By Laura Benton
Part One: The Onward Journey and the Kwasa Centre
In May of this year, fourteen pilgrims from the Chapel of the Cross traveled to South Africa on a journey to learn about reconciliation, experience God’s presence and action, and discover how we were called to be peacemakers in our own time. We chose our destination not just because we have a longstanding relationship with a school near Johannesburg, but because of that country’s rich history. South Africa, the Rainbow Nation, has been described as a beacon of hope, a place where God’s dream that all people can live together as sisters and brothers is being made manifest. It has also been described as just another African nation wrestling with rampant corruption and devastating poverty. The truth, as I would discover, is not an either/or proposition, but may include a little of both.
As preparation for this pilgrimage, our group spent the previous year studying the history and culture of South Africa, with an emphasis on the genesis of apartheid, the struggle against that system, and the peaceful transition of power in 1994. We read books like No Future Without Forgiveness and Cry, the Beloved Country. We hosted speakers like James Joseph, the former ambassador to South Africa, and the Rev. Michael Battle, who lived with Bishop Tutu and has written extensively on ubuntu theology. We wrote the Kwasa Centre, our mission partner in South Africa, asking their advice and receiving a warm invitation to come and see the work they are doing. So, on May 22nd, we started on a journey both outward and inward, to encounter God at work in South Africa and in our own hearts.
I was sitting in Dulles airport eating a snack when we got the call. Our original travel plan was that our pilgrimage group would be split in two halves, with one group arriving in D.C. in the morning, and the other in the early afternoon. We would then all travel onward together from Dulles to Johannesburg. Ted Pratt calling to say that the second group’s flight had been cancelled due to mechanical problems was definitely not in the plan. There was no way our whole group could make the flight to Africa. The second group would have to fly out of New York the next morning. Though incomplete and missing our friends, the first group decided to travel on to South Africa as scheduled. Before boarding our flight, we all clasped hands at the gate and prayed. This is not something Episcopalians often do in public, but it felt right. We prayed for traveling mercies, for our stranded friends, and for God to open our hearts once we reached our destination.
The day after arriving safely in South Africa, and still missing half our group, we journeyed 30 miles south of Johannesburg to Springs, the location of the Kwasa Centre. After four years of reading updates, seeing photos, and praying for these people, we were finally going to meet. The children – over a hundred precious little ones – gathered for their morning assembly. I sat by a little boy with wide eyes and shy smile. “Holy Spirit come, fill me with the Father’s love” we sang together. It was a beautiful moment, but tinged with sadness because I knew the odds were totally against these children. According to the expectations of the world, that little boy will never make it out of the slums.
But I have learned to expect miracles. Continue reading