Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Connecting the Communion in the Mountains of Rwanda

Through a mutual friend, I was put in contact with the wife of the bishop of one of the Province of Rwanda's 10 dioceses and was warmly invited to come up for a day to visit. Today was the day, so I went to the bus park and crammed myself into a matatu (a mini-bus that probably should hold 12-14 people but in this case carried 20) for a bumpy and curvy trip into some of the most beautiful mountain country and agricultural regions I have ever seen. We are just entering the rainy season here, and this part of Rwanda is lush and green and beautiful.

When I arrived at my destination (a little unnerved by the policeman with the automatic weapon sitting in the seat in front of me the last part of the journey), the bishop's wife was waiting for me. After a quick stop by the office where she works (an organization that provides two meals a day for children orphaned by the genocide and HIV/AIDS), she took me by the Cathedral and (attached to it) a diocesan training centre. The centre is used by the whole community for vocational training and also training of leaders for reconciliation work. We then walked back to their house, many people stopping to greet us along the way (everyone here speaks Kinyarwanda, quite a few people speak French and almost no one speaks English. I've spent the whole week wishing I had retained more of my college French and speaking Berlitz-level Kinyarwanda -- I do know that "muraho" means "hello" and "murakoze" means "thank you" -- it's amazing how far those words and a smile will take you!) and also stopping by a class where orphans were being taught craftwork for sale in the market.

The Bishop joined us when we got to the house and we had a wonderful conversation and lunch. I was full of questions and they were both very patient with me -- and also eager to talk about their church. I'm very hesitant to talk about the genocide because I have only been here a week and even though it feels like I have seen so much, I am such an outsider and know I'm only seeing a few pieces of the puzzle. But one thing is for certain and that's this is a land and a people who have been through hell. The genocide hangs over and undergirds everything about Rwanda. The bishop and his wife were forced to flee during the genocide, and afterwards he spent time in refugee camps in several countries figuring out who among his clergy and others were alive and who was dead. Then as soon as they could, they came right back home and started rebuilding the church.

Both the diocese and the mother's union are a huge part of the social structure there. The primary school is run by the diocese, as is a secondary school many kilometers away from the diocesan center. There is a great deal of intentional ministry around HIV/AIDS, family planning, education, and health care. Most of all, the church plays a huge role in post-genocidal reconciliation -- helping those who were imprisoned for helping commit the genocide re-integrate into society after going through the local gacaca courts, bringing together survivors with the parents and spouses of the genocidaire. I have seen this ministry in other places in Rwanda. There is an organization called REACH/Rwanda (the diocese of SW Florida has been a big supporter of them) that is based out of the Kigali Diocese that trains religious leaders of all faiths in reconciliation and trauma healing. In a nation where there are THREE psychiatrists in the entire country (yes, that's right THREE), the church is providing ministry that is life-saving and life-giving.

We talked about the importance of women's leadership in the church -- and how the ordination of women had enriched both our churches.

And then over lunch, conversation turned to the current situation in the communion. And my experience talking with this bishop was the same experience I have had talking with other bishops and clergy and laity in Ghana and Sudan and South Africa. We disagreed - but we listened to each other. I heard him speak of how America loves to make big splashes and announce it is changing the world. How there is an arrogance about our country that assumes that others should fall in and follow behind us. How he thought the Lambeth resolution in 1998 was a wonderful thing because in his mind it affirmed homosexuals (his term) as children of God -- which absolutely is something we should do ... and which was a huge leap from where much of his society was, casting them out and calling them horrible sinners. How he interpreted General Convention 2003 as us taking us off that point of Lambeth -- a place he was happy to go, but was culturally a big stretch -- and forcing "our issues" on them.

And I tried my best to listen -- and to really hear him. This is a good man and a good bishop. He has risked his life for his people and continues to give his life for his people. He is not hateful - not toward gay and lesbian people, not toward Americans, not even toward the people who slaughtered his clergy and people. Even though part of me kept wanting to raise my hand and say "what a minute .. you don't understand" by grace, I was somehow able to restrain myself (those who know me will recognize a minor miracle!). He deserved a listen. And more than that, I realized I needed to really listen to what he was saying.

When it came my turn to respond, I knew I needed to be as straightforward with him as he had been with me (and he had warned me he would be blunt!). I told him how I voted at GenCon 2003 and that I thought the sin we (and I) needed to repent of was not what we did but not recognizing the deep effect it would have on the Communion. I said I agreed that we come off as arrogant and at times really are arrogant, that we have a cultural self-assurance and conviction and that it is too easy for us to confuse self-righteousness with God's righteousness. I said we are a culture that emphasizes individual rights and that our actions come out of that framework -- our concern for the rights of GLBT people, and our primary understanding of autonomy in the communion vs. their primary understanding of community in communion. I said that most Episcopalians I know really want to be part of the Anglican Communion. That we feel torn between wanting to honor these relationships and following what we really believe God and Christ would have us do with the GLBT people who are full parts of our church.

We disagreed. But we agreed that eventually, what was of God would stand and what was not of God would not. We agreed that we need each other and that there is so much we can do together. And when conversation turned to kicking the American church out of the communion and I said, "but let's say for the sake of argument that I am wrong and in need of conversion ... how can that happen if you push me away?" he laughed a great, booming laugh and said "Yes! That is good! I must draw you closer!"

And then conversation turned to more important things -- the great work he was doing. The training of lay catechists for their 300+ congregations. Education. Care for widows and orphans. Spreading the Gospel. The work EGR is trying to do bringing the church together around God's mission of global reconciliation in the MDGs.

As he left for a meeting, I asked him for his blessing -- and he laid his hands on my head and asked God's blessings on me, on my travel, on my work and on our relationship.

This is not the first time I have had a conversation like this, and I doubt it will be the last. I believe this is the true face of the Anglican Communion. Honest and even passionate disagreement? Yes. But disagreement while gathered (literally, in this case) breaking bread around the table. Disagreement while celebrating each other's missions and dreaming how we can labor together. Disagreement while greeting with a hug and parting with a blessing. No ultimatums. No threats. No walking out or dueling press machines.

Tomorrow I leave for home ... and I've actually spent a refreshingly little amount of time talking about issues of schism in the Anglican Communion during my week in South Africa and my week here in Rwanda. But I have spent a lot of time with Anglicans of many stripes. And the one thread that has run through all those encounters was a commitment to common mission. Through proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed.

That is the real face of the Anglican Communion -- "alive and well" as Archbishop Ndungane says.

At least it was this afternoon in the beautiful mountains of Rwanda.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Random Rwandan Ruminations

There are about a dozen things I could write in depth about, but all of them need more reflection and less reactivity. I'm trying to gather pieces of a complex puzzle in less than a week, which is an impossible task. All I can really do is get a small sense of things and go from there.

I'm trying to hear as many stories and perspectives as possible. I've met with a lot of the Millennium Village people here and feel like I've got a good handle on what's going on with that. Yesterday, I spent a few hours with an Episcopal laywoman who is working for the Anglican church in one of the outlying dioceses and heard about Rwanda from her perspective. Today I went to church, coffee and lunch with Kimberly Buxton, who is working with Partners in Health in Rwinkwavu (I was hoping to go out to the site with her tomorrow, but those plans aren't going to work). Tonight, I'm having dinner with someone from REACH, a faith-based organization that is doing reconciliation work here (the Diocese of SW Florida has been involved in working with them).

