Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Overcoming “Pride and Prejudice”

Friday evening we had unexpected visitors. Well, they would have stopped by our house for a few minutes for a cup of coffee on their way to a holiday resort. Then things turned out otherwise when they drove through a pot-hole and blew two tyres. Eventually I drove out with a spare tyre to help them and after arriving and having supper (around 10 pm) my wife convinced them to sleep over and then to leave early the next morning. As they were visiting, they shared much of their frustration of trying to get things from government offices in South Africa. Well, I may be wrong, but my experience is that government offices all over the world tend to be more or less the same – frustrating to visit at the best of times. But they had particular complaints because most government offices in South Africa are run by Black people and this tends to frustrate them even more.
This got me thinking: As I have mentioned many times, we grew up in Apartheid South Africa. One of the arguments which I often heard during these times was that South Africa had made one big mistake, which was to give the official name of “Apartheid” to something (racial discrimination) which was being done in other countries as well. There was a time when this argument sounded correct to me. But later in my life I realised that this is not the truth. It is not only that an official name was given to racial discrimination. It was also that racial discrimination was justified in this way. Racial discrimination was made to be good.
I don’t know if the name of Professor Johan Heyns rings a bell. He was probably South Africa’s best-known professor in Dogmatics and he was tragically murdered on 5 November 1994, probably due to his liberal viewpoints on racism (the murderer was never caught). One day in class (I can’t remember the topic we were discussing) someone asked him how he feels about racism, and in large letters he wrote on the blackboard: RACISM = SIN. I think this was also one of my “A-ha” experiences. What I had probably known for a long time was suddenly said in words. Racism, in whatever form, is sin!
Thinking back to our conversation Friday evening, I realised once again what I had often said about South Africa: Apartheid may be dead, but racism is alive and well! At one point I mentioned to them that to survive in Africa takes someone with guts. The man replied that he no longer wants to try and survive in Africa. He is sick and tired of being frustrated.
To truly overcome racism is not easy. I have seen racism in many colours and flavours. I have seen racism even when people are trying so hard to make someone from another race “one of us”. How I personally worked on overcoming racism was to treat people of other races in exactly the same way I would treat someone from my own race – in other words not with an unnatural friendliness. I truly believe we need to take away the emphasis of the difference in skin colour and concentrate on the fact that we are both humans. There are really times when I truly don’t notice the skin colour of the person I am speaking to. It just doesn’t seem to matter anymore.
One of my other “A-ha” experiences happened about a year after I came to Swaziland. I attended a Brewster course in language and culture acquisition skills. The person who presented the course had been a missionary for many years in Malawi. One day he said to us: If you want to make yourselves acceptable to people of another culture, you have to be willing to make yourselves vulnerable.
And this is what our visitors are not willing to do. Wherever they go, they consider themselves superior. And I deeply regret saying this, but they will die one day while still feeling angry and disgruntled towards people of other races, because they have never learnt to make themselves vulnerable amongst other people.
I also get frustrated at times. By nature I am usually in a hurry. But over the years I have learnt, when crossing the border into Swaziland, to put myself into “slow mode”. I accept that I will have to stand in long queues, that things may take a bit longer to sort out than I want. But a genuine friendly attitude goes a long way in Africa to open doors and get things done. The more frustrated one gets, the slower the process seems to go.
Dropping our pride (becoming vulnerable) will help a lot towards getting rid of prejudice (in this case our feeling of superiority towards people of other races).


Sunday, July 22, 2007 - Posted by | Mission, Racism, Swaziland

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