These Trees

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I wonder how old they were then. When Africans were hustled to the sea for transport. Some of their roots are above ground. These ancient roots are tangled perhaps from trying to see, then hiding from the atrocities that took place. They saw Africans, those who lived on the land; those who had families, tribes and villages. Africans who grew food and hunted among these trees were driven to the shore in chains and herded into ships hewn from the wood of trees. They were packed like sardines on wooden planks made from the relatives of these very trees, to be shipped to the new world.

Could these trees like the Baobab all over West Africa have provided shelter for those who were running, trying to find a place of protection? Probably not, some of them have branches with leaves that are too far off the ground to provide protection,. Though some of their cousins that stood nearby tried to provide a hiding place. Every now and then because of trees, perhaps the thick trunks, or the ability to climb, one African, man or woman or child escaped capture to run back to the village to tell. They were able to call the names of those who were now gone, to remember those who were carried out on the water that did not end.

The stories that these trees could tell: of hurt and pain and capture, of love and family, of fun, of how it used to be before those with pale skin came and how it was after. These stories were whispered as I sat in a lounge chair, enjoying the African sun so close to the Atlantic Ocean. I sat a descendant of those taken and those who took. I sat with many who may be ancestors of the captors. These oblivious visitors who now sit listening to the sounds of the ocean that once carried Africans as profit for their lives. Now they come to sip fresh juice and rum. Now they come to dip in the cool water and listen to the waves.

The days of capture are over, yet the Africans still feel the affects of those days. The affects of colonization are still so apparent. Poverty is rampant in this country outside the walls of this oasis of luxury. In this place the Africans serve and wait on those who once stole their relatives. The Africans laugh and entertain to make a living in this place of vacation leisure. And the trees are still witnesses.

Race, Ethnicity and Culture …..continued

This beautiful picture is the first thing that you see as you walk into a church in West Africa. While it is a well done rendition of Jesus greeting and blessing the people, there is something problematic about this picture for me. Everything I have read tells me that Jesus was of Jewish descent and was able to blend in as he and his family fled to Egypt.

That Jesus is not what I see represented here. Even in 2017 this is what can be seen in an African church. Enough said.

As always, I am westafricabound.

Give them Grace

Sermon preached for MWCA4MWCA Preaching Workshop in Totota, Liberia

Ephesians 4:25 -5:2

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 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.”img_5256

Pray with me:

Sometimes we don’t feel like preaching. Sometimes the news is anything but good. Sometimes nothing but corrupting talk wants to spill out of my mouth. Yet as a preacher, I preach and my task is to set what is wrong with the world in-light-of the faith that we have in Jesus the Christ. That anything I say, as the writer of Ephesians says “may give grace to those who hear.”

But today I’m not feeling it!

If I had to preach in a congregation in the United States this morning, I would be preaching with a heavy heart, with anger and sadness. By now everyone in the world has seen the election of a man that has:

bashed immigrants,

disrespected women,

threatened to build a wall

and bragged about what he can do to women.

The US has elected a man who has fed into many Americans worst fears: fear of having a black man in the “white house,” fear of increased diversity in the US, fear of an America that is different than it was 50 years ago. He has said, that he will make “America Great Again.”

And that makes me angry!

For those of us who have ancestors stolen from the shores of Africa, enslaved and treated in justly from the founding of the United States, I wonder just who America has been great for. Yes, I am proud to be an American when America is at its best, but now?

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As an American descendent from Africans this election makes me sad and worried. I am not worried about myself, I can in my travels get away from all the prejudice that has risen -up in the US. I worry for my dark brown son and all the little brown boys like my grandson. I worry because they may be in places in their own country and still be treated as though they don’t belong. I worry about women and little girls.

I also worry about all those who I encounter around the world who voiced their fear as soon as the newly elected person came on the scene. They thought that his throwing his hat in the ring to be president was a joke.

Now the joke is on all of us!

As a preacher, I preach and my task is to set what is wrong with the world in-light-of the faith that we have in Jesus the Christ. That anything I say, as the writer of Ephesians says “may give grace to those who hear.”

But this stinks.

I cry out is there a word from the Lord? While I wonder, how this will affect those who travel as US citizens? Will other countries close their doors? What does this mean for all the people I have come to love on this amazing continent of Africa? Will this election make it even harder for black and brown people to travel to the U.S.? What does this mean for you my friends?

I ask because we all know that what happens in the United States affects the world. How I wish it weren’t so, but it is!

Even so, as a preacher, I preach and my task is to set what is wrong with the world in-light- of the faith that we have in Jesus the Christ.  That anything I say may give grace to those who hear.

I am not doing so good this morning. The law is holding sway at this moment, because to me this situation really – leaves a bad taste in our mouths and a foul smell in the air. In the African American community, we have become used to foul smells. The smell of gunfire on the streets as a black or brown male child lays dying.

The smell of decay as communities suffer from the greed of corporations, the prejudices of people, corruption and malice just because we are the countries darker citizens, and our lives don’t matter to some. I know the smell of flowing tears as parents and grandparents suffered injustices at the hands of others, for just wanting to do better.

And I have even experienced the smell of death as a child because the neighbors didn’t like the brown people moved in next door and killed our pet. I am afraid that recent events and especially this election may have set the U.S. back to such a time. A time when hurt anger and fear were always right at the surface – back over 50 years.

This makes my heart heavy and has me feeling ill and I hear the words of the writer of Ephesians that tell me despite how we feel and what we are going through

We are to be kind to one another, to forgive, to be like God, to walk in love. Because perfect love casts out fear . . .

