A Message of Hope
Speech Prepared for the Launch of the Peace to the City Campaign
31 August, 1997
Johannesburg, South Africa
by Rev. Jeffrey Brown
National Ten-Point Leadership Foundation
We are gathered today, as representatives from Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Jamaica, Brazil, Fiji and the United States, to do nothing less than begin our involvement in the transformation of a global culture of violence, into a world of peace.
Here in Johannesburg, South Africa, we take the bold step towards building an alliance for the common good, using churches as a base for healing and reconciliation.
During the past week, the WCC has given us an opportunity to put words into action, and live our faith. Coming from all across the world we have shared stories, our problems, and our plans to overcome violence. I have visited KwaMashu and Bhambayi in the Kwazulu-Natal province, Soweto and Sharpeville, and I have been honored to hear of their experiences, their pain, their loss and desires. I shared with them my experience with the National Ten Point Leadership Foundation, as we have struggled to overcome violence, and help save our young people on the streets and in the homes.
As we shared our stories, I saw the wisdom of the WCC's Programme to Overcome Violence take shape. Barriers between and among young people began to drop. We started to talk about ways we could achieve measurable results in reducing violence - and saw ways in which we can help each other. As people of faith, and leaders in the faith community, we are uniquely qualified, and uniquely obligated to launch this global transformation.
I saw it with a group of women in Bhambayi who assemble when they can, to remember their experience of violence. They told us that even though they had no church, God was still there. I saw it in the eyes of school children in KwaMashu when they told us of their dreams and sang to us "Jesus is the Rock of Rocks." I heard it from the mouth of the community of Sharpeville, as a minister acknowledged their pain and brought real "reconciliation" to the "truth" of their suffering during Apartheid. I saw it at the unveiling of a tombstone in Soweto, on the faces of those who have honor and dignity to someone who passed, and strongly when they sang "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah". As the angel of death spreads violence, publicly, privately, personally, ethnically, religiously - in our homes and in our cities, in our regions and nations - it is becoming clear that churches, by instilling a moral axis and a spiritual grounding, become powerful partners in rebuilding civil society.
But for this to happen, congregations must move out of the four walls of their sanctuaries. Transforming means turning apathy into activism - practicing "foot theology", by placing their feet where their theologies lie. There are those who will hear this, and it will resonate with their spirit, but will have a nagging question... and that is, how will they overcome the overwhelming fear that grips them? What the seven cities have found out this week, is that the way to overcome fear is to not accept that what you see is what will always be. South Africans intimately know the truth of this statement. You have already proven that what IS does not always have to be. Jesus, when he sat upon the mountainside to speak to the thousands, gazed upon an angry and dejected people in the throes of despair because of their oppression. But he saw not a lost cause in speaking to them, but the potential of what they will become. "You are the light of the world," he said, "A city on a hill cannot be hid." These seven city representatives (although others saw the violence around them as impossible to overcome) committed themselves to NOT accepting and to NOT believing that what they saw will always be, and left the power of their work up to Almighty God.
We cannot remove these things that threaten to destroy us, but God has called us to be Cities on a Hill, to shine against the darkness with the presence of courageous faith. Evil will always be there, but it does not have to dominate our existence. Apathy will always be there, but we cannot let it rule over us. Self centeredness will always be there, but it does not have to be the center of society. Fear will always be there, but we can use it to be a tool to deepen our faith. Greed will always be there, but we cannot let it seduce and divide our culture. We cannot remove those things that threaten community, but we can stand against it, resist it, and realize that when we struggle, we already win.
And so we encourage you today, as you struggle, that God is not dead, faith is yet alive, the weak can become strong, the tired can be refreshed, and a way can be made out of no way. It does not happen overnight, but day by day in every home, in every neighborhood, in every workplace, and in every human heart.
Impossible you say? Unrealistic you say? Well I heard someone say that it was impossible to feed 5000 people with five loaves and two fish. I heard it was impossible for a man crippled for 37 years, who laid at the pool of Bethesda, to walk again. I heard it was impossible to cast out demons, I heard it was impossible for Lazarus to be raised from the dead. Alone, it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.
Our effectiveness cannot be forced by might, or influenced by earthly power, but it can only be culled through the Spirit of God in the believers heart, willing to do God's will.
God's people can do it.
This written text was the basis of the speech delivered by Rev. Brown at the launch ceremony.