Love One Another

Sign says "Never Forget"

Sign says “Never Forget”

Jesus says, I give you a new commandment….that you love one another….begins the Maundy Thursday sermon at the Kigali English speaking service. These words were spoken by Pastor Kate Warn as she told the congregation about the love God came to show us. I wonder what the members of the parish thought as we stood there five days away from the commeration of the genocide in Rwanda.

Many of us only know the history of Rwanda through the movie Hotel Rwanda and Don Cheadle’s performance of the manager of the Mile Collines Hotel and how he struggled to keep those being targeted safe.

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The Rwanda of 2015 is very different from the Rwanda of 1994. Rwandans are no longer divided by ethnicity or identy papers that marked their difference; there is one Rwanda and all its citizens are Rwandan.

I am learning this history and this move to love our neighbors as ourselves through the Lutheran Church of Rwanda founded out of the crisis of genocide. The church was built from the families of refugees who had left Rwanda for political reasons in the 1950’s. Now many of the children have returned from exile to help make a stronger Rwanda

When I hear the words “love one another’ in this context, I realize just how much these words of Jesus mean. They seem very simple Pastor Kate told us in her sermon, yet she reminded us of how difficult they are to follow… to live out…to keep. In Rwanda it was within a Christian context that horrific violence against neighbors took place.

Before we think how awful let me say that this reminds me of how violence happens in explicit awful ways and also how we do violence to one another in more subtle ways. In the U.S. no one is brandishing machetes but they are brandishing pens to make laws about who is in and who is out, who can be served and who cannot–deciding, how identity can be used to set apart and divide. The blanket on which these laws lie are religious freedom. So though good Christians believe that they have the right to make these decisions, all Christians are not in agreement. So there is division in the body of Christ even in the U.S.

I understand that the writing of laws and the brandishing of machetes are not the same. Yet, these are both examples—as we do harm to the love that Jesus has so freely given to us. That love that would always err on the side of loving the other, not harming them–including the other, not excluding them.

Jesus tells us “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”

Let us remember no matter where we live and what our circumstances that God poured out his love for us on a cross, so that just maybe, as we deal with one another, we might consider Christ example of love.

Impressions of Rwanda

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I cannot help feeling that I must write about how I am experiencing the stories of Rwanda and its people. Especially as I visit the week of April 7 a day that marks the beginning of 100 days of horror so many years ago.

I read in books about the history  of  this beautiful little country in East Africa. This country that was harmed and then abandoned and ignored by the West. At least it seems so in my reading. 

I read books of prose and poetry about the genocide in 1994 and come to know that it did not happen by accident.

I hear the stories of those who were not present when the genocide took place, because their families sought refugee in Tanzania and Uganda years before. They left in the 1950s, because they feared the worst and the worst came true. The sons and daughters of those refugees are back seeking to be part of a rebuilt, better Rwanda. Some of these who have returned founded the Lutheran Church of Rwanda. 

 I have seen the bones and the clothes of victims soaked in blood and even a blood stained altar. I have seen an exhibit entitled “Portraits of Reconciliation” and I stared into the eyes of those who have been forgiven and those who have found strength to forgive. Their eyes are haunting. 

I see the evidence of a country being rebuilt. In my first visit I saw Mbingo and Rwmagana now the village of Ndego. This village and neighboring villages was once  Akagera National Park. Now instead of tigers, elephants and buffalo, there are people. The Lutheran World Federation helped to build this settlement for the many who were displaced.  

So, what am I a Western who until watching the movie “Hotel Rwanda” knew nothing of Rwanda. Until then Rwanda held no conscious place in my mind or my heart. I know that the more I know of this country and its people my heart is opened. Yet, what good is an open heart if it is not used to improve oneself or to make the world a better place? My heartbreaks at the thought of what has happened here but not to the point of despair. I  see hope all around, the hope of a people moving toward unity and healing.

My work brings me to Rwanda and now this lush green terraced country has found a place in my mind and my heart. The smiles of the children have warmed me. I am praying that the little I can do with the Lutheran Church in Rwanda might be beneficial. I am praying that twenty one years after the genocide the future for the people of Rwanda is a bright one and I hope to, return again and again to see that bright future unfold. 

I am westafricabound and now Rwanda bound.

Mutual Submission a Conversation — Part 1

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The writer of Ephesians tells us that we should be “giving thanks always to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” After reading this text and looking at the theme for today, I asked myself the question what is mutual submission? If we are all Christians, male and female, from the north and south, east and west then what does mutual submission look like for us?

