Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Apartheid & Oppression

Since I have been in South Africa, I have learned a lot about Apartheid and about the oppression that blacks experienced in the 1960s and 1970s. In addition to watching some of the documentaries in celebration of Mandiba's (Nelson Mandela's) birthday, I have been taken by my hosts to Soweto and the Hector Peterson Museum. The Hector Peterson Museum in Soweto commemorates the 566 people who died in the student uprising that followed the events of June 16, 1976. It is named for Hector Peterson, a 12-year-old boy who was the first person shot dead by police on the day that changed South Africa, and is located near a memorial to his death.

After touring the museum we drove by the nearby homes of Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Winnie Mandela. The Nelson Mandela home is being turned into a museum.

Today I visited the Sharpeville Museum and Memorial. The Memorial commemorates the 69 innocent victims who were shot by police, also known as the Sharpeville Massacre, when blacks protested over the mandate that they carry a pass (or something that looks like a passport) with them at all times . March 21st, the day of the Sharpeville Massacre, is also known as Human Rights Day in South Africa.

I also saw the nearby stadium, also in Sharpeville, where Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected President, signed the South Africa Constitution on May 8, 1996.

These are both important historical events and places for South Africans, as is Robben Island - the prison where Nelson Mandela and many other blacks were held for years. I will tour Robben Island when I'm in Cape Town on August 6th. The stories and the photos remind me of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

We need to know and understand our history and our complicity in oppression of people who are different. Last week at the stakeholders meeting a report was being given about a failed attempt to persuade a local shopping mall to allow for 'health and information fair' of HIV/AIDS providers. The mall's marketing manager flatly refused to allow this event and was reportedly rude and abrupt to the stakeholders. From behind me someone asked if the woman was white. I paused and reviewed in my mind the images of the people in the room. It was then I realized that I was the only white person there.

Part of the challenge is that AIDS is unfortunately still considered a black person's disease in South Africa. While there are some white people with AIDS who have come forward, there is still a great racial stigma.

Still I wonder, how often do we make statements or ask questions that oppress the other? How often are we the one being oppressed?

We have so far to go and so much work to do to build a world where all people are treated equally and where the basic needs of people are being met. There is so much poverty here and around our world. We must consider our global family and begin to love our global neighbor as ourselves. We have much to share and there is so much need.

Please consider making a contribution to the AIDS Program at the Diocese of Christ the King. For more information please go to:

Monday, July 21, 2008

Happy Birthday Madiba!

This was the sentiment all through the country on Saturday - celebrating Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday! There have been some wonderful tributes on television for Mr. Mandela! Over the weekend my hosts, a beautiful family named Maropefela, showed me a wonderful time from a family dinner to a braai. A braai is the word in South Africa for big barbeque with lots of meat - sausage, steak, chicken, etc. and other foods - beans, salad, rolls, etc. I attended church at Holy Trinity in Turfontain with my host family and found the liturgy to be almost exactly the same as ours across the ocean! Holy Trinity has a very active children and youth education programs, and they are very involved at the refugee camp.

Speaking of refugee camp, we tried on Friday and Saturday to enter the camp so I could visit with some of the displaced people; however, we were not allowed. A new registration program was recently started and some of the people in the camp revolted on the previous Weds. so visitors have not been allowed to enter the camp. Even Doctors Without Borders and Save the Children representatives have been turned away. Because today is the deadline for the registration program it is expected that more violence will break out today. And the South African government says it will close the camp at the end of this month.

The refugees are from countries like Zimbabwe where they fled for fear of being killed and if they register in South Africa they will not be treated as refugees by the United Nations and will not have protection. If they are sent back to their country they most likely will be killed. It seems to be a 'no-win' situation. Someone said that it is only when the situation becomes a crisis that the United Nations will come in and help resettle these people.

I did not take any photos of the camp as photos were not allowed. But the camp was basically a large park that had been filled with large white tents like we would see at a wedding reception. Hundreds and hundreds of families and people - young and old - are living in these tents. The area churches serve the government issued food three times a day. Before the violence, the churches and NGOs were able to provide counseling and assistance. Please pray for the people in this camp, for the government officials and for the countless volunteers and staff and that this crisis will soon be peacefully resolved.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bits & Pieces

Today was a day of meetings. Nandi picked me up at 7:30 AM so we could make it to an area HIV/AIDS stakeholder meeting by 9:00 AM. We picked up Sello on the way and arrived by 8:50 AM. Representatives from various governmental agencies, including the Health Department and Social Service Department, as well as NGOs and business (Nestle) were represented. The meeting began 'promptly' at 9:30 AM and ended at 2:00 PM!! The good news is that this type of collaboration and communication is new to South Africa and this monthly meeting has become a model for other jurisdictions. After the meeting finished the hosts served a light lunch.

