Southern Africa Pilgrimage JournalSeptember 27, 2010
The first of five commemorative global mission trips in observance of our church’s 200 years of global mission, took place August 29 – Sept 10, 2010. The trips are partially funded and sponsored by Wider Church Ministries and Executive, Cally Rogers Witte, especially for conference ministers and UCC Global Ministries Board members. The trips to each of the five regions of our global mission work, Latin America, Southern Asia, East Asia and the Middle East, will occur in 2010, through 2012.
A group of nine, led by Sandra Gourdet, Global Ministries Executive for Africa traveled to South Africa and Zambia where they visited mission partners and saw many mission projects. Time was spent with heads of the Councils of Churches and denominational offices of both countries, missionaries in these countries as well as human service organizations, schools, churches and seminaries. The group, made up of conference ministers, Wider Church Ministries Board members and staff documented their experiences in writing and photographs. We hope you will have a sense of the inspiration, power and challenges encountered in Africa.
The members of the group were:
Rev. Kathy Clark, Associate Minister, Southeast Conference
Rev Charles Barnes, Conference Minister, Rhode Island
Cecelia Barnes, Rhode Island
Rev. Kent Siladi, Conference Minister, Florida Conference
Rev Loyce Edwards, OK, Wider Church and Global Ministries Board Member
Rev. Angela Menke Ballou, MA, Wider Church and Global Ministries Board Member
Rev Mary Susan Gast, Conference Minister, Northern California Nevada Conference
Rev. Sandra Gourdet, Executive for Africa
Jan Aerie, OH, Executive for Mission Education and Interpretation
August 29-30, 2010
Mary Susan Gast
We came together late on a Sunday afternoon as nine individuals who mostly did not know one another well. Charles and Celia Barnes, of course, were far from strangers to one another, but between all the other combinations and configurations the relationships were functional or email-based. We anticipated that this was about to change.
Over a festive dinner at a steakhouse near our hotel, the community began to form. We began to share our stories and our histories.
Our evening conversation began with the eliciting of one-word phrases to describe “mission:” personal engagement, relational, being-with, companionship, ubuntu, sawubona, together, sharing. Then the question was posed, “Why, for each of us, this mission trip?
Tuesday morning opened with enquiry and reflection on how each of us will engage in mission interpretation after our return from Southern Africa. Group exercises, describing mission from photos, challenged and enlightened us, opening us to possibilities and cautions. [Photo tip: focus on individual faces; no crowd shots.] Sandra gathered our questions and concerns to address during the orientation to the journey. She was asked, “Are you always this passionate?” “What worries you most about us?” in addition to the more predictable queries about water, transportation, and cultural mores. Sandra asked each of us, “What are you expecting?” and took notes, to which, she assured us, she would refer in the future. Our responses ranged from knowledge and information to being blown away. Deep gratitude and appreciation were expressed.
Then we were commissioned, with the hymns “Great is Your Faithfulness” and “Thank you, Lord” selected by Loyce and universally affirmed as apt. The stoles, the blessings, the accounts of overflowing hospitality, and the reference to I Corinthians 16:13, “Keep alert…be courageous” graced us all.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Reflections of a Global Ministries Pilgrim: A Feast for the Soul
September 1st was the first full day of our pilgrimage through Southern Africa in celebration of the 200th anniversary of mission among the Congregational forebears of the United Church of Christ. Our group, made up of Conference Ministers, Global Ministries Staff, and Global Ministries Board Members, arrived safely the evening before in Johannesburg, South Africa, after a long but blissfully uneventful flight from Atlanta, Georgia. After checking into the Dove Guest House and enjoying a delicious dinner of beef curry and vegetables, we gathered in one room to sort through and package the gifts we brought to share with our hosts and partners, representing our various contexts. It was a joyful and chaotic evening, full of anticipation of the people we would meet and the unknown gifts of which we would be the recipients. It felt a little bit like Christmas Eve in an extended family. Travelling together for 12 days, we would certainly become like family to one another very quickly. And we would be gifted in ways we could not yet imagine.
As we took off from the Johannesburg airport on our way to Ndola, Zambia, the sun shone brightly in a slightly hazy sky. We arrived in Southern Africa at the end of winter and before the rainy season, so the grasses were dry and golden brown. Trees and flowers were just beginning to bud, offering the promise of new life. At our guest house that morning, we watched as a pair of small brown birds worked together at building a nest with twigs and small branches they found and carried to their special limb. I wondered if this might serve as a metaphor for what we would discover about mission work in Southern Africa in 2010: the birds were certainly working together in mutual partnership and empowerment toward sustainability and fullness of life. I am not sure if I was a “critical presence,” but it was a delight to witness their energetic and hopeful labor.
