Thursday, July 31, 2008

Common Currency

I have handled a lot of various currency this summer; the Ugandan schilling, Rwandan francs, some South African Rand, Burundian francs and, awhile ago, the US dollar.  The exchange rate fluctuates with each day, each country, the movement of each market.  Some days our own currency is strong where we are, and we seem to get more than we invest.  Other days we know that we are getting the weaker end of the exchange, losing with the current climate of the markets.  But we must engage in the exchange if we intend to stay somewhere for very long, to have the ability to get what we need (or want) while visiting this new place.  So we exchange our currency when we arrive to a new country and hope for the best.

When we gathered together for the South African Institute on the first winter evening, we each came with currency in our pockets.  Not rand or dollars, but the currency of our own unique story.  We each hold this currency very close to our heart, and we are careful how we exchange it and with whom.  Our story, and as a result how we see the world, is of utmost value and something we are not eager to squander.  There is a fair bit of discernment that happens internally before we share the most true and treasured parts of our story.  No one wants to show their local currency and then get a bad exchange rate, and therefore have their own currency devalued.  So when we first arrived to this new place and encountered this new place, we have to determine how to engage in the dance of the exchange rate.

We all were gathered by our mutual friend, Marius Brand.  There is some safety in knowing him as a fixed point in our fluctuating market.  We also could guess that everyone convened cared about the future of the new South Africa and believed that Jesus has something to say on that type of transformation.  But we were an extremely diverse group, as I looked around the circle.  English and Afrikaans, Colored, Xhosa, Zulu, Xhoi Xhoi and a couple of Americans.  
What are the chances that the exchange rate among us would be good, that there would be ample stability for good interactions?  Would some trade high and others walk away with less? 
This is the risk of true conversation, when we all have our currency in our pocket and make those decisions about how volatile we perceive the market to be.  

So we began... Marius offering a word of welcome and I offering a word of context.  Next was a good conversation about... conversation.  How do we encounter others, how do we determine who we are with and what we assume about them?  What happens within us, each one of us, that allow us to share or withhold, to trust others or remain slightly suspicious.  And then he laid down the gantlet, he challenged us each to verbalize our own biases, as we looked around the room.  He asked us, in reality, to confess the things that might hinder us in connecting with the others gathered around the circle.  You can only imagine the thick silence, as we all held our currency in our hands, buried in our pockets. Will I be brave enough to say what I fear, what I assume about you, what fear that you will assume about me?

An amazing thing happened... one man did.  He pulled out the currency in his hand and showed it to us.  He told us a deeply true nugget of his story, revealing who he understood himself to be in the South African context.  And he shared how hard it would be if we were unable to validate this part of himself.  And everyone listened intently.  And then another one shared.  Then another shared.  And then... all 25 of us had shared our biases, our fears, our stories.  And we discovered there was this common currency between us, a currency that had shared value where none was diminished.  None of us left that room getting the sorry end of the exchange rate, as a matter of fact I think we each traded high.  I think when we were each brave enough to share our personal currency, our story, with the others we left with an empty pocket and a full heart.  

This first night we arrived with our currency and made the necessary exchange.  And we found that with the stellar exchange rate that night, we had more than enough for the conversations to come in the days ahead.  We cut through superficiality and went to substance, and that held true for the entire time we shared together.  This common currency created a rich environment for us to be our most honest selves with one another.  We could be open about where we came from, how we see the world, why we misunderstand each other's world... and find ways to connect with one another based on this common currency.  I often marveled a the truth-telling and honesty I witnessed that first night in South Africa.  Imagine the friendships that grow from such a night?  

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Stark Contrast

The challenge is to try and put my South African impressions into words, because word are like containers that are just too small to capture or reflect the true experience of this massive and majestic place.  But some initial words that came to mind were stunning, beautiful, vivid with color, a land of stark contrast, textured culture and a layered history that adds to the utter complexity of South Africa and the road before her and her people.

