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HOLY WEEK 3

John 13.21-32

Jesus was troubled in spirit. Previously we read Jesus at prayer, ‘Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? Farher save me from this hour? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father,glorify your name.’(12.27) The troubled Jesus is in turmoil; he is inwardly deeply distressed and going through mental and spiritual agony. He is troubled because he knows what lies ahead. He knows that one of those with whom he has been in intimate company for 3 years, one he chose to be at the heart of his disciples will betray him. He is troubled by betrayal. He is troubled becaus he knows that rejection, suffering and death are coming. He is troubled by the pain, the suffering, the loss, the abandonment. He is troubled because he also knows that for his little community all that lies ahead will be deeply disturbing. One will betray, and that betrayal will hit all the others hard. Another, the one he has been preparing to lead this motley band, will deny him. All will run away, scattered like a frightened flock of sheep, lost, bereft, all their hopes shattered. So even as he sits with them his own troubled spirit apparent to them, he says to them, after the betrayer has gone ,’Let not your hearts be troubled’ (14.1) There is no Gethsemane account in John; he rather portrays the ongoing inner turmoil of Jesus. This troubled spirit is found elsewhere in the scriptures, most notably in the Psalms:- My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. and I say,”Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest’ For it is not an enemy that taunts me – then I could bear it … But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together’ (Psalm 55.4-6, 12-14) ‘Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.’ (Psalm 41.9) Jesus is tempted to seek a way out; that is the implication of his prayer, ‘What shall I say? Father save me…’ The other gospel writers will tell us of Gethsemane. There we read of him being in an agony; he will pray again ‘Father if you are willing you can remove this cup from me; but not my will but yours be done’. What John reveals is the wrestling of Jesus throughout these final days and hours. He has set his face like a flint towards Jerusalem, and thus towards rejection, suffering and death. But there is a continual wrestling with sticking with it. The temptation to pull out, to avoid the pain does not go away. Even as he hung on the Cross the temptation came through the words of the crowd – ‘If he is the Christ let him prove himself and come down from the cross, then we will believe …’ But no he will not give in to the temptation to withdraw or escape. He will go through with doing the Fathers will. What of us and being troubled by the difficulty of decisions we may face. Where we know the right path to travel but equally know that it will be filled with opposition and difficulty. Or what of us being let down, perhaps even betrayed by others, especially if these are close friends and colleagues? We need to recognise that being troubled is okay. It is part of the territory of seeking to live God’s way. It will not all be sweetness and light. The peace of God which passes our understanding is given but it does not always free us from the troubling of our spirits. Somehow this peace enables us to travel with the troubling rather than either lifting us out of it, or lifting it from us; although on the occasions when a deep peace does descend we should be grateful. It often comes when after the wrestling and struggling; after grappling with the troubling and determining ‘ This is the way walk in it’ that then the peace enables us to proceed – as it seems each step of the way Jesus himself found. He has the peace to say to Judas, ‘Do what you have to do’. In the garden he will be able to step forward and say ‘I am he’ Along with this I note that Jesus never stops respecting Judas. He respects him with the inclusion of him in the foot washing; in the way he gives him the morsel of bread; in the way he releases him to go out and betray him. There is a respect for the person in spite of everything that is about to happen. We too have to keep showing respect to others, even our detractors and betrayers. We are called to never stop loving our enemies. We too will find temptations to take the easy way out; we will be tempted to opt for the easier life; for comfort but like our Lord we have to follow the way that God sets before us. Like our Lord we have to pray, Father, glorify your name.’ Our calling and purpose is to bring God glory in all things.

THE PLACE OF GLORIFICATION

It is always our calling to seek the glory of God. Glory is one of the great themes of this wonderful gospel. It first arises in the great Prologue, ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.’(1.14) Glory revealed in the turning of water into wine.(2.11) And a regular refrain of Jesus both glorifying the Father and being glorified by him.(8.54;12.28;17.1,4,5,10,22) This vision of glory is however radically different from the visions of God’s glory on Mount Sinai, in the tabernacle and Temple. For Jesus God’s glory is to be seen in the place of degradation, death and destruction. It turns on its head notions of glory as residing in power. yes there is to be the wonder of death defeated and resurrection but only arrived at through the Cross. Gods power is to be made perfect in weakness. the folly of God crucified is to be the true wisdom. The way up is the way down. Glory is cross shaped. So as we, in and with our troublings, pray ‘Father glorify your name in me, in us’ may we always remember that glory is found in, through and by the cross.

