A very successful and informative visit was undertaken by a special group of people from Southern Africa and Central Africa during the week of 15 October to 23 October 2005. We were invited by Church Innovations Institute located in the twin cities of St Paul and Minneapolis (Minnesota). The most beautiful twin cities alongside the famous Mississippi river. Minneapolis is called the city of 10 000 lakes (it is actually more). If you look at a map of North America, you will see lots of lakes (waters) – that is Minnesota, Minneapolis is just there! We lodged at Stub Hall on the Luther Seminary campus.

My guests on this tour were: prof Jurgens Hendriks (Practical Theology and Missiology at Stellenbosch), dr Devison Banda better known as ‘DT’, the president and New Testament lecturer at Justo Mwale Theological College in Lusaka; drs Uma Onwunta a fulltime doctoral student at Stellenbosch (studying the intercultural dynamics of the Africa Church) and a pastor of Kenya; both gentlemen are part of NETACT (a innovation between Practical Theology and Missiology and African Theological institutions and churches); rev Andrew Esterhuizen a pastor at URC Kraaifontein and project leader at the institute for church planting in the Western Cape; revv Jampie and Marius Nel (husband and wife) from the DRC Doornpoort; rev en mrs Jannie Swart of the DRC Fontainebleau; dr. Manus Olivier or Oliver in the USA from the DRC Swakopmund – the prettiest place on the globe!; and I, Gordon Dames from PMCSA at Buvton, Stellenbosch.

The Consultation was a joint venture of Church Innovations Institute, Missional Leaders Institute and the Gospel and our Culture Network. The names of people like Guder, and of cause Keifert became faces and voices that shared years of experience of congregational work and research on missional systems.
Four major denominations, the Presbyterians, Church of Christ, Mennonites and the Evangelical Lutherans all reported on their identical experience and research projects of which the well known book Treasure in Clay Jars is a result and testimony.

The consultation started the evening of the 20th October and ended on the 22th of October 2005, with the good news from the Southern Africa Internet services of the great Vrystaat Win!! To shout Vrystaat at St Paul, vra maar vir Jampie, is something special.

Our team made a lot of friends and networked with persons and institutions that can only profit our mutual innovations to create new frontiers and possibilities for all our people and our own institutions. What stood out about the SA team was the fact that we all got along pretty well.
Church Innovations made sure that our stay at St Paul coincided with various informative visits at famous institutions and beautiful places. The lakes are something to see, the food (Manus, Andrew!) is something to ex-pe-rience.

Here is some of our team’s reflective remarks on their views about our experience:

Team Africa’s Reflections on the St Paul Innovations

First Visit: 16 October 2005:

Spirit Garage

The big door public faith community as an inviting and an engaging faith based community with and open ended worshipping, educating and servicing ministry. Popular modern Christian faith music functions as a key attraction for children, young people and older people from a diversity of cultural and racial backgrounds. Communion is part of every Sunday’s worshipping event. Here communion is served even to a child in a very natural and ‘mature’ way. Formal institutional regulations do not apply. Membership and participation is without formal commitment. People come here to be part of a welcoming community that is genuine in its approach to strangers and the embodiment of the Living faith.

General view:

  1. A good example of a post-modern congregational ministry.
  2. Culture specific; the style is simplistic and humble; it is non-prescriptive; moving in the direction of post-modernism.
  3. Look at us but don’t copy us. God has given us everything, we need to do this in our specific way.
  4. Great ministry and noble task and challenging framework. People with passion and multiple skills. Helpful notions across various frontiers.
  5. Did’ t learn anything about CI
  6. Positive, but critical about the music; was a music show – people cannot sing along; greeting, talking, asking of questions to the pastor, and pastor’s willingness to listen instead of asking questions himself.
  7. This gathering of young, old, small and cultural mix people in a informal setting gave me the profound impression that the simplicity of everything here, has to say something of the people that followed Jesus and the small first century faith communities.

