We exchanged the traditional African handshake.
“I will see Kabango”, said Clement, “I am passing through Rwanda”.
I smiled. “Tell Kabango I will see him in June.”
Our friendship with the priest in Rwanda would, by then, be the only thing our lives had in common.
“God bless you”, I said.
He smiled and we parted.
Tomorrow he would pack for his homeward flight. Travelling via Nairobi, he was trying to calculate how many of his books he could carry with him and how many he would send as a separate package. “If I do not take them with me, I may never be able to get them again”.
I had joked that he was only taking the books home to intimidate his bishop, feeling inwardly sad that we both knew the truth of what he said. There would be little money to spare for books from his meagre stipend, and, even had he the money, where would he find books to buy in that poorest of countries?
We had talked about the Nigerian Anglican church and its embracing of prosperity theology – love the Lord and he will send you great riches.
“That is not the way of the Cross”, I had said.
Clement had agreed, but I had wondered what I knew of the way of the Cross. How could life in the pleasant suburbs of south County Dublin ever approximate to the way of the Cross? I did not have four brothers already dead; I did not have to worry about their children as well as my own; I did not have to worry about not being paid until the beginning of next year. I talked in theological abstracts, not from a spirituality rooted in a grim reality.
There was a temptation to ask how he felt about returning, but however the question was couched, there was a danger it would carry with it an air of superiority; that it would convey a sense that I assumed our life was the better one.
“Having nothing, yet possessing all things”, says Saint Paul in the second letter to the church at Corinth. Paul would have had the right words to say, words that were encouraging and did not sound patronising; Paul would have rejoiced in the ministry in Africa. The converse of what Paul says is, of course, having all things, yet possessing nothing. Is that how Paul would see the church in Ireland?
Who has the real riches?