A very interesting reflection from a group of American students who stayed at St Peters –

For more information about the group, please visit their blog: https://ustsouthafrica.wordpress.com. Please take a look to see some truly remarkable reflections from students who were thinking hard about how to be human on this planet that we share. The names of all the students have been changed.

They treated such themes as:

Inequality. Rod was grappling with a God who "allows inequality to crush the underprivileged," and Richard and I tried to speak into a different imagination of how, as Teresa of Avila writes, we are the hands and feet of God, and so we wondered what the world could be like if we understood that it is we who allow inequality to persist.

Hope. Each of our students raised $500 towards tuition for a South African University student funded through These Numbers Have Faces. Caroline was matched with Sinethemba, which means "hope," and then reflected on how this theme emerged for her throughout this trip. Caroline differentiated hope from optimism, and spoke of the power of living into the resurrection.

Ubuntu. Kegan chose to write of the logo at the Constitutional Court in conversation with the theme of ubuntu, and how this theme about which Archbishop Desmond Tutu reflected upon with us at length challenges American idealism and individualism. Kegan also reflected on restorative vs. retributive justice.

Justice. Brian reflected on themes of justice and injustice, especially in conversation with Paul Farmer's fear that charity work can depend upon unjust systems in order to perpetuate their existence. He saw this at work in Blikkiesdorp, and reflected on how he sees now that injustice is socially engineered.

Privilege. Joe wrote on the topic of white privilege and the power of conscientization to transform cultures that are complicit in oppression.

Historical Jesus. Kylie contrasted bourgeois Christianity with images of the historical Jesus to which we were introduced throughout our stay in Africa (and during the pre-departure meetings, as well). She moved seamlessly from a historically informed reading of “the night Jesus was betrayed,” to the poem by James Matthews about the ways in which a patriot to one is a terrorist to another, to the reading of the Good Samaritan as a “holy troublemaker,” to Gavin Young’s portraits of holy troublemakers, to our Christian calling and the meaning of discipleship.

Dignity. Helga wrote about the importance of recognizing one's inherent dignity, which isn't diminished by poverty or increased by sanctity. She quoted a poem by James Matthews very effectively, about tourists who shoot pictures of people living in poverty and the failure to acknowledge dignity properly.

Forgiveness. Two students, Megan and Sharon, wrote on the topic of forgiveness. Megan was especially in conversation with Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, whose book we read, and Sharon focused more on presentations with two commissioners, Piet Miering and Glenda Wildschut, who helped us enter into how forgiveness is construed in more of an African imagination.

Power. Margaret wrote on structural violence and abuse of power. She linked this to gender-based violence and the limits of agency. She was in conversation with Mandla Majola, from TAC, who spoke of the intersections of mounting social inequities. She also wrote of the power of faith to transform the kingdom of God on earth, "as it is in heaven."

Colonization. Angela wrote about the role of the colonizer in creating conflict, and linked this to the role of the Roman occupation in the drama "on the night that Jesus was betrayed."

Vocation. Paul wrote a powerful litany of folks who we've met along the way whose vocations were clear in how they lived their lives with integrity. We noted a shift in his language throughout the course from "fortune" to "privilege."

Community. Jason wrote about Gavin Young's apartheid-era photographs, the "Resistance Register," in related to how a community of committed artists served to resist the apartheid government. We also spoke of the prophetic power of art to call out injustice and to feed the imagination with hope for what is possible.

Courage. Kelly was moved by the countless stories we heard from folks who were willing to take varying degrees of risk to resist the apartheid government. She also spoke eloquently of white guilt and its ineffectiveness in being able to motivate lasting change.

Conversion. Anton wrote about "conversion," from a more bourgeois form of Christianity to one more grounded in the historical Jesus, recognizing the need to get beyond language of "us" and "them" in comprehending our collective plight and ways in which the liberation of whites is bound up with the liberation of people of color.

Faith. Brandon wrote about faith, and the sense of faithfulness he experienced in staying with Mama Thotho in Guguletu. We discussed the dynamics present in strength of faith in the midst of poverty, and reliance upon God in difficult times, and how this can be twisted to suggest that the poor are more faithful and therefore the privileged need not be concerned to work for change in the here and now.

Feminism. Marion wrestled with whether someone with a feminist consciousness can remain Christian. She grappled with atonement imagery and the violence of the cross. We introduced her to the Catholic "underground," while affirming, too, that some leave because of conscience. We discussed supportive communities of women of faith in the Twin Cities.

Criminal Complicity. Simon, who is off to law school in the fall, wrote of "criminal complicity," and struggled with definitions about at which point complicity in an unjust and violence system becomes criminal. We acknowledged that, as "armchair humanitarians," it is easy to judge, and wondered how many among us would have had the courage to do what it takes to revolt against one's own government, when people are watching your every move, threatening to kill your children, and putting you in prison, with all it entails: loss of security, income, freedom.

Compassion. Christine, a student of Shaman belief and pondering Christianity, wrote of compassion. She named a litany of mentors, like Diane Victor, John de Gruchy, Rev. Spiwo Xapile, James Matthews, Loretta and Zukile, Paul Verryn, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, who are working for the common good.

Love. Stu, the student who had surgery in South Africa, wrote on the topic of love, really defining it in terms of empathy for human beings. He, too, struggled with notions of "God's plan," and we again turned it around to ask "where are we," rather than "where is God?," as legitimate a question as it may be.

Their lecturer and tour leader comments: The students often write to me because they struggle with trying to live into their new understanding when we return to the States, where it is so easy to fall into old patterns, consumerism, and the other trappings of life among the privileged here. We have good conversations about intentionality and living with integrity—and how the same patterns we saw in South Africa are all too evident here, once one has eyes to see. So we will ask ourselves: how, then, shall we live?

Login Form