I welcome this opportunity to meet with my sisters in Christ of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa during the 6th Bi-Annual Conference of its National Womenís Organisation. On this occasion, I wish to thank the National President, Mrs MN Lupuwana, and the Secretary, Mrs JN Makuzeni, for inviting me to share in fellowship and to speak at this meeting. I trust that the deliberations of this weekend will be led by the Holy Spirit as each participant hears the Word and accepts to do the Word accordingly.

This meeting has great significance for our Province and for our country, as it speaks of the freedom we enjoy to meet under the banner of our Lord and determine the course which must be taken to bring greater freedom, greater healing and greater joy to the nations. The work of the Congregationalists is founded on the twin pillars of missions and education. It is a work desperately needed within South Africa and the SADC region. As we face the vast ocean of needs in Southern Africa, we must draw on the resources of goodwill, and encourage the contribution of every individual, regardless of age, gender, culture or social standing.

The Congregationalist tradition has always considered distinctions on the basis of sex incompatible with the teachings of Christ, and has afforded full equality to men and women working within the Church. Today we are faced with the reality that women are becoming increasingly prominent in the life of the Church, not only in numbers but indeed in the significance of their contribution towards every aspect of the ministry. Particularly in Africa, women have always been the backbone of the Church. The foundations for this have been laid in scripture, as the Apostle Paul often makes reference to women of faith in whose homes the early church first met.

I take the liberty of speaking for a moment about the importance of the role of women in the life of the Church, because I feel that God has placed special qualities within the heart of woman which equip her for doing His work and make her an example to all of us. The instincts of a mother to protect, nurture and encourage growth are desperately needed qualities. How will the Church assist in the alleviation of poverty unless we have a heart for serving the poor? How will the Church create health in our nations unless we are willing to nurture the sick? How will the Church assist to elevate and liberate our peoples unless it trains teachers, educates children and builds schools?

If we want to be relevant in todayís world, the Church must roll up its sleeves and do what Christ commanded us to do. It will take both compassion and courage to change the present landscape in Southern Africa. I must point out that these two characteristics are most often found in our women. Just as women are the instruments of our physical birth, so too may they become the originator of the spiritual rebirth of our SADC region. It is no coincidence that Adam named his wife Eve, the mother of all nations, and through her came the spiritual salvation of the world. It was the seed of a woman which brought salvation in the form of Jesus Christ.

I learnt these things from my own mother, who was a devoted Christian. By her influence I myself embraced the Church and have remained steadfast in my faith in the Lord. My mother taught me the importance of spiritual matters, which my father did not take much interest in. It seems that women are more dependent on God, and some people may consider this a weakness. The truth, however, is that women more easily recognise the strength of God, because historical circumstances have so often revealed their own frailty. For generations women have been treated as the weaker sex, and perhaps this is a blessing in disguise, for they have learnt to fully rely on the strength of God.

I feel it is a thorn in the side of men that we depend so much on our own strength that we are suspicious of accepting Godís power. We think that dependence on His strength would be an indication of our own weakness. Yet the strongest men know where they end and where God begins and, having access to the greater power of the living God, achieve infinitely more and infinitely better. If we marvel at the strength and the contribution of women to the Church and to our lives, we must simply recognise the significance of their dependence on God. Just as the Congregationalists believe that inter-dependently the various church branches can accomplish more, so too must Christians understand that inter-dependently with God, we are more than conquerors.

I appreciate the significance of the UCCSA holding this meeting at Adams College, the history of which is tied to the arrival of the first missionaries sent by the Foreign Missions Board of the American Congregationalist Church to the Natal Colony in 1835. The United Congregationalist Church of Southern Africa traces its roots back to this Missions Board, as well as to the London Missionary Society which sent its first missionaries to the British Cape Colony in 1799. In 1835, Daniel Lindley established a mission work among the Zulu people of Natal, immediately placing the focus on education. Out of the work of the American Missions Board, Inanda Seminary and Adams College were born.

Adams College has played a valuable role in my own life, as I completed my senior years of schooling here, and it will forever carry the symbolic value of freedom in South Africa. Adams College grew out of the missionary tradition of education as a tool of individual freedom, and in time gave us champions of the cause of liberation. The greatest of these is no doubt my own personal mentor, Inkosi Albert Lutuli, who, as a young Congregationalist in 1921, was appointed to the staff of Adams College, and later became the President of the African National Congress. Inkosi Lutuli pioneered a path of greatness for many oppressed South Africans. The historic reality told us we would never amount to anything and should not seek to rise above our imposed low station. Inkosi Albert Lutuli, however, became the first South African to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1962, and his victory told us that we could be anything our hearts dared to dream. I was privileged to know him very closely and I had the pain and privilege of delivering the oration at his funeral at the request of his family and members of the ANC mission-in-exile.

Today it is essential that we teach our children this same truth, that through constant faith and constant hard work, they may achieve their greatest goals. Education remains the primary tool of liberation for the Southern African region. Education for our children should encompass science and mathematics, the arts and physical life skills, as well as spiritual education. South Africa owes a great deal to the early missionaries who, against opposition, undertook the daunting task of organising schools for the children of slaves and indigenous people. Many of the missionary schools have survived the political changes in our country and today still offer sound education to our children. I am proud to say that my own children have not only been educated at mission schools, but were born in mission hospitals.

