Ten Duke Divinity School students traveled to Kampala, Uganda, Jan. 10–16 to participate in the sixth annual Great Lakes Initiative (GLI) Leadership Institute as part of the Divinity School course “Reading(s) for Our Lives: Contemporary African Biblical Interpretation,” taught by Interim Dean Ellen Davis, Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology, and Th.D. candidate Fr. Jacob Onyumbe, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The course was designed to create an active theological and interpretive conversation between North American Christians and East African Christians, both of whom engage Scripture seriously in their own contexts, often with keen interest in its contemporary significance.
“Linking the Divinity School’s academic program directly with GLI is important both educationally and eccesially,” said Davis. “Students, faculty, and church leaders from 11 countries on two continents worked carefully with biblical texts in light of their own complex social contexts and the gospel imperative of reconciliation. Together we discovered new possibilities for responsible interpretation and use of difficult prophetic texts within the church.”
The Divinity School students joined a group of 160 reconcilers from the Great Lakes region of Africa (Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Tanzania), Canada, Ghana, Sudan, and the U.S. for the annual gathering of the GLI. They participated in a week-long seminar, “The Prophetic World in Conflict Zones: Lament and Hope, Judgement and Healing,” alongside teaching pastors, theological educators, and students. Bungishabaku Katho, president of Shalom University in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, served as an additional instructor for the seminar.
Jarred White D’16 and current World Vision Justice Fellow noted how the experience of studying with East African Christians expanded his understanding of reconciliation issues in the United States. “The primary insight that I’ve gained from sharing time and space with people from different contexts that applies within the U.S. would be the foundational role of opposing cultural narratives in attempts at reconciliation,” he said. “In both American and East/Central African contexts, competing ascriptions of identity offer conflicting pictures of who is in the wrong, who needs to act, and what a restoration in relationship even looks like or entails.”
The Center for Reconciliation (CFR) at Duke Divinity School is one of the founding sponsors of GLI. CFR operations manager Abi Riak noted that the participation of Divinity School students at GLI is an important development in the work of CFR to connect reconciliation with the broader Divinity School curriculum. “This is the first time that a cohort of students attended the Institute as part of an ongoing Duke Divinity School course,” she said. “It represents a new model of how the CFR can expand its understanding of reconciliation and how Duke faculty can link their research and teaching to the work of the CFR.”
Davis plans to offer the her class again in Fall 2016 for another group of students who will attend the January 2017 GLI Leadership Institute. Applications will be due on March 2.