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It is OK to Dream

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The 4th Baptist International Conference on Theological Education (BICTE) was held in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 31 to August 3, 1993. I was among those who had the opportunity to participate in this conference that preceded the 12th Baptist Youth World Conference in Harare, Zimbabwe, in August 11-15.

While in South Africa, I received fresh insights into the sad effects of the injustice that influenced the World Council of Churches (WCC) to introduce their Program to Combat Racism. This program was implemented during Philip Potter’s tenure as WCC general secretary. Incidentally, Potter’s recent passing has robbed the world of a distinguished Caribbean theologian and ecumenist. Potter is remembered for promoting what he called “the dialogue of cultures” as “the only hope for humankind to attain fullness of life in all its shared diversity.”

When I arrived at the venue for the BICTE conference, the staff person working at the entrance gate denied me admittance. He relented only after protest by the white South African who was hosting me during the period before the conference. She influenced him to make telephone contact with personnel inside the venue and, finally, my admittance was authorized.

Thanks to the kindness and hospitality of Mary Griffin, my brief visit to Johannesburg was a significant learning experience. My visit to the Alexandra Township, just outside the city, was unforgettable. It was one thing to read about the South African townships. It was quite another to actually visit. It was a heart-rending experience. After the visit, I benefited from a lengthy discussion with three young Alexandra residents who had great dreams for their future and were, thankfully, quite realistic about what it was going to take for them to achieve their personal dreams. I told them it was OK for them to dream.

My visit to the Itlhokomeleng Home was an emotional one. Many of the residents of this home for the elderly poor had left their hometown and their family to live in hotels constructed in relatively close proximity to areas reserved for white people. This allowed them to earn a living in the employ of their neighbors. After living and working far away from their homes for many years, during which they were unable to visit their communities, these elderly residents lost contact with their families and other relatives. Many were very advanced in years and could no longer remember the name of the community where they once lived. Some could not say whether any of their family members were still alive. They were suffering severely from a loss of identity. Marjorie Manganye who established the Itlhokomeleng Home had long held the dream of providing a place where the elderly poor could live out their last days with their dignity respected. She was overjoyed in being able to provide a service that was desperately needed.

It was difficult to cope with the stories of the residents being abandoned in old cars and living in cramped spaces surrounded by motor vehicle tires before they were rescued by operators of their newfound home. The cruelty of apartheid became much clearer to me. Years of wide reading on the subject and deep ethical analysis of apartheid and the church’s response to it never prepared me for what I encountered.

Those who attend the upcoming congress in Durban, will hear stories of struggle and redemption. They will be pleased to note that many South Africans still dare to dream of their country becoming a beloved community. Perhaps, many of us will leave South Africa fully convinced that it is OK to dream because, with God, all things are possible.

Neville George Callam, a Jamaican, has been serving as general secretary and chief executive officer of the Baptist World Alliance since his election in Accra, Ghana in 2007.


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Guest Monday, 06 July 2020