Dion's random ramblings

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Can we afford to be ignorant? The recolonization of Southern Africa.

Every now and then while I am doing my devotions, I am 'arrested' by something that someone has said, this happened to me this morning so I decided to go back and find my little notebook from 2004. I always carry a little Moleskine notebook with me (I use the Moleskine folders to keep cards, notes etc, and then cut the small, cheap, ruled notebooks to put into the first folder - here's a picture of one of mine).

The notebook that I was looking for in this instance dates back to November 2004 - I was at the Methodist Church of Southern Africa's Mission Conference in Umtata. At that conference the President of the all Africa Council of Churches, Rev Dr Mvume Dandala, was speaking.

This picture was taken in South Korea, in it is Mvume Dandala in the center, Trevor Hudson on the right, and myself (about 10 kg's heavier than I am now!) on the left. Ah, those were the days.

Back to the point, in his keynote address Mvume said something to the effect of, "If we [Southern Africans, and particularly the Churches in Southern Africa] do not wake up to the crisis of HIV / AIDS we shall be re-colonized within the next generation".

I was shocked by that statement, but there was truth to it. He went on to say that AIDS is killing so many young people, skilled, gifted African women and men, that we shall soon have very few people between the ages of 20 and 60, and much fewer skilled persons between those ages. When that happens we will be colonized once again. However, this time we shall not be colonized by a nation state (such as America, China, or England), rather we shall be colonized by multinational corporations who wish to exploit the natural resources of our fair lands. If we have gold, oil, platinum, coal, and a host of other precious commodities , yet there is no-one left to extract, refine, and use these resources, those who have the power, the money, and the skill, from elsewhere in the world will do it for us, and eventually, they will do it in spite of us.

This colonization is a concern, but of greater concern is the reality that we are loosing a whole generation of people because of poor choices, hidden truths, and a lack of knowledge.

I worry about such things... Perhaps it will never happen in the way Mvume described it, but if I can do anything to stave the spread of this disease, and in some small and insignificant way help Africans to benefit from the blessings of Africa, I need to do so!

Then it struck me, I can make a difference - the difference that I can make is in the sphere of Education! I see this magnificent sign at least once a week when I go onto the University of South Africa (UNISA) campus. It is a picture of our past President, Nelson Mandela, the caption reads: "Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world". I believe it! What we need is education that does a number of things:

  • First, we need a very basic and simple form of education that teaches persons their value and dignity. Education that helps people to realise just what a gift they, a gift from God to the world. Life is precious and must be guarded and valued.
  • Second, we need education that helps people to survive in the face of great challenges - in particular we need to help our young people (and our old) to make wise choices for life. It scares me to death to think that when I was at school, if I had a sexual relationship with someone the worts that could happen is that she could fall pregnant. Now, however, my daughter or son could die from just one bad choice! We need education to prevent such tragedies!
  • Third, we need education that helps people not just to survive, but to truly live. This is the kind of formation and development that helps people to rise above the ordinary, to become the best that they can be; moral leadership, intellectual leadership, all matched with exceptional skill.
Perhaps what I am asking is that those of us who have some measure of influence should ask God to give us the courage to use it for the common good. If you write, write about what matters, when you pray, pray about what matters most, as you work spend your energy not just in pursuit of gain and pleasure, but spend yourself to bring healing and transformation to individuals and society.

I shall say it once again - if you are the best, the very best, if you're a lawyer, a doctor, a journalist, a parent, a gifted thinker, a passionate feeler, if you can do anything in the whole world, then do it for God!

Let's counteract ignorance with love, and spend our lives in service of Christ's mission to heal and transform the world - petty theological arguments, minuscule points of difference, differences in taste, these things should not stop us from being effective for Christ.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

I'm impatient, slow to pray, and often lack hope... But there's something even worse!

I have a reminder that is set in my iCal appointments each week for a Monday morning at 9am (iCal is like Outlook, except, because it is an Apple Mac application it actually works ;-).