South Africa is unlike the Africa I know, and by that I mean it does not bear much resemblance to East Africa at all.  It is as if a western country grew up on the tip of the African continent.  While in Cape Town I often felt like I could easily be in a coastal town in California with all the malls, highways, and all manner of modern conveniences.  The city boasts of a rich history with relics from the original Dutch traders who first settled there, the English who later would colonize the land (and her people), even a WW1 memorial can be found in the heart of the city - showing their one-time connection to the Crown.  There are grand buildings throughout the city:  Their State House (where you've seen Mandela greet many a foreign leader and celebrity, alike), The Parliament Building, The National Art Gallery and old Slave Lodge (now another art gallery).  So as I said, I often forgot that I was in Africa.  I have yet to see a city in Africa with this level of development, honestly.  

But this is not the entire story, of coarse.  Because I have yet to share about my travels into and around the townships.  This provoked an utterly different emotion, one that can best be described as heart-wrenching.  The townships are often just out of sight, easy to miss if your eyes are on the road and do not veer.  Many seem to be miles away, conveniently distant from the daily life of the city.  This was the doing of Apartheid, keeping the Coloreds and Blacks out of sight.  But even today, even in the new South Africa, you can steer clear of the townships and never truly see how your fellow countrymen live.  But to see them is to be confronted with a harsh reality - the living conditions of the Blacks have not changed since the dark days of Apartheid.  The townships are strings of shacks and shanties, each leaning on another made of corrugated steel remnants or wood or (if you are lucky) some cinderblock.  They are small living spaces (though not livable, by humane standards), crowded together, susceptible to flooding and fires.  When the winter rains come, it is usual for 30,000 people to be displaced - each rainy season of each year.  The security is so bad in the townships that residents padlock themselves in their shacks at night.  In all of East Africa I never have seen such depravity.

The end of Apartheid ushered in 'one man, one vote' for the emerging democracy of South Africa.  Now Blacks and Coloreds can move about their own country without passbooks or obeying the rigid dictates of curfew every night.  So there is greater freedom for all, true.  But when you witness the living conditions of the townships you see that little has changed in their day to day life, and that can give rise to great frustration as the injustices of Apartheid continue to plague them.  South Africa is not done dealing with the past, not done bringing justice to all those on the edges of society, not done with the hard work of divesting privilege and wealth in order to create a more viable community for all South Africans.  This country has had one miracle (as they refer to 1994's violence-free election), but is in need of many more miraculous moments to bring true wholeness to all.  But this is work that God cares about - restoration, reconciliation, the building of viable communities for the well-being of all.  So we can have hope that God is working on the ground in South Africa.  I had the deep honor of meeting many such leaders who are part of that hope-filled work (more on them later!).  But we all have reason to continue to pray for the future of those in South Africa.

Stark contrast is the phrase that most describes my impression of South Africa.  You have breath-taking beauty and heart-wrenching poverty.  You have generations of wealth alongside generations of injustice.  There are modern cities a short drive from sub-standard housing areas.  I was staying in Stellenbosch, the wine country of South Africa, in a charming guest room of dear friends where I was warm and well-fed.  But on the drive to the airport we passed the Cape Flats, where the morning's rain was a harbinger of another displacement to come.  I found myself vacillating between awe and angst during my visit, the dissonance of this place hitting me full force and often.  This is a lot for a heart to hold, the tensions of this majestic and marred land.  But I will return here many more times, as South Africa and my friends here have made an indelible mark on my heart.  

Monday, July 28, 2008

Some promised

You cannot read this without laughing... it only makes sense in South Africa!
It is a sad commentary that this needs to be said, but in this context I am glad that these coffee shop owners made it clear...  xenophobia is not part of the new South Africa.
This seems to be true all over Africa, from Uganda to Rwanda and all the way to South Africa... Obama is taking the continent (at least) by storm!  I also noticed Obama shirts, buttons and stickers all over, worn by African and expat alike!  There seems to be an excitement growing. 

Sights & Signs in South Africa

I cannot do South Africa justice in a blog post or even a series of posts.  The country is just too stunning, to amazing, to rich to reduce to words.  But you know I will try to convey some of what I saw, felt and learned while in the New South Africa this past week.  A few photos to start... because after 2 full days in transit I really need some sleep!
This is me in South Africa.  Yes, those are PENGUINS behind me.  Did you know there are African penguins?  It was one of many delightful surprises in my week long visit.
Cape Point... the southern most tip of the African continent.  It is too vast and majestic to capture in a photo, but this is my best attempt.  It was absolutely stunning...
Robben Island, and Nelson Mandela's home for 20+ years.  This is the limestone quarry where he worked.  The monument of stones commemorates those who served here, serving time but investing in the future of their country.  One Mandela's 5th anniversary of freedom he hosted a reunion at this very place, and each former prisoner contributed a stone to mark the occasion.  
Stellenbosch is the wine country of South Africa.  This was also the home of our friends, Tielman and Elma, who hosted us in their guest house.  This is the view from our doorstep.
On the streets of Cape Town, you can find color everywhere.  Since I could not pack all the fabrics, jewelry, drums and such I wanted.... photos became a way to capture the color and creative I witnessed around almost every corner.  This is just a sample.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friendly Photos

