Dear South African friends,

We live in South Africa. Though globalization is a reality, we still live in Africa. South Africa is a wonderful country with its own smells, contours and history. We live in one of the most exciting countries in the world. In a sense we live in a miracle – for where has one ever seen a peaceful move to democracy where the majority who were oppressed move into power without wiping out the minority who oppressed them?

This country of ours lives in a constant beat of grace. We have our problems: inequity, AIDS, poverty, crime, greed, racism and other problems are around every corner. But what I love about our country is that it is difficult to hide from the realities. Our country is in a sense a microcosm of what is happening in the whole world.

 In South Africa we can drive from the richest suburbs to the poorest squatter camps in 15-30 minutes. Because our challenges are so unique, we are being formed in a specific way. We are engaged in a context posing different questions that need alternative lived realities.

So let me come to the punch line of this letter.


South African churches are not inferior to American churches (thanks Steve Biko for teaching me this). Americans have their issues and we have ours. If we want to go forward in this country we will have to get over our inferiority complex towards what we deem to be the successful churches in the USA. Furthermore I want to propose that we have something to give to the USA church. A lot of us have made our pilgrimages to the States to go and learn some new model or hear about another miracle strategy. We’ve been in conferences where we were to become ‘better leaders’ or ‘grow spiritually’ or be more ‘purposeful’. Some of it has been really useful. Some of it has been total crap.

In the last decade the epicenter of Christianity has shifted from the Northern to the Southern hemisphere. I wonder if the time has come for a reversal in the Southern to Northern hemisphere pilgrimages. I wonder if the conversation can morph into one where the North listens to the South? Will our American friends come and stay with us to learn? Will they now make the pilgrimage to the South? Can we recover a more personal learning community where we stay together in houses and not hotels, where we share stories not formulas, where we cook food and not egos? Can we become human again?

My South African friends, I realized a few years ago that primarily American and European Christians have influenced my theology (thanks Trevor for pointing this out) – and I’m grateful for that. But I don’t live in America or Europe. I live in a post-colonial South Africa, colonial flavors are still present and we’re building towards something new. I have a lot to learn in this country of ours. The Americans (bless their souls) cannot teach us what it means to be African – only Africans can. I want to make a few humble proposals:

 - That we read South African and African authors.

 - That we dig into the history of our country and continent by reading and talking to people who still have a South African memory.

– That we listen to each other (and become more excited about South African conversations than about some American celebrity).

– That we build friendships over the economic and race divide and learn from each other.

 - That we become human again by sidestepping impersonal means like conferences, programs, models and celebrity Christians.

PS> some of my non-South African friends may be reading this. I love you deeply. I respect you. But I won’t idolize you. Those of you who have become friends are those who have taught me a lot but who have also been open to learn. Thanks for that.