A Review of Born from Lament

Earlier this year David Tanghou Ngong, a professor at Stillman College published a review of my book Born from Lament: The Theology of Politics and Hope in Africa in Reading Religion, a publication of the American Academy of Religion. I appreciate his assessment of my work, which not only highlights the strengths of the book but also offers constructive critique.

David Tanghou Ngong writes:

Katongole’s portrayal of an alternative vision of peace which the Christian faith provides in the context of the violent politics of the nation-state continues to be one of his significant contributions to African theology. Perhaps he is right that African theology has been too reticent in pointing out the salutary alternative visions of peaceful life that some Christians in the continent are cultivating. However, his claim that there has been a loss of lament in African theology is not an adequate description of the African Christian theological scene. Lament is at the heart of the theologies of inculturation, Black liberation theology in South Africa, the theology of reconstruction, and African women’s theology: the lament of the various forms of loss many have suffered and continue to suffer on the continent…This notwithstanding, Born from Lament provides significant ethnographic, biblical, and theological material that may enhance peacebuilding around the world.

For the full review please see: http://readingreligion.org/books/born-lament

Since my last post there have been a number of significant updates that I would like to share with you:

1. I am honoured to have been promoted to full professor at the University of Notre Dame.

2. The International Bulletin of Missions Research has selected Born from Lament: The Theology of Politics of Hope in Africa as one of its top ten outstanding books in Missions Studies for 2017.

3. I had the opportunity to participate in a Skype discussion about my book the Sacrifice of Africa with a group of students from South Africa hosted by Mziwandile Nkutha, a recent graduate of the Anabaptist Mennonite Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.

Notes from the Field: March 1-9, 2018


I spent the beginning of March in the Central African Republic conducting field research. CAR has suffered significantly from political violence, which has been further exacerbated by divisions along religious lines. The 2013 crisis (Seleka vs. anti-Balaka violence) resulted in high levels of displacement across the country. In January 2018, the International Committee of the Read Cross stated that half of the country was in need of humanitarian aid.

My time travelling, interviewing, and reading helped shed some light on some of the dimensions that have shaped the conflict:

1. Crisis of Citizenship

There is a general feeling that Muslims (15% of population) do not really belong; they are ‘non-native’ to CAR. They are always suspected of having ‘external’ links and connections ( to Chad and Sudan). Muslims also control over 75% of economy. In spite of this, a number of people who I spoke with (both Christians and Muslims) observed that Christians and Muslims have always lived peacefully together and frequently intermarried.

2. Violence arises, in part, from a sense of marginalization

The rise of the Seleka (2012) is not a complete surprise when we consider that it originated in the North East, a very marginalized part of the country, from a variety of grievances. It is important to note that Seleka militia is 20% Christian. Adam Ashforth argues that the violence of the anti-Balaka arose, in part, due to a feeling of “spiritual insecurity.” The group has responded to this insecurity by invoking traditional beliefs and magical practices.

What is surprising is the level and intensity of violence. An ex anti-Balaka informant stated: “it is as if something internal exploded; something ‘diabolic.’”

3. Lack of “local” initiatives in leadership make it hard to move forward

There are many foreign elements to CAR’s social history, concessionary politics and economics: Arab slave traders, French colonialism, trading companies, Chad, Sudan, UN, and missionary congregations. Imam Kobine, who I was able to speak with during my time in CAR, noted that some of these dimensions may have contributed to the marginalization of local, “native” initiatives in leadership.

4. The role of the Church in CAR

The Catholic Church plays a powerful role in the country’s social and political infrastructure. The Church also reflects the ‘external’ element of leadership. Only one of 8 bishops is diocesan; the rest are from missionary or religious congregations. The general secretary of the Bishop’s conference stated: “The church’s role is to support what the state is doing.”

The Church’s presence and positive impact are visible in the care of refugees, such as Cardinal Nzapailanga and the Interfaith Platform. However, I was also told that all too often “The church promotes a magical faith; a certain fatalism (if God wants us to have peace, we will have peace).” Thus, the church has yet to meet the challenge of unleashing the internal capacities (inner revolution) of believers.


Visible Signs of Hope

In the midst of suffering I also bore witness to visible signs of hope, reflecting an “excess of love” in the midst of violence.

