Individual articles from the Summer 2020 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog twice per week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website. This article consist of five reflections which will be posted separately.
As peacebuilding has grown and flourished as an academic field and a practical discipline over the past several decades, MCC has collaborated with Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren colleges, universities and seminaries in the United States and Canada in equipping church and community leaders from around the world with peacebuilding skills and knowledge. Through Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Canadian Mennonite University, Conrad Grebel University College, Eastern Mennonite University and Fresno Pacific University, MCC has sponsored hundreds of students for short-term peacebuilding training as well as academic degrees in peacebuilding over the past three decades (with a significant majority of those trainees studying at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and its predecessors). During the past quarter century, MCC has also worked closely with groups of committed peacebuilders who sought to organize contextualized peacebuilding training opportunities in their parts of the world. Over the following pages, peacebuilders in African and Asian contexts reflect on the challenges they have faced, the successes they have enjoyed and the lessons they have learned from organizing peacebuilding trainings in their regional contexts.—The editors.
Great Lakes Initiative (GLI)
The Great Lakes Initiative (GLI) is a Christian organization seeking the well-being of all citizens of the Great Lakes region of Africa in their pursuit of peace, reconciliation, justice and mercy. Its mission is to mobilize restless Christian leaders, create space for their transformation and empower them to participate in God’s mission of reconciliation in their own communities, organizations and countries. GLI works hand-in-hand with Christian leaders to foster a biblical understanding of reconciliation as God’s mission and the heart of every believer’s calling to be part of God’s work in the world.
The key event organized by GLI is an annual week-long institute. The backbone of the institute involves reflection on a series of five questions over five days:
Day 1) New Creation: Reconciliation towards what?
Day 2) Lament: What is going on? What is happening in our region?
Day 3) Pilgrimage & Hope: Where do we see signs of hope?
Day 4) What kind of leadership?
Day 5) Why me, why bother? Spirituality for the long haul.
Each morning begins with a session that focuses on the scriptural and theological basis for answering these questions. The next session features testimony from a “witness,” someone who lives out these questions on the ground and shares their personal story. These two sessions together (theological and contextual) capture GLI’s incarnational (word made flesh) methodology. Each of these sessions is followed by time for participants to ask questions and share comments, giving space for dialogue and reflection. In the afternoon, everyone participates in a seminar, in which a smaller group focuses on a specific peacebuilding topic. During the week, participants from the same country meet twice to discuss their country context and what they will focus on in their GLI country chapters after the institute is over.
This space for reflection is made more powerful by the fact that GLI brings together a diverse group of Christian leaders. GLI participants come from more than eight different countries, both francophone and anglophone, speaking numerous African languages. They represent dozens of Protestant denominations and the Catholic church. Some participants are ordained, while others serve as lay leaders in the church. Women and men engaged in a wide variety of Christian ministries take part. Reflecting together with such a diverse group of Christians provides the opportunity to participate in the kind of reconciliation Paul talks about where those who were once divided are brought together as one in Christ Jesus, providing an actual experience of the New Creation.
The week also makes it possible for these diverse Christian leaders to network, learn from one another and pray and worship together. Participants work in demanding ministries in challenging contexts where it is easy to experience discouragement and burnout. Creating a space to reflect together on God’s mission of reconciliation empowers these Christian leaders to return to their ministries encouraged, refreshed and inspired.
The first seeds of GLI were planted when forty Christian leaders from the region met in Kampala, Uganda, in 2006. From that humble beginning, more gatherings were organized in Uganda (2007 and 2008) and Burundi (2009 and 2010) and the first annual institute was held in Kampala in 2011, where it has been located ever since. In 2013, a transition team formed to firmly root GLI in the region, leading to GLI’s registration in Uganda in 2015. During these years of growth, GLI benefited from the support of its founding partners, including MCC, ALARM, World Vision and the Center for Reconciliation of Duke Divinity School.
As a founding partner, with two seats on the GLI board, MCC remains instrumental in helping GLI carry out its mission. In addition to providing financial support for the organization, MCC has also sponsored many participants to attend GLI’s gatherings. MCC has helped identify thoughtful, committed and engaged Christian leaders who contribute to GLI’s mission to be a venue for mutual learning about what reconciliation looks like in the Africa’s Great Lakes region. From its beginning, GLI committed to build a movement of restless peacebuilders and thus avoid the demands of a founding a new organization. By strategically focusing on leaders who were already operating within organizations, GLI was able to make an impact without having its own organizational structure. Since GLI registered as an organization in 2015 and now has three staff members, it has increased its capacity to deepen its work in the region. However, this does not mean that GLI has given up on the movement aspect of its origins. Instead of delivering participants fixed formulas and established projects, GLI provides comprehensive reflection on what it means to be a believer in a conflict-torn world. We are grateful for the role GLI has played in building an ever-growing network of empowered reconcilers.
Acher Niyonizigiye is the Executive Director of GLI.
Canadian School of Peacebuilding at Canadian Mennonite University. https://csop.cmu.ca/.
Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University. https://emu.edu/cjp/.
Center for Peacemaking at Fresno Pacific University. https://www.fresno.edu/visitors/center-peacemaking.
Great Lakes Initiative. https://www.gliinstitute.org/.
Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute. https://www.mpiasia.net/.
Northeast Asia Peacebuilding Institute. https://www.facebook.com/narpipeace/.
Peace and Conflict Studies at Conrad Grebel University College. https://uwaterloo.ca/master-peace-conflict-studies/.
Theology and Peace Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. https://www.ambs.edu/academics/ma-peace-studies.