It is set for 9am on a Monday morning because that is directly after the Monday morning worship service at the Seminary where I serve. It sounds just as I arrive to the barrage of calls, people, tasks, meetings, and concerns from my staff, students, and the ministers and Bishops of the Methodist churches throughout the 6 nations of Southern Africa that our seminary serves.

The reminder is necessary! It helps me to keep in mind that I do this work because I have the joy of being called into it by God. It reminds me that others are as sinful and incomplete as I am, so be patient, approach them, their need, and concerns with joy, and live in the hope that even though I seldom get everything sorted out in a single meeting, a single report, or even that single day, there is the hope of knowing that I have done my best for the God who loves me, and my best for those whom God loves... And, that leads me to the infomercial 'but wait there's more moment...'

While verse 12, of Romans 12, is my weekly reminder, I have seldom taken the time to heed the command of verses 11 and 13.

Here's what the passage (Romans 12:11-13) says:

'Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be
joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's
people who are in need. Practice hospitality'.

Amazing isn't it? Zeal, fervor, service of Christ, joy, hope, patience, faith, sharing and lastly hospitality!

This last week my bi-weekly radio show on Radio Pulpit (first broadcast is always at 9am on a Wednesday, then rebroadcast throughout the week) dealt with that last injunction 'Be hospitable'. It has unleashed a great deal of criticism from more conservative quarters. We're happy to TALK about values (zeal, joy, hope, etc.) but when it comes down to doing something (welcoming people into Christ's fellowship) it becomes a battle ground!

So from this week I have added an extra reminder to continue to serve the Lord with fervor and zeal, and another to care for God's people in need and be constantly hospitable (to the outsider, the disregarded, the misunderstood, the rejected, the poor, the rich, the American, and the African, straight, and the gay, the liberal and the conservative). What I like most about this passage is that is places God, in Christ, at the centre of all of these actions. Love and zeal and service of Christ, prayer to God in Christ, care for the people that God loves, and welcome, on behalf of God, to all the people that God loves!

It also struck me that since BGod is the centre of all life, it is not my right to exclude anyone that God loves! I am the steward, God is the truly hospitable householder.

Dion, blogging while braaing (an offering of thanks for our victory last night!), Megie putting Liam to sleep, and Courtney is playing.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

What every South African Church MUST do... If it is to be obedient.

Each year I have challenged my students, and my congregation, to look around them and understand the needs of our society. The basic principle is:

God will not consider how you pastored your congregation, but how you ministered to your community.

In the light of this I have become convinced that any Church in Southern Africa that does not have an effective HIV AIDS ministry has some growing to do in order to be obedient to God, and to participate in God's mission of bringing Christ's healing and transformation to the world.

Central to my theology is the question "What must the Gospel look like?" - we so often hear what the Gospel sounds like, but ask yourself the question, what does the Gospel LOOK LIKE in nation where there are more deaths than births? What does the Gospel look like where there are millions of Child headed households? What does the Gospel look like where people have monitised life saving drugs, turning the suffering of others into their profit? What does the Gospel look like? What is Good News to the dying? Of course the Gospel looks like our Churches - isn't it amazing that in a country where 78% of the population indicated that they were Christians we face social problems such as this?

I still have some work to do!

Today this shocking news report was released:

South Africa is in danger of losing the battle against HIV/Aids, the United Nations children's agency has warned.

Unicef's South Africa representative, Macharia Kamau, said infection and death rates were outpacing treatment.

This was having a devastating effect on children whose parents died of Aids, and sent out a dire message for the future, he said.

Mr Kamau said if present trends continued, there could be five million orphans in South Africa by 2015.

Huge risk

South Africa is one of just nine countries worldwide where infant mortality is rising - from 60 deaths per 1,000 births in 1990, to 95 deaths today.

The main reason, Unicef says, is HIV/Aids.

