A naturalized home

Coming ‘home’ takes all sorts of forms, let alone whether where we are coming to is technically home at all. Back in 2010 I came to Botswana, my first visit since 1989, to work with Fr. James Amanze in envisioning a House of Studies, now the St. Augustine Theological School. There was nothing about ‘home’ then – rather just a curiosity as to whether a ‘foreign land’ where I had been over 20 years earlier had changed much (it had). But when I returned in 2013 to teach at the new school, my first diary entry tried to convey the emotion I felt when Ben Motlhalamme, then the diocesan secretary, simply said ‘welcome home’ as we passed the peace on my first Sunday back. It felt like belonging. The following year my first diary entry only speaks of the intensity of it all – classes and the challenges of settling in and all that. It still felt like belonging, but the focus was on the busy-ness of it all.

Here I am again. 2016. It’s almost ordinary. Susan Mogwera, the Diocese’s executive administrator, meets me at the airport at noon and drives me to my flat, which looks much as I left it (well, no longer in the midst of a major construction site), and where she hands me the keys. We have a bit of lunch and she takes me to the School, where Florence Bogopa, who keeps all working smoothly there, greets me, hands me keys to the School and to my car, which is sitting outside, nicely clean and with a full tank. I sit down and we begin our class at 2:00. Two good sessions, but nothing out of the ordinary. Afterward I boot up my laptop and glide smoothly into the School’s wireless setup. I hear the printer start to whir, and it even remembers that I asked it to print out a couple of documents in 2014, and it spits them out now. Later Fr. James takes me to dinner, and I return to the flat, needing nothing but some groceries to ‘belong’ again.

The Diocese's flat for companion link folk, plus my car

It all seems so routine.

Finding ‘home’ is a great theme, in life as in literature. Sometimes it may touch us deeply, sometimes there’s an intensity to it, sometimes you feel as if you never left. It doesn’t matter. One of our great quests is to discover a place to feel at home, whether in or out of our own culture, whether geographically our ‘technical’ home or not. Sometimes, remarkably, it comes to us in unexpected ways, unexpected places. Sometimes even its ordinariness may be profound.

This morning, at the early (7:30) service at the Holy Cross Cathedral, Bishop Metlha offers me a word of welcome. ‘We will help you become naturalized when you are ready,’ he says with a smile. Some in the congregation follow with a laugh. I smile too, and I thank him. But I remember too that being ‘home’ is multi-directional. The extent to which I feel at home is directly related to the extent to which I am made to feel at home by others whose home this truly is. I remember those who have been in Botswana for decades – even secured citizenship – but are reminded daily that they are not truly ‘home’ here, and never will be. I recall that, despite having grown up in North Carolina, my absence for over 40 years means that I am not, in the eyes of some, as ‘North Carolinian’ as those who never left. I think of the viciousness with which people in leadership, both political and religious, have made it clear that children of God who are distinctive in their ‘otherness’ are not truly ‘home’ in the United States. I see daily – we all do – those caught up in war seeking a new ‘home,’ knowing that what used to be home cannot be again, and what may become home is a foreign land and a foreign tongue.

How do we discover home for ourselves, and affirm home for others who come among us?

This week’s return to Gaborone happens against a backdrop of a meeting of Anglican archbishops, where together in Canterbury they seek to find a way forward after years of contention over the Church and issues of human sexuality. Those issues are important, but for purposes here: Never mind those issues. The issues could have been quite different, but it wouldn’t matter. Behind it all is the question of ‘home.’ Do we belong together? Are we ‘at home’ together? Can we embrace difference – much as families try to do when they get together on holidays – and still belong together? Can we respect the dignity of every human being – which for me means, can we welcome others as being at ‘home’ with us?

Jesus has an answer to this. It’s his prayer that ‘they all may be one’ (John 17:21). We are one together when we find a home together, one which we can embrace despite all that distinguishes us from one another. That’s not easy, as the archbishops sadly demonstrate. But I like to think that in such a small but maybe not such a small way, my being welcomed into a ‘naturalized’ home in Botswana is a small gesture at our oneness, at our sense of home.

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‘My brothers,’ Bishop Metlhayotlhe Beleme asks, ‘do you believe that you are truly called by God and his Church to the life and work of a priest?’ Twelve, our first graduates from the St. Augustine Theological School, answer, ‘I believe I am so called.’ ‘Do you now in the presence of God and of his Church accept this trust and responsibility?’ Bishop Metlha continues. ‘I do,’ they answer.