HOLY WEEK 2

John 12.20-36
Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains alone, but if it dies…
Inevitably this verse takes me back to my inauguration sermon and my reflections on the parable of the mustard seed, where one tiny seed grows into a great bush. That parable speaks of the kingdom of God starting from Jesus alone yet becoming a great bush, a community, which is a place of welcome and refuge for all.
Here too in this verse Jesus is the seed that has to die if it is to produce much fruit. His death is to be the source of life. It has been humbling in my travels around the diocese since the inauguration to regularly be shown the growing beans given out at the end of the service. This natural death and resurrection is built into the fabric of creation. Jesus regularly picked up images from the natural world that illustrate the truth of God’s ways and kingdom. We neglect reflection on nature at our peril; God still speaks through it.
The image of bearing much fruit speaks of multiplication. It is a theme that Jesus speaks of elsewhere. The Cross, the death of Jesus alone is the source of multiplication.

THE PLACE OF MULTIPLICATION
12.19 ‘all the world has gone after him’, then immediately, ‘some Greeks arrive seeking to see Jesus. For Jesus this is a clear indication that his mission for the world is reaching its climax. Gentiles, non Jews arrive being drawn to the light.
in being lifted up Jesus says, ‘I will draw all people to myself’
the grain bears much fruit
For God so loved the world, the light of the world, the bread of life, the good shepherd ‘ I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also.. One flock, one shepherd.’
Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad (From the Cross comes holy, godly growth. We can manufacture growth in other ways as church but it will not be holy or godly. True spiritual multiplication always has to flow from the cross.
This leads me on to reflect further on three other purposes of his death that Jesus speaks of in these verses.

THE PLACE OF FULFILMENT
Jesus saw the cross as the fulfilment of his purpose. ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’
At the wedding in Cana when Mary pointed out to her son that they had run out of wine his response was ‘My hour has not yet come’. But then he did act and his first miracle occurred.
When challenged to go up to Jerusalem to show himself to the world Jesus words were ‘My time has not yet come’ and ‘My time has not yet fully comnotched John remarks ‘His hour had not yet come’ (John 7.6,8 & 30. John repeats the words again later (John 8.20) ‘His hour had not yet come’.
But now the hour has come. John will repeat this with emphasis at what we call the first verse of chapter 13 (John 13.1) ‘Jesus knew that his hour had come’.
There is a deep sense here that the core purpose of Jesus was his death. He came to live out a human life certainly; he came to teach, to heal, to deliver from evil but supremely he came to die. His death is the fulfilment of his purpose. This will be the place of glory a theme to which we will return tomorrow)

THE PLACE OF JUDGMENT
‘Now is the judgment of this world, now will the ruler of this world be cast out.’
We struggle with talking about judgment. Yet in society we continue to recognise the need for it. When terrible crimes have been committed we cry for justice, and therefore for judgment. Sometimes the cries spill over from justice into vengeance; sometimes forgiveness is seriously misunderstood as meaning glossing over or forgetting – neither works as justice. Judgment is about truth. It is about a true assessment and appropriate response to the crime committed. Here Jesus is clear that there is a need for judgment on the world, and on the one who misleads the world and leads it away from its true ruler, God. The cross is the place of judgment. It is the place where evil is overcome and cast out. Jesus will be the victor over evil.
Indeed if there is no victory over evil we live in a world that lacks hope of forgiveness and transformation. The cross is the place of judgment and of victory.

THE PLACE OF EXAMPLE
there is a uniqueness in Jesus death. He is the one sacrifice for all time. He dies once and for all. His blood brings about forgiveness and redemption.
Yet his cross is also our example for living. We are called to live the same way as our Lord. The way of laying life down; the way of service; the way of death. This is the way of living by God’s purpose rather than our own; the way of glorifying God not ourselves. The way of the cross is the way for all Jesus’ followers.
As we reflect on the one who is the grain of weed that dies and therefore multiplies bringing fulfilment, fruit and victory for all the world. May we respond by simply saying, in the way of the cross, Lord, I will follow.

