“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

 

Theology of COVID-19 Vaccine: A Pastoral Letter

From: KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council (KZNCC), the KZN Church Leaders Group (KZNCLG) and the Ecumenical Movement in the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN)

To: The Faith Communities and the People of KZN

This pastoral letter is written to you to bring hope in the midst of concerns about the surge of the Corona Virus Disease of 2019 (COVID-19). Other viruses have come and gone. This one has come and will definitely go. The concerns of both the scientific and other communities must be taken seriously. The problem of the virus and the manufacturing of the vaccine must be attended to meticulously, accurately and with total care and compassion. Our condolences goes to those who have lost their loved ones. We thank God for the mercy and protection for all of us who have found grace in Him (sic).

Why does God Allow Coronavirus and other Catastrophes?

The doctrine of the ‘fall of man’ (sic) teaches humanity that we are now living in a broken world. Since the ‘fall’, thistles and thorns have broken into the world. Meaning that death has entered creation and humanity was bound to experience physical death. Death, diseases and calamities have become one of the ways humanity would leave this world. Coronavirus is one of those means.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is not the first to surge in the world. We had the Antonine virus (165 AD); the Justinian Plaque (541 AD); the Small pox (735 AD); Black Death (1347) to quote a few and most recently, HIV and AIDS and COVID-19 (2019 AD). This gives us reason to believe the Lord saying: “Do not be afraid – I the Lord have overcome the world”. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

Though we may not know yet, the purpose of unleashing COVID-19 we learn from the Scriptures that plagues were unleashed to liberate the children of Israel from the Egyptian bondage; the incidents in the book of Revelation were meant to bring the nations and people of that future time to come to Christ and reject the Anti-Christ. At the moment the time of the church, our present time is the era of grace in the presence of the Holy Spirit. We are not in the times of the great tribulation as yet.

Meaning to refer to Rev. 13: 1 – 18 and apply it to our time is an eschatological misunderstanding .The number 666, the name of the beast from the Sea – the Anti-Christ, referred to by the beast from the Earth – the false prophet – the number of the human being – the AntiChrist has nothing to do with the sort after vaccine for COVID-19. God’s leashing of calamities is meant to teach people obedience, is to oppose pride, to abolish idolatry, to teach gratitude, to defend holiness, to show the power of God and salvation of humanity. The calamities are to teach us to pray to the living God, to love God and one another to bring forth peace with justice.

Concerns Raised by Moral Theology and Concerned Communities

Especially the proponents of pro-life groups – opposed to abortion – would not accept any vaccine manufactured from aborted foetuses as has been the case in the 1970’s. Another concern was raised on the possibilities of side effects; concern is raised on the evil forces who want to exercise social control of humanity by subjecting humans to technological control and by so doing exercise power over them by a computerised system. As it is murmured in some scientific communities as well, a concern is raised on the rush of the production of the COVID-19 vaccine which has not followed the previous normal and procedural protocols of manufacturing a vaccine. There is hesitancy on the quality and purity on the present vaccines which are being produced.

There is a concern about the possible nationalisation of the vaccines. Seemingly rich nations will hoard the vaccines for themselves at the detriment of the poor nations. Another concern is raised on the capitalisation or commercialisation of the vaccines. That is the vaccines will be so expensive that the poor nations may not afford. And that the vaccines are meant to make exponential profits from the poorer nations of the world. And that the acceleration of the production of the vaccines compromise the harmlessness of the product. Religiously speaking, there is a concern that the vaccine may produce future generations which are religiously immune. Meaning that the nations will be so contaminated and have no consciousness of religious thought since their DNA’s will be tempered with.

One more concern is that of misinformation and disinformation. Both the misrepresentation of facts from quasi scientific commentators and theological misapplication of scriptures is exacerbating the problem. Baseless conspiracy theories are not helpful.

Other possible steps to be considered concerning the vaccine/s:

“We should thankfully acknowledge the input of the medical fraternity, the carers, those standing in the front line, the president, the government and other institutions.

We would need a chapter by the medical fraternity or department of health of explaining exactly not only what the virus causes but also what the vaccine does and the different types of vaccines available at present:

We should broadcast that central message of OT and NT Scripture “Do not be afraid!” of the situation as God is Lord of life, health, sickness and death.

