Wednesday 22 May 2013

To the Laos - To the People of God, May 2013

Dear People of God

Our celebration of Easter is completed, as we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus Christ our Saviour, crucified and raised from death, and now seated at the Father’s right hand, where he never ceases to pray for each one of us. At times when I find life threatens to overwhelm me, I remind myself to put Jesus first. For now within the Godhead there is one who understands what it is to be human and to battle with life. And therefore his prayers for me embrace both perfect empathy with what I am going through, and perfect understanding of what I most need in that situation. There is no safer place to be, than held in the prayers of our risen and ascended Lord!

Yet I am also challenged to realise that in answering the prayers of others, God in Jesus Christ may be calling me to be part of his solution in some way. And of course, at Pentecost we celebrate the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, to enlighten our ability to grasp what he calls us to do, and encourage, equip and empower us to carry it out.

Sometimes within the Church we are better at words than action. We can be so caught up with the things of heaven that we prefer to rest there, finding a security away from life’s pressures. But one of the important emphases of the retreat I followed earlier in the year was that if we genuinely come to know and love Jesus more closely, then inevitably this love will find expression in sharing in his mission to the world, and in working for true peace with justice and for kingdom virtues in every area of life.

Here are two areas where I have been pondering how we translate words into actions. First is in relation to gender violence. Our media have been full of terrible atrocities against women and children. It touches every part of our society, though some are better at hiding it than others. So I was heartened to learn recently of the ‘Ringing the Bell’ campaign. This Indian initiative grew from awareness of intolerable levels of domestic violence within homes. The solution is very simple. When people hear noises that sound like something bad is going on, they just ring the doorbell, or knock at the door, or phone. I especially ask men and boys to take this initiative.

It does two things. First, it immediately interrupts whatever violence is taking place. Second, it lets the perpetrator know that the community – especially other men – are watching. We know men listen to other men. We know men care about their reputation with other men. And ringing the bell clearly gets the message across that men who are violent are not socially acceptable. The experience of India is that this is very effective indeed. You can read more on the website

Too often men are only portrayed as perpetrators of domestic and gender violence – whereas initiatives like this help enable us to be partners with women, in working for true equality, fairness and justice, in which we can all live in safety.

In the church too we must avoid any implications, in our teachings or behaviour that men and boys are in any way superior to women and girls, or entitled to dominate them. We know that the Bible was written in cultures where women were not equal. But Genesis is clear that in our creation, equally reflect God’s image and so are worthy of equal dignity and respect (Gen 1:27). The same equality is true in salvation, for ‘there is no longer male and female for all of you are one in Christ ‘(Gal 3:28).

The second area where I have been conscious that words must lead to action is education. This is a particular priority that I feel God has laid on my heart, since I have been so much involved in education through my adult life – and am so aware that it was educational opportunities that came my way which enabled me to follow the path that my life has taken.

When we look at this, and many other, situations, at how much needs to be done, and how little has been achieved, it is easy to be downhearted. As you know, one of my challenges is that we should not be so fixated with what is wrong, that we get dragged down. Instead we must keep our vision for what, by God’s grace, we can become, and let this sure hope be the focus and touchstone for guiding our policies.

Yet we cannot turn a blind eye to what is unacceptable. What we need, is to keep it in perspective by abiding in Christ. As we abide in him, we will grow in his love – and grow in seeing the world as he sees it, and so be caught up into his care and purposes. Looking at the bad from Christ’s perspective is the best way to face it.

And so, having been praying seriously for some time about education (perhaps you might find another area speaks to you), I now find myself caught up into all sorts of action that have really encouraged me in understanding that Christians can make a difference at all sorts of levels. I’m now acting individually, through the Church, and in supporting national initiatives.

On an individual level, a group of us who grew up in Alexandra are helping rebuild Pholosho school, and funding bursaries. Perhaps you can do something similar, or support a school indirectly connected perhaps through someone who works with or for you. But dare to put a human face on the problem. This will help open your eyes to the real needs of communities. Then, in Gauteng, Anglicans have the growing Vuleka school initiative. Our next project is building a boys’ boarding school.

And on a wider level, I’m adding my voice to the call for the Minister of Education to issue proper, decent, minimum infrastructure norms and standards for all schools. These must be specific and measureable, not broad and generalised, as in the latest draft which is a step backwards. As part of this campaign, I visited South Africa’s Eastern Cape last month, with a delegation including academics, writers, and human rights activists. Though we encountered heroic efforts by many educators and learners, we were also shocked and appalled by much of what we saw.

So we will not rest, but keep up the dialogue, keep up the pressure, with Provincial and National government. And the really good news is that this works. Within days of our visit, there was an official statement saying the President had directed the relevant department within the Presidency to look into the matter. Now we must ensure this is followed through – and every South African can join in sending letters to the President, Ministers, MPs, MECS, and newspapers; and phone radio stations, and blog, and post on Facebook and tweet. Let’s make a big noise!

Earlier this month I was in Canada, where Huron University College conferred on me an honorary doctorate. I said then, it is by God’s grace that I had the educational opportunities that allowed me to become who I am now – and so I receive this in acknowledgement of the many millions who struggled, and still struggle, with inadequate education. I hope that in saying this, I may contribute to the fight for decent education – as well as housing, sanitation and other basic needs, for all.

In other news, I am delighted that the Very Revd Willie Mostert, Dean of the Highveld, has agreed to be the new Provincial Executive Officer, in succession to Revd Canon Allan Kannemeyer. Willie, who takes up the appointment in October, brings extensive administrative skills, as well as deep pastoral experience. Do pray for him and Ursula as they prepare to relocate to the Cape. Pray also for Allan and Connie as they settle back into the Diocese of Pretoria. In the meantime, the Revd Keith Griffiths has kindly agreed to come out of retirement and help in the PEO’s office from June to September, and will act as Manager for Provincial Synod. Pray for him, and Gail Allen, Provincial Executive Administrator, and everyone else who will help in preparations for this important meeting in the life of ACSA.

Yours in the Service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town