Everyone has a different perspective ... which is really valuable. Some of them jive together. Some don't. I'll need awhile to put it all together.

So in the meantime, two random slices of life/other thoughts.

*Just to let you know the little I am learning about Kigali. It's a city of about a million people, but it's really a lot of sprawl -- there is definitely no downtown or skyline. It's very hilly. Most of the roads are unpaved, though major arteries are paved. There are plenty of stoplights but none of them work because the electricity is too expensive (they say they turned them on when Bill Clinton came).

The primary way people travel is walking, because that's the cheapest way to go -- and when you have close to 70% unemployment you really gun for cheap. The other popular mode of transport is thousands of little motorbikes that you climb on the back of and hold on. Traffic here is like NYC ... the lanes are more suggestions than anything else. And the motorbikes are always zipping in and out of everything.

The combination of all this -- lots of pedestrians (who just wander into traffic with great regularity), zipping motorbikes, permeable lanes and no stoplights makes traffic an interesting experience. But like in most places like this, people seem to have an intuitive sense and so nobody gets hurt.

*There seems to be a real catch-22 with developing industry here. Labor is incredibly cheap (which has its pros and cons, obviously). But raw materials are incredibly expensive. Why? Because there is little infrastructure here to produce and refine raw materials, so they have to be imported. A major source of revenue for the Rwandan government is tariffs on imports -- which drives the prices of materials WAY up.

The argument for this is that the tarrifs protect domestic industry that would have a hard time competing against cheaper foreign goods. Problem is, there is no domestic industry to protect and the high cost of goods with which infrastructure could be built to actually BUILD domestic industry prohibits domestic industry from developing.

This is a great example of how a comprehensive approach of aid, debt relief and trade is important. You need aid ... but the ultimate goal is to have a society that doesn't need aid. Aid industries should be in the business of putting themselves out of business and aid should be used in ways that promote local development. That's why microfinance -- when done properly (and I'm still learning what that means) is such an intruiging option. But in this system, protectionist trade policy is actually preventing economic development -- and all the aid and debt relief in the world isn't going to enable Rwanda to stand on its own two feet economically if those don't get eliminated or at least phased out.

More later.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Crucifixion and Resurrection

Crucifixion and Resurrection

Crucifixion and resurrection are at the heart of our faith. They're also metaphors that are used often enough that it's easy for them to lose their power. None of us were at Calvary that Friday and none of us have every seen a crucifixion -- but if we had we would understand that it's not a metaphor for difficulty but it is blinding pain and the desolation of death. And none of us were there Sunday morning to find the stone rolled away and the tomb emtpy -- but if we were we would understand that it's not a metaphor for triumph but it is awesome and impossible, wonderful beyond words and yet terrifying.

I think if I were really at the crucifixion and having to write about it, I wouldn't be able to. Ditto for the resurrection. And that tells me a little about yesterday.

It would be easy to talk about Thursday in terms of crucifixion and resurrection. And it would be a useful metaphor -- if not all too easy to use. And there are definitely ways it would be accurate. But still it seems inadequate. We'll see.

First, crucifixion. I didn't witness crucifixion yesterday, but I heard tell. And I saw the aftermath. In the morning, I spent 2 1/2 hours at the National Genocide Museum in Kigali and in the afternoon, I visited the genocide memorial in Bugesera District (where 65% of the population was slaughtered -- the hardest hit district in Rwanda).

And I can't write about it. Maybe in a week, maybe in a month, maybe sometime in the future I'll be able to. But for now I can't. I just can't. Suffice it to say that the genocide hangs over and undergirds everything that happens here. If the genocide is crucifixion and the rebuilding of Rwanda is resurrection, there is no neat dividing line of Holy Saturday. Crucifixion, the blinding pain, the desolation of death continues even as resurrection begins.

And so ... resurrection.

I can write about this part ... which tells me something, too. It's not as in-your-face. In many ways it's more of a hint, a peripheral glance rather than in your face.

Resurrection in Rwanda isn't happening all at once. And in many places it's not happening at all. The unemployment rate is near 70%. Economic growth has been trumpeted and it has been good but so far the benefits have only been felt by the top economic strata (though there is lots of hope it is trickling down because lots of important infrastructure is being built).

But slowly, it is happening in one of the least-likely places. It is happening in Mayange in Bugesera, where the Millennium Village is.

If you've read this blog before, you've heard me talk about the Millennium Village in Mayange. It's an integration of development principles starting with a target group of 1,005 households aimed at meeting all the MDG goals and targets at once. What makes Mayange different from other MVs (and many other programs) is the degree of buy-in of the government (and the comparatively low corruption index of the government), methods of intervention that encourage sustainable development rather than dependency, and a plan to scale the project up beyong the village to the entire country.

Mayange isn't an oasis. It has a long way to go. There is still incredible poverty. There is still malnutrition. Domestic violence is epidemic. There is lots of undiagnosed and untreated mental illness. But there is positive momentum. Something is happening here, and it's incredibly exciting.

I tagged along with Josh and a group from a medical conference for a tour yesterday, and I'm heading back this afternoon. The first stop was the health centre.

The first thing you notice about the health centre is that it's bursting with people. The waiting room is full. There are lines outside the lab, the pharmacy, and many other places. It's not a large complex and they are maxing out the space and need to grow.

This is a good thing. No -- this is a great thing. The centre serves about 500 people a day, and that's great news because it means people are accessing the health care. It also means they are accessing health care earlier on in illness when prevention and early-stage treatment are possible.

One example: The under-five mortality rate is 15 percent in this district. When they got here, they would have 3-4 funerals (mostly of children under five) a week. They haven't had a young child funeral in four months.

Another example: When they first opened the centre, about 80 percent of the patients had malaria. Now that's down to 10 percent -- thanks to an integrated system not just of distributing bednets, but of education, monitoring of use and tying bednet use to availability of other things -- like agricultural interventions (ERD's Nets for Life program is using similar strategies).

The key has been not just fighting disease but working hard to change the health care system. By removing barriers like co-pays and the need to travel long distances and pay fees to have pictures taken for IDs (they now have a mobile webcam and printer that goes to where the people are and takes the pictures for free), they now have the vast majority of the people enrolled in a system where people pay what they can but nobody is denied treatment.

Expensive? Not as much as you might think. The per capita cost for health care in this MV is $25 with fixed costs (staff salaries, electricity, infrastructure) and $8 without fixed costs. That's below MV hoped-for standards and certainly sustainable.

People are getting in, getting treatment and getting better. You can make an argument that health care is more accessible to the entire population in Mayange than in St. Louis!

We then went to one of the fields and heard about the agricultural innovations, like progressive terracing, which uses trench-digging to maximize the ability of rainwater to get to the lower levels of soil and not just run off taking all the nutrients with it. They've planted nitrogen-fixing trees every three meters to help replenish the soil over time.

But the big new thing is a massive fertilizer loan program (I'm headed back for the big celebration of its launch this afternoon).

Other programs (and most, if not all, of the other Millennium Villages) give away the fertilizer, which creates a culture of dependency. The loan program will enable growers to sign up for a loan of fertilizer and maize. At the harvest, they will pay it back in maize or in cash. 70-75 percent of the people have signed up (they were hoping for 30%). And they've tied it to use of progressive terracing and membership in the health care system.

If there is an icon for what is going on in Mayange, it is the children.

That there are children at all is life and light. The genocide was 13 years ago (though massacres began years before that), and our visit was greeted by children much younger than that. Children who are the rising generation of post-genocide Rwanda

There are children at the health center. They are sick, but they're getting treatment.

