“A Conversation on the Lessons of Nehemiah’s Experience” by Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana

A Conversation on the Lessons of Nehemiah’s Experience

For the South African Church Today

Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, SACC General Secretary

KZNCC 2021 AGM KwaMaphumulo

August 30, 2021

AND THEY SAID, “LET US RISE UP AND BUILD”

Nehemiah 2:17-20

17 Then I said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me.

So they said, “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to this good work.

19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?”

20 So I answered them, and said to them, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.”

Nehemiah found them haggard and dispirited, beset with debilitating challenges of the situation; he showed them his faith, and gave them hope!  And they said, “Let us rise up and build!”

“Niyayibona inhlupheko esikuyona, lokhu iJerusalema lichithekile namasango alo eshiswe ngomlilo; wozani sivuse ugange lwaseJerusalema ukuba singabe sisaba yihlazo.”

“You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burnt. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.”

First, I must thank Bishop Myaka and the Executive of the KZNCC, and the leadership of churches in the province, recognising His Eminence Cardinal Napier, and Dr Dziva for inviting me to come and hlanganisa amehlo nabaholi bamabandla asekhweni lami. I am a mkhwenyana of this province. Ngaganwa eNdaleni eRichmond, kwaMbanjwa. Thank for the invitation. Although I tried to resist coming and wished to join virtually, I’m very glad to now have come and had the opportunity to be with you physically.

 

“Niyayibona inhlupheko esikuyona, lokhu iJerusalema lichithekile namasango alo eshiswe ngomlilo; wozani sivuse ugange lwaseJerusalema ukuba singabe sisaba yihlazo.”

 

“You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burnt. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.”

This is the theme that has been chosen to charge the church through this AGM, for the next year. I take it therefore, that this is the directive and launching platform of this Council’s witness for the next year or so.

Nehemiah said: “You see the distress that we are in… Come let us rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.”

I have identified a few lessons from Nehemiah, that I believe may be instructive for the church in South Africa today in its public ministry in God’s name. They can hopefully be applied in any planning and implementation process, not only by the Council of Churches, but also by denominations, single congregations and individual zealots for change, in the name of Christ. I propose to point them out as we progress with our conversation. I shall mainly be using the example of the SACC because it is the example with which I am most familiar. I trust that enough of it will make sense for the consideration of your specific contexts.

 

Just to remind you for background: Nehemiah was an officer in the court of King Artaxerxes, king of Persia, based at the city of Shusha, in the present-day Khuzestan Province of Iran. Nehemiah was struck to the core by what he heard about the situation in Jerusalem. The report said:

“Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”

After learning of this sorry situation, he wept, mourned and fasted for many days.  Seized with the vision and zeal for the rebuilding of the walls and gates of Jerusalem, Nehemiah prayed:

“O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments;

let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Both I and my family have sinned…” (Neh. 1:5-6)

He approached the king for release and support for his undertaking; and he negotiated the appropriate protocols for passage through the various territories he was to pass along the way from Shusha to Jerusalem. In today’s mileage terms, it is about an 18-19 hours-travel; and that’s with today’s vehicles and highways. It’s like the distance between Durban and Cape Town. Imagine what it took those ancient days, and what dangers awaited the traveler. The king assigned a protection detail of cavalry – horse riding soldiers, to accompany him, along with the letters of authority for his task at Jerusalem.

The first three things we learn from Nehemiah at this point are: The zeal that is necessary to undertake something that is beyond ordinary human capacity. It is this zeal that helps to withstand the obstacles ahead.

  • His incredible and evident faith in God.
  • The prayer of humble access to God! Even when one thinks that what one is doing is of God, the humility is necessary because indeed no one person has the monopoly of divine messaging. To this, The Apostle writes to the Philippian Church:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:3-4)

We try to follow this Nehemiah mindset, in that we do not absolve ourselves as the South African church, from the sins of South Africa. If the Christians are 80% of the population, and the country is a hive of crime, corruption, drug and human trafficking, rape and all manner of evil, that rot is in us, in our Christian homes, in our church pews, and in the communities in which we live and worship, and these evil practices are conducted by people known to our Christian sisters and brothers. In our theory of prophetic engagement at SACC, we have three models, and Nehemiah fits into our second one, that we call the Daniel Model of Prophetic Ministry. Daniel, the holy one of Israel, who could not be devoured by lions nor scotched by fire, goes on his knees and absorbs the sin of his people in his confession (Daniel 9). This is when we acknowledge our national sinfulness and confess it on behalf of all. This too is our duty. The other two models are:

 

  • The Elijah Model: Elijah engages King Ahab over the injustice against Naboth (1 Kings 21), or Nathan upon David’s sin against Uriah (2 Samuel 11). This is when we deliver uncomfortable messages to those in power – “Truth to Power”.
  • The Jeremiah Model: The third prophetic model is that of Jeremiah’s witness of hope in purchasing land in the despair of war (Jeremiah 32), with the country in junk status. This is when the churches initiate hope-engendering programs of ministry.

The Daniel prophetic model liberates Nehemiah even as he meets the quite evidently envious and obstructive men in Jerusalem, hell-bent on undermining and if possible, physically harming him to stop his project. The penitential surrender to God in his duty gave him a philosophical view of his detractors.

So, he arrives at Jerusalem; and takes the trouble to go round to assess the nature of the devastation – to assess the extent of what needs to be repaired. And he did this at night, with trusted people – maybe the guard detail he was given by the king. This is like what we do today in our social, political and economic analysis – in the SEE-JUDGE-ACT model.

