Wednesday, July 28, 2010

deep or wide?

As a child, I loved to listen to my parents talk. One night I sat up as they talked with a friend of theirs from Northern Ireland. I remember that friend saying: "you can become a true world citizen by being very deeply immersed in one culture more than by experiencing many cultures." This comment has stuck with me my whole life, as I have experienced many cultures and sometimes lacked the depth of time and understanding in any one culture.

When we began work in South Africa, we expected to visit many churches connected to the Bible school. But invitations were not forthcoming and we found ourselves deeply frustrated with our inability to get out and know these churches. When we began to regularly worship at our little church in Mandela Park our administrator, Steve Wiebe-Johnson, was glad for our attendance there because: "you can get to know the culture well by being deeply immersed in one church." Almost the same words as my parents' friend used all those years ago.

Over the past years I have become dissatisfied with many of the books I read on Africa in general and African Christianity in particular. Scholarship based on a huge diversity tends to generalise and pick out particulars that fit what the author wants to convey. I am troubled by a western desire, which I recognise in myself, to find a pure, true Africa that fits an ideal we hold out of communalism, non-commercialism, spiritual rather than scientific world view, and connection to the land and other people.

I have begun a book that I find much more satisfying: African Gifts of the Spirit. Author David Maxwell spent many years thoroughly researching one particular African-founded pentecostal church. In deeply analysing one church, he is able to portray it with its negatives and its positives, where it agrees with his theology and where it does not. He considers the complexities of prosperity gospel as it is preached in this church--neither totally glorifying it nor totally demonising it.

It is a challenge to me to get to know people as they are and not as I want or assume them to be. I pray for the deep immersion that can accomplish this goal.


Monday, July 26, 2010

harvest time

The past year has brought us our most successful garden ever. Here are some pictures of our harvest.

Isaac and Nikwa pose with our Indiana sweetcorn.

Joe and I also wanted to be seen with this great crop.

One day Levi helped me shell our dried beans--sugar beans and cow peas (native to South Africa but used all over the world).

My favourite part of Christmas dinner is cauliflower and cheese sauce. This year I grew my own cauliflower for the occasion.

Moses and Isaac love pulling their own carrots from the ground and eating them with the tops attached.

Our chili bushes were our most productive. We have strings of drying chilies all over our kitchen and jars and jars of pickled chilies which we eat with everything. Moses loved to pick them.

Spring is coming and we hope for another good year, full of the natural miracles that God gives us every day.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Mshini Wam"

Our Sunday afternoon trip to the Mthatha airport happened to coincide with the arrival of the South African state president, Jacob Zuma. He was returning via helicopter from Mvezo, the birthplace of Nelson Mandela where a party for the latter's 92nd birthday was being held. We watched from the viewing deck/airport cafe as Zuma, accompanied by his third wife--"the pregnant one", explained the people standing next to us--descended the steps of the helicopter, walked across the tarmac, and boarded the South African air force jet waiting to bear him back to Pretoria.

The whole scene was unceremonious. Yet it reinforced for me the proximity of sitting presidents to power--military power. A camouflage helicopter and a jet inscribed with "South African air force" was needed to transport one man, a wife, and his entourage to and fro. In light of such service, I wondered how any politician would not automatically be beholden to the specific interests of the military. I also pondered that, just over sixteen years ago, Zuma had been on the other side of the same power that now shielded him, and whether that did not seem to him at all disturbingly ironic--that the very machinery which was employed to destroy his people was now within his control. Or is he in its control? And is that not why Jesus refused "control" of the kingdoms of the world when they were offered to him?


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

observations from partnership meetings

After our time in Botswana was finished, we headed to Pietermaritzburg for a different set of meetings, held on 13-15 June.

The first meeting, over two days, was between we North American Mennonite mission workers and our visiting North American administrators.  The second meeting, on the 15th, was between the North Americans and our South African partners.  The purpose of the meeting was to evaluate these partnerships.  In the process, we also got to know one another better—North Americans and South Africans as well as South Africans and South Africans.

Representing our partners in Mthatha were Mama Tshandu and Mama Dwele from the Executive Committee of Bethany Bible School and Tata and Mama Ntapo from Harvest Time Ministries in the location of Mandela Park.  It was our joy to see our friends from Mthatha relating to friends and friends of friends from Pietermaritzburg, Philipstown, Cape Town, and De Aar.

