“Today was a day of all days. Life changing. Never to be forgotten. Mystical. Spiritual. Emotional. Beyond reason. Beyond words.
I have the most vivid picture of this township. From the steps of the Habitat office there is a panoramic view underneath a bright sun – a winter sun – but sun! A millions people live in my panorama. Shacks, huts and dotted brick houses that tell us that the new South Africa is brick by brick getting slowly better than the old one. And off to the right are the mountains topped with snow. The majesty and grandeur of God and beneath their wing and constant gaze those he most cherishes – those made in His image – the native African people of Western Cape. To be truthful most of them have resettled from Eastern Cape to find work in the gardens and kitchens of Cape Town.
My senses were on overload as the children descended. Post-apartheid children with smiles and eyes so alive that they might burst with life and happiness. The Habitat homes; so basic but so wonderful. The singing, first of Church worship and later a local choir rehearsing. The fans of the Kaiser Chiefs. The community characters. A deep sense of community that wealth seems to stamp upon in its clamour to remove unseen connections with the dull lifeless desire for possessions.”
This is my diary entry for July 16th 2000 as I arrived in Khayelitsha as part of a student team from our Presbyterian Hall of Residence at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. We came with our reasons to be here. To see our Christian faith caress and collide with another culture, to do our little part to be part of God’s Kingdom coming and his will being on earth as it is in heaven, to learn from the new relationships in this previously divided land and apply it to our divided homeland, to develop the relationships of a community that live together back home and in the midst of those four purposes we were hoping that God would use this experience to mould and shape us in our discipleship to never be the same again.
That same evening, after having been on the township, brought another challenging thought and spiritual dilemma. We attended Claremont Methodist Church, a very pleasant, very white and very middle class congregation, which was fine because it was very like my home Church in Belfast. As we began the service, the worship leader used those words that so often I have used in the past – “where two or three are gathered I am there in the midst”. I agreed. However, just that morning I had experienced that diary entry at the top of this article. Jesus had also said that “if you do this to the least of these my people you do it to me”.
As we sat singing songs I began to wonder where Jesus would rather meet me; where two or three are gathered in luxurious comfort or among those with poor housing and without the advantages of those of us in middle class churches. I became even more impressed with the leadership of this white suburban Church who took themselves into this township to find Jesus and yet I wondered how that arm of outreach in any way related to this worship service. I always bring home that challenge above all. As Claremont Methodist wrestle with it in the new South Africa I have to find in my own life and ministry in Fitzroy how to deal with it in the new Northern Ireland.