This post, once again, started as a comment on another post and became so long that it would have been bad manners to post it there.
My son, as well as a number of his friends, recently attended the Amahoro conference and it is clear that this experience made a very deep impression on these young people. Several of them blogged about the conference, amongst others on My Contemplations (my son’s blog), FutureChurch (Roger Saner’s blog) and Nextchurch (Andries Louw’s blog). There will be many more, but these are the three which I follow regularly.
Roger and I recently had a long discussion on his blog about Apartheid and racism. Me feeling is that our enemy is not so much Apartheid, which is actually an ideology, but rather racism which gave birth to this ideology (and which will give birth to similar ideologies in the future.) Today my son shared a few very interesting thoughts on keeping the memories of Apartheid alive in order to prevent us from doing the same in the future. Having grown up in a house where we as parents were strongly opposed against Apartheid and where we tried, as far as it is humanly possible, to oppose all forms of racism, I am happy to see how strongly he feels that Apartheid should be remembered so that it may never be repeated. This, of course, is something different from fighting Apartheid today and is something which I do agree with. But how effective this is, I don’t know.
In 2005 I had the opportunity to visit the Holocaust museum in Amsterdam. I can’t remember all the details, but it boiled down to something like this: In Amsterdam Jewish people were prevented from entering certain premises, such as theaters. Theaters for Jewish people were built in other areas. Then the Jews were forced to move out of restricted areas and were forced to live in areas specifically reserved for them. Then job reservations were applied, reserving certain occupations for non-Jews only. Later on the entrance to the Jewish areas were controlled through gates. And the rest is history.
What upset me the most on that day, was the realisation that events in South Africa followed exactly the same route during the years of Apartheid: Restricted areas, separate places of entertainment, job reservation, entrance control to Black townships. The similarity was almost uncanny. Dr Verwoerd, who is considered to be the creator of the Apartheid ideology, was born in Amsterdam, although he moved to South Africa at the age of two. But, standing that day in the museum in Amsterdam, I asked myself whether it had really been impossible for him, who was a highly intelligent man, to foresee what would be the outcome in South Africa if he followed the same method as had been used before the Holocaust?
We do need to remember the past to prevent us from making the same mistakes in the future.
But then I’m wondering: Will it really make a difference? What about Uganda? What about Croatia? What about Rwanda? What about Zimbabwe? Hopefully Germany will never be guilty again of the things that had happened under Hitler. Hopefully South Africa will never again be guilty of the things that had happened under Apartheid. But will our remembered mistakes prevent other countries from doing the same and will the world be faster to respond in order to prevent the tragedies that had been part of the South African history? Sometimes I wonder.
I haven’t had much time for blogging the past week or so. I’ve been conducting a series of church services every evening. I focused on the Gospel of John and learnt some really remarkable stuff as I did thorough exegesis of the parts I wanted to preach about.
Tomorrow morning I will be wrapping up the series by looking at John 17. One of the things that I’ve realized since I started preparing for these sermons, is that John gives the impression that it is fairly easy to understand and then, the deeper you delve, the more difficult it becomes until you eventually discover the actual meaning of what John was trying to say to his readers.
John 17 is no exception. On the surface it is a prayer of Jesus for His disciples. I’ve done a lot of research on John 17 in the past within the context of church unity. With eleven language and almost as many race groups in South Africa, the church in South Africa is seriously suffering from the effects of disunity. Even within language and race groups, there are denominational groups which are very close to each other but which still consider those not part of their church as the opposition.
I once read the following story which illustrates in a humorous way what is happening between Christians:
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. I immediately ran over and said “Stop! Don’t do it!”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he said.
I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!”
“Well…are you religious or atheist?”
“Me too! Are you Christian or Jewish?”
“Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
“Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”
“Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”
“Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God.”
“Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?”
“Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!”
To which I said, “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off.
In 1981 my wife and I had the chance to visit Zimbabwe. This was just after many years of civil war in the country. As we sat down to speak to church members about their experiences during the years of war, we struggled to understand how it feels to leave your house or farm in the morning, knowing that you are being watched through the scopes of a missile launcher which could be triggered at any moment if the soldier carrying the launcher feels like it. People were killed at random and everybody were living in fear every single day of their lives.
