Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Now that our trip to South Africa is completed I have been trying to organize some overall thoughts about the trip and the experience of leadership that has affected the political, economical, and social lives of so many South Africans.  Even with the fall of apartheid, a racial system based on discrimination, there are strong lines between too many groups of people.

Apartheid had drawn strong lines between white, colored, and black people.  Even after the fall of apartheid, there still seems to be a strong line between these groups that is now drawn by economic status rather than race.  Poverty in this nation is extreme with the poor living in conditions where even such staples as clean water and sanitation are limited.  Employment opportunities are limited as are access to education, job training, and other vehicles to help improve the lives of these groups.  Corruption in the democratically elected government stifles many attempts to raise the standard of living.  To build a stronger South Africa, the untapped potential living in informal housing will need to be engaged.

In South Africa we heard a word from several of the different leaders with whom we visited.  This word is Ubuntu.  Ubuntu was defined to us as, "I am because we are" and stressed that no one person exists as an individual but always as part of a community.  If I demean someone, I also demean myself.  As one person's welfare rises or falls, my welfare is directly impacted.  I believe that this concept is one which has helped control the potential for violence in this nation.

As apartheid fell, a great deal of tension arose in the nation as a regime of racism, hatred, and fear drew to a close.  The challenge arose as these groups that had been target of the regime rose up to speak against the injustice they faced.  There is always danger when an oppressed people rise up and discover their strength.  The threat of reprisal, of vengeance, of inflamed righteous indignation was everywhere.  Its why a great a deal of credit needs to be given to the leadership that were able to help channel and control these emotions preventing a terrible backlash from plunging the nation into an even more violent and bloody time (It is important to note that there has been, and continues to be violence in South Africa.  Our group missed an opportunity to worship in a region where violence was a very real threat during a lorry strike that was taking place in the country).  As difficult as the transition has been in South Africa, it could have been much worse.

The concept of Ubuntu could be a mitigating factor in helping to control the violence in the nation.  The realization that the oppressor is also a slave to the system of fear has helped the people reach out to the ruling powers that have have denied justice for others.  There is a connection between oppressed and oppressor and a desire to liberate both groups from a system that would promote hate and intolerance.  I believe this may be the single greatest resource for the transition of South Africa.

And I believe it is also an important lesson that we living in the USA can take with us.  Our nation is still reeling from a strong economic recession.  The Occupy movement while quieted has revealed the disparity between the "haves" and the "have-nots" (By the way, by South African standards we are all pretty much haves in America).  One of my biggest concerns is with the increased sense of polarization in our society.  It is not enough to be a conservative or liberal now.  Our society has become fragmented to the point where it is difficult for us to discover or even talk about our shared community.  We even disagree over what the community is, the lines that create it, or our inter-connectedness in our communities.  We have very little understanding or appreciation for Ubuntu.  Republicans blast Democrats.  Liberals blame conservatives.  Paranoia and extremism clouds our views and understanding of so many issues.  In many ways, we have abandoned common sense for party loyalty.  We vilify the opposition because they are different from us.  When we do this, we abandon our sense of community and bring harm to our own self and to others.

Americans could use Ubuntu in their personal lives, in their communal lives, and in our financial world.  Honestly, I could not help seeing a strong parallel between this and the story line of "A Bug's Life"  What will we grasshoppers do when the ants wake up and realize that we need them as much as they need us?

Monday, October 22, 2012


Ok, on the fun side we had a great evening! We had about 3 hours out on safari and in that time saw elephants, zebra, white rhinos, impala, wildebeest, wart hogs, and red wildebeest. We are headed out tomorrow to look for the other 2 of the big 5- lions and jaguars!

The elephants we saw went right by our car! One walked up very close to me, as you can see. One other elephant walked to the front of the car, raised her trunk and waved it at us before walking off. It was an amazing experience!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Regina Mundi Church

This Sunday we visited this church where the service was conducted entirely in Zulu. The choir and congregation that sang was incredible! There was so much joy evident in this service! A huge building and a great attendance. We could use something else like this in the states...

Condoms for Catholics

Today we will be meeting with Bishop Kevin Dowling, a controversial bishop working near Johannesburg, South Africa. He happens to oversee a diocese with a large percentage of people with Aids (roughly 40%). To combat the spread of this disease Dowling has been urging the community that is sexually active to use condoms- not as birth control- but to save lives.

This should be an interesting meeting. And I should also add this should be my last post, at least from South Africa on South Africa. I do believe more will follow as we have time to process this amazing journey.

