“So, Bishop, can you join us for two weeks of evangelism in Botswana?”
Well, obviously, the answer would be ‘yes’ if I possibly could… although the diary had something to say about that. We have a Diocesan Link from Newcastle Diocese, with the Diocese of Botswana, and I had yet to visit. In reality, though, it turned out that there was no way I could clear two weeks, but some time with our partners seemed better than no time, so I ended up flying out for a 5 day visit last week… and I am so glad that I did.
Botswana is beautiful, even more beautiful than fans of Mma Precious Ramotswe of the first ladies detective agency might be led to believe. The wise use of diamond wealth means that the infrastructure is impressive, but it is the people I met who really made an impact. I am always touched by the joy, particularly in worship, that I find in Africa. The singing is just astonishingly beautiful, and few can stay still as they offer worship. On Saturday we spent the day with a group of young adults from around the Diocese, encouraging, teaching, and praying with them. On Sunday (among other things!) we prayed for many other adults. As we prayed deeply touching stories came to the surface, but they are held in a trust which so often belies our more reserved British culture; a trust which makes space for the joy, even amidst need and pain.
The other thing I noticed, time and again, was that the Botswanans I met largely did respect without overdoing subservience. Obviously I only had a snapshot, and I am still too new to Bishopping abroad to know how much this is simply respect for office, but I couldn’t talk to someone without them either bowing or curtseying, and every time someone shakes your hand they hold their right arm with their left hand. I asked about this, and apparently it is another symbol of respect. Something in me is instinctively cautious about this, having often witnessed such outward shows of respect arising either from a wrong subjugation or from a desire to manipulate, but what I witnessed was neither fake respect nor unwitting subservience. Rather I experienced joyful, confident, and able people offering respect to others, and engaging fully in partnership. I was welcomed, but by-and-large not expected to dictate the programme. I was invited to speak, but also given the privilege of listening. I was honoured, but also included.
I am sure that there are many counter-examples to this very positive snapshot of life in Botswana, but these experiences within the life of the Diocese really made me think. It is a great gift to be secure enough to honour the other without losing the self; being able to lift another up without having to put self down. I found myself wondering whether this was linked to the joy that I noticed. Is there something habit-forming about the way we engage with others, which also affects the way that we engage with God? Surely there is something here about the kind of worship that our Father God longs for; worship that honours and exalts Him, offered by His children as we grow in the confident likeness of Christ.
So thank you Bishop Metlha and your wonderful Diocese of Botswana; both for a wonderful visit and for helping me as I share your journey of learning to worship daily. May God bless you and guide you and I look forward to our next meeting.