American and Japanese companies are starting to open up research and development operations in China. It’s not just factories anymore: It’s the good jobs that are heading elsewhere.

I visited several university campuses during my trip, and I always asked students the same questions: How anxious are you for China to have democracy? Doesn’t it bother you that the government owns all the newspapers?

After all, college students are the traditional rabble-rousers in any country. And Tiananmen Square was only 16 years ago.

The responses were uniform: The government is doing a good job. Things are better now than they’ve ever been. Now’s not the time to rock the boat.

“I think there are plenty of opportunities here for young people who are dedicated and want to do great things,” said one of the students I spoke with at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, a young woman named Lenny Chen.

Lenny is ready to launch her career, graduate degree in hand. She’s obviously extremely bright and extroverted; it wasn’t a surprise to learn she was her school’s class president. Her English is probably better than mine. Some day soon she wants to start her own business that can compete with the big boys of the West.

Is she the sort of Shanghai genius Bill Gates was talking about?

I don’t know. But the B students of Poughkeepsie shouldn’t be surprised if they’re working for her in a few years.

Spiritual payback; Foreign priests want to fill need – if Americans let them

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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ENUGU, Nigeria – For generations of Nigerians, “missionary” was a synonym for “Irishman.”

Thousands of Irish Catholics left Europe for the wilds of Africa, braving heat and disease to bring the message of Christ to heathen animists.But today’s missionaries are working in the opposite direction. They’re native Nigerians who talk about healing the secular sickness of the West. And these Catholic Africans are crossing the oceans in unprecedented numbers to return the favor Western missionaries once paid them.

“They have a saying: ‘Africa has AIDS, but North America has theological AIDS,'” said Philip Jenkins, a professor of religious studies at Penn State who studies Christianity in developing nations. “‘Our continent’s being devastated by one thing. Yours is being devastated by another.'”

The growth of what scholars call “reverse mission” fits like a puzzle piece into another trend in the Western church: What was once a steady stream of young men being trained in the priesthood by American and European seminaries has slowed to a trickle. More parishes are going without priests – 3,100 in the U.S. last year, up from 500 in 1965. The men arriving from the developing world fill a need.

“The Europeans came to evangelize us, and we thank them for it,” said Casimir Osigwe, who is nearing his ordination as a Catholic priest. “Now it is our turn to evangelize them. We have something to give.”

Mr. Osigwe, 32, is finishing up his studies at Bigard Memorial Seminary in this eastern Nigerian city. It’s the largest Catholic seminary in the world, enrolling more than 1,000 young men.

Contrast that with the Diocese of Dallas’ Holy Trinity Seminary. Its current enrollment is 30.

“We in Nigeria are naturally religious,” said the Rev. John Okoye, Bigard’s rector. “The instinct is in our blood. We have a reverence of the unknown.”

Holy Trinity is by no means unusual for an American seminary. Young men in this country, for whatever reasons, largely don’t want to be priests any more. According to church statistics, the number of Catholics in America increased 29 percent during the papacy of John Paul II. But the number of priests dropped 26 percent. And a large number of the priests who remain are elderly, or baby boomers edging closer to retirement.

“If the trends continue this way, it’s obvious that the numbers will not meet up with the demand,” said the Rev. Michael Duca, Holy Trinity’s rector.

1 in 6 priests foreign

Church officials say there are two basic ways the priest shortage is being met. One is a reorganization of priestly duties – allowing laypeople to take over some of the duties traditionally assigned to priests, like church administration and certain ceremonial roles.

The other solution is importing priests from overseas.

About one of every six priests working in America today is foreign-born, a number that is steadily increasing. And while some of those are older men born in Catholic strongholds like Ireland or Poland, most come from developing countries like Vietnam, the Philippines, India, Colombia and Nigeria.

Most Nigerian priests come through Bigard, the enormous seminary that counts among its graduates Cardinal Francis Arinze, a top Vatican official and a man many considered one of the favorites in last month’s papal conclave.

Outside Bigard’s walls, piles of trash sit in the pitted street, and the jobless roam aimlessly. But inside its gates, Bigard is a quiet, ordered respite from Nigeria’s poverty. A modernist tan-and-green chapel, funded in part by gifts from Germany, rises from manicured lawns. Seminarians in long white robes shuffle from building to building. Students speak with pride about their soccer field, one of the city’s finest.

Bigard has no problems signing up young men; the difficulties come only in finding room for them all. In Igboland, as this part of Nigeria is known, the priesthood is considered the most prestigious line of work a young man can go into.

Traditional religious leaders were held in high regard before the Christian missionaries came, and that status transferred easily to priests when the population converted. “When the Irish came, they brought roads, electricity, schools,” said the Rev. Damian Nwankwo, a professor at Bigard. “People regarded them as visible gods.”

Priests ‘don’t lack’

When a young man is ordained in Igboland, it is tradition that his village collects money from its residents and buys him a car – an enormous gift in a poor nation. Priests can afford luxuries, like satellite television, that other Nigerians only dream of.

“When you are a priest, you don’t lack,” seminarian Tony Ezekwu said. “They have a high standard of living. People want that.”

The promise of status no doubt attracts some to the priesthood. And some see seminary more as a path to an education than a way to answer a spiritual calling. Their view is summed up in the comment of a young Bigard seminarian who said he was willing to be a parish priest when he’s ordained in a few months, “but what I really want to be is a professor.”

And while many priests come to America because they believe they can do good work, others come for more prosaic reasons. Dean Hoge, a sociology professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., estimates that a Nigerian priest’s buying power increases fivefold when he lands in America.

“What is their motivation for joining the priesthood?” he asks. “In the best and most noble case, they want to serve Jesus Christ. But maybe they also want to escape the farm. I’m sure both of those are there.”

Nigeria has shortage, too

For as bad as the priest shortage is in America, it’s far worse in many emerging countries with an exploding Catholic population – including some that are shipping priests right and left to the States.

Even with its drop in ordinations, the U.S. had one priest for every 1,375 Catholics in 2002. There was one for every 4,694 African Catholics.

That’s not news to priests in Nigeria. “We have almost 10,000 men and women and children in this parish,” said the Rev. Humphrey Ani of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Enugu. “There’s no way we can minister to them all. We need more priests, too.”

But the exodus continues, primarily for financial reasons, Dr. Hoge said: Poor nations simply can’t support the same number of priests as wealthier ones. Catholics in rich countries are better organized, he said, and do a better job of pressuring church leadership to hire more priests.

The Vatican has acknowledged some of these issues. In 2001, Cardinal Jozef Tomko of Slovakia, head of the church’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, wrote that the church must “counteract the prevalent trend of a certain number of diocesan priests who … want to leave their own country and reside in Europe or North America, often with the intention of further studies or for other reasons that are not actually missionary.”

Cardinal Tomko said some African and Asian dioceses were sending most of their priests to work abroad, in part because they could not be supported financially in their native countries. He said Western nations “must never deprive young churches of these priests. … It is a matter of fairness and of ecclesial sense.”

‘Reminder … of the poor’

The young seminarians of Enugu speak of the West with what can only be described as missionary zeal. They speak out against materialism, individualism and creeping secularism. They say they can help put Catholics in touch with a spirituality that transcends the quest for wealth and social advancement.

“The state of the African world is a reminder to the church of the poor,” said Clement Emefu, a first-year theology student at the Spiritan International School of Theology, another seminary in Enugu. “In the States, people feel they have everything and they don’t need anything. Here, that you are lacking something reminds you of human need.”

Some Americans agree. “The African church is in touch with the raw elements of humanity: birth, marriage, death, hunger, thirst,” said Christopher Malloy, an assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas. “For me, in a comfortable house, it’s easy to think life is not dramatic. They bring the message to us with excitement.”

But that message does not always translate easily. Problems often begin with gaining entry to America. Tighter immigration standards after Sept. 11 have made it more difficult for some priests to get visas.

It’s also a struggle for American dioceses to check into a foreign priest’s background – a high priority for many church leaders in the wake of accusations of priestly misconduct.

“I need to make sure he’s the right person, and that can be difficult from so far away,” said Father Josef Vollmer-Konig, director of vocations for the Dallas Diocese. He said the diocese gets one or two requests each month from Nigerian priests wishing to work in the Dallas area, few of which are granted.