The average infection rate is almost 30% of the population - and in some regions it is closer to 50%.

Speaking in Geneva, Mr Kamau said the effect on children was devastating, and that infants whose mothers died of Aids were at huge risk of dying themselves.

Older children who have lost one or more parents faced a struggle to survive and to go to school, he added.

In South Africa today there are 1.5 million Aids orphans. If the trend of 400,000 deaths from Aids per year continues, by 2015, the number of orphans will have reached five million.

Mr Kamau said that the numbers of people in South Africa being treated for Aids were constantly being outstripped by the numbers becoming infected and dying.

He described this as a dire message for the future because although 380,000 South African Aids patients were receiving anti-retroviral drugs, 1.2 million were not receiving treatment.

As long as infection and death rates continued to outpace treatment, South Africa would lose the battle against Aids, he said.

Unicef says an aggressive expansion of treatment is needed immediately, alongside a much more open Aids prevention campaign from the government, to challenge the stigma which still surrounds the disease in South Africa.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

A life unreflected is not worth living - Plato

Last night the students and staff of John Wesley College took time to recognise the gift that God has blessed us with, the gift of Christian community. Dr Jennifer Slater (OP) gave a magnificent address to the leaving students about the relationship between Theology, Spirituality, and Ministry. I shall edit it and upload it over the weekend. It was Jenny who reminded us of the nexus where Theology (head), spirituality (heart) and ministry (hands) meet - they meet in the theological, spiritual, ministerial, discipline of reflection. When the scholar, the minister, the believer, takes time to reflect upon the world, upon God's desire and will for the world, and what role one can play in that great will and plan, then theology, spirituality, and ministry meet one another. The moment we neglect the discipline of regular reflection we will start to see the impact upon all these spheres of our life.

Truly "A life unreflected is not worth living" (Plato).

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa is in very good hands! This year's group of students have shown remarkable commitment to their formation for ministry! They have approached their spirituality, studies, and skills development with an attitude of openness and seriousness. I am certain that among this group will be many of the most significant leaders our denomination will see in the next generation! I has been a joy to share in this lives of these people, and I wish them well as they move back into Churches in the coming months.

Here's a cross post to Wessel Bentley's blog. The text and photos comes from his page.

Class of 2007

Tonight we celebrated the journey of the 2007 students at John Wesley College Kilnerton. I like what I do, but I love being on campus, engaging with students on theological issues. It is always a good feeling to look back and to remember the bewildered eyes, but now to see ministers and theologians who can think, act and preach with confidence. A big thank you to the class of 2007 for your commitment, love and hard work. To the full-time staff at JWC, your loyalty and dedication to ministerial formation is already seen in the ministries of those who have journeyed in this place - as Dion says, the most hallowed of theological institutions.

Class of 2007:

Front Row (L to R)

Joan Jackson (PhD), Larry van der Walt (MTh), Sox Leleki (MTh), Gavin
Taylor (Bishop - DMin), Ruth Jonas (EMMU - MTh), Dion Forster (Dean -
PhD), Neville Richardson (Principal - PhD), Madika Sibeko (EMMU -
MTh), Wessel Bentley (PhD), Morapedi Diutlwileng(MTh), James Massey
(MSc), Marina Malan (MTh)

Second Rown (L to R)

Motshedisi Makhudu, Nomakula Sodo, Kedibone Mofokeng, Vuyelwa
Cimela, Vuyelwa Sebolao (Vice Chair SRC), Luvuyo Sifo (Chair SRC),
Zola Zide, Fundile Mjwacu, Mziwoxolo Mkabeni, Thembeka Mkabeni,
Dipolelo Tlale

Third Row (L to R)

Mashna Sasman, Pius Ntlangulela, Tshegofatso Mokgosi,
Nkululeko Kapiyana, Claude Kimpinde (Treasurer SRC), Jacob
Mokhutso, Barrington Southwood, Christian Mokone, Bongani
Mquqo, Vuyo Ngwenyana

Last Row (L to R)

Phathisiwe Mthi, Siyakudumisa Mbuyazwe, Ryan Killian, Godfey Baqwa,
Thembile Klaas, Phezile Koekoe, Andile Sinandile, Nomathemba Mnanzana

From left to right: Wessel and Dion.

