Magazine article The Christian Century

Maison Shalom

Magazine article The Christian Century

Maison Shalom

Article excerpt

I HAVE TO TELL YOU about Maggie," my colleague said excitedly. He was just back from Africa, and I was eager to hear about his work and his meeting with 100 Christian leaders from east-central Africa. But he wanted to talk about Maggie.

"Love made me an inventor," a woman named Maggie had told several of my colleagues with a sparkle in her eye. The more she talked, the more my colleagues wanted to see her Maison Shalom (House of Peace). They arranged to travel from Bujumbura to Ruyigi, the city where Maggie lives.

Maggie's story goes back 15 years to the civil war in Burundi. When the Hutu militia came to her Tutsi community and massacred most of Maggie's extended family and many of her friends, she escaped with her seven adopted Hutu and Tutsi children and found refuge with Hutus in the compound of the Catholic bishop. But a group of Tutsis came to the compound to kill the Hutus there. Because she was a Tutsi, they spared Maggie, but as punishment for her adoption of Hutu children they stripped her, tied her up and forced her to watch the massacre of 72 people. Eventually she found her seven adopted children hiding in the church sacristy.

Maggie decided that she was going to rebuild her village as a place of peace. Even though she has never married, she adopted another 25 children, paying a significant price to the militia for their freedom, She now had more than 30 children, a desire to rebuild her village, and a heart full of love.

Maggie, a devout Catholic, believes that our identity as people created in the image of God is more fundamental than being a Hutu or a Tutsi. She is convinced that God's love is more powerful than hatred and violence.

Maggie built huts for children, developed a health clinic and a school, set up microfinance initiatives and instituted business training in hairdressing, auto mechanics and other vocations, She taught sustainable agriculture. She explained the power of God to foster reconciliation and create new life. She seemed intuitively to know how to embody the gospel in a community by developing the interconnections of a holistic understanding of salvation.

She also built a swimming pool and a film theater. The swimming pool is on the site of tunnels that had served as a mass grave for casualties in the war. She says that she wants those waters to cleanse the children's imagination of the violence and immerse them in an alternative, joy-filled imagination. The allusions to baptism are clear and focused for Maggie. …

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