There are children on the street. They are poor, but they are not hopeless.

Most of all, they are children with dignity. Walking up the street toward Josh's house yesterday morning I was approached by a child asking for money. The children in Mayange don't do this. They don't beg. They smile. They follow us everywhere. They clamor to have their picture taken so they can see themselves. They try to practice their English on you. But they don't bed.

They have dignity. And dignity, more than anything, is the foundation for development not just of an economy but of the identity of a people.

And maybe that's the real resurrection. Rwanda is a nation the West looks on with guilt and pity. It has a horrible past that flows into the present and will flow into the future.

But it is a place of great beauty. And at least in Mayange, it is a place of dignity and pride.

And as much as the shadow of the past is still cast into the present, in those children you can catch a glimpse of the future. A future worth looking forward to.

Monday, March 12, 2007

God grant us...

The only downside to skipping out on Saturday with the Pilgrimage to Peace group was that we missed hearing from the Rev. Michael Lapsley (ENS' Matthew Davies did an excellent story on his presentation here). Michael is an Anglican priest and director of the Institute for Healing of Memories in Cape Town. A native New Zealander, he became a tireless and prophetic advocate for the end of Apartheid upon moving to South Africa in 1973 -- continuing even after the government expelled him from the country a few years later. In April, 1990, he came back from a trip abroad and opened a magazine that had come in the mail. The magazine contained a bomb. The explosion took both of his hands, an eye and shattered his eardrums.

This morning, the P2P crowd got a chance to meet with him in a small group and +Marc Andrus invited me to tag along. Powerful doesn't even begin to describe the experience, but I'll try to convey his talk in as many of his words as possible.

He framed his talk with the serenity prayer. You know it:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.

And through telling his story he talked about doing just that ... and how that process helped change the course of a nation, the world, and his life.

Michael Lapsley never thought he'd end up in South Africa. He never particularly wanted to. He had joined a religious order and when it was time for him to be sent out he asked to go to Japan ... but they sent him here. He talked about what he expected to find:

“I assumed that when I got to South Africa that I would find three groups. The oppressed, the oppressors and the third group – the human race – that I would belong to.”

“The day I arrived in South Africa, I stopped being a human being and became a white man. Because every single part of my life was determined by the color of my skin. I lived in my white suburb because by law that was the only place I could live.”

There were lots of examples. Bathrooms labeled "whites only" and "non-whites." Restaurants where whites ate inside and blacks had food passed to them out the window. And then there was the greatest icon for him, the elevators he saw when he went to the university -- one labeled "whites only" and the other "freight and non-whites." If you weren't white you weren't even considered human.

In South Africa, being white decided everything. And as much as he hated what his color meant, his color was one of the things he could not change.

"My color meant that I was part of the oppressor group regardless of whether I wanted to be or chose to be. I could choose to fight against it, but I would fight it from the side of the beneficiary.
He did have a choice -- between two options. A pretty simple one, as he saw it:

Beat 'em or join 'em.

And with that choice began what he called a long "journey of accompaniment" with the people of black South Africa.

"Apartheid had turned me into an oppressor, but I wanted to be a human being. So fighting it was not first to do something for other people but to free myself in solidarity with others."

He noted that parallels have been drawn between the U.S. civil rights movement and the battle against Apartheid. That doesn't do the anti-Apartheid struggle justice. In America, the civil rights movement was about asserting rights under the constitution. In South Africa, the constitution was part of the problem. This was about people who were non-entities, for whom the constitution did not apply. This was not a civil rights struggle but a struggle for national liberation.

As I've heard about the struggle against Apartheid the past few days, I keep coming back to Bishop Peter Lee of Christ the King Diocese telling me how South Africa is 85 percent Christian ... and that is how so much of the reconciliation was able to happen, because of that basic commonality.

But if that is true in the aftermath of Apartheid, in the truth and reconciliation process, it means it was also true during Apartheid.

In 1976, children -- young teenagers, 13, 14 and 15 years old began protesting in Soweto. Protesting bad schools. Protesting having to learn lessons in Afrikaans. And in the streets of Soweto, these children began to be shot. All in all more than a thousand of them were shot.

And for Michael, in addition to the horror, with that came a revelation. That “those who shot children went to church on Sunday, read the Bible every day and shot kids.” Apartheid and the brutalism it supported was being carried out by people under the banner of Christ -- even though it was in direct opposition to the Gospel of Christ.

The church has a long history of association with oppression. That we are here talking about the Millennium Development Goals as a Christian body has to include an acknowledgment that these goals are necessary in large part because of the actions of largely Christian western societies. Marching as the oppressor under the banner of Christ is nothing new. But it is a life of great dissonance.

Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, and he said to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Yet oppression prevents us from living that great commandment, that "love commandment" because it prevents the relationship of neighbor.

This realization led Michael to join the African National Congress, an organization not looking to substitute oppression of whites for oppression of blacks, but looking for a South Africa without oppression. The vision of the ANC was simple – South Africa belongs to all South Africa

"Freedom has to be for everybody or it is for nobody."

"Apartheid was a choice for death carried out in the name of the gospel of life. It was an issue of faith to say no to Apartheid. At stake in South Africa was the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ because either the Gospel was true or Apartheid was true."

As far as the ANC's uses of violence, Michael had this to say:

“The only automatic weapon I’ve ever used is the one I’m using now – my tongue. Eventually they were so stupid that they took away my hands, which I didn’t need to shoot, and they left my weapon working reasonably well.”

Struggles over fundamental issues of justice and human rights are not unique, but what made a difference was how South Africa's struggle became a global struggle.

"Most western governments supported apartheid even though they said different. But they were brought kicking and screaming by their populations. By people of conscience around the world. People realized there was something in South Africa that concerned the humanness of all of us."

And something else was happening:

"In South Africa, the struggle was getting younger and younger. Desmond Tutu called it 'A generation of young people that had iron in their souls that could face the bullets and go on'"

And the struggle began to work. Through pressure brought on by people of conscience rising to demand their leaders listen and act. Michael began to be more in demand as a speaker to rally the world for the cause. And it was in coming back from one such trip (to Canada, I believe) that he went to his desk and opened the magazine that would change his life forever.

The blast maimed him permanently. He stood before us with hooks where his hands used to be and only one functioning eye. But he holds to the memory with more than just pain.

"It’s important that I remember the moment not to remember the pain but to remember the strong sense that God was with me… That the great promise of scripture had been kept … Lo I am with you always even to the end of the age."

It also gave him a choice. If he chose to give in to despair they would have won. If he chose to continue to embrace life and the mission God had called him to, the Gospel would remain victorious.

But it was not easy.

"I could not have made a lifegiving response by myself without the community of prayer and support."

And that was another lesson. We don't make lifegiving choices from death-producing situations by ourselves. We need each other. We have each other.

"The peoples of the world walked beside me on my journey of healing. God was calling me to walk beside others on their jouyrney of healing."

And so as Michael healed and Apartheid fell, he began to ask the Quo Vadimus question. "Where are we going?"

For South Africa, the answer was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission -- a work of grace and genius credited for helping a country transition out of Apartheid without the bloodbath that had been almost universally predicted.

But what people don't often recognize is that the TRC only heard the most extreme cases - murder and rape. Sure, 22,000 people gave testimony before the TRC. But South Africa is a nation of 43 million people. Those who got to participate in the process were only an icon for those who did not.