Well before I get too caught up in this mutual submission conversation, let us look at what the writer is asking of us. Before he asks us to be submissive to one another, he begins this fifth chapter of Ephesians talking about walking in love. In verse one he writes, “Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Then the writer continues using explicit language and instructions about how we can do this. He is insistent that our sexual behavior matters; the way we talk to one another matters; whether or not we covet what our neighbor has matters; whether or not we hold things as more important than our relationship with God matters. Thinking about how these things matter are ways we can consciously walk in love.

The author uses the law, which includes a lot of “do not” language in this fifth chapter of Ephesians, but he also uses a fair amount of good news and positive advice of what we can do.

We can give thanksgiving to God; we can walk as children of light, (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true) and the writer tells us to attempt to discern what is pleasing to the Lord, to attempt to understand the will of God. We all know how hard that is.

We are directly told by the writer that despite how hard it is, in our everyday lives we can address each other in words that are akin to psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, that will have us singing and making melody to the Lord with our heart. To me the writer is saying that a pleasant disposition is a key in how we interact. The writer is saying good and pleasant communication goes a long way.

Then, after all this advice the writer tells us to give thanks and submit ourselves to one another because of the love and reverence we have for Jesus the Christ. Did you hear what we are being told? We are to submit ourselves to one another because of the love and reverence we have for Jesus the Christ.

People of the Lutheran Church in Senegal, do you love Jesus the Christ?

So you can hear the author telling us that the fact that we are Christian means something and showing the love we have for Jesus because he first loved us is important. Because we are Christians and love God and one another we are in right relationship with one another and if we are not we are praying very hard that God will help us.

So what does this mutual submission look like between the Lutheran Church in Senegal and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America?

Well for me and those of us in the ELCA who work with companion churches all over the world, it looks and sounds like accompaniment. That we as we are in companionship are walking and working together to do God’s mission in the world.

So what do I mean? I mean that we all have a part to play and gifts to give as we do the work of proclaiming the gospel in the world. This good news that Jesus the Christ died for our sins and calls us to a new way of being, the good news that Jesus loves us, so we respond in love to one other — so that the hungry are feed, the naked are clothed and the prisoners go free —is life giving. It means that we respond to the love of God through word and deed the best way we can, using the gifts that God has given each of us.

So though some would say there is a founder and those who have been found, a donor and a receipt, a parent and a child, a world that only has so much, we are able to see things, anew; we are able to look at things differently because we bare the mark of Christ; we no longer have to think in the way that histories of colonization dictate.
We are free indeed to walk together, to be submissive to one another–to work in mutuality.

The word mutual is defined as having the same relation each to another. Add submission to that definition and we are talking about mutually yielding to one another… that one does not hold inordinate power over the other and an acknowledgment that we could each learn from the other.

So what does this look like for the ELCA?

(to be continued…)

I am westafricabound.

If #all lives matter then don’t #black lives matter?

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism

I am struggling with how to express what I am feeling. We are a week or so away from the terrible terror attacks at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. This was a horrendous incident. What makes it even more awful is that the two young men who carried out the attack at the magazine office were targeting a specific group of people. They were targeting journalist who pride themselves on being able to exercise free speech. It is hard to believe that in 2015 that there would be anyone that was against free speech, but many are. Because there are those who oppose free speech, violence occurs.

Gathering of LCCN

Gathering of Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria

Now of course the ideal of anyone being affected by violence breaks my heart. But, what bothers me almost as much as violence is injustice, racism, and prejudice.  I am mentioning injustice, racism and prejudice because sometimes it seems to me that our media is suffering from some inherent, maybe unconscious prejudice. Or maybe, it is not actually the prejudice of the media, but the prejudice of our culture. In the US, it seems, we live in a culture that is not ready to be equally concerned about those who are black.

This was brought to mind as my news feed on Facebook between January 4 and 7 began showing me news articles from across the world of a tragedy in Nigeria. There was a massacre in Baga in Northern Nigerian. This massacre was carried out, the reports said, by Boko Haram. My google alerts were blowing up with this news. Yet, there was nothing on ABC, NBC or CBS. Yet, on the morning of January 7 when the attack on Charlie Hebdo began, every major news outlet was covering it. It was not until January 9 that I saw a mention of violence in Nigeria on Good Morning America. Maybe I was not paying attention and missed something, but I don’t think so.

These tragedies were happening almost at the same time. As people in Paris were being held under siege, thousands of Nigerians were being terrorized. Many were killed and it took days for me to see the story from Nigeria in mainstream media. How as a brown person am I supposed to feel?

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Archbishop and bishops of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria and me.