In those days many pastors left Zimbabwe and new pastors were not granted work permits for Zimbabwe. Under those circumstances the “right” church was not the one with which you agreed doctrinally, but the one which had a pastor. And I can still remember that I asked myself where things will need to lead to in South Africa (but not only South Africa) before a desire will grow amongst Christians to really accept one another in love and to demonstrate their unity. If this is what it cost to get the churches in Zimbabwe to work together, what will it cost us?
I am blessed that, in the town where I live, pastors from across virtually the entire spectrum of doctrines, have expressed the desire to come closer to each other. Pastors from different races and language groups and from different denominations (Charismatic, Pentecostal, Reformed, Methodist, Lutheran and a number of others) meet each other for breakfast once a month. During these gatherings, doctrinal issues are put aside in favor of reaching out to each other in love. In fact, over the years (and it literally took years to build this trust between the churches) we have developed the ability to make jokes about our own or even the other churches and to laugh at the way in which we used to protect our domain in the past. We still have a long way to go. But I’m truly thankful that I can experience something of what Jesus prayed for in John 17.
Tomorrow, as part of the Global Day of Prayer, most of these churches will be gathering to unite in prayer. Perhaps we need to pray the words of John 17 more regularly in our churches: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
One of South Africa’s coloured church leaders last year spoke, during a church meeting, about the demon of racism which is still alive in South Africa. Although I’m not someone who constantly try and link some kind of demon to every form of sin, such as the demon of alcoholism or the demon of lies, I do think that there is some truth in saying that the fight against racism is something which needs to be won in a spiritual realm.
After my post on the Angus Buchan Phenomenon, I received a lot of reaction. With the exception of one, the comments were really decent, even where people differed from me. Some of the correspondence about this post was done via email and therefore did not appear on my blog. One of my very special e-pals (an “e-pal” is the equivalent of a “pen-pal”, except that we correspond by email rather than by pen and paper), who is a missionary in Ukraine, wrote me a long letter which triggered many things in my mind. In the post I referred to, I asked the question why Angus Buchan is so popular amongst white men. But in my correspondence with my friend in the Ukraine, I asked another question: Why doesn’t God use Angus Buchan more effectively to break down racial barriers?
My friend responded by saying (my own translation from Afrikaans to English): I think that, while big meetings and prominent leaders can create the atmosphere within which believers can live differently, the coming of God’s kingdom which needs to be demonstrated by the church as alternative society, will have to start from “below”. The mass of Christians need to live and do things differently. Then the prominent leaders will merely become catalysts in processes which are much greater than their own abilities. And my heart for mobilisation tells me that now is the time to do it!
On the same day that I received his email, I was attending a small group consisting of white Christians in which I told them that I had been challenged to do something about racism in our community and that I am going to challenge them to take hands with me, to pray with me and to work with me to make a difference.
South Africa had gone through the amazing period of reconciliation after more than forty years of a policy of “Apartheid” and we have experienced great blessings in many ways since 1994. But, to use the words quoted above, the demon of racism is still alive. Or, as I often say: Apartheid is dead. Long live racism! South Africa’s problem is not Apartheid. That was just the name given to an evil policy of government. The problem is racism. And I have traveled fairly widely throughout the world and have seen that it is definitely not only South Africa which is struggling with this.
I will never forget a particular class in Dogmatics which I was attending at university. Our lecturer was the distinguished Professor Johan Heyns, who was assassinated in 1994, presumably because of his strong viewpoint against racism. (His assassin has never been arrested.) On this specific day one of the students asked him what his viewpoint was on racism. Without a word professor Heyns turned towards the blackboard, took up a piece of chalk and wrote: RACISM = SIN! This made a tremendous impact on my life and I could probably say that on that day I vowed that I would fight against racism in my own life.
