Friday, August 30, 2013


 This morning as I awoke and checked news from Africa's Great Lakes some matters are happening that I believe requires pastoral commentary.    Much of it is a historically old cycle.    Eastern Congo is a mess.   Kinshasha has never been able to well govern the East.   Rebel groups form and take some key territory.   Then the international community voices concern.   Tentative negotiations take place and there is some measure of retreat.    Yet, nothing really ever changes.    The Eastern Congolese suffer.    The nations that border Congo, Uganda and Rwanda are forced to deal with the problems of Eastern Congo in some way.   Refugees spill into Uganda and Rwanda.   In my experience both Uganda and Rwanda as nations have fulfilled a God given responsibility to shelter refugees.   Yet, there is a more complicated matter for Rwanda and Uganda.    Rebels in Eastern Congo have ungodly intents.    Rebels in Eastern Congo have perpetrated genocide in the past.   Rwanda and Uganda cannot ignore former genocidaires presence.   Thus the complicated cycles of violence without resolution continue.

 Much of this destructive cycle happens due to the enabling role of the international community.  According to the dictionary an enabler is "one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior... by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior (    Psychologists lecture, write, and counsel repeatedly about ceasing enabler behavior (For instance   The gist of their counsel is to choose to stop behaviors that take away the responsibility of an addict while alleviating short-term pain.   This choice allows the addict to "hit bottom," and from the bottom discover means of personal responsibility.   For those from a faith tradition this is an "Amazing Grace" moment of realizing "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace fears relieved....  Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home." 

Conversations in church receptions
  I humbly submit that the relationship the international community has with Congo is quite similar to one of addiction.   Thus the answer to the enabling lies much in the same counsel one would give a family to heal from addiction.   If this was just a situation in USA neighborhood we would suggest for the international community to visit a pastor or psychologist to learn the skills needed to cease being an enabler to neighborhood conflict.    However, the situation is too complicated for the international community to simply take a  "Stop Enabling" seminar.   

Another matter has also arisen.   The UN Peacekeeping force in Eastern Congo now includes those from Tanzania.   The Tanzanians are our neighbors.   Some violence has occurred, and one Tanzanian peace keeper has been killed.    (Though according to the words of Jesus all men are created in God's image (Genesis 1:27), and as such truly are our neighbors (Luke 10:29-37.)


  One of my missionary mzee (wise elder statesman) once told me to watch the cars in parking lots
of urban churches.    He pointed out cars tell us many things.    One is the origin and social reach of those attending church functions.     I’ve repeatedly noticed Congolese license plates at weddings and funerals that take place in Rwanda and Western Uganda.    Many of the extended families in Eastern Congo, Western Uganda, and Rwanda have intermarried for generations.    The borders between these nations have economic and political significance.    However; historically, culturally, socially, and spiritually the nation-state borders are largely irrelevant.  
 The Tanzanians are also our neighbors that are found in church parking lots.    Our families have intermarried.    We celebrate together.   With those celebrations we also grief together.   The loss of any life is painful.   It is particularly painful when it is a family member. 
  Historians write of the kingdoms of the interlacustrine area—i.e., the region bounded by Lakes Victoria, Kyoga, Albert, Edward, and Tanganyika.    As European explorers reached Africa’s Great Lakes they found well organized and powerful kingdoms.    These kingdoms’ history was told orally so there is some debate about the kingdoms origins.    However, it is obvious that these kingdoms had some ebb and flow of influence.   At times the kingdoms were at war.   At times the kingdoms were at peace.    During seasons of peace the leading families of different kingdoms intermarried.    During times of war families found refuge in neighboring kingdoms.    Thus many conclude historical leadership in Africa’s Great Lakes is in many ways the stories of broad extended families.
                One of the leading historical kingdoms in Uganda was Bunyoro-Kitara.    The histories of Bunyoro’s neighboring kingdoms frequently mention in their origins Bunyoro.    Many Banyoro will interpret their kingdom’s ebbs and flows to have reached deeply into Eastern Congo.    I’ve been surprised to listen to Runyoro speaking missionaries who return after a visit to Eastern Congo with stories of their surprise at how many Runyoro speakers they find in Congo.    Social patterns from marriages and linguistic proficiency make church conversations about Congo conclude, “This is our family.”

