When you descend from the mountain, how can you describe the view from the top to those who remained in the valley all during your climb? (And judging by last week’s blog, my husband was certainly in the valley) How can you communicate the thrill of possibility, as you were able to glimpse a distant horizon, visible only to you and your fellow travellers?
This year for me, participating in the Great Lakes Initiative Institute felt like a long climb, but with a particularly satisfying sense of accomplishment at the end. I was actually fairly sick from the end of December right through my arrival to Uganda. So I was very concerned about my energy level to fulfill my role, helping to facilitate worship at this ecumenical, multi-cultural, multi-lingual conference. But also, I departed for Uganda feeling as if I might have already made my most important contribution before the Institute even happened.
Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation has been the catalyst for this Institute – this year was the seventh gathering that they have hosted in the Great Lakes region. Yes, in some ways, you might think that it is just another conference on reconciliation for Christian leaders. But what makes it so different is that it is deeply Christian, deeply theological, and deeply committed to bridging the divide between Protestants and Catholics.
As a partner of the GLI, I found myself reflecting six months ago about how important it was to bring together the right people to consider this message together. We needed to be more strategic – and one glaring deficiency lay right before our eyes: the Burundi delegation to the GLI had been100% Protestant for at least 3 years. Unlike every other delegation from the 7 countries in the region, no Catholics were consistently involved in this movement, in spite of the fact that Burundi is at least 70% Roman Catholic.
I must confess that I felt quite intimidated about approaching the Catholic hierarchy about participating in the GLI this year. But with the help of our program assistant Felix, we reached out to the Archbishop of Bujumbura and he enthusiastically agreed to send two key people, the Vicar General and the Executive of the Justice and Peace Commission. Our friend Jodi also helped us to make a better connection with Father Zacharie Bukuru from the monastery of Buta, and he agreed to come. And we helped the GLI with logistical support to get Maggy Barankitse to Kampala this year. In then end there were 6 Catholics total out of 17 Burundians present – a big improvement in numbers. Even more encouraging was to see how engaged and receptive this delegation of Catholics was. I found all of them very open to learning from the larger gathering, and spotted them in deep, intense conversation with our Protestant leaders throughout the week. And so the week unfolded through a series of questions:
New Creation – Reconciliation towards what?
On the first full day, GLI Ambassador Wilfred Mlay helped us consider the whole biblical story. God’s mission of reconciliation began in the garden and has an assured ending in the new heavens and new earth. And day-by-day, new creation is being revealed, in us as new creations in Christ, and in the work we do faithfully to reveal his kingdom among us. As Christian leaders we are not simply called to work on plans to bring peace to the region. Together we were challenged to let go of our own agendas, and go out as ambassadors of reconciliation relying on God’s resources and methodologies rather than our own.
|Maggy Barankitse with Emanuel Ndikumana and|
Father Zacharie Bukuru.
Maggy Barankitse brought witness from Burundi about how new creation is possible. She told a number of poignant stories about children whom she helped to rescue and raise during the Burundi civil war, and who now are forming a new community of hope where ethnic hatred has been transformed into a new identity as a people. She spoke of a young girl named Gloriose who watched a man murder her parents and then was raped by that very man. The rape led to a pregnancy, and Gloriose was given the option to terminate the pregnancy. But she decided that she would give birth to this child, whom she decided to name Namahoro (Peace). That child conceived in violence now just finished secondary school and is a beautiful young woman who offers a vision of a new identity in Burundi.
Lament – What is going on?
Dr. Katho from Bunia, Congo, taught from the prophet Jeremiah – drawing from the moment when the prophet is so deeply discouraged by his own mission and the suffering that God has led him into that he wishes he had never been born. Both Katho and other participants from DRC shared raw and fresh stories of the suffering they have witnessed or experienced, particularly from the invasion of Goma in November. There was a real knife-edge of pain throughout this day, as the Congolese participants couldn’t help expressing their frustration with Rwanda for contributing to their suffering. Many Rwandese were quietly angry about being accused in this way. The community found ourselves confronting a dilemma: some wanted to write a petition, to ask for political action, to advocate for a certain position. But as ambassadors of Christ (not any of the nations present) to whom do we write, and what kind of petition would Jesus write?