One of the most popular verses used in South Africa today comes from 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
I am getting convinced that there is probably not a more wicked sin that we in South Africa will need to turn away from, than our sin of racism. Can we really expect God to heal our land while so many Christians still refuse to repent from racism?
I have been involved in processes of healing amongst people of different races and can testify that for White South Africans, there is little that can beat the feeling of liberty once they had come to the point of confessing this as sin and reaching out to people across racial barriers.
For those who had attended the Mighty Men Conference and experienced God’s forgiveness and love during the weekend: Are you willing to take up this challenge to help in bringing healing to our country?
It seems you either love Angus Buchan, from Mighty Men Conference-fame, or you hate him. For those who don’t know whom I’m speaking about: Angus Buchan is a farmer living in the Kwazulu-Natal midlands in South Africa who started an evangelism ministry some years ago. About six or seven years ago I attended one of his services in the town where I live. I went absolutely open-minded, but left, deeply anguished by some things I saw that evening. (If you are interested in what happened, you can drop me a comment with your email address. I don’t think I should discuss it on this open forum.)
Nevertheless, I think it was in 2007 that he organised the first South African Mighty Men Conference, attended by several thousand men. Last year he pitched, what is supposed to be the largest tent in the world, on his farm and accommodated 60,000 men. As from today thousands of cars are driving to his farm again for the 2009 conference where Angus Buchan hopes to have 200,000 men attend! By the way, the book and the movie, Faith Like Potatoes, is a biography about his life.
In spite of my negative experience at his service a few years ago, I had the feeling last year that he might just be God’s man for South Africa at this time. I don’t necessarily have to agree with everything he does to believe that God can use him effectively. After the conference, which a number of people I know attended, I noticed distinct changes in the lives of many of them – changes for the better. One person, who was an absolute racist and did his utmost to break down the work we’re doing in Swaziland, came to repentance and has since contributed substantial amounts towards our work amongst people with HIV and AIDS in Swaziland. Others, who had been Christians, but living more like non-Christians, came back and a year later their lives are still fully devoted to God. Obviously, a large number also came back and returned to their old lives. I’m grateful, however, for the change in many people’s lives.
But I do have a few concerns. One of the things I suspected, is the restricted audience he has. This was confirmed yesterday when I watched a home-made DVD made by someone who had attended last year. I don’t have percentages to prove my point, but the majority by far of the people who attended, were White males. In follow-up conferences held during the rest of the year at sport stadiums, attracting tens of thousands of people, the majority of people attending were also White. I suspect (and I would like to hear the opinion of others on this point) that many White people see in Angus something comparable to an Old Testament prophet, called by God to give hope to the people of South Africa in times where many are uneasy about the future. What worries me – and I know, once again, that I have no proof to substantiate what I’m saying, merely a “gut feeling” – is that White people may have the hope that God is going to put South Africa back into the hands of the White people, or at least, in the hands of Christians, and I fear that this may be false hope.
The other concern I have is the reverence that people have for him. It is almost as if some people take his words to have even greater authority than the Bible. Or at least, his interpretation of the Bible is believed rather than the interpretation of people who are also serious about finding the true meaning of the Bible but who differ from him. For many people, the words of Angus Buchan has the highest authority. I’m sure that this isn’t what he wants, but I would be afraid if I myself ended up in such a position. I’m not sure whether I would really be able to handle this new-found glory in the right way. After last year’s conference I told many of my friends that we need to pray, if this man is really someone sent by God for these times in South Africa, that God would grant him the ability to remain humble.
As for myself: I have respect for Angus Buchan. I’m not a disciple of him, nor do I hate him. At this stage I prefer to follow the instruction in Acts 5:39 : “…if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
This past Sunday I was invited to speak at a church on the outskirts of Johannesburg. A few years ago this was an exclusively White community and church membership and attendance clearly indicated the demographic pattern of the community. This was the situation all over South Africa before 1994. But with the new democratically-elected government which came into power in 1994, things started changing. Exclusive White communities in certain areas, especially within the centres of the larger cities like Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban, started being replaced by other ethnic groups. This had a great effect upon churches, as churches which catered exclusively for the needs of White, Afrikaans-speaking people, experienced a sudden and tremendous decrease in church membership and attendance. Churches which had thousands of members and packed buildings during their regular worship services on a Sunday, suddenly struggled to survive. After a time the inevitable happened when the church buildings were sold, sometimes to shop owners needing storage place and even to people of other faiths which then changed the buildings to make it a place of worship for people of their religion.