This message should also penetrate the many fears that have been generated in view of possible vaccinations, that they are saving devices of God and not destructive forces of His adversary.

We should distinguish between solid, health-providing information and fake news, especially within our different churches and faith-based communities, and in our prophetic ministry warn against minimising or disregarding the threat

We want to stress that we as a faith-based community wish to collaborate and work together with the government, health dept., medical fraternity and all relevant institutions, NGO’s etc”.

Conclusion: Is God central in this surge of coronavirus? Yes. God is incharge: He (sic) says: “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:5-7 – 10; 31: 2; 47: 11; Amos 3: 6)).

All concerns are legitimate. Concerns from the scientific, communal and religious communities are genuine and must be engaged with respectfully and openly. All baseless misinformation and disinformation must be rejected. The deliberate falsehood theories must be identified as such. Fake.

We can make a contribution towards the annihilation of COVID-19 by mutual cooperation and reciprocal sharing of what works better for the progress we need to exterminate COVID-among us.

Collated: Dr. Mogashudi Lucas Ngoetjana. Deputy CEO: KZNCC

Contributors

  1. Rev. George Scriba
  2. Rev. Sonto Thusi
  3. Rev Hugh Wetmore

Engines

https://www.crosswalk.com/church/pastors-or-leadership/ask-roger-god-and-coronavirus

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impact_of_the_COVID-19_pandemic_on_religion.

SACC Position Statement on the Church and the COVID-19 Vaccine

SACC Ecumenical Theological Task Team – February 8, 2021

 Preamble

The novel Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has plunged the global community into an extraordinary crisis; turning the world upside down. Life for humanity has grounded to a sudden halt as the Coronavirus takes total control. Humanity has been brought to its knees by the microscopic virus. The personal, social and economic impact of COVID-19 is incalculable, unlike anything experienced by the world in nearly a century. Christians and other people of faith have prayed and continue to pray ceaselessly for God’s intervention. The scientific community has worked around the clock and God is answering our prayers. Thankfully, a vaccine has been developed within a year of the outbreak of the pandemic, which is no mean feat in the history of vaccines. As South Africans we have wondered if no shortcuts were taken to occasion this. Different trusted South African scientists have severally assured us: “The research was done faster with large numbers of people ensuring safety and efficacy measurements were not compromised”; and “The trials were totally ethically and scientifically sound and the licensing completely thorough. The speed of development is really a reflection of the level of scientific advancement we are now at rather than it was in any way recklessly rushed through.” The rollout of the vaccines is already underway and we have a long road yet ahead of us.

Ecumenical Theological Task Team

However, the development of the vaccine has brought a lot of uncertainty, anxiety, confusion and fear among South Africans. Concerns are circulating all over social media, instilling fear and panic in the minds of many. While many are warmly embracing the vaccine, still many are resisting this advance in medical science, and at times.

It is against this background of the apparent resistance to the vaccine and concerns raised by Christians and South Africans in general, that the leaders of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), set up the Ecumenical Theological Task Team comprising theologians from a broad spectrum of the Christian churches affiliated to SACC: Anglican, African Independent churches, Catholic, Charismatic, Evangelical,  Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, and Reformed traditions. They met on Wednesday 3 February 2021, to discuss and come up with a united churches’ response to the COVID-19 vaccine. Chaired by Prof. Simangaliso Kumalo of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the Task Team included:

Dr. Vicentia Kgabe, Anglican; Dr Louise Kretcshmar, Baptist: Fr. Sbu Statu, Catholic:
Bishop Ezekiel Mathole, Grace Bible Church; Bishop Thami Ngcana and Bishop Nat Phomana, Council of African Independent Churches: Dr Elijah Mhlanga, Assemblies of God; Rev. Pumla Nzimande, Methodist; Dr Daniel Andrew, Apostolic Faith Mission; Dr Moses Hobe, Full Gospel Church; Rev. Lungile Mpetsheni, Uniting Presbyterian Church; Dr Sandile Ngiba, Evangelical Lutheran; Prof. R. Tshaka, Uniting Reformed Church.

