Friday, May 28, 2010

ask, search, knock

Yesterday we went to the bank with two members of the Bible School committee to open a savings account in the name of Bethany Bible School. This has followed upon our registration as an official Non-Profit Organization in South Africa, something we have been working on for several years now. All of this fits within our broader vision of Bethany Bible School empowered as a locally-owned and operated ministry. So yesterday was a big step along the way.

At our meeting last Saturday, the committee appointed two members, along with us, to be signatories on the account. The one man who was appointed seemed very reluctant; he kept reiterating that he lived "far" which would make it difficult for him to be a signatory, despite the fact that he lives no farther from Mthatha than most members of the committee. He eventually agreed.

Why was he so reluctant? It seems that he was simply scared. Most--if not all--of our students, drawn from among the least formally-educated, economically-poor section of society, have a distinct inferiority-complex in the face of the modern world. They are disadvantaged linguistically, in which English and in some areas, Afrikaans, is the language of government and the corporate world (e.g. the world of banks). This is not to say that they cannot get services in their home language; in fact it is government policy that people should be able to receive basic, government services in any of the nation's eleven official languages. And in Mthatha, Xhosa is too predominant not to be available to the general population. Still, when we presented the minutes from the meeting at which we had decided to open an account--one of the documents required of us--we were informed that it "must be in English"--not the Xhosa in which our deputy-secretary had recorded the meeting. Anna thus quickly rushed off to an internet cafe to type up the relevant points in an English document. All of this is simply to say that, although Anna and I usually find ourselves marginalized socially due to our lack of facility in Xhosa, there are other worlds, in this case the corporate, in which we are more resident than a vast majority of the country's citizens. In other words, the aliens have become the residents and the residents are the aliens.

That our students are, in some ways, aliens in their own country is not a matter of language as much as it is of education and status. Indeed, our committee members exchanged all the usual greetings with their fellow, though more-educated, Xhosa-speakers who were employed by the bank; they exchanged clan names and talked about their respective home areas with all the characteristic warmth and respect of such encounters. Still, when it came to the actual business of the account, the committee members deferred to us, even in certain situations when we were not the ones being called upon to supply information. The banker had to indicate for a second time that she wanted them this time and not us.

All of this is, I think, not simply a matter of our committee members appearing with their teachers and, out of respect for our role, deferring to us--there are other situations in which that is the prime motivator. But in this case it is more a matter of their unease in the modern world. In that world, education, status, and to some extent, language, is not their own. That world is still foreign--and not a little bit mysterious.

Mysterious? I say so because over the years I have received a number of puzzling questions from our Bible School students. One man, who used to come to our office to pick up modules for a correspondence course in church leadership, kept pressing me as to "what he would get" from completing the course. For example, in the module on music in the church, he asked whether completing it would not qualify him to start a singing group like the Lusanda Spiritual Group, a popular gospel outfit based in this area. Likewise he queried whether the completion of this diploma would qualify him to be a Methodist pastor, even though this man's particular church was Zionist. All of this added up for me that this man was desperately searching to solve the riddle of success--why do some people prosper and others not?; why do some benefit from modernity's riches while others do not?; and how do I get there? He was also hoping, it seemed, that there was a magic route to success, that, in his words, "the successes would come" immediately upon completion of the correspondence course, as if by simple virtue of grasping the diploma on the day of graduation. I thought it best to emphasize that what one "gets" is knowledge if one works hard. And even then "success" is not guaranteed.

Another man recently tried to get me to take what appeared to be two application forms for job opportunities in his own local municipality. He also insisted that I send his tests to the address of the correspondence course's headquarters, even though he already had the envelope ready to go and could access the post office as easily as I; thousands of people exactly like him do it every day.

Another person, a woman, came to our most recent Bible conference saying she "wants what Jesus had." She wants to be able to heal people. The Friday lesson was, in fact, on the topic of healing, in which one of the main points was that God heals, we listen and pray. Our particular ministry is to provide perspective from the Bible on the world. Some people are able to see how that knowledge is relevant to their aspirations. Others, this woman seemingly one of them, come hoping that we might be more directly, more immediately involved in bestowing upon them the power that is missing from their lives.

In all of these examples there is an element that we, as ostensibly successful people, might hold the key to a world now hidden from those in need; we are mediators making an invisible world visible. While it is true that we--indeed all people--are mediators of knowledge, the quest for knowledge, for that which is just beyond our reach, is fundamentally personal. Each person must search. Every child of God is free--dignified, confident, powerful, responsible.

I am searching. So too, I believe, are the people mentioned above. We take it as our calling to inspire that quest.

"Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you" (Mt. 7:7).


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Moses is 5

Yesterday we celebrated 5 years with Moses.

The day began at 5:00 with presents. This look is either pleasure or surprise that his parents would get him such a cool present as Spiderman socks.

Moses' brothers helped him with his presents.