Then he gathers the people and says to them: “Niyayibona inhlupheko esikuyona, lokhu iJerusalema lichithekile namasango alo eshiswe ngomlilo; wozani sivuse ugange lwaseJerusalema ukuba singabe sisaba yihlazo.”

“You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burnt. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.”

It was his having taken the trouble to know enough about the situation and speak with confidence about its extent that he could be taken seriously. Next we learn that he enlisted a diversity of people to take care of various aspects of the work that needed to be done, and that is how the walls and the 10 gates that he built were completed, and in such quick time. In the whole of Chapter 3 the Chronicler tells of the various people and groups that built parts of the wall, such as for example:

The high priest Eliashib set to work with his fellow-priests and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set up its doors; they consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred and as far as the Tower of Hananel. And the men of Jericho built next to him. And next to them Zaccur son of Imri built. The sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and set up its doors, its bolts, and its bars. Next to them Meremoth son of Uriah son of Hakkoz made repairs. (Neh. 3:1ff)

It is because of this mobilisation over this common cause that the hostility of the enemy was heightened, and they needed physical protection, as the following chapter points out.

“Wozani sivuse ugange lwaseJerusalema ukuba singabe sisaba yihlazo.” – “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.”

Our Jerusalem could be our country South Africa, or in the case of KZNCC, be identified as the Province of KwaZulu-Natal. The difference we have with Nehemiah is that he was to rebuild what had previously existed but was now in ruins. I will point out to you this morning, that our task is greater – for we are to build what has not existed and what has not been experienced, and therefore in a way, hard to imagine and demonstrate.

I represent such a difficult vision; it is the vision of the national heads of churches that says, South Africa has failed to achieve the promise of the post-apartheid South Africa – A just, reconciled, peaceful, equitable and sustainable society, free of racism, tribalism, xenophobia and gender prejudices; free of corruption and deprivation; with food and shelter for everyone, and where every child born can grow to its God-given potential. This is what we mean by the South Africa We Pray For (SAWP4). Maybe it is not so impossible a possibility! But we must together pray and work for it after the manner of Nehemiah. “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.” Or should we rather change it to say “Come let us build…”? Let us look at what we shall seek to build:

  • A just society is about how people treat each other justly, fairly and with consideration, ubuntu. This is a greater aspect of justice – where people learn to leave justly with one another for a just society.
  • A reconciled society makes for a just and peaceful society – hence justice and peace cannot be separated.
  • Hence we say we must aim to be free of the societal challenges we have today, that make us as a nation, suffer the disgrace we are suffering – of ongoing expressions of racism, tribalism and xenophobia amongst ourselves; and of gender prejudices manifest in the toxic masculinity that plays out in sexual abuses, rape and violence against women, resulting in gruesome killings and the frightful statistics of a woman raped in this country every 36 seconds, with 40% of women – 4 out of 10, to be raped in their lifetime, and only 8.6% perpetrators convicted. Can the in our time be the source of hope? Yebo noma cha?? It is for this reason that the SACC champions the programme of women’s dignity – Botho jwa Basadi.
  • Corruption and maladministration results in deprivation and causes never-ending suffering for poor South Africans.
  • Food and shelter for all – this is the pressing question of poverty and the gross, and indeed obscene levels of economic inequality, where some 90% of the country’s asset value is in the hands of about 10% of mostly white male South Africans. Some 99% of South Africa’s poverty is between the “Coloureds” and “Africans”; and between them they make up 90% of the voting population (“Coloureds” are 8.8% and “Africans” are 80.7% of the total population.)

These two race groups are the core of what I refer to as the excluded majority; historically excluded; and remain on the outside. The sheer numbers of the currently poor and disadvantaged majority demand their immediate and systemic inclusion in the economy, for they are numerically too many to discount. The recent looting call demonstrated that. And those who designed the unrest knew that there is a ready population of hungry people who need no second call to loot. But even in that situation, there are heroic stories of people that stood up to prevent destruction and sustain hope.

In Soweto, one mall that survived is the Maponya Mall, and it survived because a young man Nhlanhla Lux, who was not known by many people as a community leader, emerged and mobilised the neighbourhood to rise and protect the mall – and they stood watch night and day; much like Nehemiah. And after everything had been destroyed in the looting frenzy, Maponya Mall survived and the Maponya family publicly thanked the volunteers. Imagine the impact for Christ if this redemption, that was to give post-looting hope, was led by a well recognised fellowship of Christian churches acting in united witness!

The poor and disadvantaged majority I refer to, comprises women, young people, and blacks in general, especially the so-called Coloureds and so-called Africans; and rural people, especially in the historical Bantustans and small dorpies of the hinterland with limited infrastructure, scanty economic livelihoods and poor social services. That I suggest is the reality of KZN outside of the big cities of Durban and Maritzburg; and even in the big cities, there are sprawling squatter camps with countless destitute people, whose bleak lives in gang-controlled locations, dull their ears and hearts to the gospel of moral values – ukuziphatha kahle akudliwa.

The story of the Bantustans and the perpetuation of poverty is a tragic one. The Bantustans such as KwaZulu, and all of them, Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Ciskei, Gazankulu, etc., were set on 13% of South Africa according to the 1936 Land Act. And poor people flee the social and economic confines of the present-day remains of the Bantustan, to escape poverty, but into urban squalor, with no prospect of an improved quality of life or a decent future.