The difficulties continue upon arrival. White parishioners may be uncomfortable with a black priest. Some have trouble fighting through the accents.

“Americans aren’t very tolerant of these things,” said Dr. Hoge, co-author of a soon-to-be-published book on foreign-born priests.

He said some priests have trouble adjusting to the less exalted status American priests have – both in society and in their churches, where U.S. lay leaders often take on decision-making roles reserved for clergy in other countries.

The biggest adjustments are often ceremonial. Nigerian Masses can feature hours of singing, swaying and dancing. Western services are, well, dull in comparison.

“When I came here, I asked: If I was a layperson, would I be going to church at all?” said the Rev. Ernest Munachi Ezeogu, a Nigerian-born priest who now works in Toronto.

“The answer was no. There is no life, no joy. People come to fulfill a duty, not because they want to celebrate Christ.”

Father Ezeogu has tried changing things a bit: adding music, adding jokes to his homilies, trying to relate Scripture more directly to people’s lives. He’s also started a Web site where priests who want livelier homilies can download some of his.

He said the reaction has been positive. But not every Nigerian priest has had such luck.

The Rev. Joseph Offor, a parish priest in Enugu, did missionary work for several years in Germany.

Once, he said, a woman approached him before Mass and asked how long his sermon would be. “She said I should keep it to under four minutes.” (Nigerians are accustomed to homilies lasting an hour or more.)

“I ended up speaking for about 15 minutes,” he said. “She was very annoyed afterward. She said she would not come back, and she did not. It is a very different world there.”

Moved by the Spirit; Nigerians blend Catholicism, traditional beliefs

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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ENUGU, Nigeria – Ejike Mbaka is telling a story. The 20,000 Nigerians gathered around him in the red-dust lot have gone quiet.

“Last week, there was a man who was mad, insane,” he begins, standing on a rickety stage. “For years, the doctors attempted to heal him. But the infirmity continued. He came to me for help.

“I gave him some healing water” – and here, some in the audience hold up the small plastic packages of water he sells, 45 cents each – “and told him to pour it in his ear on Sunday. Then pour it in his other ear on Monday.

“He did exactly that. And on Tuesday, a large frog crawled out of his ear. And he was cured.”

Appreciative cheers from the audience. “Such are the things God can do,” he says.

It’s about 10 p.m. When the sun comes up in the morning, the crowd will still be here – except for those injured thrashing on the ground under the Holy Spirit’s spell.

What’s remarkable about the scene isn’t what Ejike Mbaka says. It’s who he is. He’s not a witch doctor. He’s not a Pentecostal preacher. He’s an ordained Catholic priest.

After sunrise, he’ll go back to his parish, Christ the King Catholic Church, and hear confessions. But for now, he’s promising the crowd hundreds of miracles on this night. If they’re lucky, he might even repeat a feat he says he’s accomplished four times before: raising a man from the dead.

Scholars say Father Mbaka and his brand of Catholicism symbolize the impact that Christianity’s rapid expansion in the Third World could have on the faith: pushing mainline religion toward the supernatural.

“That is what is defining the face of Christianity in Africa now,” said Jacob Olupona, a native Nigerian and a religion scholar at the University of California at Davis. “The church is discovering how powerful a phenomenon it is, how popular it is with the people. And now they can’t stop it. So they go along with it.”

Some within the church worry about this nudging of conventional Christian doctrine toward the mystical. But others, including Father Mbaka, say it’s a welcome return to the early days of Christianity, when earthly signs of God’s power were a regular and acknowledged part of the faith. He quotes Psalm 97 to emphasize God’s force: The mountains melt like wax before the Lord.

“I believe that, as a Catholic priest, I am a healing instrument of God to my generation,” he says. “The whole environment is charged for a miracle.”

Vatican approval

The teachings of Catholicism and faith healing are not diametrically opposed, even to the Vatican. Since the 1960s, the charismatic renewal movement within the church has advocated a more Pentecostal style of worship, including “charisms” such as speaking in tongues and healing. It has met, perhaps surprisingly, with general approval from church leaders.

In 1979, addressing the movement’s leaders, Pope John Paul II said charisms are “all part of the richness of the Lord. I am convinced that this movement is a sign of his action.”

When Pope Benedict XVI was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he wrote the foreword to a book on the charismatic movement. Criticizing “a world imbued with a rationalistic skepticism,” he wrote that charisms were “not just ancient history, over and done with.” He cautioned, however, against charismatic Catholics’ going too far and subverting the central role of the church’s hierarchy.

Dr. Olupona said that 10 or 20 years ago, the Nigerian Catholic hierarchy might have asked Father Mbaka to keep quiet. “But they realize that it’s a different story now,” he said. “If they did that now, they would be courting their own demise. People believe in him.”

Father Mbaka, a handsome 38-year-old, says he began his healing ministry in 1996 after discovering he had curative powers. “It is the work of the Holy Spirit,” he explains. “I can’t heal anyone as a human being. I am open to God as a channel. And the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk. Cancers disappear.”

He says those who doubt him will face God’s wrath. Three days earlier, a man in a neighboring state vehemently criticized his ministry. As punishment, Father Mbaka says, God struck the man blind. “If he repents, he will see again,” he says.

Every Wednesday, Father Mbaka’s all-night healing sessions draw thousands to the vacant lot he calls the Adoration Grounds, next to his Catholic parish. Around 10 p.m., after hours of preaching by his followers, he strolls in like a rock star.

The band at stage left blares – lots of drumming, blasts of trumpets, and occasional female vocalists. He holds a golden cross and wears the traditional finery of the Catholic Church; followers reach out to touch the hem of his gold and ivory robe.

A dozen priests and almost 30 nuns follow him. There will be a Communion service later, and Father Mbaka needs help distributing the Eucharist to the swelling crowd.

“In America, I would not see a crowd one-hundredth the size of this one,” he tells the cheering crowd. “But the spirit of God is in Africa.”

Father Mbaka rattles off passages in Scripture that support his healing ministry. Luke, Chapter 7: “But say the word, and my servant will be healed.” Matthew, Chapter 19: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Jesus’ own words, he says, are what will bring the miracles in a few short hours.

Father Mbaka’s flock is very poor, and he says he needs money to serve them. He wants to buy land in the country and build housing for orphans and the elderly. To support his dream, he made a fundraising swing though America a few months ago, including a stop in Dallas.

“In America, they have the money but not the worshippers,” he tells the crowd. “Here we have the worshippers but not the money.”

To raise cash, he has started selling his own private-label “healing water,” called Aquarapha. “God is using Aquarapha to heal a lot of diseases,” his newsletter says, next to a customer testimonial claiming that the water healed his swollen eyelids.

Father Mbaka acknowledges that most American Catholics would be skeptical of his ministry. It doesn’t bother him. “That’s the problem with the American church,” he says. “There is not enough faith. I believe the God of old is still the God of the present.”

Pushing boundaries

African Christians have, in recent years, pushed at the boundary between traditional beliefs and the version of the faith they were taught by Western missionaries.

In 2000, a South African archbishop, Buti Tlhagale, advocated adding animal sacrifice to the Catholic Mass as a way of venerating ancestors. “Animal sacrifice has a special place in the scheme of things and is celebrated in almost all African families,” he argued. “We have kept it out of the church of God for too long.”

Africans began to experiment with their Christianity in the late 1960s, when nations were gaining political independence from European colonial powers. Some people wanted religious independence, too, and left the mainline faiths to form what became known as the African independent churches. These churches integrated traditional beliefs into a Christian framework, emphasizing spirits, exorcisms and connections to ancestors. Many included the word “apostolic” in their names as a way of connecting to the early days of Christianity, when miracles were not considered uncommon.

A second wave of experimentation came in the 1990s, following the rise of Pentecostal churches in Africa. They claimed to offer a more direct path to the Holy Spirit, through tools like speaking in tongues, snake handling and healing. Pentecostalism remains enormously popular; one evangelist, the German Reinhard Bonnke, draws close to 2 million people to crusades in Nigeria.

Traditional churches were forced to adapt, Dr. Olupona said. “Their members were leaving, and they had to do something to keep them.” African cultural markers, like drumming and dancing, were introduced to previously staid ceremonies. So were elements of the supernatural.

