The start of 2009 found me in East Africa, where I was happy to get my first copy of Mirror to the Church delivered to me by my friend and GLI associate John Kiess.
On Jan 10 I was in Burundi getting ready to host the 3rd Gathering of the Great Lakes Initiative. Close to 100 Christian leaders from the Great Lakes Region of East Africa met at the beautiful resort hotel of Club du Lac in Bujumbura Picture from Burundi with Taban, Maggy & Angelina. For four days we ate and prayed together, listened to stories and engaged each other around the topic of Identity, Community, and the Gospel of Reconciliation: Christian resources in the face of Tribalism.
The highlight of the Gathering was the presence and witness of Maggy Barankitse, who shared with us her personal story of pain which led to the founding of Maison Shalom (see video below!). Following the Gathering, I got a rare opportunity to travel with Maggy through the Burundi countryside to her Maison Shalom headquarters in Ruhigi. This gave me a chance to grasp the deep spiritual and theological convictions that are the driving force behind this extraordinary woman’s leadership; and to see the fruits of that leadership at Maison Shalom – an entire new village: “the city of angels” (replete with a brand new hospital, a farm, guest houses, children’s home, school) for Maggy’s children. In a land marked with tribalism and ethnic hatred, there could be no better counter–witness than this community founded through the story of God’s love. Maggy describes the new community as a new tribe: neither hutu nor tutsi, neither Congolese or Burundians, neither white or black, but ‘hutsitwacongozungu.’
Returning to Durham from Burundi in mid-January, I had only time to pack my bags to leave for wintry Chicago for a 4-month sabbatical at De Paul University, where I was named the 1st senior Research Fellow of the center for World Catholicism and Inter-cultural theology. I was very warmly received by the community of St. Clement Parish near Lincoln Park, which became my ‘home’ and my ‘church’ for my time in Chicago, and was privileged to share life and community with of Fr. Ken Simpson (the wonderful pastor) as well as the other priests: Fr. Vince Castello, Fr. Ramil, and Deacon Manny.
At the National Pastors Convention in San Diego in February, I was honored to share a plenary panel with Don Golden (World Relief vice-president), Catherine Claire Larson (author of As We Forgive), and Laura Walters (director of As We Forgive.) We discussed the movie and forgiveness in Rwanda and beyond. Another highlight was the opportunity to meet and share breakfast with Brian McLaren, with whom I had exchanged emails and whose work I referenced and recommended on numerous occasions.
Taking the advantage of being in beautiful (and sunny) San Diego, I planned a week long retreat at The Spiritual Ministry Center. During quiet morning and long evening walks by the ocean, I was physically and spiritually renewed as I was able to reconnect with the big picture of God’s story and to see my life in light of that story. As I gratefully remembered my journey of the last five years, I was drawn back to what I now refer to as the revelation of Pattaya: a picture in my hotel room at the Lausanne convention in 2004, which reminded me to ‘always connect to the village – and keep it simple.”
If sabbatical time was a time of rest and renewal, it was also a time for rewriting and working through the final draft of The Sacrifice of Africa, which I have since submitted to Eerdmans. It is scheduled for release in September 2010. Framed around the argument that the imagination that drives modern politics and economics in Africa perpetuates the sacrificing of the poor and weak in Africa, the book calls for forms of politics and social engagement grounded in a different type of sacrifice (in the sense of “sacra-facere”: making sacred) – one that serves and makes sacred the lives of the weak and the poor. I show that this is what is at stake in the lives and work of leaders like Angelina Atyam, Paride Taban, and Maggy Barankitse.
At the end of May I was back in Durham, for the Center for Reconciliation’s first Summer Institute – a very energizing community of leaders (mostly from the United States) and a time of learning, teaching and community.
In Uganda for the summer, I worked on statements for my academic review and supervised work on the Bethany Center for Mission and Reconciliation (below). A trip to Goma with Stephanie Wheatley (CFR Global coordinator) and a meeting with the key partners of the GLI helped to cement relationships and planning for the future of the GLI.
The highlight of the summer was the Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope: two weeks of traveling to, learning from and connecting with various places, communities and leaders in Uganda, with a group of 22 pilgrims, mostly students from Duke Divinity School (above right).
Mid August, I was already back in Durham for the start of the Fall semester, and to offer the Journeys of Reconciliation (taught for the fourth year with two friends and practitioner colleagues, Chris Rice and Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove).
Travelling to Seattle in mid-October for the Film Faith & Justice forum provided a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with friends from my Leuven days: Sara and Derek Reamy, whom I had not seen in 17 years. A relaxed brunch with Tim and Kerry Dearborn (and their daughter Bethany) on Sunday morning was a beautiful way to deepen the friendship with the Dearborns and to end a magnificent weekend.
Another highlight for October: being a sponsor at the confirmation of my young friend David Clancy (right) whom I have watched grow (in the last 8 years) into a brilliant, inspiring and caring young man. He is everything I would like to be when I grow up!
If Nov 9-20 were far the most intense ten days of the semester, they were also the most deeply moving. After a quick trip to Eastern Mennonite University, where I presented the 2nd annual justice lectures; and met with Lynn Roth and others at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding , I was back in town to welcome and present bishop Paride Taban and Angelina Atyam at various events and sessions of the CFR Teaching Communities Week (pictures). For close to a week, we listened to the stories, learned from and interacted with two of the most inspiring African leaders committed to a new future in of peace and forgiveness in Africa.
At the CFR board meeting, we welcomed these two extraordinary leaders, along with a new member of the board (Kathy Mansfield), and celebrated five years of the center’s existence! (see photo, above left!)
Bishop Taban and Angelina were not the only guests from Africa, whom I had the honor to host. Two weeks prior to Angelina’s visit, her daughter, Charlotte, was with us for a week. My brother, Fr. Joe was also in town and in and out of my house for a number of days as he visited friends and former Duke interns. It was wonderful to visit with him, and to see my nephew Godfrey as well (below). With other friends, Fr. Tony, Fr. Augustine, and others visiting (below), it has been a rich time of fellowship. All in all, a lot to celebrate and be grateful for, including a 49th birthday – the day after Thanksgiving!
With warm wishes for a blessed Advent and Christmas to you. -Emmanuel