Botswana Pilgrimage

My car has been feeling rather poorly, in fact is in need of a transplant – well, a new air sensor – but Henry, our reliable mechanic, cannot find one in Gaborone, and the Johannesburg suppliers are having no luck either. So this morning Fr. James takes me to a car hire, and I drive away with a car I can trust, heading north toward Mahalapye.

My destination today is Serowe (see my 2013 Diary), an historic village west of Palapye, from where three of Botswana’s presidents, including the current, come from. My purpose is to plan for the Botswana Pilgrimage which our two dioceses – Botswana and North Carolina – are scheduling for September.

Once you’ve made this drive a few times, it becomes rather tedious – long straight stretches, some with absurdly low speed limits, nothing but bush for scenery, the presence of cattle along the roadway all that keeps me alert. That, plus air conditioning.

I reach Serowe early afternoon and settle into my room at the Serowe Hotel. The hotel is nothing fancy, but it is a charming old-fashioned hotel, with attractive gardens and a thatched dining room. I want to check the place out as the possible lodgings for our pilgrimage. I want too to meet with the clergy from St. Augustine Church, and I also have on my agenda a visit to the Khama III Museum and the Khama Rhino Sanctuary, which our pilgrims might enjoy.

The Serowe Hotel

Fr. Ford Gaoganeg comes by the hotel later in the afternoon. He is one of our St. Augustine Theological School students – well, former student – who is ordained to the priesthood only a couple of months ago. We sit back in the hotel lounge, he with a Coca Cola and a glass of red wine, a mix popular here but which I have never seen elsewhere. We review the plans for the pilgrimage, and I ask his advice about things we might arrange with people from the parish. Later I meet with Fr. Moreri Leteemane, the priest-in-charge, and seek his insights about our program. Both are keen.

The next day Fr. Ford and I drive out to the rhino sanctuary. If we take the pilgrims here, it will be for a 6:00 a.m. drive.

A game drive may not seem much like a spiritual pilgrimage. And in one sense, of course, it is not. Our goal for this pilgrimage is neither to do a mission project nor to be a tourist – both good activities but not what we have in mind. Rather we want pilgrims from North Carolina to experience the life of the Church in Botswana. We plan to worship together, to see the ministries of the Diocese of Botswana, to gather together Batswana and North Carolinians for focused conversations about our faith journeys, and… to have fellowship together. That’s where rhinos come in. This rhino sanctuary visit is not, in fact, my idea. It comes from our Batswana partners, who suggest that when Batswana and North Carolinians go together on outings such as this, they build relationships just by enjoying something together. Think parish picnic writ large.

Back in Gaborone, Fr. James and I meet with the Bishop to discuss the pilgrimage plans. It appears we are on the right track, including our proposal that the pilgrims accompany him on a parish visitation outside Gaborone one Sunday. We agree that at some point they should be served seswaa, my favorite dish from Botswana. Worship and food – the important things in life.

I do not know what will come of all of this. We may not even get the numbers (ten) we need to actually have the pilgrimage this September. But I still like the effort: To develop an agenda – a flexible one – that allows pilgrims not to be tourists or even students, but to be people of faith joining, for a brief time (ten days), with people of faith in another part of the world. It can be spiritually uplifting and even transforming, as many who have done such things in the past will attest. It can also be a testimony of our oneness in Christ – not a bad message in itself when we consider difficult church relationships these days.