As the Rev. Joseph Offor, a priest in Enugu, put it: “These other churches had something to offer people, and we needed to offer it too.”

Through all the changes, faith healing has been an important component. In places like Nigeria, access to quality health care is reserved for those with money. Diseases like polio, long abolished in America, persist here. AIDS threatens to wipe out much of the continent. So people turn to faith.

“We’re talking about churches that are responding to human suffering,” Dr. Olupona said. “Human poverty in the midst of plenty. An unpredictable, at times very violent society.”

“In the West, if you are sick, you go to a hospital,” Father Offor said. “Here we can’t. So we don’t put limits on miracles here.”

At one point in the evening, Father Mbaka says to the crowd: “Every person here is ready to die for this ministry!” The gathered thousands cheer wildly.

Some have already died. Father Mbaka has, on occasion, preached against the state government of Enugu. On March 7, 2002, 14 worshippers at one of his services were killed. A government inquiry said they died in a stampede, the result of the priest’s over-incitement of too many people packed into too small a space. Father Mbaka says they were killed by government gunmen.

Healing time

About 3 a.m., after Communion, a breeze kicks up. It’s been scorching hot all night, and people have been standing in place for up to 10 hours now. It’s time for the healing to begin.

“You are not at all free to leave here with your sickness,” Father Mbaka thunders to the crowd. “This is not a democracy. This is a theocracy. Under divine order, you are to be healed!”

The band gets louder. The breeze dies down. “I don’t know what the devil has done to you to put you in eternal tears,” Father Mbaka says. “But I am going to force it out of you. I am not here for jokes! This place is the new Calvary!”

He cites Mark, Chapter 16: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

Then he yells into the microphone: “Do you believe? Do you believe?”

A too-thin woman in a brown dress is the first to approach the stage. The crowd has created an open space, and she walks into it, eyes rolled back, speaking in tongues. She falls to the ground and begins flailing, arms extended and bent violently.

She has the floor to herself for a minute or so before others are similarly moved. One by one, they come out of the crowd, yelling or muttering, and begin convulsing like someone having a nightmare.

A man in dress slacks falls to his knees and shakes while looking up to heaven and screaming. Women fling off their sandals and headdresses and roll and kick and cry.

Father Mbaka comes off the stage to stand among them. He keeps up the chant: “Do you believe? Do you believe?” The number of people moved by the Holy Spirit climbs: 20, then 40, then 100. Women come out of the crowd to tie scarves around the legs of other women thrashing on the ground, lest their skirts lift, exposing their legs to the audience.

One woman starts eating dirt; another’s jaws chatter as if she were freezing. A powerful man stands and spins angrily, eyes closed, until he has to be restrained by a group of men.

“The wounds are opening! You can’t help yourself!” Father Mbaka shouts. “Receive it!”

Some of those convulsing are clearly injuring themselves – most with strains and sprains, but a few are bleeding. It’s hard to tell who’s crying in religious passion and who’s crying in pain.

The dozen priests on the stage look down on the crowd silently.

Then, after 35 minutes, the music stops. Father Mbaka lowers his voice. His assistants, wearing orange T-shirts and black vests, pull the injured away to the Christ the King parish house, where they’ll be tended to.

Rapid growth

African Christianity is growing at a cheetah’s pace. In Nigeria alone, the number of Christians is projected to leap from 50 million in 2000 to 123 million in 2050. As their numbers grow, so will their influence over the global church.

Many wonder how “African” the faith will become.

“A lot of more mainstream Catholics in Africa are very nervous about that,” said Philip Jenkins, a Penn State professor who studies African Christianity. “They don’t mind having the drums in church. But they draw the line somewhere.”

Some Enugu priests who refuse to condemn Father Mbaka nonetheless speak of him with a tone of confused acceptance. “Some people find that is the path they wish to follow, but it is not for me,” said Terkure Igbe, a seminarian.

Just before the sun rises, after the injured have been carted away and the crowd calmed, Father Mbaka calls out, “If you have been cured of blindness through this ministry, come up to the stage.”

About a dozen people come up and start dancing joyously. Joseph Osundu is one. Asked about his healing, he said he was never actually blind. “I am here to support my pastor,” he said. “My sister had cancer, and she was cured. He is a good man.”

‘Very sad people’

A few hours earlier, during a lull in the services, Father Mbaka had taken a few of his assistants to an area behind the Adoration Grounds.

This is where the truly unfortunate come: the destitute, the homeless and the crippled. They sit on the ground between parked cars. Many haven’t eaten for days. Father Mbaka walks among them, as he does every Wednesday. His assistants distribute bowls of rice.

Most of the men are missing at least one limb. One had the right side of his face melted off when his brother threw acid at him. Another has horrific burns over his entire back.

“These are very sad people,” Father Mbaka says. “They are here every week. Good Christians.”

Why, if Father Mbaka is such a powerful healer, are their ailments never cured? Why don’t these men regrow limbs, or fresh, clean skin?

Father Mbaka pauses for a moment.

“God must have decided he does not want to heal these people yet,” he says. “God is in charge.”

Southern cross; Far from the cathedrals of Europe, global demographics are inexorably changing the face of Christianity

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

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ENUGU, Nigeria – When the Rev. Humphrey Ani walks out on the poured concrete floor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, he sees the future of Christianity stretched before him.

The pews are packed, even though the slowly turning fans do little to disperse the Sunday morning heat. More than 2,000 worshippers are sitting under the church’s tin roof, and hundreds more gather outside in the dirt courtyard, eager to hear the four-hour service.

The women are all dressed in conservative, ankle-length dresses and ornate headscarves. The men look a bit scrappier; this is a poor town, but they show up for church.

For centuries, Christianity has been primarily a white, European and North American religion. But the explosive growth of Africa and Asia, combined with the success of evangelization there, will change that forever.

By 2050, it’s expected that only one in five Christians worldwide will be white. And places like St. Joseph’s – a regular parish in an unremarkable Nigerian town – will be the Christian mainstream.

“I’m sure it will be an adjustment for Americans – they are used to being in charge,” Father Ani said during a brief break between services, scarfing down bread before facing thousands more parishioners. “But I hope we can all realize we are one brotherhood before God.”

There is, of course, a rich history of missionary efforts in Africa and Asia, and those efforts have been overwhelmingly successful. But even if missionaries had no further success – if not another soul were converted to Christianity – the sheer fact of high birth rates in the developing world would produce some startling numbers:

In 1900, 82 percent of the world’s Christians were in Europe or North America. By 2025, that will drop below 30 percent.

Nigeria had 50 million Christians in 2000; by 2050, it’s projected to have 123 million – more than Germany and France combined. The Congo’s Christian community is expected to more than triple, to 121 million. There will be more Christians in Ethiopia than England, more in India than Italy.

“There is this very strong idea that Christianity is a Western religion that has been on loan to other parts of the world,” said Philip Jenkins, a Penn State professor whose book, The Next Christendom, is the central text of those projecting the faith’s demographic future. “Of course, it’s a Near-Eastern and North African religion that has been traveling for the last 2,000 years.”

Take this part of southeastern Nigeria, known as Igboland today and Biafra during the disastrous Nigerian civil war of the late 1960s. It’s perhaps the most heavily Catholic spot on the continent, with about 90 percent of its people belonging to the church.

St. Joseph’s will draw up to 9,000 people to services on a busy Sunday. (As a point of comparison, in the nine-county, 67-parish Diocese of Dallas, only the downtown cathedral attracts more weekly worshippers.)

Churches in Igboland are always trying to find ways to deal with overflow crowds. Some evangelical preachers can pull millions to a multiday healing event. Having tens of thousands of Nigerians at a prayer meeting is considered unremarkable.

Some say that sort of spirituality can be a forceful counterpoint to the increasing secularism of the West.

“Here we take religiousness for granted,” said Godfrey Odigbo, director of the Spiritan International School of Theology in Enugu. “In Europe, people think that if you need God, you can just call him. If you don’t need him, you can ignore him. God is not part of everyday life. But deep inside, there’s a yearning.”

The Catholic Church’s growth in the developing world was greatly aided by the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, which allowed Mass in native languages and permitted other localized variations in church rituals.

