Theology in South Africa

The Perkins Global Theological Education Program prepares Christian leaders for complex cultural experiences through seminars and significant immersion experiences in other cultures. Students learn to build intercultural relationships, resolve cultural conflicts and guide intercultural ventures. In South Africa, participants are gaining insights into Christian hope in the region by exploring the political, economic, sexual, racial, and gender-complex experiences of the people of South Africa, and by participating in varieties of church and community-based ministries in Cape Town and Durban. This course is led by Dr. Evelyn L. Parker, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Practical Theology.

Perkins students also are blogging this summer from France at blog.smu.edu/studentadventures/category/theology-in-france/

Triumph of Forgiveness

georgiaAn update from Georgia, a Perkins School of Theology student studying in South Africa:

apartheid-is-uglyMy trip to South Africa has been truly awesome. The most emotional tour for me was the visit to Robben Island. I had not realized that it was also a whole community and not just a prison. The place was cold, hard, echo-layered and haunting. The very thought of Nelson Mandela surviving 27 years of imprisonment there was almost unbelievable. You could sense the evil and the hatred with each step taken.

Yet, in spite of this — and upon his release from prison — Mandela called for reconciliation and forgiveness. This truly exemplified the teaching of Jesus Christ.

Robben Island Prison

Robben Island Prison

Nelson Mandela's cell

Nelson Mandela’s cell

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Helping Care for Children at Orphanage

JessicaAn update from Jessica, a Perkins School of Theology student studying in South Africa:

Today, Michelle and I went to an orphanage in Cape Town called Nazareth House, which takes care of orphaned children from birth until adulthood (unless otherwise adopted), as well as senior citizens in need.

nazareth-house-orphanage3

Nazareth House, at Table Mountain

Many of the children suffer from health challenges such as cerebral palsy, HIV/AIDS, burns, and other maladies. Today, I mainly worked with the 12 infant children, caring for their basic needs and trying to give them as much one-on-one attention as possible. A few of the children were incredibly tiny, as they were born prematurely. It was so sad to think that these children are without parents (many of them came to Nazareth on their first day).

Michelle primarily worked with toddlers, playing with them in the beautiful yard filled with palm trees. The women were short-staffed today, and so they were very grateful to have our help. Because of the children’s position, we were not allowed to take pictures of them; however, I did take some pictures of the orphanage so everyone could see how gorgeous it is sitting right at the bottom of Table Mountain.

garden

At Pine Town Methodist’s community garden

A few days ago, we also had the opportunity to use our green thumbs. We divided up into several groups and assisted some of the caretakers at Pine Town Methodist church by helping them work in their community gardens. The church has created many of these gardens all around the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal. They are a cheap way for the caretakers to provide nutritious fruits and vegetables to the many orphaned children who are now in their care. It was impressive to see how the Zulu people use everything they have for multiple purposes. They do not use any unnatural chemicals or pesticides and use all organic fertilizers. This helps ensure the safety and freshness of the food. They gave me some to sample and it was easy to notice the difference. The gardeners begin and end every work day in prayer and were so hospitable to me.

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Learning about Hope: Imprisonment, Displacement and its Impact on South Africa

Perkins Theology students, with Professor Evelyn Parker (back row, third from right) and South African guide Dulce (next to Dr. Parker), visit the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) South Africa.

Perkins Theology students, with Professor Evelyn Parker (back row, third from right) and South African guide Dulce (next to Dr. Parker), visit the Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) South Africa.

JessicaAn update from Jessica, a Perkins School of Theology student studying in South Africa:

The first couple days in Cape Town, we were mostly tourists. On Sunday we went to a Methodist service, and then immediately following, we joined church members and served lunch to the homeless. We were humbled by the way they gave of themselves to the people; some of the volunteers were even homeless themselves. There were some mothers with their children, which was very hard to see — but expected. Some of the groups will be working with the homeless more later this week.

After lunch, we went to Table Mountain, Cape Town’s most well-known landmark and one of the world’s seven natural wonders. We took cable cars to the very top, and it was so sunny and clear we were even able to see whales in the ocean. Talk about a mountaintop experience!! It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

At Robben Island

At Robben Island

Immediately following, we went on a tour of the town and to the city square where Mandela made his first speech after his release from a 27-year prison term, which he served on Robben Island, in Pollsmoor Prison, and in Victor Verster Prison. Afterward some of us went to Constantia Winery, which is a gorgeous vineyard at the bottom of a mountain.

On Monday, we went to Robben Island, where Mandela was incarcerated as a political prisoner for 18 years. After we left the port, we went to Museum 6, which is a museum commemorating apartheid and all of those who experienced displacement during that time.

Nelson Mandela's prison cell

Nelson Mandela’s prison cell

I was even able to speak to a man of Indian descent who was displaced. He actually heard about the government order from the newspapers on his way to work informing him that he would soon lose all he had. A few days later he stood outside and watched his house bulldozed by government officials. Today what few houses remain standing from the displacement are worth millions (many of them owned by the so-called “pure” whites who took over their homes). Thus, the same people who contributed to apartheid are still reaping benefits from the segregation today.