Tonight at 5:30 PM I attended with Nandi an Executive Counselors Meeting of the Diocese. The meeting started on time and ended by 6:40 PM. Much better than this morning!

I am eager to get back out in the field tomorrow. We are visiting the refugee camp that 'houses' a number of people who have fled from Zimbabwe. It's sure to be an interesting day.

I thought I would share a bit of my experience since I've been staying at the Diocesan Conference Center - St. Peter's Place. I'm currently the only guest and the staff are feeding me like there are three or four people here. The food is delicious and water is always available for a 'spot of tea' or coffee. I've become a tea drinker since arriving in South Africa! I have a lovely private suite with private bath. The bath doesn't have a shower so I use a cup to pour water over my head to wash my hair. It works quite well!

The staff has also been packing lunch for me. The other day we were sharing lunch - Nandi, Sello & I - when I spotted what looked like a peanut butter & jelly 1/4 sandwich. I, a lover of peanut butter, took a bite and immediately realized that the 'jelly' was fish paste! Not wanting to be an ungrateful guest, I continued to chew and swallow and to finish the 1/4 sandwich! There was another 1/4 fish paste sandwich in the lunch which no one else ate, so it was returned in the container. I haven't found another fish paste sandwich in my lunch box!

I have especially enjoyed my early morning visits with the manager of St. Peter's Place. Sharon is an ordained priest, and we've discovered that we have common interests, especially around healing ministry. I have a new author, Mike Endicott, to read when I return home.

Tomorrow at 4:00 PM I will be picked up by another member of the Plunge Committee and will spend the weekend at her home. I will return to the McBrides Sunday night and will be housed with them for rest of the week. I will be spending the days with various clergy and lay people who also serve on the Plunge Committee. I am not sure what we'll be doing next week, but I'm sure I will have experiences to share!

I am most grateful to Nandi and the HIV/AIDS staff for sharing this time with me and allowing me to experience their ministry. I am also grateful to Sharon and the staff at St. Peter's Place. Thank you all for your gracious welcome and hospitality. I hope we meet again.


Today Nandi & I, Agnes, the head of the Mother's Union and Sello, the local coordinator, went to the shanty town called "Finetown". There's nothing fine about it, however! Most of the homes were made of tin - siding and roofing with gaps between the tin sheeting. All had outhouses with new-looking vent pipes (to keep people from dying from methane gas). And some had water taps in the "yards" while others had no water and the occupants had to go to a community water supply which had several faucets to fill jugs of water. I saw someone pushing a wheel barrow with 2 or 3 large plastic containers of water back to their home.

The 'roads' were not paved and were deeply rutted making hard for Nandi to drive. Dust was everywhere! We visited several clients in Finetown, sitting outside on borrowed chairs, stools or benches from neighbors. One lady invited us to sit inside her home. A curtain separated her bedroom (I think) from the kitchen, dining, sitting area. She has no ID so she cannot receive services - food & financial support - for herself and her family (3 children). She lost her birth certificate and only has a baptismal certificate. Nandi talked with her about presenting the baptismal certificate as ID to see if it's acceptable; otherwise, she told the lady that she would get an affidavit to say she lost her birth certificate. If anyone can find a way to get this lady an ID it is Nandi!

Some of the neighbors in Finetown were drinking beer that Nandi told me they spike with battery acid to make it more potent. You can see, she told me, their red lips that have been burned from the acid.

Today was quite shocking for me. It's so sad and yet Nandi and her staff & volunteers are doing amazing work and providing so much support, but as Sello said to me, "the need is overwhelming."

Lesedi La Kreste - Light of Christ

Today and yesterday I traveled around the Diocese with Nandi Tshaka, the Diocesan AIDS Coordinator. We visited two homes where children as young as 2 months and as old as 18 years are being cared for by women with help from the Church, government and private companies. We happened upon an event being sponsored at one of the homes by ABI - African Beverage Incorporated. Nandi was delighted to see the business and community collaboration that has taken place since her last visit to this home. The walls were freshly painted, the rooms clean with new bunk beds, mattresses and blankets and an office for the staff. We also visited one of Nandi's clients who, in spite of many attempts to receive anti-viral drugs at the local clinic, kept on being denied. Nandi escorted the client to the clinic and was successful in getting proper treatment for her. As we visited yesterday the mother shared the story of her daughter's rape and how they told no one because of fear and shame. The mother had recently learned that if the rape had been reported to the health clinic her daughter might have received the anti-viral drugs which would have prevented HIV/AIDS. The mother wept as she told Nandi how responsible she feels for hiding this secret. Nandi shared that this is not uncommon - the shame and stigma of rape and HIV/AIDS is pervasive in South Africa. And more often than not the men are set free and the women have no rights to pursue action against them.