HOLY WEEK

Holy week is a time for reflection and meditation. It will include self-examination but this always needs to be less ‘self’ examination and more about seeking to open ourselves to God’s examination, allowing his light to shine into our lives. This always exposes corners, or whole rooms of our lives that we have hidden away – perhaps even places that we have sealed up completely and lived as if they were not there. I heard only last week of a house where a sealed up room had been discovered; hidden away for around 50 years apparently. This uncovering and exposure to the light can be searing, painful, hard. Yet light also dispels the darkness and offers the possibility of clearing things out, cleaning them up. God always shines his light in with this end in view, his light comes to bring cleansing and renewal, not to condemn. As Jesus said to Nicodemjs, ‘ For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order came as the light of the world not to condemn it but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ God always wants to bring grace to bear – truth and grace go together; wrath and mercy meet.
It is my hope and prayer that the reflections we share together this Holy Week might be part of God’s light shining in on us, to expose us and our darkness, yes; but to reveal God’s grace, and the healing balm of the Cross.
Each evening we will look at part of John’s gospel – the gospel readings set for the Eucharist each day. So if you can please read them during the day. This hopefully will mean a clear connection right through the week including Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
So now let us turn to the story of Mary anointing Jesus in Bethany.

SETTING
Jesus was a regular visitor to the Bethany home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. On one visit,recorded by Luke, he accepted Mary as a disciple. He encouraged her to sit at his feet, listen to him and engage in conversation with him. He was acting as her Rabbi. Now rabbis did not have women disciples, but Jesus did. Martha did not appreciate her sister’s action, and her failure to fulfil the role of hospitality giver. Jesus was very clear with Martha, Mary had chosen the right path. He would welcome Martha as a disciple too. (Luke 10.38-42)
Then just a few days before the incident we have read Jesus came to the home after Lazarus had died. Both sisters, Martha first, declare their hope that Jesus would have come earlier to heal their brother. Martha also expresses her belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus weeps at the sisters sorrow and goes to the tomb and raises Lazarus from the dead. (John 11) The whole event leads to faith for some but increases the opposition and determination to get rid of Jesus amongst others.
Then we come to this meal in Bethany. According to Matthew and Mark this takes place in the home of Simon the leper. Mary is full of thankfulness for all Jesus has done. Her heart it appears is overflowing with love for the one who accepted her fully as a disciple, cared for her and her family, and staggeringly raised her brother from death.
Jesus own words suggest that perhaps she also has an insight into Jesus own forbodings. She had heard his own words about betrayal, suffering, and death, and had perhaps grasped them more clearly than any of the male disciples.
Possibly the intriguing of the chief priests and Pharisees against the raised Lazarus and Jesus had reached the ears of some in Bethany and Mary was concerned about what might lie ahead.
Whatever the mix of thoughts and emotions she decides to do something dramatic and powerful. She takes a flask of expensive ointment and pours it over Jesus’ head (in Mark & Matthew) and feet in John. I am happy to suggest that she was anointing his body ( as he himself put it) completely.
MARY
What she does is an outpouring of thankfulness and love. We could even describe it as an expression of worship.
It is extravagant. The pure nard is costly, and she pours it out; not a small amount but the whole lot. It is like taking an entire bottle of an expensive Chanel perfume and pouring it all out in one go. Utter extravagance.
It is expressive. The smell we are told filled the whole house. Poured on Jesus in this way the smell would have been on Jesus for days to come, perhaps the scent was still on him as he carried the cross, though now mixed with sweat and blood. Mary wipes his feet not with a towel but with her own hair.
It is expectant. In some way she is expecting this to speak to Jesus; perhaps to encourage him, to reassure him. We are given no more hint than Jesus own words but somehow there is an expectancy in Mary’s act. She has no idea how he will react to this deeply physical action that expresses her emotions and commitment. Somehow she trusts that he will accept the extravagance and understand what she is seeking to say. She seems unworried by what others might think; this is between her and her Lord.