The people of Southern Africa are exceedingly gracious and are giving me a whole new experience of extravagant welcome. Before this day would end, we would be met by our hosts for the next five days, Dr. Musonda Bwayla, Principal of the United Church of Zambia Theological College, and Rev. Kapembwa Kondolo, Professor of African Studies and Pastor of the congregation associated with the college, along with other sisters and brothers in Christ, including Rev. Albert Bowa, pastor of St. Andrew’s Church in Ndola and many of his parishioners who came out to welcome us. Musonda and Kondolo proved not only to be extraordinary hosts and partners in ministry, but quickly became members of our impromptu but affectionate new family of pilgrims. Pastor Bowa and his parishioners shared with us their vision and mission for ministry, including taking us on a tour of the pre-school, primary school, and high school which are being built by the congregation for the education of children and for positive change in Zambia through educational empowerment. They showed us in action that the church is alive and well in Zambia, and engaged in many forms of social transformation as an expression of their faith.
Perhaps the most poignant metaphor of extravagant welcome for the day came at the end, when we gathered for a traditional African meal at the home of Mary, a mother and grandmother, widow of twelve years, nurse educator, and leader in the United Church of Zambia. She, along with family and friends, welcomed us into her home where they prepared a feast for our bodies and souls. We were welcomed with music and twinkling lights in Mary’s lovely back yard and ate under a canopy at elaborately set tables of food that stimulated all of our senses. It was, for me, a holy meal prepared and offered by holy women, a Eucharistic/thanksgiving meal, bridging time, distance, and difference in a sacrament of hospitality.
I began this day with the following prayer: Spirit, empty me of all that may distract me or keep me from being fully open to all whom I shall meet today. Fill me with your grace that I may be a blessing to these people and this place, even as I receive the fullness of their blessings and yours. I ended the day with a great Amen and Alleluia, for God was surely in this place and the people whom I met blessed me beyond words. This was an extraordinary first day on an extraordinary trip that will be a blessing that unfolds over many years to come.
Thursday Sept 2, 2010
We were in Kitwe, Zambia today and it has been a wonderful time. This is the home of the United Church of Zambia Theological College (UCZTC) and the Mendola Ecumenical Foundation (MEF) – both of which we toured. They do wonderful things in both theological and social services work that benefits all of Zambia. The seminary’s principal, Dr. Musonda Bwalya (an Andover Newton graduate) was a gracious host and will be our guide, advisor, companion and chauffer the rest of our time in Zambia.
Of all the interesting things we experienced, the one that remains in my mind is the early morning chapel service on campus and the overwhelming singing of these spirit-filled young people! They have no piano, organ or flute - just drums. They do not sound a pitch or count a rhythm or even give a hymn name or number. A lead voice – a beautiful, clear, strong voice - begins and they all join in so that music fills the space. The hramonies of African sacred music still sounds in my mind. It is unforgettable.
Poverty and illness are the way of life here. HIV/AIDS devastates the young adults and parents age group. The wealthy person has a one or two room house with a bed instead of a mat on the dirt floor or concrete. Yet these are kind and generous folk who live the message of “share all you have” in a way that we can barely understand. They are amazing!! Their spiritual ethic is that for one to be saved, all must be saved. They learn that idea and live it, bound together by it. Our journey and our leaning continues…
Friday, September 3, 2010
Angela Menke Ballou
Today we had the joy of meeting with Rev. Suzanne Matale, the General Secretary of the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ – please read C.C.Zed). The CCZ is an umbrella organization of its 24 member denominations. They have been focusing on a three-year theme of “Seeking Justice for All.” We were impressed by the covenant relationship within the CCZ. They speak to issues of justice that are of national importance. However, they work in covenant, so that when the CCZ speaks, they speak as one voice for and with their member denominations.
