Notes from the Field: January 2018

January has been a busy and productive month of research and theological engagement around four cluster events/themes:

1. An “Indaba” of key Christian leaders for “such a time as This,” held at Bethany House, Entebbe, from Jan 3- 7, 2018.

A rich time of sharing, reflection and listening to the incredible stories of 5 Christian leaders- followed by in-depth interviews to capture “in their own words” the story and journey of their leadership. In listening to their stories, I am also keen to listen for the ways in which their lives are caught up in a similar drama and reflect similar patterns, gifts and challenges of as the biblical story of Esther. Both Bruce Buursma and Jessica Shewan prove to be extremely helpful, with Jessica, a former student at the Kroc Institute at Notre Dame, now serving as Partnership and International Staff Coordinator at UCCB in Beni helping to coordinate all the Indaba logistics, and Bruce, a retired journalist from the Chicago Tribune, leading the interview sessions. The two conducted more interviews at the Great Lakes Leadership Institute Gaba, and travelled to Lira and Gulu to interview Maama Angelina Atyam and Archbishop Odama respectively. With a total of 10 interviews, we have more than enough stories for the first volume of “In Their Own Words: Christian Leadership in Africa for Such a Time as This.” Marie-Claire Klassen, my wonderful research assistant has already helped to draft the Introduction to the Volume, framed around seven non-negotiable gifts of Christian leadership gleaned from the story of Esther. With this in place, and now the interviews, a draft of the manuscript should be ready by May, and the book out and available for the next GLI Leadership Institute in January 2019. I will be talking to possible publishers next month when I travel to Nairobi.

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2. The Great Lakes Leadership Institute: Gaba National Seminary, Kampala. Jan 8-13, 2018

A record attendance of 180 participants from 8 countries around the African Great Lakes Region (plus US and Europe) confirms the uniqueness and need of the GLI. Just as Clarence Jordan with Koinonia, the GLI baffles me. Who would have imagined that the first Gathering of 30 leaders that Chris and I convened in 2006 would with time become a full-fledged Institute and “the most ecumenical gathering of Christian leaders” working on peace and reconciliation in East and Central Africa. And yet, like Jordan’s Koinonia, the GLI is “forever living and forever dying.” At the board meeting before the Institute, we had to face the realization that the GLI is at a critical junction, needing to transition to a new chapter, requiring a substantive executive director. But how do we find such a leader, and where do we find the money to pay for them? My encouragement as co-founder to the board is to do all in our power to look for both the money and a dedicated and innovative African leader, but also not to feel desperate but journey on with the faith as an African proverb that “he who has given us the teeth will give us something to eat.” At the Institute, I lead the first plenary session (Day One) on “reconciliation toward what?” Using the story of Esther, I shared seven gifts/disciplines of living and operating from within the story of New Creation. David and Kaswera Kasali provided a credible “exhibit.” What I find particularly exciting about my role at the GLI, just as at the Indaba, is the gift of “scriptural imagination” – using scripture to illumine the gits and challenges of the journey of reconciliation and of Christian leadership in Africa.

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3. Rwanda (Jan 18-23, 2018): Two highlights from the five-day research trip in Rwanda

(a) “Oasis of Peace”: Graduation ceremony (Jan 19) at Maison Shalom of 87 students, all refuges from Burundi in various vocational skills (culinary services, embroidery, painting, tailoring, car mechanics). Dressed in graduation gowns, the young men and women a sense of confidence, dignity and pride as they collect their diplomas. At the candlelight dinner for the graduates and invited guests, wine good food, beautiful music, and Maggy dancing with the graduates. I am reminded of Psalm 23: “a banquet in the presence of my enemies” and of Isaiah 25: “on this mountain”… For right here in the place of exile and desolation, joy, celebration, new creation. True to its name, maison shalom’s new center, on a hill overlooking Kigali is the “Oasis of Peace.” Even here in exile Maggy is unstoppable. And yet it is clear from the various interviews (Richard, Maison Shalom’s director; Oystein- a free lance Norwegian film maker working on a documentary on Maggy, Jonathan, A Spaniard and recent PhD (political science) graduate volunteer at maison shalom, Jean Paul, Maison Shalom board member…) that what drives Maggy is a simple message (God’s love) that however keeps being played out in endless and rich practical manifestations of courage, beauty, compassion and service to the least of these. The true character of excess of love!

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(b) The Miracle of “Ruhango”: An hour or so from Kigali (between Gitarama and Butare), here at this parish in 1994 there was no genocide, but Hutu and Tutsi remained locked up together in the church, and 7 times were able to “disarm” the militia through their charismatic singing, prayer and Eucharistic adoration. A true Ephesian moment! But what made this “miracle” possible? Two elements stand out: First, the question of leadership. The parish priest, a stubborn Polish Pallotine priest, Fr. Stanislaus Urbaniak: he refused to leave, to be expatriated; and was one of few “Mzungu” missionaries who stayed behind during the genocide. He has since been awarded a national (Rwanda) medal. He gathered the community and remained with the people who took refuge in the church, resisting the militia and even at one time wrapping his arms around a Tutsi priest and a seminarian who were about to be killed: “you will have to first kill me…”. Then there was a Mutwa charismatic lay preacher, Boniface, who animated the community with his preaching. The presence of these two “foreign” elements, two strangers, neither Hutu nor Tutsi, gathering a new community, a “new we”– around a new spirituality, a new sense of belonging. Secondly, it was the spirituality of the charismatic and Emmanuel community – introduced in Rwanda and Ruhango by Cyprien and Daphrose Rugamba in the 1990s. Focused around three practices of adoration, compassion and evangelization, the Charismatic/Emmanuel community prayer group animated the gathered refugees through singing, prayer and adoration. Seven times the militia broke into the church, each time they found the community singing, praying and in adoration of the blessed Sacrament. They would leave and promise to come back! At one time the prayer leader even “thanked” God for the visitors whom God had brought to join their prayer of thanksgiving and adoration! The Charismatic/Emmanuel community group was from the very beginning open to people from different ethnicities. They did not seek to deny the ethnicities or try to hide them away, but subsumed them under what they took to be a more determinative (and truthful story) of God’s reconciling love manifested in the cross and Eucharist. This is the story into which they sought to invite (evangelization) everyone, including the militia). But this is the story that also shaped their practical imagination. So, at the height of the siege, they would send out of the church only unmistakable Hutu’s to look for food for the group knowing that any suspected Tutsi would be killed. Ruhango, an Ephesian moment, an antidote to ethnic violence and genocide, made possible, among others by the leadership of ‘strangers’ and by a spirituality of reconciling (God) love!

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4. Bethany Land Institute:

Two trips to the BLI site in Luweero provide me with an opportunity to catch up with the developments on the site; to introduce a new team member (Helen, an incredibly innovative, hardworking and passionate young woman); to plan with the team on next activities and plans and on staff housing needs. In Kampala, a series of meetings with the company secretary and company lawyer, to set up bank accounts, plan for board meeting, and regularize a few technical and legal issues connected with plot 3 of BLI land. Working through endless (and honestly useless) technical and legal issues even with what should be a simple issue like opening a bank account is frustrating, but overall, I feel the momentum, thanks in great part to Margaret Sakwa (the company secretary) and Jonathan Tibisaasa, the company lawyer).

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