“Niyayibona inhlupheko esikuyona, lokhu iJerusalema lichithekile namasango alo eshiswe ngomlilo; wozani sivuse ugange lwaseJerusalema ukuba singabe sisaba yihlazo.”

 You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burnt. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.

The national justice and liberation that we all prayed, struggled and hoped for, and for which many died, was supposed to liberate the whole 100% of the country for all South Africans. But no, “Africans” and their rural leaders today, are claiming as of right, to be confined to the Bantustan territories where they hold total authority. And the rest of South Africa can only be accessed by those who have the means to buy property.

Poverty and inequality cannot be resolved by increasing employment opportunities within the current economic architecture; but by a total re-imagination, and as we say in the SACC driven Civil Society Manifesto: Economic transformation must deliberately and systematically enhance human dignity and the quality of life, by preserving not only the environmental sustainability of our planet, but also by enabling the participation in the productive economy, of poor citizens and the disadvantaged majority, with a process that progressively engenders wealth redistribution. This would involve the country’s commercial and development finance institutions and focus on knowledge resources and physical resources such as the land, the oceans and mineral resources; manufacturing, commercial and business opportunities, to reverse poverty, inequality and low growth through inclusivity.

The last point of the call of the South Africa We Pray For, that our church leaders have committed to, is for every child born to grow to its God-given potential. Is that too much for the churches to ask and work for? It is a theological demand – we are created in the image of God whose intellectual power is limitless. Each of us in God’s image, have a potential beyond imagination, and that is what we need to expand for the necessary creativity for us all to participate effectively in what is best for the common good. This requires education for intellectual development; and socialization for justice, respect for yourself, for others and what is theirs. And as we say in the SACC driven Civil Society Manifesto, the key value in education for all our children in urban and rural areas, and for all communities, is Comprehensive Quality Education that guarantees:

Access to high quality education for optimum enhancement of human potential from cradle to career and beyond, including preparation for informed and active citizenship.

This is possible if we invest in children’s early development. To this end the SACC proposes to offer two programmes: Early Childhood Development, which I know is a programme feature of this provincial council, and a Youth Investment Programme. The youth investments are designed to offer, among other things:

Strengthening young people’s ownership and appreciation of the asset value of their spiritual and cultural roots for identity and sense of “being as foundation to build on.

  • Inculcating a positive and inquisitive mindset for knowledge and capacity for critical thinking and problem-solving in social and economic entrepreneurship amongst young people.
  • Providing a safe and structured environment for self-awareness and personal growth towards a healthy confidence and positive life ambition towards life possibilities.

In Early Childhood Cognitive Education, we say that children should learn from a young age, and that this will give them a significant advantage in later years. Put differently: Children that have no opportunities to develop essential concepts from an early age will stay disadvantaged throughout their life. Educationalists believe that 80% of a person’s ability to learn has been formed by the age of nine. It is, therefore, during this period of life that children are most receptive to taking in new ideas, if we ensure the development of the seven critical developmental domains: gross motor, fine motor, language, cognitive, social and emotional, self-help and adaptive, spiritual and moral. How do poor families that struggle to put food on the table, have the “luxury” of the essential stimulation of children?  This is where the church of Christ comes in. The loss of children in the education system over the 12 years of schooling has a social and economic cost that shows up in the hopelessness and lawlessness of young people, with about 60% of them unemployed and with no livelihoods. Time will not allow me to unpack this.

“Niyayibona inhlupheko esikuyona, lokhu iJerusalema lichithekile namasango alo eshiswe ngomlilo; wozani sivuse ugange lwaseJerusalema ukuba singabe sisaba yihlazo.”

 You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burnt. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.

I believe that, as we say in the theory of change for SAWP4, if member churches resolve to commit consistently to the ecumenical formation such as I see evident in this province; this would occasion the structured opportunity for churches to coordinate for coherence, their prayer and action for the values of God’s Kingdom in South Africa. This would result in prayerful togetherness in social analysis – reading “the signs of the times”, prayerful togetherness in action, from heads of churches, through synods and in congregational programming for the common good. The impact would be a visible and agile body of Christian witness and healing ministry for South Africa; a living symbol of hope in witness to Him who said: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me; because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed! (Luke 4:18-19). For: “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly!” (John 10:10)

We would be together as one body in following Nehemiah, inspecting the walls of our Jerusalem, and how they are destroyed. In this conversation I have simply been using the message of the SACC church leaders in their recognition that, as the nation of South Africa we have failed to achieve what was expected as a post-apartheid future. That is why we shall not change the gross poverty and inequality, why we shall not change the hopelessness of the majority of the people in our congregations — the congregations of the 80% of the population of this country that is Christian, without uniting in common prayer and action. That is why we believe that unless we pool all our energies to be the light and the salt that makes a difference, using each of the three prophetic models  – Elijah, Daniel and Jeremiah, we shall as the church in this country, fail to make the message of Christ come alive. In John he says:

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

I believe that what the churches want to do, and are trying to do in their various corners, is similar and can be identified as common cause. In that sense we mainly have a common view of what walls need to be built. But we all find it that much harder to do so as one body – Methodists do what they do very well; likewise the Apostolic faith Mission, the Salvation Army, the Catholics, Anglicans, Assemblies of God; and all of us do what we do diligently and with fervour, but it is hard to do so with our neighbouring Christian sisters and brothers.

