Women taken from mothers in Congo seek Belgian reparations

Women taken from mothers in Congo seek Belgian reparations

FILE – In this Monday, June 29, 2020 file photo, clockwise from top left, Simone Ngalula, Monique Bitu Bingi, Lea Tavares Mujinga, Noelle Verbeeken and Marie-Jose Loshi pose for a group photo during an interview with The Associated Press in Brussels. Five biracial women born in Congo when the country was under Belgian rule who were taken away from their Black mothers and separated from their African roots are suing the Belgian state for crimes against humanity. The case is being examined on hursday, Oct. 14, 2021 by a Brussels court. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)

‘BRUSSELS (AP) — A court in Brussels has started considering a crimes against humanity lawsuit brought by five biracial women who were born in Congo and taken away from their Black mothers when they were little and the country was under Belgian colonial rule.

Lea Tavares Mujinga, Monique Bintu Bingi, Noelle Verbeken, Simone Ngalula and Marie-Jose Loshi are suing the Belgian state in hopes it will recognize its responsibility for the suffering of thousands of mixed-race children. Known as “metis,” the children were snatched away from families and placed in religious institutions and homes by Belgian authorities that ruled Congo from 1908 to 1960.

“My clients were abducted, abused, ignored, expelled from the world,” lawyer Michele Hirsch said Thursday as a court in the Belgian capital examined the civil case. “They are living proof of an unconfessed state crime, and soon there will be no one left to testify.”

The five women have requested compensation of 50,000 euros ($55,000) each.. The court is expected to deliver a verdict within six weeks.

The five women, all born between 1945 and 1950, filed their lawsuit last year amid growing demands for Belgium to reassess its colonial past.

In the wake of protests against racial inequality in the United States, several statues of former King Leopold II, who is blamed for the deaths of millions of Africans during Belgium’s colonial rule, have been vandalized in Belgium, and some have been removed.

In 2019, the Belgian government apologized for the state’s role in taking thousands of babies from their African mothers. And for the first time in the country’s history, a reigning king expressed regret last year for the violence carried out by the former colonial power.

Hirsch said Belgium’s actions are inadequate to what her clients experienced.

“The Belgian state did not have the courage to go all the way, to name the crime, because its responsibility incurred damages,” the lawyer said.. “Apologies for history, yes, but reparations to the victims, no.”

Lawyers say the five plaintiffs were all between the ages of 2 and 4 when they were taken away at the request of the Belgian colonial administration, in cooperation with local Catholic Church authorities.

FILE – In this Monday, June 29, 2020 file photo, from left, Marie-Jose Loshi, Monique Bitu Bingi, Lea Tavares Mujinga, Simone Ngalula and Noelle Verbeeken speak with each other as they as they look over papers during an interview with The Associated Press in Brussels. Five biracial women born in Congo when the country was under Belgian rule who were taken away from their Black mothers and separated from their African roots are suing the Belgian state for crimes against humanity. The case is being examined on hursday, Oct. 14, 2021 by a Brussels court. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)

According to legal documents, in all five cases the fathers did not exercise parental authority, and the Belgian administration threatened the girls’ Congolese families with reprisals if they refused to let them go.

The children were placed at a religious mission in Katende, in the province of Kasai, with the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul. There, they lived with some 20 other mixed-race girls and Indigenous orphans in very hard conditions.

According to the lawyers, the Belgian state’s strategy was aimed at preventing interracial unions and isolating métis children, known as the “children of shame,” to make sure they would not claim a link with Belgium later in their lives.

Legal documents claim the children were abandoned by both the state and the church after Congo gained independence, and that some of them were sexually molested by militia fighters.

“If they are fighting for this crime to be recognized, it is for their children, their grandchildren. Because the trauma is transmitted from generation to generation,” Hirsch said Thursday. “We ask you to name the crime and to condemn the Belgian state.”

 

3 Ways Going Vegan has Helped my Walk with God

3 Ways Going Vegan has Helped my Walk with God

A lot of people are making the switch to becoming vegan, but what does being a vegan have to do with our faith? Here our 3 ways becoming a vegan has helped my walk with God.

