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South Africa trip hopes to shape agents of reconciliation in America

Oct 30, 2008
By Toya Richards Hill

An on-the-ground exploration of reconciliation, forgiveness, human rights, and political theory is what Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary is hoping to achieve as two professors lead an upcoming travel seminar to South Africa.

“The goal of the trip is to introduce students to the process of reconciliation and social justice in the new South Africa,” said Dr. Johnny B. Hill, Assistant Professor of Theology at Louisville Seminary and one of the group’s leaders. “But [also] to do so in a way that helps shape them to become agents of reconciliation in this country.”

The pilgrimage, scheduled for Jan. 5-26, 2009, will take ten seminary students, two alums, and three instructors to the African nation that struggled with and eventually overcame its long-standing system of apartheid, a policy of racial segregation involving political, legal, and economic discrimination against nonwhites.

The “immersion experience,” will help the students and others become agents of reconciliation in their own context, said Hill, the author of The Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Desmond Mpilo Tutu.

Using Cape Town as its base, the group will explore the history, culture, and politics of South Africa. Time also will be spent visiting nearby townships including Guguletu, one of the oldest black townships in the country and the site of an historic uprising by students protesting the use of Afrikaans as the first language in schools.

Louisville Seminary Senior Josh Robinson, who is earning his Master of Divinity degree, is looking forward to ending his Seminary experience by traveling to a country that has experienced reconciliation firsthand.

There are important models that were used and tools developed that, hopefully, “I will be able to bring back and even use on a micro level,” said Robinson, who says his calling is to be a parish minister. Many of those same tools can be applied to conflicts in churches, among families, and within communities, he said.

Missions also will be a component of the travel seminar, and the group will spend time understanding issues such as HIV/AIDS, poverty, and housing and how the church is responding, Hill said.

“Reconciliation is very connected to human rights,” said Dr. Frances S. Adeney, William A. Benfield Jr. Professor of Evangelism and Global Mission at Louisville Seminary and trip leader along with Hill. This will be “a good opportunity to have students understand missions in a reflective way.”

From there, our hope is that those attending will use their mission experience to inform churches about the necessity for truth and justice, said Adeney, the co-author of Christianity and Human Rights: Influences and Issues. It might even translate into coming home and working on the issue of AIDS or broadening an international sister-church relationship from a connection made while in South Africa, she said.

Hill concurred.

“We are very excited about the possibility of cultivating new relationships,” he said. “I’m hoping that students will make the kinds of connections they will want to continue to feed into the future.”

Louisville Seminary Alum The Rev. Jamesetta Ferguson, who earned a Master of Divinity degree in 2006, said she’s hoping the trip will help her better understand the needs of those in other nations.

“I struggle in understanding sometimes … the needs of others in third-world countries because I deal with so much oppression and poverty in my own church community,” said Ferguson, the pastor of St. Peter’s United Church of Christ located in urban Louisville.

“I am hoping to participate and see for myself the importance of doing global ministry and not just local ministry,” she said.

Fifteen people are making the trip, the first Seminary travel seminar to South Africa.

“We need the community’s prayers … and support in the sense of really affirming and encouraging the group. We also are still seeking financial support,” said Hill.

For many years, Louisville Seminary has offered a travel seminar to the Middle East, first led by Professor Emeritus W. Eugene March and now under the direction of Dr. Patricia Tull, A.B. Rhodes Professor of Old Testament. In the future, a trip to Brazil with Dr. Claudio Carvalhaes, Assistant Professor of Worship and Preaching, will connect worship and theology with issues in the global south.

Travel seminars are a component of the overall strategic plan at Louisville Seminary, which is committed to training men and women who are able to work faithfully to understand others through imagination and love and to build bridges across the differences that define and divide people and communities. In order to prepare ministers for such ministries, the Seminary hopes to offer every student a cross-cultural educational, service, and community-building experience during his or her seminary career. Individuals who are interested in supporting this component of theological education may contact the Office for Seminary Relations at Louisville Seminary.

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