Perkins School of Theology South Africa Immersion Trip (Spring 2017)

Dr. Evelyn L. Parker, associate dean for Academic Affairs and Susanna Wesley Centennial Professor of Practical Theology at Perkins, is leading students on a tour of South Africa during an immersion course offered through the Perkins Global Theological Education Program (GTE).

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Children of Soweto

Nicole Melki, a Master of Arts in Ministry candidate at Perkins, shares with us her experiences on an immersion trip to South Africa:

“Our Children are our greatest treasure. They are our future.” – Nelson Mandela

Music transcends when words are at loss. It has the power to heal, liberate and awaken the soul in a mysterious way – expressing the deepest pains and the deepest joys of the soul in unison. On Sunday, March 12, the immersion group from Perkins School of Theology had the privilege of visiting the Regina Mundi Catholic Church located in Soweto, South Africa. As the church began to sing, my soul and my heart became mysteriously filled with both pain and joy. I could not help but let the power of God’s presence overtake me through the music. Tears began to fall down my face, both pain and joy flowing from my soul. It was not until after the church service that I learned about the powerful role the church played in protecting the precious children of Soweto who engendered the revolution against the Apartheid.

In 1953, the Apartheid passed the Bantu Education Act, a policy that handed the power of education into the government’s hands in order to segregate and create disparity between white and non-white schools. The policy was intentionally created to prescribe jobs that would serve the Apartheid and guarantee socio-economic injustice. In addition to creating this curriculum of oppression, the Apartheid passed a decree forcing all non-white children to learn and use Afrikaan language in school, the language of the Apartheid.

This image of Hector Pieterson, age 12, is prominently displayed at his memorial in Soweto township. He became the iconic image of the 1976 Soweto uprising in apartheid South Africa when a newspaper photograph of the dying Hector being carried by a fellow student was published around the world.

On June 16, 1976, a massive turn of events began when 20,000 children from Soweto took to the streets in protest to having their identities stripped. The children were met with violence by the police with as many as 700 children killed. It was in the Regina Mundi Catholic Church where the children fled to hide away from the police. Yet, the police followed the children into the church in order to intimidate them back into the streets as they did not want to kill the children inside the church, but rather outside on the streets. The church still bears the scars of the violence as the ceiling is filled with bullet holes and the marble pulpit is broken from children running.

But the children would not be moved.

I can think of no greater embodiment of hope. The children knew what it meant to be created in the image of God and demanded it. The children of Soweto would not have their identities stripped, scrapped and denied. Instead, they rose together in the fullness of their God-given dignity. It was the brave children of Soweto who began an uprising against the Apartheid which eventually led to liberation from those policies and the downfall of the Apartheid government.

I believe that the depth of emotions I felt during the church service was the complexity of hope. Hope is the conviction that pain and suffering can be transformed. In the case of the children of Soweto, hope was a verb with great risk. A risk that cost many children their lives. The complexity of hope remains in the fact that beauty is on the other of the pain, but pain always comes first, and always leaves a mark. The music sung this Sunday encompassed the complexity of hope, as beauty and pain were both wrapped in the sounds that filled Regina Mundi chapel. I believe it is as Jesus said in Matthew 18:3, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like the children (of Soweto) you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

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