Tuesday, May 27, 2008

June 2008 - Transformation, Identity & Xenophobia

Dear Friends

from Transformation to Identity

The theme I have constantly returned to during the Easter to Pentecost journey has been “Transformation”: the transformation of Life itself through the death and Resurrection of Jesus; the transformation of the Jesus of History into the Christ of Faith through the Ascension; our transformation through the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. The Feast of Corpus Christi (The Body of Christ) takes us the next step: identity.

Transformation, Identity and Xenophobia

I have grappled with the resistance I have had even to using the term “Transformation” in relation to our parish life. In reflection I realise that underlying this resistance is the issue of identity: who am I, who are we? What is it to be Human, African, South African? What is it to be a person/community of Faith, Christian, Anglican, a member of the Body of Christ? What is it that primarily defines who I am, who we are?

It strikes me that often we define ourselves not in the more universal terms of being human or Christian, but in terms of particular aspects of our existence: we highlight ethnic priorities or specific traditions; and these have led, ultimately and sadly, to Xenophobic violence in our country. This “Us” verses “Them” dichotomy leads to the breakdown in community relationships. This is true in South African society and in the Church, even at Parish level.

Somehow we need to embrace a concept of “Us” that does not create a “Them”; an “Us” that revels in embracing different perspectives in creative balance; an environment where “They” are “Us”. Perhaps this ultimately is the source of transformation, a transformation where, from a Christian Faith perspective, we become ever more Christ-like, and in so doing become ever more human, recognising that we all are made in God’s image, in the image of the Creator.

Xenophobia and a new Way of Living

The horror of recent and ongoing Xenophobic events in our country point to a failure in Government – but also to the failure of the Church – to build a truly democratic, free society. Yes, the number of refugees from other parts of Africa has reached intimidating levels with the statistic of up to 25% of informal settlements being made up of foreigners. Yes, service delivery has not impacted on the poor in ways they find meaningful. Yes, crime is sometimes perpetrated by foreigners. However, it is largely our own children, the so-called “Born Free” generation – who are estimated to make up 70% of all unemployed people in our country – that are perpetrators of much of the recent upheavals. We as Government, as Civil Society, as Faith Communities, have failed to instil a moral core into our young people; we have failed to give them an identity of which they can be proud; an identity onto which they can build a solid moral code.

And so it hurts that we at Corpus Christi, we who carry the name “Body of Christ”, are so resistant to facing up to the call to be transformed. Within our Parish life we have a wonderful opportunity to explore our diverse cultural heritage, to experiment with what it means for “Them” to be “Us”; to build transformed relationships and community in a way that offers HOPE to our wider society, to our Nation. I hear, “Don’t rock the boat”; I hear, “Things are going well – don’t spoil it”. But what do I see?

What do I see?

Despite verbal resistance, I see transformation in action; I see greater involvement from groupings in the Parish that previously were less visible; I see people who struggle with change reaching out across perceived barriers; I see new relationships germinating; and I feel … yes … sense a new ownership of Parish life growing in people’s hearts. I see a community struggling to find a new path, a transformed identity. We are not there yet, but we have begun a journey. Let us persevere, together.



Saturday, May 03, 2008

May 2008 - An East African Journey

Dear Friends

An East African Journey

My trip to Southern Sudan was a growing experience. The cheapest flight was via Ethiopia, which enabled me to spend a day with a friend from the Lowveld who has been living and working in Addis Ababa for the last eighteen months doing agricultural development work. It was good to catch up with him and the development work he is doing. Then it was on to Juba in Southern Sudan for a week.

The Episcopal Church of the Sudan

The Episcopal Church of the Sudan (ECS) gathered in Juba for the enthronement of their new Archbishop, Daniel Deng Bul, along with partners from the USA (Virginia and Chicago) and the UK (Salisbury and Bradford), Canada, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda. The occasion marked the beginning of a new era for the Church and her people. Over twenty years of civil war have left most Dioceses decimated, and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005 remains very brittle. Refugees are beginning to return, but are finding few resources in place and many end up at the door of the local Bishop who has little capacity to be of any material help. There are four geographically huge dioceses in the North, and a further twenty dioceses in the South, with at least seven new dioceses planned. Few Dioceses can offer their Bishops much in the way of resources, and many live in grass huts, there being no house for the Bishop, no office, no Cathedral, and no car. Where structures did exist, many have been destroyed during the war, and most Christians worship under trees. Dioceses on the southern borders, such as Ezo, continue to be attacked by the LRA (Uganda) losing seed, communication equipment, even people in these raids. During the war the economy was largely a cashless one, but with the advent of peace and the arrival of various Aid organisations – including the UN – the church is losing professional people to better salaries in these organisations. Clergy (referred to as pastors in the ECS) go largely unpaid and under-trained, and at least one Bishop I spoke with had not received a stipend since December. The ECS is acknowledged by the Government of the Southern Sudan as the largest civil society organisation in the South, and with this acknowledgement comes expectation. The Church finds itself needing to involve itself with agriculture, health and education.

