A pilgrimage of reconciliation and hope

A pilgrimage of reconciliation and hope

“A Pilgrimage of Reconciliation and Hope”: to think and engage, to challenge and discuss, to inquire and experience. Thirty-three people have gathered at Lancaster Theological Seminary in Lancaster, PA to travel to Southern Africa to quarrel with questions that strike at the heart of our lifestyles as individuals and as communities.

“A Pilgrimage of Reconciliation and Hope”: to think and engage, to challenge and discuss, to inquire and experience. Thirty-three people have gathered at Lancaster Theological Seminary in Lancaster, PA to travel to Southern Africa to quarrel with questions that strike at the heart of our lifestyles as individuals and as communities.

Our group, composed of seven adult leaders and twenty-six students from the East Coast of the United States, seeks to explore the AIDS pandemic in South Africa and Lesotho, and race relations and international interdependency in South Africa. Why after years of oppression did Black South Africans essentially abandon weapons and violence to welcome White South Africans as sisters and brothers in community? Why do millions of people around the world continue to die of preventable diseases, specifically AIDS?

As Mark Prins, a student from Rochester, NY, states, we on this journey seek “a greater global awareness” as we reassess-possibly totally rethink or redefine-our individual theologies such that they more accurately represent our values as citizens of a global community.

Aug. 2,  2005

Unsure and slightly insecure, we have waded into a culture that is both similar to and different from our own. Struggling with jet lag and fatigue, we have, after two days in Johannesburg, realized that the questions we have come prepared to ponder may not prove sufficient if we are to successfully cultivate conversations that force us to re-evaluate ourselves and grow into both better stewards of faith and citizens of a diverse global community.

After a day at the Eastgate mall and the local market, we have begun to engage the purpose of our pilgrimage. The Hector Pieterson Museum, commemorating the first Black youth to die in the student uprising of 1976, offered us a chance to examine the atrocities of Apartheid. A tour of Soweto also provided us with a unique glimpse into the lives of the residents. Several in our group walked hand in hand with young children along the red dirt streets as residents welcomed us into their homes. Our experiences in Soweto and at the Hector Pieterson Museum have roused a profound opportunity for critical thought and conversation as we explore the dynamics of our position in the international community.

Kristen Glover, a student from Long Island, NY stated the present consensus of our group, “I don’t know what to think yet.” Thus, our present thoughts will not suffice. As we encounter new people, we will allow our experiences to brew in conversation as we seek new challenges to our lifestyles and theologies in Morija and Cape Town.

Submitted by Cameron Barr for “Leadership Now”

Third day in Lesotho
Aug. 2,  2005

As we near the end of our third day in Lesotho all we can say is how we wish we could spend a lifetime in this magnificent country. During our time here we have spent time at the Morija Theological Seminary, allowing us to feel the connection in faith between Africa and our homes in the United States. After visiting the seminary we went to the National Museum and Archive, where we meandered through the history of Lesotho. Visiting the museum, we were given a background into the lives of our Basotho hosts.

Lesotho is host to vast mountain ranges. Climbing up the mountain closest to Morija, the town of our temporary residence, it felt as though God was hitting us over the head screaming “Look! I’m right here!” It seemed as though no time past at all until we were following our guide along the top ridge breathing in the greatest views and God’s glory.

We later enjoyed a fantastic exchange of music and culture with a local youth choir. Our groups sang and danced as the bronze African sun set behind the distant mountains. God can only be defined in glorious moments like this.

For many of us the defining moment of our pilgrimage thus far lies in our time spent with the children in orphanages. From the moment we arrived we were welcomed with friendly smiles and warm greetings. We played soccer with the children, sang and danced, helped with small work projects, and essentially enjoyed one another’s company. Tears fell as goodbyes were exchanged: hugs of new love and partnership.

We now have faces to connect with our prayers. Our friends have faces to connect with theirs.

Submitted by Mark Prins for “Leadership Now”

A day of high emotions
Aug. 2,  2005

We have experienced our first day of high emotions. Especially after the Soweto tour, many of us have found ourselves grasping unsuccessfully for words to express our feelings. Compounding the profundity of our Soweto experience was the session on Teen AIDS Prevention. Sharing details and stories about AIDS and AIDS education with local high school girls, we were allowed a candid glimpse at the challenges South Africans–especially women–routinely face in their culture.

We have divided ourselves into four Covenant groups. These groups allow us a small and safe place to process our thoughts and feelings with each other, a place to “share and debrief”, says fifteen year old student Jessie Fiske, as we know that our emotional rollercoaster will only become more intense and unpredictable as we ride through the highs and lows of our journey. Our primary hope is that we can funnel our emotions into a productive and coherent argument for love, compassion, justice, and humanity when we return home.

Submitted by Cameron Barr for “Leadership Now”

Worship in Lesotho
Aug. 8, 2005

Our fourth day in Lesotho was both joyful and challenging. Our group was invited into the Lithabaleng Evangelical Church in Maseru for two services to experience worship in both English and Sesotho.

The English service was similar to the style that is most common in our home churches. The people were eager to welcome us into their church and asked us to share our names, the location of our homes, and the purpose of our visit. To return their hospitality, we sang “Lord of the Dance” in front of the congregation.

The Sesotho service, however, was different from what we normally participate in back home. More people attended this service and it was longer and more active, with people singing and dancing. To honor the congregation, and as a symbol of our unity in Christ, the bond between our two groups, we presented the congregation with a banner.

We enjoyed the conversations we had and worship we participated in, but it is also important for us to process what we engaged. That night we met in our covenant groups to discuss the day. Many of us commented on the hospitality and joy, but we also have to recognize the sort of life these people live. Statistically speaking, the people of Lesotho live on an annual income of about $274. And half of the young people in the church that morning, ages 15-35, are HIV positive.

How should we as Americans react to the fact that our lifestyles and choices affect the lives of those who live 8,000 miles away? We will continue to explore these questions through Cape Town as we hopefully will come to some conclusions about our call and purpose, our place in a vision for a better world.

Aug. 18, 2005

We have returned home from our two weeks in Southern Africa. We travelled with the intention of meeting people and forming new relationships with our brothers and sisters in another region of the world, seeking to explore new cultures, new ways of life and thinking, new theologies–but in the heat of the moment, we also witnessed something greater.

Ubuntu: the African philosophy Desmond Tutu credits with holding together the people of Africa through the turmoil that has defined that past hundreds of years. As children of God we are bound by an unbreakable cord that is our own humanity. Siblings in life, we owe it to one another to live as though we individually have a hand in each person’s welfare. Statistics truly do speak about people, about individuals, about solitary beings with the capacity to welcome and serve and care and love.

Impoverished countries are in fact only a plane ride apart from us, but they are galaxies away when awareness of our Ubuntu connection to one another is neglected. And following the example of love set by Jesus, we all know that we cannot be complacent in a world that discriminates on such negligible variables as place of birth. Our lives have inherent purpose. Desmond Tutu claims that we have an “enormous capacity for good”; and, knowing that, we must explore our purpose, our individual visions for a better world, as we discern our call to life.

Submitted by Cameron Barr for “Leadership Now”