More than 130 African leaders — more than half of them first-time attendees —gathered in Kampala, Uganda, Jan. 11-17, 2015, for the ninth Great Lakes Initiative (GLI) gathering and fourth Leadership Institute. Participants traveled from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and other African countries for a week of theological study, ecumenical worship, and opportunities to collaborate with leaders of ministries of reconciliation throughout East Africa and other parts of Africa.
The GLI is a partnership between Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation (CFR), African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries, Mennonite Central Committee, and World Vision. This year’s program featured 15 East African scholars and practitioners and two Duke Divinity faculty members, Esther Acolatse and Ellen Davis, who taught at plenaries and seminars.
Esther Acolatse, assistant professor of the practice of pastoral theology and world Christianity, attended the GLI Institute for the first time this year. Acolatse taught a seminar on how clergy can shape the church to be a reconciling space through the practices of confession and lament. The experience was inspiring, she said, because the diverse participants — representing different denominations and countries with historical tensions — were willing to address the divisions that often prevent them from working together. “These are thoughtful Christians leaders willing to get their hands dirty and to do the actual work of reconciliation,” she said.
The GLI brings together clergy and practitioners from diverse denominational and national backgrounds, creates space for conversations for them to understand one another, and helps them work toward becoming a new vision of creation in the church.
There is a need for more space to reflect and to have those deep conversations as the GLI moves forward, said Fr. Emmanuel Katongole, CFR co-founder and a speaker at the 2015 GLI Institute. This year Katongole led a retreat at his hospitality house, Bethany House, with invited regional clergy. The retreat culminated with a three-day visit to the GLI Institute. The conversations and the relationships formed among leaders who are in a position to effect change and to bring about movements of reconciliation reminded Katongole of how powerful the GLI can continue to be if it carves out intentional space for leaders to meet and to reflect.
“Who do we want to influence and invite into this space?” he asked. “This is unique. This is one of the most refreshing spaces, and we need to protect that.”
African leaders continue to take on the role of governing the GLI. The GLI was officially registered as a nonprofit in Uganda this year, and a board of directors has been elected and commissioned. Partners continue to build a GLI movement informed and inspired by African leaders in the region.
As African leadership grows, Duke Divinity School continues to assess how it can spread the richness of the GLI to its students. Ellen Davis, professor of Bible and practical theology, who has co-taught a GLI seminar on theology and the land with Ghanaian author Femi Adeleye for the past two years, will co-teach a class on African biblical interpretation at Duke Divinity School in the fall of 2015. Davis will teach the class with Jacob Onyumbe, a Duke Th.D. student who is a priest from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and via Skype with Bungishabaku Katho, president of Shalom University of Bunia in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The class will culminate at the GLI Institute when nine students, receiving partial scholarships from the CFR and other donors, travel to Uganda in January 2016.
“We have two large bodies of people, in North America and in East Africa, who interpret Scripture with a very keen awareness that it bears closely on their lives, each body quite unaware of how the other one is interpreting” Davis said. She is hoping that those classroom conversations and the interactions the students will have at the GLI Institute will shape their vision of reconciliation. “I hope it will turn out that the vision emerges from a variety of people from different locations within the church.”