And that's where the Institute for the Healing of Memories began. It's a place where people can come in groups to "take the first step on the road to healing." It's a place to start. And the work he is doing there is being replicated around the globe, for as Michael says:

"Each country in the world is different, each country has different histories. But pain is pain is pain."

As I write about this, I think of last November when I sat in the Waverly, Iowa dining room of Kathryn Koob. Kate Koob was one of 52 Americans held for 444 days in Iran from 1979-81. And yet today she teaches reconciliation at Wartburg College.

In two days I will get on a plane for Kigali and spend a week in a land where a dozen years ago one group of people, as part of a cycle of oppression going back more than a century, rose up and slaughtered nearly a million of their fellow countrymen and women. And yet through a process similar to the TRC, they are rebuilding their nation.

The human capacity to embrace reconciliation is beyond amazing. And we need it.

The system of global wealth and poverty is an Apartheid system. There is nothing else to call it. Those of us in the (largely white) rich nations separate ourselves from the (largely non-white) poor two-thirds world. And like the destitute townships and shantytowns I drove through yesterday that grew up around the whites-only towns to house the people whose sweat served white South Africa, our wealth has been enjoyed on the backs of the poor.

And as if the image weren't clear enough, now we're actually, physically building a wall on our southern border to keep the "other" out.

When people looked at South Africa in the 1970s, they looked at it several ways:

Some saw it as an acceptable state of affairs -- perhaps somewhat evil, but necessary to maintain "the way things ought to be".

Some saw it as an intolerable state of affairs. A fight that must be joined.

Was Apartheid sustainable indefinitely. Some on either side would have said yes. But those with eyes to see and those who knew history knew differently. And almost all of them said the same thing:

There's no way this ends well.

And yet look what happened. Not without pain and death -- Michael would be the first to say that -- but the truth is I sit in a Johannesburg in 2007 that 20 years ago nobody would dare to dream. Sitting in a room with people of many colors listening to a man with no hands talk about loving the neighbor that did it to him.

So we have our Apartheid. An Apartheid that says for billions of people that where you are born decides how you live and even whether you live.

And many see it as an acceptable state of affairs -- perhaps somewhat evil, but necessary to maintain "the way things ought to be".

And some see it as an intolerable state of affairs. A fight that must be joined.

But is it sustainable? Some will bury their heads and say yes. But those with eyes to see. Those who know about economic and environmental sustainability and yes, those who know history will say differently.

And many of them are looking at the handwriting on the wall and saying the same thing they said of South Africa in the 1970s:

No way this ends well.

But that is not us. We are not people who shrink back in despair. Despair is not a Gospel value.

I was born in Santa Clara, California. I am an American. My children are Americans. As a straight, white, educated, homeowning American I am part of a class priviliged beyond any on earth.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

But here's the thing. As intractable as the systems that keep billions of people in poverty, that kill a child every three seconds, that keep water toxic for more than a billion people... as intractable as these systems seem, are they really more intractable than the system that went from blacks taking elevators as freight to being elevated to the highest office in the land?

I have a choice. I choose to believe those systems are changeable. I believe that is wisdom -- to not resign myself to intractability, to recognize that this is something we can change. That where we are going is on a road to freedom for all. A road that South Africa has made just a little bit smoother before us.

God grant us the courage.

Other looks at the TEAM conference

There are lots of people here and lots of good ways to find out what's going on. Here are some highlights:

Mary Frances Schjonberg and Matthew Davies of Episcopal News Service have been providing excellent coverage, both of the TEAM Conference and of the Pilgrimage for Peace. For the nuts and bolts and some good features, there's no better source.

There are a couple young adult blogs. The Pilgrimage for Peace group is blogging at www.bishopmarc.com and the young adult delegation to the conference is blogging here.

Also blogging from here are the Rev. Amy Real Coultas, a priest from Kentucky who is here with Episcopal Peace Fellowship. Also is the Rev. Will Scott of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco (here with P2P).

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Church in the townships

Church in the townships

This morning we got on buses that distributed us to different congregations in and around Johannesburg and Pretoria for church services. The bus I was on made four different stops and we were the last stop. That meant we arrived when the service was 2/3 over. That was really OK. First, there was still an hour left in the service. Second, I got to drive through all these townships, which was really interesting. A lot of it is shantytowns ... just acres of people living in little shacks made of pretty much whatever they can find to make a shack out of. It was like the worst parts of the neighborhood where James lives in Accra.

I sat next to one of the volunteers for the conference for most of the trip. She was a marketing student at a university in Johannesburg and really bright. We talked a lot about the government and she told me a lot about life in the townships and I told her about some of the urban problems we have in America -- which really surprised her. Since her vision of America pretty much comes from TV and movies, she had no idea that we had homelessness and that a lot of our city schools were really bad.

I was the only American in the group I traveled with (there was one other, but he identified himself as from the Dominican Republic because that's where he's living doing medical mission work). The rest were from Madagascar, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Mozambique and Zambia. What was interesting (and a little disturbing) about that was the distinctly different reaction I got when I introduced myself and said where I was from. Everyone else got an enthusiastic greeting, but when I said I was from the United States it went up several decibels and then there was this noticeable buzz afterwards ... and then the priest made a comment after in Zulu and the only nation he mentioned was "United States" ... and there was more buzz.

Of course the people were wonderful and the hospitality incredible. Probably the most powerful moment for me was when one of the lay ministers got up to talk and talked of how this is a nation that lives reconciliation and hospitality. I wish I could remember the words exactly, but he spoke of Apartheid and all they had been through and how through it all their common identity in Christ had seen them through.

Another interesting thing about the service was that the church was full -- but about 90-95% of the congregation was women. I asked the priest about that and he said it was "a South African phenomenon" -- you couldn't get men to come to church. He said it wasn't as bad in his last congregation, but this was extreme. I told him it wasn't just a South African phenomenon ... that in many American churches, women are the clear majority (it was interesting that all the service leaders were men, though).

Upon returning we had a plenary session with the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme. They do good work, but the presentation was really dry. The best part was the questions -- not so much her answers, but the passionate questions that came from the audience. Two Sudanese people stood up and talked about Darfur and also the challenges of the South. Someone asked about genetically modified food (she never answered that question ... too bad). Lots of questions about moving people to self-sustaining solutions -- which is their goal, but the truth is a lot of the people they serve are so close to starvation they're just medically quite a ways away from being able to function in the economy.

For the workshop time, I chose one on refugees -- not so much because of the topic but because the format was listed as "group discussion." I wasn't disappointed. Details of that are below.

And with all that, the highlight of the day was yet to come. At the last minute (i.e. this morning), the Pilgrimage to Peace crew were told that they were leading evening worship tonight. They came up with the most amazing, lively-yet-still-contemplative worship service. The two young adult musicians from Mozambique wrote a song for the service. The whole crew danced in singing and got the whole congregation moving. The prayers were wonderful. There was a wonderful period of silent meditation. And after it was all over they all (and a few others of us) stayed and danced and sang for another 15 minutes or so.

It was a real breath of fresh air and hopefully gave people a taste of the energy that is available to this movement if we give power to young people. Another plus for me is I got to watch Amber help lead worship, which always makes me not only proud and happy but incredibly thankful for how much God has blessed me with intersecting my life with wonderful people like her for so long.

Tomorrow the focus is HIV/AIDS. Hope you all are well. More later.

