Christmas 1, Matthew 2: 13-23, Year AIn 1977 Bishop Festo Kivengere escaped his native Uganda. In February of that year Jamini Luwum, The Archbishop of Uganda was executed by Idi Amin for opposing his brutal killings of the population. His last words to Festo were: “They are going to kill me, but this will be for the glory of God”.
In fear for his life and that of his family Festo fled Uganda walking over the mountains out of his native land. On one of his trips, he arrived in Boston; A perfect escape into Egypt, from oppression to the belly of the Empire. Festo told me when I asked if he had ever harbored thoughts about killing Idi Amin, that Amin once showed him a gun and asked menacingly, “If you had the chance what would you do with this weapon?” Festo responded,“The gun is your weapon, my weapon is love.” In a book about his experience with Idi Amin entitled, “I Love Idi Amin”, Festo writes about his anger about the dictator’s violence to his friends and his people. The experience so hardened him that he had to find a way to open again to the love of Christ. Festo was a wonderful counterpoint to the comfortable, super-personal and socially disconnected evangelism of much North American Christianity. To experience the love of Jesus in the midst of struggle and oppression was the example of faith that I needed to sustain me at the time.
His theology challenged Bonhoeffer’s in Germany and yet his presence in Boston was a powerful moment for Tess, my wife, and me. Christopher was an infant. Born with Down syndrome, the fragile child was working in us a completely new understanding of what was before us as his parents. For days Festo carried on a healing mission in the region. Tess and I arrived at Trinity Church in Boston with Chris in arms. At the appointed time we walked up the aisle of the church and Festo laid hands on us and on our son and prayed for us. That day and others around that time transformed my life and my ministry. Nothing changed and everything changed. It is like so much healing. There comes peaceful confidence that this will work out, that what seems to be a hill to climb will be a blessing. There followed an acceptance of who this remarkable young being was and is, in his own right.
Ever since that time I have sometimes been given the gift of sight to see through the eyes of those with special needs. I was given the blessing to see them first as children of God and not children with disabilities. But not always, I am still my old impatient self who frets and worries about his vulnerability.
And now after thirty five years, the son has often become the teacher to the father. About a year ago Chris gave me the opening lines to a poem he’d been working:
The rambling man
Like the preacher’s son
Is looking for a place
To call home.
And so the son reminds the father of our existential dilemma. We are on our way to God and except for those holy moments of breakthrough, we are not all there yet. On that day the new Christ came again and through the hands of Festo,* touched and blessed us.
The message was akin to this: “Listen, this person will be a new understanding for you of what it means to be human. Let all your expectations go and cling to love and to me.”
*Festo returned to Uganda after Amin’s death. He died from cancer in 1988.
May his soul and souls of all the departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.