Thursday, March 25, 2010

mob justice and the justice of God

Last week in Mandela Park, the location in which we worship on Sundays, several teenage boys were murdered in retribution for acts of theft and rape committed against members of the community. The events were chronicled in the regional media; we heard about them from our pastor who saw the police in pursuit of the boys. According to his account, a mob surrounded the boys. A mother of one of the boys was alerted with the news that her son was about to be killed. She arrived on the scene, but was chased off by the mob, helpless to save her son. The police looked on as the boys were beaten to death.

"I am not on the side of the thieves," the pastor said to me, "yet no one deserves to die like that."

The story brings to mind for me the witness of Jesus when confronting similar mobs, in particular his words to those who had gathered to stone the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 7:53-8:11). His statement, "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her", describes perfectly the crux of the dilemma. In violence-plagued communities, whose son or daughter, mother or father, is not a participant in such sin? Those who beat the boys to death, without mercy, are the same ones who on another day have played the part of the thief. In fact, their very act of vengeance implicates them in the moment, for the violence they committed is of a piece with the initial act of offense. They show themselves to be of no higher character than the boys.

The irony of the gospel story, of course, is that the only one without sin, opposite his words, also did not "cast a stone." Those who live by violence will die by it (Mt. 26:52)--an apt description of reality--but God in Jesus does not treat us as we deserve. He gives us a new word: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy" (Mt. 5:7).

I am amazed, given the hysteria of mob dynamics, that Jesus was able to defuse that situation with his words. For those who believe, there is more hope in that he was able to do so than there is despair in what transpired in the events of last week.

"No one deserves to die like that", "Let one without sin first cast a stone" will yet right the wrongs of our violent world.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

spot the boy

I recently had occasion to print a picture of each of our boys as a baby. They are kind of hard to tell apart--even for us. Can you do it?


Monday, March 22, 2010

Isaac's birthday party

The 2010 World Cup (to be held in South Africa) was loosely the theme of Isaac's birthday party. His mom made him this cake of the jersey of the South African national side, Bafana Bafana, complete with "SAFA" script (South African Football Association) and a number "7" for Isaac's age.
As Isaac's friends arrived, we had home-made party hats ready to be decorated and personalized by each child.

Lunch was chili-cheese dogs, flavored cheese puffs, and punch.

We also cranked ice cream. Each kid took a turn and seemed very interested in the process.

Cake time with the star in the center.

A final game of musical chairs.

Isaac had been looking forward to this day for months. It felt great to successfully host his first major party with friends from school. Isaac turns 7 on 24 March.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Farming God's Way

Last week, Bethany Bible School hosted its first workshop--a new thing this year in which we run three hands-on type seminars in addition to our 6 curriculum topics. The first one was called Farming God's Way and was taught by Mennonite Central Committee country representative, James Alty.

The idea of Farming God's Way is to teach conservation agriculture, emphasising the spiritual over the scientific. The three tenets of Farming God's Way are no till or burn, using mulch, and crop rotation. Mulch is referred to as "God's blanket" and its importance is emphasised by explaining how in nature, trees drop their leaves which are then returned to earth. In creation, the earth is never turned over and so we too should not deep-plough. In addition, participants are urged to do everything to a high standard and with joy--as unto the Lord.

It is a sad reality that while most people in this area have some land, little of it is being used to great advantage. The land has suffered from years of over-use in which nothing is given back to the soil. Rural people come into town to buy 10 cabbages at a time or 10 kgs of potatoes with their government grant cheques. Returning people to the land would bring huge rewards in the reduction of poverty.

Participants were excited about the workshop and plan to implement the strategies at planting time in November. We hope to do some follow-up and encourage people to actually do this. One person with a healthy garden with living soil would be a small miracle and that's what we pray for.


Singing to open our work on the demonstration "well-watered garden". Mama Dokolwana is leading with her hoe.


Monday, March 15, 2010

a beautiful moment

Joe wrote last week on the Anabaptist Network in South Africa website about the unexpected acts of conciliation that break down walls of hostility (Surprised by Grace). On Friday we experienced such a moment.

Our friend Kuhle Mxakaza's boarding school choir was coming to Mthatha to perform. We had been to one of their concerts four years ago and knew that the performance would be top quality. They were to play at the school hall at Isaac's school. The hall was about a quarter full, almost entirely parents of the girls in the choir. From the minute they opened their mouths for the first requiem, we were stunned by the power of their sound. They were incredible. They sang a range of classical and opera in the first half. It was gorgeous.