So, not only is what we are yearning for without precedent — a truly united Christian witness; but also our instrumentation, and the vehicle of a united Christian witness is also without true precedent, and therefore hard to imagine and activate – oh for the spirit of Nehemiah for our country!

In the footsteps of Nehemiah’s example therefore:

  1. We invite every church, regardless of their doctrine and affiliation, to assume the recognition that unless we, in the name of Christ, collectively pray and work for the South Africa We Pray For; in every space we can influence; the country will go down the path of disintegration and collapse. It is that collapse that drove Nehemiah to fasting and prayer, and to seeking the means to build the walls and gates of Jerusalem.
  2. After Nehemiah, we invite every church everywhere, to reflect with us on the nature of the brokenness of the walls, and the gates that need to be repaired in order that we may no longer suffer disgrace; singabe sisaba yihlazo. Different people see different forms of wall brokenness. In our reflection, we saw that there are core things which if not attended, there will be no progress. Indeed, many will, like Tobiah the Ammonite say,

“Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall.”

But regardless, for us the building of the walls is to pray and work for a just, reconciled, peaceful, equitable and sustainable society, free of racism, tribalism, xenophobia and gender prejudices; free of corruption and deprivation; with food and shelter for everyone, and where every child born can grow to its God-given potential. And this to be the common agenda for all of us in every part of the country.

  1. In the manner and tradition of Nehemiah, who appealed to a wide diversity of people in Jerusalem to come and build the common wall of the city and its gates fortified, we seek to make every effort to persuade all Christian churches of all traditions to set their differences aside, as each to make the input they can make in a common agenda for a common objective and goal.
  2. The central message of Nehemiah’s work and approach was to demonstrate that the real God is the Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as preached by Moses, the God of King David, and not that of the Samaritans that were in the opposing group. The Church of Jesus Christ is at a crossroads, to be or not to be! Shall we seek to preserve ourselves and the four walls of our churches, or shall we walk the path of both Nehemiah and of Christ Jesus our Saviour, of expending ourselves for the common good, as individuals, as local congregations, regions, districts, and denominations of churches? As Christ says, “who do people say that I am?” Shall we be known as the builders of the new walls of our naked Jerusalem; or shall we be identified with the mindset of Tobiah and Sanbalat, who sought to actively or passively prevent the building?
  3. Above all, the most instructive lesson from Nehemiah is his faith in God, and his dedication to prayer. As an ecumenical body – interdenominational, we do well to seek to pray together more. Ecumenism is not only a call to work together interdenominationally in public witness, but it is also a call to pray together and be a visible prayerful presence. I am convinced that the people that Nehemiah found in Jerusalem responded to him because they recognised the authenticity of his spirituality. It says: “And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. So they said, “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to thisgood  And I suggest that they recognised his evident faith.

To live that in the localities in which we reside and worship, requires us to come together as churches in our neighbourhoods, in our different traditions, and submit ourselves to the same Lord whom we proclaim, to act so that in our neighbourhood, the love of Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit is felt and experienced through our collective presence – for our physical, structured presence and action will have a practical impact of witness.

It is appropriate to say, in relation to Nehemiah for our time and context, that the distinctive feature of Christian communities is their faith prayer; absent this we are just a social club. Nehemiah’s mobilisation of people to rebuild is for us a call to prayer – collective prayer; to soak the country in prayer!

The prayer that will soak has to be plentiful and consistent. Prayer networks must be established in our localities. Any organized prayer groups will need to add their efforts to the basic prayer that all families can use and do use daily, the prayer that Jesus left us – The Lord’s Prayer. If we adopt for this country and its people, the prayer that Jesus gave to us, and recognize it as our national prayer, we shall unpack for ourselves its significance for our time. This, we suggest, will have every phrase inspire us and be a special communication of the children of God to a loving Parent whose righteous will for a just society is our wish and our joy, and in whom is the power and the glory of our limited achievements.

By way of example that we each can be led to unpack as our circumstances require, I offer my own application of the Lord’s Prayer for this moment in The South Africa We Pray4.

Our Father: Through this recognition of God as Our Father, we already acknowledge each other as co-siblings, not only with Christ, but with each other in the “our” of our togetherness as children of the household of God our Father. This very phrase convicts us to pray and work together. Our use of this phrase represents a submission to the parenthood of God; it is our acceptance of the invitation of Jesus to recognize God as our parent, in a far greater way than we have ever experienced. (Rom 8:15-17; 1 John 3:1-12). When we say Our Father in The South Africa We Pray4, just using the phrase, we are consciously and deliberately calling on God the Father of our Lord to adopt the people of our country, to father, protect, rebuke and guide us in his limitless love: Our Father!

  • Hallowed be your name: (Lev 19:12; Exod. 20:7) What children ought not to honour their parental name? When we say Our Father in The South Africa We Pray4, we pray a commitment to have God’s name be sanctified and honoured by our presence, our commitments and our acts; so that what we think, say and do in our public ministry will be to the honour and glory of God’s name: Hallowed be your name!
  • Your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as in heaven: Yes, for the parental reign of God over all things brings freedom, justice, peace, reconciliation and wellbeing for all. The South Africa We Pray4 is indeed the will of God for our society – a just, peaceful, reconciled, equitable and sustainable society, we commit to pray and work for this in the assurance that it is the loving will of Our Father that all may be well for our country and its people. So may God’s will for the least and the weakest of our people be fulfilled through our responsive care; and may we as God’s children, individually and collectively live the will of the Father, that we do it, and have ways of monitoring it in our society, and of monitoring ourselves, of guarding ourselves from straying: Father, let your rule be evident in my life and that of my family, my community and my country!
  • Give us today our daily bread: Firstly, this confirms the secure feeling of dependence of our loving and providential Father, where the children depend on the providing role of their parent. But more significantly, it points to the trust that we as children, are called to have in the parenthood of God, who provides for today, that the same God will provide tomorrow.

