The pastors participating in a study tour in South Africa through the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program packed a lot into two days in Johannesburg. We worshiped at Central Methodist Mission, where 500 Zimbabwean refugees are living inside the church while waiting for appropriate housing and steady jobs. We visited Soweto, the largest and most famous township in Johannesburg, where we toured Nelson Mandela’s former home, visited the site of the 1976 Soweto children’s uprising, saw where the Freedom Charter was adopted in the 1950s, and ate lunch at a traditional township restaurant called Wandie’s. We visited the Apartheid Museum to learn the overall trajectory of the development and downfall of this government system of separateness based on perceived race. We had conversation with Bishop Paul Verryn, the pastor of Central Methodist Mission, who has faced great controversy for welcoming in the Zimbabwean refugees to live in the church, and we also talked with Christa Kuljian, author of the book Sanctuary, which tells the story of Central Methodist Mission.
But I think virtually all of our pastors would agree that the highlight of our time in Johannesburg – and perhaps of the entire study tour – came in a visit to Tapologo AIDS Hospice with Catholic Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg. Tapologo is located in Phokeng, a small town outside of Rustenburg, in an area surrounded by the largest platinum mines in the world. This area also has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world, and certainly the highest rate in South Africa. A number of years ago, Bishop Dowling led a process that was rooted in the local community of training nurses and home-based care workers to visit those who are HIV-positive, provide nursing care and Anti-Retroviral Drugs, build an in-patient hospice unit for those who most sick and near death, and provide care and guidance for the millions of AIDS orphans in the area.
Bishop Dowling is an extraordinary inspiration of a humble man whose faith in God compels him to see hope in the midst of great pain and to work within a community to make that hope a reality for as many people as possible. Based on a fundamental respect and reverence for the lives of all human beings, Tapologo provides dignity, hope, companionship, and community for people who could easily be forgotten, abandoned, and dismissed by those around them.
At the end of our conversation with Bishop Dowling, our group of pastors were reduced to silence – and some to tears – in the presence of such a Godly man whose vision and leadership in community-based pastoral ministry provides a model for our own ministry. Bishop Dowling concluded our study tour by laying hands on and blessing each of our pastors, sending them back to their own communities to be instruments of hope in the midst of pain.
The study tour portion of our time in South Africa is complete, but we still have one thing left to do – safari! Today, we drive to Entabeni Game Reserve, where we will spend the night and go on two game drives. Hopefully many pictures will follow. But for now, here are some pictures from Tapologo.