L.O.V.E. as an act of accompaniment (part 1)

I am on a plane flying back to Chicago from the African Descent Lutheran Association (ADLA) Assembly.  This year it was a joint assembly with Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE).  Though I had to leave before the end of the assembly, the three days that I attended were full of challenge to be more fully who we are as justice seekers.  There was also ample time for worship and fellowship.  I hated to go.  There were speakers like Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, who asked us, “what does it mean to organize?”  And Rev. Leah Daughtry who told us to, “recognize our strength.”  I know as I left that the challenge and a call to do and be more in our church and world are continuing until Tuesday evening.

Invited to the assembly by the Rev. Lamont Wells, who is the association’s president, I was able to talk about the exciting work I do with ELCA Global Mission.  It became an opportunity to lift up the values of accompaniment, extend an opportunity to the gathered community and give thanks to God.                                                    img_7236

I began by lifting up the opportunities for service including long term missionary service, Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) and volunteer opportunities.

I told the gathered community I was not sure of the values of accompaniment when I first started this work.  I am clear about those now: mutuality, inclusivity, vulnerability, empowerment and sustainability.  I showed the group these values in my PowerPoint presentation.  I also mentioned my understanding of living out accompaniment; when I was initially interviewed for the position of Area Director, I told the interviewers, that accompaniment is an act of LOVE.  This means for me whenever you entire a new situation, a new congregation, a new culture, a new country, or a new relationship you: L- listen, O- observe, V- value, and then E- engage.

This has been my way of seeing my work and function since I began my vocation of pastor.  This way of being, this way of thinking, has held me in a good position as I preached and led a congregation and it influences and guides the work I do now in the Madagascar, West and Central Africa region.

I issued an invitation for the community to accompany me on small volunteer missionary projects through The MWCA4MWCA project.  I told them of the first trip to Liberia that two community members were able to join me on and the success that was had teaching preaching to 82 pastors.  I ended by telling them that when the Holy Spirit shows up, the Holy Spirit shows out and that is certainly how I feel about the work I do.  I give thanks for  this global work and I give thanks for God’s possibilities as more and more people of color get involved.

Changing the World One Song at a time

This week, I was able to step out of my normally scheduled program to be the chaplain for the ELCA/Global Mission Annual Musician Training. This is a once a year event where musician educators come together, to share, to learn and to be feed. It is one of the most diverse and ecumenical spaces that I have had the privilege to occupy. The gathering includes musicians that represent in their ethnicity most of the world: African, Asian, European, Indian, and Latin American. It also includes people from denominations and faith traditions other than Lutheran.

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For me this is a group that represents what the kingdom of God looks like. It was an amazing five days. The keynote speaker for the event was Daniel Onyango, a community activist from Kenya. He works and lives in one of the major slums in Nairobi Kenya. He brought with him his love for his people, his passion for justice and his skills as a musician. The gathering was blessed beyond words by his presence.

Some of the people in the room were not church musicians; they were people who hold justice and love in their hearts and were there to sing, listen, pray and join in the spirit filled way that this event comes together. They were there to take back what they saw and heard so that they might be able to live out and be about the love of God that was evidenced in that place.                                                                               img_5608

All of this is possible because of the love and commitment of Rev. Sunitha Mortha who works in Global Mission as an educator for mission. She heads the Mission Formation team and is tasked with teaching the principle of accompaniment during events of the ELCA and spaces she is invited into. This group of glocal musician educators assist her in this task. This beautiful woman is all about mutuality, inclusivity, vulnerability, empowerment and sustainability. She walks it, talks it and lives it. This space is a space of accompaniment, justice and love.

I was also privileged to preach at the pre-event with a group of musicians called “the core.” These are the musicians who lead and teach the rest of the participants. Below is the sermon I preached.

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I will not forget what I have seen and heard and how I have been strengthened in my work and witness by these amazing people and this event.

 

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.

 

 

Parish and Poverty

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We heard the sound of music as we made it up the hill by way of the rugged dirt road. The people were singing and praising God with their voice and the beat of a single drum.. We were visiting Nagatary Parish, a congregation of the Lutheran Church in Rwanda (LCR). What we were told by Bishop Evariste Mugabo was that this was one of the poorest parishes in the LCR.

We could tell that the community was poor as we got closer and closer. We were coming from Kayonce where we had slept at an Eco-Lodge in fancy safari tents. But the further we drove away from that tourist spot, the more poverty began to show. We turned onto a dirt road and we left electricity and plumbing behind. The mud brick homes got smaller and rougher as we climbed the hills. In this land of a thousand hills there seems to be a disparity between those who can barely make it and those who aren’t making it. I thought we were visiting a poor congregation at our last stop when I saw the decorations in the church. There were streamers of toilet paper to make the church look festive. Yet, the top of this hill was different.

