Bishop Paul gets out and about on his Prayer Walks in Durham City in 2015

Walking around the main streets at the centre of Lesotho’s capital city, Maseru, has reminded me of the importance of second visits. My first visit to this Mountain Kingdom, landlocked entirely by South Africa, was in the autumn of 2015. I travelled with Rosemary and a group of around a dozen others. For some of them it was the umpteenth visit, for others like us it was their first. For some it was also their first taste of any form of ‘Africa’.

On first visits the sights, sounds and smells can be overwhelming. It can all be intoxicating and disorientating. But when you are with a big group you are also shielded by the company of your own culture sharing it all. You can easily escape back into your own world. You travel home with rich memories. Somethings may have happened that actually change your perception and understanding of the world forever. For myself encountering queuing for almost non existent food in a Moscow supermarket in 1991 was one such experience.

Lesotho first time around was wonderful; the mountain scenery is stunning; the Katse Dam and it’s enormous reservoir is a wonder. I was captivated, yet made to ponder, by the blanketed herdsmen and their meagre cattle; and by the wide use still of horses and donkeys. You don’t see the latter creatures in my beloved Rwanda and Burundi. The work of the Lesotho-Durham Link was hugely impressive under it’s inspirational leadership of Joseph Morenammele.  Meeting King Letsie III on 3 occasions was unexpected but also revealed a delightful humble sovereign in this land of constitutional monarchy. We had good times then with Bishop Adam Taaso Opening a new parish Church (led by Archbishop Thabo) and confirming high up in the mountains in a marquee.

My love for the nation was further added to when King Letsie and Queen Masenate visited Durham for 4 days in June 2017.

But second visits open up new vistas and insights. Partly through being her alone this time. Partly by staying at the heart of the city and so being able to wander the streets alone. But mainly because you begin to see a little, only a little, beneath the surface. The enthusiasm of the worship in Hlotse on Sunday was quite a lot to do with the visit of the bishop (well 2 of us but I counted rather less than Bishop Adam)’; the induction of a new parish priest, also to be Archdeacon and the confirmation of 58young people and young adults. It was as anticipated a very long service. But the joy was clear. Behind the church is a convent with 14 sisters. I had the most delightful conversation with 1 Sister who took her vows in 1957 and another’s in 1945. Their delight in talking Tom an English bishop was remarkable. Their faith shone through as they talked of ordinary thing she like corn flakes and tea and then of ageing and readiness for heaven. They touched me with a little bit of heaven themselves.

Unemployment running at 28% and higher amongst the young. So spending time in a workshop with Church youth leaders was valuable. They were so attentive, and wanting to lead well. On the streets are many young adults clearly seeking to eke out a living through selling fruit, or second hand shoes and trainers. The streets remind me that banks always appear to be doing well whatever the conditions of the wider population. I visit a school tomorrow so might get to talk with some about their hopes and dreams. The youth leaders tell me that what the young people want is to be loved and cared for, to belong, to have a sense of oneness in a nation riven by division.

Currently the Link is occupied partially by forces from the Southern African Defence Force. Here to aid peace in a nation trying to rebuil not from overt conflict but from sever fractures. The young want oneness. I hope the adults listen and are grown up enough to work for the good of the whole nation. The same applies to the church. Sadly it too has divisions being played out quite publicly. My prayer is for the unity for which Jesus prayed to become a reality. A second visit has helped me understand this further. Leading a workshop for senior leaders on leading in the style Peter portrays in 1 Peter 5 I hope offered some wisdom. But it can only be for me, and others from ‘outside’ to pray for the Holy Spirit to work and bring true unity in love.

This is a country which the world can easily ignore and forget. It isn’t so small and so out of the way for many. But three weeks ago one of the largest diamonds found in many years was discovered here in its diamond mines. A jewel that is of enormous value. May it stand as a symbol of this glorious mountain kingdom; a jewel to be valued.

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