Monday, February 25, 2013

Thoughts on Korea: land of the morning calm

I grew up in Inchon, Korea. Not a very catchy factoid. I lived across the road from one of the longest tides in the world on the Yellow Sea. We were on the west coast of Korea and the sun sinking into the waves is part of my ethos, my nature. Korea is part of me, a part I've come to appreciate with renewed force this weekend.

Last Friday we met a Korean couple, and Sam (obviously not his Korean name) was also an Inchonite. He treated me like a long-lost sister. As Phil and I enjoyed a delightful lunch with Sam and Sarah and we heard their heart for Africa, something else came through. Something else that reminded me why I LOVE Koreans so much.

There we are, doing what Koreans do: recording the event for posterity! (Sam is the photographer.)

Koreans are one people. They are not a hodgepodge of ethnicities like Americans, many European countries or any number of African countries. They are not Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, or any other -ese. They are Korean. Their history is long and singular. They have certain characteristics that help describe them. One of my favorites is: "When Chinese go to a new place, they open a restaurant; when Koreans go to a new place, they start a church."

Their identity as Koreans is a lesson we as Christians need to learn. Koreans are brothers. They look out for each other. They help each other get started. They can be relied upon when the other ethnicities in a community fail. There is a kinship among Koreans that helps me perceive what Jesus meant when He said, "That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you." (John 17:21)

This may sound strange because I'm talking about a country divided. Whenever I meet someone new who finds out I grew up in Korea, I invariably get a rather silly question: "North or South?" If they knew their history just a little, they'd have a clue. Korea has been divided for longer than I've been alive. They have been two countries; but they are one people. The rest of the world may have forgotten that. The rest of the world may consider the North the "enemy" and the South the "friend." But the Koreans know they are brothers.

My heart was deeply touched as Sam told me about a plan I hadn't heard of. The South Korean church has a burden for her North Korean brothers. The DMZ (demilitarized zone) along the 38th parallel is a barrier they know will come down one day. As surely as the Berlin Wall fell, that hateful "no man's land" will be gone.

And when it does, oh, when it does . . .

The South Koreans will be ready. The Korean churches are united in their vision (not their styles of worship, denominations, rituals or doctrines)--their vision--they are going to succor their northern brethren. The instant the DMZ is open, people from various churches already have been assigned to their northern location. They will pick up, lock, stock, and barrel, and uproot their lives for their brothers. They will go there, live there, minister there, and be salt and light. My goodness, EVERYONE will know they are brothers by the way they love one another. Every Korean church has a part of the big plan. The united Koreas will be healed by their church.

Doesn't it just make you wish you'd been born Korean? They are the second largest sender of missionaries in the world. And that after only half a century of peace and recovery from war. They understand:

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity. Psalm 133:1

We all live with some kinds of demilitarized zones around us: our hearts just don't get unity. The enemy uses everything at his disposal to divide us from one another. 

Let's take a page from the book of our Korean brothers and be deliberate about LOVE.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Anene: let's look up to God

I have no idea how quickly graphic, gruesome news stories spread from Africa to North America. I imagine the story of the young Indian woman assaulted to death in a bus created quite a sensation. 

Just about 200 kilometers from where we live, another young girl was attacked earlier this month. She was only 17. Her name was Anene Booysen. Anene means "let's look up to God."

I sincerely hope she did look to Him in her final hours. Better not to dwell on the sordid details in this blog. Sensationalizing things does not bring resolution or make a difference. In fact, I wonder what the media does accomplish most of the time--besides selling more newspapers or getting more clicks on the internet.

Anene was a young, coloured teen. She lived with a foster mom. She was out late at night, but she did not "have it coming." Her death has been politicized. At her funeral so many governmental organizations "spoke" that her family didn't have an opportunity. 

There are many problems in this world and in this lovely land. But the deepest one is the problem of the heart. And so far, it has not been addressed. Anene was violated and killed by young men who knew her. Such "friends" should have been her protectors against strangers, but they vented their own brokenness upon her weakness. Their choices started long before they went for her.

