At the 2014 Summer Institute for Reconciliation, seasoned African leaders representing the African Great Lakes Initiative (GLI) – a program that has its origins at Duke Divinity School – voiced a strong commitment to developing the program’s regional roots and local resilience, and shared lessons they have learned during the past nine years.
“Ownership matters for sustainability,” said Nigerian Summer Institute participant and GLI member Femi Adeleye, “We need to think beyond external support to name the common good in the region and name those who will own it, local leaders who see the need of those they lead.”
GLI leaders expressed a strong desire to keep nurturing the GLI as a space for stories of hope to be heard and for God’s life to be given and received. “Steadfast in the hopeful spirit that catalyzed the GLI movement from the beginning, GLI leaders are ambassadors of an ever-evolving initiative, looking into the fragile future through the lens of the GLI’s centering theological conviction: God is the agent of reconciliation.” said Milcah Lalam, South Sudanese Summer Institute participant and GLI member.
The GLI began as a response to painful histories, Adeleye explained. He referenced the ongoing effects of conflicts such as the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that motivated GLI founders Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice to ask: “How do we form Christians to be peaceable?” Rice and Katongole expressed confidence that God is always planting seeds of hope. They discovered people they saw as faithful witnesses and gathered together leaders whom they understood to be “restless Christians” embodying this vision of reconciliation. Almost a decade later GLI leaders are now asking, “How do we sustain a hopeful vision into the future?”
“The answer for the GLI lies not solely in external support,” said Lalam, “but in faithful leadership emerging from within contexts of pain and hope in the African Great Lakes region. It lies in the original GLI conviction that God does not leave us alone in places of brokenness. The deeper the GLI digs in the region, the more resilient voices are uncovered to nurture local movements for peace.”
“Evidence of a regionally-rooted GLI is already here,” said Wilfred Mlay, GLI ambassador. GLI leaders gathered this year during a Summer Institute seminar designed to make space for seasoned GLI members to share their wisdom with participants in the Northeast Asia Reconciliation Initiative. This new movement of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese Christian leaders, led by Rice, has adopted the GLI and Summer Institute’s unique theological approach to reconciliation.
And in another sign of the GLI’s move to local ownership, GLI partners met in Bujumbura, Burundi following the Summer Institute for Reconciliation, and plans are now underway to register the GLI as a non-profit organization in Uganda and form a board of directors.
“Looking back at Duke’s catalytic role in nurturing the beginning of the GLI movement, leaders in the region are recognizing that the movement needs the sensitivity of local wisdom and regional expertise,” said Mlay. “This future vision positions the GLI to have a more catalytic impact in the region than the Divinity School alone can orchestrate, because it makes room for key African leaders long-committed to peace in the region to carry GLI into the future.”
These developments mark an evolving relationship between Duke Divinity School and the GLI, one that positions the Divinity School in service to a GLI movement owned by GLI leaders who live and work in the Great Lakes region of East Africa, explained Abi Riak, operations manager for the Center for Reconciliation. Yet this vision still has the Divinity School in view: “It means a growing relationship of mutuality for the Divinity School and the GLI,” said Riak. “The boundary between teacher and student is dissolved, revealing fellow pilgrims inside a much bigger calling: God’s ministry of reconciliation.”