Wednesday, July 29, 2009

a pastoral concern

This morning at the office we got a visit from one of our old Bible School leaders. Up to this point in our time in Mthatha, we've worked more closely with this man than any other individual in the Bible School. Recently, however, he resigned from our Committee citing age and fatigue. According to newer members of our Committee, however, the real reason is that he is finally being called to account on some advantages that he has taken over the years at others' expense and has no answer for the allegations.

We have been happy to see new faces on our Committee in leadership positions. At the same time, we have built up relationships with older members such as this man and care for them a great deal. By the end of our first year here, in 2006, it was already becoming clear to us that we did not agree with the spiritual orientation of this leader; his life was still ordered around appeasing his ancestors when they made demands upon him through his dreams.

Today he shared with us the latest occurrence of this reality in his life. His daughter, a professional young woman in Johannesburg, has fallen gravely ill. She has come home to the Transkei in order to rest and deal with the sickness. We suspect, because it is so common, that his daughter has HIV. However, the daughter has also received visitations from her deceased grandmother and grandfather. The family response, then, is this: slaughter an animal for the ancestor and serve its meat as a feast in his or her honor. The logic is that the woman has fallen ill because someone in the family has violated the moral order for which the ancestor, as guardian of the family, is responsible. The ancestor's visit then is interpreted as a warning to put things right with him or her in order to stave off even greater calamity. The usual prescribed method for making right is via sacrifice. So the family will spend a lot of money to pull off this feast. This is why, the old man was telling us, he was still unable to give us the money for the Bibles he took from the school's office last year; he was here to assure us that he had not forgotten. Coincidentally, this taking of Bibles from the office, which was known by another member of our Committee, was one of the grievances the new leadership had recently levied against this man.

This old man has been on my heart all week. I know that there is a conflict underway between him and the current Committee. I believe in the vision of our current Committee; I am also fond of the old man for the relationship we have forged over three years. My prayer has been that the new Committee could clear up past confusion in the school caused by the old man's leadership without humiliating him publicly before the student body. The Committee is planning something of a reckoning in less than two weeks on the Friday of the next Mthatha Bible conference. Today, the old man was all but telling us he would not be present then, citing the family issue named above.

I was relieved to have this exchange today. It was warm. We listened sympathetically to his stories. We prayed together for him, his daughter, his family. So far, our commitment to support the current Committee has not soured our relationship with this old man.

Still, I am grieved for my friend as a friend. I wish for him the courage to trust fully in Christ, our human brother, the Ancestor of us all, the one who asks nothing more of us than that we follow him. I wish for him to know that the blood of bulls and goats cannot cleanse the moral impurities of this world. I wish him to know that the sacrifice of Christ, the way of the cross, is the way of confronting directly the pain of this world, the courage to face the hard facts of his daughter's illness and seek the things that truly heal and make for peace.


1 comment:

  1. Fascinating, Joe. This story/meditation is one of the reasons I enjoy your blog so much. Thank you.