I experienced a severe turbulence on a recent plane landing in Port Elizabeth. The kind that induces a short prayer but also serves as a reminder that my city is deserving of its moniker as the “windy city”.
As we went through the clouds I realised that if God was to save me, He was also likely to save all other passengers on that plane. In other words, my fate was tied up with that of my fellow travellers.
This is a thought that came to me when I attended a conference on racial reconciliation. The conference, held recently at Fountain Vineyard, Christian Fellowhip in Port Elizabrth was aptly themed “Better Together”.The speakers were Alexander Venter, Trevor Nthola and Adriaan Vlok.
First up on Friday evening, August 17, was Trevor who – like his name-sake Trevor Noah – had the audience in stiches as he told stories of how he fought to keep his faith during the turbulent times of apartheid.
Like many other young men, Trevor was radicalised and hardened by what was taking place in South Africa in the 1980s.
At Fountain he narrated an incident that became a turning point in his life. He was in a church service in Soweto with “whites” who had decided to fellowship in that township. Somehow he found himself remonstrating with one “white” brother and this was a defining moment that led Trevor to pray that God should never allow him to be part of a homogenous congregation (either all-black or all-white).
Trevor was followed by Alexander Venter who is the author of the book Doing Reconciliation. In the 1980s Alexander led a congregation called “Joweto”, which attempted to bridge the divide between Johannesburg and Soweto believers.
Alexander started his session by introducing himself as a “recovering racist”. He said he was breastfed prejudice from a young age and grew up seeing nothing wrong with a system that treated non-whites as second-class citizens.
But all that changed when a Bible school student challenged him to visit Soweto. There he was confronted with the raw anger and hurt from young black men who met a white person they could finally ventilate to. Like Saul who had his Damascus experience, Alexander had his divine moment on the freeway out of Soweto. The almost two-hour interrogation had taken its toll on him and he stopped along the road and cried out to God.
Alexander mentored Trevor and assisted him access tertiary education way before the current discussions about university access for non-white South Africans. Trevor is now completing his PhD, focusing on the life of Adriaan Vlok, a man he calls his friend.
Eyes were blinded
“Oom Vlok” was a former Minister of Law and Order in the old regime and therefore one of the chief enforcers of apartheid. He revealed that they were so blinded by the perceived need to keep the races apart that they failed to see that all groups were equally deserving of love and acceptance.
When his eyes were opened, he was convicted that he needed to make amends by apologising to some of his former victims, such as the Rev Frank Chikane, and by revealing it all during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Vlok shared of his sadness aboyt whites who continue to defend apartheid and who try to rationalise its existence.
Trevor, Alexander and Adriaan now work alongside in awakening the church to the need to continue the ministry of reconciliation. They all realise that we are indeed “Better Together” than we are apart.