The dire poverty showed even in the accommodations for relief. Pastor Kate and I after a 4 hour car ride had to use the necessary room. In Rwanda outside of homes and public buildings in the cities the ladies room is a deep hole in the ground with bricks around on three sides and if you are lucky a wooden door, today no door. Women wear long dresses because it is the culture but also because it is convenient to squat over a hole if you don’t have to drag your trousers over what has been left around the hole. I have seen many of these “rest rooms” in my travels yet there was little rest here.

Anyway, the drumming and singing continued as we made our way into the church. We were met by the pastor and a congregation sitting on crudely crafted benches on each side of the room. We sat up front as honored guest in wooden chairs. It was the parish pastor, Kate, Bishop Mugabo, myself and the district pastor Rev. Rihinda.

The pastor introduced the district pastor and the program began. We were there to learn about the congregation and its members. After formal introductions, the pastor of the parish told us the history of the church and the background of its members. This place had not been developed as much of Rwanda had after the genocide. It was in the Eastern part of the country. There was no running water, no electricity and some of the members of the congregation particularly those who were orphaned didn’t even have shelter. Two women shared a space out in the open; they had not even a roof– thatched or otherwise over their heads.

From grants received by ELCA, the LCR was trying to help the members of this parish. They had benefited from the church’s Self Reliance training and we heard stories of members receiving goats and pigs in order to have manure to sell to buy food. Can you imagine having to collect the waste of animals for your next meal? We heard of the parishes commitment to the health and well-being of children by raising funds to pay medical insurance cost so that sick children could be cared for.

It was hard not to be appalled by the conditions of the children.  You could tell by the clothing and continence that the people had little if anything. Yet we heard testimony of the goodness of God along with the stories of heart ache and brokenness We heard stories of fathers leaving their children and even a story of one mother leaving a father to care for five young children. In this part of the world, certainly life can be too much.

As is the custom in many places, we were brought sodas to drink. Though they had little, they went out and purchased drinks for their guests Coke, Fanta and Sprite were offered up. We sat there and drank while the congregation watched. This is always awkward but in this pressing poverty it was almost unbearable. Then we were brought a second drink, this time we could share with members of the congregation so we each picked a person and gave them the drink. Those given drinks automatically began to share with their neighbors, so that not only the person receiving the gift were refreshed, others were.Parish 2

The delegation gave an offering of 55,000 RWF which is about equivalent to $73. It was divided up, 5,000 each for the two groups that were formed for self reliance, 5,000 for the church and 20,000 for medical insurance. For us this is not much but for this parish steeped in poverty this little bit will go to touch a life or two, at least that is my prayer. Seeing this breaks your heart, at least it breaks mine . . . And I think, why Lord?

I am extremely privileged to do the work that I do. I hope I bring with me the sensibilities of a parish pastor who knows and has experienced the walking with people in various stages of their lives, the sensibilities to say yes faithfully, and to say no when necessary. It’s hard; my heart is torn open many times. Despite the heartbreak I have been privileged to see joy in small accomplishments, celebration as major goals are achieved and worshipping of God in a most profound way. In this small parish in Rwanda that is what I saw; that is what I experienced.

My deepest desire is to be who God has called me to be in this role, to truly walk with companion churches in the 10 countries I have responsibility for. I know that poverty, oppression, injustice in the world is not fixed instantly by grant money, we do what we can. The systems that would unevenly distribute God’s abundance exist everywhere. What we can do is keep speaking, keep praying and keep giving.

I am Rwanda and westafricabound.

 

 

Race, Ethnicity and Culture Part III

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Presentation during Lutheran Church in Senegal churchwide assembly, Anne Langdji is translating into French.

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Members of the Lutheran Church in Senegal including president of the church Thomas Diouf.

I was in Senegal recently. I was there for the purpose of continuing to build relationships with Lutherans in the country and specifically working with the Senegal Lutheran Development Service (SLDS) and the Lutheran Church in Senegal (ELS). I was asked to speak for the assembly of ELS and I was given the topic of “mutual submission.” (see the beginning of that presentation in an earlier post)

Using the text for the occasion I wanted to make the point about how we treat each other. It is as though the writer of the text says, wait a minute, I thought you were followers of Christ … so act like it. God loves you…so treat each other in the same love that you have been given…..and stop using power and authority to lord it over one another.   I used my relationship with my colleague Anne as an example. I told them that technically I was her boss, but because of her knowledge and expertise in the region where we work, I often have to listen to her advice and sometimes she has to listen to me because it is my responsibility to make certain decisions.

