Friday, May 30, 2008

For Reflection

Nothing is so important as human life, as the human person. Above all, the person of the poor and the oppressed... Jesus says that whatever is done to them he takes as done to him. That bloodshed, those deaths are beyond all politics: They touch the very heart of God.
- Oscar Romero
March 16, 1980

Did not your father eat and drink
and do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
then it was well.
Is not this to know me?
says the Lord.
But your eyes and heart
are only on your dishonest gain,
for shedding innocent blood,
and for practicing oppression and violence.
- Jeremiah 22:15-17

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Day in a Life

I love my life.
And I have very interesting days. Such as today:
It began with a visit to the Women’s Auxiliary. They meet every week... 50-70 of them. Average age of 75. This is a place where old ladies can find friendship and support as they face the frightening prospect of getting older, often alone. Today I wanted to thank them for their wonderful support with the displaced people living in my church hall.

Then I met with the team who are continuing to care for the Zimbabwean people in the hall. We need more blankets, and toothbrushes, and toothpaste, and deodorant, and soap, and one of the refugees’ sugar diabetes is out of control and needs to go to the clinic... and so it goes on. I am grateful to Lynn for her organisational skill.

I left for Cavendish to have coffee with other colleagues facing the same crisis. Which was a moment of respite in the midst of the unrelenting pressure. I have been going since last week, first with our annual Synod, then with preparations for Sunday services, and then just as I was looking forward to a break came the crisis of displaced people – and there is no end in sight. I normally take a Friday off, but the husband of a member of the church has died and wants the funeral on Friday Morning. And it sounds totally lame to say “Sorry for your loss – but not on Friday”

Then off to hospital to visit the sick father of one of my church leaders. I really enjoyed the ride, because it was a hospital right outside of my pastoral jurisdiction. So I got on the bike and had 30 minutes of 120 kmph to clear my head. Outside the hospital a white couple with a baby tried to persuade me to part with some money because “black people have taken all the work”. And having opted out of this one, I got to see a man who is desperately afraid that he might be very ill, but covering his fear with gracious thanks for me coming to see him. I stopped off with his son and daughter in law on my way home – to reassure them of God’s love for them.

Lunch with my three daughters, who are all at home on study leave. I enjoy their company, and their discovering of life as young women. And this is time to catch up.

At 3pm I visited a lady of 91 who has recently lost her husband, and is recovering from a back operation. She does not want to move out of her home to a complex for the aged, and is now worrying that she will not be able to cope on her own. I prayed for her... and will link her with a member of the congregation who is of a similar age and has also recently lost her husband.

Then back to the church to have supper with the Zimbabwean community. I had invited my senior leadership to join me, and we tried to show some love and support for people who have been severely traumatised. I sat next to a young man whose father works for CokeaCola in Zimbabwe, and whose older sister is a student minister in the Methodist Church in Harare. He was a driver in his father’s company, but was sent by the family to South Africa to earn more money so that his sister can complete her studies. And now he lives in my church hall.

After supper I met with my leadership to deal with financial issues. Times are tough – petrol, food and interest rates all combine to reduce the income of our churches. And I do not always know how to keep solvent. I refuse to preach guilt-inducing sermons about money and God’s tithes.

I got a lift home with my colleague David, to find his wife’s vehicle parked outside of the house. She was meant to have fetched their children from my home, where my daughters were caring for them until she finished work. As we got out of the car we saw why she was still there – the front tyre of her car was flat.

And it began to rain.
So David and I changed the tyre in the rain. And when they had left, I sat down with the family, who were finishing the end of a TV programme.
Now to bed.... amazed at the privilege of living such a rich and varied life.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The story continues...

We continue to care for people...
The School teacher returned to his school classroom yesterday – and left when a pupil pulled a gun on him. So he returned to us with another Zimbabwean teacher from the school. When I asked in amazement why he returned to the school, he answered that he was anxious to receive his month’s salary.

We now discover that the group of four men we had housed all have families. So another 13 people have just arrived – wives and children who had been in hiding. When asked who they had not come with the men, they answer that they were too afraid. “We did not know what the people in the city would do to us”.

And I am deeply moved by the compassion and care of my congregation: one 84 year old lady arrived last night with four lamb chops and some rice. She explained that she had planned this as her lunch for the next few meals, but decided that the displaced people needed them more than she did. Another arrived with her children’s toys – even a beloved Thomas the Tank Engine – because there are children who need to know that they are loved. And then there is the amazing time and care from Lynn and Lorna who work in the church office: sourcing everything from nappies to cell phone chargers (because people had fled without taking their electrical chargers with them).

