Home!!

We had nearly three days to spend in reflection and on retreat at Volmoed, near Hermanus, South Africa.  Time was spent with the whole group asking one another to consider questions that had been formed during our time together.  “What do I do with all I’ve experienced?”  “How do I carry my power and privilege?”  “What responsibility do I have…as an individual…as a white person…as a theologian?”  These questions and more were asked and considered…

Time was spent alone and in small groups, walking/hiking, praying, journaling, drawing, sitting quietly in this beautiful place…Volmoed.  Volmoed was created as a place of retreat:  “Bringing wholeness to broken people, a place set aside by God for His ministry and healing.”  We certainly had a time of retreat as we prepared to end our time together, end our time in South Africa, and to come home to our friends, family, work, and “everything else.”  The photos here give a little sense of that transition time…

Nine of us arrived home in Minneapolis on Thursday evening, and others will arrive home sometime today…we’ll look forward to knowing everyone is safe and sound after nearly 24 hours of travel! As for Scott and me, we’re taking a day or two of rest before getting back to church work, a move, a new job for Scott (pray the “right” one comes along quickly), and classes starting again on February 4th!  Others are heading back into more of the same…thoughts and prayers for all will be appreciated as we bring all of our experiences and memories into our lives at home.

We may continue to blog for a few more days as thoughts and memories get processed…thank you so much for your comments and support.

~Karen

UTS Students Adopt Two Trees for Aquila Game Preserve

Deb and Heather Planting a Tree in the Karoo!!

Deb and Heather Planting a Tree in the Karoo!!

Our group adopted two small Acacia Karoo “Thorn” trees for the Aquila Game Preserve tree restoration project this morning.  Timothy, our ranger-guide and tree caregiver drove us out to a protected site where we planted them.  The trees will take 10 years to mature.  They will offer a critical food source for the Reserves’ future population of giraffes.  Most of the Karoo’s brush is too low for giraffes.  The giraffe has the largest heart of any land mammal and therefore needs to keep its head above its heart in order to avoid damaging its brain.  Giraffes can actually suffer and die from aneurisms and comas if their heads are too low for too long!  Most of us did not know this.

Once the trees that we planted are mature, they will provide nutritious and tasty leaves for the giraffes’ diets. Aquila currently only has one giraffe on the preserve (a female), which is 3 meters high and we did not get to see her during our visit.  Timothy provided water with medicine/nutrients in it, dung fertilizers, and shovels and we did the planting.  We added them to a row of trees just planted within the last three months.

Tim will water and care for them, talk to them, and provide lots of love and care while we are away.  He invited us to come back and visit them anytime.  If any of you get to South Africa, you can visit the trees and help add more to the grove!  You could even make a donation online to the the Aquila Safari Game Preserve to build the grove of trees faster.  As we departed our tree planting ceremony, an eagle soared high above us–a blessing, indeed!

More safari stories to come from others…

Deb Braun

Safari!!!

Yes!!  We really have seen all of these animals and amazing sights here in South Africa, while on safari!!  We have had a wonderful driver for our 4 x 4 vehicle, Tyler, who has been very informative about the animals and has done a fantastic job of helping us to spot them and get as close as we can.  We have yet to find a giraffe, and the hippos have moved on from this area for the time being, but we are AMAZED at all that we have been able to see!  This morning (Sunday), a number of our group have gone out to plant two tree seedlings with the rangers (we are sponsoring them as a group from UTS), as part of efforts to maintain and support the ecosystem here.

Leaving for Safari!!

Just a quick note to say that we’re moments from leaving our home away from home at Kolbe House in Capetown for the last time.  We’re heading out for a few days of rest and retreat (including more education and reflection time, and…SAFARI!!!).  We so appreciate all of your prayers and support and LOVE your comments–please keep them coming, and look for some more reflective posts in the next few days before we come home.

Blessings and peace,

Karen and All

Meet the Group!

In a recent comment on one of our posts, my seminary classmate, Amy, wondered if we could post a list of our names, as she had been praying for each of our members.  I don’t know if any of us realized that we hadn’t posted our group list anywhere!  So, I thought I’d put up some pics to help you match faces with antics as you read about our adventures and experiences.  :-)

Renee is a former UTS student, and is now retired.  Here she is with Thoko, our "Mama" during our stay in Guguletu.

Renee is a former UTS student, and is now retired. Here she is with Thoko, our “Mama” during our stay in Guguletu.

Scott and Sam at JL Zwane Church in Guguletu

Scott and Sam at JL Zwane Church in Guguletu

Mary, modeling her new earrings after a trip to a fair trade shop.

Deb, with James Matthews. James is a poet, active in the resistance movement against apartheid, and still advocating for human rights. (P.S. Notice Deb’s fashion-forward glasses-holder, a souvenir from the fair trade shop. Soon to be all the rage the world over!)

Our University of St. Thomas contingent.  Sam is a recent graduate, Kim is a professor of systematic theology (and the architect of our itinerary here) and Annette is a current student.  We love our UST compadres, especially since their school's initials are so easy for us at UTS to remember...

