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.