Invisible People

When I was in high school, my church – St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Tucson, Arizona, -- was a participant in the Sanctuary Movement. Sanctuary helped people who were on death lists in countries like El Salvador get across the border illegally and find safety in the United States. Occasionally when we were over at the rectory for youth group there would be some of these people. Sometimes they would play a guitar and sing. They didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak more Spanish than to ask where the library was (not quite conversational), so that was the extent of our relationship.

Three years ago this June, I was living in Accra, Ghana and went with a Liberian friend, her cousin, and one of my students (Mackinnon Webster) to the Buduburam refugee camp (you can read my old blog entries about it here). I stumbled onto an Episcopal Church and school there and met a seminarian named Eddie Hennings … a Liberian refugee who was starting his theological education and hoped to come to serve that congregation (All Souls) if and when he was ordained. They not only had no priest, they had no money for one.

We raised about $2,700 for All Souls and they took that small amount of money and built a computer training center from the ground up (the dollar can go a long way in Ghana) so that children and adults alike could get computer skills to make them more employable. Eddie and I have stayed in touch ever since.

There are more than 12 million refugees in the world today … and that number is WAY soft. And that’s not counting the millions more of “internally displaced persons” (IDPs)– who cannot be classified as refugees because they have not crossed a border but whose lives are often in greater peril because they have no protection from the persecution they are fleeing.

Refugees, IDPs and asylum seekers are probably the most vulnerable people on earth. In our country, we put them in detention centers that are basically prisons – where they can remain without processing for decades. They cannot go back where they came from and the people and governments where they are don’t want them. Even as a rising generation that is increasingly interconnected, globalization, the internet and increased travel are making national boundaries more permeable, increasingly rigid and xenophobic immigration laws and policies are turning many nations – including our own – into gated communities in the global village. And refugees are, as the vulnerable usually are, the ones most adversely affected.

That the Millennium Development Goals fail to mention refugees is not surprising. They are the world’s invisible people – so why should this be any different. And yet many live in the same kind of poverty the MDGs strive to address.

The programmatic highlight of today was a “group discussion” (praise God – an ACTUAL discussion with many people taking part) led by Richard Parkins of Episcopal Migration Ministries and the Rt. Rev. Ian George, an Australian bishop who works on refugees for the Anglican Communion. EMM does amazing work in refugee resettlement and political advocacy here in America, but still can only scratch the surface of the problem. The Anglican Communion, seemingly well-positioned as a global network to share information and resources about refugees can’t get its act together. Repeated messages from Bishop George to all the primates to help form the most basic of networks have yielded responses from only half of them.

This is an area where we really could make a difference – not only for current refugees and more just immigration policies – but because refugee crises are always preceded by human rights abuses, the Communion could potentially function as an excellent “early warning system” and mobilize resources to try to stop the crises before they happen.

If I hadn’t been raised in a Sanctuary parish, if I hadn’t gone to Ghana, it’s very likely I wouldn’t have any clue the degree of the refugee problem in the world – or the incredible vulnerability these people face. And all over our country – including in St. Louis – refugees who have been fortunate enough to have made it through the Herculean resettlement process face enormous challenges integrating into society and functioning even on a subsistence level.

And yet they are right there in our communities – and they are a gift to the rest of the Body. They are a gift for what they bring to the table as the people of God. They are a gift for their stories and experiences – stories that can open our ears, eyes and hearts to the lives of people who are invisible to the world. Stories that can help us wake up to the call the Archbishop of Canterbury drew out of scripture for us – a call to create a world where nobody is invisible.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Words Made Flesh

This is Tena. At least I think that's his name. He's probably only 3-4 years old and that's the best I could understand him the several times I asked him.

Tena lives in a township outside Pretoria called Lekgema. He doesn't live with his parents. His parents are both died from AIDS. Tena is probably HIV-positive, too.

One of my struggles with the conference thus far is how almost completely didactic the program has been. The content has been mostly excellent, but other than breaks (of which there aren't many) there have been almost no chances to really mix it up in dialogue. Program has been fairly well confined to speakers (again, most of whom have been very good) and then Q&A with them ... but no chance to engage each other -- even in workshops.

The result is content that engages the head without the relationship that engages the whole person. And as someone who thrives on relationship, it's been a little frustrating ... and I've been living for the breaks!

No such problem today. Today I skipped out on the conference and went with Mark Andrus' Pilgrimage for Peace Group on a trip to a township outside Pretoria ... to Lekgema ... to a day care center for AIDS orphans administered by the Diocese of Pretoria called Tumelong Mission.

That's where I met Tena.

There were lots of kids there, but Tena captured me immediately -- literally. As we got off our bus and were guided into Tumelong Haven (a day care center for AIDS orphans we were visiting) to hear song and drama performances by the children, there was a cooler with bottled water for us. I hadn't yet gotten one and so Tena came up to me, grabbed me by the hand and dragged me over to the cooler to get my water. Later, when I slipped out of the room to look around and found him, he smiled at me, grabbed me by the hand and dragged me back to the room where he felt I was supposed to be.

This was a child with purpose!

A little bit later when we were standing out on the porch, I came up to him again and he smiled and then tried to run in between my knees. My younger son, Hayden, is about his size so I did what I do with H -- waited until he was halfway through and closed my legs and said "gotcha!" And just like Hayden, Tena laughed and wriggled free ... and then came back again and again and again to continue the game.

Tena is one of about 75 children who come to the Haven six days a week. Admission is free ... well ... that's not exactly true. The children don't pay anything to attend, but the admission fee is the death certificate of your parent. Christina, the woman who runs the Haven, told me that all of the children there are orphans and almost all of them are HIV-positive, too.

The HIV infection rate in S. Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho teeters near 30%. In South Africa, among children it is estimated between 5 and 6 percent. It is the region on earth most devastated by the pandemic.

In this context, Tumelong Haven does remarkable work. The staff of close to 20
*brings them to and from their homes (headed by grandparents or older siblings
*gives them nutritious meals
*ensures they are properly cared for and cleaned
*provides school-going children with uniforms and stationery for schools, counseling, homework supervision and school fees.
*does home visits to assess their emotional and physical conditions
*provides food parcels to those that need them most
*teaches Saturday classes for school-going children

Everywhere we looked was evidence of an operation that strived for excellence. And yet despite this, and despite the dire situation, Tumelong Haven is in danger of losing its primary funding. A good portion of its money comes from the National Lottery ... only their grant ran out last month and they haven't heard whether it will be renewed. If not, Christina says, they will not be able to afford any staff salaries.

"Will the staff still come?" I asked.

"Of course!" she answered quickly.

She looked genuinely surprised at the question.

Others who were there witnessed a drama put on by some of the older children (I was outside playing with Tena!). Bob Brooks, rector of Grace Church in Providence, told me about it on the bus ride back. He said one by one, four or five kids came forward while the rest of the group was singing softly and told their story, dropping to their knees. They told the story in their native tongue, but Bob said he asked afterward what one of them had said and they said he was telling the story of the death of his parents and about how "life was suffering."

The story was a common one.

And yet as Amber noted as we were leaving, these children were as loving and affectionate as any we've ever met -- even the older ones. They hadn't un-learned unbridled affection as children often do as they get older. They laughed and played. They took our sunglasses and wore them and paraded around for each other. We gave them our cameras and they took pictures of each other. We stood in a circle and played games (I tried teaching them to sing "Louie, Louie" as part of a circle game and experienced the same inability to grasp cultural mores that they experience when they try to teach us their songs!)

