One of the closing rituals we've begun as travel delegations return to the United States is an activity that we like to call, "A Person Who..."
Groups gather in the BKB office/apartment the night before they depart. Often ice cream is thrown into the mix for good measure. Sitting in the living room, they pass around an iringa basket that is filled with strips of paper. Pulling a slip at random, each group member is asked to read aloud the question that they have drawn and offer a response. The questions go something like this:
Who is someone that challenged you?
Who is someone that you will miss?
Who is someone you laughed with?
Who is someone you danced with?
Who is someone that blessed you?
Around and around the basket goes, and with the questions and responses come stories that are immediate, specific, and - more often than not - incredibly moving.
We offer this exercise as a way to help groups prepare to head back home. We hope that it gives them a tool to explain the unexplainable and to resist falling into the trap of clichés and stereotypes. We hope that when the question comes (and it always does), "So.... How was 'Africa'?" our guests will be able to respond with stories of encounters that are both personal and utterly relatable.
Against the backdrop of demeaning rhetoric that I hear coming from back home and elsewhere in the world, I'm increasingly convinced of the necessity of both seeing and celebrating the particularity of the other people we share this planet with. There is a danger in seeing others simply as an abstraction - whether they be our global companions, our family and friends, or even strangers at our borders. More than a caricature, each is a person who... can laugh, can dance, and is blessed to be made in the image of God - formed out of mud and filled with the breath of life, as our tradition says, knitted together in her or his mother's womb, and whose hairs are counted and known.
To meet another... To learn his or her story (even just a tiny piece of it) in its concreteness and specificity... To honor and bless one another in this way... This is the challenge and this is the opportunity before us, as we all continue to learn what it means to truly walk bega kwa bega.
The Rev. Peter Harrits
Director of Bega Kwa Bega and Assistant to the Bishop