Constantly Learning

Rev. Jools Hamilton co-led a team of young adults from the Methodist Church in Ireland to South Africa, to explore themes of justice and leadership. As part of their visit, the team spent some time with the Church Land Programme (WDR Partner). Here Jools shares some thoughts on their work and the uphill battle they face. 

Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. And we need the eyes to see that.

The Church Land Program in South Africa, is a great example of pushing back some of the injustices of this world hectare by hectare. It was established in 1996 to help face some of the injustices from the years of colonial rule and apartheid.

Historically when a colonial power steps in, it usually does so with superior military might, and that superiority is used to forcefully take what has not been theirs, and hold it by force. In a South African context this has meant violent capture of resource (land) followed by brutal defense of it. 

When everything changed in 1994 land became a big agenda item for the churches. All the mainline churches found themselves as significant landowners, in a land where their members were landless. Land the Church now owned, in a privileged position, which historically had belonged to many people sitting in it’s pews. An interesting position for an organization that’s exists on the example of a Christ who washed his followers feet? 

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Since 1996 CLP has been involved in different ways to return land to black land owners, and have the land (a vital place of identity and resource in the African continent) as a sustainable and just component of life for everyone.

They are on an uphill battle, and they fight it well. 

But here’s the thing. 

There were more evictions of black and colored people in South Africa from white owned land during the 10 years after apartheid than the 10 years before apartheid ended.

Political agreement has not brought Peace. 

In a land where, as apartheid ended, white people were 13% of the population owning 80% of the land, change had to be strategized and resourced with bold action. The work of the Church Land Program, its ‘raison d’être’ of speeding up land reform, is a light of actionable hope in the midst of the giants of capitalism, colonial history, human nature and socio–geo–political obstinance corruption and incompetence.

And so they are clear – they don’t think they have ‘arrived at a solution’ and aim to implement it. They have been on a 20–year journey from fixing the problem to discovering the same solution doesn’t work everywhere, to now being in solidarity with those in the struggle. They are therefore in a constant place of learning.

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The time I and a team of young leaders from the Methodist Church in Ireland spent with them recently challenged all of us to, as per their example, be in a constant place of reflective learning and practice. 

Yet – how can I listen to their story and not feel my heart sink?

More people were thrown off land in the 10 years after apartheid than the precious 10 years. Cleansing ‘space’ to keep ‘self’ guarded and safe? 

Belfast has more ‘peace walls’ now than it did when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. Building walls to keep ‘us’ in and ‘them’ out, to keep ‘self’ guarded and safe?

There are better ways to keep humans grounded and safe that do not involve building walls, creating segregation and sectarian violence … it was a pleasure to witness just one of many groups concerned with a just and sustainable solution to land distribution in one part of the world that has suffered massively from issues of the land giving leadership and inspiration in this area.

Visit their website to learn more: http://www.churchland.org.za/ 

[This post originally appeared on www.joolshamilton.com]

MEET South Africa 2018

In July 2018, a team of young adults visited South Africa as part of a team organised by WDR, World Mission Partnership and IMYC.  Such visits are aimed at growing people’s faith and understanding of the world, enabling them to better serve God and his people. MEET South Africa 2018 have many more stories to tell. Contact them via our office. 

In this blog a few of the team share about their time with 2 of our partners; Church Land Programme and Phakamisa

“ONE!” shout I (Jools) and quickly Zoe echoes “TWO!”. By the time Gemma gets to “EIGHT!”, we know that Ben, Chris, Jill, Bethany and Emma are all in the room/bus/plane. One in, all in. In July, the MEET South Africa 2018 team – Methodist, Explore, Engage and Tell - threw ourselves into learning from a wildly different culture, in order to more fully understand issues of justice, poverty and leadership.

We were to experience a different way of being Methodist. A way that meant during morning prayers with Phakamisa, you better have your dancing shoes on because those grannies are going to sing and pray in a way that will rock you like you’re in a boat. Ways that provide phenomenally high (and sought after) standards of education for black, Indian, and coloured children as the staff are raising Christian leaders of integrity for a new South Africa. Ways of being Methodist that cross ethnic, racial and economic barriers so the worshipping people of God can be known as a family that embraces all.

One thing remains - whether on retreat at a beautiful beach, being filled with stillness through deep and caring sharing or being challenged by the deprivation of shack-living, we were family, and our understanding of God and of our Methodist family grew immeasurably. 

Church Land Programme

 Emma & Sane

Emma & Sane

I (Emma) met Sane in Cato Crest, an informal settlement in Durban consisting of over 6,000 families, where she has lived her whole life. With a college degree in human resources, she was very articulate and described to me the conditions in which she lives. Her greatest challenge, was the lack of consistent (and legal) electricity. It was most difficult when studying for exams because at home she was unable to revise due to the lack of light to see her books.

The Church Land Programme (CLP), a World Development & Relief partner, works alongside those who are landless by listening and understanding people’s specific circumstances. CLP works with the intention of seeing those living in material poverty empower themselves and change their own situation, especially in relation to land injustices. Graham Philpott, the director of CLP, described the listening aspect of their work as a “political act” which affirms people’s right to speak for themselves. Sane appreciated the chance to be heard and said the government does not recognise those in settlements as people, never mind hearing what they have to say. Sane, and approximately 600 families in her area, have connected with CLP. She is now a volunteer teacher of a political class in Cato Crest, teaching the next generation about South Africa’s land issues and context. She hopes this will enable young voices to be heard and be a stepping stone to shaping future leaders. Her wishes to see the future decision-makers of South Africa be leaders that are truly for the people.

