My first two days in SA…

On Saturday last week, we ate breakfast at 8am, which was kind of weird cause it was really 1 AM at home, so during the entire day, I was awake, but then tired, and then awake, and then tired, so the day seemed up and down. We experienced Johannesburg though. Our first visit here was at the Constitution Hill museum, which is the site of the apartheid prisons for both men and women as well as the Constitution Court, which is South Africa’s highest court much like the U.S. supreme court.

Constition Hill was a great first site because it set the stage for what most defines the country of South Africa, which is apartheid, and the country’s recovery from the over 50 years of extreme racism and violence. The men’s prison was the site of one of Nelson Mandela’s isolation cells as well as the other people that joined him in his offensive against the apartheid government. While on trial, he and the others were in this prison, but we actually did not get to see any of the men’s cells because some of the site was under construction.  During the apartheid regime, both prisons were filled with an enormous percentage of blacks.  In the women’s prison, at one point, there were 330 blacks, over twenty colors, and 9 whites.  During the later part of the apartheid era, blacks were forced carry around a pass book that specifically laid out why they would be in a city because the apartheid government had outlawed any black from being in the cities. Rather than focusing too much, though, on the atrocities of the past, we did get to see the constitution court, which is an exemplary place of freedom and equality as seen by the diversity of the judges.  The first court was appointed by Nelson Mandela when he became president in 1994.  Since then, a few of his judges have stayed on, while several others have been added in the following years because some have retired since the early 1990s.

After the morning at Constitution hill, we ate lunch and hung out until the youth meeting that we had been invited to in the center of Jo’burg.  Young adults have their own form of church on Saturdays in South Africa.  From talking to some of the IVEPer’s who hailed from Zimbabwe, they also said that they meet on Saturday afternoons, so it seems to be a common thread in the Brethren in Christ Church. IVEP stands for International Voluntary Exhange Program, which has students from all over the world come to North America and serve in different places across the US and Canada.  The youth meeting actually reminded more of my experience at North Central University, which is the pentecostal university that I attended for my first year of college. The young adults were passionate in their worship and their preaching, both of which were difficult to understand in light of their accents and my tiredness, but I quickly picked up the words of the music because of the many repeated lyrics and common melodies..  I was definitely encouraged through this time, though, because I enjoy seeing other people’s cultural understandings and methods of music leading and preaching as well as learning new songs that I can use at a later time.  After the youth meeting, we met the pastor of the Brethren in Christ church, and he showed us the new building that they had aquired just a few hundred feet from their current location on the third floor of a building.  I found that as we continued to travel around Jo’burg many of the BIC churches met in the upper floor (s) of different buildings.  You could not tell that a church was in a certain location, except for the sign that hung from the first floor canopy, which even tended to blend in with the other signs for the businesses within the building.  After we saw the new building, we got back in the van and went back to the retreat center where we were staying because its not safe to stay out after dark in Jo’burg, especially where we were at with the BIC church.

We had dinner, and then everyone chilled for the rest of the night on computers or playing cards.  I have been blessed with consistent internet access during the last week, which I cannot guarantee will happen in the weeks following my arrival in Lesotho.  I’ll see what happens when I get there.

On Sunday morning, we attended a different Brethren in Christ church for their morning service.  It was a lot like the youth service, except that we joined the youth of the church in their sunday school class, which was really interesting because it was formatted a lot from a direct teaching standpoint rather than a discussion standpoint.  The perception was that the pastor in charge of the class was the person with the answers and topic, while the students sat back and listened, formulating questions as he went along. Students could ask questions, but most of the teaching power and authority lay in the hands of the pastor.  We had 27 people, though, packed into an office that was only 10 feet long by 10 feet wide.  The office already had a large desk inside too, so it was pretty tight getting everyon into the room for Sunday school when we first arrived.  It was exciting to see the number of young adults interested in the church, though.

After church, we had lunch back at the retreat center and spent the afternoon at the apartheid museum in Jo’burg.  The museum was really good (depressing, but very enlightening).  The amount of information was overwhelming as well as the deep roots of racism that worked during those years in South Africa’s history.  The whole story reveals a lot about the evil capabilities of the human heart as well as the power of forgiveness in light of Nelson Mandela’s rise to power in the early 1990s and his working through the first few years of a new South Africa.  While violence marked much of the time of Apartheid and the time leading to its demise, the transfer of power in 1994 is a shining example of how a government can turn around without a major civil war and still come out of the heat as a democracy with equality as its goal.  After leaving the museum, I went back to the retreat center and played some cards, updated some stuff on my computer, and then went to bed.

What you are reading here is only a small glimpse of the emotions and activities of the first two days in South Africa.  I wish that I could fully express the depth of sadness as we walked through different exhibits that talked about the horrors of apartheid as well as the heights of joy as I talked to people about the new government and the victory of justice and equality within the country.  I was reminded in some of these moments about the continued marks of inequality within the U.S.  We could use some change in the way that we treat minorities as well as our claims to following Jesus, a champion for equality and justice who has inspired many revolutionaries over the years.


~ by randallkoehler on August 25, 2011.

One Response to “My first two days in SA…”

  1. Thanks for sharing Randall. We miss you lots here at home. Glad you’re safe and anxious to hear more about your trip. How’s the weather there so far???? Take care and we’re praying for you and thinking about you.

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