As some of you may have heard, the past few weeks have been a bit scary for those who live in South Africa-especially those who are not originally from here. Even the peace rallies and marches have mostly ended in violence or some sort of opposition. It’s been a little crazy here knowing that all of this is happening just a few kilometers away from where Will and I stay, but last weekend you wouldn’t have known that was happening in this country.
Last weekend, Will and I (finally) made a trip to Rustenburg. This is something we had been planning on doing since last February when we found out that Will had received the Preaching Fellowship. The plan was to spend an extended period of time- at one point we had planned on as much as 4 months- in and around Rustenburg working with and learning from the Lutheran churches in the ELCSA-Western Diocese. As the months of us coming to South Africa approached, we hadn’t gotten a hold of the bishops here. Then through our time in the Durban area, we still couldn’t make connections. Then we moved up to Midrand, two months after we had originally planned to, and still, nothing. So, two weeks before the date of leaving South Africa, we decided that we couldn’t wait for permission anymore. We went to Rustenburg.
See, Rustenburg is an important place to me. It is the place that my parents stayed when they were in South Africa. It is the city that houses the synod office of the ELCSA-Western Diocese. And, most importantly, it is the place where the only people I knew before coming here live. It is where some of my very close friends live and I had to see them, and boy am I glad I did.
When I worked as a camp counselor in Wisconsin, my camp had a partnership through the synod with South Africa. Every summer that I spent there, I got to meet, learn from, and become close friends with South African camp counselors. And every year at the end of the summer, I would have to say good bye to them, not knowing if I would ever see them again.
Gontse Ernst is the exception to that rule. He worked for Crossways in 2005, my second summer as a counselor. We got quite close that summer through our work together, especially on day camps. I felt a strong connection with him. I think everybody did. Gontse is very personable and warm and outgoing and loving. People can’t help love him and see the work of God in him. His faith exploded from him. At the end of that summer, we had a going away party and he went back to South Africa. But, in 2008, he showed up again at camp, along with the two other people Will and I visited this weekend, Lesego and Sbu. And again he was in Minnesota a few years later visiting people from camp. Gontse has a way of making people feel like them matter. He is going back to the States again this summer to visit.
Anyway, that’s just back story
Last weekend, Will and I drove to Rustenburg with the plan of seeing these people and going to church. The warmth with which we were received was beyond powerful. For 2 days, Will and I were the only white people. For 2 days, in a country being torn apart by racial and colored differences, Will and I didn’t feel unsafe for a moment. The thing is, we were loved. Wholly and completely. We laughed and praised God. We ate and made conversation. We were welcomed with open arms into multiple homes of people who had never met before. With the exception of the way people were staring at the white woman singing in setswana and dancing in worship, there was no awkwardness about our being there. Cultural and racial differences aside, we belonged there. We made countless new friends just because we showed up. And that is life here.
Saying goodbye again was perhaps the hardest thing I’ve had to do in South Africa.
I do not understand xenophobia. I don’t understand hatred of other people based on something that they cannot help. I don’t understand ending another person’s life intentionally. And I wish that I could say that I was accepting of all people, but I learned this weekend that my ability to love and accept pales in comparison to that of my South African brothers (and sisters).
You hear about the violence of Africa, of the numerous wars and battles that are waged every day on this continent and I hear about how afraid people are for us. You hear of the hatred against people of other religions and skin colors and you worry that we are not safe here. But that is not the whole story.
You tell me of the dangers of Africa and I will tell you of the boundless love.
Thank you, Gontse, Sbu, Lesego, and Naticia, especially. I love you and look forward to the day that I can truly show you how great that love is and to return the hospitality you have shown me.
Until we meet again.