Concerns

COVID-19 vaccine and “mark of the beast”

Some sections of the Christian community have strongly argued that the vaccine is not from God but is part of the “new world order” governed by the devil and has 666, the “mark of the beast” (Rev. 13:16). Many fear that by taking the vaccine, they will be forced to take “the mark of the beast.”

This association of the vaccine with the beast is based on a wrong and literal interpretation of the book of Revelation and ignores its historical context. Biblical scholars agree that Revelation was written to the seven churches in the first century to address the issue of the Roman imperial cult.

It was thus, situational, personal, and contextual. It was most probably written during the reigns of Emperor Nero and Domitian, the most notorious of the Roman emperors, who were deified and demanded to be worshipped even while they were still alive. Scholars associate “the mark of the beast” particularly with Nero. This is because when transliterated into Greek, the sum of the letters of his name results in the number 666. Thus, the use of the number 666 was coded (hidden) reference to Nero used by a persecuted Church. Emperor Nero’s demand that he be worshipped is also tied to the worship of the beast’s image (Rev. 13:15; 20:4).

The emperor’s image and his claim to be worshipped were also on coins, the medium of exchange, without which one could not participate in the local economy. To buy or sell anything meant participating in pagan worship. By participating in the local economy, one automatically could be said to take “the mark of the beast” at the expense of faith in Christ Jesus. To take “the mark of the beast” therefore meant loyalty and worship, which requires full awareness of what one was doing.

The taking of the vaccine does not demand any Christian to forsake Jesus, as was the case during Nero’s reign. It does not demand complete devotion to anything. Far from causing fear and anxiety among Christians, Revelation actually has a positive message that we should focus on Jesus who is the sole object of worship and embrace the vaccine as a gift for his people during a period of intense suffering, as was the case during the persecution of the early Church by Emperor Nero.

5G and its implications on COVID-19”

There have been widespread social media expressions of concern on the suspected link between the 5G technology and the spread of the Coronavirus which led to unfortunate incidents in which community members in Umlazi, KwaMashu, and Ntuzuma in KwaZulu-Natal set fire to 5G towers in January 2021, claiming that they were responsible for the spread of COVID-19 through radio waves.

Research from reputable organisations such as the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has shown that there is no evidence whatsoever that 5G technology spreads COVID-19. There are many countries in Africa without 5G technology, yet the virus is wreaking havoc there too. Viruses cannot travel on radio waves or mobile networks. If anything, let us warmly embrace 5G as it will deliver faster connections and connectivity in our internet age, including advancing in research on future viruses.

Coronavirus was made in a lab”

It has been claimed that the Coronavirus is not an accidental pandemic like other historical pandemics but was engineered in a laboratory by companies so that they could profiteer through vaccines.

This has further been given credence by the speed with which the vaccine was developed and approved for use. There is indeed some concern that big pharmaceutical companies in cahoots with some governments will use the pandemic for massive profits and self-enrichment. There has, however, been no credible evidence that the virus was engineered in a lab. Pandemics caused by viruses have emerged throughout human history, and in the last two decades we have seen the SARS and MERS Coronavirus outbreaks. So, we should not be surprised by the arrival of the COVID-19 virus. On the massive profits, we call on companies and governments to ensure that the vaccine is equitably accessed and for no profit or at low profit. We call on these to share the know-how so that most countries can help to scale up the production of these vaccines and together attain population immunity.

Vaccine and population control”

Another common misconception is that the COVID-19 vaccine is a ploy by the rich industrialized nations or by a cartel of the richest people in the world under the leadership of Bill Gates, or machinations of the empire to reduce the global population through the elimination of the black race. This theory is baseless. In fact, vaccines are not new. Vaccines have been a reality for all of us from birth.

When our children were born, we gladly accepted the vaccines prescribed by hospitals and health clinics without any questions. In fact, most of us still have the marks of the vaccine on our arms. Most of us could have died of diseases such as measles and polio in infancy had it not been for the vaccines we received. In our day, people in malaria prone countries are vaccinated against the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria. The same with yellow fever; to travel to Kenya or Tanzania one needs a yellow fever vaccination certificate.