One of the most satisfying aspects of this day for me was being given permission to include a very Catholic worship service in the week. We cannot celebrate the mass together without being divisive. But I was able to ask Father Zacharie and the other priests to lead us in a traditional evening prayer. They led beautifully chanted psalms of lament, and the highlight of the time of worship was a very long period of silence into which God could speak.
The next morning, I was reading Genesis, the story of Jacob the trickster, heading back home to face his brother Esau. Jacob, who stole the birthright and the blessing from Esau, who had been gone for 20 years, spends all night alone, wrestling with God. And finally in the morning, he sends out herds of livestock (restitution?) to Esau’s approaching band of 400 armed men. What fear Jacob must have felt, and yet what courage to finally face his enemy! And at last Jacob is warmly received by Esau, and he blurts out “to see your smiling face showing me favor is like seeing the face of God!” And maybe that is really true – that we can’t even see God’s face until we see the smiling face of our enemy.
Pilgrimage – what are the signs of hope?
Dr. Ellen Davis, professor of Old Testament from Duke Divinity School, gave a beautiful lecture from the little book of consolation (Chs 30 – 33) of the prophet Jeremiah. It was thrilling to see how God promises Jeremiah a restored community in which power relations are reorganized to include the weak, there is personal spiritual renewal, and there is a new value of the covenant promise of the land. It was interesting to be sitting next to a Burundian agronomist during that session, hearing for the first time that his calling is one that is deeply blessed by God. But of course, from the beginning, God promised his people the heritage of the land from generation to generation, not just as a monument, but as a blessing, a place where they could grow food and sustain their communities. And now, we’ve lost that sense of the value of the land. It has become just another commodity to sell and profit from. We forget that when foreign investors make land grabs in central Africa, there are families who become displaced into perpetual poverty without the resources to grow food for themselves and their children. And in over-populated Rwanda and Burundi, land conflicts between returning refugees and those who stayed through the civil war, pose the greatest threat to peace.
We also made a walking pilgrimage together to Lake Victoria, a time that offered many of us the chance to make new friends and stretch our legs. But it also gave us a time to pray for the region and for all the difficult aspects of our context. Most of my photos from the week come from that day.
What kind of Leadership is needed?
Emmanuel Ndikumana, the founder of our church community in Burundi, spoke from his heart on this question. His essential point was simple: we need to be leaders who are willing to follow the example of Jesus. And this is not easy. It entails suffering and forbearance. We need to know we are on God’s mission, not our own. That was what gave Jeremiah the endurance for his 40 years of prophesy, in which he stood alone against a complex, corrupt system. We also heard a wonderful testimony from Dr. Sam Orach, a Ugandan physician who humbly told the story of how he founded a hospital and became the director of Catholic medical services in Uganda. He is a man clearly motivated by following Jesus, and he has suffered ostracism, misunderstanding and even threats on his life for doing so.
Spirituality – Why me? Why bother?
From the night before, I was really praying for God to do something that hadn’t yet happened at this GLI gathering. And I believe on this day that he did it. During morning worship, there was a very special feeling of reverence and prayer, including a chant of Psalm 103, led by seminarians from Ggaba National seminary (our host venue). Then God worked powerfully through Faith Mlay, as she challenged each of us to bother about the daily and extraordinary atrocities that happen in our region, to let “something that is in you that connects to God the Father be pierced.” She was followed by Father Zacharie, who told the story of the 40 martyrs of Buta. (See our blog from Sept 2008 for more details). These were seminarians he had trained and healed of ethnic hatred at the beginning of the civil war, and when they were finally attacked, they refused to separate by ethnic group and died for that commitment. The remarkable thing about Fr. Zacharie’s story was that his recounting of horrible events was permeated by a sense of joy and wonder at God’s marvelous works. Everything was inspired by Jesus’ victory through the cross, his refusal of violence and his deep, deep love of his enemies. Even as his students were being shot, God was ministering love and healing and forgiveness to Zacharie, preparing him to face the horror of their deaths.