Diocese of Juba

As the Diocese of Pretoria we are looking to develop a relationship with the Diocese of Juba, the host Diocese of the Archbishop. I met with the assistant Bishop, Micah Laila Dawidi, of Juba and some of the Diocesan staff to get some idea of the challenges. The real need for Juba – and other dioceses – is for capacity building. The Diocese of Juba is made up of three areas: the Archdeaconry of Terekeka (to become a new Diocese); the Archdeaconry of Wonduruba (reached via the neighbouring Diocese); and the Archdeaconry of Juba Town. The Archbishop is keen that Pretoria journey with Juba in the area of education. Juba has nineteen church schools – 8 pre-schools, 10 primary schools and 1 secondary school – catering for over six-thousand learners. There are two teachers per classes of ninety to one-hundred and fifty children. Government is busy withdrawing financial support for teaching staff in church schools even though results show these schools are producing a higher level of excellence than government institutions. Fees are around USD$60 per year, and salaries range from USD$250 per month for a primary school teacher to USD$600 per month for graduate teachers in secondary schools. Juba has a Theological College with resources for training up to fifty pastors, but this is presently closed due to lack of funds. There is a shortage of medication and many clergy and laity live with untreated diseases such as high blood-pressure due to lack of treatment or lack of funds for treatment. The Diocese runs a health centre – the Clinic of St Luke – but this is often closed due to shortage of both funds and medication. It is estimated that around one-million people now live in Juba, many of whom remain traumatised by the war. There is a lack of manpower, with many intellectuals having been targeted and killed during the war, and training of both clergy and laity is priority. The Government is not helping with the reconstruction of Church buildings, although some effort is being made with schools and clinics. The Juba Diocese owns a few buildings which are rented out to NGO’s, which along with small projects such as the sale of eggs provide limited income to meet the Bishops’ stipends (USD$200 per month) and salary costs (USD$100 per person per month) in the Diocesan Office. The Diocese has one vehicle, a motorbike that is used by the development officer. The Diocesan Office is in need of repair, and additional space.

It seems the Youth is strong in the Juba Diocese, but with peace has come greater expectations: modern musical instruments, a club for youth to meet. A Sunday School syllabus has been produced and printed, but remains in storage as no money or vehicle is available to transport this resource to the parishes. HIV/AIDS is a growing problem, and forty-two councillors have been trained in Street Theatre and counselling skills through a UK grant, and are working with Provincial Church structures as well as the Southern Sudan Council of Churches.

I raised the idea of Pretoria providing a sabbatical option for clergy and bishops. The general response was that, despite the trauma war has caused, the needs on the ground are too great to allow people substantial time-out, and that many have only recently returned from exile and are needed to help rebuild the country and the church. There was a positive response from Bishop Micah of Juba to short-term, experiential visits that would build capacity through specific training events, but greater interest in our sending individuals to Sudan for periods of two weeks to a month to run intensive training/capacity building courses.

Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)

The CPA caused me to miss an opportunity to be shown around the Diocese of Juba, as the Census – due to be taken the week before, but due to the exclusion of a question on ethnicity and one on religious affiliation, was nearly aborted but agreed to for the following week – required all Sundani to remain “inside” for the duration. This meant we were tied to the Lodge for the day. The American delegation arranged for the American Consul, Christopher Dada, to address the Bishops in the afternoon, a very interesting interaction. The Census is the first of three important steps in the implementation of the CPA, which includes elections in 2009 and a referendum as to whether Southern Sudan will separate from the North in 2011.

Local Custom

In east Africa everyone drives on the right-hand side of the road, a little off-putting as I was nearly squashed on a couple of occasions looking right and stepping out blithely into traffic coming from the left! Also, instead of a family name, people (men and women) in east Africa use their father and grandfather’s names, which leaves one feeling a little lost as to who belongs to whom, but explains why everyone uses three names. In the Sudan one greets with a hand to the left shoulder, followed by a hand-shake, although Westerners are often just greeted with a handshake.


Accommodation in Juba is hugely expensive: I was privileged to stay at the White Nile Lodge along with the Sudanese Bishops. There is a government tax of 25% on such accommodation, and all electricity is provided by generators that chug into the night, providing air-conditioned bliss in temperatures of 36˚C and high humidity. This said, USD$120 got one a prefab sauna (room) - the other option was a tent – with bathroom: cold water, a shower that leaked through the bedroom wall, and a toilet so close to the wall one needed to detach one’s legs at the hip to use it! The mattress was new and of sturdy foam! To sit, sipping bottled water, watching the White Nile flow past, was a treat!


I presented the Cathedral of All Saints, Juba (the Cathedral in Khartoum is also called “All Saints”) with a Prayer Book as a gift from all of us at Corpus Christi. This gift was much appreciated, especially as the Sudan is in the process of reviewing and hopefully publishing its own Prayer book in the near future. I was presented with a wooden carving of a Rhinoceros as a symbol of the people of the Sudan and a locally made hand-bag for Dawn. I was also presented with a ornate walking stick for Bishop Jo, and a wooden cut-out map of the Sudan as a focus for prayer.