My personal interest:
My time in Cape Town has taught me that people, no matter their origin, all have the same hopes and dreams. A need we all have is to be accepted and respected by our peers. It has only been a little more than twenty years since the end to apartheid in South Africa. Like many individuals my age, I do not remember the time when the US had laws that segregated whites and blacks. I have never had the chance to talk with an individual that lived through segregation about their experiences. That changed during the trip to Cape Town when I visited the District Six Museum and met Noor Abrahams. Noor showed me that all races and religions could live and work together. He shared his life story about growing up in District Six, and how all people can learn to coexist even when a government wants to separate individuals by race and religion. He explained that whites, blacks, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc. had learned mutual respect by accepting every individual for who they are, regardless of race and religion.
Growing up in an American, Southern, Christian, white middle class home, I was taught that different races and religions should not mix in personal ways. Some of my family was overtly prejudiced, but we were still taught to be nice to everyone. I can admit that I was prejudiced, until I became a Christian and moved the north with my wife. Until my visit to Cape Town, I had not realized that on some level I still harbored those traits. I serve in ministry and should be above closed-minded thinking. What I have come to understand is that, in America, people are still very much divided by race, cultural background, and environmental upbringing. You can find it in every aspect of our society, from media to churches. The United States is divided and there is no sign, unlike South Africa, that people in the US want to change the status quo. Like my wife, I have begun to understand that Americans are blind when it comes to race issues. We need to look at South Africa and other countries as examples as we can better learn from them how to bring racial unity to the country.
While visiting Khayelitsha, I was inspired by people who refuse to give up, and by those who were determined to make a better life for themselves and their families. As the bus drove though the district, I saw a mother doing laundry, children playing, and people living out their lives like in any other pace in the world. Watching this scene play out before me brought to the surface the thought that there is no difference between these people and myself.
Visiting Learn to Earn caused me to wonder if it would be possible for something like their structure and programs to work in the US. In America, there is a need for basic skill trades like woodworking, sewing, etc. While there are schools in the US that teach these trades, they are too expensive for low-income individuals. Federal financial aid is available, but student loans can cause more problems for an individual when it comes time to repay them. The way that Learn to Earn has structured their programs allows a person to take some financial responsibility for their education, while also making it possible to complete the program without significant debt.
The higher educational systems in the US and South Africa are structured to pay as you go. This works well, provided that the individual has access to adequate financial resources. Education is a right, not a privilege, and not for select individuals who can afford it. Education is a key factor in lifting people out of poverty into a productive and fulfilling life. Learn to Earn and other organizations like it understand that training and education will lift black South Africans out of their current state.
I had the opportunity to meet and converse with pastors Oosthuizen and Skosana, who demonstrated that racial reconstruction could be accomplished if both parties are willing to work together. They stated that, “Our journey, which we undertook in friendship and partnership in a racially divided South Africa, strengthened our basic belief in humanity and in the possibility to overcome divisions.” This was an amazing story about two individuals, who from contrasting sides of racism, have built a relationship that brings blacks and white together. Their honesty concerning their thoughts, feelings, and understandings about racism in their country was phenomenal. Pastor Skosana was brutally honest with his feeling of anger towards white people. He is correct that whites cannot truly understand just how much damage and hurt they caused to black South Africans. His statement included his wish that whites must come to understand what they did wrong and that all whites accept their role in the apartheid government. Apologizing is not enough, whites must understand the hurt and pain they caused.
Reflecting on this, I now see that white Americans must accept that truth about how our forefathers treated the American Indians, blacks and other minorities in our history. It is not enough for white Americans to apologize for what our forefathers did to African Americans, but we must come to recognize the pain we inflicted and still inflict on blacks. In the US, law enforcement profiles people of color because of a preconceived notion that all young black men have a higher propensity to commit crimes. When I thought about how media, society, and churches portray black men, I had to ask for forgiveness. I realized that I too have looked down on anyone that did not look, act, or worship like me. South Africa, in many ways, is ahead of the US in healing the division between the races.