COVID-19 is a pandemic like any other and the COVID-19 vaccine is a vaccine like any other. Furthermore, COVID-19 does not discriminate. As the numbers tell, currently, there are over two million people who have lost their lives worldwide and a quarter of these is from the global south and 93 219 from Africa; of which, regrettably, some 45 000 are South African. Every part of the world has their share of the pain, let us continue to show global solidarity through mutual support and care for one another as Christ would want us to.

Vaccine and DNA

Another popular circulating mistruth is that the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines will alter one’s DNA. It is argued that because the vaccine is genetic material injected into the body, it could somehow mix in with our own genetic material and change it. However, mRNA is not the same as DNA, and it cannot combine with our DNA to change our genetic code. It is also relatively fragile and will only be inside a cell for about 72 hours, before being degraded. mRNA is naturally made by the body; it encodes instructions for our bodies’ cells to make protein. Any mRNA vaccine has the same purpose, to teach and train our bodies to make an immune response toward a particular pathogen. If the pathogen gets into the body, the immune system can attack it.

Vaccines are made from aborted foetus”

Ethical concerns have also been raised, and understandably so, on the production of the COVID-19 vaccine. Many from the pro-life campaign are concerned that the vaccines may have been made from cell lines of aborted foetuses. There is a history of the use of foetal cell lines in the research and development of vaccines for diseases such as hepatitis A, rubella, chicken pox, ebola, shingles, rabies, and the early polio vaccines. As part of that history, some vaccines are said to be present-day derivations of the original scientific research process that developed protein sourced from a foetus. Although there is no evidence that current vaccines are directly made out of foetal tissue, the connection to cell lines related to foetal tissue in the originating of the technology can pose an ethical question. But in the unavailability of alternative measures to save lives in the current public health crisis, the use of the vaccine is morally justifiable to protect people from the killer disease.

Are vaccines safe?

Many people have also raised concerns about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. The safety of the people receiving the vaccine has been a top priority of the vaccine manufacturers. ALL vaccines go through clinical trials to test their safety and effectiveness. There is also rigorous monitoring to see if there are any side effects and will be withdrawn if the side effects are serious. Even if these vaccines were produced very quickly, no steps were skipped on the way. They have already been given to millions of people of all races around the world.

However, some side effects such as fever, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, fatigue and headaches have been reported. Most side effects happen within the first three days after vaccination and last only one to two days. Besides, all vaccines claim a certain percentage average efficacy. It cannot be lower than 50% effective. Available vaccines have been ranging from about 65% to 95% effective. That means there would be cases that fall outside of the declared efficacy threshold for that vaccine. So far, even with the stated limits of efficacy, the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the side-effects, and are well worth the effort to save lives.

Way Forward

We recognise and appreciate the openness with which South Africans and our congregants have expressed their concerns and even objections to the COVID-19 vaccine. It is healthy for the Church to have a dialogue on such matters. People’s voices must not be silenced but must be heard.

Humanity as co-creators with God

We have been praying for God’s intervention to end the pandemic and for life to return to normal. God moved and inspired our scientists to develop effective vaccines. That way, our scientists are co-creators with God. Christians should view the vaccines as part of the answer to our prayers. The swift effort that has gone into developing effective vaccines is something of a miracle. Christians should see the Spirit of God at work not just in the Church setting but in every sphere of life. Any appropriate medical discovery that can heal the land should be discerned as a present from God. The vaccine is not the saviour but God is. There is therefore, no legitimate Christian reason for refusing to take the vaccine. Let us rather continue praying for God to give our experts, whom God has called, to bring healing and end suffering, to continue to give the experts all that is needed to save lives. As Apostle Paul writes (1 Corinthians 3:9), “For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building”; that the words of Prophet Jeremiah might come true for our time: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Sanctity of human life

We have lost too many lives due to the pandemic. Also, we have lost much that makes for livelihoods. Every life is important; and livelihoods help sustain life with dignity. Let us preach and act holistically for the sanctity of human life. COVID undermines not only human life through the lonely death that it visits on individuals and their families; it also occasions havoc on the dignity of the human person as households are plunged into the extremities of poverty and want.