The travels of Pope John Paul II – the first non-Italian pope in more than four centuries – reflected the church’s global growth. He visited more than 40 African nations during his papacy. Dr. Jenkins argues that one reason John Paul was successful as a doctrinally conservative pope was that he knew the church’s millions of new adherents in Africa and Asia were similarly minded.

The new pontiff, Benedict XVI, recognizes that he oversees an increasingly diverse church. Last Sunday, at a Vatican ordination ceremony for 21 priests, he said the church “must open up the frontiers between peoples and break down barriers between classes and races.” The men he ordained embodied that message: While most were Italians, the group included priests from Nigeria, Kenya and Angola.

The worldwide demographic shift leads to questions that go to the heart of the faith. What will it mean to Christianity when, numerically, the version of the faith practiced in Kampala and Kinshasa becomes “the norm” and places like Rome and Canterbury move to the margins?

Many Westerners got their first look at African religious power in 2003, during the debate over the consecration of Gene Robinson as the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire. Bishop Robinson is openly gay, and his election was controversial within the Episcopal Church, the American branch of the world Anglican Communion.

But some of the most vigorous opposition came from a surprising source: Anglican bishops in Africa. Africans are typically conservative on issues of sexual morality and, led by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, they vigorously protested Bishop Robinson’s consecration.

Other Anglicans, up to and including the archbishop of Canterbury, were forced to listen. The Anglican Communion began as the Church of England, but today most of its bishops are African or Asian, and they have clout within the church. In 1998, when Anglican leaders gathered to consider a statement supporting gay rights, African and Asian bishops formed a bloc large enough to defeat it. This enraged some American church leaders, including one bishop who labeled African Anglicanism “a very superstitious kind of Christianity” barely removed from animism.

Jacob Olupona, a religion scholar at the University of California at Davis, said racism fueled some of the Western response. “These are people who think that they own the church,” said Dr. Olupona, whose father was an Anglican priest in Nigeria. “They suddenly discovered they were not going to be calling the shots. They used to get away with anything. The African church prevented that from happening.”

The disputes have led to some unusual realignments within the church, as conservative Americans have sought allies in the global South. In 2000, two American men, Chuck Murphy and John Rodgers, were ordained as Anglican bishops – not by the American church, but by the archbishops of Rwanda and Singapore. The men set up what has become known as the Anglican Mission in America, an attempt by African and Asian churches to “reform” the Episcopal church and push it to the right on issues of morality.

Last month, Archbishop Akinola announced the formation of a new Convocation of Anglican Nigerian Churches in America, a group aimed at Nigerian emigrants who disagree with the Episcopal Church’s stance on gay issues.

He told Nigerians that leaders of the American church have “torn the fabric of our common life and have jeopardized your lives and ministries. This is a tragic reality that cannot be ignored.”

Last month’s Vatican conclave was the first in modern times in which leaders from developing countries were considered strong candidates for pope. Cardinal Francis Arinze of Nigeria was viewed as one of the favorites, and Latin America produced a number of serious contenders.

Dr. Jenkins said that while the College of Cardinals ended up selecting another European, the conclave “really broke down any residual resistance people might have had” to a non-white pope. Today about two-thirds of Catholics are in the developing world, along with about 40 percent of the cardinals.

In 10 or 20 years, he said, the cardinals will be overwhelmingly from poor nations.

What will a more Afrocentric church bring? Generalizing about 300 million people is risky, but African churches are known for a greater emphasis on the supernatural as well as for their more conservative stances on moral issues.

Pentecostal and charismatic churches flourish, even more than mainline Protestant and Catholic churches do – although some Africans are comfortable mixing and matching elements from different Christian faiths and even indigenous beliefs.

“We have people who come to Mass on Sunday, go to a Protestant healer on Wednesday, and see the witch doctor on Saturday,” said Father Ani, who proudly points out that his last name is the name of the earth goddess in traditional Igbo religion.

In the worldwide Christian community, it’s likely that African voices, along with Asian and Latin American ones, will grow louder in the coming decades. It remains to be seen how Western Christians will react to being subject to theological decisions often driven by people traditionally viewed as souls to be saved by missionaries.

“From a point of view of an American, we’ll be humbled,” said the Rev. Michael Duca, rector of the Catholic Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving. “There will be changes. We don’t know what they are.

“We know that the church may not always find its roots in Rome. That has been the symbol of the center of the faith, where the Holy Father lives. But he doesn’t have to live there, I guess.”

Nigerian nuns happy with German pope; Sisters had rooted for African cardinal but weren’t disappointed

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 17A

ENUGU, Nigeria – “The pope is coming! The pope is coming!”

Sister Chinyere was yelling at the television the moment she saw the crawl across CNN’s screen. She and three other Sisters of Divine Love were in the front room of the small hostel they run in this eastern Nigerian city, watching the white smoke rise on a 13-inch set.

It was no secret who the sisters, and most of Africa’s 130 million Catholics, were rooting for: Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze. The church’s highest-ranking African, he was the first legitimate black candidate for the papacy in more than a millennium.

Cardinal Arinze was born in the nearby village of Eziowelle and attended seminary here. Nearly all the nuns had occasion to meet him at one time or another.

So one might have expected disappointment at the naming of another European pope – particularly after Cardinal Arinze’s candidacy had been promoted as validation for an entire continent. But there was nothing but joy in the room when it was announced that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a close adviser to the beloved Pope John Paul II, had become Pope Benedict XVI.

“He is the one!” one nun exclaimed. “He is the one!”

A dozen sisters, smiling broadly, lunged and danced, their robin’s-egg blue habits shaking against the robin’s-egg blue walls. The flop of sandals announced each nun who came running down the tiled hallway.

“I think Ratzinger probably learned a lot sitting beside John Paul, and I think he will be a great pope,” said Sister Chizogie.

During the new pope’s benediction, the Nigerian nuns heartily echoed each “amen” and added a few “viva papas” for good measure.

Some clutched rosaries. Others were on their cellphones, calling sisters who might not be near a television. “New pope” and “CNN” were the only English words; whatever else they said into the phones they said in their native Igbo.

The nuns expressed surprise when it was announced what papal name Cardinal Ratzinger had taken. Sister Okechukwu had been betting on continuity and the unveiling of a John Paul III.

Standing behind the sisters, a man reached into his torn right pants pocket and pulled out a small notepad. He flipped past a few filled pages and slowly wrote it out: “Pope Benedict the 16th.”

Since John Paul’s death, Nigerian Catholics had been torn between opposite hopes.

They wanted their man Arinze to succeed, of course. But they also questioned whether the universal church was ready for a black man to take charge.

“The stage is not right,” Sister Chigozie said. “It would have been a giant shock to the church.

“We are just now in the years of acceptance for Africa in the church. It must move slowly.”

A lesson in dying; Once a refuge from AIDS, Zambia’s schools are now its latest victims

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 1H

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA – His immune system buckled from tuberculosis. His weight slid to 84 pounds. But Ackim Sakala, a man whose life is built around sharing knowledge, knew he had to keep a secret.

“As soon as people know you have HIV, you are put on a death list,” said Mr. Sakala, a seventh-grade teacher here in the Zambian capital. “You are considered a dead person. People are not ready to know.”

He tried to convince people that his TB was just TB, not a sign that the virus that causes AIDS was racking his body. He never told his students the reason he missed eight months of school, lying in bed and coughing up blood.

The schools of southern Africa were once held up as a great hope against the disease, which now infects almost one in five adult Zambians. Schools were the place where children could learn about the disease and how to avoid it.

But now, Zambia’s education system has been one of the institutions hardest hit by AIDS. Mr. Sakala is one of thousands of Zambian teachers fighting AIDS. By some measures, teachers here are more likely to have the disease than those who are less educated. Their illnesses have left classrooms empty and children fending for themselves.

“Our education system has collapsed,” said Kenneth Kaunda, who was Zambia’s president for its first 27 years as an independent nation.

When Zambia gained independence from Britain in 1964, Mr. Kaunda’s government made major investments in education, using revenue raised in the nation’s copper mines. The number of university-educated black Zambians increased from 100 to 35,000.

“And then came AIDS,” he said. “It has hit hard on teachers. All these graduates, a good number of them are gone. I meet some of them when I go to South Africa, Lesotho, places they have moved to. But most of them are in the grave because of HIV/AIDS.”

