What do seven American Christians on their way to South Africa do for a nine-hour layover in Munich Germany? Rather than sit out the layover in the airport we opted to take a series
of trains to the outskirts of Munich to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial. Dachau was the forerunner to the giant Nazi death camps run by the Nazis in German occupied Poland during the Nazi “final solution” of WWII. It was deeply disturbing to stand in a place where a culture systematically attempted to eliminate an entire race of people. Our visit was short but worth it. After our brief visit we headed back to the airport and continued our trek to South Africa. It was my impression that our visit to Dachau would be a short distraction during a long layover and a worthwhile historical footnote without any real connection to the trip to serve J-Life in South Africa. I was very wrong.
We arrived in Johannesburg 10 hours after leaving Munich on a Sunday morning. Our J-Life hosts picked us up at the airport and took us directly to Extension 23 for Sunday morning, an all black township located outside of the town of Heidelberg. As we drove to Extension 23 I stared out the window and noticed all the white middle class neighborhoods surrounded by razor wire. I asked, “What is the razor wire for?” Our host told us the crime was very bad here as unemployment runs almost 85% among the black males between the ages of 18 and 25 living in the townships. As we approached Heidelberg I could see the city one side of the highway an on the other side of the highway row after row of tiny homes built by the government to house the blacks, remnants of Apartheid. Our host informed us that Extension 23 is one of the nicer townships in South Africa.
When we arrived at the church we rolled out of our vans and entered a large tent that served as the worship facility. We were warmly greeted by the very young church and took our places for worship that had already started. I noticed that with the exception of a few older women everyone was in their teens or twenties. There were no older men. Everyone who participated in the service was young. We were received enthusiastically and we enjoyed the time of worship and fellowship with our new friends.
As we drove back to the home of J-Life International the camp director Brian briefed us on the upcoming Sports Camp we would help run. Brian informed us that he initially feared that few blacks from the townships would attend, and that the rich white kids would mostly attend the camp instead. God had other plans as scholarships were provided so that this year’s camp would be comprised of 75% of kids from the townships including some who were orphans. These would be the kids we would work with during the sports camp.
After we settled in the Brian asked me if I could preach a message on unity. Being a sports camp the kids were to be divided into two tribes and would have an Olympics of sorts. Given the fact that kids would be competing and the fact that this camp would be anything but racially homogeneous they figured unity should be addressed up front. The camp itself was to be run by South African (black and white) and American College students to minister to the campers who would be 75% black (from various tribal influences) and 25% white. Unity would be crucial, but not at all guaranteed.
12 Hours earlier I had stood in Dachau contemplating the holocaust where the Nazis attempted to systematically destroy the Jews. Then 12 hours later I was sitting in South Africa and was being asked to preach to kids and camp staff about unity in a nation that has not yet healed from the wounds of Apartheid. These kids will grow up and face 85% unemployment, their schools are inferior, their government officials are corrupt, and the gap between the poor and the middle class and rich grows wider each year. Anger and frustration grows with each year, as there seems to be no solutions on the horizon. What does a person say to a generation growing up in a racial and economic powder keg?
1 Corinthians 2:1–2 1- “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
There is only one hope for Africa. There is only one hope for the world. Jesus.
Some would say it is naïve to state that Jesus can unify such a scarred nation. I disagree and history is on my side. 2000 years ago in the Roman Empire metropolitan cities like Rome, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus were divided along racial lines. Each ethnic group had their own ghetto. The Jews had a ghetto. The Greeks had a ghetto. If you were an ethnic subculture you had your own ghetto. If you interacted with someone outside your tribe you did so for the purpose of trade and commerce. No one worshipped with someone outside his or her tribe. No one socialized with someone outside his or her tribe. Jews thought the Gentiles were unclean and the Gentiles despised the Jews. That’s the way it was then and that is the way it still is today. Except in Antioch. This group defied categorization.
Acts 11:19–26 (ESV, emphasis added) “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”
J-Life International exists to partner with local churches to equip and mobilize the youth (ages 15-30 yrs.) of Africa to make disciples who love Jesus and love their neighbor: white, colored (South African term for none white non-black/non-white), rich, poor, young and old. These last two weeks we witnessed black and white Americans partner with black, colored and white South Africans to lead black and white South African kids to meet and love Jesus.
Ephesians 4:1–6 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”