JESUS
Then we turn to our Lord himself. The first thing we notice is that he accepts Mary’s offering. He makes no objection. He does not try to stop her or rebuke her. He allows her to pour out the ointment. He allows her to wipe his feet with her hair. He is receptive to her thankfulness and love. He allows himself to be served. It is this acceptance of her love and service that sets the criticism going. In John Judas Iscariot is the one who makes the criticism; but Matthew and Mark make it clear that all the disciples are uncomfortable and troubled by what they see as waste, and perhaps inappropriate action.
But Jesus, instead of criticising Mary, criticises the critics. He criticises them for being utilitarian and lacking understanding. It is John who makes the specific remark about Judas, not Jesus. Jesus however will not tolerate criticism of Mary’s action. He does not deny that there is need to care for the poor and be generous towards them but on this occasion that thinking fails to grasp what is happening. It is simply utilitarian.
Jesus points the gathered people to himself and his out pouring of love in his death; he speaks of his own burial. The words were certainly lost on his hearers and only made sense after his burial had taken place. In Matthew and Mark Jesus adds that this story will be part of the gospel proclamation; it will be a story that lives on. It has indeed done so. In recording those words and in recording the story it is clear that the early disciples did indeed see the whole thing very differently after Jesus’ death and resurrection. No longer are they critical of Mary, rather they accept the criticism of themselves and see it as a story that still speaks.

OURSELVES
So we find ourselves having to ask how we respond as hearers and readers now. In doing so I find myself deeply challenged.
What is the overflow, the out pouring of my thankfulness and love to Jesus?
What is the extravagance of my love for The Lord who accepts and welcomes me as a disciple? What expression do I have for the one who has brought me from death into life; whose death was for me?
I can become so restrained. I can fret about what others will think of me in my worship, or my discipleship and giving. I can become caught up with getting it right liturgically, or not wanting to be embarrassed or thought of oddly. Extravagance and expressiveness can be squeezed out by anxiety and conformity.
I wonder too where I, or we, might drift into being utilitarian rather than extravagantly generous.
I long to keep learning from this Mary that I might simply say to The Lord who has given everything for me, ‘With every fibre of my being I love you Lord.’

2013 Reflections

So the end of a year that had the unexpected twist of being called to leave Southwell & Nottingham and move to Durham. This makes the year ahead I’ll of excitement and anticipation with all this new challenge holds. But reflecting on that will wait for the New Year. This is simple reflections back on 2013.

MOST PRIVILEGED MEETING
President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi. Agreed to give myself & 3 MPs 10 minutes but actually gave us 35 entirely privately.

MOST FASCINATING VISIT
Rwanda & Burundi on this occasion because of travelling with 3 MPs (John Mann & his wife Jo White, Lilian Greenwood & Graham Jones) alongside excellent companions from the Diocese (Sarah Clark & Poppy Richards) and Christian Aid (Andy Clasper). It meant we had an entirely different dynamic, seeing church work through different eyes, and having parliamentary life and other organisations opened up to us. The model worked. The outcomes are still being worked through. You also learn to respect MPs afresh.

MOST AMAZING EVENT
The whole day in Durham on September 12th when the announcement of my appointment to Durham was made. Brilliant start in South Shields school; staggering number of people in Durham Cathedral; moving visit to Easington; warm welcome in Barnard Castle & great visit to see Lindisfarne Gospels. Amazed by level of media interest and coverage. Certainly made some of the expectations and demands clear.

BEST WALK
Prayer Walk around Newstead Deanery. So many good people to talk with; interesting places and projects to visit. Prayer walks definitely one of the best things I do as a bishop.

SOUTHWELL HIGHLIGHTS

Finally moving into new diocesan offices, Jubilee House, in June. Then official opening in November. Great new building and wonderful artwork.
My farewell service in Southwell Minster at the end of November. Such a huge crowd; humbling tributes and so many reminders of the great clergy and people of the diocese. It is hard saying goodbye and leaving but it is the right thing to do.

FAVOURITE TV
Broadchurch
& the very special privilege of seeing the Christmas Dr Who on a big screen in Nottingham as guest of BBC East Midlands

FAVOURITE MUSIC
Elbow most listened to, looking forward to their new album.
Sting’s Last Ship Sails most enjoyed new album.
Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons worship song that is most expressive personally.