So, I finished my presentation, which by the way was translated from English to French and then to Sere, and then I was asked questions. One of the members of the church said that it was easy for us, Anne and I, because we come from the same culture. How were they supposed to do this when some of them were Sere, some were Pulaar, some where Jola? Looking at them I would say, if I didn’t know anything about Senegal, they were all from the same culture. They are all Senegalese. And it was evident to me that Anne and I are not from the same culture. So I laughed, because we are and we are not from the same culture and they are and they are not from the same culture. So, I tried to explain.

Seeing us  standing side by side, what they saw — two Americans. Standing side by side anywhere in North America what would be seen is an African American and a European American. Our histories on North American soil is very different, our experiences on North American soil are very different, our access to resources, power….. you name it, on North American soil could not be more different. Yet when I tried to explain, many looked at me with surprise on their faces.

Race, ethnicity and culture are complicated issues and are seen differently depending on where you are standing. I have learned this much and much more as I am westafricabound.

The Power of Story

In the past month I have had a number of experiences that have reminded me of the power of story. First, I traveled with colleagues to Mexico City for an experiential meeting. In this meeting, we used what is called in the Latin American community “participatory process” to discover new ways of working together. This process begin with each of us telling stories of our past, preferably, as we were instructed, things that no one else knew about us. There were stories told of  college pranks, family issues, trying times, unique encounters and the like. These stories gave us all an opportunity to be drawn in to the personal side of our colleagues, a side we may not see from day to day in our office cubes. It was insightful and helped me to have a better appreciation for those with whom I share a common purpose.

The second occurred, when I traveled to Allentown, PA to rendezvous with two women from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Gambia (ELCTG). Rev. Bass and Ms. Luigiasa were visiting  a family who has supported the ministry in the Gambia for years. They were there to share with congregations and organizations the story of this relatively new church that is working to help educate the children, bring hope to the poor and empower the women of the Gambia.

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I witnessed this ministry of the ELCTG first hand when I stopped in the Gambia in October on my way home from visiting the Lutheran Church in Senegal (ELS). The Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Gambia began in 1999 from the efforts of a few people including Rev. Thomas. In the last 15 years he and his wife Rev. Bass have taken a vision of what is possible with God and created a community of Lutheran believers in the Gambia. They have been mentored by pastors of (ELS). With the help of the ELS, the ELCTG is now working toward inclusion in the Lutheran Communion of West Africa (LUCWA) and an official church to church companion relationship with the ELCA.

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While in the Gambia, I heard the stories of the women and saw the work they were doing to achieve economic viability. I heard the stories of the inability to pay school fees for children, from women who went out everyday to stand by the side of the road selling peanuts and other goods. They want so much to provide a better life for their children and they are willing to work harder than you and I can imagine. I heard the stories of twenty-something year old women that wanted to get an education and had gone through tremendous hardship to realize this possibility. When Rev. Bass told me she may be coming to the US, I told her if she got here, I would make my way to visit. So she got here and I went to Allentown, PA to keep my word and support this budding relationship.

In Allentown, I was privileged to hear Rev. Bass’ story and I won’t tell it here, because it is her   story to tell. What I will say is that in what she saw as the opulence of the United States of America, she became hesitant and did not want to tell her story. The people she was meeting, the women that she saw have much more than she does; they live lives with ready access to resources that are not available to most women born in the Gambia. I am sure you can see how this might make one feel.  It was as though she thought her  story made her “less than.” This made me sad.

Yet, she dared to tell me her story. As I listened what I heard was indeed powerful. Hearing this story I was drawn in, mesmerized and amazed at the strength of this beautiful black woman that seemed uneasy in these unfamiliar surroundings. I was taken aback by the strength of her faith and the witness of God’s power in her life. And that’s what I told her.

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When I told her what I thought, her eyes lit up and I could tell she was thinking of things in a new way. At least, I pray that she was and that she will continue to summon the courage that comes from God to speak out of her lived reality. I want her to tell her story, so that you can hear about the amazing things that God is doing through this woman and the community that she has helped to bring into being.

And I pray that we will all continue to listen to the stories of those we encounter so that we might be reminded that our stories are connected and these stories witness to the power of God in the world.

I am 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.

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