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Outside the fence

Written by Holly McKissick
November 1, 2006


Holly McKissick has been appointed as a short-term volunteer to Inanda Girls’ Seminary in Durban, South Africa where she is involved in the life of the school community serving in a volunteer teaching capacity and visiting nearby churches on weekends

We have chapel service at 7:30 a.m. every morning-- except Friday and Saturday. On Friday, we still gather in the chapel, but young women from grade eleven read news stories they have selected covering current events.

Goodness. In South Africa, as in the United States: what bleeds leads. And, in this country, there is a lot of bleeding.

The first story is about the increase of domestic abuse, specifically, the murder of a mother of eight at the hands of her husband. The next story details the strike of security guards across the country. Troubling, on many levels, as they loot and burn and attack. The next covers school shootings: a girl shot in the hip, a boy shot through the head. I am grateful for the last story which describes the soccer game.

Listening to the girls, I think of our protected school inside the electric fence. You can be so close and yet worlds away. Inanda Seminary, started 150 years ago to educate “native” African girls, is now surrounded by the township of Inanda—a tough place to live. Many of these girls come from tough places, too. Families, like theirs, that can scrape up the money to send their daughters to boarding school do so, not just for the education, but for the safety. In a country where 1 in 2 women will be raped at some point, the girls need protection from strangers, and, too often, family members.

Of course, the news is not all bad. Two of the girls choose articles that speak of resurrection, hope, victory: the obituaries of strong and generous women. You can feel the anxiety in the chapel lessen and the hope rise as the life story of a 91 year-old becomes our morning offering.

The obituary tells how the woman owned a business before a law was passed declaring it illegal for blacks to live in a certain area and own property. She was moved to a homeland, but she resisted. Not just for herself, but for all South Africans. After democracy was achieved in 1994, she was elected to Parliament.

Listening to the girls read, watching the faces of the girls around me, I know, and they know: in the community God calls us to build, our protection does not come from electric fences. Moats, fences, iron curtains—in the end they do not work. Those on the outside, denied too long, find their way in.

No, in God’s world, our protection and direction come from the saints, living and gone before us. The 91 year-old woman, the great-grandpa, the second grade teacher...those who have lived bold, courageous, selfless lives; those who have faced challenges far greater than ours and pressed on with dignity and perseverance, they are our hope for a new day. That God has given us teachers, guides, leaders, parents to show us the way: what genius, what hope, what promise.

May the God of Good News wake us each morning with thankfulness for the freedom, shelter, safety we enjoy, and the wisdom and passion to spread those gifts near and far. Amen.

Your vision and love continue to inspire me; you remain in my prayers.



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