You might recall that we are not traveling or living alone in Burundi this summer.  I want to share just a few snapshots of the friends who are with us for this summer's African Adventure. My time would certainly be less without their humor, intelligence, compassion and over-all good natured approach to everyday life as expats!  We are living and learning together - a deep and sweet pleasure, indeed.
By best friend, on any continent and in any season.
Becca (visiting for the week), Grace (here for the summer) & Christy (here for 9 months).
Ron & Sarah - working, laughing and loving their way through their Burundian summer.
Grace and Sarah - don't let the smiles fool you, they are ruthless scrabble competitors!
Ron is sharing with our Batwa friends - in Kirundi! 
 Claude seems to get a kick out of his accent, I'm guessing!

There is something sweet and formative about taking your friendships on the road.  There is no hiding your flaws, your down swings, your utter silliness and odd senses of humor.  But then there are all the delightful surprises of life together - helping with projects, offering the right word at the right time, being able to find a listening ear the moment you need one, learning new things together that will change you forever.  I believe we are only going deeper together, deeper as friends of one another and deeper in our friendship with Jesus thanks to our shared summer.  I am so thankful for these dear friends!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A New Economy

There is no Biblical scholar who has taught me more, pushed me harder, stretched my imagination further or drove me deeper into Truth than Walter Brueggeman.  A student and scholar of the Old Testament, he is relentlessly committed to the truths on display at every turn of the page and at every corner.  He does not back down.  He is like the prophets he exegetes, in many ways.  You may not like the truth, but it will not move to suit you because it is not up for your negotiation.  So there are hard, beautiful, awe-inspiring truths to learn, and none better to learn from than him.  

Today I downloaded a recent sermon that he preached at Mars Hill Church in Michigan (available on itunes).  I was, yet again, taught and pushed and stretched and reduced to tears.  Truth tends to provoke tears in me, and so this is no surprise that I would react this way!  

Brueggeman spoke of the failed economy and God's vision for a new economy.  Was he referring to Fannie May and Freddie Mac or Jerusalem?  Yes.  He was sharing that these economies are broken and in need of fresh imagination to reshape them.  And he recites Isaiah... who seems to think that God cares about economics in the city.  Yes, God cares about worship.  But do we recall that He also cares about justice in the city, inclusive neighborliness on our streets and generous economics in the urban areas?  If we worship a god who does not care about economics - then our god is too small, and we may find he is not the great God of the Bible.  As I said, you will be pushed and stretched.

It brings me back to the Batwa.  Justice, neighborliness and economics for the Batwa communities of Burundi, this matters to God.  Advocating for their education, negotiating better land for their future, creating a space for their voice to be heard by those in power - these are activities that I believe God blesses, endorses and even rejoices over.  Learning to be loving neighbors to the Batwa is part of following Jesus in Burundi, at least for me.  

All this to say that an Old Testament scholar has deeply encouraged me and wrung more tear out of me, again.  Economics matter to the Batwa, to Isaiah and... to God.  Therefore, economics matter to me.  Once we are stretched in such ways we really cannot go back to our former shape...  Sigh.