  1. Discipline

The reason that I decided to even attempt this wild endeavor in the first place was to get a better grip on my health. If the last two years have taught me anything, it is not to take my time for granted. For as long as I could remember, food was always more than just food to me. It had emotional weight to it, like seeing an old friend for the first time in a long time. Having to learn to eat for a purpose instead of for comfort has probably been the hardest part of this whole transition. Eventually, I accepted that there was no magic bullet that could reconcile these two different views of food. The key to success was discipline, getting up and holding myself accountable to the standard I had set for myself. This has begun to seep into other parts of my life, including my prayer life. Slowly, I’ve noticed it’s easier to get the motivation to do things that aren’t necessarily the most exciting but are important including reading my Bible and praying.

2. A greater appreciation for nature

Another consequence that I have noticed as a result of giving up meat is that I have a greater appreciation for nature. Before, I recognized that much of my diet was directly disconnected from me either through processing or butchering. Since the switch though, I find that I obviously eat a lot more raw fruits and vegetables. As a result, I have to be intentional about what I’m putting in my body which means learning what food contains which vitamins and minerals. I was actually in the grocery store trying to buy some peppers when I realized just how perfectly God built this world for us. Everything we need to live comes from the Earth, nature is a system built to take care of us. Even animals each have their function beyond just food for us, although they often become food for other things. However, what this means is not that we should take these resources for granted, they are special. God commands Adam to look after his creation mere verses after creating him. Nature is not just something to be manipulated for personal gain. It takes care of us and we, in turn, should take care of it. 

3. Greater appreciation for myself

As I said earlier, one of the major motivations for my decision to go vegan is to improve my health. I’ve only been doing this for a few weeks but all of the things vegans say they felt after switching are actually pretty valid. My skin is clearer than it’s been in years, I have a lot more energy, and I’ve actually lost a few pounds too. Perhaps the best change that has happened concerns my relationship with eating. Before the switch, I’d always felt a little guilty after eating something. I’ve never been a small person and that comes with certain hang-ups like being self-conscious about what you put in your body. Since the switch, I haven’t really felt like that. Even when I slip up, I know that I am doing the right thing by getting back on track the next day. That level of self-assurance is nice, it drives me to exercise and to keep going even when I really want to tuck into a juicy rack of ribs. It also just makes me feel more confident in general. Jesus calls loving your neighbor as yourself one of the most important commandments and people tend to latch onto the first part without stopping to consider the second. It’s hard to love your neighbor when you hardly love yourself. I’m not just talking about confidence, but also your physical self. Switching has made me feel like I’m treating my body as a temple for the first time in a long time. I feel more capable of reaching my goals and working to advance God’s kingdom

I didn’t make this piece to win over converts to veganism. If you’re considering it then I think you should give it a try, but the most important goal is to get healthy and stay healthy. Of course, this process is going to vary from person to person but the most important part is the first step. Go for a run, make a meal plan, or just talk about health with your friends and family members. These are all great first steps to a healthier life and you might even learn something on the way. 

Remnants of Black church uncovered in Colonial Williamsburg

Remnants of Black church uncovered in Colonial Williamsburg

Jack Gary, Colonial Williamsburg’s director of archaeology, holds a one-cent coin from 1817 on Wednesday Oct. 6, 2021, in Williamsburg, Va. The coin helped archaeologists confirm that a recently unearthed brick-and-mortar foundation belonged to one of the oldest Black churches in the United States. (AP Photo/Ben Finley)

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) — The brick foundation of one of the nation’s oldest Black churches has been unearthed at Colonial Williamsburg, a living history museum in Virginia that continues to reckon with its past storytelling about the country’s origins and the role of Black Americans.

The First Baptist Church was formed in 1776 by free and enslaved Black people. They initially met secretly in fields and under trees in defiance of laws that prevented African Americans from congregating.

By 1818, the church had its first building in the former colonial capital. The 16-foot by 20-foot (5-meter by 6-meter) structure was destroyed by a tornado in 1834.

First Baptist’s second structure, built in 1856, stood there for a century. But an expanding Colonial Williamsburg bought the property in 1956 and turned it into a parking lot.

First Baptist Pastor Reginald F. Davis, whose church now stands elsewhere in Williamsburg, said the uncovering of the church’s first home is “a rediscovery of the humanity of a people.”

“This helps to erase the historical and social amnesia that has afflicted this country for so many years,” he said.

Colonial Williamsburg on Thursday announced that it had located the foundation after analyzing layers of soil and artifacts such as a one-cent coin.

For decades, Colonial Williamsburg had ignored the stories of colonial Black Americans. But in recent years, the museum has placed a growing emphasis on African-American history, while trying to attract more Black visitors.

