"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
This morning we got on buses that distributed us to different congregations in and around Johannesburg and Pretoria for church services. The bus I was on made four different stops and we were the last stop. That meant we arrived when the service was 2/3 over. That was really OK. First, there was still an hour left in the service. Second, I got to drive through all these townships, which was really interesting. A lot of it is shantytowns ... just acres of people living in little shacks made of pretty much whatever they can find to make a shack out of. It was like the worst parts of the neighborhood where James lives in Accra.
I sat next to one of the volunteers for the conference for most of the trip. She was a marketing student at a university in Johannesburg and really bright. We talked a lot about the government and she told me a lot about life in the townships and I told her about some of the urban problems we have in America -- which really surprised her. Since her vision of America pretty much comes from TV and movies, she had no idea that we had homelessness and that a lot of our city schools were really bad.
I was the only American in the group I traveled with (there was one other, but he identified himself as from the Dominican Republic because that's where he's living doing medical mission work). The rest were from Madagascar, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Mozambique and Zambia. What was interesting (and a little disturbing) about that was the distinctly different reaction I got when I introduced myself and said where I was from. Everyone else got an enthusiastic greeting, but when I said I was from the United States it went up several decibels and then there was this noticeable buzz afterwards ... and then the priest made a comment after in Zulu and the only nation he mentioned was "United States" ... and there was more buzz.
Of course the people were wonderful and the hospitality incredible. Probably the most powerful moment for me was when one of the lay ministers got up to talk and talked of how this is a nation that lives reconciliation and hospitality. I wish I could remember the words exactly, but he spoke of Apartheid and all they had been through and how through it all their common identity in Christ had seen them through.
Another interesting thing about the service was that the church was full -- but about 90-95% of the congregation was women. I asked the priest about that and he said it was "a South African phenomenon" -- you couldn't get men to come to church. He said it wasn't as bad in his last congregation, but this was extreme. I told him it wasn't just a South African phenomenon ... that in many American churches, women are the clear majority (it was interesting that all the service leaders were men, though).
Upon returning we had a plenary session with the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme. They do good work, but the presentation was really dry. The best part was the questions -- not so much her answers, but the passionate questions that came from the audience. Two Sudanese people stood up and talked about Darfur and also the challenges of the South. Someone asked about genetically modified food (she never answered that question ... too bad). Lots of questions about moving people to self-sustaining solutions -- which is their goal, but the truth is a lot of the people they serve are so close to starvation they're just medically quite a ways away from being able to function in the economy.
For the workshop time, I chose one on refugees -- not so much because of the topic but because the format was listed as "group discussion." I wasn't disappointed. Details of that are below.
And with all that, the highlight of the day was yet to come. At the last minute (i.e. this morning), the Pilgrimage to Peace crew were told that they were leading evening worship tonight. They came up with the most amazing, lively-yet-still-contemplative worship service. The two young adult musicians from Mozambique wrote a song for the service. The whole crew danced in singing and got the whole congregation moving. The prayers were wonderful. There was a wonderful period of silent meditation. And after it was all over they all (and a few others of us) stayed and danced and sang for another 15 minutes or so.
It was a real breath of fresh air and hopefully gave people a taste of the energy that is available to this movement if we give power to young people. Another plus for me is I got to watch Amber help lead worship, which always makes me not only proud and happy but incredibly thankful for how much God has blessed me with intersecting my life with wonderful people like her for so long.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."