We ended the day with a worship celebration that was incredibly simple and wonderful. A Kenyan pastor led us in an extended time of prayer, in which special groups of people were asked to stand and receive blessing, including the ambassadors of Christ from Congo and Rwanda who need extra courage right now. And then each of us were able to go and ask for a blessing from some of our “elders.” The worship team led us in quiet music at first but then, we got to the very simple song, “God is so good,” which we were able to sing in almost all the mother tongues of GLI participants, and then a bunch of young men got behind the set of traditional Ugandan drums in the chapel and there was nothing to do but just spend several minutes dancing in thanksgiving as we praised God for his goodness.
|Some Burundi GLI participants.|
So, among the joys for me was the gift of being able to involve lots of different people from different cultures and traditions in the community worship. It is something I love to do, and learned about from my old friend Donna Dinsmore at Regent College. It’s a great challenge, but as Emmanuel Ndikumana said, it is practice for heaven. I was also blessed to work together with a wonderful Rwandese woman named Josephine Munyeli. She has a such a sweet spirit and was a blessing to me (on the last night, I was fussing with lots of things in the chapel and trying to get ready and she said, “why don’t you just sit down for a moment and rest in the Lord?”). Six weeks before the GLI, we had met to prepare some of the worship music. No previous theme songs had been adequate, so we decided that it would be worthwhile to write a theme song especially for the GLI, set to the tune of a well-known African hymn. To my great joy, this song really blessed the community and seemed to help us pray what was in our hearts, as we started and ended each day. The text is printed below and we’ll try to attach an imperfect video of the community singing the hymn on our last morning.
Til all things reconciled
We your people sing your praises
As together we are sent
to reveal your new creation
to reveal your new creation
In the shadows of lament.
Give us courage for the journey,
Give us courage for the journey,
Shepherd Jesus be our guide;
Help us lead with hope and passion,
Til all things are reconciled
Bon Berger ton peuple t'adore
Ici en Mission pour toi
A travers les lamentations
A travers les lamentations
Vient la nouvelle création
Guide nous sur ce voyage
Guide nous sur ce voyage
Et nous aurons la Passion
Le courage et l’Esperance
Le courage et l’Esperance
Pour la réconciliation
Text: 2013 © Rebecca Mosley and Josephine Munyeli
Music: African traditional hymn
So the GLI ended, we got on a plane and left Saturday morning. I was so happy to see my husband and kids at the airport, and to get all the kisses I missed all week. We had a special pizza lunch by the lake and then went to the zoo to celebrate being together again. It was so good to be with them! And I was tired after a week of little sleep and lots of attention to things happening in the spiritual realm. This morning at our church, it was a blessing to see Doug Heibert (our MCC rep predecessor) leading worship and preaching.
And what are the things on the horizon? I think we all glimpsed for the first time the possibility of some real collaboration between Protestants and Catholics in Burundi. We will have to see what shape that takes – theological reflection together on reconciliation? Learning together how to prepare the church for biblical reconciliation in the upcoming TRC process? Working on healing our own wounds of brokenness and division? Speaking prophetically to the government about restorative justice – so that truth can be told and justice can be done and yet reconciliation can still be reached? For the short run, I will be reflecting on Father Zacharie’s words, “I don’t have hope for change from the political arena. Reconciliation is God’s business. And reconciliation cannot be delegated. It is up to me to do what I can.” May God help us all to do what we can.
Movie of GLI participants singing theme song.