Reginald F. Davis, from left, pastor of First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, Connie Matthews Harshaw, a member of First Baptist, and Jack Gary, Colonial Williamsburg’s director of archaeology, stand at the brick-and-mortar foundation of one the oldest Black churches in the U.S. on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021, in Williamsburg, Va. Colonial Williamsburg announced Thursday Oct. 7, that the foundation had been unearthed by archeologists. (AP Photo/Ben Finley)

The museum tells the story of Virginia’s 18th century capital and includes more than 400 restored or reconstructed buildings. More than half of the 2,000 people who lived in Williamsburg in the late 18th century were Black — and many were enslaved.

Sharing stories of residents of color is a relatively new phenomenon at Colonial Williamsburg. It wasn’t until 1979 when the museum began telling Black stories, and not until 2002 that it launched its American Indian Initiative.

First Baptist has been at the center of an initiative to reintroduce African Americans to the museum. For instance, Colonial Williamsburg’s historic conservation experts repaired the church’s long-silenced bell several years ago.

Congregants and museum archeologists are now plotting a way forward together on how best to excavate the site and to tell First Baptist’s story. The relationship is starkly different from the one in the mid-20th Century.

“Imagine being a child going to this church, and riding by and seeing a parking lot … where possibly people you knew and loved are buried,” said Connie Matthews Harshaw, a member of First Baptist. She is also board president of the Let Freedom Ring Foundation, which is aimed at preserving the church’s history.

Colonial Williamsburg had paid for the property where the church had sat until the mid-1950s, and covered the costs of First Baptist building a new church. But the museum failed to tell its story despite its rich colonial history.

“It’s a healing process … to see it being uncovered,” Harshaw said. “And the community has really come together around this. And I’m talking Black and white.”

The excavation began last year. So far, 25 graves have been located based on the discoloration of the soil in areas where a plot was dug, according to Jack Gary, Colonial Williamsburg’s director of archaeology.

Gary said some congregants have already expressed an interest in analyzing bones to get a better idea of the lives of the deceased and to discover familial connections. He said some graves appear to predate the building of the second church.

It’s unclear exactly when First Baptist’s first church was built. Some researchers have said it may already have been standing when it was offered to the congregation by Jesse Cole, a white man who owned the property at the time.

First Baptist is mentioned in tax records from 1818 for an adjacent property.

Gary said the original foundation was confirmed by analyzing layers of soil and artifacts found in them. They included an one-cent coin from 1817 and copper pins that held together clothing in the early 18th century.

Colonial Williamsburg and the congregation want to eventually reconstruct the church.

“We want to make sure that we’re telling the story in a way that’s appropriate and accurate — and that they approve of the way we’re telling that history,” Gary said.

Jody Lynn Allen, a history professor at the nearby College of William & Mary, said the excavation is part of a larger reckoning on race and slavery at historic sites across the world.

“It’s not that all of a sudden, magically, these primary sources are appearing,” Allen said. “They’ve been in the archives or in people’s basements or attics. But they weren’t seen as valuable.”

Allen, who is on the board of First Baptist’s Let Freedom Ring Foundation, said physical evidence like a church foundation can help people connect more strongly to the past.

“The fact that the church still exists — that it’s still thriving — that story needs to be told,” Allen said. “People need to understand that there was a great resilience in the African American community.”

 

Fisk Jubilee Singers continue to sing spirituals 150 years later

Fisk Jubilee Singers continue to sing spirituals 150 years later

The Fisk Jubilee Singers in 2016. Photo by Bill Steber and Pat Casey Daley

(RNS) — A century and a half ago, nine young men and women embarked on a trip from Fisk University, establishing a tradition of singing spirituals that both funded their Nashville, Tennessee, school and introduced the musical genre to the world.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers, based at the historically Black university founded by the abolitionist American Missionary Association and later tied to the United Church of Christ, started traveling 150 years ago on Oct. 6, 1871. They since have continued to sing so-called slave songs such as “Down by the Riverside” and “There Is a Balm in Gilead” and stood on stages from New York’s Carnegie Hall to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.

Musical director Paul Kwami has led the group since 1994 and sang with it when he was a Fisk student in the 1980s. Then and now he views the songs as not only expressions of the religious beliefs of enslaved people, but also of the original singers and the ones who continue to sing today.