The idea of our common sibling-hood under the parentage of God reminds us that the parent involves the whole family in striving for the livelihood of the home – all of us have our share of work in the cornfields, preventing the animals from destroying the family crops, etc.; therefore we all in God’s household, have a role to play in the economic sphere, and the political structures that determine who gets what in the country.  We have a prophetic duty to prevent the selfish plundering of our natural resources by those who have the power to squander and destroy.  We also have a duty to guard the environment and ecology from both ignorant abuse and deliberate carelessness. Give us this day is not just about a consumer mindset for God to provide, but it is also an acknowledgement in The South Africa We Pray4, of our role in the economy of God’s provision for all God’s people and our responsibility to curb corruption and greed in favour of equitable access to the Father’s provisioning.

  • Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us: Our recognition of our common sibling-hood is also a recognition of our common togetherness in the presence of God our Father – a place of love, reconciliation, mutual affirmation and interdependence. Can that happen without a commitment to this clause of the Lord’s Prayer? The South Africa We Pray4 should be mounted on the fundamental platform of healing and reconciliation – a position that requires us to search ourselves for our part in the lack of reconciliation in our country – our selfishness, our being absorbed in ourselves and undermine the worth and dignity of the other; our sustaining an economic order that survives through the necessary impoverishment and denying the other. We are reminded of the interdependence between our being forgiven and our readiness to forgive the other: Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
  • Save us from time of trial: Yes, even when we fail the trials of life, we come back home to recover our being. Christ teaches us to continuously pray for the grace to be spared by the all-powerful Parent, of the worst of trials and temptations (Luke 21:36). Jesus himself was led to the wilderness and faced the temptations of quick fixes – turn these stones into bread; the temptation of making his human self, equal to or above the Divine – “if you bow to me (the Devil says) I shall give you power over all!” (Philippians 2: 1-11); the temptation to dare God’s love – “Throw yourself down and God will send angels to protect you! In The South Africa We Pray4, we seek no quick fixes, but faithful dedication to God’s will for a just, peaceful, reconciled, equitable and sustainable society; we seek no power, glory or political authority; and we seek no special protection from the cost of our discipleship – The South Africa We Pray4 offers no cheap grace!
  • Deliver us from evil: God is both our parent and the origin of our origins, as some would say, God is the original ancestor of all our ancestors – uMvelinqangi. Our Father is the Omniscient One who knows all there was, all there is, and all there shall be. The Almighty God has power and authority over all evil, as Jesus says: “All authority is given unto me in heaven and on earth…” (Matthew 28: 18). Those who cast out evil spirits in exorcism often name evils and their sources in the process of exorcising them (Mark 5:1-20).  Thus, our duty when we pray is to name the evils that each one of us experiences.  Naming it is a step in the course of exercising authority and defeating the evil. In The South Africa We Pray4, we name the evils we seek to exorcise in the healing and reconciliation of our society – the dehumanization in the practice of how people relate to and treat each other – of racism, ethnicism, xenophobia and gender denigration; to exorcise the evil of poverty and inequality, of economic deprivation, of family brokenness, of corruption and maladministration: Our Father, deliver us from evil!
  • For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours for ever: It is this clause, more than any other, that calls us to surrender and to submit ourselves, our power (financial, political, talent and skill) to the glory of God. It is here that our conversation about giving of ourselves begins. Of sharing with others for immediate needs in the three steps of eliminating neighbourhood poverty one family a time, one ward a time; of giving of our time, our energy, our hopes, joys, and even our pain and suffering, all these are placed at the altar of God’s power in humility in our prayerful surrender to God our Father in The South Africa We Pray4.
  • Amen: May it be so! Bayede makube njalo! Pula ho be joalo! With this affirmative acclamation we acknowledge that the declarations, the petitions, the doxologies take on a new meaning for a prayer that is recited by young and old in every dingy corner and every lofty hill of the Republic of South Africa, in distress and in joy, in the pain of any bondage and the celebration of every liberty!
  • Thus, in The South Africa We Pray4, the “Lord’s Prayer”, the most common and widely prayed in every language takes on a new meaning; and fuels the vision of a reconciled – “forgive us our sins as we forgive others”; equitable – “give us this day our daily bread”; and just society – “Your (just) Kingdom come, your will be done!”

For the Kingdom, the power and the glory are yours (in The South Africa We Pray4,) now and forever! Amen! Amen!!

“Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to this good work.