A young man in the Pilgrimage group named Eric, who had also taken a side trip that only a few went on to the AIDS hospital, where many of these children's parents died, marveled on the way to our next stop how despite the deep tragedy of their lives they were still able to choose joy.

This week so far has been full of facts and figures. It's been full of beautiful theology and some mind-boggling and even heart-rending stories shared over meals and tea.

But if the theology is really true -- and it certainly is. And if the facts and figures are really true -- and they certainly are. Then where the two meet is in children like Tena.

And if, as Rowan Williams suggests, as we come to the Eucharistic table we should as we are looking forward, look sideways and ask how we can be a part of Christ nourishing our fellow guest -- it's in places like Tumelong Haven where the rubber hits the road.

And if the Word was really made flesh and not made text ... then it has to change us. It has to change our hearts ... and change our actions.

I know I will never play the "run between my knees" game with my children again without thinking of Tena. But as with all encounters like this, the privilege of choice is mine. Will Tena remain a picture on a blog page, a story told of a trip past, a memory revisited from the vantage point of safety.

Or will I choose to let what touched my heart, change how I live my life?

Friday, March 9, 2007

Dinner and Dancing with the Anglican Communion

Most of what I have done the last two days is sit in rooms and listen to people talk. And so I've spent a lot of space reporting what they have said. And a lot of it has been really good stuff. And so it was today. Today we heard from Salil Shetty, director of the UN Millennium Program; Helen Wangusa, the Anglican Communion's official observer at the United Nations; and Steve De Gruchy, a really cool professor of religion and theology from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. I also went to a workshop on attaining the MDGs in local communities led by Grace Phiri from Zambia.

Most of it was really good and I have plenty of notes that I could just pour into this blog (as I did with some of the presentations yesterday), but that just seems way too dull. Mostly because what the MDGs are about for me is relationship ... and the healing and transformation that comes from really living a Gospel life together. And even though some of the stuff I heard was pretty compelling, as I lie here in bed on a Friday night it all just seems, well, pretty dry.

And so I keep coming back to the people I meet. Breakfast with a bishop from Burundi. An ongoing conversation with a woman from Yei in Sudan (not too far from Lui) about the continuing struggle with the Khartoum government's trying to eradicate anything that isn't Arab and Islam from the south. Dinner with some folks from Ghana ... two of whom were from Accra and knew my friend Emmanuel Quartey who I met several years ago when I (and Robin) visited.

In chapel, I sat next to a woman from Sri Lanka and we struggled to communicate because her English was below functional and I don't know her language so she was forced to struggle with mine -- we did OK, I guess. During a tea break, had a great conversation with Maureen, who teaches at CDSP. Tonight I had a chance to talk with the young adult group about EGR and pump them up to dream about what they could do for God's mission of global reconciliation -- and then got to hear Odwa (whom I'd met at General Convention) talk about the Anglican Student Federation, for which he works here in S. Africa.

Everyday is this abundance of riches of relationship. Some of it is easy. Some of it is more difficult. Most of it is probably just scratching the surface. Some of it I'm sure is just politeness ... but some really gets below the surface and goes somewhere.

And then something clicked. It happened when Janette O'Neill, who is ERD's director of Africa Programs, was introducing one of the afternoon speakers and she mentioned what an honor it was to be here ... and that bishops got to get together with people from all over the communion every 10 years at Lambeth but that this was a unique event for everyone else -- a chance for people of all orders and sorts to get together from all over the Communion.

It was kind of one of those V-8, knock yourself upside the head moments for me. Maybe it's because I've been at places like General Convention and traveled in places like Ghana and Sudan that being around people from different lands is nothing new ... but having us all together in one place is something new. We don't do this all the time. In fact, we hardly do this ever.

Maybe that's why as good as the presentations and everything is, and whatever pronouncements or plans we come out of this meeting, maybe the really great thing this gathering is is sort of a first or second date for the Anglican Communion. Sure lots of people here seem to know lots of others (the people who come to something like this are the kinds of people who have traveled a lot and tend to know one another) ... but having us all together is different.

Maybe the best thing that can come out of this is another date. A chance to do it again. A promise to call the next day that we all actually keep. Maybe more than the wonderful theology and praxis of ministry and missiont that's being shared here, maybe that's what's really going to last.

I think of this especially with the young adults -- particularly since they've been joined by some others from S. Africa and Mozambique. And even today they're talking about projects they can share. That's the future.

Tomorrow I'm ditching the TEAM conference and going with the young adults to Pretoria on site visits (AIDS hospice & AIDS orphanage). I can't wait. Mostly because I love hanging out with them and because I really want to get out and see some stuff. But I have to admit, part of my joy is realizing that I won't be spending the whole day sitting behind a table listening to someone talk!

So ... something to look forward to tomorrow. News from Pretoria!

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Hoping it gets tougher

There is so much I could write about today even beyond the accountings of the keynotes. Had a long conversation over breakfast with Jackie Price, who co-chairs the HIV/AIDS work of the Anglican Diocese of Namibia. Heard a challenging talk from a Pakistani bishop who spoke of the role development work has played in reconciliation with hostile fundamentalist Muslim neighbors. Spent an hour and a half with the young adult delegation listening to them process their experience so far (side note: it is wonderful to see Bishop Marc Andrus at work with young people. He sits on the floor and really mixes it up with them. No pretense. Really honoring and engaging them and not just paying lip service. If he weren't a bishop, he'd make an excellent college chaplain). During and after dinner had an extended conversation and coffee with Peter Lee, the bishop of Christ the King diocese (one of four dioceses that make up Johannesburg) all about the history of the end of Apartheid, the current situation in South Africa, the changing role of the church. Then to a fire pit where we listened (and danced) to the same band that played at the Eucharist last night.

So much to absorb. Any one of those things I could relay details of things learned and experiences. And at some point I probably will. But I can't do it all now and I don't want to pick just one.

But through all this, one thing did stick out that has me reframing a lot, including what is happening here.

In my conversation with Bishop Lee, he said that one thing that made reconciliation possible in South Africa is that the nation is 85% Christian and that even people and factions that were poles apart politically could be brought together by the commonality of their Christian faith. It's part of the reason Desmond Tutu was such a critical figure (he told me a great story of how F.W. de Klerk, who regularly consulted with Tutu, called Desmond one morning just as Desmond was preparing to go on retreat and asked to speak with him. Desmond replied that he would have to wait until he was done praying -- three days later. Can you imagine someone the president calling someone and being told he had to wait three days until he was done praying? But that's what Desmond did. He had to listen to God before he talked to de Klerk. And Tutu being who he was, de Klerk waited).

Anyway, that's off track. Here's the question -- if that was such a critical element in South Africa ... is that possible for us?

I'm not even so much talking about "the late unpleasantness" in the Anglican Communion. One of the elephants in the room at this gathering is the large number of Americans here (I believe there's around 70 of us, and if you add the young adult contingent that's well over 100 ... for a conference of about 500). Americans are bankrolling much of the gathering, and while that makes this possible there is also the tension of what do we presume our money buys?

The people sitting in back of me today (both from Southern Africa) routinely grumbled and commented to each other whenever something about America or prosperous nations was mentioned.

I'm not asking "is this possible for us" in the sense of "can't we all just get along" but will we over the course of this week and in the course of our continuing life together in the Church be able to have honest conversations about these things. Because as someone who benefits from the overprivilige of my country, I need to hear what is on the hearts and minds of those who are underprivileged -- and not just eavesdropped literally from behind my back. I need help in determining where confession, repentence and amendment of life are necessary.