Perhaps the reason that I feel some kind of way about this is that western culture is left in the dark about much of what happens on the continent of Africa. Or should I say, seems to prefer to remain in the dark. The Ebola crisis doesn’t mean anything until westerners are in danger, civil strife is ignored unless westerners are hurt….do not black lives matter? As I work and walk with the people of Madagascar, West and Central Africa I see the image of God in black faces; I see the light of God in brown smiles; I see worth, value, talent and intelligence; I see so many gifts of God, just as I see  the gifts of God in my western friends. All lives matter, all lives are gifts of God. That means that #blacklivesmatter.

I hope you agree as I continue to be westafricabound.

Tribal dress for a celebration in Nigeria

Tribal dress for a celebration in Nigeria

Agree With Me

One thing that I notice this 13th Sunday after Pentecost is that the lessons for this morning are hard; they are scripture text that call us to warn others about sin, text about living honorably and a text that is a song that has us calling out to God to learn the way that God would have us live. We hear a text that has us crying out for God to help us turn our hearts to God’s decrees and not to selfish gain. These are words that all of us need to hear at one time or another in our lives.

These are the hard texts that show up in the lectionary as I come to have a conversation with you Holy Family about the Ebola Outbreak crisis in West Africa and how we can use our hands to do the work that God has called us to do to make a difference. But before I really get started, I want to thank Ms. Tammy Jackson and Mrs. Elizabeth Hunter for the invitation to be with you. And I want to petition you church to hold the last two verses of this morning’s gospel lesson to heart as we talk about the history of, the suffering of and the current situation of our friends in West Africa.

Jesus tells us: “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven for where two or three are gathered in my name there am I among them.” 

Indeed God has been there with the ELCA as we have built relationships of accompaniment with a number of Lutheran church bodies in West Africa, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone, Lutheran Church in Senegal, the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria and the Lutheran Church in Liberia. We have had these relationships for years. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone and the Lutheran Church in Senegal are relatively young churches. The Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria just celebrated its one hundredth year last year. They are all very different churches with differing relationships. Yet we are all a part of the Lutheran Communion and church together in the world. But the relationship I am going to talk to you about this morning is with the Lutheran Church of Liberia.

The LCL has been in existence for over one hundred and fifty years and we have had relationships with this church that goes back to our predecessor bodies. Part of this relationship is about walking together and being church in the world together which means for the ELCA that we send grants for church programs that help with youth, women’s and urban ministry. And ELCA World Hunger dollars from congregations all around the country go to help provide grants for the hospitals in Liberia. Phebe hospital a joint venture with the Episcopal Church and Curran hospital that is solely run by the LCL.

We train pastors and theologians as you know from Ms. Jackson. One such theologian is the bishop of The Lutheran Church in Liberia who we know very well Rev. D. Jensen Seyenkulo who received his PHD from LSTC; I meet him when I was in seminary and he has served many years here in Chicago. Now he leads the LCL.

Bishop Seyenkulo is a good bishop. In my visits to Liberia, I have had the privilege of watching his relationship with the people of the LCL. I have seen him laugh with them, dance with them and I have seen him call the people of the church together in prayer, to petition God on behalf of those in need of healing, comfort and care.

Jesus tells us: “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven for where two or three are gathered in my name there am I among them.”

Although, the 18th chapter of Matthew’s gospel is thought of as a mandate for correcting those who have done wrong, or moved away from the teaching of the community, even though it is a text that reminds us of binding and loosening things on earth and heaven in actuality I believe these texts are about community and connection, about truth telling and reconciliation, about how we live together as people of God. Again, words that we benefit from, if we indeed pay attention.

In today’s world these last two verses of today’s gospel reading are used in a very different sense, and that is how I want us to think of these words of scripture this morning, I want us church to think of these words of God this morning as a symbol of God’s power and presence. Jesus tells us that God has the power to act on our behalf, just ask; and Jesus reminds us as he does again and again in scripture,  “I will be with you to the end of the age,” that he is indeed with with us

Clearly God’s power and presence has shown itself again and again in the lives of our companions in Liberia. Liberia was the first Republic in Africa. Monrovia the capital city was born out of a movement of freed slaves who returned to Africa; they took the long journey back to the continent of Africa not returning to their villages or their countries of origins but, they forged a new country. They brought with them much of what they had seen and learned in America……. Even the Liberian flag is similiar to the flag of the United states strips and one star…….The capital city Monrovia was named after James Monroe an American president and 5% of Liberia’s population are known as Americo-Liberians. Many Liberians would consider themselves very much related to those of us who are descendants of those enslaved. They are friends, but they are also our brothers and sisters in circumstance and in Christ.

