Cape Town Advance – LGP Elite 8
What will it mean?
A rest would have been nice. I completed my final M Div course in June of 2017, took students on an inner city mission trip, spoke at a couple of youth conferences then buckled down to study for my ordination exams for the Presbyterian church (USA). I passed my exams the last weekend in July, and commenced preparation of syllabi and course materials for the new academic year. Somehow I thought I should also launch into a new program of study, a D Min no less. So with a gasp of air as though my life depended on it, I steeled myself and ran headlong into this next phase of learning, with new people, places, questions, challenges, fears, anxieties, but also a sense that ‘Leadership and Global Perspectives’ was the program for me.
Did I mention that I am a closet introvert? New people scare the life out of me! The only way I was going to survive this initial advance was to find my happy place, which for me is on a road bike grinding out 30 miles or so on roads I had never before ridden in a new part of the world. Over the years I have found that a bike is the best way to get to know a city, culture, people, and community, at ground level. You are close to the ground, vulnerable, out in the open, afforded no sense of privacy or invulnerability. But, you also meet new people, connect with a cycling community, see things from a different perspective, escape from uncomfortable chit chat with people I hardly know, and breathe the air as a local rather than from inside a tour bus. This was how I was not only going to survive this frightening Cape Town advance, this was how I was going to filter and process the entire experience.
I was not unfamiliar with South Africa. Having lived in New Zealand throughout the 1990’s I had been afforded a view of the dismantling of apartheid from a closer proximity than most people in the US. There is a historical bond between the two countries, particularly in regard to Cricket and Rugby that meant events occurring in South Africa were consistently headline news. Yet, even I was shocked at the stark economic disparity that I saw, which from my perspective was almost universally a racial divide. I saw vast wealth as I rode along the esplanade of Camps bay, with stunning sea side homes, numerous luxury automobiles and beautiful people enjoying wine and expensive meals dining alfresco. Contrast that with the slums I rode past in Hout Bay on my way to Chapman’s Peak. Ramshackle homes piled on top of one another, muddy and rutted paths, clothing hanging out to dry on electrical wiring and barbed wire fences, rubbish strewn all over and piled between the shacks, crowds of dark skinned faces in the local bus shelter waiting. Mind you, I am used to this. Several times a year I visit Camden NJ, one of the poorest and most violent cities in the country located in the wealthiest state in the union and only five minutes from one of the most ‘liveable’ cities in the USA, Moorestown NJ. But, even that did not prepare me for the scale of the contrast evident in Cape Town. In visiting Robben Island and District 6 as part of the advance, it was evident that the system of political apartheid might have been dismantled decades ago yet, clearly economic apartheid was alive and well.
I was decidedly uncomfortable at times during the advance. In addition to having to interact with people from my cohort (who I quickly grew to love and already feel a connection with that completely took me by surprise) we travelled in a tour bus. The antithesis of travel by bicycle. Big, safe, air-conditioned, separated from the people on the streets by large tinted glass windows. There is no way to remain inconspicuous when a load of wealthy tourists arrive in their tour bus. I felt awkward, conspicuous, hypocritical, as though I was treating the people of Cape Town living in the townships like animals in a zoo. The presenters we had heard thus far suggested otherwise but the logistics of moving such a large group around the various sites necessitated the sometimes awkward conflict between intention and function.
In spite of this tension one of the most moving events in the advance for me was visiting J L Zwaane Presbyterian Church, both for worship and then later for presentations and discussion of specific issues such as race and gender inequity and the work of the J L Zwaane Church within the township. These were the experiences I had hoped for, these were the people I wanted to know. For me the application was almost immediate. There were brothers and sisters of color in the room that were not from South Africa but who had traveled with us as part of the LGP program. They arrived at the church with the rest of us on a massive tour bus, but their understanding of the issues was far superior to my own. In hearing them, I had to ask myself whether or not I was really willing to allow this advance experience to change me or would it go down as just another stamp in my passport. For, if I was genuinely listening I had to be willing to hear the messages of the women and African Americans of our group. I believe I heard them say that my attempt to gain understanding of the issues in South Africa needed to have meaningful repercussions in my life upon my return to the US. I wasn’t sure what that would look like but I committed myself to doing all I could to find meaningful ways to continue the dialogue and make changes in my own life accordingly.
Though this had been rolling around in my head for quite some time, the Cape Town advance gave me the impetus to develop and gain approval for a special topics course at King University. I don’t assume to have many of the answers but I wanted to be part of the process of facilitating the critical thinking of students around issues of Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation. There are 20 students signed up for the course and I am scared to death, but willing to meet the challenge. I endeavor to listen to a variety of voices during the final development stage to determine what this course should look like ensuring appropriate structures, worthwhile texts, and meaningful measures of assessment. In addition, on the flight home I was convinced that our chapel programs should reflect the diversity and breadth of our faith to a greater degree. I took it upon myself to develop opportunities for more ethnically diverse chapel speakers and participants to be part of our weekly programs and presented this to our chaplain who is looking at ways it can be implemented immediately.
I feel incredibly blessed to have begun this journey in this way. Cape Town will long live in my memory as more than just a pretty place but one in which I allowed myself to grow further into becoming the man God intended me to be. Cape Town marked the start of a new journey, much of it by bicycle, as I was captivated by a land and its people, coerced into admitting my own biases, challenged to bring academic understanding and tangible application to my own context, all while surrounded by some of the most fantastic people in my DMIN cohort LGP#8 – The Elite Eights. If this is how the journey begins I can’t even imagine where I will end up, hopefully somewhere I can get to on 2 wheels.