After the museum tour, we were able to decompress at a beautiful white sand beach and got to put our feet in the Atlantic Ocean (our second ocean of the trip!). It was freezing cold, but so wonderful to see a natural wellspring of hope after witnessing such devastation.

On Tuesday, the real work begins. We are divided into three groups: one will be working with Nazareth House Orphanage; another will be at Marsh’s Children’s Home; and another at parliament. We will keep you updated on our experiences and reflections on hope.

panorama

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Post-Apartheid South Africa: Freedom or Free-doom?

michelle1An update from Michelle, a Perkins School of Theology student studying in South Africa:

While in Mbadleni, near the borders of Swaziland and Mozambique, we met with Rev. Lucky, Rev. Emmanuel Gabriel, and the people of that area.  We met with the Induna—the head chief—and had lunch with him at the government building provided to them after their church was inhabited by snakes.

When we were on our four-hour rocky journey to that part of the land, we noticed that we were being escorted by the South African police force. When we asked why we were receiving this treatment he responded, “Because you are Obama’s people.”

Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town, South Africa

Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town, South Africa

We were totally taken aback by this, but continued to experience this treatment throughout. The people were so hospitable and proud that Americans wanted to come and listen and learn from their tribe. The program was for us to meet the orphans and their caretakers, the community, and to see the needs of the community.

They are in dire need of a church building, access to water, and a facility to help the orphans who are affected by HIV/AIDS. While there, we helped bless the land that they hope to build their new church on, and we spent time with the community. Our main focus was to visit the orphanage, but the hospitality, love, and community built between all of us far outweighed our initial goal.

After visiting the Zulu Land tribes, it was evident that their idea of post-apartheid existence was very different from others in the city of Durban. I asked Rev. Lucky what hope looks like after apartheid and he responded, “Are we living in Freedom or Free-doom?”

 The Cape of Good Hope (originally known as the “Cape of Storms”) at the tip of Southern Africa. (part of the Table Mountain National Park)

The Cape of Good Hope (originally known as the “Cape of Storms”) at the tip of Southern Africa. (part of the Table Mountain National Park)

I pondered this question, wondering what he meant by the two terms, and then he explained: post-apartheid existence is not easy and seems just as hard as when apartheid was happening.  People still do not have running water, consistent food to eat, or schools for their children to attend. The results of apartheid have left the people without basic needs, but their hopes for a better tomorrow still carry their spirits from day to day.

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Hope and Hopelessness – Who Defines It?

An update from Stephen, a Perkins School of Theology student studying in South Africa:

As the days go by here in South Africa, I am wrestling with the idea of hope and “hopelessness.” I am having a tough time defining what hopelessness means in the South African context. Hope can easily be diminished due to specific reasons. Maybe it’s the loss of a very important member of your family or friend, or even the fact that your favorite sports team can never reach the point to winning a championship.

Squatter camp

Squatter camp

The point is that we have all found out what it means to have less hope in someone else, or even ourselves in some cases. My true quarrel is found in the attempt to define what hopelessness is for a person whom you do not know or have not gathered enough information about over time. I did not want to come to South Africa with any presuppositions about how the people are handling their problems with poverty, HIV/AIDS, political struggles and other things, but I do recognize that these situations are real and are happening.

At the same time, I feel that it is important that we should not automatically define hopelessness for others until we actually interact and have dialogue with what they perceive hopelessness to be. The smiles and giving spirit that the people I’ve interacted with in Durban may hide the anguish that they deal with on a consistent basis, but maybe it is their strong spirit that eradicates the thought of being “hopeless.”

Hopelessness may not even be in some of these peoples’ vocabulary, so I believe it is important to first hear firsthand accounts of what hope and hopelessness means to a person or a group of people before making any assumptions. It helps clear space for proper dialogue and understanding between you and others.

Children at Phakamisa singing and dancing

Children at Phakamisa singing and dancing

Maintaining vegetable gardens is part of Pinetown Methodist Church’s Phakamisa ministry for caregivers of children with HIV-AIDS

Maintaining vegetable gardens is part of Pinetown Methodist Church’s Phakamisa ministry for caregivers of children with HIV-AIDS

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Phakamisa

JessicaAn update from Jessica, a Perkins School of Theology student and assistant to Dr. Evelyn Parker, studying in South Africa:

Today was the best day yet!

Phakamisa children

Phakamisa children

Five of us went with different training teachers at Phakamisa (a Zulu word meaning “to uplift”) to assist them in their work. Phakamisa is a ministry at Pinetown Methodist Church that provides practical teaching skills to educators of pre-school children who live in impoverished areas.

Because public education in South Africa is not free, many children cannot afford it. These schools provide pre-school to which they would not otherwise have access. The ministry reaches out to children from birth until 6 years of age, when first grade starts for them. They use improvised games and equipment from waste to equip schools. The church also runs a training program in which they train teachers to go out and assess those teaching the children.

