MWCA 4 MWCA

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It isn’t often in our lives that our passions collide. This fall my passion for preaching collided with my passion for the work I do in West Africa.

The story begins when I was asked, the first time I visited Liberia, by the bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia (LCL), to bring Black American preachers to Liberia to teach pastors in Liberia their preaching style. This was amazing. He had no idea that I had received a doctorate of ministry in preaching. He had no idea that my thesis was about putting the best of Lutheran theology, with the best of the Black American preaching tradition to preach God’s love and grace.

It took me almost four years from the time of the request to facilitate this workshop in Liberia. With much help from my colleagues in Global Mission and the aid of some leadership development courses that helped me imagine a project, put in on paper and pitch this project in order to receive funds to make it possible, the project happened. img_1427

In November 2016, the first ever MWCA 4 MWCA Preaching Workshop took place in Totota, Liberia. It was part of the LCL’s regular pastoral training program. There were eighty two pastors present. This included pastors from two additional churches invited by the LCL; they were the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone and the Lutheran Church in Guinea. There was also a pastor present from Ghana. Of the 82 pastors, seven were women.

The workshop consisted of 15042205_10211353825990791_629561353844302200_ounderstanding who we are as Lutherans, claiming law and gospel as our starting place for preaching, talking about the freedom of being who we are as we preach, and celebration as we “repeat what is worth repeating.” The workshop was led by myself, Rev. Themba Mkahabela, regional representative for GM/MWCA, Rev. Yehiel Curry pastor of Shekihan Chapel in Chicago and Rev. Lamont Wells, African Descent Lutheran Association (ADLA) president.

Each day began with one of the facilitators modeling preaching law and gospel, and celebration. There were plenary sessions that centered us with worship, music and prayer; along with small group sessions that helped the participants explore scripture for the upcoming church season. There were six small groups.

The last day of the workshop was amazing; twelve pastors preached, two from each of the small groups. What was absolutely incredible is that of these twelve preaching opportunities four were taken by women.img_1410 The preachers were asked to keep their sermons to twelve minutes and they did! The sermon that absolutely blew me away was a sermon preached by a young pastor from the Lutheran Church in Guinea. He is French speaking; so, he read the scripture text in French and began to preach in English. In the middle of his sermon he broke out into song. This style of singing in a sermon was modeled by Pastor Lamont. This young Guinean Lutheran pastor preached law and gospel, celebrated and incorporated what he had seen modeled by one of the facilitators. This helped me call this workshop a success.

While this was the first workshop and it was focused on preaching the MWCA team and project guiding coalition are planning others. We are hoping to offer workshops that lift up women and girls, teach stewardship and Lutheran Identity. Pray for us in our work.

Readers, I am still westafricabound.

 

 

Still Praying for Peace

“Almighty and ever-living God, you revealed the incarnation of your Son by the brilliant shining of a star. Shine the light of your justice always in our hearts and over all lands, and accept our lives as the treasure we offer in your praise and for your service, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.” (ELW, prayer for Epiphany)

It was over a year ago when I offered a prayer and wrote about the silence as it concerns the security situation in the Central African Republic. I can say that there has been some light shone on the trouble and the world is now paying a little attention to this, one of the poorest countries on the continent. World leaders are able to see that the situation of violence in the C.A.R. is an ongoing crisis. Since last year there have been moments of peace and stability, but only moments. In August, violence broke out;  then there was a moment of quiet. Taking notice the government of France sent additional troops. Despite the presence of increased foreign military, this fall, more violence has erupted.

I still haven’t been able to visit the Central African Republic, but have been right at the border in Garoua Baloui, Cameroon. In November, regional representatives from Cameroon, Anne and Willie Langdji,  and Dr. Susan Smith who serves as the education specialist for the church in CAR with other partners of the church from Germany and Denmark were able to have a meeting with the leaders of the ELC-RCA.

The leaders of the ELC-RCA shared with us stories of the tragedies that they have witnessed. These stories were replete with horror, but tinged with the faith that the storytellers held. We were able to pray for peace and share a Thanksgiving Day meal together. I can only hope that this gave the leaders from the ELC-RCA just a slight respite from the instability they have been living with for over a year.                                                        

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It is hard for many of us who live in countries who have not seen war on our shores to understand how those who live in states of violence and chaos can function. I imagine it would be close to impossible for me to get myself together in such a situation, especially long enough to have a meeting. Yet, they were there sharing with us knowing the situation may not be much different when they return. I saw in these leaders of the church tremendous faith, resilience and strength. I can only hope that our presence gave them comfort to know that their partners stand with them in prayer.

