A group of 10 M.Div. students from Duke Divinity School attended a conference Jan. 9-13 in Kampala, Uganda, as part of a class on contemporary African biblical interpretations. The conference, the Great Lakes Institute (GLI), provides theological content and discourse to pastors and peace workers from the Great Lakes Region in Africa (Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda) and other African nations. Around 100 people participated in the conference.
The class, which focused on writings by African theologians such as Musa Dube from Zimbabwe and Gerald West from South Africa, was co-taught by Ellen Davis, Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology, and Fr. Jacob Onyumbe, a Th.D. candidate originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After spending the fall semester reading, students joined attendees at the conference, which was included worship, plenary sessions, witnesses, and seminar groups.
Divinity School students participated in a seminar entitled "The Prophetic Word in Conflict Zones: Lament and Hope, Judgment and Healing" and heard from attendees who shared traumatic events as the conference guided participants on a journey from lament to hope.
“Even as I come to the GLI, I am traumatized,” said Pastor Rose Wani Andrew from Juba, South Sudan. She described the 20 fresh bullet holes marking her house and the people who came to take refugee with her during the most recent episode of violence just weeks before coming to the conference. Her clothes were donated items, since she lost her belongings in the violence and looting. At the GLI, she said she gained hope for South Sudan after hearing stories from places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.
Mark McHugh, M.Div. ’17, said there was a contrast between the way theology is done in a classroom in the U.S. and the way the people he met at the GLI are “doing theology for their lives,” which he said was inspiring and challenging. Shakeel Harris, M.Div. '18, reflected on the need for lament across cultures, noting that it is easy for people to try to skip to reconciliation and hope too quickly, especially in race relations in the U.S.
The Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School is one of the founding sponsors of GLI, which is now in its seventh year and is part of a larger initiative that continues throughout the year. The Divinity School class, “Reading(s) for Our Lives: Contemporary African Biblical Interpretation,” is sponsored by the Issachar Fund.