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From Columbus: 'Love is about listening,' says Botswana Bishop Mwamba

By Matthew Davies
6/16/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  Bishop Trevor Mwamba of the Diocese of Botswana in the Province of Central Africa is one of the more than 60 international guests at General Convention. He spoke with Episcopal News Service international correspondent, Matthew Davies, about the mission of the Church and its commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, and shared impressions on the General Convention and the legislative processes of the Episcopal Church.

Mwamba also addressed the importance of listening at this time in the life of the Anglican Communion, noting his appreciation for the commitment of the church to inviting international guests into its midst.

DAVIES: Could you tell me about life in Botswana and the role that the Church plays considering a local context?

MWAMBA: The Diocese of Botswana, of which I am the bishop, forms part of the Province of Central Africa. Botswana is particularly an interesting model, not just in the political context, but also the economic, because it is one of those rare African success stories. It has one of the best performing economies and has had a working democracy for over 40 years.  Faced with its success, the Church being part of that context, we are faced with various challenges, amongst which is the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the government has been very keen to address that and the Church is very much involved, specifically the Anglican Church.

The other aspect which the Church is seeking to address is in the context of the Millennium Development Goals, our issue of alleviating poverty. Although Botswana is on the whole a prosperous country, there are pockets of poverty there which the Church has to address in cooperation with other bodies -- the government and other NGOs. Basically, what we are trying to do in Botswana is to deal with those life and death issues which affect the people. That is what the role and the mission of the Church is about.

DAVIES: The MDGs are a very critical issue at this moment and the Episcopal Church has been discussing the goals this week. Do you think the world is doing enough right now to commit towards the MDGs?

MWAMBA: It's striving slowly but I think it can do more. I think the whole issue of global poverty is one that should take primary importance. There are many off-springs that arise out of poverty, amongst which is the whole issue of terrorism -- people who just don't have the means to survive so they resort to other means in terms of addressing unjust economic trade practices. The issue humanizes people in different ways and when we address the issues that improve the lives of people you discover that you have a happier crop of God's people who want to make co-existence that way of life rather than just trying to survive. The focus in addressing the various aspects of the MDGs is a very important way to go. Jesus himself sought in the Gospel that we must do something about poverty in our world. I have a slightly different definition of poverty. It's not simply defined in the context of lack of material resources or perhaps measured on economic criteria. It's to do also with our own spirit as human beings -- the poverty of failing to love one another or failing to be compassionate to one another, and it takes on a wider dimension which is something we need to address in our life.

DAVIES: What have been your impressions of the General Convention and its legislative processes and what you might take away from sharing in the common life of the Episcopal Church?

MWAMBA: One of the greatest things about being here is just being among friends, God's people. For me in the context of worship -- and of course we have daily Eucharist and time for reflection -- and being in that context and presence of God with God's people, united in that love, and what we are about: to me it's the greatest thing that I am deriving and being nourished by. Being among God's people, expanding that friendship, discovering new friends -- which is a graceful thing -- I am being enriched by that and also I hope others are being enriched by encountering Mwanda from Botswana.

DAVIES: Why is it important for the Episcopal Church to embrace and welcome international visitors into its midst?

MWANDA: The Episcopal Church on its own is not a Church. The Episcopal Church in the context of the Communion as part of the family of God -- that's what gives it its identity. By embracing it shows the richness of what makes the Episcopal Church. It is very important to have a wider dimension that the Episcopal Church is not just America, but the Episcopal Church in a general context is the whole world -- God's people from different parts. So we come to enrich the essence of what the Church here is about, to be able to see broader and not in a short-sighted way. It's all about the greatness of what we worship and who we are about.

DAVIES: What would you say about the Episcopal Church's decision-making and legislative processes?

MWANDA: Very fascinating. Today I have sat through the House of Bishops and today I was in the House of Deputies. As I sat watching, I realized this is like being in parliament, then I realized that it's certainly different from the way we do things [in Central Africa] but it's quite effective. Most of the work it seems to me is done in committees. It's quite a revelation for me and thinking more about the whole process I think it reflects very much the American government system -- the Congress and the Senate -- so it's certainly a fascinating eye-opener of how things are done here.

DAVIES: It would seem that to be able to welcome international people from the global Anglican family assists in the process of listening that we've heard so much about over the last year in particular. How important is listening at this time in the life of the Anglican Communion?

MWANDA: So, so important. Love is about listening; it's about keeping quiet and listening to what the other person is saying. Listening is about having that reverence and appreciation and respect for the other. But that person also has something to teach me. So this process is something that should be ongoing and in the context of what's happening now in the church it's the realization that we are not on our own; we live in the context of community and you can't just be speaking all the time. In fact, keeping quiet to what the other person has to say to what you are doing or what you're about. So this process of dialogue and exchanging ideas is so important to enriching our relationship as friend. In the context of where we are, one of the great things I have in mind is what the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Runcie, had to say: the need to live together.

As a Church and as a community we always have different views about situations, but the essential thing and foremost is that we must learn to live together. As in religion and other things, everything does not appeal to everybody. We have our preferences. So in listening there comes about a spirit of sensitivity.

DAVIES: Is there anything you would like to add?

MWANDA: Certainly. I would say that it's God's Church, it's not our Church. We must also listen to the Holy Spirit and sometimes in human life -- in individual life and as a Church -- we assume this arrogance of thinking that everything depends on us. We must learn to be humble and allow the spirit of God to work through us to do his will. After all, we are all of the redeemed community of Christ who has come to each and every one of us, to offer us His life and it is in that life that we find one another. So, let us be people of prayer, out and about in the love of Christ, to serve His world, to reconcile it to God. This is what we're about.