This is the last blog entry for these particular stories from Africa. For two weeks Shane Claiborne and Chris Lahr spent time learning from some incredible folks in Rwanda and South Africa. These stories are an attempt to put into words much of what we learned in this whirlwind of a trip. We hope that these stories are inspiring and yet only the beginning of a life-long relationship with our brothers and sisters in Africa.
Now a reflection from Shane...
It was our first trip to Africa.
We did a little talking and a lot of listening. We saw humanity at its worst… and at its best.
As you will see here, the racism of Apartheid has much to teach us about the evils we are capable of, the dangers of racism, colonialism and power. Much of the evils done in Africa’s history were done by Bible-carrying Christians. As one African proverb goes: “When the white man came, he had the Bible and we had the land. Now we have the Bible, and he has the land.” Many of the evils in Africa’s history were baptized in religious rhetoric, teaching us a truth we can see even today – bad theology gets people killed. And yet we saw a God who is able to survive the embarrassing, even sickening, things humans have done in God’s name. We saw Africans meeting in tents, and fields worshipping Jesus. As one brother told us, the mere survival of Christianity among the indigenous people of Africa, despite all that colonial Christians did to them, is itself a testimony to the Spirit of God. We saw Africans rejecting the health and wealth, self-centered, blessing-obsessed prosperity Gospel of the West, as tempting as it is… and clinging to the sacrificial, uncomfortable, risky scandalous grace-filled Gospel of our Lover Jesus, the Savior of refugees.
We stayed in an incredible community in South Africa called Hands of Compassion, started by black and white South Africans in the middle of Apartheid, when it was illegal for them to own land and live together. Now they’ve adopted all kinds of beautiful kids without parents and provided a home and family for dozens of folks recovering from addictions and homelessness. It was a big and beautiful family.
We spent time in Rwanda, the land that saw one of the greatest tragedies in human history -- a genocide that left over one million people dead in only 100 days. Just to put it in perspective: for three months there were over 300 people being killed every minute, 10,000 a day for 100 days straight in a country the size of the state of Maryland. And it was not with bombs and tanks or modern technology but with machetes sticks. Men infected with HIV were sent out as weapons of genocide raping women and children and infecting them with the terminal illness – evil, demonic, a society gone crazy. You could feel the blood cry out from the land. Perhaps the cry goes all the way back to the first murder in human history, where Cain killed his own brother Abel and God said: "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10)
How did it happen? We are all responsible. The colonialists in Europe helped to create and reinforce the artificial tribal identities that brewed for decades and erupted in bloodshed. It was a complete failure of the global family. The United States and the UN squabbled over the cost of what it would cost to send in peacekeepers and simple vehicles to interrupt the kids who were killing with machetes and farm tools – politicians were fighting over lose change as lives were lost minute by minute. And, perhaps worst of all – it was a total failure of the Church. At the time of the genocide Rwanda was nearly 90% Christian. Rather than order Christians to destroy the artificial tribal boundaries of Hutu and Tutsi and burn their ID cards years before the genocide, many of the pastors and religious leaders sat silent or even carried guns on under their vestments, “pistol pastors” as some became known. We saw the bad we are capable of.
And yet the story of our faith is that life is more powerful than death, love triumphs over hatred – even after torture and execution, there is a resurrection. After Good Friday, comes Easter Sunday. In Africa we saw goodness. We heard stories of courageous heroes and sheroes who created an underground railroad during the genocide. We met people who looked into the eyes of killers and said, “You are better than than the worst things you have done.” We met mothers who lost their husbands and were raising 15 kids, half of whom were not their own but were some of the 2 million orphans of the genocide. We met elderly women who survived the genocide but lost their families, and yet who felt the freedom of forgiveness so deeply that they adopted some of the young men who killed their own loved ones, so that these kids might taste the goodness of God’s grace – stubborn, resilient, contagious grace. We heard of courageous Christians who challenged the pistol priests, saying “why do you carry a gun rather than the Bible?”
We heard a story that should teach us all. A classroom of young kids was raided by the militia during the genocide. The armed men ordered the kids to divide up into tribes, with the Hutus on one side of the classroom and the Tutsi’s on the other, no doubt preparing to mercilessly slaughter the Tutsi’s. But there was an interruption. The kids stood together in unison and said, “We do not have Hutus and Tutsi’s – we only have Christians.” This is what it means to move beyond the myopic, narrow, dangerous boundaries of tribalism. This is what it means to be born again, the truth of what it means to have an identity that runs deeper than race, tribe, or nation. Our friends Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon talk about tribalism in their book “Resident Aliens” – as they speak to the accusation that Christianity creates a tribal, warring religion. “
We reject the charge of tribalism, particularly from those whose theologies serve to buttress the most nefarious brand of tribalism of all – the omnipotent state. The church is the one political entitiy in our culture that is global, transnational, transcultural. Tribalism is not the church determined to serve God rather than Caesar. Tribalism is the usa which sets up artificial boundaries and defends them with murderous intensity. And the tribalism of nations occurs most viciously in the absence of a church able to say and to show in its life together that God not nations rules the world.”