Pray that the Province and the City might set aside their petty political squabbling. They must come up with a joint plan that will help us all find a way forward. Because all we can be is a temporary emergency shelter. The macro re-integration of people, or repatriation of people is beyond us.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Internal Refugees

And so they roll in…
People seeking refuge from the violence.
Violence against them because they are not like us. My church (along with many, many other churches throughout Cape Town, and South Africa), has opened its doors to provide shelter. We took an initial 4 young Zimbabwean men. They had been trapped on Cape Town station on Friday afternoon, being warned not to return home to Khayetlisha. Eventually there were hundreds like them who spent the night on the station platforms. They are now asleep in a room upstairs in my church hall.

Then they began to trickle in… word of mouth telling people that we have shelter. The church halls further up the road are all full to capacity. And in desperation the people are moving further down the Peninsula. They come, desperately tired, carrying their worldly possessions in a plastic bag. They have only the clothes they stand in. No toiletries, no possessions, no nothing. One tells how he was told by his (South African) neighbour: “Go. You came with nothing. Now leave with nothing”.

One is a school teacher, registered at a school in Khayaletsha. His pupils chased him out of his classroom – along with eight other “foreign” teachers. Another drove into Khayelitsha to fetch his family and was stoned. So he fled, and asked me to allow him to phone his family to see if they are safe. They are for the moment.

A touching moment – when Dave and Joe, the resident street people, offer to keep guard on the main door to the hall. They are making sandwiches, carrying tea, and putting out the bedding. “Welcome to my home” says Joe.

Pray for us.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Along with most of my fellow South Africans I am deeply disturbed by the xenophobic attacks currently sweeping our nation. The responses I have read and heard over the last few days have expressed anger, disbelief, fear, outrage, despair and deep concern. Perhaps what confuses and hurts me the most is that something like 70% of South Africans are reputed to be Christians. I don't understand how something like this can happen in a country where faith is so prevalent. Although, historically the people who call themselves by the name of Jesus have done things like this far too often. All I can pray is: 'God forgive us, and teach us what it means to love the world - including the stranger, the different and even those we fear - as you do. And may your Spirit of peace flood this nation'. Please join with the people of this beautiful country as we pray for God's intervention

I lifted this from the blog of my colleague John at sacredise who says what I want to say - only better

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Monday, May 19, 2008


The numbers of organized attacks against foreign nationals in South Africa are increasing. Media reports tell how residents of Alexandria and of Diepsloot went on a rampage against foreigners, who were forced to flee after they were assaulted, robbed and their houses torched. A few months back in the Eastern and Western Cape, Ethiopians and Somalis were being chased out of their homes and their spaza shops.

Xenophobia is of course not new. Ever since the beginning of time people have banded together in clans and cultures. We do this for mutual support and protection, and we clothe this in communal terminology such as English manners, or Afrikaner culture, or Xhosa traditional ways. While this is useful for social cohesion, it becomes evil when used as a tool to harm people who are outside of the cultural grouping.

The children of Israel were often tempted to exclude people who were not Jewish – but they were reprimanded: “If an alien who resides among you wants to celebrate the Passover…he may draw near to celebrate it” (Exodus 12:48). In fact they were expressly told that aliens had equal rights before the law: “There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you” (Exodus 12: 49).

Jesus insists that hospitality to the foreigner is an essential part of being his follower: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me…just as you did it for one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25: 38-40). It is the Christian way to welcome the aliens/refugees/strangers into our midst. And when we are unwilling to do so we demonstrate that we have not understood Jesus who changed us from being strangers and aliens, into citizens of the household of God (Ep 2:19).

Those people who want to throw foreign national out of our country are sinning against God. And they will be held to account for their selfish disregard towards the sanctity of human life. Let us hear the instruction of Romans 12:13 to “extend hospitality to strangers” and show the love of Jesus to all who are aliens and foreigners.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Price of a life?

Yesterday a father and his four year old daughter died under the wheels of a bus in India – because of two rupees. Sanischar Tapto (40), a tribal labourer, and his four-year-old daughter Sunita wanted to travel home from Orissa's Jharsuguda district to their home in Sundergarh. But he only had Rs 8 instead of Rs 10 required for the bus tickets The angry conductor pushed both father and daughter out of the moving bus. They landed under the wheels of the bus and were crushed to death.

Sahadev Nayak a passenger of the bus said, “When the man said he has no more money, some fellow passengers also offered to pay two rupees on his behalf to the conductor. But the conductor did not listen and pushed them."

