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Report from Kampala: “Mission as New Creation”

January 16, 2012

Kampala, Uganda, June 16, 2011 — Amidst this bustling city, Ggaba National Catholic Seminary is a quiet oasis of restful green lawns, trees, and brick buildings. One hundred twenty Christian leaders (inter-confessional, Catholic and Protestant of many varieties) are gathered here from the beauty and pain of the African Great Lakes region — South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Kenya, and Tanzania. This is our sixth annual gathering of the Great Lakes Initiative, and our theme is “Christian Leadership for Reconciliation in Times of Turbulence.”

Signs of joy and life:

* Amidst the vibrant worship and interaction, the thunder-strike of a major theme already: the cross, claimed here for truth and power to live amidst and make sense of the deep pain. Yesterday an Anglican bishop from South Sudan told me, “I have to remind our suffering people there is no cross without resurrection.” I told him in the U.S. I often have to say just the opposite. This morning’s witnesses/story tellers for the first day theme of new creation — Sister Rosemary of northern Uganda and Bishop Taban, founder of the Holy Trinity Peace Village in South Sudan — both seamlessly connected new creation and the cross in their journeys. Independent of similar witnesses and signs across the world who are unknown to each other, I see a new paradigm emerging of “mission as new creation” (versus mission as justice, as salvation, as church growth, as prosperity, etc). Only through dying to the way things are and receiving God’s new reality can something fresh be born in our lives and communities. As a Burundian put it to me here, “Christians are ones whose lives are noticed in times of turbulence.”

* One surprising item named as an “exhibit of new creation” by moderator Wilfred Mlay (formerly Africa VP for World Vision) was a beautiful, glamorous, silver hand bag/purse Sister Rosemary was carrying, a bit out of place on her I must say. It is made out of caps from soda cans. The girls orphaned by war who live at her St Monica’s home make them now for sale. These things would sell like hot cakes if my friend Chris Heuertz was put in charge of marketing.

* Quotes of the day:

Wilfred Mlay: “New creation is a kind of stubborn madness, refusing to accept the way things are. The result is new life amidst death”

Bishop Taban on his method: “Don’t bring people to the town, take the town to the people” (this is exactly what my mentor John Perkins would say)

Bishop Ochola of northern Uganda: “A leader is someone who when they see the truth will live and die for it. Let us become like Rosemary and Taban, for we can change the world. The church of Christ has refused to live to what Christ was saying. All the big churches around the world, they are not listening to what Christ is saying”

In answer to someone who asked, with laughter, “You are mad and stubborn — are you really Catholic?” Sister Rosemary answered, “Is Christ a Catholic? Is God a Catholic? Did Christ die for Catholics?”

A medical doctor from Kenya: “The church (in Africa) went into comfort. But the gospel came to Africa with sacrifice. I think Africa has a hope, and it is for us to get out of the comfort zone.”

* A place of personal joy: Watching the affection between the 16 Africans here who have been to Duke and the U.S. Duke team of 7 Divinity School students, graduates and staff. Many of us have shared a long journey before this institute. This is a real taste of what missiologist Andrew Walls calls “The Ephesian Moment” of our time, this crossroads in Christian history, where “growing into the full stature of Christ” depends on whether we will cross divides into deep fellowship and interdependence.

Outside now into this beautiful day (about 80 degrees) to the afternoon seminars!

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