I welcome Lance Muteyo as a guest blogger to share about his journey to the U.S. this summer. Lance is from Zimbabwe where he is the founder and director of Trees of Peace Africa. Click here to read more about him in the Peace Bios section of this website.
My trip to the US was the most difficult voyage I ever made in my life. It reminds me of Paul and others’ expedition in Acts 27 where some reached the shore on broken pieces of the ship. When I stepped out of the Philadelphia Airport on a warm Tuesday morning, May 30th 2017 I felt as if I had reached the US on broken pieces.
I was supposed to visit the US with Boaz Kiebarak from Kenya last year in 2016, but we were denied visas several times. Through God’s grace and advice from Gerald Ngomani (a Zimbabwean graduate of Training for Change) to whom I had been introduced by Celia Kutz; the co-Director of Training for Change I got the visa. I remember that rainy morning when I got the visa in Harare, I was so happy I actually jumped in celebration inside the visa offices. The visa officer however was quick to tell me that getting a visa is not a guarantee that I will enter the US; I didn’t care; I never gave it a thought especially remembering that I had been denied the visa more than three times. This was worth the celebration!
Before I departed, Gerald gave me some travelling tips to use at the port of entry in Philadelphia. Gerald is a well-travelled trainer. He knew what was in store for me. I realised that I was in hot soup when I disembarked from Qatar Airlines. This was the time when the Trump Administration had banned laptops and cameras in the aeroplane cabin from flights coming from the Middle East for “security” reasons. I didn’t care much, I only cared about getting in the US! As I walked in the line at the airport I realised and felt for the first time how racial the airport system was. I was the last in the non-resident queue and I noticed how most of the Arabs, Asians and black people were easily detained for further questioning whilst most of the white people had a good time passing through the immigration counters. I never cared about colour but this time I saw that colour matters.
My turn came. Their questions were so brief and short. They asked me about my purpose in the US of which I respectfully replied. He also inquired about the amount of money I had; I only had $20.00 and no credit card; this was the reason for my five-hour dentition. I tried in vain to explain to them that my host, Training for Change, was taking care of all my financial needs but there were not convinced. I was treated as a terrorist. They searched all my bags; everything was thrown out. My phone was confiscated and subjected to strict security scrutiny. I understood their security concern but what I did not understand was the inhumane way of eliciting information. They called all my US contacts who truthfully articulated the purpose of my visit but still they were not convinced. After Training for Change training I intended to make interstate visits to people who support our Pan African Peace Network (PAPNET) through Daniel Buttry of International Ministries. This became more complicated to them. They thought I was going to do fundraising campaigns but I openly told them that I do not have the capacity to handle finances but whatever happens it is in International Ministries’ jurisdiction. Despite all my efforts they were not moved. They saw me as an extremist, as a criminal, a liar. They took my empty bags three times in the bag security system. This time my frustration turned into humour, I wanted to laugh. I could not understand their fear, I could not grasp their insecurity. They went on to ask me many silly questions which I civilly answered. At that moment I said to myself; “America is not heaven, and if they deport me I don’t care. Thank God, you don’t enter heaven through Philadelphia!” I really meant every word. After some time they told me to pack my bags. I packed them slowly much to their frustration, I felt the power, the control at that moment so I was doing my own version of non-violent direct action. To my surprise the officer stamped six months on my passport and inhospitably told me not to do fundraising. I was escorted out of the airport. It was like a movie scene but then I realised that I have been welcomed in an empire. I genuinely consoled myself by the fact that a servant is no greater than his master, and if our Master Jesus Christ suffered who are we to demand more?. This made me to think of some Biblical figures inside empires; Esther in Persia, Moses in Egypt, Daniel in Babyloan Joseph in Egypt and Jesus under the Roman empire. It wasn’t easy. Empires are tough places.
When I saw Celia waiting for me I just told her that the American Government have made a mistake by allowing me in the US. She just laughed, but certainly they had made a huge mistake. A blunder in the sense that I got the best training at Training for Change. This was the best training that I ever got, a training that helps to teach hard topics using experiential education methods, a training that helps to trust a group as a resource for their own solutions. My personality and my training techniques were transformed. The trainers were so caring and inspiring with a huge listening ear. Daniel, Erika, Andrea, Matthew, Nico, Naomi, Celia were just an amazing bunch of trainers. Also, we had participants from different countries bringing in different insights to the group. Our graduation was so electrifying. I was happy to practise to trust others when I called a fellow participant Crispinus Ouma Pamba to recite a poem on Africa whilst I played the mbira instrument. I was a “freestyle” performance yet powerful teaching me not to trust isolation but to find support in others.
My lovely moments came when I toured the US, meeting those who support our work. I was greatly humbled to realise that those who support our work are a few ordinary people committed to a just world. Through this support PAPNET has reached many African countries and Africans in Europe and the US. I made many speeches in different places in my peace tour from houses, churches, restaurants to big conference halls and streets. Most of my speeches were of gratitude. I spoke about how we are all working in God’s Kingdom, Some plant the seed like Daniel and Sharon Buttry, some water the seed like all those in praying and supporting financially, yet some like PAPNET trainers nurture the seedling until it grows into a huge baobab tree of peace. It is the future generations who will kindly eat the fruits of our labour as we believe that there is no greater love than when a person lays down his life for a friend.
My best moments came when I stood alongside Daniel and Sharon Buttry, my mentors, during the International Ministries luncheon in front of about 500 people at the ABC Mission Summit. We were the main speakers. They could have done it on their own, but Sharon told me that every Paul needs a Timothy and every Timothy needs a Paul so I was part of the equation. I felt greatly humbled by Dan and Sharon on how they are raising a next generation of peacemakers. I was afraid to stand in front of many white Americans for the first time. I wanted affirmation from either Sharon or Dan if they trusted me but it was their answer that really changed the way I view life today. Sharon said; “Lance, I don’t trust you, but I trust God.” Yes, she trusted that God was going to do exceedingly and abundantly more than what I can ask for or think of. We did a well-polished presentation about peace work knowing that He which has begun a good work in us will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. My wife Christina and I have started processes to become a peacemaking missionary couple like Dan and Sharon and I was happy to realise that these are the things they are supporting. I received two gifts from this couple; the first one was a good study Bible that Dan used for his ordination as a pastor back in the 1970s. He had received this Bible from his mother; this was so precious. The second gift was a cross that Sharon gave Christina and I to let the cross of Jesus Christ stay in our hearts all the time.
I was so fortunate to meet generous people. I also presented at the BPFNA Peace Breakfast. I met all the modest people who support our work. I spoke of Ubuntu as a concept of humanism, a concept of helping humanity irrespective of any partiality. It was an honour to share our PAPNET slogan; “Amani Milele-Peace Forever” with the audience and how they generously responded. Great bunch of people! It was a big honour to meet LeDayne Polaski the Director of BPFNA, and she was so kind to let me stand in the BPFNA exhibition booth and meet many peace makers.
I am back home now as I prepare to go to Senegal with Fabrice Anthnoy Kettemalet to conduct a training with young people on dangerous migration across the Mediterranean corridor. The struggle continues here in Zimbabwe as we are working on activism to deal with an oppressive government. At the same time we want to mix political activism with socio-economic empowerment in Zambia to maintain Zambia’s national democracy.
Indeed the American government made a mistake by giving me access to all these positive weapons to positively transform this globe even when I got there on broken pieces.