Dag Hammarskjöld wrote:

You cannot play with the animal in you without becoming wholly animal, play with falsehood without forfeiting your right to truth, play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind. He who wants to keep his garden tidy, doesn't reserve a plot for weeds.

Those young men didn't suddenly become vicious and pathological. They were not born that way. Something in them and in their environment brought the poison out into the light of day. South Africa mourns. South Africans carry placards against hate crimes against women and children. South Africa watches helplessly.

Protesting the results of playing with cruelty and falsehood while not addressing the root is a futile activity. We need to start weeding the gardens of the heart now.

That is why I am so glad to be here and working to get to the heart of the matter.

Monday, February 11, 2013

a peek into Afrikanerdom: candle snuffers

This is the Huguenot Memorial in Franschhoek, surrounded by western Cape mountains and open sky. It is a testament to the spirit of those escaping oppression in France, determined to worship freely. The woman (liberty) of the statue holds a book (truth) in her right hand and a broken chain in her left.

On the underside of the globe, earth, on which she stands is the southern tip of Africa. Engraved are symbols of Huguenot cultural values: the harp signifies music and culture, the wheat and grapes, agriculture, the spinning wheel, their industry, the book, their faith and dedication to Truth.

We visited Franschhoek last week, it was a moving experience. This week I began a book by one of the descendants of those Huguenots, a Malan, who comes from a long line of true Afrikaners. His commentary is disquieting. He tells of people who fled persecution to become persecutors; those who demanded liberty for themselves and deprived others.

Here he describes the mindset towards the European Enlightenment which brought into question the traditional mores and which led to humanitarian reform. (This is not a defense of the Enlightenment, it is a reminder of the danger of a closed mind.)

...when rumors of the Enlightenment penetrated their wilderness, the Afrikaners considered them, consulted their Bibles and preachers, and finally reached a consensus: These new ideas presented a threat to their survival, and should be suppressed--not only in the world at large, but in their own hearts. Soon many Afrikaners were calling themselves Doppers, after the little metal caps with which they snuffed out candles. They called themselves Doppers because they were deliberately and consciously extinguishing the light of the Enlightenment, so that they could do what they had to do in darkness.

Where does this leave us? It is easy to look back and see what a dangerous path they chose. We all know the power of Truth: it sets us free. But sometimes the process can be uncomfortable or threatening. So we tell ourselves half-truths, or rationalize, and that way goes the game.

Phil and I work in the aftermath of this Giant Cover-up being blown. There are ramifications in every community and every family. It is an on-going process and the more I see how it has ravaged those at the edges of society, the more convinced I am that only the Spirit of God can make a change. Oh, I knew that, intellectually, but then a part of me set to work to try and solve the "problems." Alas. 

To come to the knot at the end of the rope and know that in me there is no solution: that is terrifying or freeing. I'm in that process now and will share as I catch glimpses. I pray that I will not choose the safety of ignoring uncomfortable Truth.

There are many truths about Afrikaners, but none so powerful and reverberant as this willful self-blinding.

(Bold quotations taken from Rian Malan, My Traitor's Heart, 1990, Vintage books.)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

this business of community

(The only picture of living in community I have taken thus far.)

One of the exciting elements of this project in Cape Town is that our leadership is committed to the concept of community. Although we are not all living in the same house, we are forming a community in which we have gifts, responsibilities, tasks, and support.

That's all 21st centuryese for: "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)

The lovely bride of Christ, the church, has done an abysmal job, overall, of letting the world know who we are. We try in every way except love. Without doubt, if the church had followed this one principle since Jesus left, the world would be different today and the perception of God's Family would be much better understood.

Instead, we use community to insulate ourselves--from outsiders and from one another. I found another example in Mphahlele's book (referred to in previous blog), how white South Africans misused the principle of community to divide: (but they are not alone in culpability, please)

The non-white had for years been taught to love his neighbor--the white man . . . While white preachers through sermons broadcast over the radio, told their contented suburban congregations the story of Calvary and individual salvation, white churchgoers felt committed to group attitudes and the maintenance of a mythical white supremacy. Equally, the white preacher felt committed to an ethic he did not dare apply to the necessity of group action against the forces of evil in a setting where such forces have worked themselves up into a savage national attitude said to be based on a Christian sense of justice. (p. 163, Down Second Avenue)

Community gone wrong can be a scary and destructive thing.