                Rwanda was another of the historical influential kingdoms in the interlacustrine region.    Rwanda historians will tell of the Rwanda kingdom reaching at times deeply into Eastern Congo.    There is some debate about whether the reach was completely under the Rwanda kingdom’s control.    However, it is obvious that Kinyarwanda speakers migrated into Eastern Congo and took on new descriptions of themselves with names such as the Bafumbira and Banyamulenge.     The Kinyarwanda speakers of Eastern Congo can be described as both Tutsi and Hutu.    Kinyarwanda speaking missionaries remark that when they visit Eastern Congo they are struck by how much Kinyarwanda they find being spoken in heart conversations in homes and churches.   Again, social patterns from marriage and linguistic proficiency make many church conversations about Congo conclude, “This is our family.”

 Tanzania is also part interlacustrine region.    Their kingdoms of Karagwe and Kyamutwara are part of the historical traditions of our region.    Our families are interrelated.       Tanzanian kingdoms provided refuge when there was turmoil in some kingdoms.    Our languages our similar.   From our greetings to our names for God in the basic language and rhythm of life Eastern Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda are family.   

                Our Balokole (Saved / Evangelical) history in Africa’s Great Lakes tells of beginning in the East African Revival of the 1930’s and 40’s.    From a relatively isolated outpost of Gahini, Rwanda the Revival spread.    Our grandfathers were missionaries who started churches and schools in Eastern Congo.   Some of our historic churches (Episcopal / Anglican) hierarchies once governed Eastern Congo in the same Diocese that governed Western Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi.    Thus it is quite easy in our church conversations about Congo to conclude, “This is our family.”
The Tanzanians also have been deeply touched by our religious heritage in Africa's Great Lakes.    When we come together to worship across ethnic boundaries we sing from common Kiswahili hymn books and read from a common Kiswahili Bible.    When we close our weddings, funerals, and worship we eat similar food.    There is something about this shared song and celebration that assures us we are family.   


                Many of us in Africa’s Great Lakes have a deep fear of soldiers.    Our fear was developed by suffering at the hands of the soldiers employed by those such as Idi Amin and Milton Obote in Uganda.    Yet, another season of soldiering burned deeply into our emotional bank accounts.    Those seasons were of the safety and discipline that came when the Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) captured ground in Uganda.   Another season was when the Rwanda Patriot Front (RPF) stopped the Genocide in Rwanda.     We know those soldiers as our sons, brothers, uncles, fathers, and friends.    Those soldiers are our family so we know they have failings.    Yet, while our memories are of Amin and Obote’s soldiers terrorizing us at road blocks many of us can’t remember NRA or RPF soldiers ever treating us like prey.    They are our sons.   We are at peace when they are near.   

 (Yet, I recognize that some in my community have had different experiences with NRA and RPF soldiers.   In no way, do I seek to deny or minimize their experiences.    My intent is to display that the soldiers of our region our part of our broader community.)
                Some of us have memories of growing up in Congo in relative peace.   Then after the Genocide of 1994 our lives became chaotic and our safety was threatened.    Our sons rescued some of us.    

                We continued to watch Congo with fear.   The Interhamwe and their military weapons had found safe harbor in Congo.   At times our borders were crossed and our family terrorized by the Interhamwe.
Soldiers were once children and have children
                I remember in March 1997 being on furlough in the USA.   CNN was broadcasting live of Mobutu’s Zaire (now Congo) capital, Kinshasa falling to rebels.   A CNN reporter with entering rebels in the background said, “There are rumors of Uganda and Rwanda soldiers being part of the rebels toppling Mobutu.”    I heard the rebels in the background speaking Kiswahili mixed with Kiganda accents.    I knew the rebel soldiers were our sons.    I giggled at CNN naivety, but thanked God that our sons had taken Kinshasa.   I hoped they would bring peace like they had done in Kampala in 1986 and Kigali in 1994.

                For years we’ve been dumbfounded.   We’ve prayed.   We’ve learned a few things.   We’ve at times been disappointed in our sons.    Yet, we’ve believed the best in our son’s intents.   At times someone asked us to pray for a nephew or grandson serving in Congo.    We know that our leaders tell stories a little different from our auntie’s interpretation, and we’re o.k. with the differences.    We pray for our sons.   We trust God to make things right in time.