Stellenbosch University

One of the places we visited this week was the Stellenbosch University- where students are trained in the tradition of Dutch Reformed church. For the record, this is where the theological framework for supporting apartheid emerged as part of this tradition. Following the Second World War, the ideology of the National Socialist party from Germany moved south and found roots in the Afrikaner people, white Dutch settlers in South Africa. With the teaching coming out of the seminary, a justification for white superiority over people of color and of the indigenous people of Africa.

In other words, the Dutch Reformed church, and the University, were part of the architecture that led to apartheid.

That any form of the Church would be responsible for engendering this form of hate stains the entirety of our Christian faith and serves as a reminder of how easily our faith traditions can be subverted.

In the course of apartheid almost every Christian denomination outside of the Dutch Reformed church were told to abandon fellowship with this group, isolating the seminary and pastors from fellowship.

After the fall of Apartheid, the Christian denominations gathered in South Africa met to begin the theological groundwork for the recovery of the nation. As a gesture of goodwill they invited members of the Dutch reformed church to this gathering.

It was a tense moment at the meeting until a representative from this tradition rose and addressed the assembly. In this address they admitted the errors of apartheid and confessed that they had been wrong in its instigation. They confessed the evil of apartheid and renounced it as an ideology.

The gathered leaders were amazed. Desmond Tutu then came to the podium and said, "I don't know about you... But in my tradition if someone confesses their sin, I have to forgive them."

Stellenbosch University continues to train and educate students and pastors for work in South Africa. It is my hope that they might continue to help set right what was such a great wrong in this nation.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Standing on Holy Ground

Yesterday we visited with the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town- the successor to Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. Actually this is the second Archbishop to follow Tutu. It was humbling to realize that a man responsible for the spiritual life of such a vast and expansive group of people would take an hour out to speak with 17 Indiana pastors.

I have been impressed by some of the people we have met this week, but found that there was a aura of holiness around this man that was compelling. At the end out meeting he prayed for us and then pronounced a blessing- a simple benediction, and something happened inside me that almost brought on tears! It was such a moving experience for me. My roommate for this trip, a Disciples of Christ pastor, agreed with me.

Following this we had an opportunity to view the private chapel of the archbishop. One of the staff members told us Desmond Tutu spent 2 hours there every morning praying. From time to time he would disappear and no one on his staff could find him. They learned that when that happened he was back in the chapel and should not be disturbed. Great men seek God's Presence..

And now for something completely different

Having been in South Africa for several days now I though it might be of some help to post some of what we have come to understand about this nation and people. It's probably important to note that in no way should this be considered factual or even too accurate given our limited view and time in this country, but here are some observations.

When asking for the final bill eating out, you ask for the book, not the check.

You always greet someone with the time of day(good morning) not a simple "hello" or "hi"

There is a wide disparity between the wealthy and the poor in South Africa. 5% of the people possess about 95% of the wealth.

The coast of Cape Town is beautiful... See picture below

Americans are spoiled when it come to unlimited phone service. This week we are limited to 35 minutes of wifi access through our hotel and 1 hour at the local McDonalds- where no one seems to eat except tourists.

There is a deep, expansive level of respect in this nation for the people who spoke out and suffered under the apartheid regime. We saw it with Ahmed Kathrada, Mpho Tutu, and with the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.

Even with the fall of apartheid there is still a pretty strong class system here with the whites on top, followed by colored people (non-black) and then blacks. There is some room for movement now among these groups.

iPhone cords can handle the 220 volts from the outlets here. A Nook cord can not. Nothing damaged.. Just not helpful.

Mango juice is so sweet, I can hardly drink it.

African beef tastes awesome! Whatever grass they feed their cattle makes a huge difference in flavor.

Yes, I've tried warthog, kudu, ostrich, and crocodile- all of which tastes excellent. Springbok is my next hope.

Boike, which was an Afrikaaner traditional meal was very similar to beef stew, substituting warthog for beef.

South Africa reflects a very diverse group of people from the native South Africans, Influences from the Dutch and British and also the Afrikaans.

I really need someone to explain cricket to me. Not much of this makes sense. But a game that literally takes all day seems like a lot to me. Sports in South Africa seem to consist of rugby, cricket, and football (soccer)

African people we encounter appear to know much more about what is happening inside our country than we do about theirs.

There are simple switches on all South African power outlets that turn on and off these outlets. Why don't we have these in America?