Bathi: “Masisuke sakhe,” beqinisela izandla zabo lowo mse

 

KZN Leaders call for calm and a look inwards

  • As we come to the end of two weeks of political and civic unrest which has wrecked inordinate amounts of damage on our people, our economy, our livelihoods and our sense-of-self as a people where do we find ourselves. How do we make sense of the destruction we see around us?
  • Where do we locate ourselves and where do we locate blame? In this moment it is so easy to point figures – and it is true, our government and particularly the ruling party does have a lot to answer for in this moment. Letting in-party factionalism play out in the streets of KZN is unacceptable.
  • Mr President, Minister of police and Mr Zuma, you have a lot to answer for and we’re looking to you for accountability. What you allowed to happen in our streets has cost us all dearly. None if us in the province has got through the last two weeks unscathed. All of us are sitting with and still trying to work through the pain that you and your party allowed to happen.
  • However, none of that withstanding, what is our role moving forward – as ordinary people in the province?
  • On all sides we’re seeing people moving into their ‘camps’. Race, ethnic, class and political lines that were hidden bellow the surface of our every day life are now laid bare, with the cracks threatening to deepen into unbreachable caverns. In this moment the pull towards violence is great – be this the violence of our actions or the violence of our words. Especially when we are still all dealing with fear, frustration, anger, betrayal and so on.
  • Are we able to instead choose a different path? To choose a path of peace and a path of collective ownership for where we find ourselves today?
  • We are reminded of Matthew 7:5 where Jesus, in one of his most profound teachings on Christian morality tells us “First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”
  • And so we are reminded that in this moment, while we have a call to hold people accountable, we also have a call to own what has happened. To not say this was “them” and “their” story but to really own it – this is our story… my story. And as we pause to look inwards we need to ask ourselves what role have I… we… “my people” played in allowing this to happen on our watch
  • In many of our Church liturgies we pray a version of this prayer: “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”
  • In our personal and collective lives let us create space for this spirit of reflection, ownership and repentance. For what we have done, and importantly for what we have left undone.
  • Moving towards justice and reconciliation from this place allows us to enter the conversation with arms down and a common commitment to rebuilding.
  • To be clear, we are not calling for a rebuilding or a unity which sweeps things under the carpet. That kind of unity is built on a commitment to not see and address injustice and it is what we have all been guilty of for too many years. Instead we are calling for a common commitment to building something new. Something where we can see, name, and address the cracks and divisions in our society and the injustices which flow along those cracks.
  • To the Clergy and other community leaders, all of us are people with individual identities, opinions, politics and theologies. In this moment where the cracks and divisions threaten to break us, we urge you to be promoters of peace and to create spaces where different people can come together to listen and talk. Spaces where the hard conversations can be had.
  • Let us own what has happened in our province these last two weeks, and steadfastly commit to building a new way of being a people together.

Theological rationale for the Church’s role in addressing the current crisis of violence in South Africa

Theological Reflection July 2021 Unrest

Discussion Paper:
This paper has been initiated by the KZN Christian Council and produced by the theological advisory group
which has been advising and supporting the KZN Church Leaders Group through the successive crisis
moments of the last 18 months. This group worked in collaboration with three other theologians from other
provinces for this, the first paper in our series around the July 2021 unrest. It is humbly intended for the use
and engagement of the broader Church in South Africa. As this paper is the first in a series of discussion
papers, we encourage you to join the discussion and engage with it through comments and contributions.
Please engage in the discussion by emailing Professor Kumalo (kumalor@ukzn.ac.za)

Media Statement on violence -KZNCLG

Media Statement on Violence F

PIETERMARITZBURG – Yesterday at 07h00, the KwaZulu Natal Church Leaders Group (KZN-CLG) convened by the KwaZulu Natal Christian Council (KZNCC) held an urgent virtual meeting via Zoom to evaluate the current situation of violence and unrest in various parts of the province and the nation at large.

Led by Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, Chairperson of the KZN-CLG, the leaders note with serious concern the reckless behavior of numerous people who have resorted to violence, looting and damage of property. Such actions have a direct impact on businesses, livelihoods and access to food.

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the acts of burning of businesses as well as burning of informal settlements.

We have noted a typical racial tension where Black Africans have been attacked. We therefore condemn in the strongest possible terms, the attacks against any race.

We condemn in strongest terms threats to attack foreign national or xenophobic attacks

We condemn in the strongest possible the threats to launch inter-racial violence

We call for stability, peace and unity in our province and nation at large.

 

“We condemn, in the strongest possible terms the violence that has wreaked havoc across our province: destroying property, infrastructure and businesses, intimidating innocent people and causing widespread fear and anxiety. We state that this is totally unacceptable and cannot, under any circumstances be tolerated”, said Cardinal Napier.

Subsequently, the following resolutions were taken:

  1. That the KZNCLG appreciates that people have different viewpoints and opinions on the socio-political issues of the day, and therefore urgently calls for dialogue and practical interventions from all parties and stakeholders rather than violence.
  2. That Churches are concerned and anxious about the level of the historical inequality we continue to experience today.

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier and Bishop Myaka went on to emphasise the call to Government to urgently reduce the glaring and immoral chasm between the rich and the people on the margins.

“We urge our political, social and community leaders to call and stand for peace and calmness, so that the issues of the day can be addressed with the participation of leaders from all sectors of society”, said Cardinal Napier.

The group highlighted the key role that the Church has in offering pastoral care, peace monitoring and peace building at this time and urged faith leaders to be visible in offering support wherever it is needed.

They also called on government to find solutions which will meet the needs of the poor and needy, and which will protect communities and businesses from thuggery.

“Government, the Faith and Business sectors and Civil Society together have an urgent role to play in responding to those who are destitute and hungry; a situation which has only been amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic over the past 18 months. Poverty and dire hunger cannot be ignored and must be addressed immediately. Leaving these lived realities unaddressed is not only immoral but will also prepare fertile ground for unrest” declared Bishop Myaka.

