The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Rwanda: Updating the slide show

Isn't it funny how we get an idea about the world and simply don't let it go?

Last spring I went to Rwanda to participate in a community organizing seminar with leaders of the Lutheran Church of Rwanda. My friends and relatives weren't enthusiastic. "Is it safe?" they asked, remembering 1994 when a million people -- mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus -- died at the hands of their neighbors.

It happened, of course. In Rwanda I saw evidence of brutality after brutality: in the Genocide Museum, our first stop; in the backs of trucks transporting prisoners charged with unspeakable acts; on walls pocked with bullet holes; on crosses and plaques remembering the slaughtered.

But I also met Rwandans who were proud of the way their country is healing its past. They told me how they pitch in on monthly national civic projects, participate in grass-roots reconciliation and take seriously Jesus' dictum to love their enemy.

John Rutsindintwarane, general secretary of the Lutheran Church of Rwanda, said: "Most African leaders think getting rid of the enemy is a solution, but it is very short term. Rwanda is taking the risk of integrating the enemy. The government's offer of return for the Hutus is unconditional."

Rwanda is changing, but our ideas aren't. It's time for us to engage in what Philip Knutson, ELCA regional program assistant for Southern Africa, calls "updating the slide show."

Remember the hot air blowing out of the projector, the dust motes dancing in the light beam, the scratches in the images we used to watch in the dark? The mental slide show I took with me to Rwanda was equally quaint. It suggested an Africa laden with problems, a country in which all good things come from outside.

Thanks to Rwandan Lutherans, my slide show now dances with images of resiliency and hope. I see them recognizing and using their gifts to build a clinic, repair a road and generate new sources of income for the church and its members. I hear them asking for investment, not charity, so they can leverage their gifts and create their own projects and solutions.

Slide shows can change. As a Chicagoan traveling internationally, I used to be greeted by people sticking out their fingers and saying "bang, bang." When the Chicago Bulls were NBA champions, Al Capone was eclipsed by Michael Jordan. Today the world's most famous Chicagoan is Oprah Winfrey, and the gangster slide is gone forever.

But not all slide shows change so easily. Paul's pre-Damascus slide show of Christians was so deeply part of him that he had to be blinded before he could recognize the new one.

And sometimes we don't want to change our slide shows. Images that diminish others while assigning ourselves the starring role are flattering and hard to give up. But when we interact with people from Africa based on those old images, we keep Africans and their countries trapped in a prison of negative ideas.

Take a look at your slide shows. In your global relationships, are you still looking at the past?

May the Spirit release us from old ways of seeing and open our hearts and minds to see the good gifts that abound in each one of us, everywhere.

This week's front page features:

The spirituality of being single: It offers us all insight into what it really means to be family.

Toward a more multicultural campus: ELCA colleges and universities work to increase ethnic diversity.

Augsburg students 'step up': College housing and counseling support students in recovery.

Ah, the old blessing of ... the traffic light? Maryland churchgoers have long lobbied for traffic signal.

Also: Letters: War in Iraq still controversial.

Also: My View: A fire in our church.

Also: Megachurch myths.

Read these articles on our front page > > >

Discuss college diversity:

Rashaa Craford
W. Kent Barnds
Discuss college diversity with Rashaa Crawford, a student at California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks (above right) and W. Kent Barnds (below right), vice president of enrollment at Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill.
Consider reading The Lutheran's article on how ELCA colleges and universities are working to increase ethnic diversity: "Toward a more multicultural campus ."

In the article Crawford discusses how she chose to attend California Lutheran University and the accompanying culture shock of moving to the West Coast.

Barnds discusses Augustana's efforts to recruit students from the increasingly diverse Rock Island community.

Join the discussion...
This week on our blog:
Kathleen Kastilahn
Andrea Pohlmann asks "Do you believe?"
Kathleen Kastilahn (right) writes about her yearly reading retreat.
Julie Sevig blogs about her new book, Peanut Butter & Jelly Prayers.

Check out our blog > >>

Keep up with our guest blogger:

Justin BaxterJustin Baxter (right), a student at Pacific Lutheran Seminary, is serving an internship at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Oakland, Calif.

He's keeping a journal of his internship at The Lutheran's Web site.

This week he writes about authenticity.

Read Justin's blog > >>

Tell us! Peace-sharing preferences:

A staff blog on The Lutheran's Web site about hugging vs. shaking hands during the sharing of peace resulted in 11 responses and an idea for a future story in the magazine. Share your opinion about sharing the peace — handshakes vs. hugging, comfort zones vs. uncomfortable zones.

Send your response to julie.sevig@thelutheran.org by Nov. 16.

Or respond online > >>
Communion age
In the "old days" first communion was tied to the rite of confirmation. Then the age of instruction and first communion was lowered, and today in many of our churches young children — even babies and toddlers — are served communion. "The Use of the Means of Grace," the ELCA's statement of word and sacrament, states that all the baptized are welcome to receive communion. Yet a range of opinions on a proper age exists. Share yours.
Send your response to julie.sevig@thelutheran.org by Dec. 12.
Or respond online > > >

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The Little LutheranWe at The Lutheran think it's important to nurture the faith of the little ones in our midst. We developed The Little Lutheran for children 6 and younger to help them learn about God's love for them and the world in which they live. We want them to know Jesus as friend and savior too.

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February issue


Embracing diversity