I know the writer of Ephesians isn’t necessarily talking about the preaching task; he is talking about the new life that we live in Christ; he is taking about words that come from our months; he is talking about our better nature made possible through Jesus the Christ.

With the recent events in my country I don’t want to preach, what wants to come from my mouth is a loud scream.

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Then I remember, I am descendent from a people who despite the hurt, anger and fear they experience time after time in the history of the United States have devised a mechanism to cope. Through it all Black American preachers developed a style and a way of preaching that sustains the weary with the Word. Preachers like my grandfather knew how to encourage a congregation after they had been beaten, treated badly and attacked as they protested for equal rights. He used poetry, rhetoric and song,

But I am not my grandfather and it’s hard right now. So, I am looking for a word… a word that isn’t dependent on my actions, a word that doesn’t expect me to get it right when I can’t – a word that isn’t dependent on how I feel – good or bad.

I know, as a preacher, I preach and my task is to set what is wrong with the world in-light-of the faith that we have in Jesus the Christ. That anything I say may give grace to those who hear.

Yet I don’t know if I can. I suppose this may have been the way you felt in the middle of the Ebola crisis, afraid, cautious, angry at the injustice of it all. I can imagine that your pain was ten thousand times worse than how I feel right now.

I can imagine you wondering when it would be over and what would happen afterwards . . . And yet Sunday after Sunday you were called to stand and preach, a word – a word of grace, a word of hope, a word of love. I can only imagine what strength, what dedication, what love that took. And yet you did!

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When there are trials, and hardships, sickness and death we – who are called to preach have a task: that is to set whatever is wrong in our time, whatever is wrong in our place, whatever is wrong in our situation-in-light-of the faith that we have in Jesus Christ. “That what we say may give grace to those who hear.”

And preachers, the only way I know how to do that is through the word. Not through what I think, but through the word made flesh, through the words that point to hope and love, through the words of scripture.

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And reading to the end of the lectionary text for today I found that word. The word that is beginning to lift me from the depths of my despair at what has happened in my country-a word that calms my doubts and soothes my fears. I found that word that encourages me and keeps me going. Preachers I found that word that helps me remember that God can make a way out of no way; I found that word bishop that gives me joy deep down in my soul; I found that word that has the power to pick me up turn me around and place my fight on solid ground.

I found that word right in the fifth chapter of Ephesians

That word is: “. . . Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Did you hear that Jesus is described as a fragrant offering?

A sweet-smelling gift like perfume

a fragrance that is pleasant to the senses

Jesus — a fragrance so sweet that the stench of disease cannot overcome it

Jesus — a fragrance so powerful that principalities and powers

Election results and uncertainty cannot whisk it away

Jesus a fragrance so lovely that it gets in our nostrils and gives us the ability to keep on keeping on

Jesus, a fragrance my brothers and sisters that covered up the stink of death

Jesus, a fragrance that permeates the air even after three days as he rose from the grave

Jesus is a fragrant offering that stays with us, in and out of season

Jesus is a fragrance that floats in the air as love!

Yes, people of God, I am hurt, angry and disappointed because of all that I have heard in the news about the elections in my country this last week, I don’t know what is going to happen! Yet, I am a preacher, and as I preach my task is to set what is wrong with the world in-light- of the faith that we have in Jesus the Christ.“That it may give grace to those who hear.” And I need God to help me!

So, whenever I stand to preach, whenever you stand and preach whether the situation is pleasant or brings out feelings of anger, hurt or despair, take a deep breath and pray that you may draw in a whiff of that sweet, sweet fragrance – Jesus the Christ and give them grace!

Amen

 

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.

 

 

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.

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

Out of West Africa

I am taking a break from my conversation about race and posting sermons to write something that isn’t exactly work related. Yet, in a way it is. Because of this family, I was able to say, long before taking a call to be the Area Program Director for West Africa, that I was familiar with West African culture. Anyway, here goes.

In June, I was in New York City. I was there to attend the concert of a dear friend held in a wonderful venue, Jazz at Lincoln Center. The view was spectaculor.10488050_10204171743683222_1015058927789807878_n

This friend was born and raised in Togo, West Africa. The concert was dedicated to his father Papa Marc a music teacher, who also worked for the Peace Corps in Togo. In his work as a teacher and a worker for the Peace Corps he touched countless lives.(Including the life of a colleague of mine who was in the Peace Corps in Togo in 1978). My friend credits his father for raising him to be the man that he is and infusing his life with the love of music. He wanted to give this concert while his father, who is now 87, is still alive.

He told the gathered audience that he wanted his father to see what happened with that first piano lesson he gave to his son. The results, I am sure his father would agree, are amazing. This friend has been teaching music for over twenty five years. He has taught in schools and played in churches. He is a very talented musician and for this he credits his father.

You should see what he can do with children… he motivates them, helps keep them focused and brings out the best in them. What he does, is pure magic. One of his students now graduating from high school attested to this. She said that if it had not been for Mr. John she would not have progressed and she was grateful. This student is one of many who is now going to college to pursue a career in music. I have been watching him do this since 1998 and his talent still blows me away.

My friend was nurtured in West Africa, his talent was born in West Africa. I have seen talent like his as I travel. In Sierra Leone I met a young church musician who stirs up his choir to sing wonderful praises to God. In Cameroon, I have heard voices that sound like angels singing. In Senegal, the creative artistry of the people is evident everywhere. I have been priviledged to see the great gifts of God in my friend and many others.

I am so blessed to be westafricabound.

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