We learned a word in Africa that is often on our lips thesedays: “ubuntu”. There is not a very adequate English translation, but African Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes it like this: “Africans have this thing called UBUNTU.It is about the essence of being human, it is part of the gift that Africa will give the world. It embraces hospitality, caring about others, being able to go the extra mile for the sake of others. We believe that a person is a person through another person, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with with yours. When I dehumanise you, I inexorably dehumanise myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms and therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in belonging”. Perhaps ubuntu explains why the genocide memorials were marked with those words: “If you had known me, you would not have killed me.” Christ has felt the suffering of Rwanda. May we learn from the blood, the tears, and the smiles of Africa.
To end this blog (or to start it if you like to read newest blog entries first), I wanted to give a tribute to my Granny...
One of the hardest parts of the trip for me, was that my Granny died. I was close to my Granny and always looked forward to our times together when I visited Indiana. People ask me if it was all of a sudden... not really, it took about 91 years. I was able to spend time with her not too long before she passed. Though she was ready to go, I was very sad not to be there, especially since she wanted me to share at her funeral. Knowing there was a chance she would pass I wrote the following (feel free to skip this if you want to move on to the African Stories)...
It is my deepest regret that I cannot be with you at this time. I had every intention of sharing with you face to face some of the memories and values that I hold dear today as a result of knowing Granny. I miss her deeply, but I rest assured that she is in a much better place than any of us are right now. She can finally see again, and believe me, the mush in Heaven taste even better than the mush at the Country Post (and yes the mush at the Country Post is very good).
Living in Philadelphia, several hours away from family, I have come to realize the blessing it was to live in the same town as my grandma (and grandpa). (What I wouldn’t do to be able to drop my kids off at their grandparents every week J.) My earliest memory of granny was being babysat on a daily basis. Just before she died she recalled how watching Casey and I was like watching two perfect little angels, so meek and mild. Its good to know that granny left this earth with a good mind J. Ok, so maybe I am stretching the truth a tad, but she did say she appreciated the time she had watching us. Personally I loved going to granny’s. It was the only place we could go and not really get into trouble! We would start fighting and grandpa would simply say “Judas Priest” or “What in the Sam Hill,” and granny would find us something to eat to quiet us down! Man, those were the days!
I remember the many hours that we would sit around and watch baseball games (trying to get granny to sing along with Harry Cary during the 7th inning stretch). We would also watch Sanford and Son, All in the Family (aka. Archie Bunker’s Place), and my personal favorite… Benny Hill. It’s sad that they just don’t make tv shows like they used to. Judas Priest.
I remember the many times Casey and I would go out back and play baseball in the yard. Shoot, I even remember playing against grandma and grandpa in the early days. But even as they got too old to keep up with us on the field, they were almost always there for our countless games that we had year after year at the PAL club.
One of my favorite memories took place on April Fools day. Casey and I arrived at granny’s early that morning before school with tons of bandages, wraps, slings, etc draped over our bodies. We looked pathetic and had the story to match it. We informed her that we were in a terrible bike accident the night before and were hurt so bad that we even had to go to the hospital (you could say I was gifted with the ability to tell some good lies) J. We had granny believing it so much that she began to shed a tear. As she walked back into the kitchen to grab our co-co and graham crackers (food that can bring great healing by the way), we quickly removed the bandages and placed them on the table. As granny came back into the room we started laughing uncontrollably. She had totally believed us, and then began to laugh. Grandpa on the other hand simply replied, “Judas Priest.” Grandpa always had a way with words and knew what needed to be said and when.
Some other memories that I will forever hold are the grandma meals we would have on Sundays>> Kentucky Fried Chicken, mash potatoes, green bean casserole, scotcharoos, etc. I also remember the old golden Christmas tree that they had in their front parlor at 920 Salamonie Ave. Even as a kid I wondered why in the world anyone would want a golden Christmas tree. I never had the guts to ask. I could only imagine that it was granny’s idea and grandpa’s only response was (everyone together now…) “Judas Priest.” I also remember located in the same front parlor was a drawer full of rubber bands that grandma and grandpa used to call “rubbers.” For some reason I always thought that was hilarious.
Another fond memory happened in more recent times. As many of you know, granny’s eyesight has been getting worse over the past few years. I remember about a decade ago granny had to have eye-surgery to remove some cataracts. As the family was winding down a fine family reunion at mom and dads, granny asked the fam to gather around the tv for a very important viewing. Yes, that’s right… granny had her eye-surgery on video and wanted nothing more in life at that moment than to share it with the rest of us. I think I was the only member of the family to sit through the whole thing. Granny was amazed at the technology of it all, the rest of the family was quite grossed out, but I thought it was hilarious! Granny saw that I enjoyed it so much, she actually gave the precious tape to me! Later that summer I was speaking at a youth camp. During the evening the camp gathered together for some games, etc. I noticed they had a video set-up and told the guy in charge of the games that I had a very “youth appropriate video.” I introduced the video in a very monotone voice explaining it was a “special” video that my grandma wanted to share with the family and that I now wanted to share with the group. The first night the crowd was a bit grossed out, maybe a little shocked that a HUGE eyeball was undergoing surgery and they were forced to watch. Did I mention that it was only the first night? That’s right, I introduced the video in the exact same way, using the exact same monotone voice each night of the week. But each night we played different music to the video and it turned into a much anticipated dance party (the first of its kind on a Nazarene Camp Ground). Finally the last night, before I gave the final sermon, I told everyone there that I had a special guest to introduce… that’s right, my granny! She was nothing short of a celebrity that night. Kids came from all over the place to hug her and I think there may have even been a couple autographs given! Granny, I loved her since of humor. A few years ago I asked her if I could play a portion of the video at this funeral and tell you all that she still had her eye on us. Though she laughed, she didn’t think it would be appropriate J.