Here's the good news:

Yesterday I sat in a network meeting of 22 community transformation workers in various projects all with the goal of helping those less fortunate of a single township, Kayamandi. As I listened to us each tell our name, our group, our focus and vision, I saw the reality of a genuine turn-around. This was a rainbow group, and the accents were clear to almost unintelligible. But they cared.

In the middle of the mix, a young boy's plight came up: Herald's mother (not his real name) had died that morning of AIDS. Herald is nine, he is known by quite a few volunteers in the meeting, he is "in the system."  He has been living with drug-users (tic) and is rumored to be sniffing glue. The glue issue makes him unqualified for a safe house with other children; his location in the township means he may not be taken out; the responsibility of one government department precludes others from reaching in and helping him. The pain and frustration was evident. But the meeting derailed for the amount of time it took for those who knew and cared to come to some kind of decision to intervene.

By this shall all men know . . .

Sunday, February 3, 2013

a little apartheid background

Ezekiel Mphahelele wrote Down Second Avenue in 1959, describing growing up under the white supremacist policy, "apartheid." He describes it thus:

It is unfair to ask me to subsist on mission school sermons about Christian conduct and passive resistance in circumstances where it is considered a crime to be decent; where a policeman will run me out of my house at the point of a sten gun when I try to withhold my labor. For years I have been told by white and Black preachers to love my neighbor; love him when there's a bunch of whites who reckon they are Israelites come out of Egypt in obedience to God's order to come and civilize heathens; a bunch of whites who feed on the symbolism of God's race venturing into the desert among the ungodly. For years now I have been thinking it was all right for me to feel spiritually strong after a church service. And now I find it is not the kind of strength that answers the demand of suffering humanity around me. It doesn't even seem to answer the longings of my own heart."

It broke my heart to read Ezekiel's book, his autobiography, written in exile. My only comfort was that that era was past. Apartheid has been broken and replaced with the New South Africa. The horrendous laws and police oppression are over. The rainbow nation is winning over the centuries of bigotry and fear. 

But we haven't won yet. It isn't the end of the story and the fat lady has not sung.

South Africa is still in the midst of violent struggles around economic discrepancies, residual color issues, and opportunists capitalizing on the pain, poverty and shame of others. You name a problem, we have it: human trafficking, sex trafficking, drugs, assaults, rapes, murder, poaching animals to extinction, blood mining . . . and it all seems so much worse in contrast with the beauty of this land.

So it is a huge privilege to be here. I'm reading as much as I can to understand the backgrounds and the stories of the people that I meet. But I am saddened. I am a missionary, the child of missionaries, and I've grown up in the conviction that missionaries are committed to changing the world, advancing the Kingdom, bringing Light. 

But here in South Africa, missionaries did not exercise that freedom. The fear of expulsion from the godless state convinced them it was wiser to "go underground." And they did not preach the good news and release to the captives. Instead, in Mphahlele's words:

. . . before Father Trevor Huddleston came on the scene--and that's only 1943--missionaries had let politics alone and consequently the forces of evil have had a start of about 300 years. During which time missionaries have abetted, connived at or stood aloof from, the white man's total disregard of justice and other human values. Even so, Trevor Huddleston was a lone fighter. The rest of the church in South Africa didn't speak his language.

And that is the setting into which we have now come. Missionaries were the silent partner. The "accomplice after the fact". 

No wonder we don't tell folks we are missionaries here, we call ourselves "charitable volunteers." There is a cargo hold of baggage associated with what the church and missions  have done in the past, either from fear or a desire to be comfortable.

As the scales have fallen from my eyes on this issue, I see even more clearly what a privilege it is to be here. What an opportunity we have to change what has been done: to redefine the Family God and the Kingdom of Heaven for people who have been victimized by the so-called Church.