Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday 2012 (Updated)

I just returned from the orientation session for new board members of Recovery Starts Today.  RST is a volunteer board whose mission is to support the operations of the McLean County Drug Court.  Drug Court itself is an innovative program that seeks treatment and recovery for the non-violent drug offender, rather than jail time.  As I was sitting in the meeting and listening to the judge, administrators, and other board members, I realized that this program has much in common with Ash Wednesday.  The first step to recovery is to recognize, and admit, the truth about yourself and your problems.  So it is with the commemoration of Ash Wednesday.

Today, when we gather, we will admit the truth about ourselves.  We will admit that we are transitory people and at the end of our brief existence we are bound to simply return to what we were before, dust and ash whose subatomic particles will disperse to the atmosphere leaving nothing of "us" behind. We will admit, if honest, that in and of ourselves we are nothing, that we are miserable offenders.  We will confess that compared with God's holiness, anything done in our own strength is empty and worthless.  It is not a pretty picture, but it is the biblical picture.

That is, it would be, without Christ. Yes, today we come together to admit the truth about ourselves, and yet to find hope in the truth of Jesus Christ.  Today, we celebrate that because of Jesus Christ, and because of his work, the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and through our baptism into that death and resurrection, we are adopted as children of God and given the hope of eternal life.  Today, we hear that the old self, the hopeless self, has been put to death. And though this body may decay, and we go the way of all flesh, we will be raised again, and partake of the holiness of God for eternity.  Not through our own merit, but through the grace of God through Christ.

In admitting the truth about ourselves, apart from Christ, we will find the welcoming arms of Jesus thrown about us, and he will exchange our filthy self-righteousness for his own glory. 

So today, remember that you are dust, mean your confession, make your communion, and find or re-find, the freeing, forgiving, forever love of God in Christ.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


This past Thursday through Saturday I spent time in the town of Buta in the province of Bururi.  The town is home to a seminary and the first monastery in Burundi. The Benedictine Monastery, known in English as St. Mary Queen of Peace, was begun eight years ago by Fr. Zacharie, the former Rector Principal of the seminary.  He was the rector during the genocide of the Tutsi by the Hutu in the 90s.  He is a fascinating man and his story is quite enthralling, as is the story of the Forty Martyrs of Buta.  I am sure to fail to do it justice. During the time of strife, a Hutu student tried to use the seminary as a recruiting ground for members of the Hutu militia.  Fr. Zacharie would not allow this and asked the student to leave.  The student swore revenge.  During this time Fr. Zacharie had a vision for a new chapel in the community, and while the official answer was no, the boys volunteered to design it and building was begun.  This in time would be their memorial.  Also, at this time a young man came asking to work at the seminary as a carpenter. The need was for locally produced coffins so people did not have to be travelling to the city, at least an hour or more by foot, to acquire a coffin for family members.   As the young man worked, a local stockpile of coffins was produced.  He also had a vision that he needed a new black suit, so he purchased one in Bujumbura, but never wore it as it was for a special occasion.  I have the impression that it was to be his funeral suit. As the tension between Hutu and Tutsi increased, and the civil war began, Fr. Zacharie taught and reinforced the unity of the people in Christ. The remaining students took this to heart. In the pre-dawn hours of April 30, 1997, the Hutu rebels arrived.  They first stationed snipers on the hills behind the seminary, to shoot or corral any students who tried to escape.  The former student then led Huti militia members into the dormitory building.  Some students tried to escape using bedsheets as ropes from the bedrooms which were all on the second floor. These students were rounded up and taken as bearers for the militia.  The snipers, meanwhile, were firing into the building to keep the students in place.  As the remaining students were rounded up, other militia were burning whatever they could find including all the posessions in the Rector's home.  Fr. Zacharie was in his office, a building about 50 yards from the dormitory, and he knew that he would die. As he prepared, he felt the presence of God, and heard the assurance that he would live and must preach and work for forgiveness and reconciliation. He then says, he was given a brief vision through the office walls and into the hearts of the boy militia outside.  He says he could see the evil in their hearts like an invasive disease, and then he could see them as God sees: people overcome, enthralled to sin and hatred, needing the freeing mercy of God through Christ.  This has become his mission and the monastery is that work, with Hutu and Tutsi brothers living, working and praying side by side as an example to the community. Meanwhile on that day, the militia had rounded up forty students and started to call on the Hutu students to cross over to them and give up the Tutsis.  The offer was refused by all.  They stated that they were neither Hutu or Tutsi, but brothers in Christ.  They were one people. This enraged the militia, who then gunned down the forty brothers. Thus the forty, through Christ, were united in life and now in death and the hope of resurrection. They are memorialized in the chapel they designed given the name The Chapel of the Martyrs of Brotherhood.  Fr. Zacharie preached and celebrated at the funerals and the dedication wearing the new suit, which was all that survived from the burning of his possessions. Mass is celebrated at the memorial for the community's children each Friday.  This past Friday, during our visit, the chapel was full and I was drawn from the guest house by the beautiful singing of united voices that carried the 200 yards that separated the locations. It is said that, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church", and in Buta you see it is true. Visiting the memorial was an intensely moving experience for me as I sat in silence and prayed in that space.  A local artist, using photos, has painted the face of each martyr on the wall behind the altar.  The bodies he has given them are all the same shape and size so that Hutu and Tutsi charachteristics are minimized. The graves are lined up in two rows with names, year of birth, and the date 30 April, 1997.  Each day visitors place wildflowers on the graves. What stirred me most were the graves of the two eldest martyrs. Their markers bore the year 1973, the same as mine. I wonder if I would have had the fortitude and the faith to stand before the executioner without wavering at the ripe age of 24. The Church teaches that martyrdom is a grace, and these young men were filled with that grace. May their powerful witness of faith, resurrection hope, and Christian brotherhood be an example to all of us.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Loch Lomond