Even though I didn't vote for the current administration ... one which, I have to tell you, if this gathering is any barometer, has done more to alienate America from the rest of the world than I would have thought possible ... I still am an American and can't escape my connection with their actions. Have I really done enough to try to change things? Probably not.

I am here representing the American church. The Church is supposed to be power for the powerless -- and yet are we really living into that. This isn't about guilt. This is about what Rowan Williams was talking about and what I have been preaching -- we are prisoners of our own wealth and overprivilege because when our way of life impoverishes another, we become impoverished.

But can we talk about it honestly. And what about me. If we were to talk about it honestly, can I bear the anger without being defensive? Can I try to really hear. I think of Mohammed's words of "cold anger" against America and yet his willingness to be in conversation with me. But can I receive the anger as well, even when so much that is in me would want to smooth it over and say "but that's not me!"

Right now, this gathering has been wonderful -- like an amazing smorgasboard of wonderful people with great and terrible stories and lots of hope. But I'm interested -- and hopeful -- for what happens tomorrow when we begin to get out of plenary and into smaller groups. If it doesn't start getting more difficult, it's not going to be real.

So I guess I'm hoping it gets tougher here on in.

Good night, everyone.

Rowan Williams on Mission, the End of the World and the MDGs

The second keynote of the morning was the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was tasked with laying out a Biblical foundation for our engagement with the MDGs. I hope we are given copies of his talk, because it was outstanding. Briefly, here's the basic gist (and this just scratches the surface). Quotes where I'm sure I'm quoting him. Sorry I don't have time for all the cool hotlinks I could put in. Use Google or bible.oremus.org if you want to look stuff up.

He began with a working definition of mission as "that set of actions and habits that makes God in Jesus Christ known" -- so the ultimate goal is knowing God ... intimate knowledge, not just acknowledging God's existence.

He then went to Jeremiah 31:31-14, which looks forward to the period of Israel's restoration to peace as a time when "everyone knows the Lord." And what is knowing the Lord? Jeremiah 22:16 says knowing the Lord means "giving the poor a fair trial" -- doing justly by the poor.

Knowing God is not a "religious awareness" or an individual mystical glow but knowing how to "see the world with God's eyes." Sharing God's perspective on the world that God has made.

"Knowing God is in anticipation of the end of time when all will know God. It's a glimpse of God's final purpose -- God's perspective becomes instinctive and natural to a redeemed people."

The essence of Old Testament law/justice is that no one is forgotten, no one is invisible. "All are responsible to God and each other for each other." Fairness to the poor is central to the law that all Israel received (he relayed an interesting piece of Jewish midrash that every single Jewish soul -- past, present and future -- was actually present with Moses on Mt. Sinai). Fairness to the poor is central to the law. The true community is one where no one is invisible.

This ultimately spills over from the chosen people to the rest of the world -- particularly in the second part of Isaiah where it talks about Israel being a beacon of hope for all the nations.

The theme is continued in the New Testament. The NT operates from the perspective that the end times are already at hand -- "God's final purpose is being uncovered in the life, death and resurrection of Christ."

Jesus is the embodiment of life in the restored Israel -- a world seen perfectly through God's eyes where no one is invisible, no one is forgotten. The community of Christ is a community that shows what the end of world looks like -- "where each is interested in the good of all."

"We are part of the end of the world -- where God's love determines the boundaries of human living."

After Christ's resurrection, the new Christian community begins to explore its role. Paul in his talk about the body of Christ pulls out a positive and a negative aspect. The positive is that every Christian is gifted for the good of the other -- mutual enrichment. The negative is that every person deprived is deprivation of the community -- mutual impoverishment.

As this is lived out, the Kingdom of God becomes real and concrete.

And like in the Hebrew scriptures, thie isn't just about the community of believers. The promise of Christ, the Christlike life is not just for those who have heard but for all.

The kind of community that makes God known is the kind of community that lives this deep concern for the empowerment of all and the deprivation of none because they know they all are enriched or impoverished by EVERY member of the community (or their absence).

"Every action in which God's justice becomes manifest is a kind of sacrament in the sense that it shows God's future."

That makes the Eucharist a sign of God's future. 1 Corinthians 11:20-22 talks about as they gather each one is willing to give precedence to the other. Everyone is waiting on everyone else, attending to the reality of others.

When we come to the Eucharistic table, the needs of the neighbor comes first.

"We look sideways as well as forward (at the table), and as we see others fed we ask, 'How may I be part of Christ's feeding of them?'"

"The first thing -- and sometimes the only thing -- you know of the person next to you at Eucharist is that they are Christ's guest. It is imperative to ask, 'How may I join in Christ's nourishment of them?'"

"The Eucharist is an open door into a new world. We are cutting ourselves off from our deepest roots when we fail to realize that all communion comes from that foundational event where all are heard, seen, welcomed and nourished at the Lord's table."

"There are no gated communities in the kingdom. There are no communitites protected from the loss or trauma of others."

How is this applied?

The Biblical imperative is not a set of orders, but a revelation of God in reference to a community that lives in a way that knows God -- where no one is invisible, unloved or forgotten.

This is "not an indifferent 'yes' to everyone." Conversion and repentance are required. But still no one is left invisible.

"The Church, faced with the Millennium Development Goals is bound to ask:
-who is being forgotten?
-whose deprivation is wounding us all?

Church has to be involved in creating participation and empowerment. Church is "where people learn to make choices that affect themselves and others."

"The Church has a deep committment to the absolute significance of every moment of change because it is sacramental." No moment is too small. Take the example of the widow's mite -- her two coins won't make much of a difference to the world, but it will to her. She's doing what she could. Make the difference you can make. "you don't have to do it all but you do have to make the difference you can make."

So what is the difference we can make as the church? "The church is probably the only organization in civil society that can deliver these goals on the grassroots level in concrete ways." That's the real difference no one else can make.

The church needs also to put this question to the wealthy nations of the West and North: "Have you understood that YOU are deprived by a system of global injustice?"

WE are victims of injustice. "To be a perpetrator of justice is also to be a victim of it. We become less human."

Quoted Augustine -- the problem is not just the suffering of the oppressed but the corruption of mind and heart of the oppressor.

We need to say as the prosperous (and help the prosperous to say) "I am caught up in something that I need help to see and find my way out of."

Working for the MDGs is "not just working for *the poor*. It's working for our own healing -- "that form of healing we usually call 'conversion'"

Quoting St. Antony "Our life and our death is with the neighbor."

Finally, closing, he mused "What will future generations look back on at us and say 'How on earth did they miss it?" (as we do with the church's complicity with slavery).

I don't have a lot to add on this. I could go on about various points, but I think I'll just let this sit for itself for now. I welcome your comments.

Words to ponder from Archbishop Ndungane

Archbishop Ndungane is the Archbishop of Cape Town and the primate of the Anglican Province of Southern Africa. He called together this conference, and these are some quotes from his opening address to the 415 attendees at the TEAM conference here in Boksburg (including 60 youth in a parallel session). The quotes are as accurate as I can get from my typing speed. In some cases a word or two might be slightly off but the meaning is preserved. Powerful stuff.

"This is a momentous period in the life of our church. We have people of God gathered together in the context of prayer and theology … renewing the church’s commitment and capabilities to respond to God’s call to service in the 21st century. Bound together by bonds of affection that unite us and united against poverty let us seize this moment, seize this opportunity by blowing fresh winds of change into the lungs of the Anglican Communion."