1. The Interfaith Platform, founded by the Archbishop, an Imam and a pastor. It connects and brings together different faith traditions, advocating for peace and reconciliation on national and community (local) levels, and serving as an example of interfaith solidarity.

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2. I was particularly impressed by Fr. Bernard Kinvi, a Camillian priest, who runs the hospital at Bossentele, and who during the 2013 crisis, offered refuge at the hospital, to both Christian and Muslims, mediated between Seleka and anti-Balaka, protected the vulnerable; buried the dead, and helped many to evacuate. A native of Togo who has been here for 7 years now, he is driven by the Camillian spirituality: “serving the poor and sick is the way to God’s heart.” He is using that spirituality to knit the social fabric of the remote village of Bossentele into a sense of belonging that closely reflects the church as a “Field Hospital”. Talk about ecclesial radiance! The two days here in Bossentele, trailing and learning from Kinvi, as he takes me around the hospital and visiting and talking to various people in the community, are without doubt, the highlight of my time in CAR!


Notes from the Field: February 2018

February has been a rich month.

I spent time at the Bethany Land Institute where we had our BLI board meeting. We were excited to approve a new member, Catherine Barasa Asekenye. She is a senior social development specialist at the World Bank – based in Uganda, and focusing on gender and poverty issues.

I was able to visit with Fr. Godfrey Nzamujo at Kampiringisa where he is setting up a UNDP funded and Government of Uganda sponsored National Farmers Leadership Center (NFLC) based on the Songhai model. The Bethany Land Institute is excited about opportunities to collaborate and partner with Songhai.

A few Highlights from Kenya:

1. I spent the end of February in Kenya. I was invited by Tangaza University College School of Theology in Kenya to present a paper titled, “Ecological Conversion and Integral Ecology in Africa: Experiments in the Spirituality of Little Think.” The conference brought together scholars and students to explore how we can respond to the ecological crisis from a theological perspective.

2. Catholic Youth Network for Environment Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA).
I spent a rich afternoon of meeting and conversation with Allen Ottaro, the founder, and Helen, David and Abner, other leaders of CYNESA at their Nairobi Office. The mission of CYNESA is to link (and thus provide a platform to) young Catholics across the continent in their efforts to respond to the challenges of environment degradation and climate change. Behind the personal stories of the young leaders and their inspiring work, I discover an Ignatian spirituality as a driving force. Encountered through the Magis program by Allen and his friends, the Ignatian spirituality has a a threefold emphasis: finding God in all things; personal responsibility (what can I do as an individual), and a lifestyle of contemplative action. With programs in over eight countries they encourage young people to live out this spirituality in the spirit of Laudato Si. See blog entry on my visit: http://cynesa.org/cynesablog/fr-katongole-visits-the-cynesa-secretariat/

3. Green Belt Movement (GBM)
Half a day at the office of The Green Belt Movement: (GBM), and meeting with Wycliffe Matika, interim Deputy Director, and Mercy Wanja Karunditu, Senior Program officer. Founded by the first African women Nobel Laurette Wanghari Maathai, GBM continues advance Maathai’s ecological and peacebuilding vision and efforts: “When we plant trees, we plant the seeds of peace and hope.” To date GBM has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya! It was inspiring to hear, from the staff of GBM and other random people, including my driver, personal testimonies regarding the character, motivation and spirituality that shaped Maathai’s “Humming Bird” efforts. It was also touching to visit Freedom corner in Uhuru Park, where Maathai led a group of women to protest President Moi’s decision to give away part of the park to investors to construct a business and office complex. The protests would later inspire a civil movement that eventually brought down Moi’s dictatorial regime.

4. A Meeting with the editor and publishers at Daughters of St Paul to explore the possibility for co-publishing and marketing of my books in East Africa, which would make books like The Sacrifice of Africa, Born From Lament, Reconciling All Things, and The Journey of Reconciliation more accessible and affordable to readers in East

At the end of the month I traveled to the Central African Republic for my research. I look forward to sharing more about my time there in my next blog post.

A few photos from my time with Fr. Nzamujo at Kampiringisa:


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.




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.






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!




(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!



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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