Bethany Land Institute Advent 2017


Advent 2017
Letter from the President

Dear Friends,

During the season of Advent, my mind often turns toward dreams, vision, and story. This is especially true this year as I have seen a personal dream turn into a real vision that is leading me to invite others into the story. Here’s an update and an invitation.

First the update: Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’ has had a profound impact on me. Noting the deep connection between the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, Pope Francis calls for integrated approaches that are able to fight poverty, restore human dignity to the excluded and at the same time protect nature. (L.S. 139). These integrated approaches are needed particularly in Africa, where the effects of the ecological crisis are felt acutely by poor and marginalized communities. Accordingly, for the last three years, I, together with other friends, have been working on an initiative, the Bethany Land Institute, to respond to the urgent problems of deforestation, food insecurity and poverty that affect millions in Africa.

Based in Uganda, on 85 acres of land, the goal of the Bethany Land Institute is to form leaders for rural transformation through an education program that equips young people with the skills of sustainable agriculture, economic empowerment and a spirituality of creation care. Through this program we hope not only to undertake a major reforestation effort (a million trees by 2050), but form the BLI students into leaders who, upon graduation will set up and run model farms in their community, where they will mentor others in skills of sustain agriculture, a life-style of service and a spirituality of care for creation. To learn more about BLI visit our website:

Since the purchase of the land in 2015, much progress has been made. BLI has been incorporated as a nonprofit organization in Uganda and in the USA, staff has been hired, and living quarters for the staff have been constructed. Also, in partnership with Engineers Ministry International, a facilities plan has been developed. We are developing the curriculum, and will soon begin the construction of two dormitories to house our students. Thanks to a generous donor, we have received $75,000 as a matching grant towards this end. Donations can be made on our website or sent to the BLI mailing address: PO Box 6391, South Bend, IN 46660

This is my invitation for you to join the Bethany Land Institute story. Would you prayerfully consider a year end gift to help us secure this grant? Your gift will help us to build the dormitories, and to launch the institute in January 2019. I am grateful for your prayers, well wishes and partnership towards this initiative to realize integral ecology and sustainable development in Uganda. I am reminded of the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, walk alone, but if you want to go far, walk with others.” Obviously, we want to go far.

With best wishes for a blessed Advent season and a joyous Christmas,


Fr. Emmanuel Katongole
Co-founder & BLI President

David Tonghou Ngong’s Review of Born From Lament

David Tonghou Ngong, an Associate Professor of Religion and Theology at Stillman College, reviews Born From Lament for the American Academy of Religion. He 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.” Here’s the full Review:

To properly understand Born from Lament, one must place it within the context of Emmanuel Katongole’s previous work. From his pathbreaking A Future for Africa (University of Scranton Press, 2005) to his recent The Sacrifice of Africa (Eerdmans, 2011), the goal of Katongole’s theological work has been to seek an alternative to the violent politics that characterize the contemporary African nation-state. His arguments have centered around the difference the Christian faith can make in bringing about this alternative. In A Future for Africa, he argued that Christian social ethics in Africa is often focused on making recommendations about how Christians may transform the nation-state without realizing that nation-states in Africa are operating under a different narrative than that of the Christian faith. To bring about fruitful changes in Africa, he opined, Christian social ethics must be rooted in a Christian vision of peace rather than the violent narrative that grounds the nation-state in Africa. He intensified this argument in The Sacrifice of Africa when he insisted that the colonial background of the nation-state in Africa constructed nation-states to operate only through violence. Thus, the wars, corruption, tribalism, and all other forms of what we see as “dysfunctions” in the operation of African nation-states are simply following the violent script and narrative colonialism laid down for Africa. He however went further to provide vignettes of how Christian social ethics may provide an alternative to this violent script by telling the stories of some African Christians who are working for change. These vignettes include the work of Bishop Paride Taban, who challenges “tribal” politics in Sudan (now South Sudan) through the foundation of a peace village in which people from different tribal backgrounds find a place, and that of Maggy Barankitse in Burundi, who created Maison Shalom to fight tribal politics and encourage forgiveness in the wake of the genocides in Rwanda and Burundi. These are concrete Christian examples of how the toxic politics of violence in the nation-state may be counteracted and a promising future for Africa envisioned.

Born from Lament may be seen as an updated version of The Sacrifice of Africa because in it Katongole continues to give further vignettes of Christian actions that interrupt the violent politics of the nation-state, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Uganda. An updated version of the story of Maggy Barankitse appears here (228-42). However, Katongole grounds these narratives in the theological frameworks of lament and hope and the theoretical base of portraiture. According to Katongole, the Christians he profiles have been led to develop an alternative vision of life through the experience of lament, a biblical and theological category that describes the life of a people in the depths of pain and sorrow, out of which hope is born. Engaging biblical texts that emphasize lament, such as Lamentations, the Psalms of Lament, Jeremiah, some New Testament texts, and indigenous expressions of lament, Katongole argues that lament makes possible new epistemological and theological visions. He repeatedly quotes from one of those he profiles, Bishop Christopher Munzihirwa: “There are things that can be seen only with the eyes that have cried” (164). The eyes that have cried see God and creation differently from the eyes that have not. The God of lament is the God of the cross, the God whose power is made manifest in weakness, who suffers alongside those who are in the “valley of the shadow of death,” as the Psalmist puts it (Ps. 23:4, KJV). This leads Katongole to a christology that focuses on the cross and an ecclesiology that sees martyrdom as the locus for the interpretation of the resurrection. Katongole therefore faults African Christian theology for not taking lament seriously, thus leading to the “loss of lament” and a diminished possibility of developing a Christian political theology in which hope issues from lament (179-86). He uses the method of portraiture to capture the blend of his ethnography of lament in East Africa and the narrative theology that describes lament as the foundation of Christian hope (33-38). Katongole links the hope that is born of lament to the work of peacebuilding, which he sees as an activity that takes place not only when crisis is over but rather during crisis. All those he profiles develop new, peaceful visions of life during profound pain.