FAVOURITE BOOK
Bede’s Life of Cuthbert. Given the impending move probably not a great surprise. Bede’s buried one end of Durham Cathedral and Cuthbert at the other.

It has been quite a year. What makes me proudest still are my amazing family – Rosemary, Caroline, David, Andrew & Sarah. They are wonderful and all doing some great stuff for God and for the common good.
God’s grace is as amazing as ever. Many things can never be fully understood or explained but the coming into the world of Jesus, his death for us all and his rising again are how we are forgiven and brought back to God. They make sense of the world.
Making Jesus known so that God is known has to be the priority for 2014 and beyond.

Final Reflection

Sat in Doha airport waiting to board the London bound plane gives a few minutes to write on the final 2 days of what has been an inspiring, educative, and challenging journey.
The combination of MPs, Southwell Diocesan folk and a Christian Aid staff member has worked well. We all agree this is the case. It could have been disastrous; we might not have got on nearly so well as we have done. There have been a lot of laughs. We have learnt much about each other and each others lives and work. I certainly have a much deeper understanding of what is involved day to day in being a constituency MP. I have gained insights into the inner workings of a political party as well as the House of Commons. I have, as should always be the case, learned more Bout myself through the whole journey and all that we have seen.
Our final full day began travelling to Ngozi up the wonderful winding road from Bujumbura. It is beautiful every inch of the way as the road twists and turns along the mountain edges. Mountains roll away into the distance. Forest appears and goes again. Every mile sees the disturbing yet awesome sight of cyclists clinging on to the back of the very slow moving lorries. Overtaking is hazardous. Cyclists coming the other way reach ridiculous speeds. Many are more than overloaded with bananas, charcoal, or the stranger sights of furniture, gourds and baskets. Women sit side saddle and appear to have remarkable balance.
In Ngozi we visited an inspiring water project. Simply turning a natural spring into a clean source of water. It took 12 days in total to complete with all the labour done by local villagers under expert supervision. £500 supplied all the pipes and cement required. Excitedly villagers spoke of an end to regular stomach problems, diarrhoea etc. through this simple piece of work. Before we visited them we had spent an hour with the bright young provincial governor; clean water was one of the things he highlighted as required across the Province. Impressively we sat in a building opened to celebrate 50 years of independence last year. Proudly he told us that all £700,000 worth of it had been donated in kind or in labour by the local community. He equally proudly showed us the developing football stadium next door. The pitch on which the first ever international between Burundi and Rwanda had been held in 1958 (Burundi won 4-1). Next July Burundi’s football loving President will open the stadium and the 3 surviving players from that match will be guests of honour. We asked if Newcastle United’s Bigirimana will be there too; ‘we will try’ was the governor’s simple reply.
The final visits were to Buye hill where the first British Protestant missionaries arrived in 1935. Here is the oldest Anglican cathedral. The home of Burundi’s Anglican Church. A former bishop’s son, Paisible, had guided us around the nation for the past week. He was thrilled that he was able to come to the village where he was born and grew up to the age of 15. His father’s grave is outside the cathedral. He had also pointed out the maternity ward in which he was born. It is still in use. It was over full and not a joy to behold. The psi attic ward was also harrowing. Far too many children in too few beds; and this is the dry season. When malaria is in full swing it is seriously over stretched. The medical superintendent made it clear that all his staff do their very best; but they all know that they work in far from ideal conditions. The X Ray machine has not worked for 3 years. They are heroic in what they achieve.
The secondary school is also a source of more concern than joy. Teenagers having to share a bunk bed; so 4 to each bunk. There is little space between the beds too. They are fed on such a small budget; 3 meals a day but never any meat; far too costly. The library is seriously under resourced.
Alongside the cathedral is a football pitch. Many were out playing. So the final action was Andy Clasper (Christian Aid) displaying his shooting skills against local lads and Graham Mann MP joining him for demonstrating how both of them handle attacking crosses in the box with their head and feet. I don’t think either answers Arsene Wenger’s search for new team members. Poppy Richards was as ever surrounded by children as she took lots of iPad pics of them and delighted them with showing them the results.
In the face of all the difficulties the generous hospitality from Bishop Sixbert and his team in the evening once again demonstrated Burundian Christians ability to be generous, warm, kind and enthusiastic in the face of enormous challenges.
Coming back through Rwanda was a stark reminder of just how different these 2 nations now are in terms of development. The roads are better and safer; the people look better dressed and kept; the buildings appear more solid and cared for; the streets are much cleaner. This is in no way to criticise Burundi it is to highlight the difference. One nation is now nearly 20 years post conflict and genocide; the other only 5. One has had around 3 times more aid poured into it than the other, and it has used it well. One has emerged increasingly gaining international respect; the other is still not regarded as worthy of real interest or concern. Both have a long journey ahead of them. Both are determined to get there. It is a privilege to have friends in both and to speak up for both through the church, agencies and government. The approach given where the 2 nations are in their story cannot be the same. Neither must be forgotten but in particular Burundi demands our real concern and support. If the international community fail to really help it come out of recovery into rebuilding and renewal it will fall further behind its neighbour; and that will be no good for either of them, the region or the world.