Today, in Gaborone, at Holy Cross Cathedral of the Anglican Diocese of Botswana, marks the culmination of the long process of discernment and study and formation for these men. It’s the largest ordination held in the Diocese’s history, and is a major expansion of the number of locally-trained Batswana priests.

I am not here.

Our – the Diocese of North Carolina’s – absence is just one of those things that happens. It really is a stewardship issue. I am returning to Botswana in January to teach another term, and despite my having taught these ordinands in two previous years, and despite how much I would love to be present, it is not a good use of our resources, and no other options present themselves. So our Diocese is not here.

Representatives from another of Botswana’s companion links, the Diocese of Newcastle in England, are, and visitors from the Diocese of Tennessee happen to be here on this occasion. Some South African Anglicans have travelled up.

We are not forgotten, however. Bishop Metlha acknowledges the ‘tremendous assistance’ it has received from North Carolina, and he singles out now Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. He also kindly mentions me.

And the Diocese of Botswana rightly recognizes that ‘the primary success of the school and ordination of these men was made possible by Canon Professor James Amanze, Principal of St Augustine and Canon Theologian.’ It is his vision that began St. Augustine Theological School in 2012, begun truly as an act of faith. Today would not be without him.

But the focus today is on these men. I can picture them, their families present, excited by the prospect, relieved that this moment has finally arrived. The evening classes, day after day for three years, is finished. The decision of the Bishop is final. The previous week’s retreat is over. And now, they are to be made priests.

Besides relief and excitement, however, I hope they feel humility. In our Sacramental theology class I ask them, two years ago, to read ‘the charge to the priests’ in the ordination liturgy. I remind them of the seriousness of the words they will one day embrace. Now, at last, they are doing so.

They are standing before the Bishop as he says

You are called to make disciples, bringing them to baptism and confirmation; to lead the people in prayer; faithfully to read the Scriptures and proclaim the word of God; and to preside at the Eucharist with reverence and wonder. Like Aaron, you will bear the names of your people on your breast in intercession before the Lord. You will teach and encourage them from the Scriptures, and bless them in the name of God. You will help God’s people to discover and use to his glory the gifts he has given them. Like Moses, you will gladly receive counsel and share the burden of leadership with others. In love and mercy, remembering your own frailty, you will rebuke sin, pronounce God’s forgiveness to the penitent and absolve them in the name of Christ. Following the Good Shepherd, you will care for the sick, bring back those who have strayed, guide his people through this life, and prepare them for death and for the life to come, that they may be saved through Christ forever.

This ministry will be your great joy and privilege.

That remains, for me, a remarkable charge. Back in 2013 I ask them to reflect upon the ordination liturgy throughout their formation, readying themselves for this day. Now they are hearing this recitation of their calling by their Bishop.

And after all of these words, and acknowledgment of joy and privilege, the charge concludes with great understatement:

It is also a weighty responsibility which none would dare to undertake except for the call of God.


Give them holiness of life, wisdom and gentleness in their ministry, and perseverance in prayer, we all say in the post-communion prayer.

I am not here, at Holy Cross Cathedral in Gaborone. But I am in spirit.



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Moses Holango R.I.P.

‘With deep sorrow, Rev. Moses Holonga is late and will be buried in Nswazwi near Fransistown this weekend.’ That’s the message I receive from friends at Kgolagano College today.

I first visit Rev. Holonga in 1988, when I am still a seminarian. (I write about that visit in a Botswana diary entry dated April 27, 2010, available on this website.) At the time I am interested in grassroots theological education, and I am excited to see the work that Kgolagano, under the leadership of Basil Manning, is doing. After visiting the school, they send me off to spend time with one of their students, Moses Holonga.

I remember him to this day, his driving me in his pickup to his home, located northwest of Francistown, a remote spot with a thatched compound, cattle and goats. I am given glimpses of his ministry.

He is, folks at Kgolagano tell me in 2010, ‘very old.’ I regret not managing to visit him again.

He is a leader of one of the African-initiated churches, meaning he is a part of a church not established by European missionaries. Some come into being on their own. Others are breakaways from European missions, some because of disagreements over theology (they used to be called Zionist churches), others because of disagreements with mission leadership (they used to be called Ethiopian churches). There are thousands of them all across the continent. Kgolagano has trained many of their Batswana leaders.

He will be buried in Nswazwi, they tell me.

I make no claim to know much of the history of Nswazwi. I do know that around 1901 the London Missionary Society (LMS) sends a Rev. Motiki to work among the Ba Ka Nswazwi, and by 1921 a church has been built there. The ruins of it remain.