Specific interest:

  1. How do they move visitors over to their ministries (if it is their aim)? Critical question: Doesn’ t it merely centre around their own interests or needs? Which other ministries do they have apart from music?
  2. How does this help to attract people on the fringes – and outside the institutional churches?
  3. Broader sharing possibilities for FI; Inter-denomination and inculturation of FI in ‘Third World’ multicultural context.
  4. The pastor’s sermon, whole style and dress code says something about spiritual maturity of the clergies’ personality, office. Here one finds a people that are willing and committed to be an inviting and engaging community accepting strangers with warmth and hospitality.

Next steps:

  1. This model may be a workable possibility in certain South-African contexts, such as Rosebank, etc
  2. Set up viability survey team/task force; Take deliberate effort to survey realities in Southern Africa; Identify coordination of effort point and person; Southern Africa FI launch.
  3. Lesson learnt, that faith communities ought to be safe spaces where strangers can be welcomed, without committing themselves to a doctrine or disciplines of a denomination. There is greater meaning in a gathering of believing-and-unbelieving people around the Word and signs of God’s love for His entire people.

Second Visit: 17 October 2005

Church Innovations Institute

An Institute that focuses on the innovation of change in congregations, judicatories, diverse denominations and the equipping of churches for they missional call.

General view:

  1. Could have missed this appointment, though it did function good as an acquaintance icebreaker.
  2. A valid effort to work with culture of and process in congregation’s discernment of what God is up to; Helps with best practices in above mentioned processes.
  3. Just thankfulness for Pat Ellison’s efforts.
  4. Challenging framework; noble course indeed; people are enthusiastic about the roles they play; Satisfaction of general impact of the project on church and society.
  5. Very helpful and challenging; People who are committed and have experienced a lot.
  6. The morning session was an informative and insightful introduction about the people in the meeting. But I was expecting more activities in the day; as it turned out, there was nothing more.
  7. A very good encounter with friends partners who share an identical vision and passion with congregations. It was a confirmation that what we do, is in capable hands and that CII is very excited about the its Southern-Africa partners.

Specific interest:

  1. Was good to learn who the staff is and what their roles in the office are.
  2. How can CI’s ‘products’ being enriched with innovations for public ministries outside the mainline (‘maintenance orientated’) churches?
  3. Extension of project into other parts of the world and contextualize; How the project views and relates to other efforts and ministries.
  4. Possible coordination of interest.
  5. Knowing who comes from where and what is happening in different places today.
  6. We confirmed out mutual commitment to continue on our covenantal journey towards God’s preferred future for us all. Congregations in PMCUSA need congregations in PMCSA and visa versa.

Next steps:

  1. Continue the partnership.
  2. To network with CI from my own initiatives on yetiexperience.com.
  3. Mutual respectability and involvement is cardinal and should be implemented; Design follow up strategy and coordinate local effort as a demonstration of genuineness.
  4. Survey possibilities of program links.
  5. Exploring possible connections and networks with the new acquaintances.
  6. Twinning of cross Atlantic partnerships with congregations on the Africa and North-America continents are crucial for mutual sharing and mentoring processes. Both our websites and the Future Finder demographic system of CII together with EGON will create research and reference library missional data that can promote mutual research opportunities and a mentoring tool for congregations that may experience difficulties at any given time.

Third Visit: 18 October 2005

Search Institute

Is about practical research benefiting children and youth over the entire spectrum. SI work with five action strategies for Transforming Communities and Society into the creation of a World where all the young people are valued and where they can grow: engaging adults; activating sectors; mobilizing young people; enhancing existing programs and influencing civil decisions. SI believes that we all have the capacity to develop 40 assets that focus on positive relationships, experiences, opportunities and personal (and or ubuntu) qualities as building blocks in the lives of children and teens.