Nyanza Lac was a beautiful place to stay; the East African hotel right by the lake. The chargrilled Makeke excellent. Sleep not helped for most of the group by the disco which went on until 4am; me I slept through it.
Then into a fascinating day that focused on how this nation has successfully been reiterating returning refugees. We are talking large numbers here; tens of thousands. In 1972 many fled into neighbouring Tanzania where they lived in camps for nearly 40 years. So many of these returnees were born in the camp and grew up speaking Swahili and English, not Kirundi. Others fled in the 1980s and more again when the most recent crisis began in 1993. A smaller number fled to Congo and returned across the lake. Those in Tanzania were effectively forced to return by the Tanzanian government; we met some where the husbands, Tanzanians, are still there. In 2009 I saw streets lined with people living under UN plastic sheeting whilst beginning to build a home. Now there are large numbers of new settlements designed for these returnees. Some are entirely new, others are linked with existing local communities. Christian Aid has helped with 1 such village of 900 homes. The settlement we visited was smaller but still we heard good stories of reintegration; of locals and returnees living harmoniously together. There were water stand pipes and signs of commerce. Land has been given for cultivating. It has not been easy but overall it is a remarkable success story. Especially as land is connected with ancestral rights so not just any piece of land will do. There is much to be done around land registration to ensure these people feel secure. More schooling space is required, along with quality teachers. But the story through the day, and in Cuba, Karusi Province was consistently positive. The school we visited largely built and extended by the Diocese of Makamba with the help of the Refugee Education Trust, is 40% returnees children. It is woefully under resourced (as are so many schools) with an average class size of 50, no library books, no laboratory equipment and no ICT. When children do succeed in their education they are courageous and remarkably persistent to succeed against many odds. But harmony between communities is part of the success.
On a steep hillside near Rutana is a remarkable community based project in which trenches are dug and trees are planted to overcome soil erosion and deforestation. Thousands of kilometres have been dug by hand as the community comes together once a week to protect their environment. Hundreds of thousands of trees have been planted. They tell of improved harvests and of community harmony through working together. Returnees spoke up of their sense of belonging through this work together. There are over 4,000 volunteers in this particular project. It is a fine example of the community doing for itself what it can and noticing the difference. Small funds from Christian Aid, Episcopal Development Relief and others have assisted on the way. They have proved much more effective than the bigger bucks from World Bank and others. Why? Because it is locally owned, directed, and managed. This makes the difference.
The same applies to the dramatic presentation given to us in Cuba (Chooba). It is very remote. But in powerful dramatic form this cooperative told of the impact of the Mothers Union literacy and savings programmes on their lives. Returnees telling of the welcome given and support offered; families telling of transformed home lives where now all children attend school, not just the boys; where domestic violence has ended; where men are recovering the dignity of work and where the community works together to see life in all its fullness break out. They all see prayer and worship as part of this transformation but it is closely linked to their holding one another to account; standing with one another in times of need and a commitment to see their lives improved. We are still talking deeply poor people but their lives are changing – because essentially they are taking responsibility for themselves and for their community together. There is much we in the West can learn from this core community mobilisation which leads to transformation.
A call on a Batwa community also focused on this theme of community transformation. Further to go here but it has begun.
The afternoon saw us royally entertained at the site of King Mwezi’s miraculous deliverance in 1908. This is where the world famous Gishora Drummers perform. They are outstanding. Drums are deeply important in this nation. They are symbolic of power, of communication and these drummers and dancers are icons for the nation.
Then an early start to return to Bujumbura for a meeting with the nation’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza. From being one of the rebel leaders for many years he became the elected president in 2005. He was re-elected in 2010. He was good enough to give myself and my 2 MP co travellers, John Mann & Graham Jones 30 minutes private conversation. It was private so no comment on its content. He was friendly and engaging. He is passionate for his nation and its future. He knows there is much to be done.
A really helpful reflection time on the whole of our Burundi visit with the bishops of the Anglican Church here followed.
Then one of those unexpected bonuses that happen on these trips. Hippos spotted close by a local bar. We sat for nearly 2 hours watching them as the light faded away. They were playful with each other. 2 babies and 4 adults together. Behind us a group of young adults were out celebrating 1 of them’s birthday. They played guitars, sang and danced. They were relaxed and very good. They even played a request or two from us. They mixed Burundian songs with internationally renowned ones. It was simply a delight sitting there being entertained from both sides; hippos in the water and Burundians singing. Occasionally we even entertained ourselves with witty remarks about each other and the past week.
This has been a happy group with which to travel. Before we met up in Kigali 2 weeks ago some of us had never met each other, and others met only occasionally. We come from church, NGO and parliament. The Parliamentarians are not Christians; the Christians are not politicians. Yet together we have made a rich mix and all recognise that the visit has been the richer for what each other has brought to the journey. We will return home with different memories and perspectives but all with a deep appreciation of what the people of Burundi are seeking to do for themselves. We all believe that at present Burundi is getting a raw deal from our own nation and from the rest of the world. It must not be a forgotten and ignored nation. Burundi what’s and needs our prayers, support and above all our friendship.