The saving of life requires also the commitment to help create the environment for living in the compassion of God that is manifest in Jesus. He felt compassion for the people, “Because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). The same Christ instructs us, Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36). This compassion of Christ impels us to champion life-giving vaccines against COVID-19.

Vaccination: a show of love for our neighbour

Getting vaccinated against the Coronavirus ought to be understood as an act of charity towards other members of our community. Jesus said: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). Thus, being vaccinated should be considered an act of love of our neighbour; for it ensures that we shall not be the cause of the infection and suffering of your loved ones. Thus, it is part of our moral responsibility for the common good. Protecting the health of the community takes precedence over individual ideologies. The guiding principle should be the Jesus cause “that they may have life”; saying, “I will take the vaccine not only for what I hope will be the good of my own health, but for others as well.”

The vaccine: a justice issue

As the churches, we will ensure that we advocate for every South African who wants a vaccine to get it, especially poor people, and those who live on the margins of society. We will raise our prophetic voice in ensuring that the process of the distribution of the vaccine is not fraught with corruption as was the case with the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and that all who are found to have committed acts of corruption are dealt with accordingly.

In this context we call for a spirit of global solidarity in access to these vaccines and sharing the knowhow and with preferential options for the global south, which remains poor. In these circumstances we wish to make the moral point that we believe that for the COVID-19 vaccine there should be cause to bypass some of the standard commercial considerations in pricing, and the standard 20-year patent protection period.

A three to five-year protection should be adequate under these special circumstances, especially because, given the worldwide concentrated demand of the vaccine occasioned by the pandemic. This is a justice issue. For this reason we join in the lament that the rich nations of the world are hoarding for themselves inordinate volumes of vaccine supplies, in some cases in multiples of their populations. This is an injustice that the world should not tolerate.

Countering misinformation

An urgent challenge is to counter misinformation. Information is key. Knowledge and wisdom are key biblical ideals, as Proverbs 15:14 instructs: “The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.”

Without accurate and authentic information, people are misled by many discredited and fake tales from outlandish sources.

We need to get as much information as possible from those who are knowledgeable, and we also need to encourage our congregants to seek as much information on vaccines and the pandemic as they can from experts.  That requires us to learn to trust that South African scientists are as good as any in the world; and not be misguided by every quasi-scientific post on the internet. We must popularise also the use of the SACC’s dedicated COVID-19 website – https://www.churchinaction.org.za that gives advice and guidance to church and society in various South African languages, based on researched and verified information on matters COVID-19, including the latest on the vaccine.  Let us be the voice of reason that gives hope in a hopeless situation.

Walking the talk

Church leaders have an important role to play in communication about the vaccine and getting people to be vaccinated. Having Church leaders publicly support the vaccine is very important. When Church leaders get vaccinated in public, they make a difference in the fight against COVID-19. That way they can help restore trust in vaccines among their congregants and the broader society. Not so long ago, some church leaders were tested publicly for HIV-AIDS, to dispel the stigma. We can do this again.

Leaders of SACC member churches will offer to take the vaccine in public to demonstrate confidence in the COVID-19 vaccination, for vaccines are a vital part of the solution to the pandemic. There are two known and interconnected ways to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus. One is the non-pharmaceutical measures of wearing masks, social distancing, hand hygiene, ventilation and sitting outside to socialise.

The second and more long-lasting measure is the vaccination of enough people to affect a reduction of infection through population immunity. Therefore, Church leaders, should encourage their congregants and their loved ones to take the vaccine and dispel misinformation. With the trust earned, we can tip the balance between trust and distrust, confidence and fear.

Religious freedom

As Christians, we believe in freedom of choice. We should not force the vaccine down the throats of our congregations. Their membership of and standing in the Church should not be affected by the decision that they take on the vaccine.

Cooperation with the Government

The Church should cooperate with the Government in its attempts to vaccinate our people and save lives. We should give the health authorities all the support that they need. We should open our Church buildings to be vaccination centres when called upon to do so.