Times have changed dramatically even since I was a young boy at school. There is so much more our children must be taught, because so many more challenges confront them and there are so many more options opening. I believe that we need to teach our children that there are certain laws operating in this world which are constant, no matter how much the world around us changes. The rapid pace of globalization is merely an acceleration in the constant flux of history. Ideas, people, places and objects have always been changing. Yet there are spiritual laws which remain constant and unshaken, to which we may hold firm.

Yesterday this conference considered how our souls have a sure anchor. The anchor of biblical truth enables us to operate successfully in our world, regardless of how much changes. For instance, the principle of covenant relationships by which the Congregationalists operate, and which is a biblical spiritual law, gives us the example of how we may navigate the present storms of social difficulties. When people enter into covenant with one another, they have chosen to become accountable and responsible as individuals to the group. We know that the blessings of such relationship encompass protection and provision. We may successfully apply this spiritual principle to everyday life, for instance to the struggle against the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Personal responsibility and accountability to oneís partner are the twin pillars of a successful anti-HIV/AIDS campaign. Between these pillars lies a multi-faceted approach, which must take into account the importance of education. Everyone must be educated on the facts of this disease. HIV/AIDS is not a respecter of persons. We know that anyone who has sex without a condom runs the risk of contracting HIV, no matter who they are or how infrequently they do so. But for us as Christians, this cannot be the only thrust of our message on the pandemic. We Zulu people had our own moral code which banned full sexual relations before marriage. It is such a pity that some of the basic principles of our moral code were interfered with and ultimately destroyed by some of the people who brought us the Good News of the Gospel. It was never a function of adults to teach young people about our mores, but young people taught each other. For every age group there was a young person belonging to an age group older than those she guided on our mores. I realise that we cannot hope to return to those days, but I do not see what would be wrong if these were included in our multi-strategy that is needed to fight the scourge of HIV/AIDS.

If we are going to educate our children properly, let us teach them responsibility, accountability and morality are as much the jargon of sex-talk as condoms. We need to impress upon our children the importance of faithfulness and restraint. Years ago people were marrying at a very young age and the issue of sexual morality and sex outside of marriage, beyond heavy petting, was rare than is the case in our days. The scriptures say that if a man cannot control his passion for a woman, he ought to marry her so that their relations may be blessed. I wonder if people are marrying later these days because they are able to rein in their passion, or because they feel no qualms about fragmenting their greatest gift and giving it to many different people.

As young people digest this thought, I hope that they will at least be slowed down in their decision to have sex, realising the personal importance of that decision. We need to restore a moral fibre in our nation which commits itself to safe sex as well as less sex outside of marriage. As you no doubt know, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has recently publicly announced that "sex is nice". The truth is, sex is fantastic - inside a committed relationship. Nothing shows greater commitment than the covenant relationship of marriage. Let us learn restraint, and if we struggle with restraint, let us dare to commit to one partner, whether it is within wedlock or prior to marriage.

These are things which are not often being heard in the public debate. But we must talk and propagate education about the facts of sex and morality, about the HIV/AIDS problem and the need for a multi-faceted approach. We must educate our people on every aspect of this issue and the Church has an important role to play. We need people who are willing to make an investment of their time, efforts and energies on the strength of goodwill. There is very little financial investment coming into our most rural communities. The investment we make must be an investment of education and support. The foremost goal in our rural areas must be food security. In the fight against HIV/AIDS, people must be made aware of the connection between good health and a wholesome diet. The government has made good decisions in trying to address the issue of food security for children.

HIV attacks the human immune system and renders the body powerless to fight illness and disease. HIV positive people can stay healthy for many years without developing AIDS, but their lifestyles will determine whether they stay healthy or whether they die. Mielie meal is not sufficient to maintain a healthy body. One must nourish the body with a full complement of vitamins and minerals, and vegetables, fruit and meat must become part of a staple diet. As we speak, the eyes of the world are trained on the issue of starvation in Africa. Food security is perhaps our greatest need, but it is inextricably tied to our potential success in the fight against HIV/AIDS as well.

For years the world has been watching Africa and waiting for the worst to happen. The old term "deepest, darkest Africa" has remained a part of the paradigm of many peopleís thoughts. Yet throughout the years, there have been those whom God has called to travel to Africa and bring with them the blessings of the gospel, of medicine and education. God is leaving His footprints all across African soil. Indeed, His footprints were here long before they went anywhere else. My heart thrills to hear that Africa is now sending missionaries to the world. In 1963 I was privileged to attend the Anglican World Congress as a lay delegate representing my Diocese in Toronto, Canada. As he was rounding off the Congress, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Michael Ramsey, said that he was looking forward to the day when missioners will come to preach the Gospel in what he described as the post-Christian era. I never thought I would live to see his dream come true. There are churches in Africa that send financial assistance to developed nations. We will not be known as the begging bowl of the world, but as the cup of Godís grace.

Here in Southern Africa, God has poured out His grace. We are afflicted, but not cursed. We are bruised, but not broken. Many of us have lost our way, but God has not forgotten where we are. His eyes move across the earth seeking those who love Him, and these He will strengthen. If we can learn to depend upon the strength of God, we will find the ability to rise above our present difficulties.

As St Paul puts it so well in his letter to the Romans, Chapter 8 verses 28 to 31:

28. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

29. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed in the likeness of his son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

30. And those he predestined he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31. What then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him graciously give us all things.

Let us learn from our women, and not be afraid to admit to our limitations. Alone, we can do little. Together we can do more. But with God, all things are possible.