At Silverest Basic School, a 1,000-student campus on the Great East Road outside Lusaka, headmaster Harrison Mwaanga counts his blessings: “This year we have been fortunate – no teachers have died.”

In the past few years at Silverest, at least six young teachers – four female, two male – have died of AIDS or what colleagues suspected was AIDS. (The disease brings stigma to those who have it in Zambia, so few people are open about their status.) Three female students have died of tuberculosis, a disease that often attacks the weakened immune systems of AIDS sufferers in southern Africa.

The last teacher to die at Silverest was Charity Mwansa, who taught history and home economics.

“She was a very good teacher – loose, funny,” said 18-year-old Beatrice Muzyemba, who was one of Ms. Mwansa’s students. “She wasn’t all that strict. I remember everything from her class.”

Beatrice said even though there was never any formal announcement of the cause of Ms. Mwansa’s death, “We all knew. She had been suffering for a long time. She seemed devastated by it. I would have killed myself.” Ms. Mwansa left behind a 3-year-old child.

It’s notoriously difficult to get accurate statistics on infection rates in Africa. Depending on whose research you believe, between 16 and 22 percent of Zambian adults are HIV positive, a range that has remained largely unchanged for a decade.

Estimates of the infection rate among teachers have been at or above the national average. One study found the death rate among young Zambian teachers was 70 percent higher than the national average.

“I definitely believe the infection rate is higher among teachers,” said Elijah Mwaba, a 20-year teacher and founder of the Teachers Against HIV/AIDS Network. “We are a very vulnerable group.”

Mr. Mwaba said he had recently been in Livingstone, a tourist city of about 80,000 people. In the previous year, 27 teachers had died of AIDS there. Mr. Mwaba said he had lost five “very close friends” – fellow teachers all – over the same span.

“It is a disaster,” Mr. Kaunda said. “Zambia’s education system in three, four, five years – unless we do something to repair the damage – we are in real trouble. I don’t think we have a future in education.”

While research into the subject is limited, educators offer a few possibilities why teachers appear to be at higher risk. Teachers, while paid only about $1,000 a year, are considered prominent local citizens, particularly in rural areas. That can make them more appealing to members of the opposite sex.

“The country looks up to them, and they have an income,” said Barbara Chilangwa, Zambia’s minister of education. “As a result, they may be more likely to have more than one sexual partner.”

They’re also more mobile than most Zambians, who often spend their entire lives living in a single village. A typical teacher might grow up in one village, attend teacher training college in a distant city, and then be assigned by the Ministry of Education to a teaching job in another village far from home. After a couple of years, the ministry often moves them again. All that movement increases the likelihood that teachers will have multiple sexual partners, some say.

A teacher’s early death isn’t the only way that the disease can affect education. Before they die, teachers typically have several months-long spans of illness, usually from opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis or malaria.

Schools react in a variety of ways. Sometimes they merge classes together, putting 100 or more students in a single room.

“That’s not teaching,” said Musukuma Denson, the senior teacher at Silverest. “That’s doing what you can.”

Other times, class is simply canceled until the teacher is well enough to return. Peter Chanda, a ninth-grade teacher who is HIV-positive, missed most of the last school year when he had a particularly bad case of tuberculosis and sores covered parts of his body. “I was down for six months,” he said. His students didn’t have a substitute and were expected to teach themselves and each other. Few even bothered to take the national exams at year’s end.

“Last year, my math teacher died,” said Ivor Telebwe, a 19-year-old 12th-grader at Kabulonga Boys School in a Lusaka suburb. “He died of AIDS. We knew it.” He wasn’t replaced for three weeks, canceling class. Most of the students failed the national math exams because of it, he said.

Even before the teacher died, he’d missed several months while bedridden. “Even when he was in class, he was too depressed and slow to teach,” Ivor said. “You felt bad if you asked him questions.”

But some teachers do more harm when they come to school than when they stay home. Sexual relationships between teachers and students are, while not exactly the norm, not rare in Zambia. Many educators worry that teachers may be spreading the virus to a new generation.

Students at several schools said relationships between male teachers and female students are an accepted part of school. Ivor said the math teacher who died “went out with a lot of the girls at school. We knew those girls are probably infected, so we know to stay away from them.”

High school girls said they have to remain on watch for teachers. Monica Phiri, an 18-year-old student at Kabulonga Girls School, said her art teacher recently approached her.

“He started looking at me strangely, telling me to stay behind class. I told my friends about it. He told me he wanted a relationship. ‘This could turn into marriage,’ he said. Imagine hearing that! He just wanted to use me up!”

Nkole Chanda, another student at the school, said a teacher approached her before the national exams, a year-end rite of passage in Zambian schools. “He said, ‘I know you are scared about the exams,'” she said. “‘Don’t you want to see a copy of the test early? But there’s a condition: You have to go out with me.'”

Nkole said quite a few of her friends have dated and had sex with their teachers. “I tell them: ‘You don’t know how many girls he’s slept with,'” she said.

The girls who attend their school said the campus had developed a reputation. “People say if you want to get AIDS, go to Kabulonga Girls,” Monica said.

“The teacher-pupil relationships are a big problem,” said Remmy Mukonka, a music teacher who founded the Anti-AIDS Teachers Association of Zambia. “It’s a vicious chain of HIV/AIDS.”

Ms. Chilangwa, the education minister, said teacher-student relationships aren’t common. “I don’t want to put a picture that this happens a lot – we condemn it strongly,” she said. “But the teacher in a rural area may be the only person with an income. So the young girls might want to have relations with them.”

Official policy is that a teacher caught with a student is fired. But Ms. Chilangwa said that’s rare.

One of the most popular songs in Zambia is “Aticha,” performed by 32-year-old rapper MC Wabwino. It attacks teachers who have relationships with their students. He said he wrote the song after hearing about a Lusaka girl giving birth to a child fathered by her teacher.

“A lot of people have been secretive about it,” he said. “Now people are more aware. Girls are very vulnerable. Especially in a rural area, where a teacher is considered something of a god.”

After he recorded the song, he got mostly support from teachers and parents. “I heard from one teacher who called and condemned me for the song. But the majority of teachers support me. They know what their colleagues do. It’s not something that a lot of teachers do. But some do.”

Some Zambians say the arrival of AIDS has led men to seek younger sex partners. A young girl is less likely to be HIV-positive, reducing a man’s risk of contracting the virus. In addition, a myth persists in some circles that a man with AIDS can be “cleansed” by having sex with a virgin – in some cases an infant.

“Some people think that to rape a child is a sure way to cure AIDS,” Mr. Kaunda said. “They cannot think of anything else. It’s a very terrible thing. Someone has gone mad.”

At Silverest, Beatrice Muzyemba and her friend Samuel Tembo, 20, didn’t like the way some male teachers were acting toward girls. Since they’re both active in the school’s drama club, they decided they would try to get their message across through a play.

Beatrice played a schoolgirl who had done something wrong. Tembo played a teacher.

“I was supposed to be punished for what I had done,” Beatrice said. “He told me to come to his office. He told me instead of a punishment, I could have another option and have sex with him.”

In the play, Beatrice gives in to the teacher’s demands and contracts HIV.

They put on the play in front of the entire school, including all the teachers. Beatrice said she couldn’t tell if it had made a difference in any teacher’s actions, but that a few teachers seemed “uncomfortable.”

Zambians are tackling the problem of AIDS in schools in a number of ways. Mr. Mukonka’s group is launching a project to put boxes of condoms in the faculty bathrooms of Zambian schools. But he said they run into opposition from some headmasters: “They say, ‘If there are condoms in the schools, the teachers will just use them on my students!’

“We tell teachers: The students need you. They need you in the classroom, healthy and teaching. Use a condom.”

Mr. Mwaba’s group leads AIDS education programs for teachers and others around the country. But he’s found teachers sometimes aren’t willing to view themselves as at risk of infection. “Most of them believe HIV is for the rich, the gays or people in town,” he said. “People who are not educated respond more positively to AIDS information than those who are not educated.”

Government officials encourage all Zambians to be tested for HIV – indeed, some leaders are now calling for mandatory testing nationwide. But some teachers are still fearful of what a test might tell them.