Today we visited an Anglican Primary School - Lesedi La Kreste (Light of Christ) - which has 1200 students from 5 years to 7th grade. The children were having lunch as we walked through the campus, and they smiled and waved to us. We visited with the principal and the school counselor who shared stories of the needs and challenges facing some of the children. The counselor told of a 2nd grader, probably 7 or 8 years old, who was raped by her step-brother and who hadn't told anyone until the counselor spoke to the class about sexual awareness.

These stories are heartbreaking and yet, it is wonderful that the Anglican Church in South Africa, specifically the Diocese of Christ the King, is committed to HIV/AIDS education, awareness, counseling, treatment, support and advocacy. Nandi has championed this effort for many years, first as a volunteer and now as a full-time staff person. She has established an impressive network of coordinators and counselors who lead these efforts in the Diocese. Some parishes are still reluctant to support this work, but Nandi continues to encourage their involvement. As she says, "Step by step we are making a difference."

I will spend the rest of the week with Nandi visiting more projects, clients and programs. She is a strong woman who is deeply passionate about her work and her clients. Thank God for her commitment and for the support of the Diocese, government and other organizations. She and her staff and volunteers are definitely making an impact in this part of South Africa.

Winter in South Africa

It is winter in South Africa and while I don't exactly know the temperature I am guessing that at night it goes down to 35 or 40 degrees. Fortunately for the past two days it has been sunny during the day so I have been warm with a light sweater or polartec vest over my turtlneck. At night, however, I use a space heater to stay warm. The first night I did not feel comfortable turning it on, but couldn't sleep because I was cold so for the past two nights I've used the heater for at least part of the night.

This week I am staying at the Diocesan Conference Center - St. Peter's Place. This Diocesan offices are here, but unfortunately I will not meet Bishop Peter John Lee. He is attending the Lambeth Conference. Since I was confused, I will mention that this is a different Bishop Peter J. Lee from Bishop Peter J. Lee of Virginia! The Virginia Bishop's middle name is James, I think.

My accomodations are wonderful. I have a private suite and am currently the only guest here. Sharon, the manager who is also an ordained priest, has been very gracious to allow me to use her computer in the evenings. We've also enjoyed some wonderful conversations. I eat in the dining hall (by myself) and have enjoyed delicious meals. I hope to upload some photos in the next day or two so check back on the posts!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Arrived Safely in South Africa

A quick post to say I arrived Saturday evening in South Africa after two flights totaling about 16 hours with 2 hours in Paris. The McBrides, my hosts, were there to greet me. They are a lovely couple with whom I've enjoyed some wonderful conversation. The Reverend Horace McBride is an Archdeacon in Christ the King Diocese. His wife and I went to the Sunday service in the chapel next door to the Rectory yesterday morning. I hope to post photos when I am able to use my laptop.

I will be spending the week traveling with Nandi, the Diocesan AIDS Coordinator and will be staying at the Diocesan Conference Center in Johannesburg. Then I will return to the McBrides next Sunday.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Preparing for "The Plunge"

In 10 days I will be flying to Johannesburg, South Africa for "The Plunge" - a ministry immersion in the Diocese of Christ the King which is just outside Joh'burg. I am looking forward to staying at the home of the Archbishop and his wife and experiencing ministry in a new part of the world. I hope to spend time with the diocese's AIDS ministry and Mother's Union. I'm sure that "The Plunge" will significantly impact my ministry in ways that I cannot even imagine! I expect to blog during my journey so stay tuned.

In preparation I've started the hepatitis A & B shot series. I'll start taking typhoid pills later this week. Can't wait for the flu-like side effects!!! I have malaria pills to take before, during and after my three-day visit to Kruger National Park which is scheduled to take place after "The Plunge." In fact, I'm spending two weeks after "The Plunge" traveling around South Africa, eventually visiting friends in Knysna and winding up in Cape Town.

Since it's winter there I will need to get sweaters and warm clothes out of the closet! Seems odd to pack fleece when it's 90 degrees at home! I'm making progress on the list of all the other details - paying bills, car, home and pet care, etc. There is a lot of preparation before leaving for a month!