I learned so much from listening to the very wise members of CLP and the welcoming, inspiring and open people in the settlements. Land issues in South Africa are complex and I still have much to learn but I do know that God is present in these situations and CLP share His strength and hope, glorifying Him in all they do.

Phakamisa

Phakamisa is a ministry of Pinetown Methodist Church and a partner of World Development & Relief. ‘Phakamisa’ is Zulu for ‘to uplift’ and from the moment we arrived our spirits were uplifted, as we met women seeking to uplift the most vulnerable members of their communities. They had identified the oldest and youngest members up to 50km around Durban who would benefit. There are now about 1,700 women and 6,000 orphans connected to their ministry.

The director, Thokozani Poswa, was passionate about her work and this impacted us. We spent time with the caregivers’ programme; It focuses on Gogos (grandmothers) who need an income or new skills to support their families, often including grandchildren who have lost one or both parents. A day for a Gogo at Phakamisa might consist of morning aerobics (you can imagine our feeble attempts) followed by devotions and then classes in skills such as sewing, cooking, literacy, beadwork or gardening.

What most impacted me (Bethany) was the Educare programme which trains young women in their community to teach children aged 0-6 in pre-schools. We met Thandi and Nomalanga, employed by Phakamisa in their ‘Wandering Schools’ in settlements. Coming from education in Ireland, to see the lack of resources, was heart-breaking. Seeing 30 children in a room no bigger than my living room, with holes in the walls and ceiling, no access to water, bathrooms or electricity; well I could only marvel at these teachers. But this was not a place of sorrow. Beyond the ramshackle rooms and financial difficulties was such joy, constant praise and dancing.

 One of Phakamisa's 'Wandering Schools'

One of Phakamisa's 'Wandering Schools'

Because of Phakamisa, grandmothers and children are leading enriched lives. I wish I could bottle up the pure joy and passion we experienced because even an ounce of it would change me and even the church in Ireland.

The Members of MEET South Africa 2018 continue to be “One in, all in” and are:

Gemma Barclay (IMYC), Jools Hamilton (Trinity College Dublin), Zoe Cummings, Emma Dunwoody, Jill Fergie, Ben McGurk, Chris Patterson & Bethany Stephens. 

 The MEET team on retreat with peers from South Africa

The MEET team on retreat with peers from South Africa

The long road to Base Camp

We are so pleased to share another story from one of the 2018 Everest Base Camp team. Reaching Base Camp was a goal for Pamela since 2014, and here she tells us how she got there... 

My journey to Everest Base Camp was a very long road.

In August 2011 I suddenly became ill with high temperatures. I gradually got worse and worse and after 3 weeks was admitted to hospital and was diagnosed with viral meningitis. Though I was unable to walk more than a few steps, and had lost the capacity to think and speak ‘normally’, I’d been told that lots of people recover from this condition quickly, and so I expected to be back at work and in my usual routine in a few weeks or at worst months. That wasn’t to be my experience!

A year later I had been medically discharged from the job that I loved, and was struggling with even the least strenuous of daily tasks. A year beyond that, having been referred to the amazing Brain Injury Team based in Thompson House in Lisburn, I was starting to make progress. However, I was still suffering from chronic fatigue and continued to struggle with word finding and cognitive function. This was two years after I first became ill. Our family were attending Castlewellan Holiday Week, and it was then that I heard about the trek Jono and Beth were leading to Everest Base Camp. I turned to David, my husband, and said, “I’m going to do that, and when I do, I’ll know that I’ve recovered!” I know he didn’t believe me, and I didn’t join the first trip in 2014, but in 2018 I finally reached that goal! 

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It took all of those, almost 7 years, to get to a place where I believed I was ready for this challenge. I wasn’t worried that day by day I was the slowest of the nine members of the team who came together to trek to Base Camp. I had a confidence that somehow, I was going to make it to that destination at 5,335m. 

The trip and trek itself was amazing with such a mix of experiences! There was the noise, colour and culture of Kathmandu, the flight into Lukla, with a  helicopter ride back out, and then the breath-taking scenery trekking through the Himalayas. The trekking company who looked after us were so professional, and the guides with us made sure everyone was safe and well. The accommodation was basic by western standards but, on the whole, much more comfortable than I had expected. It was great to both have company to walk with, but then also to have times when I could walk alone and just allow the beauty of this amazing place to sink in.

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The few days both before and after reaching Base Camp were the most challenging, but again, I had a real peace and inner confidence that I was going to reach that target. When I finally did reach Base Camp it was incredibly emotional. This was something that meant so much to me, in marking the end of a chapter where a period of illness had seemed to define so much of what life was about for me. Reaching that physical place on a mountain far away, symbolised having overcome another mountain which had been an ever-present barrier in my life for what seemed such a long time. 

 Pamela reaches Base Camp!

Pamela reaches Base Camp!

Through this whole journey of recovery I have been very aware of God’s hand at work again and again, in opening doors to my healing, and in teaching me so many lessons along the way. His presence was also incredibly real on this 18 day journey to and from Everest. Alongside a great group of people, led so expertly by Jono, Beth and the team from Mountain Delights, this was a life changing experience for me, and one which I would recommend anyone to consider.

If you'd like more information on the 2019 Treks, please get in touch or you can download the brochure for Base Camp or the Himalayan Trail Trek.