Sunday, November 2, 2008

An Institute of Ethnic Reconciliation

(George Opuche- my Ugandan partner- and myself at a baptism for Kasana Community Church)

The New Hope Institute of Childcare and Family would not typically be thought of as a place where ethnic reconciliation would be on the forefront of happenings. After all, isn’t it a training for people wanting to work with orphans or in the area of family? Yes, it is an Institute for training and equipping people to work in ministry to children and family, but in actuality the training encompasses worldview-confronting, life-changing issues, none bigger than the racial issues that divide nations and tribes and that our unique context presents to us in an “in your face” manner.

Can you (as a Westerner) imagine sitting in a room with three or four other Westerners (perhaps coming from the UK, Canada, or from east and west-coast America? Perhaps across the room sits a Congolese and beside him sits a Kenyan couple. To their right and left are twelve Ugandans, but seven of these come from different tribes within Uganda, some tribes extremely different from the others in terms of cultural beliefs and practices. And to top it off, just to your left sits and man or woman from India! Talk about a cultural melting pot!

One of the most exciting times in the course is right at the beginning when we begin exploring the different worldviews of the cultures represented. The Westerners are typically very shocked at how vastly different their own culture’s beliefs and values differ from one another. The shock becomes even greater as they uncover the vast differences in beliefs and values from one African country to the next, and then from tribe to tribe within the same country! You find Westerners saying of Africans, “You all really believe that?!?" And then the Africans say of the Westerners, “You are really believe that?!?" And all stand with gaping mouths at the vast difference of belief systems in an Indian context! And what is also quite shocking is to look at how each of the Christian cultures have been greatly influenced by the “secular” cultures they are a part of. Wow! The question then becomes, “So, who’s right?” Which “Christian” culture has it right? The obvious answer is no one, and it gets to be our joy together to work towards building a Biblical worldview that transcends culture, confronts “fallen” culture, and unites together in “redeemed” cultures that together unveil the beauty of the Kingdom of God. That’s what our little 20 week course is all about! And you thought it was just a course on “how to” work with orphans : )

Now to the point of this article- after we have explored the above, which is always a very humbling process, we then take a look at how we as cultures view each other. Talk about opening a can! It is here that the roots of “racism” or “ethnocentrism” really come out. Americans and British folk view each other vastly different then one might expect, and Ugandans from various tribes still carry much pain and anger towards others because of past atrocities committed against one another. But when one begins talking about Westerners views of Africa, and then Africans view of the West, oh my! Though of course, the true pain comes out when Africans talk about what they have been told about the West and Westerners in general. Without taking the time to explore this here, let me sum up what typically is presented as being passed on by media, family, and parents, by saying that at the core of many Ugandans is the belief that ultimately all problems in Uganda are a result of the West.

The first time we “uncovered” this fact in the Institute, as I stood and read on the board all that the Ugandans had written there about what they have been told or believed about the West, I wanted to run and hide in a hole somewhere! Though not all of what was stated was true, there were yet many that were true! I found myself standing before the group and simply repenting for the things that the West HAS done here in Uganda. Tears flowed from a few and it was obvious that these issues were very deep for many and that healing was coming. I should also note that when we asked the Ugandans what they thought of all that was written on the board, one young man spoke up, "We can't blame the West for all of our problems! We need to own our own failures and mistakes!" Amazing.

After that class time ended, one of our students asked to talk with my wife and I privately. She confessed to us that she had heard this and that and that she had vowed never to step foot in our home and never to eat in our presence! We were shocked. We were shocked because we had always thought of this woman as a friend. We enjoyed being around her and always had warm greetings from her, or so we thought. We forgave her and after time praying together she promised that she would begin to be a regular visitor to our home. And you know what- she has been, and to this day she is one of our closest friends and a dear “daughter” to our family.

One final note- I have been privileged to serve together with two other men who also reveal to me the amazing beauty of ethnic reconciliation that is found in the Gospel alone. George Opuche is my Ugandan partner. He comes from eastern Uganda from the Soroti area. Interestingly, when New Hope began as a ministry, it was in response to the orphans left as a result of the current president’s bush war with the former president, Obote in the 80’s. Many of the soldiers that fought for Obote were from the Soroti area. How beautiful to have not only George, but others from Soroti whose people were a part of the killing that took place in this area, now here as agents of healing and ministry to the children of this area (now orphans as a result of AIDS). My Indian partner also represents reconciliation, as typically Indians are not “liked” here in Uganda. Many of the store and business owners in this country are Indian, and for the most part they are not thought of well here. My partner is actually the first Indian Christian most Ugandans have ever met! They are amazed that he is here NOT to make money, but to serve Uganda and the children and families here at New Hope.

What a blessed privilege it is to serve here in the beauty of such a multi-ethnic community that truly is a picture of the throne room of God where men and women from every tongue, tribe, language, and nation will worship together forever and ever! Glory to the Lamb that was slain who has brought about (and is bringing about) such great and beautiful reconciliation of the nations and cultures of this fallen and broken world!


BigPapaBub said...

Keith all I can say is, Wow! Can you give a summation as do why they feel the west (by that I take the US) has caused some of there problems. I am clueless as to why they feel that way.

Keith said...

Bub, thanks for the comment. I honestly had no clue about these "hidden"/deep issues in the hearts of many until one day I was driving through the local market, the street was packed with people and I had to proceed along slowly as people moved out of the way. One man towards my car shaking his finger and then in broken English said, "Why don't you go back to YOUR country?" I was crushed! Didn't he know why I was here?!? What I had given up to be here (now, that's just the flesh, because in reality I've gained much more than I've given up!)? And this is how I'm treated?

That was the first shocker for me and it never completely made sense until we began digging into these issues in the Institute.

At the root of all issues is one giant historical word: colonialism. Ugandans know well that many of the British colonizers exploited Uganda seriously. And not only has it been passed down that foreigners only come here to "take" from Uganda, but the schools here also teach very clearly the atrocities of colonialism (which of course are brought into the current day today).

There is also a belief (which I can't completely argue against) that though the West no longer is colonizing Uganda, they are still seeking to control the nation through "relief" and "funding".

Wars in Africa have often been funded or partly funded (secretly) by "Western" countries (western used loosely here), and even America is not exempt here (read the book "King Leopold's Ghost" about the fighting in Congo).

In the villages men and women are told (by each other and by media) that white people bring vaccinations to actually inject new diseases into Uganda, that the West brought AIDS here to keep the population down, that family planning is also just a ploy to keep Uganda from growing in its numbers and thus its power and influence, etc. These are obvious lies but I can understand WHY there are these fears- there is serious history here.

Remember, the West brought evolutionary beliefs and teachings that Africans are "less" evolved and more like "monkeys", less "human" if you will. So you can imagine that when an American clueless to this sensitivity sees two small children playing in a tub of water and proclaim to another, "Come look at these cute little monkeys"- there is SERIOUS offense taken where NONE was intended (as I call my own boys monkeys). And it passes around, "They really DO think we are just monkeys".

These are just a few examples, but they do go deep for many, and unfortunately many of these do have foundation in history that the West is a part of.

Nancy said...

I love you Keith and Laura, I have visited this page many times and never spoke until now. You are in my heart all the time, and this story is so touching, like right now, living next door and yet my doorbell has not been rung. It would be nice to be sitting on the boat dock right now.