I have a sneaking suspicion our 2nd bus driver hates Americans from the way he drove. He might not like too many South Africans either.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Visiting Robben Island

There is something amazing happening as I listen to Ahmed Kathrada speak about the time he spent imprisoned on this island along with Nelson Mandela for speaking against the Apartheid Regime. He spoke of how Mandela spent 14 years in prison before he was even given a bed to sleep upon, how their visitation was limited to one letter of 500 words and one visitor every 6 months, and of the distinction made between people of white (privileged), colored (non- black skinned), and blacks- a distinction that still seems prevalent in South Africa.

To understand that these men spent the better part of their lives isolated from society as political prisoners, and their response to these injustices that focus on healing and reconciliation is amazing to me! The humility with which Mr. Kathrada spoke belied his influence in a nation still struggling to find justice and peace for South Africans!

Even with the end of apartheid, there is still much work to do in this nation where being white is still very much a position of privilege and wealth. And I believe that there is much we can learn from this resistance to injustice that Mandela and others stand for in this country.

1. Oppressive systems and the people that exploit them also live a life in chains.

2. I can never be free unless we can be free. The freedom of an individual is integrally connected to the freedom of the collective. To deny one is to prevent the other.

3. There is a way to share the steps forward into this shared freedom that are rooted in love, reconciliation, and peace.

Pictured below is Ahmed Kathrada alongside Dr. Raymond Williams, director of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program.

The next picture is of the outdoor recreation space for Mandela and 7 other political prisoners who were not allowed to associate with the other criminals at the prison- they were kept in isolation and not allowed newspapers or any contact with the outside world.

The third picture is a blow up detailing the differences between prisoners who were colored from blacks. If you can read this you will see how colored people were permitted more sugar for their coffee than black prisoners. Even in prison, white prisoners had privilege over others.

The 4th photo shows the actual cell where Mandela spent the majority of his 26 years of imprisonment.

The rise of Apartheid

One of the most disconcerting discoveries on our trip to Cape Town, South Africa is the suggested root of the rise of apartheid in this nation. Following the end of the Second World War, many European immigrated out of the area and settled in South Africa. They brought with them some of the ideas of their culture which included a belief in the superiority of white people. This idea took root and developed into what would become the Apartheid Movement that would dominate the country for years. Even today, 18 years later, there is a strong disparity between white people of privilege and the colored-blacks who mostly live in poverty. We seem to have a recurring theme in America of the have and the have-nots and South Africa follows this trend with maybe 5% of the population controlling 95% of the nations wealth.

Even attempts to stimulate the economy have failed as these attempts serve the interests of the wealthy instead of the poor.

Listening to this issue led me to connections with the issues in America where we still have in mind the demonstrations of Occupy Wall Street and other sites. The solutions to these two countries does not seem to be on the close horizon but there is developing a sense of urgency from the unrest in the lower classes.

It might be that by pooling resources we can find ways to address these issues before a terrible class war develops.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Change of Plans

We were unable to drive into one of the districts around Cape Town due to the threat of violence from a striking union, so we made some changes to the schedule and took a tour around the city with our bus driver.

Our driver shared with us that he had once been a police officer under the Apartheid Regime. He shared how he was paired with a man of color while on duty. By law he was not allowed to be friends with this man, visit his house, or socialize in any way. And yet they were asked to trust one another to watch each others back.

As part of this tour we stopped by St George's Cathedral, where we found this sign. In the same area we found benches from that time that were marked for whites or people of color, like the one in this picture.

We are looking forward to a meeting tomorrow with Achmed Kathrada, who was imprisoned on Robben Island in the same cell with Nelson Mandela. One of the comments we heard today was that the older people who suffered under Apartheid were able to forgive better than the younger people who suffered.

So tomorrow I believe we will have much more to report around healing and reconciliation.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Arriving in Cape Town

We have arrived safely after a grueling 20 hours in the air. The lodge where we are staying is called the Protea Hotel Breakwater Lodge.

We just found out that our scheduled trip tomorrow morning to a township worship service had been canceled due to a lorry drivers strike and the threat of violence associated with this.

So at the recommendation of the police we will not be traveling to a local township at least tomorrow.

Welcome to South Africa!

Sunday, October 7, 2012


On Friday I will be leaving for a 12 day trip to South Africa as part of the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program. It is my intent to post daily here about our experiences on this trip.

Below is a rock labyrinth set up that we had occasion to walk last year as part of our trip to Tucson, AZ. It is a reminder to focus, center ourself with Christ as that Center.