Monday, July 14, 2008

New place, same hardship

Sunday we ventured to visit our Batwa friends again.  They have moved, just a few days ago, to the next pot of land the government has designated for them.  This is not a gift, it is temporal.
For a month they have been clearing a land and preparing to build new shelters.  They finally made the move. The land is dry.  They are far from water, far from the elementary school and far from the road to work.  It is quite a miserable situation.
We traveled there with Liberate and Sibitwa.  You might recall that Liberate is a minister in the government and Sibitwa is the oldest (therefore the most respected) Twa in Burundi.  Both are members of our committee for the community development project.  They barely made their way up the hillside before they got the news...  The Batwa have already been told to move again.  They just are moving in, still building some places to sleep.  Yet they have already been told to dismantle their structure and move over the hill, to the backside where others won't be able to see them.  There is another poor piece of land for them to clear... and no promise of any longevity.  The Batwa have no recourse.  They lament.  But when we all arrive, they move from the deep sighs of hardship and break into the dance of hospitality.  Even amid their pain, they stop to welcome us, to clap, sing, and dance.  
Here our friend, Terry, gets close with one of the youngest Twa friends.  The mamas seem so tickled by his interest and tenderness.  After feeling so much disregard and disrespect by their government and countrymen - this simple kindness must feel revolutionary.  Someone came to visit us, to see us... and he sat with us and laughed with our children and connected with us as people, as friends.  Sometimes the very simple things restore dignity.

Pray for our Batwa friends as they remain in a very hard place.  Pray that soon there will be land, longevity, home.  We are working with the committee, with local leadership....  but we will need God's presence with us to see a better future come to these friends.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Soul Food

Terry arrived yesterday, along with his colleague, Becka, from New Jersey.  And along with his Sabbath-presence, he brought me some soul food for my remaining weeks here!  I am deeply grateful for the contemplative texts... a much needed corrective for my overly analytical, too-often judgmental and linear thinking.  If I am to hold Burundi in my heart, I certainly need to allow God to create a deeper and larger space in me for His work to have ample room.  So I have to say a huge THANK YOU to Terry for packing some extra baggage on my account!  (As a fellow lover of the Almond M&M's, he really sweetened the deal by bringing a few bags along with the books!)

Blessings abound in Burundi!  We begin the second Amahoro Institute here in Bujumbura tomorrow evening.  Terry will be one of the instructors for this conversation, and Becka will be filming some stories from Burundi to share back home.  As for today... we travel together to Bubanza to visit our Batwa friends.  Our entire household will be along for the ride.  So more joy as we connect friends with other friends... not a bad way to spend a Sunday!

Oh - and today is Justin & Emma's 3rd Adoption Day!!!  It was three years ago today that I landed in Bujumbura and our family was finally together.  So we will celebrate God's goodness to us as a family.  Adoption is a deep blessing.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Batwa Students, in their own words

These are the stories of two Batwa secondary students we recently filmed.   As you can see, it can take many years for students to matriculate, and so while they look older they really are in high school.  We filmed several students, but these two stories captivated me.  We take going to school for granted - free education, ample food to sustain us, parents to encourage us.  But these students have little of what we would consider basic necessities when they consider school.  We are hoping to help 40 secondary students this September...  We are trying to assist them in raising funds for school fees, uniforms, books, etc.  But we are also hoping to rent some homes where they can live together and have the support of some adults, from one another, as well as access to electricity so they can study and food to fill their stomachs.  

So let me introduce Jean Baptiste and Diana.  Claude translated their stories for me, and I pass that on to you.

John Baptiste

What is surprising is that the Batwa students are always among the first in school, top of their class.  They work hard to overcome their difficulties.  So the question is why don't we stay in school?  The answer:  we come from very poor families.  It is hard to get enough money for school fees, books and food.  Then you come home after school, there is no food to eat.  And even when you get books, keeping them dry becomes a problem in this situation.  We grew up seeing our parents make pots and sell them for a living but today you just can't sell pots in a world where China has invaded us with cheap plastic pots.  We have no market for our pots and therefore no future for our parents, no future for us.

So the idea of having  home for the Batwa students where we could live and be supported is like a dream to me.  In September the school year will begin, but we don't see were the school books will come from, or the uniforms to wear to school or the money for the school fees... When I talk with fellow Batwa students, my friends, I hear them say "The way things look at home right now, I don't think I will be in school this coming year."

So my request to you, friends, is that you help us if you can.  We need books, school fees, uniforms and, if possible, housing for the students.  I really think a home for us would be vital because not only will we be together to support each other but we would have you who love us. We will have food - because it is hard to go to school if you haven't eaten for 3 days.