I can only wish for such faith, resilience and strength. All I can do is pray and do my job. Sitting on this side of the world it all seems like so little. Yet, as part of my job I have been working with regional representative, diakonia and others in ELCA-Global Mission to see how we can respond to this current emergency. We want to accompany the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Central African Republic as they help the people of CAR. So many are internally displaced and have lost their homes, communities and livelihoods.

What I hope is that you will continue to pray for peace in all parts of the world that are experiencing unrest, and violence. I pray that we can together hold on to faith in the one who promises us light in darkness and hope in hopelessness. I hope God will heed our prayers for our friends in the ELC-RCA and the people of the Central African Republic.

As always, I am westafricabound.

Preaching the Praises of God

“Get, out of bed, Jerusalem!
Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight.
God’s bright glory has risen for you.
The whole earth is wrapped in darkness,
all people sunk in deep darkness,
But God rises on you,
his sunrise glory breaks over you.
Nations will come to your light,
kings to your sunburst brightness.
Look up! Look around!
Watch as they gather, watch as they approach you:
Your sons coming from great distances,
your daughters carried by their nannies.
When you see them coming you will smile–big smiles!
Your heart will swell and, yes burst!
All those people returning by sea for the reunion,
a rich harvest of exiles gathered in from the nations!
And then streams of camel caravans as far as the eye can see,
young camels of nomads in Midian and Ephah,
Pouring in from the South from Sheba,
loaded with gold and frankincense,
preaching the praises of God.” (Isaiah 60 1-6, The Message)

This was good news for the exiles. The people were just returning to Jerusalem from exile in Babylonian Captivity. In a commentary, Dirk Lange writes, “In Jerusalem, a major conflict had arisen between those who remained and those who returned. Living conditions were extremely difficult. Jerusalem was in ruins. The people were now divided again not against some outside threat or enemy but among themselves.” (WorkingPreacher.org) Now the prophet comes with words from God. The prophet speaks of smiles, sunrise, brightness and light. This means their lives will turn around for the good.

This is such a contrast to the darkness the Israelites have known, the darkness that we see so much of in our world. I’m still thinking about the situation in Central African Republic (CAR). Since December 10 the rebels have been on the move capturing one town after other. Like those in sixth century BCE Central African Republic is a country divided among itself. The issues of unmet promises, continued poverty and disappointment in how the government has run in the last ten years is, I suppose, a reason for this conflict.

Mona, one of my friends sent me a message on facebook after reading my last blog post. She wrote, “your post sounds like de ja vu to me. At this time in 2003, I was on my way to take a call in Central Africa Republic. I had my psych evaluation, had my shots, was ready to transition . . . and fighting broke out and ELCA missionaries were evacuated.”Ten years, has anything changed?

I am learning that the history of Central African Republic has been fraught with conflict. In 1960, CAR became an independent country after decades of colonilization by France. The transtion from colonial rule to indepedence began peaceful enough, but after six years a string of coups began. The last coup took place in 2003 when Francoise Bozize achieved the presidency. A historical report stated that his goals were to promote national reconcilation, strengthen the economy and hold elections. Yet, ten years later there is rebel uprising and unrest.

Through out the bible there is unrest, war, conflict and violence and yet God is present with the people. We learn from Isaiah 60:1-6, that God does not wait for the people to get their act together, but comes. Yes, in the midst of our dark and broken world, God comes shining a light through the incarnation of a babe born to Mary. God comes, not as a result of our own actions, but insipte of us. To be certain, God is present with the people of Central African Republic even at this dark hour.

At this writing, there seems to be a halt in the movement of the rebels, but the conflict is not over. Looking from the distance of my Chicago desk the fighting seems to be at a stand still. What will become of the peace talks that are to take place in Libreville, Gabon? Will the president hear the complaints of the rebels? Will the rebels take the advice of mediators? Will others be sent into exile?

Exile, might be the word to describe the ELCA missionaries who were evacuated. There is the possibility that the lives of Susan, Jackie, Deb and Joe will take an unexpected turn if an end to this conflict is not seen, as my friend’s life did ten years ago. But what of the lives of the people of CAR who have been or will be displaced? What about those who will lose their homes and livelihoods if the fighting resumes. As you can tell, I am just learning about the people, and country of Central African Republic. What I glean from my learning is that violence and uprising, no matter the cause, is probably the last thing this country needs. Of course, violence is the last thing that any country needs. The smiles, sunrise, brightness and light, of God is needed. Sitting at my Chicago desk, as we enter the season of Epiphany I can only pray and ask for light to shine in CAR. We can only pray for God’s continued presence.