Above all these things, my fondest memories have taken place over these past several years. Whenever I come back into town, Granny and I would go to the Country Post and get Fried Mush. Shoot, we’ve gone so much the waitresses there call us “the mush people!” These have been very special times for me. These were times for us to get caught up, to talk about the good ol days, and yes, time for me to try and convince her that she was not too old to try and start driving. We had plenty of laughs, and the next time I step into the Country Post there will be a big void, and I will miss her deeply. I am glad to announce though, that my kids love going there as well! From this day forward, we will continue to go to the Country Post, eat mush and talk about “the good ol’ days.” Though granny’s body may have passed away, the memories I have of her and the values she has bestowed on me will be passed to the next generation.
Here are some of the values that I have obtained from granny and will pass on to my children…
1) Stay close to Jesus. This is the reason we live. Granny thought it was crazy that she lived to be 91>> she told me on more than one occasion that no one should live to be 91. I tried to convince her that it would be the coolest thing to make it to a 100>> she called me crazy. She was at peace with dying because she was a peace with Jesus. She loved him and desired for all of her offspring to follow him, serving him in all that they do. Even as a child, she would share Bible stories with us and she would pray for us, thus helping lay a foundation that strangely enough does not allow me to be here today (I am in Germany and in Africa).
2) From saving money to giving it away. I remember as a child always hearing granny tell us to save our money and not spend it foolishly. I’m still not sure if purchasing Michael Jackson’s first album with Casey was foolish or wise, but we sure enjoyed it back in the day J. Over the last several years it seems to me that granny began to tell me a different message about money>> it’s meant to be given away! As granny got older she began to have a more realistic view of money and possession and realized that she cannot take anything with her, thus she might as well give stuff away. Granny was very generous, to the point it was comical at times. I remember one time she had some extra Tylenol so she gave them to me. I was very grateful for them. Little did I know that I would not need to by Tylenol for the next 15 years! Not only would she get me Tylenol, she would take the time to count out the pills making sure I knew how much I got! I loved that stuff about granny! By the way, does anyone know how much I will have to start paying for Tylenol?
3) Family is important! In this world there are a lot of messed up families. Though no family is perfect, I am very fortunate to be a part of this family. I am grateful that there was no divorce, or abuse. I am glad to have had a granny that loved her kids and grand kids with everything she had. I am also grateful to Dorothy, Gene and dad and how they cared for granny all of these years, thank you for doing small things with great love.
Finally I want to leave you with this… In her last days, granny was a bit frustrated because she could no longer see well, and that “things were going dim.” I encouraged her that she was just like Isaac and Jacob who also went blind in their old age (Gen 27:1; 48:10). I also said that no matter how old someone gets, they still have a purpose until the day they die. She seemed encouraged. We then talked about what the next thing she will see is going to be…
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. And the one sitting on the throne said, “look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.” Revelation 21:1-7
This was one of the highlights of the museum... a case full of broken down weapons! Nelson Mandela told people to throw their weapons into the sea! In the ten years following Mandela's call, many tons of arms and ammunition have been melted down, crushed or made unusable
Apartheid ended 1991. 1994 they held their first "free election." Nelson Mandela won! This pic is one of the lines people had to stand in to vote on that memorial day (you thought standing in line at Disney World was long!). We were told that the day was filled with anxiety, as people wondered if violence would erupt somewhere. It did not.
Many people were not only incarcerated during apartheid, but they were murdered. This was a list of the people who died while incarcerated. While I was reading through it, Xana came up to me and said, "Lies, it is all lies." The police made up excuses why people died (ie. accidental fall from 10th floor!). They were all murdered.
Steven Biko was a hero to many people. During Apartheid he was a voice for the voiceless. In a system that said you were less than human for being black, he taught black consciousness>> that its more than ok to be black. All humanity should have the same rights. There is a powerful movie that all should see called, "Cry Freedom." Here is a trailer for it.
Alan and Xana told us that this movie was shown in the thick of Apartheid. They were surprised that it actually made it into the theaters. They went, watched and upon leaving the theater they were confronted with many police officers who came to confiscate the film. Though no one was arrested that time, the movie was banned.
This is a video by Peter Gabriel, singing "Biko." They had this video playing over and over in the museum.