Dispatches From the Global VillageTweet
Posted 7/9/14 at 11:45 AM | Brian Stiller
As we drove with Anglican Bishop John Rucyahana north from Kigali, the undulating hills and lush green foliage and fields reminded me of a quaint and colorful Switzerland. Streets were clean; no garbage bags in sight, and no visual reminders of genocide.
My question was how this idyllic land with the friendliest of Africans could have been caught in the swirling fury of a cultural storm that within sixty days slaughtered by hand, gun, machete and fire over a million of its citizens?
In my earlier Dispatch on Rwanda. I noted that in 1959, 300,000 Tutsis had been slaughtered and hundreds of thousands fled, a tragedy repeated in more dramatic fashion in 1994 when 1,117,000 died. I had earlier thought it was tribal warfare between Hutu and Tutsi when in fact it was the result of its colonizers who had created a social distinction which in time hardened into hatred by Hutus for Tutsi. The lid from this boiling pot blew in early 1994 when a plane carrying the Rwandan president, a Hutu, was blown up. And from that a wholesale genocide erupted. FULL POST
Posted 6/9/14 at 11:42 AM | Brian Stiller
I bit my upper lip and peered through misty eyes as I left the Genocide Museum in Kigali, Rwanda. That this post-card perfect central African nation could have experienced a holocaust seemed impossible. Yet, there it was.
People-dehumanizing. Culture-destroying. Soul-demonizing. Life-demolishing. And all to a people whose history – prior to colonization – was a model of national harmony. In 100 days of 1994, 20 percent of all Rwandans in the country died; seventy percent of Tutsis perished.
I thought I had a reasonable hold on the why of slaughter: tribal hatred and warfare. Not unlike some neighboring countries where intra-tribal animosities had flared up in raids and killings now and then.
What stopped me cold was its history. This was not typical tribal warfare between the Hutus and Tutsis. The cause of the genocide was conflict between social classes, not ethnic groups. Yes, there had been rivalries, but nothing in Rwandan history could have predicted this savage butchery. FULL POST
Posted 5/17/14 at 5:14 PM | Brian Stiller |
I stood in the cell where Nelson Mandela spent eighteen of his twenty-seven imprisoned years. While it now appeared unremarkable, it still seemed somewhat hallowed. As we walked about Robben Island, just off the South African coast near Cape Town, I tried to imagine Mandela’s feelings and to hear his many conversations with colleagues of the African National Congress (ANC). There must have been a sense of futility mingled with hope for their cause.
The transition from white minority power over both the black and colored majority is a story like none other. A political system called apartheid had evolved through the early years of the twentieth century and came to full bloom in the 1960s. As its laws became more repressive and absurd, Mandela led the underground resistance and was eventually convicted by the white courts, as were many of his ANC associates. As the resistance grew to rebellion, the government finally realized that the laws needed changing and they eventually consulted Mandela while in prison. They promised his soon release and general elections to be held in 1994. FULL POST
Posted 3/10/14 at 10:43 AM | Brian Stiller |
Few countries display such extremes, from pervasive poverty to stores with most anything one could want; from literacy rates of fifty-five percent to the well educated; from curious and troubling religious practices to the inspirational and rigorous.
Haiti can be breathtaking in its beauty, yet troubling in its squalor. Less than a two-hour flight from south Florida, this country with African roots defies adequate description and self-evident reasons for its struggles and conditions. To understand Haiti, it must be felt.
Its long history includes one of the most astonishing military feats in history. In 1803, its ragtag army, kicking out Napoleon’s military, was the first army of its kind to successfully defeat a colonial power.
Of course, its recent history of brutal dictatorship—from Doc Duvalier to Papa Doc—stigmatized this Caribbean country; and even today, while ruled by an elected government, its ability to operate as a democracy is fragile.
The cataclysmic earthquake of 2010 ripped open the earth, toppling buildings and resulting in the death of a quarter million. Then as Haiti was lifting itself up by its bootstraps, two years later Cyclone Isaac blew its monstrous wind and deluge of rain, destroying much that had been rebuilt. FULL POST
Posted 2/6/14 at 11:52 AM | Brian Stiller
The “Velvet Revolution” of 1989 ended 41 years of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, transforming it into a parliamentary republic. Václav Havel, a hero and playwright was installed as president of this country that chose to divide into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This nonviolent overthrow was remarkable in Communist history. Responding to a half million demonstrating in Prague, this city of inspiring spires and castles, preserved from WWII bombings, began to rebuild but at real cost.