I have also uploaded some photos from my camera. Simply follow the link for photographs from the 2007 JWC Valedictory.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An evening prayer (from Durban).

Megie, Courtney, Liam and I have taken three days together in Durban. After almost 6 weeks apart we cherish times such as these! I wish I could take more time to be with them.

Many who know me, know that I never travel without my copy of "A guide to prayer for all God's people". For anyone who is looking for a truly superb guide for their personal devotions, this is one of the very best resources out there! It follows the common lectionary, has daily scripture readings from the Old and New Testaments, well written prayers, and superb reflections by well respected scholars, authors, and spiritual parents.

Since the 17th of September I have had the prayer below on my lips - it carried me through the Conference deliberations, and now replenishes my spirit, and my love for my family and my vocation. This little prayer reminds me that I must not fear too much work, nor having to take on tasks that are far greater than my limited abilities, it reminds me that I must not recoil from conflict, or be too concerned about how God will care for me and others - it reminds me that I must simply and courageously seek to ask the question "How will I faithfully follow Christ in this situation?" Whether it is engaging in mission outside of the Church, or mission within it, what Christ requires is faithfulness. Perhaps the prayer may be of some use to you?

If I have wounded any soul today,
If I have caused one foot to go astray,
If I have walked in my own willful way -
Good Lord, forgive!

If I have uttered idle words or vain,
If I have turned aside from want or pain,
Lest I myself should suffer through the strain -
Good Lord, forgive!

If I have craved for joys that are not mine,
If i have let my wayward heart repine,
Dwelling on things of earth, not things divine -
Good Lord, forgive!

If I have been perverse, or hard, or cold,
If I have longed for shelter in Thy fold
When Thou hast given me some part to hold -
Good Lord, forgive!

Forgive the sins I have confessed to Thee,
Forgive the secret sins I do not see,
That which I know not, Father, teach thou me -
Help me to live.

C. Maud Battersby

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A biased perspective... An attempt at reading the scritupres through a women's eyes - Women and ministry.

I am seldom without an opinion... Or at least that's what Megie tells me! Ha ha.

Last week on Friday I combined my New Testament 2 class (with whom I am currently doing an introduction to the Pauline and pseudo-Pauline epistles and letters), and my Systematic Theology 1 class (with whom I am currently doing contextual theologies, such a liberation theology, feminist theology, and black theology).

We got together to study the topic of 'women in the ministry'. For those who are not familiar with the debate - two thirds of the Christians (that is Roman Catholic Christians) do not accept the ordination of women to presbuteral ministry i.e., they will not ordain women as priests. Moreover, for those who know anything about African culture, you will know that African men (particularly Xhosa and Zulu men) who hold to their ancient traditions are very patriarchal. This often means that women have a great deal to contend with when they enter the ministry in South Africa, not only do they have to face opposition from other Christian denominations, they also face cultural opposition.

So, here's what I did. I brought my two classes together. Just less than half of the students in these two classes are women. I then gave them an opportunity to prepare a debate on women in the ministry. However, I got the women to argue that women SHOULD NOT be allowed to be ordained, and the men to argue that WOMEN MUST be ordained to ministry. It was a lively and creative interaction!

Here is a little paper that I wrote to hand out to the students.

Women in Ministry 2007.doc (it is a small document in MS Word format).

It is an attempt at approaching the scriptures from a womanist perspective (in other words, I attempt to read the scriptures with the perspective of women who are called to ministry in mind).

Let me know what your thoughts are on the subject, and on the paper!



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