Karen has more details to share about our first few days. Lucky you to get THREE posts from us in a row! Sorry I missed seeing Karen’s email with her write up. — Terri
Many of our group members arrived early this past Sunday morning, bleary eyed but excited to land in Capetown, South Africa! We were greeted by our professor and group leader, Dr. Christine Smith (United Theological Seminary) who had arrived with Dr. Kimberlee Vrudney (University of St. Thomas) two days earlier. We learned that Kim had been asked to give the homily at St. George’s Cathedral—what a surprise!! Within a few minutes, we dropped off our bags and headed directly to worship at the Anglican church and listen to Kim preach during the service led by our third leader, Anglican priest Richard Cogill! We joined Cathy, a group member who had arrived the night before, and shared lots of hugs with her and then with Father Michael Lapsley, who we had met when he visited Minnesota back in October. We’ll have an opportunity to meet with Father Lapsley and visit the Institute for the Healing of Memories later on our trip.
Monday was a fairly relaxed day, with a morning orientation to South Africa session and then an afternoon drive to Boulders Beach at Table Mountain National Park where we visited the park, saw the penguins, met a lady who runs a “fair trade” shop in Simonstown (who was playing my favorite John Denver album when we walked in—very strange and unexpected in South Africa!), and had seafood for dinner at a local restaurant there.
Simonstown is where our co-leader, Rev. Richard Cogill, was born and grew up until he and his family were forced to move to a township when the white South Africans claimed Simonstown as their own under Apartheid. Simonstown has a very British feel to it and had been transformed into a British naval base when the black families were removed.
On Tuesday, we heard from a Dutch Reformed church minister named Laurie, whose father was a prominent minister in the Dutch Reformed church and in the white Afrikaaner community for many years. Laurie, once he realized at quite a young age that there were definite differences in the ways blacks and whites were treated, began to devote his life and work to working in solidarity with persons who were oppressed under the Apartheid system and to work with others to make changes within the Church, “speaking truth to power, and speaking truth to people.”
We also were visited by Edwin, who works with an organization called “THE5E NU38ER5 H4VE FACE5″ (These Numbers Have Faces). This group works to sponsor young people living in townships like Guguletu (which we will visit) and help them to get an education. The expectation of these young people (20 this year) is to give back to their communities with at least 100 hours of community service work, to attend TNHF meetings regularly, to maintain contact with and help to support their families, and to be a part of a religious (Christian or other) program. Edwin was joined by Wilmot, a teacher and musician who received the very first South African award for Gospel music to be given to a black man, and by Byron (Wilmot’s son), Rodney, and Xolani, who is one of the young persons sponsored by the program.
Wilmot and Byron played and sang original music for us, and tears were streaming down my face as Byron (age 18) told of why he is moved to play and write music. “It gives me hope…it is plaster on my wounds,” he said. He reminded me of my own two sons (19 and 16) and daughter (14) who write and play and express themselves through their music. I hope that they all have an opportunity to be heard and to see change and justice in the world as they grow.
We are getting to know our surroundings in and around Kolbe House where we are staying for much of our time here, and in Rondebosch, the area we are in. We’re slowly but surely shedding the layers of jet lag that seem to have hung on for some of our group, and we are finding ourselves deep in conversation with each other, with God, with new friends in South Africa, and within our own hearts and minds as we consider what we are hearing and experiencing.
As our lovely South African group leader Richard has already said to us, “South Africans are an eternally hopeful people,” I am also hopeful. I am hopeful that I may learn and grow, that I may be changed by what I experience and come to understand, and I am hopeful that I may be part of change in my own community, church, and in the world.
I am hopeful about today…and about tomorrow.