General view:

  1. Very positive – gives a workable model of how public theology can function in a secularized milieu. Places the focus on the society instead of on congregations.
  2. Useful research for anyone who wants to develop child-friendly cultures and create programs. Might be too North-American specific for direct use in different cultures.
  3. A great way to be adopt in our culture.
  4. Great works indeed; Good people in strategic roles; Strong team work.
  5. Great program; Enthusiastic people.
  6. Sociology is a useful tool in mission and theology.
  7. This visit brought CI into our reach in more ways than previously positive. Provisional commitments were made to work closely with the research tools Search Institute developed over a 17 year period. Their initial purpose was to research samples of children and youth groups to detect why they lacked basic values and habits etc.

Specific interest:

  1. We would like to implement the program in our immediate vicinity. (Our context is just fairly different). A good example of research that leads to a concept that is translated in practical terms. We struggle to translate practical ideas to communities.
  2. In building assets.
  3. How 1 sister/brother institutes that are fully adaptive to the various ‘third world’ contexts could be initiated. Multiplicity would be interesting.
  4. Carrying or contextually the principles of YFI
  5. How sociology can be in the service of the mission of the church is of particular, interests to me.
  6. The track record of their research results and tools is of significance for the assessment of child and youth developmental patterns. The various local and interdisciplinary networks with and through whom they operate ensure greater participation and usable results.

Next steps:

  1. What practical meaning does the programme entail, we need more information. Invite them to Southern-Africa.
  2. Attending Building Assets workshop.
  3. Pilot project involving specific tasks; Workshops on methodology; Logistic survey and funding possibilities; Joint/mutual task facilitation; Facilitation
  4. Creation of notes exchange forum; survey possibilities.
  5. We need to co-operate with CI and in contextualizing their tool (especially the Asset Building instrument) we can add value in doing our own research on grassroots level, ensuring development of new programmes for children basis on solid contextual research results (colonization of American instruments!)
  6. Start with the use of ’40 assets’ with my immediate environment in Stellenbosch especially under NetACT.

Fourth Visit: 18 October 2005

Faith Inkubators

This is a ‘head to heart’ Confirmation System developed to grow children and youth small groups by injecting the DNA of Jesus into each cell through the love, care and attention of an impact called a Guide. FI ia about a paradigm shift from information to faith formation and from teaching classes to building faith communities. Educatio (ducere) = leading out/leading in of children as whole persons into the living Faith in God, in relation to educative and caring relationships of parents and ‘foster parents’, within their specific contexts.

General view:

  1. Very good afternoon. A good example of a multi-sensual youth ministry and good covenant theology (the roles of parents are being acknowledged).
  2. Energetic and creative; Too conservative and too mainline orientated?
  3. Problem with music (maybe culture specific)
  4. ‘Inkubation: is passionate about what they do and how they do it. Views may differ on what can and may not work for us, fact is that the principle of (Deut 6:1-5) is both practical, childlike and adult friendly. The Bible literally and figuratively comes alive through music, sign language, dancing and joyful parents and children – enjoying what they do without hesitation.
  5. Creativity is required in mission and Christian education.

Specific interest:

  1. Is it affordable and translatable into our context? Can we make it less dependant on technology? My perception is that the suburban DRC is surprisingly close to them.
  2. Developing of this program in our culture with our musicians.
  3. The principles employed can be contextualized to suit any socio-economic, cultural community. Parents get involved in a non threatening way, actually discovering their own uniqueness and humanness. Good laughing and playful learning.
  4. Using technology creatively for mission.

Next steps:

  1. Bring this to SA and introduce it to Nico Simpson. We can improve on it.
  2. Organize a faiththink partnership with Faith Inkubators.
  3. Contextualize and make available to faith communities. Establish a PMC partnership with FI for the benefit of everybody.
  4. Devote more attention on technological education upon my return to Africa.

Fifth Visit: 19 October 2005

Racial-Reconciliation and Multi-Racial Initiatives at Bethel University

Bethel University used to serve an ethnic Swedish minority, but are now striving to be a multi-racial institute that focuses on racial reconciliation. A specific programme was designed to empower leadership and congregations to build inter-racial and multi-racial faith communities that acknowledge the culture identities and the richness of cultural diversity.