One of Rev. Motiki’s converts, Rev. Holonga, takes over in 1910, and he is the one who opens the new church in 1921. He is eventually replaced by his son, Rev. Moses Holonga. At some point ‘my’ Rev. Holonga – the son – leaves the LMS and enters the world of the African-initiated churches. I do not know when, nor why.

The only other thing I know about him has to do with a second, non-church, theme in the history of Nswazwi. It seems that a chief of the BaKalanga Baka-Nswazwi by the name of John Madawo Nswazwi and another ethnic leader find themselves in conflict back in the 1940s, and Chief Nswazwi is on the losing end. He is exiled by the British to Mafeking, in South Africa (the city actually serves as Botswana’s capital during the colonial era), in 1947, then finds refuge in Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia, the following year. He dies and is buried there in 1960.

Which brings us back to Rev. Holango. Chief Nswazwi and his followers want him to be buried back in Nswazwi village, and that finally happens in 2002. Abel Abednico Mabuse, writing recently in the newspaper Mmegi, says that Rev. Holango ‘is famously remembered for the reconciliatory sermon he offered during the reburial of John Madawo Nswazwi.’

Now, this weekend, Rev. Holango will be buried there too.

I wish I knew more about his story. I am at an age where people’s stories, especially their faith journeys, intrigue me. How does this man – kind, hospitable, welcoming – travel from following in his father’s footsteps as a pastor with what is now the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (Botswana Synod) into the independency of an African-initiated church? What marks his ministry? What might we know beyond his studies at Kgolagano, and his giving a ‘reconciliatory sermon’?

For those who knew him, may his stories remain. For the rest of us, may his soul rest in peace.

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Parting meanderings

Erik Free, a recent mission appointee from Global Ministries of the UCC/Disciples, takes me to the Beira airport. It’s a simple rather old-fashioned airport. I check in, then go upstairs, where there is a long porch overlooking the runway. Africa, in my view, makes some of the finest beers in the world, so I treat myself to a cold Manica, the local beer (happily ordering it just before the electricity goes out), and sit and watch the inactivity around me. There is a single-engine plane in the foreground, and its pilot comes out and looks at it from time to time, and at some point an anonymous larger plane lands, nothing on it but the numbers. That is all.

 The Catholic cathedral in Beira, with stones from Sofala

We take off to the east, out over the Indian Ocean, then bank southward. I watch the coastline, trying to guess where the ancient ‘city state’ of Sofala used to be. Located on the Buzi estuary, Sofala dates all the way back to around 700, and in the following centuries Arabs, Somalis, Swahili and even Persians trade there. It’s controlled by the Sultanate of Kilwa, in Tanzania, for awhile. They buy gold from the interior, from the Kingdom of Mutapa (Monomatapa, it goes under differing spellings). Then the Portuguese show up in the early 1500s, a bit late for the gold trade. They end up building a fort. The stones from its remains are taken to Beira a century ago, used in the building of the Roman Catholic cathedral.

There is apparently little to be seen of the remnants of Sofala’s glory days. I certainly see none as our plane leaves the coast and heads inland.

Remnants of our histories are still to be found, of course. That is one of my themes when I speak to the Annual Synod of the Igreja de Cristo Unida em Mocambique. The story I have tried to tell in Toward an African Church in Mozambique is their story, not mine, and I urge them to remember it, and pass it on. Those who have gone before us have left us with a legacy, some good, some not so, and it is part of who we are, defines who we are.

                The 'evangelistic hall' in Beira, 1938

In Beira, I visit the ‘new’ church in Esturro, and I ask about what was once called the ‘evangelistic hall,’ built in 1938. It is still there, now divided into a couple of largish classrooms. At the time, its building is a major event, and in addition to Sunday services, several hundred men come to an evening school. Title to the building and property change several times in those years, in a search to respond to Portuguese xenophobia by becoming legally Portuguese.

Another legacy that reminds us from whence we have come, and what we have faced.

I enjoy teaching about the Pastoral Epistles – 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus – in my course on Paul’s letters at the St. Augustine Theological School in Gaborone. There is wide agreement among scholars that Paul never wrote them, that they are post-apostolic, but I feel the need to cover them nevertheless, as it is still a widely-held perception in our churches. What intrigues me – and it is why I am talking about it here – is that the author, often known as the Pastor, is concerned with how we pass on the message, the truth of the gospel, from generation to generation. The Pastor speaks of how leaders are chosen, and how the centrality of our faith is to be shared, and protected.

I suggest to our students that we are still doing this, doing what the Pastoral Epistles say. We – the Church – are carefully choosing leaders to be ordained, and we are preparing them, and teaching them that they too will passing on the tradition to a new generation. The way we do this, in part, is by reminding them, and all of us, from whence we have come.

