Sunday, June 07, 2009

Update from Africa

Hello to everyone back home and to all our friends in various places. I'm sorry that I have not been able to post another update about our Africa trip until this point. We've had a chance to rest this weekend in Pretoria, South Africa and catch our breath before the beginning of the Amahoro Conference in the Johannesburg area tomorrow. The conference will last all next week and will conclude (for me) with a weekend field trip to Cape Town that ends Monday morning. Greg will be leaving for Dakar, Senegal on Saturday and will be spending another day with Daniel before heading back to the US on Tuesday. I will be spending the remainder of Monday in Johannesburg and will be flying back on Tuesday evening. The last three weeks have been an amazing experience but I'm definitely glad that we're beginning to wind things down.

It is hard to know where to begin in describing the last two weeks of travel through Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa. There is so much to say and consider. I will try to briefly highlight a few things. The first thing is that being away from my family for over three weeks while being in these circumstances has really underscored for me the immense difficulties faced by internally and externally displaced people around the world. I am getting an incredibly small taste of what that is like. But it is enough. Our visit to the informal settlement (slum) of Kibera in Nairobi, opened a new doorway of understanding for me into the global struggle to cope with mass migrations of people, hyper-urbanization, political corruption and the incredibly pernicious effects of colonization (to name just a few). Somewhere between 500,000 to 1 million people live in Kibera, and often times you will have 8-10 people in a mud hut as small as 100 hundred square feet. We visited a primary school that is being sponsored by a ministry in Kibera that had close to 100 children in a mud building that was maybe 300 hundred square feet. So many things to think about and consider.....

Also, we visited a group of women in Kibera who are using shredded recycled paper and cardboard to make very beautiful and creative greeting cards. The initiative was begun by an Australian woman and helps give women from Kibera an opportunity to begin their own business. That was a deeply inspiring visit for me. Also, we visited a sight that a local theological college has in the middle of Kibera and listened to them tell us how they are helping to train students in this context. It gave a new meaning to the term "ministry house." These and many other visits around Nairobi gave us a lot to ponder.

After concluding our time in Nairobi we flew to Kigali, Rwanda where we spent 2 1/2 days with the wonderful folks at ALARM (African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries). ALARM's focus is helping facilitate reconciliation between the people of Rwanda in the wake of the 1994 genocide. We spent a good amount of time interviewing people from ALARM and others, visiting the Genocide memorial in Kigali and travelling to a site in the eastern province to visit a school project sponsored by ALARM. The museum in Kigali was an unforgettable experience. Almost 260,000 of the 800,000 to 1 million victims of the genocide are buried on the grounds. We saw very graphic and profoundly disturbing images of the events of 1994, including cases full of the often fractured skulls of some of the victims (many children included). We walked away in a daze. What possesses people to do this to their own neighbors, to their own parishioners and to children?

But the principle question that I walked away asking was how could the world simply stand by and watch this happen? The warning signs were as plain as day and a large part of the Hutu elite's plan was predicated upon western indifference. But even more than that we learned anew that the false ethnic divide created by the Belgian colonists between Hutu and Tutsi is what fueled the fires leading to 1994. And sadly, many within the Christian church were deeply complicit in what happened.

In all these respects the visit to Kigali was very heavy. But I can't end on this note. Greg and I were really quite amazed at the job that the people of Rwanda have done rebuilding their country. Kigali is a very beautiful and clean city and you could scarcely imagine that something as horrific as the genocide happend just 15 years prior. The government has really made investing in the city a top priority, and it seems like the west has made an effort to help promote and sustain this initiative. Many of the people here call these funds from the West "guilt dollars." I love it! Anyhow, some pretty amazing things are happening in Rwanda. I think that some questions still remain, but those are for another day.

So, after leaving Rwanda we flew to Johannesburg, South Africa where Greg led a seminar on his book at the University of South Africa in Pretoria. That went well and we were able to spend some quality time with several of the professors and students from UNISA. This gave us a great opporunity to learn from them about what is happening in South Africa and all of the challenges they are facing in the aftermath of Apartheid and the deep divides that it crreated. On Thursday and Friday we visited several groups working in Johannesburg and Pretoria on a broad array of issues including HIV/AIDS, orphans, housing, reonciliation, education, and environmental activism. Though very tired by this point, all the visits were extremely beneficial. It is astounding to think about (just like Rwanda) how much circumstances in South Africa have changed in the last 15 years. I think that many of the changes are profoundly positive and perhaps some of the others are mixed. There are still lots of questions but the opportunity for reconciliation is there, is being embraced by many and is really inspiring to see.

So, perhaps that is all that I should relate at this point. It has really been a remarkable journey and I thank all of you for your prayers. I have definitely felt them when I needed them the most. This has been a great learning experience for me and I've really felt the Spirit's witness both within and without. The people of Africa are amazing and it is an honor to be able to be in life with them and with you. I think that Africa provides a great mirror into which the West needs to look to learn and consider a lot of things about itself. The same holds true for me, and I'm trying to see those things. I look forward to seeing all of you soon.....and a special thanks to those of you who have helped to care for my family during this time..........keep going.......


maria said...

This trip sounds so amazing, and I can't wait for you to share with us in person. Like I said before, enjoy every minute!


Tracey said...

Billy it sounds wonderful and remarkable. As always I am proud of you and stand in awe! Our prayers are with you and God speed and God Bless.