General view:

  1. Very relevant for the context of SA churches and society. Necessary to network with work done by Curtis de Young.
  2. Southern-Africa needs to be active in its discernment of the very fabric that can form a healthy society and faith community. Bethel can assist in doing just that. Be humble and learn form someone that has close connections with our own communities, interacting with faith communities and reflecting on what it is that the Bible proclaims and that which keeps us apart.
  3. Very helpful session for my research on ‘the Church and Ethnicity’.

Specific interest:

  1. Very relevant for SA – church unity for example.
  2. Multi-cultural and bilingual congregations
  3. The research findings and theological insights that Curtiss DeYoung brings are of great importance both for PMC and any Theological Institution in Southern Africa. It can help us in conceptualizing and visualizing the picture God must have of multi cultural peoples.
  4. Diversity in Mission

Next steps:

  1. I think that it will be helpful for SA churches not only to have bi-lateral discussions, but to dialogue with people with a different perspective (more distance).
  2. Doing own research regarding the relation between being missional within a multi-cultural, multi-racial setting. One can say: in being missional one have to engage multi-racially and -culturally.
  3. Use of the book ‘United by Faith’ in my research.

Sixth Visit: 19 October 2005

The Youth and Family Institute

It follows a vision from God to strengthen congregations and families to nurture faith, pass on faith, and live well in Christ. It is about the constant passing on the faith from milestone to milestone. This is achieved by adults in private and public family worship, through family rituals, traditions and service to their own children and or children without parents. Meaningful relationships are key for the formation and transition of Christian values and faith to the next generation. This is about parents living the faith through everyday ordinary examples, blessing themselves, their children and others with the identity, peace and love of God.

General view:

  1. The aunt is a little conservative regarding our communities in terms of approach etc. If you want to serve suburban DRC context’s youth; it is naturally not the same with all of us. It reminded me of the Christendom paradigm.
  2. Too modern and even pre-modern approach. Too ‘sorted out’. Too prescriptive.
  3. The simplicity of the gospel with the inheritance of the child is in our hands.
  4. We need to be teachable, this approach or programme may scare some of us out-of our preferred theological assumptions and practices. It is direct and to the point. Youth and family systems in Southern-Africa are falling apart due to endless reasons, and is in dire need of re-formation, re-education regarding basic Christian, human-ethical values, attitudes and social skills.
  5. Homes are the first congregations in which people (parents, children and others) learn to worship God.

Specific interest:

  1. The focus on covenant theology and different parts is important
  2. Every cultural context is unique and particular when it comes to spirituality.

Next steps:

  1. To just love my own children.
  2. Learn from this
  3. To continue using my home as a centre for Christian worship and spiritual nurture for all household members.

Park Avenue United Methodist Church 23rd October:

The most beautiful gathering of a multi-cultural and multi-racial community I have ever seen. And they are as normal and natural as can be. The picture I got was that ‘this should be heaven’. This is what church back home should be like. The children and young people were so happy to be there. It was a real treat. Thank you Curtiss (De Young) and Jannie Swart!

In Conclusion

We all decided that the best thing to do would be to implement what we’ve learnt and the ‘partnerships’ we established to the benefit of all the people we serve. We will in the near future formalize these ‘partnerships’ with the USA institutions. PMCSA will make these opportunities part of its missional system base. Communities and congregations will have direct access to resources and experience with our partners abroad.
Having said this, we must contextualize whatever information and systems we get into our own cultures and systems.

We discussed the possibility with CII to create twin congregations across the Atlantic Ocean with SA and USA congregations. This will strengthen our shared learning experiences.

There are plans to set up a PMCSA website dialogue and e-mail discussion with the team and congregations. Jannie will develop a yetiexperience.com website that can only strengthen our missional systems and theologies. There is a felt need that we should create systems that can communicate with communities of people outside the institutional churches. It can work, we have witnessed this.