“I’ve never been tested,” said Clementine Chama, a teacher at Kaunda Square Basic School in Lusaka, where she heads the student Anti-AIDS Club. “Once you are told you have HIV, very few will accept you.”

She told a story about a teacher at the school. “A girlfriend of his had died of the disease, and he was thinking maybe he had the same disease,” she said. “He wanted to be tested. I advised him to think twice about the consequences. He decided not to get tested.”

Finally, the government announced last year that it would, for the first time, make available to some teachers the antiretroviral drugs that have prolonged the lives of thousands of HIV-positive people in Western nations. But Ms. Chilangwa said there were funds available to supply drugs to only about 150 teachers nationwide. By some estimates, there are more than 10,000 teachers with HIV in Zambia.

How will the drugs be distributed? “First-come, first-served,” she said. “I can’t think of any other way.”

Staff Writer Joshua Benton spent six weeks in Zambia last fall on a Pew Fellowship in International Journalism. More stories and photos from his trip are posted on his blog at

Where the only growth industry is death; AIDS destroys scarce resources as well as family members

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 4H

PARADISE COMPOUND, LUSAKA, ZAMBIA – It took a moment for Mwiche Simukoko’s family to realize she was dead.

“There was no big sign,” says her aunt, Terry Nkoma, sitting in the dirt outside the family’s mud-brick house, where Mwiche’s wet tuberculosis cough had echoed a few hours earlier. “She just stopped talking. She had been saying, ‘Mommy, mommy.’ Then the noise was not there.”

When the United Nations issued its annual global AIDS report last week, it focused on big numbers. Thirty-eight million infected. Forty-five million new infections expected this decade. Three million deaths last year.

But in Paradise Compound, a ramshackle clutch of huts that is one of the Zambian capital’s poorest neighborhoods, the focus is on smaller sums, like $70. That’s about how much it cost Mwiche’s family to bury the 23-year-old with the long hair and the bad reputation – the seventh of 10 siblings to die of the TB that is often a marker for AIDS.

In Zambia, where the average person earns about $300 a year, families often choose between burying their dead or buying food. Sometimes it seems coffin making is the country’s only growth industry.

The cost of Mwiche’s burial would be even higher if it weren’t for James Njanji, a Lusaka taxi driver who hopes to lead a small revolution in the way Zambians are buried. “People should not have to suffer after they are already dead,” he says. “They should find their place in the ground.”

Mwiche was not a universally beloved member of her family. Zambia is a traditional, conservative place, and Mwiche was a wild child.

“The girl was always going with friends to have beer,” Terry says. “She was always drinking and talking. When people are together, sometimes they do bad things. That was happening.”

She says Mwiche was sick with tuberculosis for six years. She went to a local clinic to be tested for HIV, and the doctors confirmed her suspicion. It didn’t seem to bother her.

“She said, ‘I know it’s a disease. It came, and there is nothing I can do,'” Terry says.

The three who remain? “I can’t say they’re healthy,” Terry says. “They have been keeping with these other people who died. So we can’t say they are safe.”

Terry holds the one photo the family has of Mwiche. In it, she’s with two friends in a bar. She wears a long, modest dress and shoes caked with dried mud. She’s not smiling.

But families must bury even those whose lives fall short of expectations. In Lusaka, the first step is transporting the body to the city morgue. In Paradise Compound, that means hiring a small pickup truck. The lowest price Mwiche’s family could find was 90,000 kwacha, or about $18.

The family didn’t have $18. So they sold their sofa. “Now you sit on the floor,” Terry says, gesturing at the tin-roofed family house.

A few years ago, James Njanji got angry about how much it was costing Zambians to bury their dead. “I see all these companies making all this money from death,” he says. “The dead people’s money ends up in the coffin maker’s pockets.”

James is a lumbering, bearish man, with a deep voice and a wide smile. As a taxi driver, he has a source of income, even if it’s not enough to support the 12 children in his home – seven of his own and five orphans he’s taken in.

The Lusaka Funeral Association was his idea. It’s a sort of neighborhood burial insurance: People in the compound can join by paying 10,000 kwacha (about $2) and half that again monthly as dues. In exchange, if a relative of a member dies, the association will pay for part of the cost of burial.

The association keeps costs low by building its own coffins. A retired carpenter, Mutale Mulenga, volunteers his time and skills.

When James learns that Mwiche has died – aunt Terry is an association member – he alerts Mutale. James drives his taxi to a local lumber shop, where he buys two sheets of 10-millimeter particle board for the coffin. (“For a big person, you need two sheets. For a child, you only need one.”) It costs about $14.

Wordlessly, Mutale marks the sheets, cuts and nails, and planes down rough edges. The compound’s children gather around in the dirt and sawdust around him, curious who has died today.

Now James has to figure out a way to get the coffin from the morgue to the cemetery. His taxi is too small. He drives to a stick-frame tire shop with a roof made from old corn sacks. It’s manned by two bored teen boys playing with the spokes of a wire tire rim.

He bargains with the truck owner, and they agree on a price: 105,000 kwacha, or about $21 – almost a month’s earnings for an average Zambian.

“It’s becoming very expensive to die,” he says.

The next morning, the rented Toyota truck drives Mwiche’s family and the coffin to the morgue. The women go inside and clean and dress Mwiche’s body. After an hour, the family loads the now-full coffin onto the truck bed and head off to Chunga cemetery, south of town. The landscape looks like the highland plains of New Mexico, all scrubby hills and dust.

The Toyota turns onto a parched dirt road, then a packed grass path. The cemetery is crowded this morning: At least 20 families are burying someone.

Standing around Mwiche’s grave are a dozen teenage boys, some with cups of homemade whiskey. These boys make their living by showing up at Chunga every morning and offering to dig graves. They accept cash or alcohol as payment. For Mwiche’s grave, they want alcohol. Instead, they get 10,000 kwacha ($2) to split among themselves.

The coffin is opened for one final viewing. The boys have no hammer, so they use stones to pound the nails back in. Two lower the coffin into the fresh grave; four others start shoveling dirt. The ground is hard and rocky; it has been months since the last rain, and there’s not enough dirt to make a full burial mound.

The crowd is silent; the mourners next door have stopped their singing. The only sounds are the hollow thumps of the first clumps of dirt on the pressed-wood lid.

This simple burial has cost about $70, more than anyone in the family will earn this year. Without the funeral association, it could have taken weeks for Mwiche’s family to raise the money for burial.

Most families in Zambia can’t afford a gravestone. So the government provides a small metal marker. The markers don’t have names, only a single letter and a five-digit number.

James asks the family where Mwiche’s marker is. He discovers there is none: The family forgot to pick one up at the morgue.

If they’d like, they could go get one later. But James doubts they’ll bother.

“Some people want to remember a grave,” he says. “Some people, they just want to bury the dead and be done.”

The next day, the sky opened up, and it rained.

Joshua Benton, a staff writer of The Dallas Morning News, spent six weeks in Zambia last fall on a Pew Fellowship in International Journalism. More stories and photos from his trip are posted on his blog at His e-mail address is

A disappearing act for regime; Tracking Hussein’s vanishing vanguard is next task for Americans

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

Page 1A

Only days ago, Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf was Iraq’s public face on the war, giving his unique spin on worldwide television.

No American soldiers in Baghdad, he insisted almost comically, with U.S. tanks only blocks away. “We besieged them, and we killed most of them.”

And where is he now?

Vanished, along with virtually all of Iraq’s leadership structure and most other remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Only a few leaders have been confirmed killed. The others might be dead, too, or in hiding or seeking refuge in foreign lands.

The task for American forces now is tracking down the ones still alive — and figuring out what to do with them once they find them.

The power void was clear Thursday in Iraqi embassies across the world, as diplomats tried to determine to which government, if any, they reported.

“I haven’t had contact with Baghdad for two or three weeks,” Muaead Hussain, the Iraqi charge d’affaires in Berlin, said through the locked gate of his embassy. “I have no idea what’s going on there.”

In Brazil, embassy employees were seen setting boxes of papers on fire. In Tokyo, Iraqi diplomats threw out bags of shredded documents.

At Baghdad’s diplomatic outpost in Paris, two huge portraits of Saddam Hussein still hung from the walls. “What am I going to do now?” said a nervous young man named Omar Ahmed, who called himself only an official. “Well, I am working here, for our embassy. No more questions, please.”

