Two years ago, I had the extraordinary opportunity to go on a study tour to South Africa as part of my participation in the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program. Along with 16 other younger pastors from Indiana, representing twelve different Christian denominations, I spent two weeks in October 2012 meeting with religious and community leaders in and around Cape Town and Johannesburg to learn about the role churches played in the end of apartheid and the role religious communities and pastors play in public life in South Africa today. What we learned and experienced on that study tour has helped shape my vision of ministry and community back here in Indiana, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity given us by Lilly Endowment and Wabash College. While I loved the people and places of South Africa, I never thought I would return to that beautiful country, or at least not for a very long time.
This Saturday, a new group of pastors participating in the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program will embark on their study tour to South Africa, and through a series of circumstances, I have the great fortune to be traveling with them. Fifteen pastors making up this third cohort to participate in the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program will be led by the new Associate Director of the program, Pastor Libby Manning, who was one of my colleagues participating in cohort two of the program. Because of a variety of personal and professional commitments from the leadership of the program, I was invited to accompany the group and work with Libby in coordinating the tour. The current cohort of pastors does not include any Catholic priests, so I will be able to bring that perspective to the conversations. And since Libby and I have both participated in this study tour before, we feel we are in a great position to help guide the third cohort of pastors on an itinerary that is very similar to what we experienced two years ago.
I am thrilled to be returning to South Africa and to be able to share the rich treasures of this study tour with a new group of pastors. Over the coming two weeks, we will meet with pastors, bishops, anti-apartheid activists, former political prisoners, theologians, interfaith leaders, legal advocates, and social justice organizations. We will visit Robben Island, where political prisoners like Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada spent many years during the apartheid regime. We will visit the townships of Soweto, Khayelitsha, and Gugulethu, areas where black South Africans were forced to live during apartheid and where today’s residents face extraordinary poverty. We will visit an AIDS Hospice run by a Catholic bishop in Rustenburg. We will go on a safari at the end of our tour. And along the way, we hope to all grow in understanding the relationship between Church and community and learn from pastoral leaders who have engaged their communities and congregations in meaningful ways.
We depart for South Africa this Saturday, October 4, and return on October 16. I hope to be able to post some reflections and pictures to this blog while we are there, and I will also provide links to blogs from some of the pastors in this cohort. Please keep this group of pastors and their leaders in your prayers for safe travels and a transformative study tour. And in the meantime, here are a few pictures from the 2012 study tour …