These lives need to be treasured: pray for Sanischar and Sunita to be with God – and pray for that conductor, whose moment of madness will irrevocable change many lives.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Nature's Pain

It has been a bad month for our planet:
• Cyclone Nargis struck Burma in Southeast Asia and has claimed 32,000 lives, with an additional 30,000 missing and perhaps as many as one million homeless.
• An earthquake struck south-west China and killed more than 12 000 people (some guess up to 50 000), leaving many others trapped in the rubble. People are living out in the open without shelter and food.

And we are tempted to say: “but where was God?” or “Why did God allow this to happen?” As if there are easy, simple answers!

The scientists tell us that earthquakes, and storms are occurring all the time at sea, but they only occasionally emerge from the sea onto the land. It is this that drove the people of the Old Testament to admit our human frailty:
Psalm 8:3 When I look at the sky, which you have made, at the moon and the stars, which you set in their places--- what are human beings, that you think of them; mere mortals, that you care for them?
Perhaps we need to accept that we live on a fragile planet where storms and earthquakes are just part of the natural cycle... a cycle that we do not control.

But at the same time Psalm 8 speaks of a God who chooses to entrust this planet into human care. Psa 8:6 You appointed them rulers over everything you made; you placed them over all creation. This does not answer the questions of why bad things happen – but it does point out that when things go wrong, we are given the task of helping to care and to clean up.

So let us pray for those who suffer from the storms of nature; and offer help where we can; and commit ourselves to caring for this fragile planet.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Getting out of the Ghetto

Pentecost Sunday is celebrated by Christians throughout the world - but Pentecost did not begin as a Christian festival.

Pentecost was originally an Old Testament festival called the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. This was a Spring festival that took place 50 days after Passover – therefore the Greek Pente for 50. This was a thanksgiving for the "first fruits" of the early harvest. It was a moment when the community affirmed their trust in God as the provider of Life. And this was done in two ways:
1. People brought the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple. This was an act of trust: you brought the first of the harvest – as an act of trust that there would be a completed harvest.
2. You did not harvest the whole field: the edges were left for the widows and orphans. These signs of generosity spoke about a generous God who gives the harvest.

By the time of Jesus, Pentecost had gradually lost its association with agriculture - and became a celebration of Jewish religious history and the gift of the Torah (the "Law") on Mount Sinai. This was the moment when God gave Moses the 10 Commandments – and the people became a nation under God.

With time the people of God had forgotten to use Pentecost as a witness to the generosity of God – and had instead allowed this to become a time of religious pride: which sometimes led to poor people (like the widows and the orphans) being excluded, because they did not have the education or the money for the religious rituals. So here was a festival that should have spoken about God’s generosity, being subverted to become a time of pride in the achievement of a nation.

I do not believe that it was accidental that the Holy Spirit’s blessing should come on the festival of Shavuot. Here we see a renewal of the festival of Pentecost... this is a moment when God comes to this festival and reminds people of things that they have forgotten.

Acts Chapter 2 uses very specific language to describe this event: The Spirit of God brings renewal in a number of different ways:
1. A wind: this is an ancient sign called Ruach in the Old Testament: which can be translated as “Wind” – and also as “Breath” and as “Spirit”. So we see God deciding to breathe new breath into Pentecost / blow a fresh wind through the cobwebs of a stale religious ritual and bring fresh air.
2. A fire: again this is an ancient sign of the presence of God: Moses knew that he stood in God’s presence because he saw a fire burning a bush, or saw a pillar of fire leading the people. So we see God sending his fire - perhaps a fire that could melt cold, hardened hearts that have forgotten Pentecost as a time of generosity to the poor.
3. Many tongues spoken: this is a reminder that God is not the exclusive property of one culture: here is the reminder that God comes for people of all the languages of the earth.

So we celebrate Pentecost.... along with millions of other Christian people .... and along with millions of God’s people from before the time of Jesus.
I am inviting us to discover the wind, and the fire and the tongues of the Pentecostal renewal as it is described in the book of Acts:

1. Wind
Hear the invitation to allow the Spirit of God to blow the religious cobwebs away:
It is so easy to become like the people of God in the time of Jesus – easy to take on the form of religion that has lost the life renewing joy of religion.... where our beliefs have become religious habits.
We can become religious experts that are not open to the promptings of a God who takes us into new places.

Use today to ask: “I wonder where God is prompting me to change?”

2. Fire
Hear the invitation to allow the Spirit of God to soften our hearts.
Again it is so easy to become like the people of God in the time of Jesus – easy for us to be religious people without loving hearts.

Use today to ask “I wonder where the Spirit of God needs to soften my hard heart”

3. Tongue
Hear the invitation to allow the Spirit of God to gather together a variety of tongues. We live in a suburb that speaks many different languages: and the Spirit of God calls us to reach out to all who live here – English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Portugese, Shona......