Conclusion

The development of the COVID-19 vaccine should be viewed as a major milestone in the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic. The vaccine represents the best hope to save lives in the midst of the pandemic. It will help protect people who get infected with the virus from becoming sick. As more people are vaccinated, population-wide immunity develops, families and communities will be able to gradually return to a more normal routine, thus saving lives and livelihoods. Science is clear at this point that our very best hope is getting as many people as possible vaccinated.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

About SACC

The South African Council of Churches (SACC) is an ecumenical association of affiliated Christian Churches, and blocks of churches such as The Evangelical Alliance, the International Federation of Christian Churches, and the Council of African Independent Churches, with a mandate to lead common Christian action that works for moral witness in South Africa. SACC does not exist for the propagation and the advancement of its doctrinal position, but is the place where our diverse interpretations of our faith come together in action for social justice. It therefore seeks to achieve a visible, just socio-economic and ecological impact, enabled through engaged churches-in-community for a reconciled South Africa and our sub-continent.

Media Release: Churches, Faith-based Organisations and the Red Cross and Combine for Long Term Response to Cyclone Disaster

The Cyclone Disaster Response Group Statement

Introduction: We are all still in shock as a result of the scale of the disaster that has befallen the people of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, affecting some 3 million people in the three countries, with Mozambique the worst hit. Ordinary words cannot describe the magnitude of the tragedy, and the costs in human suffering, infrastructure and basic living going forward! With the flood waters receding, many are struggling to obtain food, shelter and clean water, and a cholera outbreak is spreading fast.

The Response Group: In the face of this mammoth challenge The Cyclone Disaster Response Group (The Group), held a press briefing on 4 April 2019, at Khotso House in Johannesburg, to inform South Africans about their consolidated emergency relief efforts and appeal for support for the victims of Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. The Group is setting up a long term response to this disaster. The purpose is to more coherently coordinate the channelling of aid, to avoid causing recipient communities having to go to multiple support options, and to have a more orderly phasing of assistance for more effective long term support. The Group comprises the South African Council of Churches, the Red Cross Society, The Evangelical Alliance, HOPE worldwide, The Warehouse, Youth for Christ, A-Better-Africa and ACT Ubumbano.

How to contribute: The Group is launching a support fund, located at a dedicated bank account of the SACC to receive donations for the Disaster support. All people of goodwill with compassion, churches and faith communities, are requested to make direct grants to the fund, to support the affected communities in addressing the immediate needs and their long-term recovery from this storm. We request all churches, not only SACC and TEASA member churches, to mobilise their members and congregations and regional structures – presbyteries, districts, diocese, etc. to make financial donations to the fund. The money will be used to purchase prescribed goods as needed from phase to phase in the disaster areas of the three countries, and for the administration and the distribution of the goods through approved agencies.

The account details are:

Name: SACC Healing & Reconciliation Bank: Nedbank, Fox Str, Branch code: 190805, Account Number: 1129715000 Reference: “Cyclone Idai” plus name and contact number

From outside South Africa: Bank name: Nedbank Address: 135 Rivonia Road, Sandown, 2196, South Africa Phone number: +27 (0) 11 294 4444 Swift code: NEDSZAJJ Reference: “Cyclone Idai”, plus name and contact number.

Audit: Audit firm Deloitte will provide audit services to the fund, pro bono publico, to evaluate that donations received are spent in line with the objective of this project. Various Roles: We employ the diverse strengths of Group members. For example, HOPE worldwide engages with retailers for significant discounts on essential supplies for disaster relief. The Red Cross has logistical infrastructure and capacity to transport, as well as more than 30 collection points across the country for identified items for relief needs. Some of our partners have the networks to mobilise financial resources from South Africa and around the world. The churches have a broader and a more nuanced role:

First, we encourage South African congregations that have existing relationships with local churches in the affected areas, to build on these on a bilateral basis, and support the relief effort. This should be primarily through donating funds and providing long term support for reconstruction work in the communities.