“There are songs like ‘Ain’t-a That Good News,’ which is a song that talks about having a crown in heaven, having a robe in heaven,” said Kwami, a member of a nondenominational Full Gospel church in Nashville. “Well, they’ve never been to heaven, but then they’re singing about heaven — that’s an expression of faith.”

Kwami, a native of Ghana, in West Africa, talked with Religion News Service about how the ensemble began, who should sing spirituals and which of the songs are his favorites.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers in Jubilee Hall at Fisk University on Oct. 29, 2020. Photo by Bill Steber and Pat Casey Daley

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers won their first Grammy in 2020 for an album that celebrates almost a century and a half of music. What does that say about the endurance of the group and the music that they have sung for so long?

The album was actually produced on the (university’s) 150th anniversary. But then, of course, it is the Fisk Jubilee Singers who won the Grammy, which actually makes me realize that people still recognize who the Fisk Jubilee Singers are. And people still appreciate the music. Additionally, people realize Fisk Jubilee Singers are artists and do not limit themselves to just Negro spirituals. There’s versatility in our choice of music when we have celebrations.

How do you define spirituals, and differentiate them from other forms of African American music sung in Black churches and beyond?

The Negro spirituals are songs that were created by the slaves during their time of slavery. But when we talk about music like jazz or blues or gospel, those genres of music came long after the Negro spirituals were established. And some people even say these other forms of music were birthed out of the Negro spirituals.

When we talk about the Negro spiritual and, say, gospel music, the performance styles are completely different. Gospel music simply deals with church music with a lot of instrumental accompaniment, clapping, a lot of improvisation. But with the Negro spiritual, even though there may be some improvisation, it doesn’t involve a lot of improvisation. Traditionally, Negro spirituals don’t call for instrumental accompaniment.

When the Fisk Jubilee Singers sing, the music is a cappella. The original Fisk Jubilee Singers transformed the Negro spiritual into an art form or concert spiritual. And because of that, clapping, for example, is not recognized as part of a performance of Negro spirituals.

Spirituals are known for their layers of meaning, some of which were hidden to slave masters. Can you give an example of one that is often sung by Fisk Jubilee Singers that reflects that?

One we often sing is “Steal Away to Jesus.” (One) meaning is that we will run away to the North — because we’re stealing away to Jesus — and Jesus was referring to a place of freedom.

When George White, a music professor and Fisk’s treasurer, decided to have singers from the school perform the spirituals for white audiences as fundraisers, was his idea supported by many or was it controversial or both?

To leave Fisk with a group of students to go on a tour, singing to raise money — that was opposed. The administration at Fisk at that time did not believe he would succeed. They thought this was more of an experimental adventure because no one had ever done that. He was not sure of how audiences would receive Black young people singing so he taught them to sing Western (and European) classical music with a hope that would be more attractive to the various audiences. The Fisk Jubilee Singers were also not willing to sing the Negro spirituals because those songs were very sacred to them. But eventually, they started singing the Negro spirituals to the delight of their audiences.

The spirituals were “concertized” for performance for these fundraisers. Do you think anything was lost as the songs moved from the field where slaves had labored to concert halls where people paid to hear them sung?

I don’t think anything was lost. I read a quote by one of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers, and in this book he transcribes some of the songs they sang. I look at the melodies and they’re the same melodies we sing except the arrangements may be different.

How were the singers received at a time when slavery had just ended and African Americans were not welcome in many venues that were segregated?

Originally, they were not well received. There are accounts where people would go into the concerts, listen to the Fisk Jubilee Singers sing and not even give donations. There are accounts of Fisk Jubilee Singers going into hotels and hotel owners, realizing they were Black people, turned them away, wouldn’t give them a place to sleep or food to eat. There was a time when George White was able to purchase first-class coach (train) tickets for them but they were refused admittance into the first-class coaches because of the color of their skin. There is a painting somewhere that someone depicted them looking more like animals on stage singing. So they did go through those types of experiences as they went on their first tour. But I always say the young Fisk students who went out to raise funds for the university kept their focus on their mission and also were able to sing their songs and win the hearts of many people.

There have been debates over whether white people singing spirituals is a form of cultural appropriation. And I wonder where you stand on that issue.