The Czech and Slovak societies have inherited two anti Christian movements: the anticlerical 1928 nationalist uprising and the communist takeover in the 1940s, which pushed the church underground. Compounding that is the legacy of corruption inherited from former regimes. This accepted bureaucratic hands-in-the-till mentality was more recently challenged when a Christian public servant took on the establishment.
Libor Michalek refused to do as instructed by his masters and instead exposed an embezzlement scheme. When he refused to exploit the public purse for political gain, the minister said, “Destroy it or it will destroy you.” When he then informed the Interior Minister that it was against his Christian convictions he was told he was on his own. Even journalists were afraid to pick up the story. Eventually it broke, and with taped messages vindicating the authenticity of his claims, it eventually landed in court (2010) where it has stalled. But not before he became a household name. Today Michalek serves as a senator, his Evangelical faith intact and his public witness unfiltered. FULL POST
Posted 1/13/14 at 8:32 PM | Brian Stiller |
No country boasts of being more “Christian” than Greece.
Not only is Greece totally defined as Christian it is most difficult to socially navigate if you aren’t just Christian, but Greek Orthodox. A professor, a publicly admitted communist said, “Of course we are all Christian. You can hardly register a child unless baptized by the state church. I’m an atheist but I’d be a fool not to be a Christian too.” A Christian leader in conversation happened to say he was Evangelical. The other turned in surprise and exclaimed with puzzlement, “But I thought you were Greek!”
Being Greek and Orthodox means one is linked by the umbilical cord of history, tradition and birth.
But let’s go back a step and first see how the Orthodox fits within Church history.
Countries in eastern, southern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa have historically been shaped by Christian Orthodox Churches whose people make up some 100 million worldwide. FULL POST
Posted 11/12/13 at 9:22 AM | Brian Stiller |
It seems unlikely that an imposing former professional British football (soccer) player would end up as a social worker. And even more unlikely, is that he would be appointed by the Chinese government to help solve one of their most pressing problems – over a million orphans left on streets or languishing in countless orphanages. Not only has Robert Glover led in placing 250,000 Chinese orphans in Chinese homes in the last few years, he has signed an agreement with the King of Thailand to do the same there. His story tells of the mystical and sure guidance of the Holy Spirit in building out of personal gifting and skill to solve a seemingly intractable problem in places where we assume the name of Christ is unknown.
Posted 10/31/13 at 2:11 PM | Brian Stiller |
It was the 1960s. Teenagers in Rome were as much into psychedelic music, mind-tripping drugs and hippy music as they were in LA or London. But not all. Countering the counter-culture, a group of young people in Rome eschewed the activities of their friends and sought a closer walk with Christ. Hungry for learning of the Bible, in quest for meaningful prayer and convinced that caring for the poor was a Christian mandate, they began to form around able and critical thinker Andrea Riccardi, himself then only in his teens.
Today the Community of Sant’Egidio has spread its influence and ministry to many in several countries, numbering some 70,000 as associates. It is made up of professionals who believe personal conversion is a beginning step to this walk of faith. It is not a religious order and being Roman Catholic is not a requirement, although most members are. They sign no covenant and make no explicit promises but all understand that daily prayer, Bible study and regular time spent with the marginalized and poor are what makes them as persons and communities vital in their walk with Christ and effective in their witness to the life of the Gospel. FULL POST
Posted 10/22/13 at 2:29 PM | Brian Stiller |
Tucked into southeast Europe, just across the Adriatic from Italy lies Albania, strung out along a mountainous coastline, unknown and unremarkable to most except for its post WWII declaration that it would be Atheistic: no religion allowed. Brutal. Harsh. Demanding. It was more than Communist in economic and social policy. Dictator Enver Hoxha prided himself on following Stalin. But he went further, declaring that anything religious would be outlawed. Churches, Mosques, Synagogues were demolished or turned into everything from barns to factories, making neighboring Communist dictator Tito of Yugoslavia seem like a saint. Few countries compared except North Korea.
Beyond persecution, belief in any religion was made illegal. That illegality ruled society. Creating within the culture a pragmatic, utilitarian, browbeaten people whose values rested uneasily on the quick sand of fear in being loyal to the state. The vacuum of its ideology held this historic community suspended between the absolute control of its president and a heartfelt desire to believe.
I sat with widow Elona Prroj in downtown Tirana’s Stephen café run by Christian entrepreneurs and listened to a story of which, in my initial meeting I had no warning. Blood chilling and bizarre, yet magisterial in its biblical vision. FULL POST