As a generation influenced by Bono and U2, my understanding of Apartheid was limited to what might fit on a poster slogan or synopsis under a picture in a history book. The depth of abuse, racism, misunderstandings, sinfulness that can be seen from all sides is enough to make me want to crawl in a hole and pretend it didn’t and still isn’t happening. The stark contrast of studying these complexities in a beautiful city, while staying in an almost waterfront hotel, eating at western restaurants and traveling by tour bus were sometimes distracting in the journey to learn about the social, political and often religious turmoil that is South African history. I was challenged in self reflection and examination which is never an easy process while in foreign land with a group of people you don’t know. Classmates, mentors, support staff all went out of their way to lay the foundation of what we learned.
When the plane landed in South Africa, I came with a metaphorical suitcase empty ready to fill it with all the things I was going to learn. South Africa delivered to me a truck load that was overflowing, gaining more than I planned on, more than I thought I could hold. The Information and experiences piled high within me and will shape and continue to influence my thoughts for many years.
Prison life at Robbin Island for Mandela and fellow prisoners, District 6 and the rights violations, the townships of Khayelitsha, and Guguletu brought to reality the movies watched and the books read about Apartheid. What I know of this area through the JL Zwane Centre, Presbyterian church, Learn to Earn, Golden Flowers Man gave me the impression of simply dipping my toe in the vast ocean that is Cape Town. I was moved by speakers like Wilhelm Verwoerd and Winston Mashua. For both of them the daily reminders of who they were, as a result of their heritage, has shaped their reaction to God, to their family and to the messiness of living in a society that doesn’t see things the way we do. I would have loved to have sat down over a meal with these men and had the chance to hear more of their personal story, their walk with God and how He continues to teach them about the brokenness of the world we live in.
I think because I live in a relationship based society, the connections gained by my cohort will be one of the highlights to this trip. If you told me that you could bring together people from Washington, California, Oregon, Idaho, Texas, Montana, Tennessee, the foreign country of New Brunswick, France, and Asia, throwing them together with a Londoner and some Oregonians leading, I probably would have told you that this would be an interesting social experiment. However, by the grace and leading of God, it works. The respect that is shown, even when we disagree, is telling of hearts that love the Lord and love people. From late night deep conversations in the lobby, walking on the streets talking about what we learned that day, to going to the Afro-Portuguese restaurant, or African dinner with local music, time spent with this group from many life experiences, generations, and denominations has been not only fun but enriching. The conversations that took place after visiting locations and hearing speakers had the most impact as we unfolded what we experienced and began to process how to live that out.
Moving beyond the preconceived stereotypes that exist in all of our lives on how we see other people, in Africa or North America, forces us to look inward without blame or excuse, yet to begin asking the questions of how do we find answers? The philosopher Benjamin Parker said, “with great power comes great responsibility.”1 In this circumstance, our knowledge is our power and we have a new found responsibility to be a part of the solution in this world. As our cohort grows closer together, openly discussing how each of our world views interact with one another, we grow, challenge and are pushed to move our toe from just touching the water to immersing it into the ocean of change. Africa did not scare me away from difficulties, but rather helped me see the complexities that plague every country and every individual, especially me.
1 a.k.a. Spiderman’s Uncle Ben