The Great Lakes Initiative Leadership Institute welcomed 150 U.S. and African clergy and practitioners to Kampala, Uganda from Jan. 13-19 for a rigorous week of academic study, personal reflection, communal worship, and new opportunities to explore Christian reconciliation.
Now in its seventh year, the Great Lakes Initiative is a partnership of Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation , African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries, Mennonite Central Committee, and World Vision.
The Leadership Institute brings together Christian leaders from Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Burundi and other countries each year. The 2013 Leadership Institute featured a host of voices from diverse Christian faith backgrounds as well as new partnerships between Duke Divinity School faculty and African leaders.
Ellen F. Davis, Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School, led a class on Isaiah’s role as a prophetic peacemaker, while Maggy Barankitse shared her radical story of reconciliation during Burundi’s civil war during a main plenary session. Barankitse’s forgiveness of those who had killed her family members led her to parent former child soldiers and children orphaned during the country’s civil war at the home she established in Burundi called Maison Shalom , or House of Peace. Duke University will confer an honorary degree to Barankitse for her human rights work during its May commencement.
GLI Ambassador Wilfred Mlay of Tanzania said that hearing testimonies like Barankitse’s challenged him to think about how a stranger can become an authentic companion simply through sharing stories.
“I was touched by a number of stories of the people I met, stories that disturbed me because I was present in their stories and their stories spoke to my story,” Mlay said. “I was disturbed and began to rethink my journey.”
Participants attended plenary sessions each morning that explored how to live into new visions of reconciliation in the midst of conflict by reflecting on the current contexts of their countries, lamenting the pain of histories affected by war and violence, examining their specific roles as leaders, and recognizing that reconciliation is God’s work.
Midweek, participants made a pilgrimage to nearby Lake Victoria to reflect on the pain of their shared histories and to pray collectively for all of the nations of the Great Lakes region.
“Reconciliation is not a theory, achievement, technique, or event,” said Emmanuel Ndikumana of Burundi, executive director of Partners Trust International. “It is a journey that leads toward the shalom of God’s new creation.”
In addition to the plenary sessions, participants attended afternoon seminars taught primarily by African theologians and peacebuilding practitioners.
Duke Divinity alumnus Dr. Peter Morris, D’07, who now serves as the executive director of Urban Ministries in Raleigh, co-led a community health seminar along with Dr. Sabina Mtweve of Tanzania. Warren Smith, associate professor of historical theology at Duke Divinity School, co-led a seminar with Fr. Martin Vuni of South Sudan tracking the interactions between the early church and the Roman Empire.
But the Great Lakes Initiative is more than just a weeklong exploration of reconciliation in the classroom. Real reconciliation also takes place.
Early in the week, Rwandan and Congolese church leaders felt at odds with one another due to ongoing political tensions between their two countries. At the end of the week’s teaching and worship, they came together to pray and to ask for forgiveness of one another, and they made concrete plans to continue this reconciliation journey together — an encounter that has the power to change an entire region.
“God wants your heart to be touched by what is happening in our region,” plenary speaker Faith Mlay of Tanzania said. “Allow your heart to be touched and see what happens after you leave here.”