We have an exciting innovation from Bishopscourt this Advent, in which I am sharing with you, the laos (or laity), reflections on the Advent readings which you can listen to online or by podcast. This is a fascinating process, and for the first Sunday in Advent, I reflected on the fact that in spite of the challenges we have in our different walks of life, God has a plan for each of us. We dare not despair. We need to face some of those principalities, some of the things that wear us down, with that strong sense of hope conveyed by the literal meaning of the word “advent”, which is “arrival”. Ultimately, the Son of the living God through the power of the Lord Jesus Christ does triumph over all.
I have recently returned from a busy and inspirational pastoral visit to the Diocese of Port Elizabeth, where I saw in various ways what God is up to in the diocese. (I recommend that you look at the special issue of their newsletter, iindaba.) What impressed me was to see how Port Elizabeth – like many dioceses, but I am referring here specifically here to Port Elizabeth – is wrestling with the implications of what God is up to in their part of the country. They are working ecumenically with other churches and with the city to make the Nelson Mandela Metro a place where God is really found, in spite of the many problems they share in common with the rest of South Africa. I was especially touched by the hope I encountered among HIV positive people at the House of Resurrection Children’s Home, a haven for children who have been affected in some way by HIV and Aids or abandoned.
Back in Cape Town, I was intrigued by a visit to The Warehouse – an outreach ministry of St. John’s Parish in Wynberg – for an exhibition focussing on art, poetry and stories around the theology of water and sanitation. It really demonstrated strongly the need for us to be visible, particularly among those who are living without running water or proper sanitation. The exhibition may have concentrated on the Western Cape, but when I go to Angola, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland and Namibia I see that the same deficiencies are prevalent across Southern Africa. And we know the related ills that arise from the problem, among them illnesses and women and girl children being raped while fetching water.
I am writing this as we observe our 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence and following the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. I want to echo the message of Tearfund, Anglican Alliance, Hope Africa and our Province that we should encourage everyone not to be silent but to speak out when women and children are being abused, and I encourage all our churches to work actively to create safe spaces for victims of gender-based violence and human trafficking.
I was particularly moved by one of the events I attended this year, when I heard the story of a girl, Nadia, who is a survivor of human trafficking. She was abducted from her home at the age of 14. By the age of 16, she had had two children as a result of the abuse she suffered. As she told her story and read a “survivor’s poem” we were all reduced to tears. Her story was painful in itself but what was more piercing was when she said:
“Please do me a favour – smile with me. Because your smile and your hope and your determination make me stronger. If you collapse and cry with me, you make my wounds too deep.”
And so Nadia’s story will remain with me as I continue to reflect on the Incarnate Christ in our lives, and His redemptive love, shared by Nadia, who has all the reason in the world to be angry but who challenged us to smile with her. I think that is in Nadia that our Christmas message lies this year: that despite being raped, exiled, abducted, trafficked and abused, the Christ Child emerges and offers us that hope which supersedes all human understanding.
My prayer this Advent and Christmas is that we will look at some of the seemingly hopeless situations in our world, for example situations that marginalize the other or destroy the environment. We might focus on water and sanitation as highlighted by The Warehouse in Wynberg, or by the international conference that I’ve just attended in India on the need for global intervention on the same issue; or on women and girl children who are abused in families or live in areas where toilets and water are far from their homes. Let’s think on these things, then choose just one and offer it to God in prayer this Christmas, asking the Christ Child to surround us with his peace and justice as we take action to eliminate the problem.
By the time most of you read this, we will have commemorated the first anniversary of the death of Madiba and again celebrated his life. May his belief and determination that individual or collective acts of goodwill actually do bring about change, inspire us to work for peace and justice in our time. For this is also the Gospel imperative.
May you have a blessed Christmas !
God bless you,
+Thabo Cape Town