One particular church in Pretoria has always been a sad example for me of how a church failed to use the new opportunities that had come their way. This particular church followed the route described above. Fortunately, when they decided to close doors, they sold the church building to a another evangelical church group which then opened the doors again and started to cater for the needs of the people who were then occupying the apartments in that area. And as far as I know, the church is doing well. It’s not a White, Afrikaans-speaking church anymore, but then, the community does not exist out of White, Afrikaans-speaking people anymore!
On this past Sunday I spoke at a church which, if the leader had not persevered, would probably also have had to shut doors a number of years ago. Except for the fact that he saw the change in demographics, not as a threat but rather as an opportunity. When I entered the church, I was immediately struck by the multi-cultural atmosphere within the church. People from different ethnic groups mixed in a friendly and comfortable manner. The church leadership also reflects the diverse cultures of the area. They have two worship services – one in Afrikaans and one in English. The second service was, in a sense, even more diverse than the Afrikaans service. Those attending were mostly non-South Africans. They included people from countries such as Zimbabwe, Nigeria and other African countries. But they also come from a diverse religious background, including Roman Catholic and even traditional African religions. Some came in the traditional clothing of their own country. The only common denominators are that they are all interested in the Christian faith and that they all understand English.
When I left the church after speaking at both these worship services, I thought about Eric Bryant’s excellent book, Peppermint-filled piñatas, which I had reviewed here. And I thought about lost opportunities, where churches had been sold to shop owners or to people from other, non-Christian religions, while many people who are still interested in Christianity have nowhere to worship on a Sunday. Which further led me to the topic of this blog: Becoming a church for and in your community!
While at a missions meeting last week, a friend of mine told me about a DVD with the name, The Second Chance. I was able to get a copy of the DVD and our family watched it on Saturday. The story is about a pastor, Ethan Jenkins (played by Michael W Smith), the minister of music at a suburban mega-church called The Rock, and Jake Sanders, a pastor of an urban church called Second Chance. He has a nice church and his salary is sponsored by The Rock. Once a year pastor Sanders is invited to The Rock to give a three minute talk on how things are going at Second Chance (and to thank the people of The Rock for their help!) On one such a morning, he tells the people of The Rock that they should keep their money if they were not willing to become personally involved in his ministry amongst drug addicts, prostitutes, juvenile delinquents, dysfunctional families and worse. Obviously the people from The Rock are greatly upset by these words and pastor Jenkins, who had invited him to speak, was blamed because he was not able to restrict pastor Sanders to the prescribed three minutes nor did he coach him properly on what to say. And so pastor Jenkins is seconded to Second Chance to teach him a lesson.
Towards the end of the movie the leadership of The Rock meet with local developers who want to build some stadium in the area, but in order to do that, Second Chance church will have to be demolished and the church will have to be relocated about five miles away. And this was the part of the movie that really touched me personally, as I saw the leadership of The Rock making decisions without consulting the leadership of Second Chance, planning a wonderful new campus for Second Chance and after everything had been finalised, only then calling in the people of Second Chance and informing them of the plans.
What was clearly shown in this part of the movie is how often people in the church (those with the money) can make decisions on behalf of those with less money. Very often the decisions in itself are not bad. Usually the decisions are for the good of others. But because the decisions had been taken without consulting those mostly affected by the decisions, huge mistrust and accusations are bred between the two groups and in the end, instead of working together, they work against each other. And I couldn’t help wondering how often I may have done the same thing – with good intentions – but still, breaking down relationships instead of building them.
