Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Let the church roll on

A number of things have conspired recently from which to re-view our work in Mthatha. Last Sunday, we visited a supporting congregation in Chicago's south suburbs. This was the first time that we had returned to the church since their pastor had moved on. The pastor is a person of remarkable vision and gifts for ministry. The pastor is committed to sharing power and developing the full ministry potential of the laity. This was her work while serving this church. Now she is gone. The church continues. People who were not active in the church during our sojourn there four years ago are actively involved in congregational life. One has moved on, another has assumed the role of running the overhead projector during worship. A new face greets us at the door, handing out bulletins (she found her way into the church through a posting for an adult Bible study). Someone else, that is, not one of the usual suspects during our time, has brought in the food for the fellowship meal. The church goes on.

Some Mennonite colleagues in South Africa are taking on our teaching responsibilities with Bethany Bible School during our time this summer in the United States. Their reports so far are of unexpected people accepting leadership. Our gifted and faithful translator--who has served 26 consecutive Bible conferences over the last two years--has missed the first two this month. In spite of our dependence on her as the "only" member of the school capable of articulating the nuances of my thought, others--one of whom I didn't even know could understand English--have stepped up. The ministry continues.

A friend recently resigned from a church he had pastored for many years. "You can't leave. You're the best pastor we've ever had", they say through their tears. "It's silly", he says to me, managing to stay above--or is it below?--the hype. The church will go on.

I dreamed the other night that I was with my oldest son Isaac on a yellow school bus filled to capacity. The driver--someone who I take as in some way representative of the ministry in South Africa--was trying to maneuver the bus out of a tight spot. I watched from the last seat as the back wheels reversed ever so slightly off the cliff with a beach and crashing waves far below. It was not enough to send the bus over; it tipped and then fell on its side instead, wheels still spinning over the edge. In a space where I couldn't have had time enough to plot a next move, a window popped open--just for me and my son to exit. We did so, leaving behind a bus and its passengers to an as yet unknown fate, on the edge of the cliff. Petrol had also leaked across the bus; the threat of all-out disaster was perhaps greater than hope of rescue. I was aware, as I walked away, that my decision was morally ambiguous if not downright dubious. But I rationalized that I would call for help from the church in the distance. I do not remember if I did so. I do know that I awoke not fearful as after other terrors of the night. On the contrary, I felt assured of my departure; God had made a way--had quite literally "opened a window"--for me and my family. For others I cannot say.

For the last three years, we have worked hard at sharing power with a local Committee. New initiatives have been set in motion in the hope of full local ownership of the school. We cannot see whether these initiatives will work nor whether we have tried the right ones.

Will the ministry go on? Fall off the cliff? Explode?

By the grace of God, we will know when it's our time to leave--in the constant hope that something new might be born.


Friday, August 8, 2008


"Siyahamba"--in both the Xhosa and Zulu languages--means "we are walking". The phrase probably evokes for some a popular church song of the same title. Or else it carries the theme of Nelson Mandela's autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. For us, "siyahamba" also implies that the nation of South Africa is still walking, is yet on a journey. We are walking.

This is no small distinction. Some prefer to freeze South Africa in 1994, believing that the miracle of its bloodless transition from white to black-rule affords its heroes an irrevocable privilege to power and its accoutrements. Yet even the euphoria of a good dream, as Langston Hughes put it, can crust over--"or does it explode?"--if too long deferred by those--by all of us--who cease to walk.

Since 2006, we have set out to walk with South African Christians in Eastern Cape. We pray that our common journey as the church will bring near for others the kingdom of justice, joy, and peace. Thanks in advance for walking with us through this blog.


Who are we?

We--Joe and Anna Sawatzky--are North American Mennonites who live in the city of Mthatha, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa. We are raising three young sons--Isaac (5), Moses (3), and Levi (9 months)--and working with African Initiated Churches and New Pentecostals. We arrived in South Africa in January 2006 and are currently in the USA for the purpose of reporting on our work to supporting congregations. We will return to South Africa early next month to begin our second 3-year term with Mennonite Mission Network.

We enjoy the work of communicating our experiences in Africa to a North American audience. We hope this blog can be one point connecting members of Christ's one, global Body.