Sunday, April 20, 2008

Deacons' Convocation

I had a wonderful week at the Deacon’s Convocation near Durban, South Africa. My week started with a relaxing Sunday morning and then the flight to Johannesburg, transferring to Durban. I flew with one small suitcase which I checked and a book to read. It was the first time in a long time that I was able to fly somewhere without a whole bunch of suitcases, my laptop and a bunch of other stuff to deal with. It was so relaxing. I actually felt like I was free! The little airport in Matsapha (near Manzini) is so African. They don’t start checking in passengers until one hour before the flight. Then they do it in a very slow fashion. People stand in line and don’t get upset. You have no idea what is taking so long, but it doesn’t really matter. Then they open the security x-ray machine and border control about 30 minutes before the flight. Everyone walks through, waits another 15 minutes or so until the little propeller plan lands from Jo’burg, the passengers get off and the new ones get on. No hurry, no rush and we left right on time. Now the international airport in Johannesburg was another story. There I had to walk for what seemed for ever, I waited in two lines to check in before I finally found the third line which was correct. But once again, no one seemed to rush and no one seemed concerned. It was very busy but very orderly. I made a mental note at one point walking through the airport at all the things that seemed so foreign the first time I came to South Africa that now seem so normal. It made me wonder what will seem abnormal when I return to the States, but I had to smile to myself and say a word of thanks to God for the adjustment to this country.

The convocation was held in a retreat center run by an order of nuns. It was in a beautiful neighborhood with a view overlooking an area called Valley of a 1000 Hills. I didn’t get a picture of the view because a picture wouldn’t have done it justice. The view was stunning. You could see for miles and miles and it seemed like you could see the 1000 hills. On the tops of the hills were a mixture of modern, large expensive looking homes and then on the hill sides and in the valley were hundreds of little mud or block homes some of which where round and some rectangle. The facility itself was an older, but very well kept up small hostel. It had about 20 small, but adequate rooms very simply furnished but very clean. It also had a couple of meeting rooms which were more like living rooms, a chapel and a dining room. There were 34 of us at the convocation. The shower was hot, the food very good. Unfortunately, the bed and pillow were extremely hard and I had a crick in my neck and a headache each morning.

The Deacons were some of the most loving, and welcoming group of people I think I have ever been with. They ranged in age from probably late 20’s to 70’s, possibly 80’s. They were from all over South Africa, Botswana and Malawi. There was a person who is applying to the Order of Deacons from Swaziland. One of the Deacons, from Botswana, had been the head of the VIP Police Security for Botswana for over 30 years before retiring and becoming a Deacon. He had worked with the Secret Service from the US and in the US when he travelled to the US with Botswana VIPs. He was a most interesting and endearing person. It was hard to believe he had once been the head of a division of the Police for the country and a man so well trained in every aspect of keeping security. There was one woman who is I think the most expressive person I have ever met – both verbally and with her facial expressions and body language. She was a pure delight. A lovely person as they would say here. I have no idea how old she was, but she wasn’t young. She lives in a retirement center and ministers to the other residents there. She wore me out just watching and listening to her! And then there was a young man who had the greatest sense of humor. He was always entertaining us with his gestures or comments, but he had a great and serious heart. I would love to hear his sermons. He reminded me a little of my youngest son Scott the way his humor and polite gestures always brought a smile to those around him.

The week’s schedule had time for the Deacons to take care of business regarding their calling and training. There was time to deal with issues and for the Deacons to know what was changing in the Book of Rules and Disciplines of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa regarding their Order. But most of the week was a spiritual, renewal time. On Tuesday we had sessions about having a heart for ministry – thinking and acting from the heart. The day started with the words from the song “You’ve Gotta Have Heart” and went on from there using scripture and relating to John Wesley’s conversion and teachings. Pardon the pun, but it went straight to my heart!

Wednesday was a most unusual, unsettling and depressing day. We took a “Cradel to Grave Toxic Tour of South Durban.” We were taken by bus to the various serious toxic sites in South Durban. The tour was conducted by a person from the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance ( I learned that the dirtiest of the Crude Oil is shipped to South Africa to be refined because the US, Canada and Europe won’t allow the emissions and toxic waste that comes from refining that grade of crude oil in their countries. Shell Oil/BP and Engen are the two refineries. They are right next to the Durban airport on an area of land that is prone to flooding. Living right next to the refineries, and I mean right next to them, is a community of people who where displaced and moved there during Apartheid. They have no where else to go. Some of these people are living right on top of toxic waste dump sites. There is a school that is built on top of a dump site. They have studies that show that 52% of the children at the school have Asthma and that the rate of Leukaemia and Cancer is significantly higher than the norm. One of the oil refineries built a basketball court for the school and put in a playground as compensation. Of course they are on top of the toxic dump site. They then took us to another area that is right next to the second largest township in Southern Africa. (A township is a poor black community.) This area was a dumping ground, often illegal, for hazardous chemical, medical and household waste for 10 years from 1986 to 1996. The waste was not covered or buried. Children were playing in the dump site. When it rains, the run-off runs right down through the people’s houses. The site is still not cleaned up or “contained.” Once again, these people have no where else to go. If you think Global warming and the death of our environment is just a political ruse between the major parties and the independents, think again. It IS an issue of money. The rich get richer (He said the oil refineries make a profit of R44million per day.) while the poorer go hungrier and get sicker and the planet suffers more and more. I have seen and read more about the death of God’s creation since being in Africa than I ever realized when I was in the US. Oh, yes, I was concerned about the environment and have always been irritated that people don’t have a clue how to conserve our energy and precious resources. But the reality of it is raised to an entire different level being on this continent where people are starving, yet food producing farms are being turned to fuel producing farms, the pollution is high, and the environment has changed so much that drought has become a reality in some areas and flooding has now become an issue in areas where it never used to flood. We are horrible stewards of God’s creation. This world is dying and we, especially as Christians, are doing basically nothing to protect God’s creation and its people world wide. OK, I’ll get off my soap box. I think you can tell that this was a very thought provoking day.

On Thursday, the day’s program was on burnout and stress. A Sister from a different Order than those who ran the retreat center who is also a Psychologist presented the material that day. She was such a delightful, caring person with a wonderful sense of humor. She admitted readily that she herself needed to be reminded of most everything she was talking about. Her major theme was that God instructed us to not only to love God and our neighbor, but to love ourselves. We so often forget that we are to love ourselves and take care of ourselves. If we don’t take care of us, we don’t have anything to give our ministry and others. She talked more about listening to our heart (and God) – taking the time to truly be silent and listen. She said if we can’t be quiet and listen to our heart, why do we think we can hear God speak to us? Good point. It is so hard to “be still” let alone “and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10)

I rode back to Swaziland with a Deacon from Nelsprit, South Africa which is about 2 ½ hours from Swaziland. It was a long drive, but the countryside was so beautiful and I enjoyed talking with her. As always, I learned a lot about the culture and the country. It was a wonderful week, and I was so blessed to be invited and to be welcomed as one of their family. I hope the lessons I learned, the reminders I heard and the friendships will stay with me for a long time to come.

1 comment:

krosyrup said...

Chris, It seems as you had your very own "What Not to Wear" UMW seminar to attend this past week! We miss you so much here, but know that we all think of you often, some daily!!!

Don't ever loose sight of what you are there doing? Keep feeding us the info. People all over the world are reading your blog and they are taking it back to their friends, their family and we are all talking about the good you are doing. Whether you know it or not, you are doing good! One heart at a time, One child at a time, through each one of us, we are doing what we can to help you!

Can't wait to see you again!