Second, South African denominations that have extended institutional relationships with the affected countries should seek to work alongside their denominations in the affected communities, supporting their work through financial, logistical and pastoral support. A number of churches are doing this already. This week the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Archbishop Makgoba whose pastoral responsibility includes Mozambique, has been visiting Beira and hosted by the locals in their misery, to be with, and work with them as they craft their solutions to the crisis. 3. Third, through the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa (FOCCISA), the SACC has a direct relationship with the councils of churches in the three countries, this enabling local oversight for accountability and feedback on the impact of the organised support from this system. A more detailed “Guideline for Churches”, including prayer requests, is being developed and will be available by Friday 12 April. When available it will be published in the SACC monthly e-newsletter The Outlook, and the various electronic platforms and newsletters of member churches and partner organisations in the Cyclone Disaster Response Group. We are disciples of the One who said: “For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” Matt. 25:35

Additional Information: The most immediate basic needs include food and potable water to survive; shelter and sanitation for hygiene and disease management. Following the immediate first aid, and in the mid-term, there will be the need to ensure food security, as the crops that were about to be harvested have now been washed away. In Mozambique alone, nearly 670, 000 hectares of crops have been damaged. Estimates are that some 12% of Malawi’s national maize output has been lost to the cyclone. There will be need for: • Rebuilding the lives of people living with the missing relatives, some of whose bodies may never be found. • The counselling and recalibrating the lives of orphaned children, some of them were first to be saved, leaving their parents who perished before the rescuers returned for them. • Trauma counselling for those children who may have seen their parents perish in the floods. UNICEF puts the number of children at risk as a result of the cyclone at about 260,000, and direct support will be needed to provide mechanisms to secure these children. This, not to mention the reconstruction of households, and public infrastructure of schools, health services and roads. Immediate HOPE worldwide Compassion Shipment: As a start, next week the first truck shipment that has been organised by HOPE worldwide is scheduled to departs for Beira. That effort began before the creation of the collective Cyclone Disaster Response Group. We are working together to support this first shipment, and seek to build on that experience. We are also aware that a number of church denominations have initiated their own individual response systems which are commendable. In this challenge we have come to recognise that there will be phases, from rescue, food and shelter; to recovery of the deceased and burials; to disease prevention and temporary village building and rebuilding of homes. There will be need for seeds to replant lost crops, and trying for winter cultivation; the building and equipping of public facilities, schools, health centres; and the rebuilding of destroyed infrastructure, etc. All these will need a consistency of support beyond the immediate. Again, at the human level, there is the deeper work of trauma counselling, especially for children who may have seen their parents perish in the floods.

Contact details: For information on how to contribute and logistics, please contact: Ms Pertunia Radebe +2711 241 7800, pertunia@sacc.org.za

For media interview requests, please contact: SACC: Ms Moagisi Sibanda (Director Communications and Programmes) Email: moagisi@sacc.org.za, Mobile: +2782 295 1581

South African Red Cross Society Mr Lwando Zandile (National Disaster Manager) Email: lzandile@redcross.org.za, Mobile: +2781 017 6575

 

 

Faith-based Organisations Response to Cyclone Disaster

Churches Disaster Challenge Response

 

Pics:- Demonstration of Cyclone Idai at various countries mentioned below.

Approximately 3 million helpless people have been affected by the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe with Mozambique the worst hit.
In the face of this mammoth challenge the South African Council of Churches, together with other faithbased have set up The Cyclone Disaster Response Group to coordinate efforts, invite to look at responses in the following ways:

  1. Local churches and congregations: Where relationships with affected communities or agencies already exist, local congregations are encouraged to build on these and support the relief effort. This should be primarily through donating funds and providing long term support for work in the community.
  2. National church structures: The SACC and TEASA have established The Cyclone Disaster Response Group, to act as a central coordinating entity for the church response from South Africa. Partnerships with appropriate aid agencies, government and business will be utilized to ensure the most effective use of resources and networks. It is envisaged that the primary focus will be on encouraging the donation of funds supporting purchase of goods, the distribution of these resources through approved agencies and leveraging networks to advocate on behalf of the affected countries.
  3. Denominations and church networks: These structures should seek to work alongside their partner structures within the affected communities supporting their work through financial, logistical and pastoral support.

 

CHURCH COMMENDS CONCOURT RULING

SACC header1

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

South African Council of Churches

Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, General Secretary, SACC.

31 March 2016

CHURCH COMMENDS CONCOURT RULING

JOHANNESBURG: The South African Council of Churches (SACC) is encouraged by the ruling from the Constitutional Court on Thursday 31 March, which has served to restore the faith of the people in the constitutional integrity of our nation, and goes a long way towards upholding accountability in the Office of the President.