This began as a reflection on the lakeside of Bujumbura last summer when as a group we watched 2 traditional dug out canoes cast out a huge net between them on Lake Tanganyika. We watched them carefully and slowly draw the net in towards the shore. It took them a long while. Very slowly it all came together at one spot and in this vast net there was almost nothing. All that work; all that care; all that hope; and nothing. The disappointment for them was palpable I think we all felt it. We knew they would start over again and try once more. This after all was their living. Inevitably conversation also reflected on the similarities with what it must have been like for Peter & Andrew, James & John as fishermen in the time of Jesus. This helped bring those ancient stories alive.
But this is a fresh write; I never quite published these thoughts last year. But in the middle of the night on Lake Kivu it all came back. I was up to respond to nature’s call and in the dark make my way to the ‘long drop’ (smartly built at Kumbya but still a long drop). I could hear voices coming from off the lake. Here in the dark of the night there were men ( and probably boys) out fishing. The moon was out so they had some light. I couldn’t see them because of the trees but there talk was clear. It is a hard life making a simple living this way. Paddling the canoes which can easily tip; out in the dark perhaps being successful but sometimes probably not. On successful nights no doubt joy at what the money could do for the family, hopefully not to be squandered on drink (sometimes it is).
Then sat eating wonderfully flavourful Makeke fish at Nyanza Lac I could see a string of lights spread out across Lake Tanganyika? On the drive down this beautiful lake we had seen fishermen preparing to go out for the night, and then watched as the boats began to leave. A very few have a motor, most paddle their way out together. Taking a couple of hours to reach the favoured fishing spot and setting the lights to attract the fish to them.
In the early morning I watched them return. It may or may not have been successful; either way it was a long night’s work, and hard.
Lakes Kivu and Tanganyika were both calm but I thought of Jesus’ disciples on a boat at night storm tossed (the night before at Kumbya we had a storm). Making a basic living from the land, and from simple fishing is still the reality for millions and millions of the world’s poorest people. Times have changed enormously; and yet have changed very little. Incidents here throw light on the Bible stories. The Bible throws light on our world today. We do well to try and heed both.

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