From Botswana to Mozambique

One guide book describes Beira, Mozambique, as ‘drab, dirty and chaotic.’ Not very charitable, and I find it a good and energizing place to be, but it is quite a contrast to Gaborone, which I leave four days ago.

A flurry of activity precedes that departure: A few lunches with people I have wanted to see but never did, preaching a final time at the Holy Cross Cathedral, packing, a couple more classes to be taught, a kind farewell at St. Augustine, turning over keys to school and flat and car. Fr. James sees me off at the airport.

It is a brief less-than-two-hour flight from Johannesburg to Beira, situated on the Indian Ocean at the mouth of the Pungoe and Buzi rivers, close to the north-south center of this long country. I am here to attend the Annual Synod of the Igreja de Cristo Unida em Mocambique – the United Church of Christ in Mozambique – being held in Chamba, a short distance outside Beira. I am invited because I have written a book about their church – Toward an African Church in Mozambique – and they want to meet me and talk about it. The feeling is mutual.

Comparing and contrasting countries is unproductive and often unkind. Mozambique is one of the world’s poorest countries – although its recent economic growth rate has been impressive and the discovery of oil offshore is promising – and Botswana is considered a ‘middle-income’ country. Thus the fine Botswana roads yield to potholed and patched Mozambican ones; and the modern Gaborone shopping centers, to myriad shops and stalls along the side of the road. That’s what we drive along, and see, as we head to Chamba.

The church building is small, so they have erected a large tent and set up plastic chairs and tables. It’s hot and humid as the synod proceeds with reports from regions and parishes, read in Portuguese by someone, then comments invited, either made in Portuguese or in Ndau, interpreted into the other, then the person whose report it is responds, again in a bilingual fashion, and the delegates decide to ‘accept’ the report, or not. All are apparently accepted. It’s very systematic and organized, but also a bit of a strain for one who knows neither language, despite the best efforts of my faithful interpreter to keep me informed.

Some months ago I send 30 copies of my book to the church here, for them to give away or sell as they see fit. I imagine there is limited demand, as it’s written in the wrong language. But there is interest, and I wonder about it. Theirs is not an especially large church. It is a church that has managed to work out its own identify, largely without missionaries, from the early years on; has faced all sorts of adversity, from colonialism to civil war; and has been left alone to its own devices for many decades. All of those are reasons their story fascinates me. But I suspect my version of their story interests them in part because someone ‘outside’ cares enough and considers it important enough to tell.

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Retreat

‘Effective giving, and spiritual growth.’ That is the theme I am given for the Anglican Men’s Fellowship annual retreat. I am asked to lead it several months ago, then things are postponed, and November 1st is the last possible date I can do it. So we do.

We meet at a meditation center of the Passionist Fathers, on the outskirts of Gaborone, at a place called Forest Hill. This Catholic order has been in Botswana since 1952, and they’ve transformed their property into a lovely spot… noisy, but lovely. Nearby is a cement factory, and two trains come through, whistles blaring, during our quiet time.

I find my topic a challenge. Usually we don’t associate stewardship and spirituality. But I begin to play around with Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, and his plans for a collection for the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. During my first reflection, I speak of Paul’s emphasis upon generosity in giving (8:8-15), not so much in terms of the amount they are to give, but in terms of ’the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.’ What Paul is doing, I say to the group, is suggesting that our generosity can never compare with what Jesus generously did for all human kind, but it remains the spirit in which the gift is given that reveals generosity. Effectiveness – remember the title, effective giving – happens not by raising all the money our church wants or needs, I say, but is rather when generosity also opens the door to our deepening our faith, and drawing us all closer to God.

I cannot resist talking about the Alabama Plan, which decades ago takes much the same direction. I am in a companion link between the Dioceses of Alabama and Namibian during the Alabama Plan's heyday, and we are invited to take it on the road, t a workshop in Windhoek.