In the second half, their accompanist sat down and they proceeded with African songs to which they danced and moved. The crowd also got going.

Several songs into the second act, the single white girl in the choir was brought forward to open with a solo. She began to sing a spiritual song in Xhosa. The crowd erupted. They waved and danced through the whole thing.

When she finished they asked her to come back and sing again. She did so. In different parts of the hall, Joe and I were weeping. There was something about the crowd's response to her song that gives me chills thinking about it. They weren't by any means a hostile crowd. And she wasn't anything other than a participating member of the choir. But the joy and blessing were so abundant. And suddenly, the concert had become a worship service. It was beautiful.

I don't know if anyone there particularly needed that moment of mutual humanity but the concert followed a week in which two top ANC leaders had made violent anti-white statements. Tension is running high in South Africa--the majority of black people are still suffering economically and white people feel left out of the political power structures. People can only hate when they don't know. We saw into each other's souls that night.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

morning at Supa Quick

On saturday, I took a friend's car to the Supa Quick to repair a leaky tyre. The car was there at 7:30. the third one in line. The place opened at 8:00 and I waited inside with Jesse while tyre after tyre was wheeled in and worked on. I finally went in to ask the man at the desk why my car was not being seen. I heard him telling a worker to "bring in the BMW." I asked about my car and he said to remind the workers. I went back out and asked about my car. After another minute or two, the worker got into my car and drove it over to a different door and someone pulled up the BMW at the door that I was standing in front of.

I began to hear sounds of a rising argument. A woman standing across from me was shouting at the worker that had moved my car. I started to realise that the argument involved me: "It's racist. You're racist. You took that car because she's white. If I had kept quiet my car still wouldn't be seen." The worker, who was coloured, explained to her that he had moved my car in order to make room for her BMW as hers needed to be jacked up. She continued to shout at him, with rising fury that he was racist. He began to shout back that he wasn't racist and that she was making him really angry.

A manager came out and tried to calm them both down. Eventually the worker went to work on my car and someone else came to work on hers. I saw that she was still angry and fuming. I went over and said that I was sorry if that had anything to do with it and asked how long she had been waiting. She poured out a story of Supa Quick Mthatha putting the wrong tyres on her car and when she went to East London, they asked her why she had risked her life with these tyres. She had come back to Mthatha demanding that they fix their mistake. They had said they would phone her the week before and never had so when she came in on saturday she had expected to be seen first as none of this had been her fault, but theirs. And yet they had continued to keep her waiting. She said that they were taking advantage of her because she was a woman and didn't know what the right tyres were supposed to look like. They told her that she should have told them which tyres to use, to which she replied that they were the tyre experts.

We talked for a while and when her car was ready she came over to say goodbye. The manager told me that my car had only had a kinked rim which leaked air and that there was no charge. I don't understand everything that happened that morning--I don't know whether she was kept waiting because she was black or a woman or because they were incompetent. I don't know whether I had to wait because I was a woman or because they have no system at all. I don't know whether I would have waited longer had I been a young black woman. But a dull morning of waiting for a tyre repair turned into a meaningful time of understanding and the evils of the system matter less when we don't let it build up walls between us.


Monday, March 1, 2010

one came back

I was once taking a pastor home from a service. It had been a meeting to discuss plans for an HIV/AIDS ministry. At the end of the meeting, everyone had begun to sing and dance as usual. This particular pastor went around praying for each woman in turn and placing her hands on their heads. As she left each woman, I saw her shake her hands as if the power had gone out from them and they needed rejuvenation.

In the car, I asked her about it. She is a healer and she is the founder and bishop of her church. She told me that she is sad because everyone wants to come to her for healing but, having been healed, they do not come back. She said that, as a pastor, you have to be prepared that on any given Sunday you may be preaching only to your husband.

Soon after we began attending church in Mandela Park, a young man appeared at church one Sunday. At a time in the service in which people are prayed for, he came forward and said that he had "fits" and wanted healing. Everyone gathered around and prayed for him.

That man came back. Every week. Every mid-week service. We have never been at church when he wasn't and we have never made it to church before him.

The pastors have continued to pray for him. They have also taken him to a doctor. When it was time for his circumcision, his initiation into manhood, the pastor took him to a doctor for the physical circumcision and then visited him during his time of seclusion to teach him on what it means to be a man.

While the nine went on their way, satisfied with their healing, this man is the one who came back to give praise to God. While his healing may have been affected in that first visit, truly it is his faith that has made him well (Luke 17:11-19).