Our University of St. Thomas contingent. Sam is a recent graduate, Kim is a professor of systematic theology (and the architect of our itinerary here) and Annette is a current student. We love our UST compadres, especially since their school’s initials are so easy for us at UTS to remember…

Terri, with Mary Sili.  Mary was one of our guest speakers - so gracious, and witty!  We all adored her.  Terry is the co-manager of our blog, and our resident IT expert.

Terri, with Mary Sili. Mary was one of our guest speakers – so gracious, and witty! We all adored her. Terry is the co-manager of our blog, and our resident IT expert.

Chris (our UTS professor), Karen (with camera), Scott, Mary, Debbie, Annette, and Heather.

Richard, with Kim.  Richard is a priest at St. George's Cathedral here, and is one of our instructors, as well as our cultural liaison, spiritual adviser,, and so many other things.  He and Kim have been friends since college, back in the 20th century.

Richard, with Kim. Richard is a priest at St. George’s Cathedral here, and is one of our instructors, as well as our cultural liaison, spiritual adviser,, and so many other things. He and Kim have been friends since college, back in the 20th century.

Our wonderful van driver, Xolani!

Our wonderful van driver, Xolani!

The Indian Ocean!!

And this person! :-)

A Message From Chris

Hi Folks Who Are Following Our Blog…Thank you!

It has been such a busy time that it has been impossible to find a moment to write although I have been wanting to be in touch with all of you since we left. I am so proud to be a part of this traveling community from United, it has been so wonderful to see the leadership and the witness of our students and our guests all over the Cape Town area. Everywhere we have gone, particularly staying with folks in the township of Guguletu in people’s homes, has been an experience of respect, profound community, and mutual sharing and learning. We were welcomed into people’s homes with a kind of hospitality that was breathtaking and so, so humbling. For me it was a time of learning yet again how many things I “have,” how many comforts I expect and seem to think that I am “entitled” to, and how much privilege I have even as surely as I struggle to manage and restrain my consumptuous lifestyle. How does one begin to articulate what a life changing experience it has been to find myself in the country of South Africa, a country with such a complex history of social, economic, and ethnic disparity, and a country that I have been interested in and concerned about since my college days.  Apartheid may have been legally dismantled, but all of the aspects of horrible, violent racism against Black South Africans remains so shockingly intact. There will be much to share about, talk about, write about, and think about as we begin to make our way home, and long after we have re-entered our comfortable lives in The United States. We look forward to sharing so many stories, pictures, lessons learned, and theological issues raised for us, in the months that follow. Thank you so very much for your prayers, for your postings to us, for your support of us in so many ways, we appreciate all of how you have been caring for us as we have been very far from home. Just know that we have been in the loving care of a great and gracious people, and that we are tired, inspired, challenged, and filled with gratitude for more gifts that I can begin to name. See many of you when I return with our group to Minnesota and to United. Chris Smith – Professor of Preaching at United

First Hour in Guguletu Township

During our first moments in the township of Guguletu, South Africa, we were invited and welcomed into worship at the JL Zwane Center.  This congregation and its leadership are working hard as members of the community to lift up, encourage, and support all who live there.  “No one should ever be lonely,” said Pastor S’piwe Nkosi during his message that morning.

Sunday Worship in Guguletu: Never Give Up

Professor Christine Smith Introduction at JL Zwane Church in Guguletu Township

Professor Christine Smith Introduction at JL Zwane Church in Guguletu Township

Professor Chris Smith and Pastor S'piwe Nkosi as Chris speaks to the congregation

Professor Chris Smith and Pastor S’piwe Nkosi as Chris speaks to the congregation

One of our guides and hosts at JL Zwane Church

Monalisi, one of our guides and hosts at JL Zwane Church

Never Give Up

Never Give Up (on the wall at JL Zwane Church)

Scott and Sam at JL Zwane Church in Guguletu

Scott and Sam at JL Zwane Church in Guguletu

Robben Island

2012 Xmas 2013 South Africa 085.The view from inside Antonio du Preez's cell

Today we made a pilgrimage to Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town, where hundreds of resisters were incarcerated during the years of apartheid.  Of course, the prisoner who is perhaps most well-known in the international community is Nelson Mandela, although here in South Africa there are many many many names which are also known and revered as heroes of that era.

I say “pilgrimage” because it was an experience unlike a typical tour in which a group is led by a guide who shares the facts of the place.  We were hosted by Richard’s church, St. George’s Cathedral, and by Deon Snyman, the director of The Restitution Foundation.  St. George’s has developed a liturgy of sorts for visiting groups to use as they walk around the island; it combines biblical readings from the Gospels, as well as prayers and meditative reflections.

Near the dock there is a wall, behind which is a rocky shore from which you can see the mainland.  This is where we started our reflections with Deon.

Near the dock there is a wall, behind which is a rocky shore from which you can see the mainland. This is where we started our reflections with Deon.

As we walked the island, we stopped to read and reflect at points of significance—the rocky shore, near the docks, which looks back at the mainland; the leper graveyard, where many are buried from the era when Robben Island was a place to which people with leprosy, mental illness and other stigmatized infirmities were exiled; the main door of the prison building where hundreds of resisters to apartheid were incarcerated until apartheid’s end in the early 90s.   We ended at the Church of the Good Shepherd, an Anglican

chapel on the island.  There we reflected upon what we had seen, heard, felt, and thought, and we shared in Communion.