While en route to Russia recently, I stayed over in a North African country for two days. I decided not to mention the name of the country as I do not want to jeopardize the Christian church in that country in any way. While I was there I was (unexpectedly) asked to present a lecture on mission at a YWAM training base about 100 kilometres from the city where we were staying. I agreed to do this and had to make do with very little sleep that night as I prepared what I would be teaching on the following day. Fortunately I had the basic thoughts in my mind (and some notes on my laptop) and it was more a matter of organising things in the form of a lecture.
I have long been interested in the Gospel of Luke and the other book written by the same author, Acts. In 1988 I attended a synod meeting, consisting primarily of Black church leaders with a few White people in between. This was not a good meeting. This was at the height of the racial tension in South Africa. The meeting took place in a Black township outside Pretoria (Mamelodi) and the tension was clearly visible even at this meeting. One political activist attending the meeting was known to proclaim openly that if any White person should agree with him, he had not been radical enough.
It was at this meeting that David Bosch was asked to lead the daily Bible study. He chose to do it from the books of Luke and Acts and sub-titled the Bible studies: Two books for our time. Never before nor since have I experienced such depth and such practical guide lines in a Bible Study. David Bosch later published his research on these two books in an Afrikaans publication which he sub-titled: Good news for the poor … and the rich and later, when he published his Transforming Mission, he devoted the entire chapter 3 to these two Bible books. (Just as a matter of interest: The same radical Black person at the synod was afterwards asked to thank David Bosch on behalf of the synod for the Bible studies and he said something like: I would never have thought it possible that a White man would be able to lead us in a Bible study in such a way that I could agree with him, but David Bosch did exactly this! I thought this was quite a compliment.
In my lecture I did not follow Bosch’s guidelines. I followed another route which I will try and explain over the next few days on this blog.
I’m not, first of all, a New Testament scholar, but in the books and commentaries I consulted, one verse stands out in the gospel of Luke as the central verse and this is Luke 9:51: “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” As I proceed, it will become clear why this verse is so important.
Jerusalem plays an extremely important part in both the gospel of Luke as well as in Acts. The following examples will help to illustrate this:
- The gospel starts and ends in Jerusalem
- Jesus is dedicated to the Lord in Jerusalem (Luke 2:22)
- Jerusalem is indicated as the place where Jesus would complete His earthly mission (Luke 9:31)
- From Luke 9:51 Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem starts
- Jerusalem is the city where Jesus died, was resurrected and ascended to heaven
- Jerusalem is the end of Jesus’ mission on earth
- Jerusalem is the starting point for the disciples’ mission to the world (Acts 1:8 )
One of my friends who formerly commented regularly on this blog, informed me some months ago about a documentary that had been made about the Swazi monarchy. It is called “Without the king.” In one of the other blogs I read daily I was recently reminded about this movie again and after an extensive search, I was able to find a copy from Amazon in Canada. A short trailer of the movie is also available here.
So, what are my views on the movie? I would describe the movie in two words: Excellent and biassed. We are given a fairly honest look at some parts of Swaziland – the monarchy on the one hand and on the other hand the upcoming generation, many of whom are living on the outskirts of the main towns, Mbabane and Manzini, in the hope of making a better living in the towns but devoid of any means to produce their own food and therefore living in great poverty if they should fail to find some form of occupation.
However there are also other groups of which nothing is shown in the documentary – the business people earning good salaries and living a stable life and the traditionalists in the rural areas, staunch supporters of the monarchy and who are mostly subsistence farmers (the people whom I work with mostly in our church.)
What was the aim of Michael Skolnik in making the documentary? Was he trying to warn the world of a possible revolution in the country? If so, why did he not also speak to the intelligentsia, many of whom are also disillusioned with the monarchy and would probably have been a better choice to influence world leaders rather than having to listen only to aggressive people, many of whom were obviously intoxicated while being interviewed? If his intentions was to give the world a picture of what is going on in Swaziland, (the good and the bad) then it would have been better if people from other backgrounds could also have been included.
