Dialogue and dancing in Durban
Birmingham-based chaplain the Revd Dr Doreen Morrison shares reflections on the 21st Baptist World Congress
As a newly appointed member of the BWA Baptist Heritage and Identity Commission, because of my knowledge of 18th and 19th Century African American, African Jamaican, and BMS mission history in Jamaica, I was invited to attend the 21st Baptist World Congress in Durban.
As much as I was excited about my new role, agreeing to return to South Africa after 26 years – having worked there during what turned out to be the last year of apartheid - took some serious consideration. I had never been back as the physical and emotional scars and memories though under the surface were still raw.
I was afraid to find the answer to the question, ‘Had the ‘struggle’ which I had been a part of in a very small way, been worth it?’ What would I discover and could I fully embrace the theme ‘Jesus Christ, the Door?’ So this being the context out of which I attended, my reflections on the Congress have a particularly South African emphasis.
Well, I needn’t have worried as my concerns were soon allayed when on the first night the City of Durban gave us the warmest of welcomes, providing excellent food and music, and yes some dancing – we were in Africa after all! I shared a fun evening with delegates from Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin America and America and by the time it was time to say goodnight to my dinner chums, it honestly felt as if I was not meeting folk for the first time, but that we had known each other for years.
Day one I lost my camera and yet even that created an opportunity for great rejoicing and demonstrated to me the atmosphere and neighbourliness of the whole congress. Amazingly my camera was ‘lost’ for three days, and when I got it back we laughed to find that it contained pictures of places and hotel rooms that I had never been in!
I just loved the lost property team - so much that I took their picture – they were ‘Durbanites’ who like me prayed that it would return, and when it did it was an excuse for us to celebrate together. Hugs and beaming smiles were the order of the day – and every day afterwards - when we happened to meet on our way to some event or activity.
I chose to attend the Freedom and Justice focus group, ‘Learning from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Model.’ Two sessions of honesty, truth, healing and visible continuing growth, from different perspectives, were so obviously displayed by all the speakers.
We dialogued around reconciliation, but how it could not have been achieved in South Africa without a willingness to own the process, deal with truth, justice and reparation, and a willingness to compromise in order to achieve peace.
The icing on the cake for me was then being able to openly dialogue without ‘barriers’ with fellow Brits on issues regarding the continuing legacy of enslavement and colonisation, and how we as the Christians in Britain have a lot to learn about playing our part in bringing about true reconciliation in Britain.
It was then a bonus for me to not only see but be able to spend a little time with the Revd Frank Chikane, who I last sat with in Soweto in 1989 – and meeting the new President of the BWA wasn’t bad either!
Yet for all that was going on the Congress also gave us ‘down time’ – time to see and explore the world around us. I walked for the first time on the white sandy beaches of Durban which back in 1989 I had only been allowed to look at from a distance. I sat and ate meals with folk, exchanging stories of our time in South Africa.
We took sight-seeing trips and I was privileged to visit the home of Mohandas Ghandi, with two of my fellow delegates, from Britain and Canada, who were heavily involved in work which enabled communities to work towards peace. I learnt as much from them as I did from visiting this place of pilgrimage.
Finally, I would say that what I personally valued most was being able to meet folk from the New South Africa and to hear the songs and rhythms once again.
I began my congress with singing and dancing, and happily concluded it with singing and dancing when after the final worship session I and other delegates were able to spend some time in the foyer worshipping and sharing with a South African choir – and yes there was lots of dancing. I couldn’t resist a picture.
All in all it was a brilliant experience - an absolute joy - and as I travelled back home I was able to say yes and amen; the ‘struggle’ had been worth it and Jesus Christ the Door had indeed joined our hearts in Christian love at this the 21st Baptist World Congress in Durban.
Oh, and before I forget, as a commission member I am looking forward to being invited to meet many of you in the next five years; those who are either interested in learning about, or understanding and embracing more aspects of our glorious Baptist heritage and identity in which God used ordinary people to achieve extra-ordinary things.
My hope is that then perhaps we all might be a little more motivated to believe that we too can ‘impact the world for Christ.’ Until we meet again, as they say in South Africa, hamba kahle – go well!!
The Revd Dr Doreen Morrison is employed as a managing chaplain in the prison service and is the author of Slavery's Heroes, the story of the first globally recognised Baptist missionary George Liele, and the movement he led in Jamaica.
She is an ordained Baptist minister with a PhD in Theology from the University of Birmingham, and a Master of Divinity from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, Illinois, USA.