 The Tanzanian military is also made up of our sons.    They liberated Uganda from Idi Amin.   When we meet together at weddings, funerals, and church we share common stories of those dark days.    We remember that during the dark days of Amin, some made fun of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.   Yet time showed that Nyerere's substance of character was true and enduring  (For further reflection on Mwalimu's legacy see

                Congo has not settled down despite both our regions and our world’s leaders’ best attempts.   Blaming our son's seems both unjust and unmerciful.   For instance,
American Bomber Pilots in World War 2
My first pastorate in the USA had several bzee (wise elder statesmen) who were bomber pilots in World War 2.    Some whispered that they were war heroes, but the bzee always dodged the compliment.     Over time I learned a few things.   To be an Allied bomber pilot flying over Nazi Germany required great courage and skill.    Many did not return from the missions.    Recently, I’ve learned that there was great debate about the bzee’s missions.    Their leaders concluded that to most quickly end the war they must bomb German cities to break German morale and also destroy the German war industry.   The bombings killed thousands of German civilians.    The History Channel documentaries show photos of German children’s corpses after the bombings of German cities.   Many historians with great ethical wrestling concluded the bombing of German cities saved Allied lives and with the Holocaust in progress prevented the world from falling into a new Dark Age.    Yet, if history had gone a little different my heroic bzee could be labeled war criminals.

                Thus in church receptions we conclude many of these soldiers in Congo are our sons.    Whether they are the Congolese military,Congolese rebels, or Tanzanian UN Peacekeepers these soldiers are our sons.  
 In the American Civil War, General William Sherman remarked, “War is hell.”    We agree.   War is about death and destruction.    We know our sons have seen and done terrible things.    Yet, we hope our sons will be shown in history to have been agents of justice and peace.   We continue to pray for our sons in church reception conversations about Congo.


Gossip magazines or Congo history books?
                Congo’s history reads like the magazines in a USA supermarket checkout line – drama, drama, and more drama.   No good guys exist.    Moral authority is a possession of almost none.     It is little wonder that our region’s leaders are angry when outsiders lecture them.   It is also little wonder why our independent media leaders portray the UN and their allies in the Congo discussion as lacking pragmatic common sense.

                In church receptions we heal from the wounds of history.   We talk.   We pray.   We trust another day is coming.   Yet, we’ve got to live in the here and now and day by day.

                Our Congolese history bank remembers that the some of the first foreigners to enter our region were slave traders.   We’re ashamed that some of our kingdoms participated in the slave trade.    Yet in Ankole, Rwanda, and Burundi slave trading was difficult.   In Rwanda slave trading became impossible.   The slave traders circled some of our kingdoms and set up shop in Eastern Congo.

                Then came the Belgian colonialists.    The British were far from perfect colonialists, but in the oldest parts of their cities we find schools, churches, and administrative centers.   In old Belgium colonial cities we find churches, administrative centers, and prisons.     The Belgium colonialists exploited Congo’s mineral and people resources without building enduring institutions and infrastructure.

One of the last photos of Congo Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba
                Congo independence came with great turmoil, but also hope.   Then Congo’s first Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba was assassinated by the CIA.    Some of our parents were friends with Lumumba.   We can’t forget the betrayal of our hope.

                Mobutu followed Lumumba and ruled with a corrupt clique of thugs.   In the end Mobutu sheltered the thugs of all thugs – Genocidaires.   Now Kabila continues the sins of Congo’s fathers.

                The voices that banter with our regions leaders lack a basic message we hear preached in our churches – repentance.    In churches we read of brave men and women who had the courage to acknowledge both their sins and the sins of their fathers.    They deeply grieved over their past and present failures.   Then these both humble and courageous people of the past repented.    The not only apologized they changed their behavior.   They ceased to do the same old bad behaviors over and over again.   They did good things.   They brought enduring change.   

     Quite frankly in church receptions we remark that those who banter with our region’s leaders over Congo have absolutely no moral authority.    Until they repent we in church receptions will simply not listen to their banter.    

Thus while I counsel my Africa Great Lakes brothers to excel in love expressed through justice, humility, and mercy I counsel my Western brothers to stop enabling the Congo conflict.     History since Independence can quite easily document the role of the international community in playing an enabling role.    The help from the international community  many times has made Congo worse.   Many resent the consequences of the enabling.    There are some matters for which the international community may feel guilty.   Both us and God offer our gracious forgiveness.   There is no need for the international community's continued shame.     Congo's future is as mysterious as our God.    Yet, we know Congo's bright future will be found though old virtues such as faith, courage, humility, and service.    The international community is most welcome to join in our old virtues of community.

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