Ubuntu, reflection by Wesley Seminary

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Written by Donna Goltry, March 25, 2014

Ephesians 5:8-14
8For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—9for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Ubuntu. This word of greeting captures the essence of South African spirit. It means my humanity is inextricably tied to your humanity. If I do something to hurt you, I also hurt myself. If you do something to help me, you help yourself. Ubuntu.

65 years ago, South Africa turned to a dark time. Apartheid- was a dark time when the white minority in power denied blacks and coloreds and Indians basic human rights.
Banished to squalid townships,
Forced to carry passbooks at all times or be arrested, in fear of torture,
Denied the right to vote,
Resistance leaders were banned – “confining people to house arrest.” Never could they meet to talk or just embrace one another. It was a dark time.
But, Apartheid was dismantled 25 years ago. The light began to shine on South Africa once more.

When we came to South Africa this January on our immersion, we found kind, loving people of all colors of the rainbow. Everywhere we went, we met people who touched us with their kindness, love and hope.

How could this be? How had they come from such utter darkness to a new South Africa of love and hope? The key seemed to lodge in the path of forgiveness and reconciliation the nation had chosen. Not forgetting the past, but moving forward to forgive and find a new future together.
That is a lesson the world could use.
To be sure, much remains to be done. Poverty, especially in the townships is ever-visible.
Unpaved dirty streets
Shacks crammed together
Precious children playing in dirty water in the ditches.
Precious children in a crèche built out of portable storage units,
We saw signs of hope. On a bicycle tour through Masiphumelele we saw home –grown businesses generating economic empowerment.

THE PEOPLE WE MET
Bishop Themba Mntambo of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa spent a week sharing with our group and reconnecting with his dear friend, Eileen. He served us communion on New Year’s Day at Cape Point, a place where we saw the enormity of God’s creation. At Cape Point, you can look to the east and see the Indian Ocean and to the west and see the Atlantic. Themba’s good friend, Sidwell, told us about the past. Arrested 12 times, Sidwell’s face showed a certain sadness, but also a passion to help the government build better housing.

There were many others: Noor the tour guide at District Sic museum, Gordon our guide and Duncan our driver were an unlikely pair – a black from Cape Town and a displaced white Zimbabwean farmer now driving a bus. It was heartwarming to see them become good friends.

Lionel Davis touched all our hearts. Lionel greeted us at Robben Island. As we landed, Lionel pointed to another ferry, The Diaz. He said, that is the ferry that brought me to prison – shackled, blindfolded, thrown into the hold with the thick smell of fuel, afraid. Lionel spent 1964-71 on Robben Island, a few doors down from Nelson Mandela. We listened to him tell of his time at Robben Island and of how it changed him and Nelson Mandela. My lasting memory is of Lionel’s laugh. When dressing the next morning in the bunk room, I could hear it from the dining hall across the courtyard. He was embracing the joy of the new day.

When we left, our ferry was The Diaz. Lionel went down into the hold, where he had come to prison so many years ago. When we asked if it troubled him, he just smiled and reminded us to LOVE. To consider each day a joy. That was his word to us.

And the land – was spectacular. At the Pilanesburg Nature Preserve, we saw a crèche of springbok, gazelles, warthogs, zebras, giraffes, wildebeests – it was an image of the peaceable kingdom straight out of Isaiah.
We looked down into the cave where the remains of a 3.3 million year-old hominid (Littlefoot), our ancestor, had been found. We all come from Africa, from this cradle of humankind. We are all tied together. Ubuntu.

This immersion forever has changed our lives. Some have responded to begin supporting the crèche, the daycare, through their congregations. We all are telling the story of how forgiveness, but not forgetting, and love has brought people together in a mere 20 years.

Looking at this flag of South Africa, we see many colors: the colors representing the people who make up this rainbow nation: blacks, whites, coloreds, Asians. We see the colors of the land: gold for the gold of South Africa, green for the land. And we see a powerful symbol. Notice the two paths that are as far apart as possible? They come together here, to travel into the future of unity.

This is the symbol of the new South Africa, one that emerged from the hard-fought struggle of not forgetting but reconciling, of Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Lionel, Themba, Sidwell, but also the many others who lost their lives in the struggle. In this memory, I am reminded of Jesus on the Cross, who made the ultimate sacrifice for us for life over death, light over darkness. The writer of Ephesians exhorts us to embrace the light instead of the dark.
Sleeper awake, Arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.
Thank you that we were blessed to experience this truth in our immersion. Ubuntu.

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