As a musician I don’t agree with that because growing up in Ghana, we were taught songs like the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s “Messiah.” The performance of music, I don’t believe should be limited to one specific culture. Because music, rather, brings people together. I would rather encourage people of every culture to learn music of other cultures.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers sang with The Erwins, a Southern gospel group, in February, including the song ” Watch and See.” How often do the Fisk singers sing music other than spirituals and is that generally well received, or are they criticized for not sticking with the music tradition for which they’re known?

I think one of the reasons we won the Grammy is because we sang with other people and the album consists of a variety of music that actually would not be classified as Negro spirituals. The album consisted of country music. We had some blues. We had gospel. We do want to be remembered as an ensemble that sings Negro spirituals but when there are occasions that call for us to sing other types of music and if it fits into our schedule, we are going to do so.

Do you have a favorite spiritual sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers and, if so, which one and why?

I have a lot of favorite spirituals. One of them is ” Lord, I’m Out Here on Your Word.” I like that spiritual because it’s a song that helps me to be committed to my work. A line in the song says “If I die on the battlefield, Lord, I’m out here on your Word.” That is telling me that no matter what goes on, I am out to serve God. And I know he is a faithful God. And I have to be faithful to him as well. If I’m serving him, then no matter what’s going on, I trust him to provide whatever I need to succeed in my work.

Another is “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” I love that song, again, because it gives me the idea that God takes care of us.

 

Like Father, Like Son

Like Father, Like Son

The Parable of the Prodigal Son follows the aloof youngest Son of a wealthy household. Convinced of his own maturity and confined to his father’s way of life, the Son asks his father for his inheritance early in order to move to the city and create a life for himself. After magnificently failing in this endeavor, the Son returns home to his father and asks for his forgiveness. In response to his child’s rebellion, the father welcomes him back home with open arms and even throws a decadent celebration to commemorate his return.

When reading this parable, most people identify with the Son. The metaphor of the story lends itself to such an interpretation with the father representing the unconditional forgiveness of God and the Son representing the hubris and fallible nature of humanity. However, this story is more complex than it might seem at first glance. When viewed again we can learn a valuable lesson about forgiveness from this parable. One of the main themes throughout Jesus’ ministry on Earth is the idea of forgiveness. In one of his most famous speeches, Jesus talks at length about how you should treat people who have wounded you in the past. For instance in Matthew 5:49-50, Jesus says: 

but I tell you, do not resist an evil perSon. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 

Only a few verses later, Jesus goes on to clarify his position on retaliation even further. In Matthew 5:44, he gives his timeless instruction to love your neighbor as yourself, an idea echoed in Mark 11:31 when asked to discuss which commandments are most important. To Christ, the desire for revenge and retaliation in the face of adversity are distractions from witnessing the humanity present in that perSon and treating the conditions that gave rise to the conflict in the first place. Instead of returning force with force, Christian conflict resolution might look more like turning the other cheek or donating your coat to someone who needs it more than yourself. It would also look like the open and loving acceptance of a father recovering his prodigal Son. 

The Father in The Story of the Prodigal Son is the true role model of this story, not the Son. It is the Father who provides the listener with a vision for what forgiveness is. Throughout the end of the parable, the older brother begins to take a more prominent role in the story, asking questions that an observer might and second-guessing his father’s choices. He blames his brother for squandering his wealth and grows jealous in response to the warm welcome his brother received from his father. This contrasts with the Father who disregards his Son’s failings and welcomes him back into his household despite them. This distinction is important because it shows us the difference between the love of man and Christ’s forgiveness. Human relationships can be eroded by breaches in trust and changes in character. A relationship with Christ is constant, motivated by love that transcends broken trust and perSonal pain. This is not to say that we should stick by every perSon who hurts us. What Jesus shows in the Parable of the Prodigal Son is to be like the father. Despite all of the time and money wasted by his Son, the father chooses to accept him back when met with a genuine apology. 

It is very easy to forgive someone who is close to you or someone who hurt you once in the distant past but forgiveness is not just an action. It is a mindset to treat people with love regardless of your opinion of them. This idea does not just extend to our close friends and relatives. It also applies to race, gender, and even nationality. As Christians, we are called to grow God’s kingdom. That is very hard to do when petty grudges and bottled resentment not only promotes self-righteous gatekeeping but also drives internal divisions within the Church. First and foremost, we must remember that regardless of our history we were all the Prodigal Son. When put in the father’s position we know what we should do, but what truly matters is if we act like our heavenly Father.