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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Gray Matter: Experiencing Africa

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

I am pleased to have found still another story of a local young person's summer adventures --a story I think you will enjoy.

That person is Lee Rainboth, who recently received his BFA from Iowa State University . Perhaps you saw his Africa-inspired art work, which was featured at the Sanford Museum last spring.

Lee first visited Africa when he was in high school. He and his mother, Vicki, traveled to Mali, West Africa with a group from the United Methodist Church, Marcus. There they worked in a mission compound led by Sandra Knop, an Iowa native, the sister of Kay Ogren who lives and teaches here. The plight of the native people and their simplistic lifestyle deeply influenced young Rainboth, as is evidenced in his art.

While a junior at Iowa State, he was accepted for a semester of African Art and Culture Studies, which deepened his interest. This June, Lee made a third trip to that far-off part of the world. He traveled with Compassion International, a child sponsorship agency, to photograph some of their activities in Uganda for promotional use here in the U S. I expect an artist's eye is the same whether recording an image on canvas or on film, so the stunning quality of the pictures he brought back came as no surprise.

Interestingly, Lee pointed out a good many differences between Uganda, and Mali. In the latter, which had been colonized by France, the French language was predominant, and the major religion was Islam. In Uganda, once a British colony, English was most common, and Christianity predominated.

Half-jokingly, a friend referred to Lee as a guy who would like to single-handedly change the world. When I asked him about that, he quickly denied any such grand illusions. What he really hopes to do is to help spread some important realities about world conditions which are not widely understood.

The real truth about poverty and disease, in his view, may be shown much more clearly through the graphic arts than any other way. As he puts it, we in the developed world often think that careless indolence is the chief cause of poverty, and find it hard to be very sympathetic. According to Lee, those suffering masses he has seen have no opportunities, at present, through which to escape. This is the message that he feels must be made known, to help force organizations and governments into doing something about these horrible conditions before it's too late.

Young Rainboth's observations on the strength of Christianity in Uganda were encouraging. We often hear it said that Europe has entered the post-Christian era. As a result of that sad fact, missionaries are now coming from Africa to evangelize Europe. Lee confirmed the open, almost childlike, strength of their faith. Phrases such as "God is Good" or "Christ is King" are commonly used, as in "God is Good Hair Salon" or "Christ is King Meat Market." No irreverence is intended; it is simply a proud proclamation of their strong convictions.

In October Lee, again combining his artistry and his faith, is going to Haiti where he is volunteering with HAPI (Haitian Artisans for Peace International). He learned of this opportunity through the United Methodist Church with which it is loosely associated. Lee's home church here in Marcus and his campus church at Ames are assisting him, and I am sure contributions from other churches and individuals would be appreciated.

HAPI works with the Fair Trade Stores which make it possible for natives from around the world to market crafts, jewelry and other artifacts in the US. He will travel to remote areas of the island selecting suitable items, and will then help with product development to make them available for these stores. Hearing that, I promised him, and I am promising you, that another Gray Matter will result when he returns.