In this first blog on the Irish Methodist team going to South Africa in August, Rev. Rowan Zeelie tells us the vision behind the trip.
For two weeks in August eleven Irish Methodists will be travelling to South Africa to link up with two Methodist Churches in the Kwazulu-Natal province and the community projects connected to these churches: Phakamisa, one of MCI’s partner projects and the Hillcrest Aids Centre. We will also visit one of our other overseas partners, the Land Church Programme, headed up by Mr Graham Philpott, a key note speaker at Global Vision 2015.
For a while now we have been engaging in two conversations in Irish Methodism with regards to mission. We have been asking the question “How do we become more missional at a local level within our own communities?” and the second has been “How do we move our relationship with our overseas partners away from a needs-based relationship to a relationship of equal partners where we both have something to offer and something to receive?”
What we are discovering is that although we talk of ‘Home Mission’ and ‘Overseas Mission’, God has given us only one mission. This trip to South Africa seeks to endorse that understanding.
For this trip we have adopted the Zulu greeting “Sawubona” as our theme. Although it is a greeting, its literal translation is “I see you”. It is a recognition and acknowledgement that the person being greeted is important, is worth noticing. We are all created in the image of God and so every person has something to contribute.
For the past few conferences I have come away feeling encouraged and inspired as we have been challenged to “get our feet wet”, to “move out and join God at work in the world” and to consider ourselves “aliens in a strange land”. But as inspiring – and important – as these messages have been, we have struggled to interpret them at a local level. Often we find ourselves stuck on the most basic of questions “What do we do now?”
Having been born and grown up in South Africa, I have witnessed churches at work in their communities. Although I didn't grow up in a Methodist Church, only becoming a member in my twenties, my impression of Methodism in South Africa is an understanding that the church is in the geographic location for a purpose and that purpose is to serve the people around it. This makes sense when we consider that while Methodism was brought to South Africa by British soldiers stationed at the Cape of Good Hope, it spread through missionaries and so from its very beginnings it has been missional in its focus.
They know what we are trying to learn and so it makes perfect sense for us to link up as partners and in a partnership relationship where, for a change, we are the ones in need. For centuries Methodist missionaries have been sent out into the world. This trip gives us the opportunity to learn what they have learnt, so that we can continue to send Methodists out into the world. But what we have discovered is that the world is right on our doorstep.
I am excited to be going back to my home country, although not to my home town. It will be strange to be going there as an Irish Methodist and, for the first time, as a British citizen (although I have also retained my South African citizenship because it is good to support the Springboks!). I am also looking forward to coming back so that we can “spread the word” across the Connexion, to encourage, inspire and offer practical help to our local churches as we begin to “transform our minds” in our understanding of what it means to be the church on this island.
Rev. Rowan Zeelie (Team leader)