Liberia has a very tumultous history In 1989, food shortages and inequalities pushed Liberia into a civil war, that lasted to 2005 they are just in the last nine years beginning to recover. We know about this history through the book and movie “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” and from hearing about and meeting Leymah Gbowee who had a huge role in putting to end this civil war. The infrastracture: roads, buildings and hospitals were just in the process of being restored. Liberians who had fled because of civil war were considering returning.

When you travel to Liberia you can still see the ravages of war and UN peacekeepers in blue hats all over the place. When I visited Phebe hospital in December the son of Liberia’s Minister of Health, Walter Gwenigale Jr told us about the time in Liberia before the civil war when Phebe hospital was one of the leading hospitals in West Africa, now the hospital is in need of repairs, electrical re-wiring, equipment, improved water systems and so much more.

And now our brothers and sisters in the LCL and all the people of Liberia are suffering because of an outbreak of the Ebola virus. And their infrastructures are being overwhelmed. This virus has terrified us every since we heard about modern day viruses in the 1995 movie Outbreak. That was make believe, but this is real. This hemoragic fever started in February in a rural village in Guinea which shares a border with Sierra Leone and Liberia and has spread like wildfire.

The current Ebola outbreak, has so far killed at least 1,841 of the more than 3,685 people infected, making it the largest and deadliest Ebola outbreak in history. It is also the first outbreak to spread from rural areas to cities. This virus is not airborne but is spread through the bodily fluids of those who show symptoms of fever and vomiting. That is why the virus has so far infected so many family members who are caregivers and health care workers. We have been working in Global Mission to help with shipments of Personal Protective Equipment, those hazmats suits that you have seen in the news, which are a necessity in the fight against this disease. We are talking about helping with hazard pay for health care workers and now since …….the people of Liberia are in dire need of the simplest things such as food, because of quarntines, curfews, isolation and fear to move about in public, we are having conversation about how we use contributions from ELCA members who are using their hands to give and to do the work of God in this situation. We are having conversations about how to get the message out and we are of course calling the ELCA to prayer

Jesus tells us: “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven for where two or three are gathered in my name there am I among them.”

Yes I am taking these two verses out of context, but I am not forgetting that they were read this morning in conjunctions with verses that attempt to tell us how to live as people of God, without attention to selfish gain, putting love at the center……. As you are doing by becoming aware, writing letters and raising money Holy Family. You are not thinking of yourselves but looking to help your brothers in sisters. That’s what these words of scripture are all about in Romans we hear: Owe no one anything, except to love one another… to love your neighbor as yourself… And we count on the power and presence of God to guide us. For sure this text from Matthew reminds us of that power and that presence of God with us here today and also with the people of West Africa……….

For certain God is among us here, this day at Holy Family as we pray for and look toward what we can do for the people of God in West Africa They too are praying, they too are gathered together when it is at all possible asking for God’s power and presence to move in their circumstance. We know as people who have come this far by faith—that God is able.  I read: “God does not give us escape from human situation; God enables us to accept what we cannot understand; God enables us to endure what without God would be unendurable; God enables us to face what without God would be beyond all facing.” God's Work Our Hands Sunday

Our prayer today, what you and I can agree on today and ask is that God move in this Ebola Virus outbreak, that God bring health and wholeness to the people of West Africa, that God use our hands to do what work that we can do in this circumstance, that God would comfort those who morn, that God would make a way where there seems to be no way, that God would show up and show out in this situation.

“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven for where two or three are gathered in my name there am I among them.”

Agree with me church, let us ask for God’s power and presence in this circumstance. Amen

Five Reminders and Reflections from the White Privilege Conference

We need allies in the struggle for racial equity.

Applying the Analysis

Abbi Heimach has a B.A. from the College of Wooster in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Religious Studies. After a year teaching elementary special education, she worked in young adult related ministry at the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Currently, Abbi is working on her Masters of Divinity at McCormick Theological Seminary. She is an intern for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training, a member of the National Committee of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, and is pursuing ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In her free time, you can find her dancing and cooking vegan food.
Abbi Heimach has a B.A. from the College of Wooster in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Religious Studies. After a year teaching elementary special education, she worked in young adult related ministry at the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Currently, Abbi is working on her Masters of Divinity at McCormick Theological Seminary. She is an intern for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training, a member of the National Committee of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, and is pursuing ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In her free time, you can find her dancing and cooking vegan food.

At the end of March, I traveled to Madison, Wisconsin for the White Privilege Conference (WPC). If you’ve never been to WPC before or never heard of it, WPC is an annual conference that promotes racial equity and justice through educational plenaries and workshops, caucusing, and networking. As a first time attendee, it was refreshing to…

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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.

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