A New Center, a Unique Vision

As we look forward to the launching of center in October 2005, we are very excited by among other things:

  • its unique vision: grounded in Biblical story of God’s reconciliation; and yet attentive to the many forms of brokenness in the world; committed to the naming of signs of hope, and ever calling on the church to be a sign and agent of reconciliation.
  • its diverse programs: bringing together practioners and theologians; activists and scholars; involving areas of teaching, research, formation of leadership and ongoing partnerships and collaborations with other leaders in the US; in Africa; and in the world.
  • its exciting possibilities: seeking to be a catalyst for reconciliation; a space for learning, for Sabbath, for ongoing transformation; an intersection.

Africa Matters

I am particularly excited that we are naming Africa, the Great Lakes Region of East Africa in particular, as an area of special focus for the center, which will lead to more Duke involvement in the region through specific programs of Field Education; Pilgrimage Pain and Hope, leadership training etc. There is a saying: “You can take a man out of the village, but cannot take the village out of a man.” This is particularly (and thankfully)true in my case. You cannot take Malube, Africa out of me. She has so much wrapped herself around me that she would never let go. Not only will Africa be my home, my sweet, sweet, painful home; there is a sense in which all journeys finally lead me back to Africa, if not physically at least intellectually and emotionally. In my teaching and research, I seek to understand Africa; explore her gifts and challenges; and seek ways of making a difference to the world of my mother, and of others like her, in Africa, millions without a voice. That is why I will always speak with an accent – a heavy African accent – about matters Africa.

In this way, I bring Africa, wart and all, her ancestors, her joys and painful memory, her suffering, struggles, her hopes, frustrations, her gifts and needs to Duke, to North Carolina to America. And at the same time I invite my audiences to listen to and to ‘come and see’ Africa- fully aware that those who accept the invitation will be richly transformed.

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Durham: October 2004

P4090103On returning to Duke, I was eager to get back to my regular work in theology and world Christianity (and Chris Rice, who had now finished his degree program at Duke was thinking of going to Africa, possibly to work with the Mennonite Central Committee). Then Dean Gregory Jones surprised both us with an invitation to shape the vision and provide leadership to a center for reconciliation. There was a sense of interruption; a sense of anxiety, and yet a feeling of being drawn into something of God’s doing, something new and exciting, a story bigger than our individual stories, and bigger than Duke. In this time of uncertainty and discernment, we began to feel a sense of call (encouraged by the words of a dear friend of Chris who even in the midst of uncertainty would say, “God is doing something new. I do not know what it is, but I am so glad to be part of it.” I was equally encouraged by Greg’s leadership, as by the bond of friendship and shared convictions between Chris and myself – and grateful that a Protestant and a Catholic; an activist and a theologian; black and white; an American and an African; a student and a former professor will be working together, learning from each other and jointly shaping the vision and providing the leadership for the center.

The Catholic in Me

There is also of course the catholic in me – the priest who has always found himself in different congregations – thus learning to be at ‘home’ in the church across the globe. I have therefore come to take the ‘catholicity’ of the church very seriously- and to see see the church as a space of intersections (reconciliation) where Catholic and Protestant, black and white; North and South; the West and East meet to hear and learn again the exciting story of God, and to be thereby formed into God’s new creation- into a new community, a holy assembly (ecclesia) in which there is no more Greek or Jew, male or female, young or old, Protestant and Catholic…
I must be careful not to give an impression that I have everything figured out. I do not. In fact, all I wanted to share with you was the news that there is something new that God is doing. I do not know exactly what it is. But I am sure so glad to be part of it.


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