I give my Batswana brothers some questions to ponder, and we have some quiet time – well, relatively quiet – around the grounds of Forest Hill. How do I decide what my gifts to God through God’s Church will be? Is it how much is in my pocket on a given Sunday? Do I make my decisions about giving prayerfully? How connected is my giving to my faith? Do I seek Scripture to guide me in my decision? What is the place of the Bible in my decision about giving? Am I truly a generous giver? Who knows how any of us uses quiet time during retreats, but the group of 12 seems to take it all seriously. The discussion that follows suggests they have.

Then it’s time for the second reflection, on spiritual growth. I stick with 2 Corinthians, this time drawing upon what Paul says happens when those to whom he is appealing give generously (9:11-15). ‘You will be enriched,’ he says, and I think he means spiritually, not in material prosperity! He speaks of ‘the surpassing grace of God that he has given you.’ And Paul ends this passage with: ‘Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!’ I like this. I suspect he is placing stewardship in intimate relationship with spiritual growth.

Nothing brilliant here, but it is a, well, spiritual moment for all of us. There is a lively discussion, and finally, we end with a general thanksgiving that I love, from the American Book of Common Prayer (1979).

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. 

Amen.

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Pula

Rain. Pula. Rain.

It is dusk, and I am reading, when I hear it.

You can smell it, you know, and I stand by the window, soaking it all in. In an arid country, it is crucial, and when it begins, it is something to be celebrated. We have not seen it, heard it, smelled it, for months.

Years ago, I am living in Kenya, and there is a severe drought. And then the rains begin. It is a downpour. I am but a city dweller, living in a house in Nairobi. But the rain streaking downward outside my window still seems so wonderful, and I stand there in awe. Rain. What a difference it makes in people’s lives.

This is not, really, a downpour, here in Gaborone. But the ground is turning from a light-brown dust to a deeper hue, and there are a few puddles.

Rain. We give thanks at the 6:45 Mass this morning.

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Departure

In a few hours I board my flight to Atlanta and home to Greensboro. Packing is virtually done. I have cautiously placed my many notes into my carry-on, fearful that my checked luggage might disappear, and with it the foundation for my final report on the Diocese of Botswana’s vision for theological education. I may even pull some notes out, and type a bit, during the 16-hour flight.

Maybe not.

I wonder how it will feel, writing away in my study in Greensboro. In my cottage in Botswana there seems an immediacy to the work. I worry that the energy that feeling of immediacy generates might dissipate as I return to the routine, and the heat, of a North Carolina summer.

 

In the forty-six years since my first trip to Africa, as a Wake Forest undergraduate, I have never left the continent without a feeling of how richly blessed I am for the experience.

Not to idealize the experience. Things go wrong sometimes, and frustrate, and for every time the different pace of African life refreshes, there is a moment when it irritates. But I like the time Africans, especially within the Church, take for people who appear at their door. Including me, time and again in Botswana. It plays havoc with schedules, but maybe that’s not so bad.

And maybe it’s something for us non-Africans to learn. After all, Jesus let himself, and his plan for the day, be interrupted by Bartimaeus, much to his disciples’ chagrin. Which role should we opt to play?

 

At St. Peter’s in Auckland Park yesterday we say together the post-communion prayer, but then, before moving on to the priest’s blessing, the congregation begins to sing. It’s not in the bulletin, but everyone knows it.

God bless Africa.
Guard her children.
Guide her leaders.
And grant her peace.

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South African insights on ministerial formation

At a fine farewell dinner the conversation gravitates away from the Church to the World Cup (which has its own theology). In that frame of mind – otherwise I am not quite ready to leave – I depart Botswana on a short flight to Johannesburg the next morning.

There, united with son Trevor, who has just flown in from London, I drive south toward Ladysmith. Complete with snow flurries.

Two days later we are in Pietermaritzburg, staying at the Church Land Program guest house, with meetings scheduled throughout the day. Soon-to-be-seminarian Trevor tags along.

Besides being the capital of the province of KwaZulu Natal, Pietermaritzburg is a university town. It used to host the Federal Seminary, an ecumenical effort that could not survive apartheid pressures. Now there is the Cluster, a cooperative arrangement among separate denominational seminaries.

