Gifts of Martyrs and Companions: First Report from East Africa

Uganda martyrs mural image, Gaba seminary, Kampala

On the Masaka Road from Uganda to Rwanda – Our little twenty-passenger bus passes a lush, fertile landscape—bananas, coffee, cattle, eucalyptus trees.  Inside is our Duke Center for Reconciliation team, Mennonite Central Committee friends, and the remarkable Angelina Atyam, a grassroots leader from the long conflict in the north.

This is day one of two days journey to rural Ruyigi, Burundi where—after overnight in Kigali, Rwanda—we plan to meet friends formed over a three-year engagement here,  African Christian leaders on the search for peace in the region.

Scenes of both poverty and progress[[men digging a ditch for a high-speed underground internet line across the continent.  One sign of a new global time:  “They’ll get their investment back 10 times” says a Ugandan friend of extensive Chinese investment in rebuilding roads  from here northward to Sudan and Ethiopia.

After three days in Uganda, impressions of two significant gifts.

First, the gift of those who make the ultimate sacrifice for naming Jesus Lord.  During a visit to Gaba seminar y in Kampala two days ago a chapel mural tells the story of the Uganda martyrs of 1885-87, the first Christians here whose baptism trumped nationalism; they refused to name the Mwanga king their lord, and were ordered killed. Any Christianity able to withstand the conflicts and powers of its age will need to form disciples who choose their baptism over any other lord, any other “ism.”

Footwashing among representatives of 2004 Lausanne reconciliation group including James Odong (left)

Second, the gift of strangers becoming companions as a catalyst for a new community.  Over a wonderful reunion meal last night at my colleague Emmanuel Katongole’s Ugandan home with James Odong of World Vision and his wife, we remembered our first visit to the national genocide memorial in Rwanda six years ago.  We were in Kigali as a leadership team of the Reconciliation Issue Group preparing for the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization meetings in Thailand later that year.   After a painful two hours inside the memorial we walked out and scattered in silence to reflect and pray.  The “new family” birthed over the course of that year with 50 Christians from across the world and Africans like James were the catalyst for the restless community of Christian leaders for peace which we are journeying to meet in Burundi.

We cross the Rwandan border soon—if we can get around this truck with a load full of eggs on this bumpy road.  Talk about a fragile journey.

About the Author: Chris Rice is co-director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School.  He is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. He writes regularly at the blog Reconcilers.

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