Marguerite Barankitse gave the second annual Catena Lecture in Medicine, Faith, and Service, hosted by the Theology, Medicine, and Culture Initiative at Duke Divinity School on April 6, 2022. Barankitse founded Maison Shalom International, a home and school for thousands of children who have been orphaned by genocide.
In a conversation with Duke Global Health professor David Toole, Barankitse talked about her discovery of her vocation, her faith in Christ, political exile, and the importance of the education. She spoke to an audience of over 100 people in Goodson Chapel, while 400 of her children in Burundi tuned in to the livestream.
In his introduction, Divinity School Dean Edgardo Colón-Emeric called the event a “fulfillment of visions and dreams that many of us have for this community, dreams of a school that helps churches feel young again, particularly by learning from Christianity in what is often called the global south. Tonight’s lecture is a sign that we do not dream in vain.”
Barankitse spent her week-long visit spreading her message of love and hope to the Duke and UNC communities, visiting classes, delivering lectures, and sharing meals with students and faculty. This is Barankitse’s second visit to Duke. She was awarded an honorary degree from Duke in 2013.
Below are highlights from the lecture, which can be viewed in full HERE.
Editor’s note: This interview contains a graphic description of violence.
“I want to raise a new generation.”
“I was tied up; they killed 72 people that I know, that I love. Also the killers, I know them and I love them. And two days before, I lost more than 16 members of my family. And among those bodies, I tried to find my seven kids. I couldn’t find them. I went into the chapel. I said, ‘God, my mom lied to me. Since I was baby, she told me that you are love.’ And I am there crying. And I said, ‘Why didn’t they kill me? What is my reason to continue to live?’
When I was crying then the voice of my first adoptive child, Chloe, in the sacristy, said, ‘Oma’ (because they call me ‘Oma’). ‘Oma, we are still alive.’ Then I said, ‘God, now I understand why since I was young, I want to raise a new generation who will be able to break the cycle of violence.’ Then I called them, the seven, and I went to find the twenty-five children that I hid. We were in chapel. And I said, ‘God, now I know that You are love, but give me enough strength to continue Your work because alone I can’t continue.’ This is what I have done. And since this time I know that love will win.”
“If you follow Jesus, you stand up. I am a Christian, I will accept I suffer, of course. I want to tell you to stand up and to continue to believe that we are one human family. And never will evil have the last word. And it’s why I am not afraid because He promised us. He said, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am with you until the end of the world.’ And it’s why I am here to help me to spread this message because it’s possible. Our unique vocation, wonderful vocation, amazing vocation, it’s to transform this world into paradise.”
“A superpower in love”
“You understand you are a very big country, a superpower. I travel often in USA. But I wish to ask you what it means to be a superpower. For me—because we are in the church, in chapel—to be a superpower means to be a superpower in love. Jesus became a superpower on the cross. But can we explain to our politicians that to be a superpower is to serve our brothers and sisters?”
“When women move, the world moves. If the world suffers, it is because women are missing their vocation. God gave us a sublime vocation—to protect and transform life, to protect our children, to distribute happiness.”
“They asked, ‘What is your action plan?’ I said, ‘Love.’”
“I can tell you a joke. The first time I went in to see the representative of UNICEF, I had so many babies and I had no milk, I had no clothes. She was an American, and called the staff for protection, education, and said, ‘listen to this woman.’ But they asked me, ‘What is your action plan?’ I said, ‘love.’ They asked, ‘But what is your strategy?’ I said, ‘Confidence in Providence.’ They said, ‘We don’t fund an organization without an action plan.’ I looked to them and said, ‘Okay, but don’t take a photo in my house. One day you will see—because love makes us inventors—I will succeed. And you, you will make a big report that nobody will read.’”
“You give less than a cup of coffee for your brothers and sisters.”
“When the first Christians began, it was to share; it was like that. But always when you become bigger, you forget the first mission. And it’s our duty to go and knock, [to make sure] they remember these firsts—the first mission to save, to make our world better. I got an award from a UN agency for refugees. They are too big and they forget to be on the ground. Because if you see those salaries… Last year they cut the food for refugees in a refugee camp where I am. They give for each three dollars for one month. Three. And when I go to visit them, they give me a cup of coffee. And I joke. I say, ‘Please, this cup of coffee, how much does it cost?’ They say, ‘five dollars.’ And I say, ‘you give less than a cup of coffee for your brothers and sisters.’ And I say, ‘if you stop paying five functionaries in New York, then you can feed this refugee camp.’ But I love them. But it’s my duty as a Christian, as a mother, as a refugee, to speak loudly, to see how we can change that.”
“We are the result of our teachers.”
“I got a wonderful education from my teachers. And I remember one. It was a nun, a Belgian nun who loved us. Sister Agnes, she was a very strong woman. She taught us swimming, theater. I went often to visit her and to say to her, “You gave us this good education, confidence in ourselves. And when we came, we couldn’t speak loudly because in our culture we must look down when we speak. But she took us in front of the classroom and said, “Speak loudly, be confident.” And this I admire. And they gave us also Christian values, compassion, integrity, solidarity. We were really together. Unfortunately, after that they were obliged to leave this school. And they gave us teachers who don’t understand, who were first Hutu or Tutsi, and destroyed our country. And it’s why I have a favor to ask you. I am building now a second school. Because I remember all those good teachers. And I want to give back to the future generations what I have received from those women who dedicated their lives to education, to give us good values. Because now in school, they forget to give all those human values. They give science, but what you will become with only science, without compassion, without all those Ubuntu values that Nelson Mandela spoke about: ‘I am because we are.'”