From 28 April to 6 May, leaders of Protestant churches in Africa, Asia and Germany are visiting the Rhenish Church South Africa (RCSA) and United Reformed Church of Southern Africa (URCSA) in Cape Town, South Africa as part of a study trip organised by the United Evangelical Mission (UEM), to get an in-person experience of the reconciliation work being done locally by both churches.
Twenty-four years after the end of apartheid, the twenty senior theologians are grappling with the church’s approaches to reconciling relations between Christians of different skin colours. These include the Belhar Confession, which came into being in the South African metropolis in 1982 and places special emphasis on unity, reconciliation, and justice as theological concepts.
Through their discussions, the theologians from the three UEM regions are gaining insight into the current challenges facing the two Protestant churches in South Africa. “We’re having a dual experience in South Africa as ecumenical visitors: hearing the splendid story of the liberation from apartheid from people who were there, and seeing the long road ahead in South Africa for everyone to be able to share in this liberation,” said Martin Heimbucher, MD, a participant on the trip and president of the Evangelical Reformed Church.
During the study tour, the participants have witnessed first-hand how the scars of decades of apartheid continue to influence South African society and the church today. “Church leaders from almost everywhere in the world are learning together in the South African context. In a country torn apart, we're asking questions, like what we as a church have to say about the contradictions in our society. That's exciting,” commented Dietmar Arends, superintendent of the Church of Lippe, when asked how the trip was going.
The wide-ranging travel programme includes a discussion of “Globalization and the Church” with Professor Conradie of the University of the Western Cape; a visit to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent nearly two decades as a prisoner in solitary confinement; and a visit to Mfuleni Township and the small town of Wupperthal to trace the path of the first missionaries from Germany.
Rev. Willem TP Simarmata, a theologian from Indonesia and the current moderator of the UEM, had an excellent summary of the objectives of this international ecumenical study trip: “Because the church is responsible for more than just spiritual issues, the programme aims to motivate, educate, and encourage church leaders in terms of the needs and concerns that affect people’s worldly lives in various regions of the world.”
The Rhenish Church South Africa was confirmed at the most recent UEM General Assembly as a future full member of the international communion of churches. The United Reformed Church of Southern Africa participates in the programmes of the UEM as an associate member. A future UEM General Assembly will decide on its inclusion as a full member.
Accompanying church governing board: Church President Rev. Denis Bokombe (Cadelu, DR Congo), Church President Rev. André Bokundoa-bo-Likabe (ECC, DR Congo), Moderator Rev. Pieter Grove (URCSA, South Africa), Bishop Dr Abednego Keshomshahara (ELCT-NWD, Tanzania), Moderator Rev. L.J. Modise (URCSA, South Africa), Church President Rev. Samuel Ngayihembanko (CBCA, DR Congo), Rev. Tommy Solomons (Rhenish Church South Africa), Moderator Rev. Ashley Fransman (Rhenish Church South Africa), Elder K.K. Chan (Rhenish Church Hong Kong), Bishop Norman Reuel Marigza (UCCP, Philippines), Rev. Widi Nugroho (GKJW, Indonesia), Bishop Asiri Perera (Methodist Church Sri Lanka), Rev. Martongo Sitinjak (HKBP, Indonesia), Ephorus Tuhoni Telaumbanua (BNKP, Indonesia), Superintendent Dietmar Arends (Church of Lippe), Rev. Renate Görler (Evangelial Church in the Rhineland), Church President Martin Heimbucher (Evangelicak-reformed Church), Vice-Präses Albert Henz (Evangelical Church of Westfalia), Rev. Stefanie Rieke-Kochsiek (Church of Lippe) und Vice-President Ulrike Scherf (Evangelical Church of Hesse and Nassau).
UEM: Moderator Rev. Willem T.P. Simarmata; General Secretary Rev. Volker Martin Dally; Rev. Dr Andar Parlindungan, Executive Secretary "Training & Empowerment; Frauke Bürgers, Head of the UEM Training Centre Wuppertal
Dr Martina Pauly; Translation: Casey Butterfield