The Anglican House of Studies (AHS) here is still working out its identity, for the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (read, ‘the Anglican Church’) has had a hard time figuring out what it wants it to be. The AHS needs to ensure that it’s not seen as in competition with the College of the Transfiguration, the Anglican theological college down in Grahamstown. To do that it has taken on a post-ordination role, and soon will have formal links with the University of KwaZulu Natal’s School of Theology.

I want to know whether this model may be helpful as Botswana designs its own AHS.

Peter Wyngaard heads the Anglican House of Studies, and we spend a stimulating couple of hours talking less about the politics of a House of Studies and more about ministerial formation itself.

He divides formation into a trilogy: Academic, spiritual, and the practice of ministry. The academic he considers easy to accomplish. He would, in a university environment with a highly-regarded School of Theology. The practice of ministry he considers secured by the placement of ordinands in parishes under senior experienced priests. It’s spiritual formation where he sees the challenge, and the priority. How do ordinands maintain a spiritual discipline and reveal maturity in faith? How does the Church discern spiritual qualities among ordinands as their period of formation continues?

I’ve been thinking on these things during these past two months in Botswana. How, I wonder, does a sense of community fit into all of this, especially if numbers are tiny, as they will surely be in Botswana? Can we even be formed in the faith without meaningful community?

Sigh.  I picture another clump of paragraphs in my final report.

 

Lunch is with Gerald West, who came onto the international Anglican stage in his role designing the Bible study at the last Lambeth Conference, and now with the Bible in the Life of the Church project.

He’s on the university faculty and head of the Ujamaa Center, what used to be called the Institute for the Study of the Bible.

His program follows the old Institute of Contextual Theology (ICT) model, a South African variation on the Latin American theologians’ liberation approach to the Gospel. (The ICT is especially known for its role in the creation of the Kairos Document during anti-apartheid days.)

The Ujamaa Center, I learn, offers required courses for theology students, and places the students in the Center’s community-based projects.

‘Could Batswana ordinands come down for an intensive course?’ I want to know. He’s enthusiastic. ‘Absolutely!’ is the answer. ‘We can tailor it to their needs.’

‘How much will it cost?’ I finally ask.

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The diamond mines of Orapa

As the sun is setting, a bunch of us are standing outside a small office at a very imposing gate, waiting for our passes to be issued so we can enter Orapa.  A large sign gives the company name, Debswana, a combination of the historic diamond conglomerate DeBeers and Botswana. Underneath it says, ‘You are entering a Precious Stones Protected Area,’ and it goes on to warn that we must have a pass and are subject to search.

I fantasize that Orapa’s diamonds may be the solution to the Diocese of Botswana’s stewardship problems.

We have driven the 125 miles or so from Francistown to be present at the consecration of land given for the building of a church, suitably planned for Pentecost tomorrow. Bishop Mwamba has flown up from ‘Gabs,’ as folk here shorten Gaborone, on the company plane.

Soon I am seated beside him in the living room of a Debswana guest house. He leans over and says, ‘I wonder if you might preach tomorrow?’ That’s not quite as bad as when I visited one of my former seminary students in his Nairobi parish, and as we were walking down the aisle in the processional, he suggested that I should preach. But close. It’s been a long day.

We are enjoying a glass of wine at the time, and I am looking forward to another. Instead I say ‘yes,’ and I take my leave to make some sermon notes.

 

The Pentecost service, held in a schoolroom, is over, and some 30 or 40 of us – many from Francistown have come in solidarity – head over to the new plot, in Letlhakane, a nearby town where many who work in the mines live.

The property is already fenced, and Bishop Mwamba moves from one corner of the plot to another, marking the sign of the cross in the ground, and censing the area, and offering prayers – from the American Book of Common Prayer that Bishop Curry gave him on his first visit. We sing ‘The Church’s One Foundation’ as we go along.

The Orapa congregation has three trees to plant, and Bishop Mwamba does the first two. Then they turn to me. ‘The third should be a "North Carolina" tree,’ someone says.

I begin digging and strike rocks but no diamonds. It’s an orange tree. The task done, a young man comes over and waters it.

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