METHODIST CHURCH OF SOUTHERN
DURBAN : DECEMBER 14, 2001
It is a welcome privilege to come here today in celebration of 125 years of operation for Nzondelelo Mission. I appreciate how in coming together on an occasion such as this, we are united in expressing our gratitude for the exceptional work performed by the men and women who, through the years, have run or worked at this mission. Our gratitude is extended to those who first established Nzondelelo Mission, knowing that their vision has brought the benefit of education, health-care and the gospel of Christ to several generations. On this occasion, our highest praise is reserved for the Lord. The Bible tells us that He has prepared the good works we would walk in before the foundations of the world. As we consider the works, therefore, let us recognise Him who is behind them.
Throughout the years I have taken great pleasure in celebrating the various milestones in the life of missions across our country. I am deeply aware of the important social impact missionaries have had in the development of our country and our people. For years when education was inaccessible to the poorest communities of South Africa, missionaries were teaching our children and so bestowing the most valuable gift on our people. I often wonder at the strength of character it must have required for these men and women to come from their own countries to a place as foreign and under-developed as South Africa then was, to fulfil a call on their lives. Nzondelelo Mission was built and sustained on the backs of such people. While the mission itself has become a familiar institution in this Church and in this country, I believe we should not forget the individual contributions that have kept Nzondelelo in operation for 125 years.
The men and women of this mission, both those who presently administer health-care, education and Christianity and those who have come before them to lay a foundation, are more than mere humanitarians. It is not often that one sees individuals sacrificing their lives and their own plans for the sake of assisting others. We must be constantly reminded as we consider their work that "no greater love has any man than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends." In times of crisis, heroes often emerge as ordinary people performing extraordinary acts of courage and selflessness to come to the help of their fellow man. We have seen this happening in the recent terrorist attack on the United States, where rescue workers and police risked their lives in an attempt to save the thousands upon thousands of victims. Each one of those brave men and women are heroes.
The unsung heroes of human history, however, are those who daily perform selfless acts of courage, not only in moments of crisis, but in the continual span of need. More
than human beings reaching out to other human beings, theirs is the testimony of the human spirit reaching out for the Spirit of God. The vast ocean of need in South Africa is far from dissipating. The need for health-care and education remain among our most pressing priorities. The conditions under which many of our poorest communities continue to live, are abject. The need for heroes who will commit to helping lift these conditions, who are prepared to trade in comfort for poverty, and the accumulation of riches for the joy and the struggle of giving, giving and giving, is urgent, immediate and real. The individuals who constitute Nzondelelo Mission are committed to those whom they serve. They are not just helping out for a while. They have been helping our people for 125 years.
South Africa is indebted to missionaries not only for the past contribution they have made, but for the contribution they continue to make in our democratically transformed country towards meeting an immediate and ever-present need. The need for health-care that is both preventative and curative remains. Today, the threat of HIV/AIDS is overwhelming and many of our people are dying or deceased, victims of this disease. I believe that the biblical message of sex being the blessing of a marriage holds value even in modern society, even in a world of tolerance, premature independence and seemingly limitless human rights. HIV/AIDS is not something that just happens to one. It is the consequence of a series of personal choices, all of which are entirely one’s own.
This is not to say we should not feel sympathetic towards those suffering with HIV/AIDS and offer our assistance wherever possible. Yet it does mean that we need to start taking some very personal, very serious decisions about our sexual behaviour, and accept responsibility for staying healthy. The successful anti-HIV, anti-AIDS campaigns of African countries, such as the sterling example of Uganda, prove that the message matters. If the message is merely to condomise, the suggestion is that promiscuity is viable. It is not the place of government or political leaders to instruct people on relationships, sex or morality. However, when citizens are dying in large numbers, responsible leaders must accept to do the hard thing and speak a difficult, perhaps politically incorrect message. But I do believe that the church should not compromise its teachings on morals just because we face this pandemic.
South Africa is labouring under great social burdens springing out of people’s skewed perception of their fellow man and their relationship with one another. Criminality is a manifestation of the lack of respect and lack of relating between South Africans. Abuse, rape and perversion are the product of individuals not properly connecting with their society, or lacking the perception of a wholesome society to connect with. My greatest fear for South Africa is that we may become a society wholly constituted of fringe elements. I believe if we don’t draw some collectively recognised boundaries, South Africa will surely suffer and our children will inherit a burden rather than a blessing. The message ‘do whatever you like as long as you do it a specific way’ does not encapsulate liberation. Rather, it precedes destruction.
It doesn’t just matter how one does things, but also what one does. The fact that Nzondelelo Mission has always operated with compassion, a genuine desire to help and selfless commitment would mean very little if it had not, in that spirit, taught, healed, informed, fed, inspired and given. Without the works, the intention is meaningless. One may have the best intentions in one’s heart, but until the will is engaged to act responsibly, kindly, respectfully and compassionately, circumstances will rule one. This is equally true in deciding not to risk HIV infection or in being a friend to those whose own choices have brought a death sentence on their lives. No one
should die alone. South Africa needs to rediscover its compassion and camaraderie. We need to regain the right perspective on how we fit into our society and what our personal role may be within the whole.
There has been much talk of restoring the sense of ubuntu botho in South Africa. I commend this challenge as an essential part of our healing process. We must learn to see ourselves not as isolated agents, but as individuals operating as part of a broader whole. We need to recognise again the old truth that our own wellbeing depends upon the wellbeing of those around us. We need to see that, as individuals, we may impact our society and that what we do matters. Thoughts have the inherent power to change a nation, once they are spoken, believed and acted upon. It is true that what the heart is full of, the mouth speaks. I pray that South Africans’ hearts may be filled with a new love for South Africa, with a vision for prosperity, peace and unity. Let us not look at the mountain of difficulties before us, but to the God who is able to move mountains.
A future of hope depends upon the positive contribution of every individual to the collective good of South Africa. Even as Christians, especially as Christians, we do not live isolated from the tragedies, needs and despairs of our society. Christ said we are not of this world, but are called to be in it. For 125 years the men and women of Nzondelelo Mission have given an example of this mandate. They have lived and worked in this world, practically meeting real needs. However, I believe they have worked with a kingdom perspective, knowing that we are all part of the one body taking our lead from Christ, who is the head.
When I consider 125 years of service of the Nzondelelo Mission, I marvel at the strength of perseverance and courage of its missionaries. How is it that their strength has gone undaunted for 125 years, through apartheid, through opposition, through poverty, through dire need, through all manner of adverse circumstances, through trials brought by men and trials brought by God? I am reminded of the scripture that says the joy of the Lord is my strength. It is my prayer that the celebration of 125 years of service will be an occasion for much joy in the Lord, that this Mission may be replenished and prepared for another 125 years ahead.
May God bless the men and women who have given their service to Nzondelelo Mission. Perhaps they will never fully know the impact they have had on the lives of countless suffering South Africans. Yet those whose lives they touched, or forever altered, will remember these unsung heroes for generations to come. I wish the Nzondelelo Mission God’s richest blessing on the anniversary of 125 years of outstanding service.