By Robin Croft, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs
During the 2010 Chaplains Conference taking place in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany this week, 35 US Africa Command Chaplains and Chaplains assistants took a guided tour to Dachau, the former Nazi concentration camp in Bavaria.
Before we left on the trip, Col. Bishop Alfred Kotich from the Kenyan Armed Forces made reference to an African concept called Imbuntu. Imbuntu (pronounced eem-BUN-too) has no literal English translation. Its rough meaning is, “I’m a person through you.” This concept captures the essence of this conference and the mission of the military chaplaincies overall. Imbuntu is the practice of “do unto your brother as you would have him do unto you.” Another way of looking at it is that relationships are the most important thing and that no one can really accomplish anything without others.
On the bus to Dachau, some of the participants told humorous anecdotes and sang hymns.
We walked through the famous wrought iron gate of the concentration camp, through which hundreds of thousands of innocent people had been herded nearly 50 years ago.
We all fell silent and the mood immediately turned introspective and somber as we listened to our guide, and walked through the setting where Hitler perpetrated countless atrocities against millions of innocent people during the Third Reich.
Some of the African Chaplains and religious leaders in our group had also counseled people in their communities who had recently experienced the Rwandan genocide and Apartheid in South Africa. Brigadier General Marius Cornelissen, Chaplain General, South African National Defense Force, addressed the conference audience the next evening at dinner and described how South Africa had faced its violent past.
The following day Bishop Alfred Rotich said the opening prayer and everyone bowed as he spoke about what we all had witnessed the day before at Dachau. At the end of the day the Chaplains reminded us that the way forward, to accomplish the Chaplains mission for US Africa Command, is to daily live and promote the message of Imbutu and build and strengthen our relationships with Africans and Africa. As Julian Saramego, from US Africa Command’s SPP Division said, “We don’t want this to be an American-led solution. It has to be what Africans want. We need to ask our African partners the questions, do you need help? What Kind? From whom?