Monday, October 30, 2017

Four Duke Divinity School students have been selected to attend the eighth annual Great Lakes Initiative Leadership (GLI) Institute on Jan. 7-12, 2018 in Kampala, Uganda.

Micah Dennis M.Div. ‘20; Deandre Dukes, M.Div. ’ 20; David Le, M.Div. ’20; and Alexandra Thomas, M.Div. ‘20 will attend the institute, along with J. Warren Smith, associate professor of historical theology at Duke Divinity School.

They will join over 100 Christian leaders in the GLI network to explore how the theology of reconciliation can build peace in the Great Lakes region of East Africa. During the five-day institute, based on the same model as the Summer Institute for Reconciliation held at Duke every summer and the Northeast Asia Christian Forum for Reconciliation, the students will learn from leading practitioners of reconciliation, including renowned African theologians such as Dr. David Kasali and Dr. Celestin Musekura. They will also engage in worship and reflection and partake in a pilgrimage to a local community that offers a vision of reconciliation. The institute draws participants from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and the U.S.

GLI 2017 Leadership Institute participants together on pilgrimage, preparing to pray for all the nations represented.
GLI 2017 Leadership Institute participants together on pilgrimage, preparing to pray for all the nations represented.

Duke Divinity School's Center for Reconciliation sends students to the GLI institute as part of its commitment to form students as ambassadors of reconciliation and aims to provide students with insight on how to work towards reconciliation efforts in their future ministries. Students were selected based on an application that included their personal statements expressing their commitment to reconciliation, both in Africa and in the U.S. 

Both Dennis and Dukes talked about their racial identities in their applications. Dennis wrote about a previous trip to Kenya that opened his eyes to racial injustice in his hometown of Chicago. While he grew up on the South Side of Chicago as a white American, Dennis wrote that he didn’t realize the full extent of racial dynamics until he was outside the familiar context of his neighborhood. “Understanding East Africa’s colonial heritage and its subsequent ethnic divisions is a helpful step toward understanding American history,” he wrote.  Dukes, an African American student pastor serving a predominantly white congregation, wrote that the GLI Leadership Institute would give him “an opportunity to be absent from my personal bias concerning American racial division and see division from a place of unfamiliarity.”

Le wrote about how a medical missions trip to Tanzania made him realize the larger systemic issues that led to disease and poverty. Le said, “I hope to cultivate an understanding of how to peacefully engage with others who come from various backgrounds in order to ensure the betterment of their health.”

Thomas, who first learned about faith-based African reconciliation while studying abroad in Ghana, now hopes to be a deacon working alongside marginalized communities. She wrote, that “learning about reconciliation dilemmas in East Africa will allow me to understand how I can both support those who are oppressed and act as a mediator in a way that honors God’s unconditional love for all.”

More than 30 Duke Divinity School students have attended the GLI Leadership Institute since its inception in 2009. In the past two years, as many as 10 students have attended the institute per year as part of the “Reading(s) for Our Lives: Contemporary African Biblical Interpretation” class taught by Ellen Davis, Amos Ragan Kearns Professor of Bible and Practical Theology.

The Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School is one of the founding partners of the GLI, along with the African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries, the Mennonite Central Committee, and World Vision International.