Use today to ask: “I wonder what language the Spirit asks me to encounter”

In Conclusion
In north Yorkshire in England is a place called Robin Hood’s Bay:
An ancient church lies on the brow of the hill above the village.
It was built at a time that smugglers wrecked ships on the coast.
It was built at a time when the church owned the whole hill.
And I wondered if the smugglers ever got into church?

If they did I know exactly where they sat: because
Inside the church the wealthy people bought boxes of seats for their families:
And right at the back are two rows marked as “sinner’s seats”.

Today the church stands empty....
Except that right at the back hangs a cobweb laden object from the roof: it is a funeral wreath from the funeral of a virgin.
Symbolic of the need for the wind of the holy spirit to blow away the cobwebs and bring new life...
- to bring a church that welcomes all people – even those who do not have the money to pay pew rent
- to bring a church that does not need a funeral wreath to remember a time when there were young people.

Hear in this our own warning:
• Beware the moment when we fret about who sits in what pew on a Sunday, or who has use of what hall in the week – the wind of God’s Spirit might just blow us out of our seats and put other people here.
• Beware the day that our church organisations and our church rituals are more important than the people who are to be found in and around our buildings: the fire of the Spirit might just melt our cold hearts.... and send us to people we do not yet know.
• Beware the day we think that we are a one language, one culture church... the power of the Spirit might just give us many other tongues instead.

So let me invite us to be open to the moving of the Spirit in our lives, in the life of our church, and in the world where the church has died.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Pofadder is N!gha

On the way home we spent a night at Pofadder – a town South Africans use to typify a sleepy backwater. It is certainly small: two tar roads, a kaffee, a church, and a hotel. But this is a town with a big history of resistance to the European colonial invaders.

This fresh water spring was home of the Koranna people, who emerged from fragments of various Khoi-Khoi groupings who had found safety along the Orange River. While they were held in low esteem by the European colonisers of the Cape - Rev Edward Terry described them as “beasts in the skin of men” while J. Campbell described the Koranna as lazy beings who only hunted, slept and danced.....(which could describe most university students today) - they put up a spirited resistence to those who invaded their traditional lands.*

In 1875 a mission station was established amongst the Koranna by the Reverend Christiaan Schroder, who named it Pofadder, after their local chief. In 1918 a town was laid out at the Koranna springs and called Theronsville. But local memory prevailed, the name Pofadder stuck, and it was later officially changed back to the name of the old mission. The mission is now a Roman Catholic Church that runs a blockmaking enterprise, a chicken farm and a dairy, giving employment to the poor

Today it is a great place to stop over. The hotel has self catering cottages that provide a welcome break from the endlessly straight roads through the Kalahari/Bushmanland plains. And the people are warm and welcoming – even when we arrived in the middle of a crucial rugby match (Stormers vs Brumbies) . And I am told that in the flower season this is a great place from which to explore the beauty of the Namaqualand flowers. So a return visit in August is definitely on the cards.

And if you asre wondering what the logo on the cap means: n!gha is a khoi-khoi word for “great/wonderful/cool – as in “this is n!gha food” or “that is a n!gha car” – and contrary to the South African perception, Pofadder is n!gha.

Footnote * (The escalating conflict between the colonising white farmers and the Koranna led to a commando of about 300 mounted burghers attacking the Koranna entrenched on one of the Orange River islands. Cupido Pofadder negotiated a treaty that agreed that he would protect his part of the river which bordered on the district of Calvinia in exchange for ammunition to enable him to do so. He would also be recognised as chief of all the Koranna living in the region. But this treaty was short lived, as drought forced the Koranna to attempt to regain their traditional land from white farmers. Klaas Pofadder succeeded his brother Cupido as chief and thought to arm his people by pretending to distance himself from the rebels. The terms of the treaty 1870 were still being met and in January of 1879 Pofadder was given 20 lbs lead, 5 lbs gunpowder and 4 guns. Unfortunately for the colonial authorities, two days later Pofadder returned to the rebel side. The inevitability of superior fire power led to Pofadder being gunned down by a commando of farmers).

Monday, May 05, 2008


Our family went camping in the Kalahari desert. This involved
- sitting around a fire at night, under a warm star-filled sky, listening to the sounds of animals calling just outside of the firelight.
- grinding our slow way over day-lighted corrugated gravel roads in search of those animals
- tents and 4x4 vehicles
- stories told amidst laughter, friendships deepened, and family bonds treasured.

And I return home content to be part of God's world.