Let us pray:
Gracious God, be with the people of Central African Republic. Watch over those whose lives have been disrupted. Give the leaders wisdom. Imbue these leaders with a sense of fairness and justice. Help all involved in this conflict, government official and rebel, consider the people. Influence them with the love you have so freely given. Enable them to see the revelation of this love through Jesus the Christ. Let us as we pray to see the light at the end of the tunnel of rebel activity. And may we, in discussing this dark conflict, speak of God’s light and “preach the praises of God.” In Jesus name, Amen.

God’s Peace,
I am westafricabound

(As, I post the rebels have taken over two other towns–so much for a stand still.)

Selective Silence

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Hallelujah
Christ, the Savior is born
Christ, the Savior is born

In the American Television Media, I did not hear a word about it, not a single word. There was nothing in the nightly news, not on ABC or CBS or NBC. I heard nothing about the missionaries being evacuated from towns in Central African Republic (CAR). Not on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day did I hear about the growing rebel activity in the north of the country. I knew from weeks of e-mail posts that the fighting started about a month ago in CAR, one of the poorest countries in the world. I watched, waited and wondered if it would affect the new work I am doing or the people I am working with.

I began getting the messages early on the morning of December 24: Sometime before Christmas Eve, ELCA missionaries got word from a leader of the Lutheran Church in CAR that they should go. It wasn’t because rebel activity was near their location. The rebel fighting was hundreds of miles away. Yet, church officials were afraid that this recent uprising might give other rebel groups staying in the mountains nearby the compound where ELCA missionaries were located courage to began their own campaign or join in the fighting. So, they were told to leave. But I only heard the news by e-mail in my capacity as ELCA Global Mission Area Program Director for West Africa. From American television media sources their was only silence.

On Christmas Eve they began to evacuate. Their names are Joe and Deb and Susan and Jackie. I have not met them yet but I know about the work they are doing. They work in hospitals and in schools; they work as teachers, as pastors and in development in CAR. They are in Africa representing the ELCA, serving and touching lives for the flourishing of human community. They accompany the people of CAR as they struggle for sufficient food, water and education. Instead of celebrating the birth of Christ or participating in the singing of carols in the places they serve, with the people they work with, they and their families were uprooted and told for safety sake, they were to leave the homes, the lives, the communities they inhabited in CAR. They rode all day and were held up at the border leaving Central African Republic and delayed a bit crossing into Cameroon, but they left. I am happy to report they are safe and partaking in Christmas celebrations and reunions with ELCA missionaries in Cameroon and doing a little sightseeing.

Now, I could be wrong, so you tell me if you heard during your Christmas Eve dinner the news of fighting in the Central African Republic. Some other news media covered the stories but the information is not as we say “common knowledge.” Many of the updates are coming from other foreign news sources. I have received a barrage of e-mail updates. The e-mails are still coming amd four days after Christmas, Agence France- Presse reports: “A coalition of three rebel movements known as Seleka has taken several towns, including four regional capitals. The rebels accuse the government of failing to fulfill the terms of peace pacts signed in 2007 and 2001.” (BBC) Included in those e-mails is an Associated Press report. It reads, “the rebels say they are fighting because of their thirst for justice, for peace, for security and for economic development of the people of Central African Republic.”(AP 12/29) The president of Central African Republic has asked for help, peace talks are scheduled. Yet, nothing on the television stations and news programs that I watch.  A fellow Global Mission staff member told me there was a a brief moment on CNN, other than that silence.

It seems to me that for those who are on the ground, this is a momentous event, a civil war, a shattering of lives, a displacement of people. This is a momentous event not just for the ELCA missionaries but the people in cities across Central African Republic. There are many in that country who live in poverty and struggle. They are now being put through yet another trial.  The news we hear about their lives and this new struggle is barley a trickle; in the nightly news, I have heard barely a word.

So, I have decided not to be silent, to let you know what is going on in Central African Republic. So, that you might keep the ELCA missionaries, the people of Central African Republic, the government and even the rebel group Seleka in your prayers. My prayer is that we and all people of the world might know the calm and love that the Savior ushers into the world.  In this new year there might not just be silence, but justice and peace. 

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