"Mission is bringing the fullness of peace of love and of justice. It is the building of God’s kingdom so his will may be done on earth as in heaven. Mission is about comprehensive salvation. It must take us beyond the false idol of vertical vs. horizontal – the mistaken idea that we have to choose between preaching the salvation that brings eternal life and working to bring the kingdom here and now. None of us has that option. We must all do both." (he was in part quoting David Bosch here)

"The word was not made text. But the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth."

"The church is called into being by mission for the sake of salvation. The church exists by mission as a fire exists by burning. The centrality of mission, not only for Anglican life, but for all life as a global communion, has been an explicit part of our self-understanding. Mission is to be understood as an activity that transforms reality. At the same time mission itself must be continually transformed." (again, quoting Bosch)

"We come together for God to transform us and to make us agents of transformation."

"This is a time in the life of our communion when it would be good for us to step back and take stock of the fullness of our calling. I do not deny that we face deep and difficult issues in our internal life. I do not want to pretend they don’t matter. We are rightly concerned with what it means to live faithfully and obedient to our Lord … but this must not be at the expense of God’s mission in God’s world.

"Too often the world around thinks we care only for one thing and one thing only and that is sexuality. This week’s meeting shows this is not the case. … As we live our tomorrow fully, the whole breadth of what it means to be God’s people in God’s world, we shall better understand how to tackle the differences and divisions among us .. Through following Jesus' example in serving the needs of others we will know better how to follow Jesus' example in other areas of our lives.

"This is the moment for the church to be more visible as the credible voice for the poor, the destitute and the disadvantaged. This is the moment for the church to unite against poverty and bring hope to the people of God."

"We are treating the climate as a credit card with no credit limit and no repayment date." (quoting someone, didn't get who)

"Unchecked global warming will more than quickly wipe out all the gains of development assistance of the past 50 years."

"It is for God’s peole to remind the world that human people are more precious than we can possibly imagine. The world has to rediscover how quality of life matters far more than quantities of dollars."

"It is for us to stand up together and declare loud and clear that we stand by the standards of justice, integrity, dignity and humanity and call everyone else to stand by them, too. We stand for equitable sharing of God’s abundance and responsible stewardship of the resources to which he entrusts us. We stand for sustainable development – environmental and economic. Poorer nations must be allowed to continue to develop, and rich nations must allow this to happen, taking responsibility for their larger share of global environmental costs.

"Globalization means that we are all neighbors now, whether it comes to economic systems or climate change. Our lives are intimately caught up in each other. We need a new morality for our global village – one that equally values every child of God on this planet. We need a new and effective earth ethic. It is for people of faith to make this message heard loud and clear."

"God’s world is crying out to him, and we know our God hears and our God acts. We meet because the hour demands it and we know we serve the living God who says TODAY is the time for salavation. We meet because God has calls us and we know those whom God calls, God directs, God equips to carry out those directives. Let us carry on with joy for we know that God has a purpose for us. "

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

TEAM Day 1 - Opening Eucharist

The internet connection is too slow for me to post photos today -- I'll try later. Sorry.

Today was our first full day in Johannesburg -- mostly registering and getting details sorted out. That is, until 3 pm when all of us boarded buses from the hotel/conference center we're staying in at Boksburg and traveled down the East Rand to Tsakane -- a township about 40 minutes drive away.

No matter how good the program is at this conference, it will almost have to be secondary to the people you meet just hanging out. My seatmates on the bus trip were two wonderful women --The first was named Sandra. She is Guatemalan, but lives in Costa Rica, where she is married to a bishop there. She runs a diocesan day care center and showed us a picture of her daughter, who is just starting medical school (I responded with pictures of the boys, of course). The other was Nangula, and she is the brand new provincial executive officer of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. She was hired by Archbishop Ndungane 6 months ago away from her job as dean of a cathedral in Namibia. (side note: I'm never sure where other parts of the communion are on women's ordination ... but she was not only a dean of a cathedral but a candidate for bishop in a recent election, so that's fabulous!) We talked a lot about life in Cape Town (she loves it) and about the work she has been doing.

Sitting behind us on the trip was a bishop from one of the four dioceses that make up the Johannesburg area. He was talking to some people next to him and basically playing tour guide during our trip. Once we realized that, we all got quiet so we could listen. He told us we were traveling up the East Rand, which ran north out on the East side of Johannesburg. The towns and townships (during Apartheid, there were towns where only whites could live and townships outside them where the blacks, who did all the service work in the towns, lived) were mostly mining-related.

When we got to Tsakane, we were greeted by throngs of people waving tiny flags with the TEAM conference logo on them and brought into the church where there was amazing music (wish I could post the video/audio of it ... I'll be sure and do it when I get back). The Eucharist was wonderful. My seat was way off to one side -- parallel to the altar. It meant I was blocked from seeing the sermon and anything that happened up front, but had a good view of the altar. I was also sitting right next to a portable a/c unit, which was great. I actually was sitting in the section reserved for the local clergy, which was also great because I got to know a really nice local priest named Sam.

The service was about 2 1/2 hours. The Archbishop of Canterbury was the preacher. The sermon was nothing that would set your life on fire, but it was OK. The Gospel text was the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin and he used it to talk of our great need of each other. That's really what this whole conference is about -- how much every single one of us needs every other single one of us as a global community. At one point he said "each one of us has a voice without which our neighbors cannot be themselves." ... and I thought about the people I had met today -- people like Sandra and Nangula --and how much fuller a person I felt from just having spent time with them and knowing about their lives.

One of the highlights of the day came at dinner when I finally connected with Amber Stancliffe Evans. Amber was one of my college students early on at Wash. U. and now she's an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of California. She's here with her bishop (Marc Andrus -- who is on our board at EGR) on something called Pilgrimage for Peace. +Marc did this for several years when he was suffragan bishop in Alabama -- a pilgrimage with young adults, usually something civil rights related. This time it's young adults from San Francisco, Alabama and also Bob Brooks' congregation in Providence, Rhode Island. They're going to be with us at TEAM for all the plenary sessions, but when we have workshops they're going to do other things -- like site visits to places like an AIDS orphanage. I'm going to hang out with them one night and talk with them about EGR and get their thoughts about the MDGs and young adults in the Episcopal Church. I think I'm also going to go with them on some of their site visits -- I really don't want to spend the whole time in S. Africa just in the conference center.

Well, it's getting late and I need to head to bed. More tomorrow, I'm sure.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

TEAM conference

Hello from Johannesburg, everyone!

I'm just settling in here having arrived a couple hours ago. I'm here for the TEAM (Towards Effective Anglican Mission) Conference -- a Communion-wide gathering on the Millennium Development Goals. I'm here representing EGR to listen and learn about all the amazing MDG ministry going on all over the Anglican Communion and also to share what you all are doing. You can find out more about the conference at www.team2007.org.

Praise God -- the conference center has what so far looks like pretty decent internet access. My plan is to blog regularly (hopefully a couple times a day) about what is happening here to help people follow it as much as possible. I'll post brief topic-heading type stuff to this list so you can know to go to the blog. I'll be cross-posting on two blogs:

My blog -- http://revmikek.blogspot.com
the EGR blog -- http://e4gr.blogspot.com

More to come. Please keep this gathering in your prayers and know that you are in ours.

Christ's peace,