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. Lament is also central to Coptic theology, which is suffering bloody persecution today. Even neo-Pentecostal and Charismatic theology, which is often linked to a health and wealth gospel, is also rooted in lament. The prayer vigils held in many churches throughout the continent can only be understood within this context. However, the God many have come to embrace in this context is not only a suffering or crucified God but a God who has the power to bring about transformation in individual and societal life. This God is not only the God of African indigenous religions, as Katongole suggests (120-21), but also the God of the Bible who is known to have done deeds of power, including raising his Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead. This notwithstanding, Born from Lament provides significant ethnographic, biblical, and theological material that may enhance peacebuilding around the world.

About the Reviewer(s):
David Tonghou Ngong is Associate Professor of Religion and Theology at Stillman College, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Ngong is originally from Cameroon.

Date of Review:
January 15, 2018

This review was taken from the American Academy of Religion Website:


  • Educational Trip To Uganda: The Common Good Initiative


    Over fall break I had the opportunity to lead students on a trip through Uganda as part of the Common Good Initiative. The Common Good Initiative brings graduate students together from a wide range of disciplines to reflect on the intersection between their academic studies and social justice. Our trip to Uganda was titled, “Women, The Church, and the Ecology of the Common Good.”

    Students spent time in Entebbe, Jinja, Kampala, Namugongo, Luweero, and Masaka and had the opportunity to meet with female leaders, visit the shrines of Ugandan martyrs, and spend time at the Bethany Land Institute. Through participating in this journey through Uganda, centred on the themes of women, the church, and ecology, I had the opportunity to engage deeply with students about what it means to live out the common good in our world.

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    Book Launch: Born from Lament & The Journey of Reconciliation


    On October 3rd, Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute and the department of theology co-sponsored a book launch in celebration of my two most recent books Born from Lament: The Theology and Politics of Hope in Africa and The Journey of Reconciliation: Groaning for a New Creation in Africa.

    The day began with a workshop on Born From Lament which I co-facilitated with William Cavanaugh from De Paul University. Seventeen graduate students attended the workshop and together we explored central themes from the book including the narrative dimension of the work, insights illuminated by lament, and the kind of action that the faith activists described in the book call us to.

    In the evening we gathered for the official launch. Scott Appleby, the director of the Keough School of Global Affairs, Tim Matovina, the theology department chair, and William Cavanaugh, director of the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology at De Paul University, each presented their personal reflections on the books. I concluded the conversation by sharing my personal journey from Malube, Uganda to my work and research at Notre Dame University.

    After the launch guests were invited to stay and enjoy appetizers and conversation.

    For more details visit:

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    February – May 2017: A Spring full of Gifts

    This continues to be a spring filled with events and gifts to celebrate on many fronts, among others:

    February 2017:
    Being named as Henry Luce III Fellow in Theology. The fellowship will allow me to take a year off from teaching (Jan – Dec 2018) to focus on my research on “Who are My People?”, which will allow me to do research on various exemplars of social love in response to ethnic, religious and ecological forms of violence in Africa.

    A number of significant lectures including:
    February 9, 2017:
    The 2017 Payne Lecture and keynote address for Black History Month at Seminary of the Southwest in Austin (Feb 9), and an opportunity to visit with my seminary friend Fr. Isidore Ndagizimana, now pastor of the vibrant parish of St. Thomas More Catholic Church:

    February 20-22, 2017:
    The 2017 Henry Martyn Lectures in World Christianity at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, with the opening night attended by among others, the Uganda High Commission to the UK, Dr. Joyce Kikafunda; In the three evening lecture series, I outlined my next research project, “Who are My People”.

    Henry Martyn LectureFEB_9318JAN_5134

    March 5-12, 2017:
    A Keynote address on “Theology Research Matters” at the Christianity and Social Change in Contemporary Africa, a Templeton funded conference of Africa Scholars hosted by the Nagel Institute in the Study of Christianity Worldwide at Abidjan, Ivory Cost.

    March 30, 2017:
    St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame Indiana, speaking in the 2017 Distinguished Lecture series on “Called to Intervene: Violence, Spirituality and Solidarity.”

    April 8-11, 2017:
    Hosting Maggy Barankitse, and introducing her to the Notre Dame community. Here are some pictures and links of her visit at Notre Dame.
    The Courage of Giving Refuge Lecture

    MaggyFor more on the leadership of this extraordinary woman who “love has made [] an inventor” see:

    1. Opus Prize (7 mins)
    2. Maison Shalom
    3. Testimony before Pope Francis

    A Holy Thursday Gift, April 13, 2017:
    lamentWaiting for me at the front doorsteps, a box of ten copies of Born From Lament: The Theology and Politics of Hope in Africa! What an appropriate Easter gift for in Born from Lament I make the argument that the character of Christian hope is the surprising experience of resurrection in the midst of death, new life in context of suffering, joy and celebration in the midst of hardship!

    May 6, 2017:
    A beautiful baptism ceremony at Sacred Heart Church La Plata Maryland, of Godfrey Jude Ddungu Jr, followed by a reception at the Ddungus.

    Baptism 2Baptism 1