As I walked the paths between buildings and sites which are now deserted and empty, I thought again and again, “I am walking where Nelson Mandela walked.”  It struck me that Robben Island is a type of holy land, like Palestine is for so many pilgrims who visit there each year to walk where it is said that Jesus walked, and where the ancients of the Abrahamic family lived and struggled and hoped.

And here is Robben Island today.  A sacred place in its own right, where the stories of hope and perseverance live on, and where the soil bears the imprint of saints who have gone before those of us who walk there today.

I think that Jesus would probably visit Robben Island if he were here today.  And that Christ certainly does all the time….

 

 *****

Because we were a private tour group, we were privileged to wander a bit at each place we stopped.  In the cell block, we walked the hallway silently, reading the signs posted in various cells with memories from the people who had been imprisoned there. On a whim, I entered one of the 4×5 foot cells—I wanted to see what it looked like on the inside, from a prisoner’s perspective.  I turned and closed the door, and stood against the back wall, looking out through the bars into the hallway.  It was then that I noticed that there was a photograph of the last prisoner to occupy that cell—Antonio du Preez.  I got chills when I noticed that he and I were born the same year, and I thought about was doing with my life in the 80s and 90s, over in the United States, while he was here doing resistance work.  During his years on Robben Island, 1986-1991, I graduated from college, worked at first teaching job, then volunteered as a youth minister in the U.S. and West Africa, then moved to Minnesota, where I’ve lived for over 20 years now.  All of that—while Antonio du Preez was looking across the water toward home, walking in the prison yard, working in the blinding lime pits, living within a community of resistance, and standing against evil in a 4×5 foot cell.

Both lives significant, both working for good in the world.  For me, those years were the beginning of the journey through and beyond boundaries of limited possibility, egocentric worldview, and untested theology, toward a more expansive perspective made possible by experience, relationships, and time.  A journey that led me finally to seminary, at just the right time in my life, and that now has led me here.  Standing in Antonio du Preez’s cell today felt like a kairos moment:  a “thin place,” to borrow from Celtic theology, where the veil between the Divine and us becomes thin, and one experiences something holy.  I felt the accompanying presence of this person whose individual sacrifice so many years ago was part of a movement of persons toward a hope that they could not see, but could only imagine.  And so, living in that imagination, they believed it into being.

On the wall of his cell, there was a bit of text in which Antonio recalled of his first experiences when he landed on Robben Island.  I want to share it with you so that you too can “meet” Antonio as I did:

2012 Xmas 2013 South Africa 086. Antonio du Preez

I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I was going to spend fifteen and a half years on Robben Island.  That was the one thing that was driving me a bit nuts.

 A week after our arrival there, this old man came past and shook everybody’s hand on the bench.  We were about six people sitting on the bench, and he introduced himself to everybody with a smile on his face.  I was right on the end, and he said to me, “How are you, comrade?”

“I am very well.”

He said, “You don’t look so well.  Don’t be so angry, man, relax.  How long are you going to be with us?”

“Fifteen and a half years.”

He said, “Oh, that’s enough time for me to get to know you, so we will talk later.”

And with a big smile, off he went to the garden to potter with some plants and stuff.

 The guys said, “Hey, do you know who’s that?”

I said, “No, who’s that?”

“That’s one of the treason trialists, Elias Motsoaledi.”

That was a turning point for me.  I was born in ’64 and that old man had been in prison during my whole lifetime.  I had no reason to be angry.  If an old man could do it with such positive spirits, I was being unreasonable.  My whole attitude changed towards my sentence and my stay there actually changed.  I had not done anything wrong.  I was proud of what I’d done.

 *****

Thanks to all who are following the blog, sending emails and msgs from home, and joining us on this amazing experience!  Karen has been sharing your posts from the blog, and they bring many smiles to us as we reflect on our days here and our loved ones at home.

~Cathy

Leaving for the Townships

We leave Capetown this morning for the township of Guguletu and will likely be out of contact for the three days while we’re there staying with host families. We have had a blessed week of introduction and orientation to beautiful South Africa and to the incredible issues facing the people of this country, particularly with regard to the AIDS epidemic and issues still resulting from Apartheid laws. The laws have gone away, but the racial and economic disparities are so tremendous, even 20 years later that there are many townships in which people are in such a state of poverty that water and electricity are not even an option. We will be going to visit, worship with, and learn from those in a community where there are positive steps being taken to in order to create hope and continue forward. The people of Guguletu were forced out of their homes and off of their land decades ago, because of the color of their skin. Whites wanted “white only” neighborhoods and cities and under Apartheid laws, it became legal to simply kick others out…check out the blog on Wednesday for more info, updates, and photos!

We would love to post more photos, but this has been difficult due to our internet connection (or lack thereof).

Much love to all of you–we love to read and share your comments and are looking forward to many more!

Peace and blessings be with you,

Karen (and the entire South Africa global justice trip group)