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April 2016April 2016 web compressed

Recently, my wife and I attended Richmond’s annual French Film festival on opening night. A particular film about West Africans, “Hope”, caught our eye and drew us into the theatre. Directed by Boris Lojkine and produced by Bruno Nahon, it won an award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. The film focuses on the world of migration and tells the story of two Africans seeking a way to Europe.

Leonard, a young man from Cameroon, rescues a Nigerian woman named Hope as they struggle to cross the Sahara. They begin travelling with others then venture out on their own en route to Morocco. Along the way, they spend time with various migrant communities, usually segregated by country and ethnic background. The film shows the viewer that the Cameroonians don’t trust the Nigerians who in turn fear the Congolese who mistrust the others... Tribal bosses” rule the ghettos and demand unswerving allegiance in exchange for meager meals and protection. These communities are not safe for women or children.

The brutality of one group interacting with others caught me by surprise. Of course, I read every day about Sunnis attacking Shias or ISIS terrorizing peoples in Iraq and Syria. Like you, I’ve almost grown numb to news reports about ethnic strife and mindless atrocities. But the film depicted the reality of ghetto life for African migrants in a way that was powerfully unsettling. By the way, all the actors in this film were non-professionals. All were recruited from the ranks of migrants living in Moroccan ghettos.

I recently spent ten days in Niger, a country in the northern area of West Africa. Niger is surrounded by Nigeria, Mali, Chad, Libya, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Benin and barely touches Cameroon. So I watched this film with a new interest in the peoples and cultures of West Africa and North Africa. Years ago (1987), I visited Morocco but saw none of the ghetto life depicted in the film. These countries have rich local cultures and many have French colonial legacies.

In 2016, our world is divided into nations and people groups--and many peoples find that they are migrants trying to escape poverty, warfare and other dangers. How does the Christian church pay adequate attention to peoples who are dispersed and without a home or a safe resting place? Many are fleeing one danger while trying to avoid others.

Do these desperate people have hope? I suppose that is a trick question. The word “desperate” literally means without hope. Yet Hope is personified in the film in the life of the Nigerian woman who goes by that name. She endures hardships, refuses to give up and she relies on her new friend for companionship. And her friend, Leonard, protects her and fights for her.

The writer to the Hebrews reminds us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1). Hope, a theological virtue, is a way of envisioning the future as blessed. For followers of Jesus, having hope means embracing a confidence that envisions the future being in good hands--in God’s hands. Meanwhile, let us prayerfully acknowledge many peoples whose settings are fraught with danger. Let us intercede for people whose journeys take them through difficult places and among hostile people. May God lead them safely to the other side and may they learn to put their hope in Him.

Richard L. Haney

Executive Director