Rev. Matale gave us the example of the work that they are doing in education and advocacy around uranium mining in Zambia. The CCZ researched and released a publication about the health effects of the mining of uranium, providing a full picture of the health and environmental effects of mining and its bi-products. This work is also leading to advocacy about regulations and plans for the removal of toxic waste, as well as local training so that people in the community will be more than just casual workers in the field. Rev Matale says, “This report has incensed our government, but that is specifically why we are here.” They are adding an important and critical voice to the public discourse about the health and monetary effects of uranium mining in Zambia. This work is borne out of their prayer and commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the middle of our visit, our hosts arranged coffee and tea for us, yet another example of the overwhelming hospitality we received over and over again. As Rev. Matale poured tea, members of our team were excitedly whispering about the connections between the work of the CCZ and the UCC Still Speaking campaign. When our host returned, Rev Kent Siladi, the Florida Conference Minister, shared the image of the comma as a word of encouragement to the work that CCZ is doing. Overcoming some language barriers we shared the message that we were witnessing in them, we translated Gracie Allen’s quote, “Never put a
period… Never put a full-stop, where God has placed a comma.” God is still speaking to and through our partners in Zambia.
September 4, 2010
Visit to Victoria Falls
Thou O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hands have made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee;
How great art, how great Thou art!
MOSI-OA-TUNYA – the Smoke that Thunders! What a fitting image and name for one of the great wonders of the world – Victoria Falls near Livingstone, Zambia! The noise sounds like thunder and the misty air looks as if it is filled with smoke upon approaching these breathtaking falls which are considered by some to be among the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary and explorer, believed to be the first European known to view the falls, gave the name “Victoria Falls” in honor of his Queen. However, the more descriptive “Mosi-oa-Tunya” from the local language, was used long before the arrival of Livingstone and continues to be used widely. One understands the value of preserving this indigenous history when one visits the field museum located on the archeological site nearby, where displays prove that our human ancestors were living in this region some 2.5 million years ago.
While neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, it is claimed to be the largest. None of those matters as one walks along the paths, across the bridge, down into the gorge and to other areas within this tourist site that continues to maintain its natural state. One feels the presence of an awesome God in this place. The ever present rainbow is a reminder of God’s grace. The water that rolls down into the gorge reminds us of the justice that God requires. The preserved natural state and natural beauty are reminders that we can come to our God just as we are and God will make us whole. In this place, my soul sings, “How Great Thou Art!!!!
Monday, September 6, 2010
Loyce Newton Edwards
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Howard Thurman
Rev. Dr. Prince Dibeela, Moderator General, of the United Congregational Church of South Africa graciously greeted our delegation and extended their “extravagant hospitality,” to make us feel welcomed to their office.
After meeting other staff members, and students, we then entered a time of “sacred worship,” together. For sure, Howard Thurman’s words stirred in my heart that morning during worship, and a sense of “aliveness” for our sense of mission/purpose, partners/personnel permeated my very existence. During our worship time, Rev. Dr. Dibeela shared an inspiring reflection from Acts 9:32, and he joyously celebrated the spiritual gifts of Tabitha…moved by passion…Love for others…her extravagant hospitality that results in life giving networks. The spiritual nourishment shared at our table filled our cups to overflowing! Some of the words we sang in our closing hymn that morning expressed renewed confidence in the power of Christ to help us overcome any challenges or obstacles we face in life… “CHRIST enough to break all barriers; CHRIST enough in peace, in strife; CHRIST enough for one-for all.”
During our table talk after the reflection, Dr. Dibeela shared some thoughts and challenges in his vision for UCCSA. He spoke about an identity challenge, and the struggle to know what it means to be a Congregational Church. He framed his thoughts around UBUNTU, “I am because we are,” and shared how difficult it continues to be to find ways to dismantle racism. We also share some of those same concerns here in the U. S.
It brought further joy to my heart that morning to see Rev. Majaha Nhliziyo again, former WCM Board Member, now serving as the Director of training for UCCSA! Rev. Nhliziyo also shared with our delegation some of his reflections, plans, hopes and dreams for his ministry, which includes these two primary areas:
I. LEADERSHIP ACADEMY WORKSHOPS 2010
A. Sign Language Course: The Ephphatah Experience
B. Singing the Lord’s Song: Music Workshop
C. Called to Serve: An Essential training course for all deacons
D. Minister’s retreat: For the re-charging of mind, soul and body
II. CLERGY CONTINUING LEARNING PROGRAMME (CCLP)
“CCLP is a program of study for UCCSA clergy. It is based on the principle of life-long and contextual learning. It involves individual ministers, the church and the community as the context in which ministry is done. It seeks to facilitate further development of ministers in the study areas of their choice. The CCLP encourages creativity, innovation, new areas and methodologies of study.”
