Thursday, January 21, 2010

recipe for love

A true story:

One evening at twilight while a certain man was inspecting his garden, his wife approached to report that she was going across the way to visit another woman on the location. Returning some hours later, the husband "felt something telling him" to search his wife's coat, after she had taken it off. His suspicions were confirmed: in the inner pockets he found two plastic baggies of "powder"--"poison" in his assessment, intended for him. Later confronting his wife about the find, she denied such intentions, claiming instead that it was medicine for a certain ailment her mother had been carrying. Knowing, however, that the mother had previously been healed, the husband pressed his wife further for the truth. Eventually she conceded; the powder was for him. Even so, the wife did not intend for the powder to kill her husband. On the contrary, she was going to feed it to her husband in order to make him love her; the powder was a love-potion.

This situation is not uncommon. The city of Mthatha is littered on any day, its buildings likewise adorned, with flyers of traditional doctors--sangomas--advertising their services to the public: enlargement (or reduction) of sexual organs, abortions, the attaining of jobs or riches, curing HIV-AIDS, and yes, bringing back a lost lover. That it is so, I now understand, is not for no reason; where the demand is great, so the supply.

One of the most common explanations we hear for cause of death among this segment of the population is "poisoning": "they are saying she was poisoned"; "maybe he ate poison"; "they poisoned her." It is also worth noting that poison in the South African context has political connections; the apartheid regime maintained chemical labs in which lethal mixtures were produced and applied by secret agents, for example, on the clothes of political dissidents. That which differentiates these two examples of poison--the one "traditional", "primal", "premodern", the other "scientific", "sophisticated", "modern"--is not as relevant as what unites them. Both were devised in the shadows, in secret, with deception. These ingredients are the impetus of such concoction, the biological combinations mere conductors of their master's malice.

That malice was not the wife's, for she loves her husband. Nor even does it belong to the woman who supplied the powder, the sangoma, though she deals in the powers of darkness. It belongs to the evil one, "the father of lies" (Mt. 6:13; Jn. 8:44), the one who bends desires for good to evil.

God bends them back. Though he later noticed only one bag of powder, the man will not refuse to eat the food his wife serves. To reject his wife's gifts is a greater threat to their marriage than the poison powder. Someone must break the cycle of doubt and fear. The man knows he's complicit; his own falling with another woman three years ago set back his wife's ability to trust the love she now seeks from him in powder. Eating is an act of faith--one simple act, among others, with power to remake their marriage according to God's intention.

What the devil intended for evil, God intended for good (Gen. 50:20).

-Joe

Monday, January 18, 2010

Anabaptist Network in South Africa

Both Anna and I have been contributing to the website of the Anabaptist Network in South Africa (ANiSA), a project which our colleagues Karen and Andrew Suderman are spearheading from their base in Pietermaritzburg (You can access two of our opinion pieces below).

colonialism and ancestral worship
online worship and community

In southern Africa, and also in some other places, Mennonite mission from North America has focused not on planting a Mennonite denomination, but on being a voice for values (e.g. peace, justice, simplicity, humility) which can be incorporated by whosoever may choose to listen. The Mennonite presence in Mthatha, for example, was founded on precisely that principle. While I cannot escape (nor do I wish to) that as a Mennonite my teaching on the Bible has been shaped by my theological tradition, that teaching has been graciously accommodated by a wider circle, in our case the African Initiated Churches (AICs) and Pentecostals who have supported Bethany Bible School for nearly 30 years.

Rightly, however, the North American Mennonite voice is not now the only Anabaptist voice in South Africa. Zimbabwean nationals of the Brethren in Christ, a member church of Mennonite World Conference, are planting Anabaptist congregations in South Africa; so too are Mennonites from Congo. Their presence, as well as South Africans who have become interested in Anabaptism (some in part via the website), causes us to revisit our historic way of doing mission in southern Africa. I, for one, am not averse to the sprouting of Anabaptist congregations and, provided that the growth is organic and free of manipulation, would encourage it. Still, as other colleagues have pointed out, any participation in the growth of explicitly Anabaptist faith communities must be weighed alongside historic commitments to support existing denominations, relationships which have been built on the understanding that Mennonites did not have as their goal the increase of their own church membership. Regardless of these considerations, we continue to have as our goal the witness to peace through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

-Joe

Friday, January 15, 2010

retreat

From January 3-8, we were at Skogheim Christian Retreat Centre near Shelly Beach, in the province of kwaZulu-Natal, with fellow workers in the organizations of Mennonite Mission Network, Mennonite Church Canada Witness, and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Together we represented four countries of work (Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa, Swaziland) and four nationalities (Canada, Swaziland, United States, Zimbabwe). This year's retreat was blessed with an infusion of young adults who were serving/had served in programs of the aforementioned Mennonite organizations: MCC's SALT, in which young adults from North America spend a year living and working in a foreign country; MCC's IVEP, in which young adults from countries where MCC works spend a year living and working in North America; and Mission Network's Radical Journey, in which young adults from North America spend a year living as community and learning what if means to follow Jesus in the context of the global church.

Together we shared stimulating input on the theme of "experiencing God in another culture", vibrant worship, and much-needed (from the perspective of this writer) recreation (I remembered the sheer joy of Mennonite summer camp with pool games, in this case polo, soccer, and ultimate). Best of all was the awareness that our children enjoy these events so much which bridge for them the world they hear about (North America) and the world in which they live (Africa).

-Joe

Thanks to Joan Alty for the photo.