What we know of our heritage, of course, depends upon what we are taught. That is why quality theological education and ministerial formation – under threat by a lack of will on the part of church leaders – remain so critical. What is at the center of our faith? What is our tradition? What comprises the life of the church universal?

That is why teaching the history of our cultures and nations is so important too. Pastor Lucas Amosse tells me that when he is in school he is taught the history of Portugal, not of Mozambique. And I wonder what children in Mozambique are taught now. Much of the country is surely born after the liberation struggle. Do they know the stories of their parents and grandparents? Do they know of their ancient history, the story of Sofala?

We pass these stories on. Or not. And then we leave.

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Kamba Simango

I run into Eric Morier-Genoud at the peace and reconciliation meeting. It’s a small world.

Eric is Swiss, married to a Mozambican, and on the African history faculty at a university in Northern Ireland. We exchange a number of e-mails four or five years ago. He too is interested in Kamba Simango.

My interest in Simango has to do with the church. He is the key figure in my study, forming the sub-title of my Toward an African Church in Mozambique. But when Simango leaves Mozambique in 1936, he heads to what is now Ghana, his wife’s home. That is where Eric’s interest lies.

                                                                                      Kamba Simango

We sit at a table after lunch is finished, and we talk. When the Gold Coast becomes independent in 1957, he reminds me, Kwame Nkrumah makes a commitment to the liberation struggle in the rest of Africa. That commitment includes Mozambique. He establishes a ‘Portuguese service’ on Ghana’s radio – providing news for Mozambicans and Angolans in Portuguese on the progress of the struggle – and Kamba Simango becomes its head. Apparently a parade of Angolan and Mozambican liberation leaders, including Eduardo Mondlane, come to Accra, and work with Simango.

This all ends when Nkrumah is overthrown. Simango remains in Ghana. At some point he apparently is asked to assume a leadership role in the liberation movement Frelimo, but he declines. ‘I am too old,’ he reportedly says. Finally, in 1966, he is hit by a car while crossing a road, and dies.

Eric and I are not the only ones interested in Kamba Simango. There is a scholar in Brazil writing about Simango and his anthropological work. While in New York in the 1920s, Simango works with the pioneer Africanist Melville Herskovits and the pre-eminent American anthropologist Franz Boas. Margaret Mead is there at the time. I recall writing her in the 1970s about Simango, but it is close to her death, and I never hear back.

There is a musicologist Eric has come across who has written a brief paper on Simango and the mbira.

Simango is at least on the fringes of the Harlem Renaissance, living in Harlem at key times, and friends with Paul Robeson.

He is remembered in Mozambique, not just in the church. One of the latest generation of Simangos tries to use Kamba Simango’s name to build up his lineage in the recent election campaign.

It does not work.

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From elections to peace in Mozambique

It is now called Rede de reconcilhacas de paz, the Religious Network of Reconciliation and Peace. I am invited to sit in on the day-long meeting.

We gather at the Rainbow Hotel in Beira’s city center. The concern is the advancement of peace in a region of Mozambique still bruised by the recent elections. The reality of lingering tensions that may erupt into violence again explains why I will not be able to travel to some of the sites I have written about – one of my great hopes in coming here. ‘Come back in two years,’ someone says encouragingly.

The discussions, arranged by the Christian Council of Mozambique, have to do with what these church leaders have done since their last, pre-election, meeting, and what they plan to do next.

To launch the conversation about next steps, Pastor Lucas Amosse, who is the convener, asks us to turn to Acts 29:1. Several are busy turning the pages of their Bibles. One young woman volunteers to read, then looks puzzled. There is no Acts 29. ‘We are the authors of what happens next,’ he says. ‘We are the authors of Acts 29.’

One of the things that is to happen next is the creation of ‘Peace Clubs’ in churches and in communities. The agenda isn’t clear to me, but the hope is that such grassroots initiatives will diminish the will for conflict.

There is an odd twist to the discussion that leaves me uneasy. Mozambique’s history is of a protracted struggle for liberation from the Portuguese, then between Frelimo and Renamo. Change has not come peacefully. We see that clearly on the Mozambican flag, with its AK-47. So, when someone asks about the use of violence in the face of difference, another replies: ‘Violence is a method to find the solution.’

This may well ring true for us Americans, who throughout our history have been a violent people. Still, we are taught that violence implies a failure to find a solution, not a means to it. But no. ‘Violence is a method to find a solution.’

We end with a prayer for peace.

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