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What South Africa Can Still Teach North America

November 10, 2017

Another Way for week of November 3, 2017

What South Africa Can Still Teach North America

I am blown away. I just finished a book by Mark Mathabane, Kaffir Boy, about growing up in apartheid South Africa in the 60s. It is unforgettable. I’ve mentioned it several times in this column recently and now that I’ve finished the book, I’ll share some thoughts in these next two columns.

I knew about apartheid as a system of laws in the beautiful country of South Africa which mandated segregation. I never knew or understood what that meant on a daily basis for those living out their lives under such strict racial divides. It was modern slavery and degradation combined with poverty and utter squalor.

In the summer of 1997, our oldest daughter went to a large youth conference at Montreat Conference Center in the Smoky Mountains, North Carolina. Everyone there (according to her and others in her youth group) was extremely moved by the words of Maake Masango, a pastor from Johannesburg, South Africa (now professor emeritus in theology and Christian education at the University of Pretoria).

Artist Jerome Lawrence of Atlanta, Ga., painted this picture of a woman in Liberia voting for the first time, 2005. Getting the right to vote for South Africa was a similiar high point for many South Africans.

This was just three years after all citizens of South Africa were finally allowed to vote in an election in 1994, something many blacks in South Africa never thought they would live to see. Nelson Mandela, released from 27 years of prison, was elected president. Apartheid had been the official policy since 1948, and its end in 1991 was astoundingly fresh.

Back then, those of us from other countries also pretty much figured apartheid would never end—but not some citizens of that fine country, including a boy named Johannes Mathabane. We’ll get to that in my next column.

I have by my computer a photo of our oldest daughter and our pastor’s oldest daughter on the stage at Montreat Conference Center. My daughter is at the podium, and even though I was not there and did not take the photo, to me it is rich with poignancy and meaning. It was a pivotal point in the life of our whole congregation when the youth came home from their summer conference all fired up by a single speaker who had invited them to visit his newly freed and beloved country, South Africa.

Michelle Davis and Rebecca Held on stage with Montreat conference speaker, Maake Masango, far right.

That my daughter got to be on stage with this amazing speaker still moves me—particularly in how it came about. This daughter is sometimes, shall we say, a little scatterbrained, or to put it more positively, has so many ideas going on in her brain that she forgets some things. On that particular day, our pastor, Ann Reed Held (and sponsor for the youth group), had wrangled a dinner date with the exciting conference speaker, Maake. Our youth were to arrive on time at a special dining room and they would get their own private audience with him.

Michelle had completely forgotten about the dinner and was enjoying a walk on the opposite side of the conference center when she remembered. She sprinted across the campus and blew into the dining room—breathless, late, and looking straight at our dear pastor, who was scowling. When she apologized profusely Maake laughed and said she could make it up to him by saying the opening prayer before his sermon that night. How could she refuse? She was charmed into agreeing and faced over one thousand youth, pastors, and sponsors that night in Montreat’s auditorium.

The youth from our church ended up being quite moved by Maake’s stories of suffering, and South Africa’s newly adopted policy of official forgiveness for those who had perpetrated atrocities under the reign of apartheid. They felt led to respond to another compelling invitation from Maake: “Come to South Africa, see for yourself. Our church will host you.”

Trinity Presbyterian Church group first trip to South Africa, here at Cape of Good Hope. From left: Michelle Davis, Lisa Hammet, Ellen Chappel, Nancy Hopkins-Garriss, Isabelle Dotson, Rebecca Held, Ken Bahn, Tanya Davis, Ann Held, Julie Radloff, Ann Rutherford, Pat Churchman, ___, Kevin Gallagher, Maureen Gallagher McLeod, ___. (Your help filling in any names appreciated!)

They came home energized by Maake’s invitation and went about, with the pastor’s help, organizing an ongoing mission relationship with two different churches in South Africa and our church, Trinity Presbyterian. It changed the lives of our youth for the better—and educated the rest of us, even those who didn’t go. Our two older daughters got to go on the first trip, and our youngest daughter was able to go a half dozen years later. We also helped host a group from those churches as they visited our church, taught us rich South African music in various tribal languages, and ministered beautifully among us. Two women stayed in our home and my eyes were further opened in numerous ways.

Come back next week for more on how apartheid impacted the life and future (and lack of it) for one young boy, and so many others in South Africa.


Mission trips and mission partnerships with churches around the globe are common experiences for many Christians. Do you have any stories or perspectives to share: what you learned and loved? 

Find more artwork by Jerome Lawrence, who painted the beautiful painting above, “Building Hope.” I once did a pre-interview with Mr. Lawrence by phone in advance of the TV documentary, Shadow Voices: Finding Hope in Mental Illness, which aired on ABC-TV and others. We have two of his wonderful paintings. You can see him painting in this brief trailer for the documentary.

Comment here or email to Another Way Media, Box 363, Singers Glen, Va. 22850, or, or post on Another Way Newspaper Column’s Facebook page.

Another Way is a column © by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication. 







  1. Michelle D. Sinclair permalink

    Your first blank is Ann Rutherford, but I’m sorry I can’t recall the names of the other two people, who were a pastor and his wife from another congregation.

  2. A comment with memories from Pat Churchman, another of our church who participated in the mission trip.

    “I was very excited to be a part of the group and it has made an impact on my life. I thought back to our first encounter. One of our members, Ken Bahn, braved the driving (on the “wrong” side of the road) to take us into Johannesburg where we arrived at the church. You had to drive the van through the steel gates, which were locked after us, and take all our luggage out of the van and into the church while we had tea.

    We were then put into the cars of the people in whose homes we were to stay. When we got to our hostess’s home, she drove up to the parking garage for her building, needed a pass to get in, needed another pass to get into her spot, needed another pass to get into the building and another to get into her door. She was on the second floor, but kept her windows locked. We were able to walk across the park in front of her house in the day time, but it was not safe at night.

    In looking around her apartment I noticed a photo of a nice looking fellow. I asked about him. She said that was her son and they’d shot and killed him so they could steal his car. We never felt in danger except one time when we had to go into a bank, so I could change some money. We had with us as a driver a very large man who had been a policeman I think, but there were a bunch of thug types standing around outside the bank and walking from the bank to the car was a bit unnerving.

    Everyone was most gracious. The black church we attended met in the pastor’s garage until they could build their own church, which they have since done, and the pastor and his wife had moved all the furniture out of their house and brought in chairs, so they would have room to feed us, which I’m sure was an extremely expensive undertaking. We learned a great deal about hardship and suffering and determination to overcome the greatest odds.

    Probably the high (low) light was visiting the island where Nelson Mandela had been held prisoner for so many years. We saw his cell and the cave which the prisoners were allowed to use when they needed to relieve themselves. It was in there that the government of the new South Africa got its start as it was the only place where the men could gather and make plans in the hope that they would be free some day. That brought new meaning to “We shall overcome.”

    –Pat Churchman

  3. Montreat, NC is a beautiful place – and so is any land without apartheid. I’m sure you will always treasure that special photo of Michelle.

    One of my friends just came back from a church-sponsored mission trip to Haiti. When I said, “Your home must have looked like a palace to you when you got back. ” She exclaimed, “We all live in palaces!” Most of these poor people don’t have pure water and live in cramped quarters. Jenna and I sent with them a Christmas package which other groups will deliver in December.

    • I often think about how some people would be thrilled to have a home even the size of our smallish master bedroom closet. I am anxious to share some of how the Mathabane family lived in my column next week.

      I’m not surprised you’ve been to Montreat too. A very special place for many. Thanks for sharing the recent note from your friend from Haiti. God bless you all!

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