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Body at Duke, Heart in the ‘Hood

January 4, 2010

Emmanuel and me during my first visit to his family home in Uganda

For the next two weeks I will be writing from Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, in the region for the fourth annual gathering of the Duke Center for Reconciliation’s African Great Lakes Initiative.

At a North Carolina beach in early December I was reminded that being “on the ground” is what I live for in this work.   It’s the beach my colleague Emmanuel Katongole and I have gone to ever since we began as co-directors.  As we walked the beach in 2004 we dreamed of a future.  Every semester we return to reflect on the gifts and challenges and to dream.  Beaches are good places for dreaming.

This time our two-night visit began with a windy, turbulent night.  I could barely walk under the dark, chilly sky the first night.  There have been many challenges over the past year—as if the weather was a reminder.

Yet over the next two days we were taken to a place of gratitude and wonder at all that has happened in these five years since the Center’s ministry began.

The beach was calm and peaceful at sunrise as I walked it alone our final morning.  Suddenly dolphins appeared.  For me they are magical creatures.  I took their presence and the calm as a sign of hope for the future.  Sometimes you just have to claim things, and live into them as if it is true.

A few minutes later as I stood on the wooden stairs soaking in a final glimpse, the words of an old friend who knows me well came to me:  “Chris, your body is at Duke but your heart is in the ‘hood.”

I took the words to heart:  what it means to be at Duke, and to dream on that beach, is ultimately about bridging divided worlds that need each other’s gifts, about companionship and common mission with friends in places like northern Uganda seeking to heal after civil war; East Durham, another world a stone’s throw away from Duke’s towering gothic chapel, where most of the murders happen every year; West Jackson in Mississippi, the sacred inner-city ground that schooled me that “the way things are is not the way things have to be.”

Yes, my body is at Duke, my heart is in the ‘hood, and it is good indeed to be headed to the ground of Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi to be with Christian leaders seeking to bear witness on a terrain of pain of hope.

Keep us in your prayers.  You’ll be hearing from me as we journey by road from Uganda, across the hills of Rwanda, to beautiful Burundi.

About the Author: Chris Rice is co-director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School.  He is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. He writes regularly at the blog Reconcilers.

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