There is an old Scottish song called Loch Lomond.  It is said to be about two Scottish rebels imprisoned by the English.  One is to be freed and thus will take the high road home.  The other will be executed and take the low road of death.  In Scottish folklore the soul returns to the place of its greatest love, so his soul will reach Loch Lomond before the freed rebel. I like the song, but it took a different meaning this weekend. Gitega and Ngozi are map neighbors.  No more than 90 km from each other.  On Saturday we took the high road from Gitega to Ngozi.  This road takes the longway round and was a 2.5 hour drive on a newly constructed two lane highway.  We passed through a few villages and saw several large trucks moving goods. On Sunday, we took the low road, the shortcut, the direct route, back to Gitega. We passed through many more villages, much poorer villages. This road is a one lane dirt road that, because of erosion, is accessible only by 4x4s, motorbikes, bicycles, and walking.  This shortcut allowed us to reach Gitega in only 3 hours.  It was the scenic route, and it was the low road.  Goods produced in these villages are much more difficult to transport to markets in the larger city where they fetch higher prices, or even bringing in goods needed in the villages. One this road the primary method of moving goods is on the back of a bike, up to several hundred pounds, pushed up the mountains and and ridden down.  This work seems to be done primarily by boys who could not afford the fees for secondary education.  Each one we passed looked entirely worn out by their labor.  In Kirundi, there are three words for death, one meaning to sleep like a gentleman, one meaning to go home, and one meaning to collapse like an animal.  This last one is often used for the rural poor, and it did not take much imagination to see the exhaustion in these boys' eyes. Even the bike movers on the high road looked exhausted, but not to the same extent as those on the low road.  Imagine the difference that a good road connecting two major cities could make in the life of the transporters and the people along its route.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Archbishop

Met the Provincial Secretary this morning and then drove through the lesser know areas of Bujumbura.  The level of poverty was staggering.  We talked of the Church's work in the areas of development.  The local parish is the seat of a lot of the work, with the parish setting up micro-finance and other activities.  No one associated with development seems to have much good to say about direct aid outside of emergency and medical situations. Economic development is the desired result.  Anything that can help an individual generate additional income is welcomed and encouraged.  The common refrain is the Gospel is about salvation and dignity, and people lose their dignity both by lack of economic activity as well as continual reliance on direct aid. This afternoon we met with Archbishop Ntahoturi. As well as being Archbishop he is also Bishop of the Diocese of Matana in Bururi Province. The diocese has 32 geographic parishes and 290 Eucharistic Communities. He is a gracious and dynamic man with a vision for the Gospel that is absolutely amazing. He is very interested in combining development with parish growth and evangelism. He emphasized that when an organization is focused on maintenance it is selfish and not vital, yet when it moves outside itself and focuses on mission differences are lessened, it is blessed, vital, and a blessing. That is quite true, I believe. He also stated that the process of mission partnership is a time of exploring together to grow to know each other, and then to minister to each other. He also emphasized that the key to mission is people not program, and invited others to "come and see". Tomorrow we leave for Buta and the up country, so this may be the last post for several days. Keep is in prayer as we travel. On the way we will take Archbishop Ntahoturi up on the invitation and see the work in Matana.

January 31

Started meeting with the Anglican Diocese of Bujumbura today. Unlike the Roman church, the development work within the Anglican Province is handled by each Diocese.  In many ways this makes it difficult to make connections and even more difficult to formulate potential ideas for joint work.  The bishop must sign off on all work and relationships.  I found it tough to maneuver in and keep track of the hierarchy.  The most promising conversations were with the department of youth work and the Mothers Union. The MU is the local equivalent of the ECW.  They work in the villages promoting literacy, health, micro-financing, HIV/AIDS counseling, economic development, and the care and education of single mothers.  The Youth Department was most interested in discussing youth exchanges with American youth joining Burundians in a short summer camp and then doing service projects within the diocese.