As I sat on the plane flying from JFK to Johannesburg, South Africa all I could think of was what a long journey it was. It would take over 28 hours to go door to door and finally arrive at our destination. As we traveled I was both excited and anxious, we were flying into the unknown.
That is the thing about journeys; they come with a lot of unknowns. Sitting in my cramped seat, I thought about all the immigrants who move from one country to another to start a new life, how desperate and courageous they must be. I thought about people who journey through the trials of depression, mental health, and addiction, how difficult it must be to find healing and wholeness while facing the unknown in front of them. I thought about all those living in poverty and how challenging the journey must be when they cannot imagine anything different.
After finally arriving in Johannesburg late at night we arose the next morning and found ourselves on a tour of Soweto. Soweto came to the world’s attention in 1976 as it was the seat of the uprising and mass protests against the apartheid government. In Soweto, we visited the Hector Pieterson museum, which commemorates the role the South African students had in the struggle against apartheid. Hector Pieterson, age 13, was the first student who was shot and killed by the police. We then had a tour of the Regina Mundi Church. It is most known for opening its doors to anti-apartheid groups and provided shelter to the activists. The police surrounded the church throwing in tear gas, forcing the students to evacuate and then open fire on them. Bullet holes are still visible in the Church.
Then our official tour guide introduced us to our local guide. Our local guide, age 24, proudly took us into his community, the Klipspruit Village, one of the poorest in Soweto. He lived with his grandmother as his parents were deceased. He walked us around the cramped community, full of shacks. His tiny home had no refrigeration, no running water, and limited electricity. Yet, we could tell that their community looked out for one another, protected, supported, and encouraged each other.
I was reminded once again of the importance of community, the community builds our resiliency. As we journey through life, we need one another. I learned a tremendous African word, “ubotu” you are who you are because of others. As we journey, we are influenced and shaped by the people and culture around us. This was very true for the people of South Africa, and it is true for us.
After a fascinating morning of seeing the sights, we spent the afternoon at the apartheid museum. When Nelson Mandela went to prison, he was angry, angry at the injustices of the world. While in prison he and other prisoners like him had to endure great physical challenges, ones that I cannot even imagine. Yet he admitted that perhaps the harder struggle was to survive spiritually. Nelson Mandela was quoted as saying,”It was our determination to remember our ancestors, our stories, our values, and our dreams that we found comradeship.” They held each other up with faith and hope and were able to persevere.
The journey was long for the people of South Africa fighting against apartheid. The journey was long for Nelson Mandela, and even though he went to prison angry when he was released his suffering had deepened his spiritual resources, and his faith grew along with his generosity of spirit. He was determined to bring peace to South Africa. He had no time for vengeance or bitterness. He had truly overcome.
We all have our own journeys; we have our own struggles and challenges. My prayer is that we can create the kind of community that lifts each other up, that our sufferings only deepen our own faith journeys, and that we too will bring peace to our world. May we let go of vengeance and bitterness and instead hold onto the incredible grace of God. The unknown is a part of each journey, yet it is precisely in the unknown that we must cling to the love of God, by remembering our stories, remembering our values and trusting in God’s presence.