Dear People of God
In the Collect of the nineteenth Sunday of the year, which falls in the second week of August, we pray to God ‘teach us to discern your hand in all your works’. These words have been resonating with me since I returned from celebrating the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the Diocese of Angola as a Missionary Diocese. Reflecting on their remarkable journey under the leadership of Bishop André not only challenged me to see God’s hand at work in all they have achieved in the last decade, but also stirred me to realise God has profound spiritual lessons for us all to learn from the newest, and, in some respects, most struggling, ‘territory’ within our Province.
Let me describe our visit first, before saying more about how this Collect has shaped my reflections. Lungi came with me, and so too did the Provincial Executive Officer, Revd Allan Kannemeyer, and the President and Chairman of the St Bernard Mizeki Men’s Guild, Revd Elliot Masoka and Bro Siphiwe Mncube. We travelled to Uige, in the north, and to the capital, Luanda. We saw how Bishop André and his team have steadily worked hard to establish solid foundations for this pastoral area, despite the ravages of war. We found vibrant worship and godly optimism – such as in laying the foundations and starting to build churches that may take years to complete. They need our help. Partners such as UPSG, ERD, ALMA and MANNA, deserve our deep gratitude for their assistance across a wide range of activities and needs. But within this Province we too can assist – for example, in helping raise the R1.5million necessary to complete church building projects. Love gifts can be made via the Provincial Treasurer (mark your donation ‘Angola Mission and Ministry Love Gift’ or contact Rob Rogerson: firstname.lastname@example.org). Even a small amount will go a very long way.
You may recall that when I went to Namibia last year, I publicly apologised for the atrocities committed by South Africa within Namibia and over the border into Angola. I spoke about how knowing and making known the truth of this terrible past can become, through Christ’s redemptive power, a means for us to find healing, and also to become channels of reconciliation and peace-building (see my Christmas 2011 ‘To the Laos’ letter). Now, in Angola, I had the opportunity to share in prayer at Quibaxe, site of an Umkhonto we Sizwe camp. I asked for pardon for all those who had lost their moral compass there, or otherwise failed and fallen short. I prayed for all who had been killed, bereaved, injured and maimed as a result of the civil war and other violence.
Returning home, I felt a fresh energy to strive for peace and justice. As each of us is made in God’s likeness, not only does every human being deserve respect, but we should see that to harm any person is an act of desecration against a holy image, against God-bearers, even against God himself. This is true both of the violence of war, and in peace-time also. While war, which turns people into objects for domination by those who want power at any price, may be over in our part of the world, we also need a peace that is rooted in justice, fairness, and the refusal to allow the creation of political and economic structures that also reduce people to objects for exploitation.
The ten years the Diocese has existed coincides with the decade of peace Angola has experienced after a quarter of a century of civil war. Much has been done to move forward from that violent and tragic past, yet the country remains one of the most heavily mined in the world. No-one knows how many mines are there, perhaps millions; and they can continue to wreak devastation for up to 50 years. Pondering this, it then struck me forcefully that the task of removing mines is both a literal and a figurative one, if both country and church are to grow. If one merely avoids the mine-fields, the problem remains, and great tracts of lands are unavailable for production. It takes great bravery, even with the necessary training or outside help, to take on the mine-fields. Reflecting on this, it seems to me that God is challenging all of us to take on the mine-fields within our churches, and within our societies. There are unspoken issues among and between us that lie like unexploded mines in our midst, and too often we are afraid to tackle them, in case they ‘go off’. Yet God not only promises to lead us in safe pathways (Ps 23), but has in Christ overcome all that can harm his people and his church (Rev 3:21) and gives us authority to take on all that threaten us (Luke 10:19).
In other words, I have been challenged to see God’s hand at work as the ‘clearer of land-mines’ of any and every sort: challenged to dare to put my hand in his and tackle the ‘unexploded bombs’ that otherwise threaten the ability of Christians and the church to plough and plant and reap a harvest in every area of our lives, in every area of God’s world. I invite you to consider how you too may discern God’s work as ‘clearer of land-mines’ in your own life, in your own congregation and church and diocese!
Please pray for Provincial Standing Committee, as we prepare to meet in September. May we also discern God’s hand at work through the structures of our Province, and to respond to his leading. May we have courage to tackle the difficult issues, and above all, to be faithful and obedient to the calling he has put before us. We have distilled what we believe is this calling into the Vision that ‘Anglicans ACT’ – that we should be a community ‘Anchored in the love of Christ, Committed to God’s Mission, and Transformed by the Holy Spirit.’ The Vision will be at the heart of PSC, a touchstone to help guide and shape our responses to all that we face. May I remind you of the Bible Study and Sermon resources produced to help us engage more deeply with the Vision and Mission Statement, available at www.anglicansablaze.org, and from Revd Canon Cynthia Botha of the publishing committee.
PSC’s agenda includes a special service of celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Ordination of Women. We give thanks to God for how this has enriched our church – and for the growing recognition of women’s ministry in every area of our life. We shall also have a presentation on ‘Fresh Expressions of Mission-shaped Church’ from Bishop Graham Cray of the Church of England; on the Spirituality of the Environment from Bishop Geoff Davies; on South Africa’s National Development Plan, from Minister Trevor Manuel; and a breadth of other topics including education and finance.
Finally, the Diocese of the Free State have elected the Revd Dintoe Stephen Letloenyane, of St Margaret’s parish, Bloemfontein, to be their next Bishop, in succession to Bishop Paddy Glover. Please pray for Revd Stephen, his wife Zanele, and their children Dintle, Dimpho and Amanda at this time as they prepare for this new chapter in their lives.
Yours in the Service of Christ,
+Thabo Cape Town