A few remarks on some of the more sensational things shown in the documentary: At one point it is said that people are so poor that they have to eat intestines from cows and chicken heads and feet. Although this is not my personal favourite, for many Swazi people this is a delicatessen which they enjoy eating. Frozen chicken pieces are sold in stores in packages which include the head and feet. It is also said that churches are empty because people even fear to pray. That is absolute rubbish! Churches in Swaziland are small and not well attended, even though it is considered to be a Christian country, but this has absolutely nothing to do with fear to pray!
As I watched the movie I thought back to the Apartheid years in South Africa within which I grew up. Being within the privileged minority makes it very difficult to listen to people criticising the system. Many documentaries were made about that time and many books were written, most of which were banned in South Africa until 1994. One example of an excellent movie about the South African Apartheid system is The power of One (which I first heard about on a visit to the USA in 1999). However even this excellent movie, as is the case with Without the king, fails to give a balanced view of what really went on in the country.
To me this movie was upsetting as I realise that people on the ground are really getting upset with certain things happening in Swaziland and that a revolution is not impossible. Let’s just pray that it never happens.
I read a lot. I mentioned the other day that most Christian bookstores in South Africa don’t keep many books that I would consider spending my money on. So nowadays I am being led by what people that I consider to be trustworthy, share with me about books they have read and then I try to read them. One of these books is Eric Bryant’s Peppermint-filled piñatas. Now, before reading this, I had no idea whatsoever what a piñatas is. My friend, Tim Deller, from the USA understands it a bit better than myself. Apparently (for those not used to this crazy tradition), the piñata has a Mexican origin and is described in Wikipedia as follows: The piñata is a brightly-colored paper container filled with sweets and/or toys. It is generally suspended on a rope from a tree branch or ceiling and is used during celebrations. A succession of blindfolded, stick-wielding children try to break the piñata in order to collect the sweets (traditionally fruit, such as sugarcane) and/or toys inside of it. It has been used for hundreds of years to celebrate special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas and Easter.
Someone told me about this book and I read it. It’s great. It is something like a blog: a lot of personal journalism where the author tells the story of how God worked in his life to change him to love people different from himself. Having grown up in South Africa where we were surrounded by strong feelings of racism, it was surprising to see that the very things which people were fighting against in South Africa is more or less universal: we don’t like people who are different from us! This has nothing to do with political policies. This is part of our sinful human structure: we just don’t like people who are different from us, whether they are different in skin colour, different in their theological viewpoints, different in their sexual orientation, different in their religion or different in their health situation. They make us feel uncomfortable and to mix with them takes us out of our comfort zone.
Eric Bryant has a remarkable story of how God freed him from prejudice so that he could become a successful youth pastor in a diverse community in the Mosaic church in Los Angeles. One of my Swazi friends used to say, after a good sermon: That was really powerful stuff. Well, this book is really powerful stuff. As I was reading it, I was asking myself how the world would look if Christians could start living in this way? If Christians could really shower unselfish love upon people, regardless of who they are, how would the world be (and, for that matter, how would the church be?)
Two things stand out in this book: The author’s honesty when sharing personal stories, of how he made mistakes (that’s where the title of the book comes from, because he found out that children do not like peppermints bought at a discount store!) This gives him a lot of credibility in my eyes, because it is often through the mistakes that we make that God teaches us the greatest lessons. By the way, he does this with a lot of great humour, (which also raises him a few notches in my estimate!) But the second thing which stands out is that he does not compromise when it comes to God’s will for us. He tells the story of how he started building personal relationships with people from other faith groups. Not once does it seem as if he is forcing Christianity upon them – he demonstrates love unconditionally. But not once does he accept that God had somehow changed his viewpoint about salvation through Christ.
And this is a very difficult route to follow. Our human (sinful) way of doing things would be to either reject someone who consistently differ from us in their religious viewpoints or to come to the point where we say that God has made us all differently and therefore “all roads lead to heaven.” To unconditionally and tolerantly love people who differ from us, while maintaining Godly standards, is NOT easy.
If you are in any way within such a diverse community with the conviction that God wants to use you within that situation, then I highly recommend that you get a copy of this book. It’s really powerful stuff 😉