There were no reports yet of Iraqi diplomats seeking asylum. Mohammed Al-Douri, Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations, was the first Iraqi official to acknowledge defeat. He met Thursday with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York, even as reports swirled that he was preparing to flee, variously, to France or the Netherlands.

Back in Baghdad, Iraqi officials stopped showing up for work Wednesday, including Mr. al-Sahhaf. American forces reached the villa of Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister, but found only looters, not their target.

For those looking to flee, Syria appeared to be the most likely destination. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Syria was being “notably unhelpful” to the American cause by giving refuge to Iraqi leaders.

“We are getting scraps of intelligence saying that Syria has been cooperative in facilitating the movement of people out of Iraq into Syria,” he said. “And then in some cases they stay there … in other cases they’re moving from Syria to still other places.”

On Thursday, U.S. forces attacked Iraqi positions in Al-Qaim, in far western Iraq near the Syrian border, near the end of the most direct route from Baghdad and out of Iraq.

Long stretches of the 310-mile border between Syria and Iraq are loosely guarded, although American special forces are patrolling to try to prevent further departures.

American officials said they did not know where top Iraqi leaders were Thursday. Mr. Hussein and his sons Uday and Qusay may have been killed Monday in airstrikes at a Baghdad restaurant. But even if they were killed, there are dozens of other members of Mr. Hussein’s inner circle at large.

Military and CIA teams pushed through Baghdad on Thursday, hunting for top leaders. If Mr. Hussein survived the bombing, officials speculated, he might try to escape to Syria or even his ancestral home in Tikrit, northwest of the capital, for a final battle.

Top Iraqi leaders almost certainly will face prosecution for war crimes if caught alive, which could push them to seek exile or at least a safe hiding place. The same probably is true of many of Mr. Hussein’s military and intelligence officials.

“Those people have fled, if they can,” said Michael Provence, a professor of modern Middle East studies at Southern Methodist University. “They’ve probably panicked and gone as far away as they can ? abroad if they’re able. Some have probably fled to their villages, places where they feel they can be protected by kinsmen.”

Dr. Provence said people lower in the Iraqi hierarchy, including some police, are probably just sitting at home, waiting to see who the new bosses will be.

“The minister of information we saw giving the bombastic remarks, he doesn’t have anything to fear from anybody. He’s a bureaucrat,” Dr. Provence said. “Most people in Iraq think he’s a little heroic, if quixotic.”

What to do with the suddenly former government officials is always a question at times of regime change, particularly when a new government contemplates the manpower needed for rebuilding.

“Many of these people are probably honest and decent government workers,” Dr. Provence said. “In coups and other changes of regime, these people usually keep their jobs. The government can’t function without them.”

At the Cold War’s end, when the communist rulers of Eastern Europe fell, even top leaders were not punished for actions committed while in power.

“With a few exceptions, they were allowed to retire peacefully and just went away,” said Stephen Wegren, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University who specializes in post-Soviet states.

In many other cases ? South Africa after apartheid, Chile after Pinochet ? officials of the old government have found homes in the new. U.S. and British officials will have to determine what roles Mr. Hussein’s ruling caste will have in the new state.

If they can find them.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Despite educational success, Japan plans to change system; Some leery of radical reforms to country’s rigid school curricula

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer
Page 1A

TOKYO – From American shores, it’s hard to imagine that anything is wrong with Japanese schools.

Japan has finished ahead of the United States through decades of test-score comparisons. And educational success has played a role in building the world’s second-largest economy.

But Japanese leaders think their system is deeply flawed, and they’re out to fix it in a way that might seem unthinkable in the contemporary United States: teaching children less.

A series of national reforms to take effect in April will radically change Japanese education. Saturday classes, long a symbol of Japan’s extraordinary commitment to schooling, will be eliminated. Class time for traditional subjects such as math, science, and Japanese will be cut.

Why? Although it’s true that Japanese students perform well on tests, some educators believe the test scores have hidden a problem: Students lack creativity, and they don’t enjoy learning. They know many facts, but too many don’t know how to apply them.

“If you ask Japanese children what they know, they finish at the top of the world,” said Satoshi Ashidate, the national government’s director of curriculum planning. “But if you ask Japanese children if they actually like learning, they’re at the bottom. That’s what we are trying to fix.”

Some parents and educators are uncomfortable with the pace of reform and some specific changes, including an experimental new class that will have no textbook, no structure and – so far – no explanation for confused teachers trying to make sense of it all.

“People feel lost,” said Hiromitsu Muta, a professor and educational researcher at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. “We’ve had the same system for 100 years, and now people are being told to do something new and very different.”

By the numbers, it’s hard to tell there’s a crisis in Japanese education. The 1999 Trends in Mathematics and Science Study, which compared performance in 38 countries, ranked Japan in the top five in both subject areas. The United States was 19th in math and 18th in science.

But for decades, a minority of critics have said the uniformity in Japanese schools ignores the needs of individual students in the interest of delivering huge amounts of information. And Japanese leaders have long envied the creativity, independent thinking, and innovation exhibited by American students.

Economic doldrums

Those long-held views reached critical mass in recent years, spurred in part by continuing economic doldrums that have many Japanese searching for answers.

Although Japanese officials are quick to say the reforms are primarily being instituted for educational reasons, they acknowledge an economic motivation. Some Japanese think a more creative next generation will be a key to snapping the nation out of its decade-long recession.

“For many years, we Japanese could count on the United States or Europe to do research and make innovations,” Mr. Ashidate said. “But if we are going to be successful, we need to be making those innovations ourselves.”

The centerpiece of the changes is a new class called “general studies,” which is unlike anything Japanese education has ever seen. For decades, what students are taught and when they learn it has been determined by the national government. Third-graders, for example, all do the same math problems and learn the same science lessons at the same time, whether they’re in Tokyo or Kyoto.

What is taught in general studies classes will be left up entirely to individual schools and teachers. The only guideline is that classes encourage creativity and student initiative and integrate knowledge from other classes through projects or real-world activity.

In areas where the concept is already being tested, some schools are tracking pollution in a local river or researching the history of old buildings, projects that would have been rare before.

At Tokyo’s Azabu Elementary, one of the test schools, students have been involved in service projects, such as cleaning city streets and researching a neighborhood.

“If you stop at memorizing, you don’t have active knowledge,” said Takahashi Takemasa, a fifth-grade teacher at Azabu. “You have to show them the connection between what they learn and aspects of real life.”

The new class, coupled with the decision to eliminate Saturday classes, means other areas in the curriculum will be cut. Earlier this year, the government released a list of skills that will be delayed or eliminated in the new system. Among them:

* Math lessons on greater-than and less-than signs will be moved from second grade to third.

* Adding and subtracting two-digit numbers will move from the first to the second grade, as will learning how to read a clock.

* In science class, hibernation and human bone structure will all be booted from elementary school to junior high.

* The time allotted for learning to read and write a specific set of Japanese characters will be increased from one to two years.

“We want students to learn how to learn,” said Toru Hase, principal of Azabu Elementary, in the busy Roppongi neighborhood. “Yes, they will know less than before. But they will know the information more securely.”

As one might expect, making the switch isn’t easy for teachers used to instructing by rote formula handed down from above. Japan has historically focused on uniformity in education; students who learn quickly and slowly are taught the same materials at the same pace, all across the country. Because individualized instruction is not a priority, elementary school classes often have up to 40 students.

Teachers are especially vexed by the unfamiliar format of the general studies class. “If you say math or science or social studies, people know what you’re talking about,” Dr. Muta said. “But if you say general studies, people say, ‘What is that?’ No one can say what it is students will have learned at the end of class.

“Somebody had the idea to publish a book with ideas for teachers on how to teach general studies. It sold a million copies.”

Mr. Ashidate, the government curriculum director, said changing teachers’ nature is part of the goal.

“We are trying to develop children who can think for themselves,” he said. “If we are to be successful, we have to develop teachers who can think for themselves also.”

Thinking skills

At Azabu, the new approach has gone beyond the pilot general-studies course. Other lessons also are being changed to emphasize thinking skills rather than memorization.

In one of Mr. Takemasa’s classes recently, students surveyed their classmates on a variety of questions, from their thoughts on school lunch to their favorite TV shows. Then they presented findings to the class, using charts and graphs.

