The “Cape Town Advance” was a requirement for students in Portland Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry in Leadership and Global Perspectives program. A group of more than 60 gathered together in South Africa for a wide variety of cross-cultural experiences and seminars.
Photography is a powerful communication tool. Below are 19 black and white images that are a window into the 2017 Cape Town Advance.
The Mother City
Cape Town is called “The Mother City” of South Africa. It is the nation’s oldest and most historic city. The Portuguese famously sailed around it as they opened a trade route from Europe to India. Later the French, the Dutch, and the British settled in Cape Town, along with many from India, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Cape Town is a unique place where African, Asian, and European cultures intersect.
Walking through the Victoria & Albert Waterfront, you have to remind yourself that you are in Africa. You feel like you must be somewhere in the British Isles. The air is cool, the architecture is distinctively European.
In Africa, Asia, and the Americas, European powers brought a mixed bag of technology, religion, and subjugation. They built hospitals and churches, along with mines and plantations. Much of the world is still coming to terms with the legacy of colonialism.
Two Decades after the end of Apartheid, the nation of South Africa is still known worldwide for this detestable form of institutionalized racism. Apartheid went beyond prejudice. It was the systematic dehumanization of people based upon their skin color.
Families where one spouse had lighter skin than the other were torn apart… forced to live in different settlements. Men, women, and children where could be beaten mercilessly by police by sitting on the wrong park bench (like this one).
At the District Six Museum, we heard the testimony of a Noor Abrahams. He told the story of a multiethnic neighborhood that was bulldozed to create space for white families to build homes. Families who built their lives in this neighborhood had to leave with no more than a suitcase filled with possessions.
Mary Burton spoke to us about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, upon which she served. This commission was led by Bishop Desmond Tutu and was one attempt to facilitate national healing in South Africa in the 1990s.
Yet, I was most impressed with Burton because of her work with the Black Sash. This movement was started by women in 1955. It protested the victimization of non-whites via a series of laws in Apartheid South Africa. In the 1960s Mary Burton led this organization. Her courage to stand up for what is right in the midst of abject opposition.
Mahlatse Mashua Mashua from Ravi Zacharias Ministries challenged our group to see the gospel through the eyes of an indigenous African. Is Christianity a white man’s religion? What parts of traditional African culture can be celebrated? What parts of traditional African culture are to be shunned? Our group was stretched theologically. We left with more questions than answers. Sometimes that’s a good thing.
Nelson Mandela has earned a permanent place in world history. From his days as a militant freedom fighter to his meteoric rise to iconic status as a prisoner, and finally his release and election to the presidency of South Africa.
Peering into the tiny concrete cell where Mandela slept for 27 years, it was humbling. He could have easily lost his mind here. Yet, he left this cell a man who valued forgiveness over vengeance.
The Lighthouse and the Razor Wire
On Robben Island, I took two pictures that are symbolic of our journey.
The lighthouse represents salvation. The Waters around Cape Town are littered with sunken ships. Reefs under the surface of the water have ended many voyages. This lighthouse reminded me of the gospel. During my stay in Cape Town, I saw many examples of the gospel being lived out by his church in innovative ways.
The razor wire represents condemnation. Life was harsh in the prison at Robben Island. Men were beaten, tortured, and humiliated.
This razor wire reminded me of those in South Africa who have political freedom…yet are not truly free. There is still so much poverty, depression, crime, and lostness.
Together, the lighthouse and the razor wire remind us to shine the light of Jesus in dark places.
Wilhelm Verwoerd is the grandson of Hendrik Verwoerd, who was a former South African prime minister known as the “architect of apartheid”. Wilhelm shared a heartfelt story of how he wrestled with his heritage as he came to terms with the evil of apartheid. He grew up with many regarding his grandfather as a hero, others considered him to be a devil.
Verwoerd courageously joined Nelson Mandela’s political party…which alienated him from his family. He worked for years for the healing and reconciliation in South Africa.
The Sunday worship service at the J L Zwaane Presbyterian Church in Gugulethu Township was an event to remember. The excitement, the music, and the smiles were contagious. In spite of the deep history of black/white oppression, we were all keenly aware that we were one family in Christ.
These girls came to church with their faces painted in honor of “Heritage Day.” When European and American missionaries came to Africa, they sometimes made the mistake of trying to convert the local people to Western culture. Converts had to dress like the missionaries, sing hymns set to European music, and worship in church buildings that were designed by British or American architects.
This picture reminds that God does not want these ladies to be Western Christians. They are called by God to be the most dynamic African Christians that they can become.
The masses of people living in poverty in South Africa is staggering. With thousands of shacks inhabited by families who struggle to get by. There is so much unmet potential.
This young woman is an intern with “Learn to Earn.” She is investing in her future by developing skills as a seamstress. Many like here are being brought out of poverty because of innovative Christian leaders.
Hearing about the research of from LGP6 was one of my favorite parts of the Advance. There were so many exciting ideas that were shared with the group. It was both challenging and uplifting at the same time.
History. Culture. Theology. Politics. Poverty. Power. Suffering. Beauty. Celebration.
These above words represent different aspects of the Cape Town Advance. Taking time to slow down and reflect on these experiences is a valuable part of the journey.
This is a group picture of cohort seven. We are not friends.
You see, friends tend to have a lot of things in common. They have common backgrounds, they do similar things with their free time, they like the same sports, vote the same way, etc.
That’s not us at all.
I cannot imagine a more diverse D.Min. cohort. We come from a variety of backgrounds. From Presbyterian to Assembly of God…from Baptist to Dutch Reformed. We are East Coast, West Coast, and No Coast. In this reality, six women plus three men add up to “seven.”
This group argues with each another, critiques each another, and even makes fun of each another.
The label “friends” does not really fit.
We are more like a “family.” Not in a sappy way…more like the family in “Christmas Vacation.” Somehow, we just belong together. We accept one another unconditionally. We realize that there are things that we will probably never agree upon so we don’t try to change one another. We simply accept the fact that, for some reason, God has placed us together so we are stuck with one another.
Who knows? Someday we might even become friends.
This is a beautiful scene. Men and women, teachers and learners coming together to pray as we wrap up our time together.
This set of four photos shines a light on the future of South Africa. God is moving in this nation. Pray for these boys as girls. Pray that God would raise up godly leaders from among them.