A Christmas message, by today’s guest poster, mormongandhi.
A child is born in Bukavu
A child is born in Bukavu, and sadness fills his mother’s heart… Bukavu is not the city of David. It is a town in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. War has been ravaging the country for years. Ever since Kabila invaded the former Zaire with military support from the US. It is a war that no one speaks of – but it has cost the lives of millions of people and caused unimaginable suffering.
The child’s mother is a young girl, a daughter of the area. This young girl is named Maria. Maria was a girl like most any other girl in her town. She walked miles for water, she helped her mother with the cooking and she also tilled the land. She learnt how to read in primary school, but ever since the war her parents no longer could afford to pay her school fees. Maria was a believer in the Christian gospel – and went like all other young girls her age to church on Sunday.
Church was a mud hut with a roof made out of straw. There on Sundays, the kids would gather to learn about God. The preacher, an older man with glasses and graying hair, would always talk about God’s love for humanity – and that God once, long time ago, had come to the world as a male child to save humanity. In church, she had also learned some words of English. She knew that when you greeted someone, you had to say: “Good morning, class”.
The morning breaks
That was then. Prior to the attacks… One day, as the morning broke and shadows gathered, foreign soldiers drove into town. The houses were set on fire. The adults were gathered on the square and the older men were executed one by one. This is how Maria lost her father – and she and her mother witnessed it. The soldiers held their heads for them to watch. Maria was afraid. After having seen the murder of her father, they also separated her from her mother. She was chosen from among the young girls to follow a group of soldiers. One of them stripped her of her clothes and forced himself on her – he, subject to the commanders’ orders.
Now she held this young child in her arms. Her heart was filled with sadness, and she knew that her firstborn child would have given her joy under other circumstances. Some months after the soldiers left, Maria was chased away. The villagers who were left behind were ashamed of her and of the other girls who had become pregnant. These girls were a constant reminder of the day when the men in the village had been powerless – confronted with the threat and the fear of a gun. “Do not ever come back”, were the last words she heard as she was running for her life into the deep woods.
Maria sings to her little child a song she learned many years ago: “Lullaby, lullaby, my little one. Lullaby, my child so dear. Thy precious life has just begun. Thy mother holds thee near”. And yet, she knows the words do not ring true. True, all life is precious. But not one soul will ever value the life of this child. Born of a violent union, unwanted by his mother, into a world where people willingly march to the sound of guns. What future can she promise him? What life can this child possibly hope to have? Even though she loves him, he is a constant reminder of what happened to her, and like the villagers who once chased her away she cannot find peace when she looks into his eyes.
Its ranks are filled with soldiers, united, bold and strong…
Victory, victory… The guys were singing and shouting, drunken by their thirst for blood and proud of their conquest. Bukavu had been encircled, trapped, taken, raped and ravaged. The soldiers executed the orders of their commander and had in turn executed the elders of Bukavu – one by one. Herodes was the commander’s name. His boys feared him.
They were now men. They had proven it – to themselves and to him who had led them into victory. Joseph, one of the soldiers, the one who raped Maria, was nonetheless feeling some unease. In following orders, Joseph had forced himself upon this young girl. The others had told him that having sex with a virgin was going to save him from the disease that was making him weak, this pandemic they called AIDS. But more importantly, the others respected him now. He had become one of them: their partner in crime.
You are the man! We saw you, Joseph. You did it. You made her cry – you and your gun. You made her scream. The words were both making him feel proud and good about himself, but for one reason, unknown to him, they were also haunting him. Could he look at a woman again without thinking of the pain he had caused to this young girl – whose name he would never know? In order to survive – either you dominate or you are dominated, Herodes used to say. To rule, you have to systematically brake down the bonds that bind communities together. They need to fear you or fear will overtake you…
I am trying to be like Jesus
War does not bring out the best in us – it brings out the worst in us. True, some acts are acts of courage – but aren’t those heroic acts always associated with saving lives, and not with taking them? Fear begets fear. It is the opposite of love. Misery begets misery. It is the opposite of joy. Violence begets violence. It is the opposite of peace.
The nativity story told the world of a little baby boy, born to Mary, a girl chosen among other girls to be the mother of a Savior, rejected by men and yet, many are they who believe he is their safe ticket to heaven. The story from Bukavu is the story of a little baby boy, born to Maria, a girl chosen among other girls to be the victim of a soldier, so he could gain accept in the eyes of his comrades, so he could become a man, taking by force what he believed was a safe ticket to health.
Jesus taught us that he was not Herodes. “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” Jesus was nonviolent. Not exactly what you would associate with being a King. He was God. He was love, both long-suffering and kind. That is why he came to earth as a man and not as a woman: not because God favors men, but because the concept of what it means to be a Man on earth is so contrary to what it means to being God in heaven – who Mormons believe is male. Be kind, as a child, he said to them, and loving as a hen gathers her chickens:
“O ye people of these great cities which have fallen, who are descendants of Jacob, yea, who are of the house of Israel, how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you. Yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not. O ye house of Israel, whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart”.
Love one another
It was necessary for Jesus to come to earth in the form and shape of a male – to represent God as his firstborn son, the first among all great men, a king of kings. “Little children, a new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another”.
The divine irony is the fact that Jesus exhibits throughout his life traits that we call feminine: peaceful, loving, kind, sharing, meek, forgiving, gentle, and caring. He helped the poor and he healed the sick. We crucified him, because he was a threat to men everywhere. He challenged the very idea of what it means to be a man: strong, violent, forceful, greedy, noisy, arrogant and proud. He challenged the way we think about achieving peace, not by dominating others before they dominate us, but by showing us a better way to freedom – paved with love and with sacrifice.
In short, this was the message Jesus gave to the modern House of Israel, to the modern sons of Jacob: “What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.” He showed all men an alternative masculinity – that of the nonviolent male who sides with the poor and the downtrodden. Come, follow me, the Savior said.
For an alternative and nonviolent study of the Book of Mormon, mormongandhi is regularly publishing a study chapter on mormon nonviolence (latter day satyagraha) at http://mormongandhi.com. Each chapter follows the set-up of the Institute Study Manual of the LDS Church. In addition, you can share your thoughts and insights on the nonviolent readings of the Book of Mormon with other “peaceable followers of Christ” (Moroni 7:3) at the discussion forum (http://peaceablefollowers.wordpress.com) created in parallel to the “latter day satyagraha” site.
mormongandhi currently lives in Oslo, Norway. He has a BA in peace and development studies from Bradford University in the UK, where he studied religious peacebuilding, as well as a master’s in peace operations from GMU in Washington D.C.
mormongandhi is looking for alternative and more peaceful ways of thinking and living. He calls himself an advocate for nonviolence in the Restoration movement.