How does one deal with the failures within one’s own history? Scripture often recounts stories of human unfaithfulness, perhaps as often as it celebrates obedience to God’s faithfulness. What about our own history?
As a part of a meeting with the International Course of Study Advisory Committee of the Church of the Nazarene (ICOSAC) the group had the opportunity to visit the Apartheid Museum that recounts the struggles with Apartheid across South Africa.
The Apartheid Museum is located in what appears to be a resort area known as Gold Reef City, but the
museum provides a participatory experience into the stark history of country. From the minute you enter the museum you are compelled (based on random tickets) to enter either through the story of privilege (the whites or blankes) or hardship (nie-blankes or non-whites).
Moving through iron caged stalls one is confronted by the history of identity cards, hardship from labor in gold mines (reflected in the walls of stones that represent lost lives), to oppression through intimidation, imprisonment, torture, and death.
Another exhibit in the museum tells the story of Nelson Mandela, his courage and his struggles. There are unique expressions of artwork in honor of Mandela and his writings. A number in our party took time to read those words and reflect on their meaning. I suspect we each picked specific passages that provided not only personal inspiration but reminded each of us of the ongoing need for a contemporary language that embraces similar words of hope and forgiveness.
The Apartheid Museum website includes a curriculum to help students and teachers alike understand the specter of apartheid upon that country. The teacher’s guide for the book Understanding Apartheid opens with the following stark observation
The apartheid policies which the National Party government implemented after 1948 had serious implications for South African society. These policies institutionalized and entrenched racial discrimination in an unequal society where the white minority was privileged and the black majority was severely disadvantaged. Although South Africa made the transition to democracy in 1994, our society still confronts many problems as a result of our long history of discrimination.
The ability of this country to name its tragedies provides a stark, yet gracious, reminder that we have to also discern and name our own periods when we have been less than faithful. Sometimes we may spend too much time focused on celebration rather than learning from our mistakes. Being able to listen to “both sides” of history helps us resist the temptation to cover up our own unfaithfulness in the present. Only as we admit to our humanity can God’s faithfulness begin to shine through.