I am not sure how I am going to apply this new understanding within my sphere of influence. While racism is not a new concept to me, my realization that I still harbor some type of racism is troubling. There are learned thoughts and feelings that I didn’t realize existed until I was confronted and had to grapple with them. I have come to realize that I need to be willing to accept and intentionally listen to others while seeking to see their point of view. In doing this, I can analyze my own viewpoints to recognize and change when I am wrong. This will be difficult for me, because I have more than 40 years of racism to overcome. I was raised in a white southern culture and, though my views towards minorities have softened over the years, I have not truly dealt with my inner self in regard to this issue.
When coming to terms with my own racism, I need to balance the need to love and treat others as Christ commands while also protecting my own ethnic heritage. It is not a sin to be from an Anglo-Saxon background and I should be proud of my culture. At times, when whites have admitted to past mistakes, there has been a tendency to reject one’s own past. Every culture has “skeletons in their closet” and no race should be held accountable for past transgressions of their predecessors. But, coming alongside and recognizing hurt that has been caused is necessary to heal wounds.
It is our differences that make us stronger within the kingdom of God. Each race has a role to play in God’s plan for humanity, just like each individual and church. Within my role at the university, I plan to encourage the institution to become more multicultural in both the staff and student body. The university demographics are primarily white and the largest part of the population is female. I intend to push the leadership team to actively reach out to other races through marketing materials, outreach events, and social media. The marketing material we currently have is geared towards white men and women between the ages of 18 and 40. The university should also expand outreach efforts to the minority culture both locally and globally.
The Wesleyan denomination has started reaching out to minorities in urban settings, but I would also like to see more work done with Native American Indians. During my field research experience at ICOMS, I interacted with Spur Ministry. They minister to Native Americans in Nevada and builds homes in their community. Over the three-day conference, I spent several hours learning about the ministry. I am going to meet with my district superintendent after Christmas, and recommend that we partner with this organization. Steve, from the ministry, has asked me if I would come out and meet with him and his team over Christmas so that I can speak to what the ministry is doing in churches and organizations here in Ohio.
The discussions in Cape Town sparked my desire to educate churches and organizations on short-term missions (STMs). After speaking with Patrick and Michael about how ineffective and unhelpful STMs are, I want to help Western Christians understand how damaging their approach can be. Patrick informed me that he would like to have mission organizers first come and meet with him to establish a relationship and see what the real needs, not the perceived needs, are. Mission teams go overseas and fail to ask the locals what they need. The American culture is task driven. It sees something that is a perceived need and people quickly put together a plan to fix it in their own way. Then they move on to the next project.
The western church needs to understand it does not always know what is best for everyone. Time and time again, I have sat in meetings or conferences and heard wealthy churches say, “it is our money and if they want it they are going to do things our way”. How arrogant have western Christians become that we think that God has given us some great insight, and that the rest of the Christian world needs to do what we say? This is the mindset I would like to see change. There is much that we can learn from our African and Asian brothers and sisters.
I have been narrow minded and self-centered when it comes to accepting and working with other races. I have bought into the American lifestyle and viewed others through that lens. My trip to Cape Town, as well as this semester, has shown me that I must use a broader scope to view the world around me. By engaging with diverse cultures and individuals, I can come to appreciate their viewpoints and broaden my own worldview. My cohort and individuals that I have met this term have stretched my way of thinking and introduced me to new ideas.
George Fox Seminary and the staff have challenged us to explore our faith and understanding of Christ and how he interacts with His people. I’ve appreciated the opportunity to break out of my shell and cast-off some of my preconceived thoughts about what is and is not an acceptable way of thinking about other races and cultures. Every individual deserves the respect and consideration of being listened to and accepted for who they are, and what they believe. Christianity is more than just believing in Christ, rather it also means interacting with fellow Christians despite our differences in race, color, sex, or beliefs.
Humans are more alike than we realize. Just because a person may be of different color or nationality does not mean the way they think or act is wrong. The manner in which an individual approaches God is not as important as the act of seeking God. Jesus calls everyone into relationship with Himself, and how we approach that relationship is different for every individual. It is our differences that make the whole body of Christ strong and unified.
 OOsthuizen, Leon & Skosana, Xola. Roads 2 Bridges. Emmaus. South Africa. (2013).