The time we shared together was a very richly blessed UBUNTU experience.
BRIDGMAN CENTER- A Future with Hope!
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says God, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
THE BRIDGMAN MEMORIAL CHURCH CENTRE (UCCSA) SOWETO, SOUTH AFRICA
Malusi B. Makalima-Program Coordinator
One of the deep cultural traditions we experienced and thoroughly enjoyed throughout our journeys in South and Southern Africa, was “gracious and extravagant hospitality.” And, so it was at the Bridgman Centre. Rev. Makalima greeted us with lots of hugs, love, laughter, and gifts of “yummy” tasting food! We were especially delighted to be able to meet the beautiful children who gather at the Centre on a regular basis, Mondays-Saturdays.
Part of our gifts or “extravagant hospitality” given back to our hosts/hostesses included “goodie bags” our delegation brought from the U. S. to share, and to show our “love,” for our sisters and brothers in Africa. One of the gifts that we shared with the Bridgman children included school bags. We delivered 50 bags so that each child could receive a bag. What a fun experience it was to meet and greet these youngsters, so full of life and hope!
One of the intentional ways spirituality is shared with the youth is through Bible studies and foods that reflect the stories being told. It takes storytelling to a whole new level when the Scripture telling is accompanied by jello (symbolic of water), and is served with a little gummy figure (Jesus) in the bowl…point being, “Jesus walked on the water, and so can we!” It was an awesome tale being told, quite vividly, and with great imagination!!!
The Bridgman building was completed during 1974, and the official grand opening was held in 1975. It is a safe space in their community, and deeply beloved!
The Centre currently operates three very successful Programs:
· Aftercare Approximately 40 youths 1st-7th Grades
The youth we met that day were there for this program. It is definitely a blessing to the children and to this community. We received lots of hugs!
· GASA Girls Against the Spread of AIDS 8th-12 Grades
This is a great empowerment program for young girls. I asked Rev. Makalima if consideration had been given to a similar program being offered for the young boys, to which he replied, “not yet, but we will give some consideration to that idea.” He later introduced me to a young man by saying, “I think this young man would be perfect to help us start a BASA program!”
· Saturday School Grades 11th-12th
Tutoring help is available.
The Bridgman Center is a symbol of HOPE…past, present and future…Truly God had/has a plan for this Centre, and Rev. Makalima also has a plan, including having caught the “vision, and making it plain,” as he seeks to be a vessel of healing and hope. His commitment and passion in ministry for Bridgman is exciting!
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
"Institutionalization of Fear and Cry for Freedom"
We first unlocked the inside patio door leading to our rooms at the Wedgwood Guesthouse in the Melville section of Johannesburg; walked through, turned around and relocked the same door, walked a couple steps to unlock the next door, walked through turned around and relocked that door. We walked through the short parking area until we came to the iron gate guarded by electrified wires strung over the top. We sorted through the keys until we found the key for that gate, unlocked it, swung it open and walked through into the Johannesburg morning locking the gate behind us. The street is beautiful spring flowering trees and plants are beginning to bud and some even showed red, purple, and bright green glory; a very pretty place all very heavily protected and electrified with boldly printed signs announcing the certainty of armed response to anyone attempting to bypass the fortifications without permission.
This was a day for us to visit the Apartheid Museum and to spend time in Soweto. The view of the Apartheid Museum from its parking lot is a view of walls. The front has a very thick brick wall with no declaration other than the words "Apartheid Museum," with apartheid written in black and Museum written in white. Just inside, as one approaches the ticket booth, there are iron walls slowly rusting in intricate patterns, again more walls. The tickets are either labeled white or nonwhite and we were instructed to enter the museum using the appropriate gates. More brick and iron separated our group one from another as we followed the instructions the “laws" of that place.