At 10:00 we took a cake to school for Moses. Since the cakes were made at the last minute and were still on the warm side, the icing melted off a corner. Everyone seemed pretty pleased with the explanation that a bad guy was trying to melt Spiderman's web.

Moses was not displeased to be the centre of attention.

Each of his parents wanted a picture with the birthday boy.

Since the school cake had been eaten down to the last crumb, we had to make another cake for the evening so Isaac could have some. Since we have no oven (and haven't for a long time) and had already borrowed our friend's (thanks Viwe), we made raw brownies for the evening. By this point all boys were on the verge of hysterically tired and we could barely get them in bed fast enough.

We are very proud of our articulate, inquisitive, and zealous 5-year old and look forward to seeing his development in the coming year.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

bumping into God

At breakfast this morning we were reading the Revised Common Lectionary readings for the week which, today being ascension day, were related to the ascension of Jesus.

Moses (age almost 5) was getting visibly upset by something and said "but God is not our God, Jesus is our God." He went on to tell us that God is not "real", Jesus is real because he had a body and Joseph is his father because Joseph also had a body.

Isaac (age 7) responded to him with the transfiguration story and asked "whose voice came from the cloud? Was it Joseph or was it God?"

Moses came back at him: "but if God were real, we'd be bumping into him all the time."

I like this image. Today, I am going to think of "bumping into God" all the time.


children from overseas

Tata and Mama Momoza

This morning we went to visit our friends after too long an interval. Mama and Tata Momoza had welcomed us on our arrival to South Africa and we have since visited them at regular intervals and them us. In 2008, we spent a week at their house. They are members of the Bible school but have been unable to attend for a few years now because of a series of health problems. Because we see them only periodically, our visits to them serve as a measure of our Xhosa language improvement. Today we had not seen them for about 9 months and were pleased to find that we could carry on the entire conversation quite comfortably in Xhosa. We exchanged family news and Bible school news and had a good laugh about some recent developments at the Bible school. There always comes a point where our minds are full and our Xhosa fails us. The crash came a little later this time than previously. We always enjoy the Momozas' company and I want to share some photos of various times with them over the past few years.

Early on in our time in South Africa we attended a weekend worship service at their homestead. Isaac and Moses were excited to get warm bath water brought to our room first thing in the morning.

2 1/2 years later, Levi got to have his own bucket bath at the Momozas.

In 2008, we spent a week with the Momozas and learned a lot from them. Mama Momoza and Moses discuss the manure they are putting in the planting hole in this picture.

The Momozas are very patient teachers and we often read the Bible together in Xhosa or had a lesson outside like this.

Mama Momoza is very active in her community, doing home-based health care for people living with HIV/AIDS and running income generating sewing projects. In 2007, she arranged for school uniforms to be given to all the AIDS orphans in her area. They are pictured here clutching their new clothes.

Tata Momoza always introduces us as his "children from overseas". Today I am feeling grateful to the Momozas and all those who have adopted us and made us feel like family and not outsiders.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

"Feel it . . . it is here!"

One hears this slogan these days on South African radio. What "it" is, or that which we are implored to "feel" is, of course, the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament.

The coming of the World Cup to South Africa is not without controversy. Several weeks ago, for example, I spoke with a South African, a socially and environmentally-conscious Christian, who questions the wisdom of bringing the tournament to a country in which so many of its citizens live in abject poverty. Far from benefiting the poor, resources (e.g. electricity) used to host the tournament and later maintain infrastructure built specifically for it come directly at their expense.

That is one side of the issue. The other side is the pride that hosting an event of such magnitude can bring to the people of South Africa. Several weeks ago, as we walked through the streets of the township where we worship after church, a group of young men commented, "Is it the World Cup already?; we like to see you here!" This group of people, undoubtedly classified by outsiders as the poor, who indeed will not likely reap any material benefits from the tournament, nevertheless own the idea of hosting foreigners in their country. Perhaps the single greatest assurance of dignity for Africans--the essential characteristic of being human according to the Psalmist ("crowned with glory and honor") (Ps. 8)--is their capacity to host, to throw a party to which the world is invited.

Last week, while stopped at a red light, the voice of the young man driving the car beside mine came through my window: "feel it!" He spoke those words because he, a black man, and I, a white, were both wearing Bafana Bafana jerseys. We exchanged smiles and thumbs up. In the interest of doing my small part to support unity in a still deeply-divided society, Anna and I had decided to purchase one for my birthday. To me it is money well-spent.

So, yes, the international, corporate powers that put on the World Cup do not care for the poor. Perhaps they even impede the poor's actual ability to host the event. Yet we might ask whether our preoccupations with material considerations is the flip-side of a deficiency to appreciate as genuinely real those benefits which are invisible--or at least hidden from our eyes. That is a question.

Joe, Isaac, Levi, and Moses attempt to "feel it".