It became even clearer in the meeting what had already seemed clear beforehand: of the people MCUSA and MC Canada are working with in South Africa, some are looking for a much closer relationship, even towards building a common Mennonite identity, while others have a firm identity in their own churches/denominations even as Mennonites assist them in various aspects of their ministries.  For example, some expressed a desire to have these meetings more frequently and for longer, while others said that this once-a-year format was already the maximum amount of time they could give considering the full range of their priorities and commitments.

One other thing I think I noticed: There is a rub between the way in which we Mennonite mission workers have defined or perhaps not defined what we intend to do in South Africa and how a significant portion of our South African partners define their own mission.  When, for example, certain of our South African partners talk about vision and mission, they speak of a specific number of people ministered to by a specific date, or a specific number of new congregations planted by a target date.  Mennonite mission workers, at least in southern Africa, have/do not.  When we drafted a vision and mission statement for the work of our Mennonite team in 2007, we wrote of “the church trained and equipped to engage the larger community with the shalom God intends for creation” and of “working with existing churches and organizations to build up the Body of Christ for healing and reconciling ministry in South Africa”.  In this there is overlap with some of our more numbers-oriented partners; they also use phrases such as the “whole gospel” for the “whole person” (Mennonite Mission Network currently speaks of “sharing all of Christ with all of creation” or, in an earlier incarnation, “the whole gospel for a broken world”) and some are passionately committed to social justice within the South African context.  Where there is not overlap, however, is in the numbers; the missionaries have specified none.

All this is simply to say that this is a difference that I have observed between the missionaries and some of our partners.  It also represents a tension that will continue to exist in me; I remain skeptical about the compatibility of a numbers-oriented focus with a church thoroughly taught in the way of Jesus.  It is also partly for that reason that I have found a special kinship with Pastor Ntapo.  Regularly he introduces his ministry as “not trying for numbers, though we would like to grow.”  Or, as he and Tata Maka put it simply in the constitution of their church, “The vision of the Ministry is to shepherd the people of God in accordance to his word.”  I believe in a mission so stated, and trust its ultimate ability to produce a “thirty, sixty, hundredfold” harvest with little more than the sowing of good seed (Mk. 4:8, 20).


Monday, July 5, 2010

observations from Botswana

We spent four days in Gaborone, Botswana, from 8-11 June. The purpose of our visit was to participate in a review of the work that Mennonites have been doing with African Initiated Churches (AICs) in Botswana for more than thirty years. In the past, Botswana was home to a large contingent of Mennonite workers. At present, one worker remains. The present is thus a time of taking stock of where we have been and where we should be going with regard to Botswana.

It was clear from the review process, consisting mainly of extensive interviews and conversations with both church and civic leaders in that country, that Mennonites have left behind, in words we returned to many times, “a significant deposit of goodwill”. One thing which has not yet developed, however, is a viable structure which can ensure that the ministry of biblical education and leadership training in seTswana, the local language, will continue to serve the AICs without a future, long-term Mennonite presence in the country.

In light of this, the primary route that the review team explored in conversation with AIC partners was that of housing the Bible-teaching ministry under a local theological college. Doing so would benefit the AICs in terms of providing their pastors with an accredited certificate in a seTswana program (the college is currently working on its own accreditation), with the possibility also of moving into a diploma track in English for those who are able. Doing so would benefit the theological college in broadening its base even further within the AIC community/communities. Although the college is from a mainline denomination, already 40% of its students come from AICs in a country in which AICs have become the majority expression of Christian faith.

The rub in all this for AICs is that the college is mainline. In our meeting with AIC leaders, they expressed fears that the joint AIC-Mennonite legacy would be “swallowed up” by the mainlines. One man, the most forceful exponent of this position, suggested rather that the Mennonites “build your own institution” which would continue to serve the AICs “just like you are now”. His suggestion might be attractive if Mennonites did not find themselves in a situation of want in both human and financial resources for mission and, more crucially, if the AICs envision a future in which the academic training for their church leaders comes from among their own ranks.

In the end, the AIC leaders were not completely opposed to a collaboration with the mainline college. Given that the proper safeguards and institutional organs would be put in place, and with the assurance that this would not move forward if their interests were not being served, they could begin to see how such a move could benefit them.

It seems also, then, that the role Mennonites have still to play in Botswana is assuring, encouraging, sitting with these two groups, AIC and mainline, as they come closer together through theological education.