Many of the children have AIDS or are orphans because of the AIDS epidemic. As a result, many grandparents become their full-time caregivers, some caring for up to 25 children at a time and frequently on meager pensions. Thus, the church also facilitates caregiver groups that provide spiritual support to those who care for those children.

The church classes teach the caregivers how to do beadwork (for lucrative support), sewing, vegetable gardening, cooking, and other parenting skills. Phakamisa serves at least 16,000 children every day on a budget of R2.5 million, which is the equivalent to $250,000. In order to serve the children, they need 13 Rand per month per child, the equivalent of $1.30 U.S. dollars, or approx. $15/year. Phakamisa provides a hand up, not a hand out, and strives to make people independent of the ministry. Learn more about Phakamisa here:

We all went with a different trainer to various schools. I had an incredible experience at a rural school, which took place in one woman’s home.

Class took place outside due to lack of space. There were two small sheds that the children could stand in to recite their numbers, colors, and nursery rhymes. There was a small play area in the front yard, but with 60 children it was difficult for the children to play without getting hurt.

What struck me most was the toilet area. It was outside, covered by a three-sided tin and made up of old paint buckets. The children would go to the bathroom one after another into these buckets, and then one of the three teachers would pour it out.

Everything served a dual purpose, and they made the best of what resources they had. At nap time the children laid down on blankets on the hard ground in the sheds. They had to lay head-to-feet because there were so many it was difficult to fit them all in the sheds. Yet, they were not sad. They laughed and joked and played like all children do. They were even grateful for their lunch—a mixture of rice and spices that was served to them out of a huge plastic outdoor tub.

It was clear that the teachers loved the children deeply, and they were so gentle and nurturing to them. However, two of the children did not play with the rest of kids because they have AIDS and their medicines make them extremely tired. I held one child in one arm while I played ball with some kids with the other. They were mesmerized by me, probably because I am a blonde American girl (LOL)! They were extremely happy children and appeared extremely intelligent. I hope I never forget the sound of their sweet Zulu voices singing and chanting nursery rhymes.

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The Squatters

JessicaAn update from Jessica, a Perkins School of Theology student and assistant to Dr. Evelyn Parker, studying in South Africa:

We had such an amazing time touring the Durban area and soaking in all the gorgeous plants and trees and wildlife it had to offer. However, there was a dark side to the city, as well.

Our tour guide, Dulce, took us to a place called Squatters, which are camps for immigrant aliens and other poor people who cannot afford housing. There is no running water, electricity or plumbing. The houses are built with sometimes nothing more than cardboard on dirt. I saw people emptying out buckets of water along the roads to wash away their own waste. And trash was absolutely everywhere because no formal sanitation system exists.

The squatters did not just go on for blocks, but for miles. It was heart-wrenching. I found myself asking, “Why, God? Where is the hope here?”

Ironically, our trip focuses on the theological concept of hope and its practicality. Such a place as this made me understand why hope is not something to be taken lightly. Surprisingly, I saw an image of hope among the squatters. A group of young boys played along the road outside of these houses. They laughed and smiled and played; one carried a walking stick. The scene immediately reminded me of some wealthy children I had seen in Dallas a few days before we left doing this very same thing. They expressed the same emotions and the same care-free spirit that the wealthy children I know, who speak a different language, look very different, and live a continent away.

What I saw in these South African boys was the same humanness that I saw in the white Western boys — the same humanness that we all share. This motivated me to joy to see their joy. Therefore I refused to allow myself to pity the people. Instead I decided to use the young boys’ smiles as strength to continue onward trying to bring about the Kingdom of God.

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Arrival in Johannesburg

JessicaAn update from Jessica, a Perkins School of Theology student and assistant to Dr. Evelyn Parker, studying in South Africa:

Our group at Johannesburg airport

Our group at Johannesburg airport

We made it alive to Johannesburg after a long flight and then took a plane to Durban with a total travel time of 28 hours! As we left the airport it was as picturesque as I had always imagined Africa would be, with birds of paradise welcoming us into the country. Our homestead at Tre Fontane is clean and safe but has all of the African charm I had hoped it would. We have even fed monkeys from our windows and often see them in packs!

The first day we were in Durban, we visited a botanical garden, saw the stadium that hosted the 2010 World Cup (Moses Mabhita Soccer stadium), and went to the Indian Ocean! There was nothing like putting our feet in an ocean we never dreamed we would feel!

At the Indian Ocean

At the Indian Ocean

On our first Sunday at Pinetown Methodist Church, the people at Pinetown welcomed us joyfully into their church home and soon made us feel right at home as well. They do not shake hands. They hug. They had us introduce ourselves to the whole church, and after church spoke to us during “tea time”. The South Africans drink a lot of tea! They have a special herbal tea, called Rooibos, which is delicious.

Everyone was so kind and generous and expressive.

Pinetown Methodist Church

Pinetown Methodist Church

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