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).

In Pretoria

An update from Brian Lightner, a second-year Master of Divinity candidate:

Let me begin by saying that the purpose of our immersion trip is to explore the meaning of Christian hope and to identify hope that ushers forth from ministries with/by the people in South Africa. That being the framework of today’s adventures, we prepared to depart the hotel from Jo’burg on our way to Pretoria, the legislative capital of South Africa.

And, with the rising of the morning sun we were on our way by railways to Pretoria, to encounter vital ministries of hope.

Pastor Joel

Upon arrival, we were introduced to one of the most non-assuming gentleman I’ve ever encountered, Pastor Joel Mxolisi. He and his assistant were extremely hospitable and made every attempt to make us comfortable and feel at home as they shared with us the ministry they provide for the people of Pretoria. The name of the organization is Tshwane Leadership Foundation, and they recognized that in this world of vast abundance, there are so many excluded from having a seat at the table. Their goal is to work with communities and churches, inviting every person, regardless of race, religion, or social status to pull up a chair and have a seat at the table to share in the abundant resources of God.

I’ll be honest. My initial expectations were that we were simply visiting a non-profit organization doing ministry in the context of fulfilling a community need. I had not anticipated seeing the definition to Christian hope revealed in such a prevalent way. We bore witness to the life-giving, transformative power of a selfless group of people who go to the furthest extremes to execute an urban transformation to the furthest fringes of the city and community in which they reside. We spent the day touring the centers where their holistic work is administered across the inner city, as they seek to transform it through outreach programs, drop-in centers, transitional housing, providing educational and economic empowerment, and advocacy and policy work for some of the most vulnerable people in their community.

Just to give a highlight of the work of Tshwane Leadership Foundation (TLF):

  • Created the first non-racial shelter for women in the city (1993), supporting more than 1,200 women. This shelter is named the Lerato House, which means House of Love.

    Lerato House

    Sign in Lerato House

  • Created the first program (1998) to assist inner-city girls at risk to prostitution, domestic violence and those estranged from their families. Focusing on children age 9-18 years old, they teach them life skills such as cooking, house chores, and they ensure they attend school. These housing units are available for up to 2 years stay.
  • Created the first social housing company in the city (1998), now managing more than 500 units, which fulfilled the need for decent affordable housing.
  • Converted an old church into a multi-purpose community center, making it a pre-school, after-school care, toy library, and further development of children’s rights. The center is named Inkululeko which means Freedom.

    At Inkululeko

  • Established a no-fee hospice for homeless people (2005) providing dignity and comfort for those living in their last days. The hospice care center is named Rivoningo, which means Light, and provides care for 100 people.

    Mural at Rivoningo

  • In 2011, right next door to Rivoningo, the Gilead Health Unit ministry was started to provide transitional residential care for 40 people with psycho-social disabilities.

All of these are just a few examples of TLF’s ministries of hope as a 501-c-3 non-profit organization. But in my search for Christian hope, I wondered who should be responsible for spreading hope. Shouldn’t Christian hope come from the church?

This question was posed to the founder of TLF, Dr. Steven DeBeer, who began this ministry with a vision at the age of 26 years young. As we toured the many facilities where lives are being restored and renewed, where second and third chances are being given, where love asks no questions but extends its hand to uplift the community. We inquired about the presence of the church in these ministries of hope, as this ministry was started with the assistance of seven ecumenical churches that saw the need for this type of help in a post-apartheid context. However, 20 years later, we discovered that only 3 percent of TLF’s funding comes from the ecumenical community. Which led to a very bold question from one of my classmates, “Is there hope for the church?” Followed by, “Where do you see hope in South Africa?” The response we received was startling.

The first answer given by Dr. DeBeer was “The Spirit will blow where the Spirit will blow. And if the church doesn’t go where the Spirit wants it to go, then there will be movements outside of the church.” He did not see Christian hope coming from the institutional church. Church can’t simply be institutions and buildings or only preaching in pulpits on Sunday morning, without engaging the community. The prophetic church must stand in solidarity with justice. Pastor Joel further added, “as of now, it’s unfortunate, but hope is not to be found in the church. It is outside of the church, in the movements, in the voices of those that are speaking truth to power.”

As I wrap up my thoughts for this day, I realize that attending to church business as usual does not assist in the proliferation of the gospel of hope. To be participants in the ministrations of Christian hope, it requires persistence and patience, a ferocity of faith, and a willingness to be emptied out only to be restored by God’s grace. This is not an easy task. It requires long suffering and endurance and the innate blessed assurance that your strength comes from the Lord and that we must keep on keeping on, despite whatever comes our way.

On this day, I experienced and learned the definition of Christian hope from a young man in the hospice center who was dying from AIDS. He said to me, “I’ve always wanted to go to the States. And I believe I will. Please, take my picture and I will get there.”

Lucky, my friend, you made it.

This is a picture of me and Lucky.

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Cape Town

Perkins students Katie Lewis and Pavielle Jenkins blog about their experiences in Cape Town during this week’s Perkins immersion trip to South Africa:

 

Today was our first day in Cape Town, and all of us are in awe of how beautiful this city is.

We started our day with a tour of Parliament and learned the similarities and differences between our government and South Africa’s government. From there, we went to worship at Central Methodist Mission, where several Perkins students had the privilege of helping lead worship. One of the highlights of the service was the singing How Great is Our God together, with Bryson on the piano and lead vocal, Nicole on the violin, and the CMC worship leader Nicole on djembe. As Rev. Michelle Shrader stated, in that moment “two cultures clashed and the Spirit broke in.”

Afterwards, we met with former Bishop Peter Story, who shared with us about District Six (an area of the community where colored people were forcibly removed from during apartheid), his role advocating for the anti-apartheid movement, as well as the challenges and blessings he experienced in ministry during that time. He challenged us to be prophetic leaders in the church and world and proclaimed the church is only the church when it engages the world.

We drove to Table Mountain, but it was closed due to cable-car malfunction. We still were able to see the city and ocean below, which made us all stand in awe of God’s beauty.

We wrapped up our day at Green Market Square, where we enjoyed a late lunch and shopped with local vendors. We are looking forward to learning more about how God is at work instilling hope in the South African people.

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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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First Day Photos of South Africa

An update from Christian Watkins, a Master of Divinity candidate at Perkins and Justice in Action committee chair of the Perkins Student Association:

Sunday, March 12, marked the first full day in South Africa for the group of students and faculty from Perkins School of Theology. Activities included worship in Soweto Township at Regina Mundi Catholic Church, the largest Catholic church in South Africa, home of a deadly apartheid incursion and of hope and spiritual healing to a community of resistance.

The group also took part in a driving tour and visited the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.

Please enjoy photos from our first day:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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