“We found that nobody disliked noodles,” one boy said while pointing to a poster filled with bar charts. “Five people disliked shellfish. Most people disliked liver.”

“We want to do things that go beyond what our classes used to,” Mr. Takemasa said. “They didn’t just have to memorize facts. They had to come up with an idea, research it, compile their data, and figure out the best way to present it to the class.”

Some parents have expressed worry that the reforms will cost their children knowledge they need to get into the most competitive high schools and universities. Most of the Japan’s private schools are not adopting the same changes and the admissions tests for top schools won’t get easier just because public schools teach less.

“I expect a decline in the quality of education,” said Kodo Matsuura, father of two students at Azabu Elementary. “When a child is young, he should try very hard to memorize information. It’s part of the training of the brain. Parents are very anxious.”

Some say they will teach their children the missing lessons at home. Others plan to increase the time their children spend in juku, or “cram schools,” after-hours classes where students memorize information to pass entrance exams. Some schools are even planning to go against the concept of general studies by filling
that class’s hours with extra math or science instruction. Although that goes against the reformers’ intent, Mr. Ashidate said schools will have the leeway to do as they please with the class time.

If many parents and schools follow that lead, it would thwart a major goal of the reforms – to reduce test stress and the emphasis on memorization.

“I think cram school might be the only way to fix it,” said Yoshiki Hosotani, mother of a third-grader at Azabu. “When I was a schoolgirl, I was told that studying very hard was a good thing. Now, they’re being told to learn less. I don’t think it’s a good message.”

Failure of Soviets can teach America: Q&A with David Lesch

Sunday, September 23, 2001
Page 1J

Failure of Soviets can teach America
Q&A with David Lesch

By Joshua Benton
Staff Writer

When historian David Lesch’s new book was published in July, he had no idea the events he described would echo so quickly in the halls of American government. The book, 1979: The Year That Shaped the Modern Middle East, details the last time a superpower threatened Afghanistan: that year’s Soviet invasion.

In a telephone interview Wednesday with Dallas Morning News staff writer Joshua Benton, Dr. Lesch, a professor of history at Trinity University in San Antonio and a consultant to the State Department, discussed what lessons the failed Soviet invasion can have for those planning a potential American attack.

Here are excerpts:

Question: Why did the Soviets invade in 1979?

Answer: There had been instability in Afghanistan since 1973, when there was a coup that may have been supported by the Soviet Union. That regime turned out to be a bit more independently minded than the Soviets had hoped, so they supported another coup in 1978 that brought a triumvirate of Afghani Marxist leaders to power.

But trying to impose Communist reform on the country was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. This was a pre-industrial, traditional, feudal-type society, and they were trying to make it into a Marxist country. That transition just doesn’t happen without a country going through a capitalist phase first, and even then it doesn’t work.

So, when there were uprisings against that government, the Soviets invaded, with 80,000 to 100,000 troops.

Question: What makes warfare in Afghanistan so difficult?

Answer: The country is almost immune to centralization. Geographically, it’s very mountainous, and it’s really a tribal-based society.

The transportation system isn’t very good. To get places, you have to use dirt roads, pack mules, animal transportation. And the mountains provide cover for rebels, as they have going back centuries. There are no real major navigable rivers to unite the country.

They say that no one has controlled the Afghan countryside since Alexander the Great, and the Soviets didn’t do any better.

Question: If Afghanistan was so difficult to control, why did the Soviets feel threatened by it?

Answer: The Soviet Union had always had a defensive paranoia about countries on its borders. That’s why they created the buffer of friendly states, the Warsaw Pact, in Eastern Europe.

In 1979, you had Afghanistan being unstable, you had the Iranian revolution, you had the U.S. taking a greater interest in the region because of the Iranian hostage situation, and you had the U.S. and China opening up formal diplomatic relations for the first time.

So the Soviet Union was seeing the noose tighten around its neck. And they worried that an Islamist takeover in Afghanistan could inspire similar movements in the neighboring Soviet republics. In the Kremlin’s view, Afghanistan could not be lost.

They also saw the relative passivity and weakness the Carter administration showed in responding to the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis. They saw we didn’t react in a strong way, so they figured they didn’t really have much to lose from invading.

Question: The Soviets were stuck in Afghanistan for a decade before withdrawing without victory in 1989. Had they not expected such a difficult war?

Answer: They basically had the same experience we had in Vietnam. They thought they would have more support from the Afghan army than they did. They underestimated the fighting capabilities of the Afghan public.

It also was a major turning point in 1986, when the U.S. started giving the Mujahadeen Stinger missiles. In a four-month period, 512 Soviet aircraft were shot down with Stingers. That was a drastic, drastic change.

Question: How direct of a line can be drawn between the loss in Afghanistan and the eventual fall of the Soviet Union?

Answer: It’s absolutely directly related. You could say it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It put a tremendous strain on the Soviet economy, which was already in bad shape. It really led to the decision of Gorbachev to retreat in foreign affairs, to say, “I can’t maintain the level of defense spending and global
engagement to keep up the Cold War, so I’m just going to end the Cold War.”

Question: What kind of country did the Soviets leave behind?

Answer: They left behind a puppet regime, like we did in South Vietnam, that fell quickly to the opposition. A coalition of Islamist groups took control, and there were a couple of regime changes within that coalition, then coups and countercoups. And arising out of that frenetic mix was the Taliban, which took control of Kabul in 1996.

The Taliban was basically made up of students in the madrasas, the religious schools along the border with Pakistan. They had been influenced by a radical Sunni Muslim set of beliefs called Deobandism, which grew out of India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in opposition to the British presence there. The Taliban made it much more extreme in terms of strictly applying Islamic

It’s virulently anti-West, which seemed to take root among these students. They’ve actually had more success than previous rulers in controlling the country. There certainly are plenty of Afghans who are not 100 percent in support of the Taliban, but conditions had reached a point that things were so chaotic that people were willing to accept any group that could restore some sort of stability.

Question: What role has Pakistan historically played in our relations with Afghanistan?

Answer: The U.S. was downgrading relations in Pakistan in 1979, because we didn’t like General Zia al-Haq, who had come to power in a coup, and because they refused to state categorically that they were not interested in building a nuclear capability. But when the Soviets invaded, we were made strange bedfellows by our common interest in opposing the Soviets.

Zia al-Haq was interested in bringing Islamist parties into the regime, and that’s a presence that’s continued since. These very radical Islamist groups have a big say in Pakistani military policy. Deobandism is very popular in the military and the intelligence system there.

When the Taliban came to power, Pakistan recognized them. From Pakistan’s viewpoint, Afghanistan can be a valuable ally against India. They see the Taliban as supportive of their position in Kashmir. And as the Taliban attempts to export its views to other Central Asian countries, the “Talibanization” of the region, Pakistan sees an opportunity to have greater influence over other neighboring countries.

It’s an extremely complicated situation. If Pervez Musharraf is overthrown or pressured to take a particular position, they could threaten India – and then you’ve got two nuclear powers facing off. And China is a big supporter of Pakistan, so you could be talking about a domino effect.

Question: What lessons can the U.S. take from the Soviets’ failed invasion?

Answer: Well, the American objectives are going to be much more limited than the Soviets’ were. The Soviets wanted to control a regime and control a country. That’s something the U.S. doesn’t seem to be interested in; we’re not interested in controlling the country. So a lot of the difficulties the Soviets had won’t be as significant to the United States.

But I say that with great qualification: I don’t think anything we do is going to be easy.

Question: Do you think the Taliban can be persuaded to turn over Osama bin Laden?

Answer: There is some division in the Taliban between the more ideological and the more moderate – maybe “practical” is a better word than “moderate.” There are probably some people who would be willing to turn bin Laden over, perhaps to a third country. But remember that Osama bin Laden contributes $50 million to $100 million a year to the Taliban. And from their viewpoint, they’ve defeated a superpower before.

They don’t have much to lose. Their country is in tatters. They feel they can ride this out somehow and come out of it more popular than ever in the end.

But even if we do get Osama, there are other groups out there. I’m sure he’s made plans for the continuance of his organization after he leaves the scene. If the U.S. is to be successful, there needs to be an initiative over a long period of time.