We humans seem to be so talented at creating walls, so good at separating ourselves one from another because we are so fearful of each other. You looked different therefore you are different. You might take my job. You might be threatening my security. I need to find ways to keep you different and, if I able, inferior so that I am not so fearful of what I might lose or you might gain over me. The white supremacist government institutionalized fear with its laws of separation, banning, torture and death. Picture after picture, newspaper after newspaper, spoke of fear in volumes. The walls of fear continue throughout the museum as we saw pass cards, people’s faces, all encased in the wire box walls leading to a huge, scary armored car that carried white soldiers with heavy armament to shoot at unarmed children who simply wanted to learn and be schooled in their own language. How good the white South African government was at institutionalizing fear. But then, since 9/11 hasn't the United States done the same. I cannot help but think about how the institutionalization of fear limits our freedom of movement and even expression. As my wife and I walked through security at our hometown airport my wife was severely chastised for having a piece of Kleenex in her pockets that just might show up in the body scanners that were just ahead of us. How well we institutionalize fear. How easily we abdicate our rights and our freedoms in the face of our fears. It was inappropriate to go through this museum and shake one's head at the tyranny manufactured by "those" people. One cannot help but wonder what kinds of "tyrannies" we establish with our own fears.
As you approach the museum looming well over the top of its brick walls are tall white stone pillars with bold words proclaiming; "freedom," "democracy," "equality," "reconciliation," and " diversity. These pillars tower over the walls with a strong sense of hope, and deep inside those walls, reflected in a quiet pool are words from Nelson Mandela; "To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." Here was a man in the midst of many walls (we visited his prison cell on Robben Island later on our trip.) A man who was empowered with the reins of government who made choices of reconciliation and diversity when he could have created other walls in retribution and anger.
We traveled from the museum into Soweto and in the center of Kliptown, the downtown area of Soweto someone had painted the wall of their store bright orange with a painted picture of Nelson Mandela. Next in his face was painted in "The Freedom Charter" Preamble: South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white and no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people.” In the center of the square was a conical structure and inside a monument to the "Freedom Charter”
The People Shall Govern!
All National Groups Shall have Equal Rights!
The People Shall Share in the Country's Wealth!
All Shall be Equal Before the Law!
All Shall Enjoy Equal Human Rights!
There Shall be Work and Security!
The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall be Opened!
There Shall be Houses, Security and Comfort!
There Shall be Peace and Friendship!
Let all people who love their people and their country now say, as we say here:
- These freedoms we will fight for, side by side, throughout our lives. Until we have won our liberty.
We all cry for this kind of freedom from the walls of institutionalized fear! Amen
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
“When all else has crumbled…”
We had gathered around a table in the newly refurbished building at Inanda Seminary in Durban. The principal, Judy Tate was welcoming our delegation with the extravagant welcome we had come to expect among our partners and the people of Zambia and South Africa. Inanda Seminary, a high school whose longest supporter for over 140 years has been Global Ministries is a place of transformation. Judy is a woman of deep faith and as she began to share the story of Inanda it became clear that she had devoted her very life and soul to the students. When she spoke about the challenges the school had faced over its history she asked the questions, “Why did the seminary survive? How did the seminary survive?” Her succinct answer revealed her faith, “God is the reason we are here – God and God alone.” She shared with us that every day at the school begins with chapel – led by the chaplain of the seminary Susan Valiquette who is one of our two missionaries at Inanda. Judy shared, “We start the day with chapel. It is after all what stands when all else has crumbled.” There are 28 faculty members at Inanda and the students are drawn from working class parents. 25% of the students receive funding assistance. Judy expects excellence from herself, her faculty and the students. 100% of the students wishing to pursue college are placed. It is no surprise that the school is running at a deficit with student fees not covering the expenses of the seminary. In order to address that deficit our other missionary at Inanda, Dr. Scott Couper (Susan’s partner) has undertaken an impressive project of trying to turn history into money! Scott has worked tirelessly to construct a museum, to compile records of 140 years of history and to gather support from the seminary from a variety of funding sources. Judy’s final words to us linger, “Inanda is an amazing place of God’s grace – we see God’s grace every day.” It was a blessing for us to witness that grace at Inanda and to share the message of their ministry with you!
September 9, 2010
The Bruma Market sits in the middle of Johannesburg – a wide, large flea market area with hundreds of vendors. Following our morning debriefing, evaluation of the trip and saying good-bye to the Barnes, our drivers took us for one more experience at Bruma before dropping us off at the airport.
All manner of African art, clothing, supplies and necessities are available from individual vendors in the market. Recognizing that we were Americans, many shopkeepers asked, “Where are you from in the states?” When naming the state of Ohio, and receiving a blank stare I would explain its general geographic location in the northern central part of the continent. Then the reply was always the same, “I would like to visit Ohio some day.”
How fortunate we all feel to have had the many colorful experiences of these 12 days! Words cannot describe our gratitude for such warm welcomes, generosity of time and meals, and all that we learned. We come away knowing our stories will be full of the Christian faith we learned about, and the loving care we were shown.
