This morning, our Wabash Pastoral Leadership program study tour went to one of Cape Town’s townships, Gugulethu, an area where black South Africans were forced to live during apartheid and where unemployment, poverty, disease, and lack of sanitation are widespread. We visited J.L. Zwane Presbyterian Church, where their pastor, Rev. Spiwo Xapile, helped us to think about the relationship between churches and their communities. J.L. Zwane Church has divided Gugulethu – their neighborhood – into zones, with elders and leaders from the church responsible for building and maintaining relationships in their assigned zone and attending to the material and pastoral needs of the people who live there. Rev. Xapile shared a transformative way of thinking about community well being and social involvement – he said that their church doesn’t start any programs any more – like they used to do and like many churches do. Rather, they look into the community and find the organizations that are doing good work – God’s work, the work of the Church – and then they support those organizations and provide people and resources from the church to help those organizations succeed. How different would our churches and communities look if they approached ministry that way?
Following our conversations, some of the members of the church took us through the township, including on a walking visit to one of the informal settlements called Barcelona. School kids in South Africa are on spring break this week, so there were a lot of people out and about today. While in Barcelona, we stopped at an orphanage founded by a Baptist pastor and learned about the community there. Here is the face of one of the orphans, who took a strong liking to our group.
This afternoon, we visited Claremont Main Road Mosque, where Imam Rasheid Omar shared a history of Islam in South Africa and the work of interfaith religious leaders today. This mosque has long been active in dialogue and community involvement with other religious traditions in Cape Town and surrounding areas. We learned about the successes and challenges of this work and spent considerable time talking about how to engage young people in faith and social activism.
This evening, our group had some time to enjoy some beautiful weather and do some walking or shopping – or both! – in the area around the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront before having dinner in groups and then gathering as an entire cohort for reflections, discussion, and prayer. And finally, I leave you with one more face from our visit to the Barcelona neighborhood in Gugulethu Township.