Our guiding vision for the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program study tour to South Africa is that we are on a Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope – learning and hearing and experiencing as much as we can about both realities in the context of today’s South Africa. Over the past two days, our pastors have had conversations with a variety of people who have given us a glimpse at both the pain that people and communities feel in this county and the hope they have for the future.
We met yesterday morning with Pastor Alan Storey of Central Methodist Church in Cape Town. He is a pastor who is much more involved in the community of his downtown church than he is in the lives of his church members, most of whom drive in from the suburbs on Sunday morning and have no other regular presence or ministry through the church. He challenged us to think about the gospel in new ways, including recognizing that many people live out the gospel mandate of love and justice without an explicit faith in Jesus Christ. That afternoon, we met with leaders of the Anglican Church of South Africa, including Bishop Garth Counsell, the Bishop of Table Bay. They helped us to think about the hope that is present in today’s South Africa, even when 20 years of democracy have not yet produced the strong and equal society that had been hoped for.
Today, our pastors had conversation with some of the most insightful and passionate people we have met thus far on our journey. This morning, we met with the staff of the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office which serves as a go-between with the national Parliament, the Catholic Church, and the communities and people of the country. They coordinate roundtables and present briefs to members of parliament on such issues as education, human trafficking, immigration, and the economy. Among the staff were a number of young adults who were passionate and articulate about the future of South Africa as the country continues to wrestle with the growing pains of a new democracy.
This afternoon, we met with members of the Social Justice Coalition, a group of residents of the township of Khayelitsha who have been advocating for proper sanitation and responsible criminal justice in their home township. We then visited an informal settlement in Khayelitsha, where residents in this 20-year-old settlement are given “temporary” public toilets to use in their community at an average ratio of one toilet for every five households, often at a far distance from where they live. One bank of toilets we saw has 64 toilets lined up side by side, with five families assigned to each toilet, but who live quite a distance away. Not only are the conditions unsanitary and not often cleaned by city-controlled janitors, but it is dangerous to walk to these toilets at night, with no outdoor lighting and rampant crime.
It is painful to see communities like Khayelitsha, where basic human rights are not being met and residents are forced to deal with disease, crime, and death on a regular basis because of a lack of resources that are provided for them. But we also have seen great hope in the people who are working for social justice and human dignity in their own context – whether in parish churches or in advocacy with parliament or in community organizing. And many of the people we have encountered are young adults who want to work for a better South Africa.
There is a lot for our group of pastors to ponder after these days, particularly in how they may be able to take these experiences back to their home communities and churches.