We saw again and again that having little of material possessions can deepen faith, and how we have so much to learn form the faith of our Zambian and South African partners. Each of us vowed to tell and practice this once home.
Even though we had become a tight knit group while on this trip, today we were beginning to disengage from each other and anticipate our return to our US family and friends. It is bittersweet, yet we are ready.
Fond farewells to our drivers and generous gifts to both of them were received with such heartfelt thanks. Then we slowly wound our way through security and check points to the gate for our 7:30 pm sixteen hour flight back home.
Florida Conference Presentation
“We view our call and focus to serve, to equip, guide, inspire, and empower the local church.
We strive to build our community through nurturing friendships, strengthening our teamwork, and making time for fellowship, as partners in this ministry.
It is our intent to continually equip ourselves through continuing discernment and education.”
Our third core value as the staff of the Florida Conference is “community”. In the past two issues of Celebrate Florida I have reflected on the core values of theology and call. This issue it is all about a word that we value highly in the United Church of Christ and that is the importance of community.
I have just returned from a Global Mission Immersion experience in which I participated in a delegation of Conference Ministers, national staff persons and Wider Church Ministries Board members from across the U.S. We visited our mission partners in Zambia and South Africa. This trip was an amazing experience and is a part of remembering from our Congregational stream history that 200 years ago the United Church Board for Foreign Missions got its start with the Haystack Movement. The impulse of the four young men gathered at Williams College in Massachusetts was to share the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world. That impulse to share the Gospel gave birth to the idea of missions.
We have evolved in our understanding of missions these 200 years later. Rather than embracing a notion of missions as something that we do for “them” in a patronizing way (the “sender/receiver” model) we have come to understand missions as aligning ourselves with the activity of God in the world (articulated in “Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission” by David Bosch, Orbis Books 1991). Our global ministries with the Disciples of Christ as our partner are now carried out in a very different way and with a very different mindset. The commitment of our Global Ministries outreach centers around the notion of, “a ministry of Critical Presence where we meet God's people and creation at the point of deepest need: spiritually, physically, emotionally, and/or economically.” We engage our partners and try to respond to the needs of those partners as they define them and in ways that value the context of the setting they are living with each day. While in Zambia I discovered and learned a bit about Christianity in the African context. In our conversations with our partners we learned of the struggle that the Zambian church has been wrestling with around the inheritance of a type of Christianity from former missionaries. While the impulse to share the Gospel was pure we also know that there was baggage (“be just like us”) that came with some of the missionary efforts. Today in Zambia the church is teaching Christianity from the perspective of the indigenous viewpoint one which intrigued and challenged my own Christian worldview. One of the teachings we heard a lot about was the concept of “ubuntu” which helped define a lot of what is important to our Zambian and South African Christian brothers and sisters. “Ubuntu” is defined in many ways but at its core is the understanding that “I am who I am because of who we all are”. This notion of ubuntu is evident in the ways in which people engage one another and place a high value on consensus and the primacy of community. We cannot be human beings in isolation. In essence we recognize the need for others in order to be fully human.
These were important lessons learned from my time in Africa. I was reminded of our impulse in this country towards individualism and the value placed on individual achievements and accomplishments. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the whole notion of autonomy that we value so highly in our beloved UCC and how that same autonomy can be misinterpreted as the right of an individual person or church to just do whatever it wants to do. We value covenant and we value community. The staff of the Conference works hard to build connections and to find ways to strengthen the ties of God that bind us to one another. We are partners in this journey and we have much to learn and to share from one another.
While in South Africa the Rev. Prince Dibeela General Secretary of the United Congregational Churches of Southern Africa shared a story with us that spoke of the importance of community. He shared with us that a church had recently discovered that it was literally sitting on top of a valuable gold mine. I was thinking to myself if only some of our churches would make that discovery here in Florida! However while my mind was going down the road, Rev. Dibeela then shocked me with what the church did next. It first prayed about what to do with this discovery. They invited the entire community into the church to discuss what should be done about this discovery. They wanted to the whole community to know that 1. This resource had been discovered and 2. That the church was clear that it wasn’t “theirs” for the mining! They are still in conversation with the community about this but what Rev. Dibeela made clear was that the church would not make any moves without the full support of the community and that any benefits derived from this discovery would benefit the entire community!
Community –our third core value.
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