Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bwana Asifiwe!

That’s Swahili for “Praise the Lord!” That and “Asante sana” (thank you very much) were the two most important phrases I learned on my recent trip to Tanzania. I got to be a part of the inaugural visit for the three-way diocesan companion relationship between our diocese (El Camino Real), the diocese of Gloucester, and the diocese of Western Tnaganyika. It was a small group of us, Bishop Mary and one of our cannons Brian from our diocese, and Bishop Michael, along with several people from Gloucester. At every turn we were overwhelmed with the generous hospitality and kindness bestowed on us, not only by Bishop Gerard and his wife Margaret, but by everyone we met.

We were greeted at the airport by a reception line that stretched from the plane all the way to the terminal. And outside the terminal we were greeted by throngs of people who were singing, dancing, cheering, and waving branches. The women were wearing special outfits they had made for a march for women, and I noticed that they cheered extra loud when Bishop Mary was introduced to them. The crowds of people piled into the backs of pickup trucks, and the singing and dancing continued as our convoy processed down the road. Children along the side of the road joined in the dancing as we passed. And that was just the beginning.

I’ve put off writing this reflection, because I can’t imagine being able to capture this experience in words. I think the best descriptor I can come up with is—the fruit of the Spirit. Bishop Michael envisioned this relationship, linking an African, American, and English diocese, as a way of bridging the divides that threaten our beloved Anglican Communion. Being in communion is in the end about relationship, and these three bishops are building a strong relationship, working through difficulties, discussing the issues that divide us, but most of all, walking together in prayer, faith, love, and joy.

Throughout the week, we visited church after church and school after school, where we were greeted with more of their unparalleled hospitality. The choirs sang songs they had composed for the occasion, the dancers pulled out all the stops, even dancing with pots of fire on their heads at one school. But it wasn’t all moving from place to place, there was also time for discussion and reflection. Bishop Mary and the women in our group had a meeting with a group of women from around the diocese, who wanted to know more about what our lives were like, and share some about theirs. There was also time to visit school children. Mary, Brian, and Michael visiting one kindergarten, presented each child with a cross. And each child in return, performed the traditional greeting of an elder—“Shikamoo” while placing their small hand on your head.

One day was set-aside for the bishops along with the leadership of the diocese, and the visitors to sit together and discuss the issues of the church and share stories. It was a meaningful and open conversation, at times touched by passionate disagreement, or hearty laughter, but the underlying trust, respect, and relationship that had already developed was always present. I kept thinking that what I was witnessing was the knitting back together of the Anglican Communion. Bwana Asifiwe!

On the last day, Bishop Gerard said, “We have been on the mountaintop, I wish I could build three tents, for us and Moses and Elijah, but the time has come for us to come down off the mountain, the world is calling to us, and there is work to be done.” His words spoke deeply, I think, to each of us. As is the case with mountaintop experiences, coming down I felt differently about a lot of things. We speak of being brothers and sisters in Christ, and that has had some meaning to me in the past, but it is much more real to me now. This relationship, cultivated by the Sprit, is deeper than a friendship. On one level, I know that I, or anyone from El Camino Real, has family now to visit in Gloucester and Western Tanganyika, but more than that, I am comforted knowing that my walk with Christ will be deepened and stretched and enriched by the conversations and journeying ahead.

After leaving Western Tanganyika, my travels took me to Dodoma, where I visited my friend Elizabeth who is a missionary there, and met many of the missionaries working in that area. It was wonderful to see their work, and to learn new things, but mostly it was wonderful to have time with a dear friend.

I return to Sudan just as excited about my work as ever, but also inspired to look for the ways that the Spirit is calling me into deeper relationships, conversations, and journeying together.

So my thought for today is—cultivate relationships with people who you consider different from you! It is of our differences and our disagreements that the Spirit weaves a most beautiful tapestry of reconciliation and redemption.

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