Speaking to those calling for and resorting to violence the group of leaders urged them to reconsider their strategy with their resolutions stating, “Let us be clear; it is the poorest and most marginalized in our society – those who have already been hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and its related lockdown restrictions – who will again bear the brunt and feel the real pain of this violent unrest.”

The KwaZulu Natal Church Leaders Group are actively engaging around this issue to ensure peace and calm to be restored. They will be meeting with the KZN Premier this week to engage political leadership so that urgent interventions are taken. They are also engaging with national political and ecumenical leadership to find workable, long-lasting solutions to this crisis. This includes negotiating with government to give Clergy permission to travel for pastoral care during lockdown hours.

Finally, the KZN-CLG made the following urgent calls:

  1. To all people of faith there is a call to prayer: prayer for peace and stability, for wisdom and courage, for vision and leadership
  2. To business and the public: we are now hit with a food crisis. Please make any donation you can to the KZNCC for the distribution of food to those left most vulnerable by these riots (bank details below).
  3. To Church Leaders: please get in contact if you are willing to become peace monitors and be deployed at this critical moment.

“We will continue to journey and support our government through continuous prayers and escalate whatever information that we see beneficial to our people because the churches are speechless at this level of revolting violence. We grieve with all those who grieve and extend our heartfelt condolences to all those who have lost loved ones at this time. Furthermore, we shall do everything possible to protect children, the elderly, the sick and the vulnerable by actions which build faith, hope and love in the world around us” said Bishop Nkosinathi Myaka, KZNCC Chairperson.

Emotions of my soul –

It is this: CRY – the beloved country.

Cry – for broken lives and unmet dreams;

Cry – for silent voices and uncontrolled rage;

Cry – for hearts of greed and empty hands;

Cry – for fists of violence and fear-filled souls;

Cry – for hope filled courage and courage that has lost hope;

And through the fog and my paralysed being –

Through the words of Paton’s title –

There is BUT just one verse that makes its way through:

“JESUS WEPT”.

 

(Von Elke Kaiser Carrihill)

 

Ends

For Media enquiries contact:

KZNCC Communications

Xola Nkabinde

+27 (0) 72 834 4219 (m)

 

Bank Details for Food Relief:

Name: KZNCC

Bank: FNB

Account no: 62601869243

Branch: 221-325

Reference: Food

 

KZNCC COVID-19 Churches Response on the re-opening of Schools

The Steering Committee of the KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council (KZNCC) COVID-19 CHURCHES RESPONSE has carefully considered the proposal to re-open schools in KZN this month. We are aware that the opening of schools will be done in carefully worked out phases, which will give appropriate attention to the protection and safety of all teaching, office and support staff, and especially the children.

With the parents, we express our serious concern over the measures put in place to evaluate and monitor the control of risk to all engaged in the school environment. We are particularly concerned about the delay in supplying Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) such as masks and hand sanitizers to schools. We are also concerned that most of the schools in rural areas do not even have running water to use for washing hands as required by the COVID-19 safety protocols.

It is not good news that some schools did not receive PPE material because they do not have safe storage. It will be tragic and unacceptable to lose lives in our education sector because of this factor. As Churches, where necessary, we are open to negotiate the use of local Church premises for safe storage of PPE and other materials.

We support the notion that those schools that are self-sufficient or have received all PPE and will be able to implement social distancing and thereby meet all safety COVID-19 regulations, be allowed to re-open.

We are conscious that since some children and teachers have to use kombis to get to school, this could be an avenue for COVID-19 transmission. So, we plead with kombi operators to comply with all the COVID-19 safety protocols. At the same time we ask commuters to report to the police kombi or public transport operators who do not comply with the COVID-19 guidelines.

We are informed that there are schools which do not have enough teachers because of COVID-19, or because the teachers have diabetes or other health conditions which put them at risk, and so are scared to report to schools where there are no PPEs. We urge the Department to deploy interim teachers so that the affected children receive the necessary urgent attention.

In cases where there is an infection in a family, we urge the family not to send the children to school for the recommended quarantine period.

Since we know that in some cases those who have tested positive have been blamed for catching the virus or even victimised for having it, we appeal to all who can to help us educate each other to adhere religiously to each and every rule and regulation that has been put in place to control the spread of COVID-19.

Lastly, we place the welfare of parents, teachers and children in the safe hands of Jesus whose wish was that the Little Children be allowed to come to him, but not before their time, or because of our negligence.

We will continue to offer pastoral care and counselling upon request, and we pray for Christ’s grace to be sufficient for the Department of Education and for all schools, and may God continue to support and bless the work of educators in support of the education system and the learners. May you be assured of our thoughts and prayers for you.

