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Where Is Jesus? A Habitat Trip To South Africa
By Steve Stockman
“Today was a day of all days. Life changing. Never to be forgotten. Mystical. Spiritual. Emotional. Beyond reason. Beyond words.
I have the most vivid picture of Cape Town. From the steps of the Habitat office there is a panoramic view underneath a bright sun-a winter sun-but sun! A millions people live in my panorama. Shacks, huts and dotted brick houses that tell us that the new South Africa is brick by brick getting slowly better than the old one. And off to the right are the mountains topped with snow. The majesty and grandeur of God and beneath their wing and constant gaze those he most cherishes-those made in His image-the native African people of Western Cape. To be truthful most of them have resettled from Eastern Cape to find work in the gardens and kitchens of Cape Town.
My senses were on overload as the children descended. Post-apartheid children with smiles and eyes so alive that they might burst with life and happiness. The Habitat homes; so basic but so wonderful. The singing, first of Church worship and later a local choir rehearsing. The fans of the Kaiser Chiefs. The community characters. A deep sense of community that wealth seems to stamp upon in its clamor to remove unseen connections with the dull lifeless desire for possessions.”
This is my diary entry for July 16th as I arrived in Khayelitsha as part of a fifteen person team from our Presbyterian Hall of Residence at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. We came with our reasons to be here. To see our Christian faith caress and collide with another culture, to do our little part to be part of God’s Kingdom coming and His will being on earth as it is in heaven, to learn from the new relationships in this previously divided land and apply it to our divided homeland, to develop the relationships of a community that live together back home and in the midst of those four purposes we were hoping that God would use this experience to mould and shape us in our discipleship to never be the same again.
As I write this I am now home. The team has had its final prayer of thanks at Belfast International Airport and we are enjoying being back with friends and loved ones, trying to reintegrate into our everyday ways and missing one another’s banter and love. The Cape Town 2000 Build is over. There has been an ending. What matters now is the new beginning.
Thankfully there will be a new beginning in Khayelitsha as two families will move into the houses that we were privileged to help build. We came to be a part of answering that ancient prayer “Thy kingdom come and Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus hinted that heaven was full of mansions and so it is not on earth as in heaven that people should live in shacks. It was a deep honor to be part of the Kingdom coming as Habitat For Humanity obey Christ in their attempts to rid our world of the hell of housing poverty.
Laboring for the black man we are told is not what has been the norm and as well as whatever labor we were able to lend we hope that we moved psychologies as well as bricks. It was one of the many things I considered in my weeks in Cape Town-how the decades of apartheid must have infected the minds of white and black and colored and Indian alike. Those years of conditioning need reconditioned and we hope that the presence of these zany white Irish who could only describe geographically where they were from by saying it was a 12 hour flight, will help change some attitudes in the Cape Flats.
Of course we needed changes of perspective as much as anyone. For us the new beginning has to do with how we deal with the divisions of our own country where though there’s no easy color code there’s a similarly entrenched division that needs deep seated reassignment. The welcome we got on the township, the waves of the people, their smiles and the allegiance of the children was a real challenge to how we react to those who we feel have been our enemies. They in so many ways showed us what it is to love your enemies and forgive. We need, now at home, to follow such an example.
It is a new beginning for us as a team too. We live together in some sort of community in Derryvolgie Hall in Belfast. As the Dean of that community my longing is for deep relationships and interconnections that show something of what Jesus spoke about and died for. A care and concern for one another, a harmony and unity against all the odds of each others’ foibles and eccentricities. For me the seeming down time on site when we were unable to do much in the way of physical labor were very active times in the development of friendship. All but two of our team will be back living together in the year that is ahead and I hope that the entire community of 92 (that includes myself, my wife, child and one on the way!) will benefit from three weeks in South Africa where if our living together was not exactly perfect it was very impressive indeed. I know that I look forward to the year ahead with great anticipation.
I told all my students that all the other issues we were trying to deal with would hopefully tug and tear at their own souls. I hoped that above all the whole experience would be used by God for the honing of our souls into the likeness of His Son. Building houses beside shacks in the morning and then swimming on a beautiful beach a few miles away in the afternoon underneath some of the most luxurious houses in the world needs pondered upon. How do we live in a world divided in its resources and riches. Indeed "What Would Jesus Do?"
For me there is another challenge and spiritual dilemma, that has been a dog at my heel, since my return. It happened sitting in Claremont Methodist Church on our first Sunday evening. It was a very pleasant, very white and very middle class, which is fine because it was very like my home Church in Belfast. The worship leader used those words that so often I have in the past “Where two or three are gathered I am there in the midst”. I agreed. However, just that morning I had experienced that diary entry at the top of this article. Jesus had also said that “if you do this to the least of these my people you do it to me”. I realized that as well as finding him where two or three are gathered you can also find him among those with poor housing and without the advantages of those of us in middle class churches.
As we sat singing songs that have never before sounded so self indulgent and insipid I wondered of the two where is Jesus really found? I became even more impressed with the leadership of this white suburban Church who took themselves into this township to find Jesus and yet I wondered how that arm of outreach in any way related to this worship service. I bring home that challenge above all. As Claremont Methodist wrestle with it in the new South Africa I have to find in my own life and ministry how to deal with it in the new Northern Ireland.
I would like to thank Habitat For Humanity Northern Ireland, Habitat For Humanity South Africa, Claremont Methodist and the people of the Khayelitsha for allowing myself and my students to enjoy the amazing place that Cape Town is, to spend so much time as members of a transforming South African township and to engage with one another and God in ways that will lead us into a whole new beginning. Thank you too to Jesus who was there on the township long before we arrived. I know He will be there long after we have gone. I pray he will be with everyone on the lines and between the lines of this article as we step out into our new beginning.
(Pictures from Habitat For