What I share is the challenge that Batwa women students face.  Because of the extreme poverty, we are pressured to get married and start a family instead of going to school.  Going to a husband becomes the solution that our parents have for us as women.  So as much as you want to go to school, as much as you realize that education is your way out, the pressure from home and neighbors is so strong that more and more women decide to give up.  We try to teach others and encourage them to stay in school but when you hear some of their stories, it is hard to know what else to do.  We need your help.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Emma & Justin are checking in...

It has been awhile since you've seen these smiles!  But Justin and Emma are well.  They are in a new school, now beginning to learn french.  They are on their way to becoming multi-lingual like Claude.  They are still enjoying having all sorts of friends and family around.  Justin is enjoying getting to know his Uncle Cadeau (Claude's youngest brother) and Emma remains loyal to Senge Leonie (Claude's aunt).  It is so fun to see them make this family connections.  It is equally wonderful to see them steeped in their culture, to begin to take in what it is to be born Burundian.  Emma is learning to dance a traditional dance.  Justin is working on his kirundi.  They are engaging their culture and appear to be savoring every minute!  Other than a few scrapes here and there, they have remained completely healthy.  As a matter of fact, Justin is actually putting on weight!  So Justin and Emma are thriving in Burundi.  


In America we are familiar, we think, with the plight of the homeless.  In Burundi, the most extreme form of dislocation is to be landless.  When you are without land you are, by most local estimations, without hope.  No land means that there is none in your family that will pass down to you or that you can share in.  When you are in this unfortunate disposition, you have no place to build a home, no plot of soil to plant-grow-harvest food, no parcel to designate for a cash crop to support your family, no inheritance for your children.  You are at the mercy of society, at the mercy of strangers and at the mercy of the seasons (be it rain, scorching heat, or other natural conditions).

Here, to be landless is to be dispossessed.  What future can be imagined apart from land, from a place to be rooted?  You take the land you can get your hands on - as a tenant farmer with little reward and not enough food for your family.  Or maybe you wander the streets of the city looking for some work, maybe you serve in someone else's home to provide enough money to feed your children.  If you are like the Batwa people, maybe the government gives you some sterile piece of land to inhabit - temporarily.

Our Batwa friends in Bubanza live on such a piece of land.  It is dry as a bone, far from any water source, hanging on the side of a road.  They are but temporary residents here, so all structures are provisional, at best.  No infrastructure can be invested in land that is not yours to develop.  How can you be settled?  How can you plan for a future from this place?  (This is a rhetorical question, because to walk this village you know that a future is no where in sight.)

Israel was deeply connected to the land.  (If you are in doubt, read Walter Brueggeman's eloquent and insightful book The Land.)  They were people connected to a place, it was a definitive feature of their self-understanding.  The period of wandering in the desert was an arid season for the Hebrews in large part because they were landless.  They were wandering, disconnected, without a place, nomads getting nowhere fast.  Their hope was in God's word, His promise of... land.  So while they were often disoriented and in despair, they could cling to the hoped-for Promised Land.  From the desert there were moments of clarity... vistas that opened their eyes to the land that would be theirs someday.  They did have a future, if only they could reach the Promised Land.

As I consider the importance of land to a Burundian, it is so similar to Israel's own need to be grounded, to have a physical place to cultivate a future.  Our Batwa friends are disoriented and dislocated right now, a landless people in their own country.  They stand to inherit none, they cannot afford to purchase any.  And as Burundi's population now is close to 9 million, there is little available land for anyone.  So many parcels of land are disputed, several families claiming them and fighting for them.  So what hope is there that acreage will be found for the Batwa to settle.  Do they have a Promised Land in their future?  Can they dream, and hope and cling to a promise as Israel did their 40 years wandering in the desert?

I believe that there is a Promised Land for the Batwa.  I believe that God is bringing a blessed land into their possession in the coming season.  I believe that the season of dislocation will soon come to an end, and they will inherit land.  This will come as a gift from the government, but not without the fervent advocacy of friends and prayers of many.  And it won't come without some contending with the powers that be, as no one is eager to give up land for 'the least of these.'  But something is coming for the Batwa... and many of you are part of that promised future.  We are praying for, believing for, waiting for the Promised Land!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Content of our Conversation

The content of our conversation was mainly theological for this first Amahoro Institute. Our friends and instructors broke the Story of God into three chapters for our consideration.  These are the basic concepts we explored together...