The highest court in the land has, today, delivered a devastating judgement on the constitutional and moral conduct of the President, the National Parliament and the leadership of the Speaker. In any normal democracy the State President would go before the nation tonight and announce his resignation. But then we are not a normal democracy.

Yet today every South African, regardless of race, religious or political affiliation, can confidently say that there is no individual at any level that can operate above the authority of our constitution. This makes this day both a sad and a happy day – sad that it had to come to this, and happy that the national integrity has been restored by the ConCourt.

In his unanimous ruling, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng went to great lengths to demonstrate the constitutional requirements of the Office of the President; the National Assembly and Parliament; and the Office of the Public Protector. This, he did, in an effort to emphasize that the pillars that each of these structures is built on, are interwoven with the DNA of the constitution itself. Any deviation by these three structures, from upholding the rules of the constitution, would jeopardise our young and already-weakened democracy.

The ruling therefore brings us closer to attaining a level of respectability as a nation.

From the time that the Nkandla report was issued by the Office of the Public Protector in 2014, the SACC communicated to both President Jacob Zuma and the African National Congress (ANC) leadership (Top 6 collectively and individually), to advise that the funds in question be swiftly returned, in order to steer us away from the constitutional and moral quandary we now find ourselves in as a nation. This counsel was offered on several occasions, and as late as December 2015. We strongly believe that, had the advice been heeded at the time, we could have avoided the intense embarrassment that is currently experienced by the Office of the President and the august body that is the Legislature of our nation. We see this as a crisis of great magnitude for both the President and the National Assembly.

We have additionally observed that there is likely a flaw in the National Assembly electoral system, given the resolution of the National Assembly, now set aside by the ConCourt, that blatantly supported the personal interests the president of the party that lists them for seats in the Assembly. Members of Parliament are meant to represent the interests of the South Africans who voted them into office. However, the actions of the National Assembly point to a complete disregard for the millions of South Africans, in favour of public demonstrations of allegiance to the party president at the expense of the Rule of Law.

This begs the question: is our National Assembly truly representative of the nation? Or has it deteriorated into an ‘individual assembly’, where ‘Honourable’ seats in the house are given by the party hierarchy as deposits into a ‘favour-bank’, from which withdrawals will be made, even at the expense of the Constitution?

Following exactly two years of considerable national strain, we can only hope that President Zuma will act on any shreds of integrity that still remain in the Office of the President, and stand before the people of South Africa, taking ownership of the quagmire he faces, consult with his political advisors and do the Honourable thing in circumstances.

The Nkandla saga is not only a moral dent for the President and Parliament. It is a moral dent for the ANC in government. It surely has a moral duty to remedy this as a matter of urgency. The longstanding values of the party that Luthuli, Tambo and Mandela led would not have allowed for R250 million to be spent by the Treasury in the name of upgrading and securing the home of an individual, in the face of desperate poverty and obscene inequality.

Some of our church leaders are calling on the SACC leadership to formally approach the President and the governing party to request that Mr Zuma’s position be reviewed. While we continue to listen and, like all South Africans, mull over this body blow to our constitutional system of governance, we call on the ANC to seriously take stock of this damage to the country and its integrity. After further thought and consultation, the SACC may pronounce further on these developments.

In the meantime, we have certain minimum expectations of Parliament and the President.

We expect our Parliament, through the Office of the Speaker, to acknowledge the disaster they have occasioned.

We expect our Parliament to urgently take appropriate remedial steps to restore confidence in the oversight role of the institution over the Executive.

Up to now, the President has denied knowledge of the various upgrades to his Nkandla residence, including the building of a kraal (isibaya) for his cattle.

We expect President Zuma’s tune to change.

We expect President Zuma to say that he was at fault.

We expect President Zuma to apologise to the tax-paying citizens of our country.

We expect President Zuma to settle the entire bill that will be presented to him by the national treasury.

Furthermore, we expect President Zuma to call his political advisors together, to determine what the best political options would be, to restore faith to the Office of the President that he occupies.

We do not believe that this is too much to ask, under the circumstances.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

For more information and interviews:

Khuthalani Khumalo

khuthalani@khaliphani.co.za

084 074 1285