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The United Methodist Church participated in the African Initiative for Peace and Reconciliation of the peoples of the Great Lakes countries in Africa.

The Great Lakes Initiative (GLI) is an inclusive, ecumenical movement of Christian leaders from across the Great Lakes Region of Africa who are passionate about their Christian faith, peace and reconciliation. GLI brings together seven countries from the Great Lakes region: Rwanda, DR Congo, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and South Sudan. They meet once a year to be spiritually refreshed and challenged for the work of reconciliation.

Harper Hill Global and Duke Divinity School’s Centre for Reconciliation provided scholarships for four participants of the conference. Our common goal is to use communications to spread reconciliation and peace throughout the Great Lakes region. Your support helps us achieve this goal. Please give at harperhill.global/donate.

During this January 2019 session, GLI celebrated eight years of loyal service of its first Ambassador Wilfred Mlay and by extension his wife Faith Mlay’s faithful support:

  1. The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a global ministry of Anabaptist churches that share the love and compassion of God for all in the name of Christ, responding to basic humanitarian needs and working for peace and justice. It is committed to ensuring that communities around the world have good relations with God, with each other, and with God’s creation.
  2. The African Ministries for Leadership and Reconciliation (ALARM), which works to strengthen the African church as an instrument of community transformation, with a focus on the development of servant leaders in the biblical context, the reconciliation of relationships, and the transformation of grassroots communities.
  3. The Center for Reconciliation (CFR) of the Duke Divinity School, which is rooted in a Christian vision of God’s mission and advances God’s mission for reconciliation in a divided world by cultivating new leaders, communicating wisdom and hope, and by building bridges to strengthen Christian leadership.
  4. World Vision International (WVI), a global Christian relief, development, and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families, and communities to overcome poverty and injustice.

It should be noted that all these organizations were present with their delegates from Africa and the world at this institute in January 2019.

“The conflicts in the Great Lakes countries have caused a lot of deaths. There have been and still are victims of sexual violence, orphans left to their own devices, to name a few. This is how we work to strengthen the African church as an instrument of community transformation, focusing on the development of servant leaders in the biblical context, the reconciliation of relationships, and the transformation of communities of faith,” says Ms. Cecile from the NGO ALARM.

It should be noted that the theme chosen for this year is “Christian Leadership for Reconciliation in the Context of Forced Displacement”.

Speaking on behalf of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pastor Jean-Serge Lumu of the Presbyterian Church of Kinshasa said that “the Congo is a great country and we salute the initiatives of Christian leaders on mechanisms of public awareness for the elections and peacekeeping throughout the election period.” He added saying, “we are proud of the work that the United Methodist Church [is doing] as well as its partner Harper Hill Global…has made this session an outstanding mark for R & D Congo and other countries bringing…more people to Congo and…more to Uganda. This shows the interconnectedness of the Church as the body of Christ, concerned with the reconciliation of peoples, led by the Harper Hill Global organization partner of The United Methodist Church in Congo.”

One of the participants in this meeting, Reverend Suzanne Donasho, said that she was profoundly transformed by her participation in this institute: “I shared the pain with my brothers and sisters from other Great Lakes countries who are going through the same situations that we [are] in Congo.” She went on to say, “I am really encouraged by the work of churches and NGOs in these different countries of the region, as well as in my country. For that, I am grateful to Harper Hill Global for funding my participation in this institute.”

Christian leadership for reconciliation in the context of forced displacement is driving us to lament, said Dr Célestin Musekura, a Rwandan pastor and founder of the NGO, ALARM, African Ministries of Leadership and Reconciliation. Speaking of “complaints,” he said that the biblical lament is not a bad thing. He added the following:

“The lament is normal and is human; it is the expression of anger, of the bad state of things, made with hope that God is capable and will act. This lament is also a passionate expression of pain and complaint. It can be expressed in the song, through music and even dance, an instrument that the children of God use to manifest the pain and the complaint.“ Célestin continued his message saying, “we must all cry out to God on what is happening in our countries as it says in the book of Habakkuk 1: 2-4, ask God why wars, violence, and rape [happen] in our countries, and also ask him where he is. Reconciliation must be our concern, the lamentation must be honest and well-founded.”

Mrs. Joyce Furaha from the Church of Christ in Congo shared her impressions: “I experienced an immense joy to participate in the various prayer sessions. I saw…this song: ‘good shepherd your people adore you here in mission for you, through the lamentations comes the new creation. Guide us on this journey, and we will have the passion, the courage and the hope for reconciliation.’ I find that we are ambassadors of Christ to pray, and that we must plead with God for our countries.”

Delegates were assigned to working groups with specific themes, and ours was Child Protection and Combating Child Abuse in Forced Displacement Settings. Our team attended these sessions because countries in the Great Lakes region are characterized by huge communities of forcibly displaced people. In these situations, children experience extreme levels of violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect.

To meet these challenges, it is necessary to develop synergistic, community-driven, controlled and coordinated approaches and link them to existing and non-governmental approaches. We have been exposed to tools and strategic skills to advance the protection of children in forced displacement contexts to develop new advocacy strategies for child protection.

During the plenary Dr. Célestin Musekura taught leadership and the role of the church in the case of forced displacement of populations. His teaching shows that churches of different faiths are not normally together. He encouraged church leaders from all denominations to come together to pray for their people and the countries of the world.

He called for us to stand up and pray for peace in the DRC during the electoral crisis, where people were denied access to communications and the Internet. We must pray for South Sudan because it is a new country that has been at war for a long time. He thanked Uganda for hosting refugees from southern Sudan, DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and other countries, while giving them a freedom that could be imagined. He added that Uganda has taken away all the blessings for hosting refugees and displaced people and is increasingly becoming a reference for the Great Lakes in receiving and settling displaced persons or refugees.

The role of the church and its unity are also essential. The church is never in exile, which means that people can go into exile but the church cannot be in exile. Only the church can cross the borders. People are refugees but the church is not a refugee. The preacher remains a preacher whether in the country or in a refugee camp – unlike other world positions. A priest, pastor, deacon, and clergy can always remain in their roles, even when they cross national boundaries. Church leaders are prophets of a country; politicians always need them to better know the will of God in the country. The servants of God must know that they always carry the message of God for His people, which the political authorities need. The servant of God must remain a prophet for his or her country whatever the circumstances of his or her country.