We spent time remembering that our story begins with Creation, with God's good intent for His entire creation, and us a part of it.  This means we are all created in the likeness of God, with a spark of His goodness within each of us.  So when we think of others, we would do well to remember and recognize the image of God in them.  This means we do not talk about us and them - but understand we are all created in God's image and are all in need of His restoration and healing of the cracked places in our life.  Understanding creation also means that all the earth matters to God, not merely our souls.  So God is deeply invested in the health of the earth, in the way we care for the world and relate to His creation.  So how we treat our world, our city, our neighbor all matter in God's economy.  

God reached out to us in a most real, graphic way... He became one of us.  Jesus voluntarily gave up His divinity and all that was associated with being God to walk in our neighborhood.  
This says something quite stunning about God - about the depth of His love and commitment to us and His willingness to reach out to us.  It also says something amazing about the world - that God was willing to live in the very ecosystem He created.  He was willing to live life on our terms in a world that He created as good.  So every street He walked redeems the streets we walk, every meal He ate with friends redeems our shared meals... and what we feel He also felt during his tenure here on earth.  He gets what it is, what it feels like, to be human in this place. 
But the Incarnation (when God became human or took on a physical body) is also a model for how we encounter others.  We must follow Jesus not only in the direction He is going, but in the manner that He travels.  So these are the hallmarks of His incarnational example: presence, proximity, powerlessness and proclamation.  Moses made a great observation... if he modeled all these things in his community he would not be successful or effective in any way.  Jesus must have had something more...  So together we recognized that Jesus also has pneuma, or the Spirit of God, filling Him and leading Him.  And, so do we!  

So God is not eager to abandon His creation - He created it as good and He even came and walked earth Himself. He is invested here!  But we can all see that there are many broken people (we among them), broken communities, broken systems and institutions that are in need of repair.  There are parts of our ecosystem hemorrhaging and in need of restoration to God's creation goodness.  So we are now invited to be part of God's re-creation enterprise here on earth.  So this means it is more than souls we care about.  It is all of God's creation - people certainly, but also cities and ecosystems and corporate entities.  All are in need of restoration to God's original design or re-creation.  We are part of this - we help usher in re-creation or new creation with our own lives.  We become new creations and we engage in this work of re-creation!  

So this was my humble summary of the content for this conversation... but to miss out on the lively exchange among our Ugandan friends is to miss out on the most engaging part!  They offered great insight, sharp questions and good challenges to this understanding of God's Story.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Amahoro Institute: Uganda in a few pictures

A room of 30 Ugandan (and Kenyan) leaders convene together to learn and converse.
Hope is sharing in her small group... a safe place for the more soft-spoken of the group!
Robust discussion, pointed questions, hearty laughter... among good friends.
Stephen and Jerome, great thinkers and willing contributors to every discussion!

Filming in Bubanza

We spend Sunday filming in Bubanza.  We loaded a bus, along with 20 Batwa secondary students, for a 40 minute ride to this Batwa village in Bubanza.  The students were so excited, as if going on a field trip.  They were singing, giggling and laughing the entire way... so filled with expectation.  These students are quite unique, as few Batwa make it to secondary school.  I was aware that I was amid an esteemed group, that I was on the bus with these students bursting with potential.  

As they sang, I was overcome with emotion and could not hide my tears.  I felt like there was this very holy thing happening as we drove together - that we were beginning a journey together that was more than just a Sunday drive.  We were beginning a partnership with these friends, saying we wanted to see them succeed, that we were committed to them and their families and their people.  Most people do not see a bus full of Batwa and think of potential... but I felt like I was feeling what God was doing in them, what He wants to do in them and through them.  In a way, I felt like I was seeing what most miss, I was seeing what is invisible to many outside the bus.  

Claude often says, "Something is wanting to happen in Africa."  I felt that... something is wanting to happen with the Batwa people, with this one village, with this busload of Batwa students.  So I share with my friends and hope that you will hope with me, pray with me, believe with me that God is doing something for the Batwa.  Maybe you are even part of it!