Yours in Christ

+Wilfrid Cardinal Napier OFM                                              Bishop Nkosinathi Myaka

KZN Church Leaders’ Group Chairperson                          KZNCC Chairperson                                  

                                         

Response to KZNCC Pastoral letter by Rebecca Ngoetjana

Response to KZNCC Pastoral letter

 25th January 2021

 Critique

Until we acknowledge the power that brought everything that we see into existence and engage theological issues in the light of the doer of the works of God – the Holy Spirit, our Theology remains dry and ineffective and will never cause changes in the world. To think that catastrophes and calamities in this world are always by God, is to deny that God by His grace in Jesus Christ has consummated the salvation of humankind, and that His grace prevails over and against circumstances threatening the human race in the world.  Christians should not overlook the fact that the adversary, the devil, is roaring like a lion seeking whom to devour. Whether we want to believe or not , the spirit of antichrist is here, the scriptures say so, deceiving and destroying human life in every way possible even by way of COVID-19, and this spirit of antichrist works in the children of disobedience namely, those who in unbelief objects to and oppose the gospel of Jesus Christ. What is called the “new normal’ is a branded operation of the perpetrators of wickedness propagating evil intentions amongst the nations of the world. It requires the intervention of the Holy Spirit to read the signs of times according to prophetic texts in the scriptures and appropriate the message therein to this pandemic period.

Rebecca Ngoetjana

We are in Phase 2 of the pandemic. The report by the South African Team of Scientists gave the awareness of the existence of a Variant which is more dangerous and faster than the former corona virus. It is capable of hiding to escape the diagnosis. This renders the possibility of a vaccine that was made on the basis of the nature of the first virus inaccurate, unsafe and ineffective in as far as its measure to prevent infection is concerned because of the virus/variant’s potential of re-infecting after 90 days of receiving treatment. More so, there is a decline in the infection rate now. The team pointed out their intention to continue research concerning the variant. From America, President Joe Biden has indicated that ‘the worst is still to come’. This statement is not positive to give hope that the vaccine is the answer in an attempt to restore the world’s good standard of health. The question is: ‘Is not rolling the vaccine a gamble with the life’s of people of the earth? Even if we choose to overlook the president’s statement, it is a warning. He has said it because he knows what is going on behind the scene. Watch.

 

In the context of Lockdown wherein churches are closed, a pastoral letter is expected to exhort the faith community to:

  1. Pray without ceasing in their house as a family.
  2. Share the word of God as a family and
  3. Have the Holy Communion as a family.
  4. Do their own research….in scriptures and in science.

 

Vaccines have a history of faults and dangers to the human body. They are unreliable. They can harm the body and/prevent the disease. No guarantee whatsoever. Science is the calculation of the human mind, an intellectual exercise and with whatever tools of expertise, based on experimentation and tests. But it still remains fallible because it is the effort of human beings.

 

Taking into consideration the second paragraph above, it is in the light of faith in Christ, premature at this stage to encourage people to comply with the call for vaccination. For example, who has so far come with the explanation for the decline of infection to show the urgency of vaccines and how indispensable they are now? If we are made to think that God causes calamities and so is the pandemic, is there anything we can do to outdo what he does except like he said: “if people who are called by my name come to me and humble themselves, I will heal their land”?

 

Speaking of eschatology, the book of revelation was written by John in detention in he Island of  Patmos long ago in the tens AD and we are now in the thousands AD. With all possibility, this period is the future of the message of the book of revelation. If some parts of the message from Revelation is used in paragraph 02 of the Pastoral letter to give hope during this period of the pandemic, how does it become a theological misunderstanding to appropriate Rev 13 to this era since Biblically the spirit of antichrist is here? The antichrist may not be here in person, but manifestations of his spirit are evident to see. It is a lying spirit that instills fear in the hearts of many people through the evil works of perpetrators of wickedness such as Covid 19. You think God is behind Covid 19, with the closure of churches?  No, that’s a lie. A wicked man/men is/are behind this pandemic. To think of other people’s findings that reveal truths that expose the dynamics that go with Covid 19 as conspiracies, is also to believe in a lie from the spirit of antichrist. Let our theology contextually draw out meaning from texts and not put meaning into texts to suit what we want to convey to our readers. Every book in the Bible has a message central to it and should not be distorted. A sound doctrine will grace people to make right choices for themselves without a dictator who instills fear in their hearts to force them to accomplish his goal. Human beings have the divine/ God given right to choose, including the right to choose vaccine or No vaccine.

 

My edition of part of the Pastoral letter.

I have chosen to edit paragraphs 02, 03 and 04 only.

Para 02

The last sentence: ‘We thank God…’ renders a reading that can create a sense/feeling of guilt with a question: ‘what have we done to deserve this?’ for God’s grace not to protect us like others. I think it is sufficient to give them condolences and so delete that last statement.

Para 03

I have rephrased the whole paragraph:

 

Plagues were unleashed as a sign of God’s power when he liberated the children of Israel from the Egyptian bondage. In the book of Matthew 24 there are prophetic signs concerning the end time/last days which can be seen in our days. The book of Daniel and Revelation contain sayings that point to the end time and these sayings help us locate our time within the eschatological world view. The Bible also points out clearly that the spirit of antichrist is here, working in the children of disobedience. Notable enough is the massive persecution of the church in the East, running alongside the pandemic. We may not have entered the great tribulation yet, but as Christians we should have the awareness that this time, being the church era, we are advancing the end time.

 

Para 04

Have rephrased the whole paragraph:

 

The book of Revelation was written more than a thousand years ago. We have definitely begun to live in the future of what its message points to. To question the relevance of the message in revelation 13 is to deny the importance of value God has attached to mankind that he revealed to us the things to come through John. The number 666, the beast from the sea, the beast from the earth, the false prophet are important characters in Revelation 13 and should be seriously taken into consideration because of the role they play regarding the end time. Our perception of Covid 19 pandemic should therefore be in the light of the prophetic scriptures – the eschatological view.

 

Rebecca Ngoetjana