We arrived to the village and were met with loud and joyful singing.  These friends were so glad to have visitors, as most people forget the Batwa and never come to call. So they danced and sang and welcomed us with such excitement.  With us were the 2 Batwa parliament members, and they introduced these students to this very poor village.  It was like a Batwa family reunion with all these friends gathered!  But the secondary students shared their stories, to encourage the primary students in this poor village.  And the government leaders encouraged the parents to help their students to succeed, to see that they can progress to secondary levels, and to show that there are others (us, you) who believe in them and will help them.  It was wonderful to see the Batwa community coming together to encourage one another, to be strategic about the need to invest in education for their collective future, and sharing in some good news together.

We filmed parts of this for a video we will be sending to our friends, Community of Faith, in Texas.  They share our love for the Batwa and want to share the stories of these amazing students in an effort to raise school fees for them to continue in their studies this September. 
We are so blessed to have others who want to encourage the Batwa, to join in this new thing God is doing for them and their children.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Uganda Unscripted

The first Amahoro Institute took place in Kampala, Uganda this past week.  I flew in on Sunday afternoon and was met by Muhindo and Kennedy at the Entebbe Intl Airport.  While we drove toward Kampala I could see familiar landscape, architecture, local crafts and service providers.  I was still in East Africa.  But there was a noticeable difference - most every sign was in English!  I was so gad to be able to interact with Ugandan friends and culture in a more direct, unmediated way - no translation needed!  For a communicator, this is no small matter.  It was pure joy!

We experienced some challenges right from the start, as our team from Arizona had flight delays.  Well, not all of them.  Scott arrived to Entebbe when I did - but we did not know it!  So he waited patiently at the airport (7 hours) till we came looking for him.  When we found him he was in good spirits, eager for communication (an extrovert, no doubt!).  The other three team members were stuck in transit.  So we had to rework the schedule to suit the people who were already present, and work around the delays.  But wait - there's more!  We then discovered that only two would arrive on Tuesday afternoon, one was still lingering in Brussels yet another night.  So late Tuesday evening we got news (via Burundi) that our final friend was about to land in Uganda.  So Kennedy rushed through the maze of traffic for a 4th time to get Jimmy! 

By now, the first Amahoro Institute had begun.  As I mentioned, we reworked the schedule so that Scott, who was with us, would share first.  The original plan had Jimmy sharing first and Scott sharing last.  Obviously, we began with biblical echoes, the last teaching first!  

My initial reaction to such unexpected changes in the schedule is to seize up and react, honestly.  I don't like to alter the speaking order, to juggle the parts, to shoot from the hip.  But after initial fears about disorganization and up-side down speaking order... I just had to sit back and let it be.  Taking the counsel of Richard Rohr, I decided to say yes to what was happening before I rushed to say no... to let the situation presented serve its purpose and learn from it. 
So with a different spirit, I took a few deep breaths and tried to see what God was shaping.

None of this came as a surprise to God, of coarse!  A great group of 36 Ugandan (and Kenyan) leaders were gathered for four days of conversation and connection.  Muhindo worked to secure all logistical details, Kennedy worked to fill the room with the best young leaders in town, Moses came ready to lead worship and Scott was eager to begin the interactive seminar. 
And so we began...

While we entered the event with content and a script, I think we all learned to hold such things lightly.  We came willing to be flexible, able to discern what God was doing among us and even found boldness that surprised us.  Well, I should just speak for myself!  I may not have come ready, but I left knowing I was ready to respond to what God was doing once I let go.  I think we so often strive for the perfect - but that is not the goal that God sets for us.  Our energy is to be in maturing, progressing in faith, excelling in love.  These things we did.  So while it was not perfect, our time together was exactly what it was meant to be!  We enjoyed deep theological reflection, robust relational connections, much singing, dancing, laughing and good food together.  The Amahoro family has grown... in many ways!

(I will share more about the content of our conversation soon...)

Love from home

It was like Christmas in July... a care package from home!  Our friends who traveled from Phoenix came bearing gifts from the States.  I received necessities and treats alike from Valerie in AZ and Ali in WA, and I felt showered by their love for me.  There was a book, and a battery-operated book light, shirts for Justin, more coloring paper for Emma, tea, lotion, scented soaps, oatmeal, sweets and other loving touches.  I loved the photo that Ali stashed in the package - to see her and Tilly smiling at me all the way in Africa.  I cherish the words of encouragement that Valerie sent - the the inclusion of Claude's favorite candy bars.  Thanks for sending your love, it was almost like getting a big hug from you!