For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility – Ephesians 2:14
It has been 22 years since democracy dawned on South Africa and 26 years since Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and it seems that Desmond Tutu’s notion of a “rainbow nation” is more of a distant illusion than ever before. A few months ago a social media post written by a white real estate agent called Penny Sparrow in which she referenced black South Africans as monkeys revealed just what a deeply divided society we are. Black South Africans have found their voice afresh, expressing their anger, hurt and frustration at the seeming lack of willingness of white South Africans to acknowledge their ongoing racism, prejudice, privilege and sense of superiority in this land. White South Africans have been largely silent, with many claiming innocence in spite of much evidence to the contrary and with many others simply claiming fatigue as the reason for silence. It has opened old wounds, and the tone in the nation has been tense ever since, as it has revealed that changes in legislation don’t amount to changes in the sinful states of people’s hearts.
Sadly, the white evangelical church has remained largely on the periphery and is conspicuous in its silence. 26 years on, it should be absurd to speak of a black and a white church but that is the current reality. Thankfully, there are a number of Christians on both “sides” who realise the desperate need for radical change sooner rather than later.
In the midst of that, Bryanston Bible Church (BBC) sits as what appears to be (and is in many ways) a flourishing community. But it is a mainly white community in a mainly black nation, and in a nation with our past it is jarring. The leaders of BBC want to leverage the privileged position that it finds itself in, tucked away in the leafy suburbs, to be a catalyst of transcultural church planting, seeding new communities of faith that represent the diversity of our nation in light of the unifying work of the gospel.
To that end, Tumi Moraba was recruited to plant the first of those communities at BBC Midrand.
Tumi on Serving as a Black Man in a Mainly White Church:
At the outset, let me emphatically state that I work with people, who are trying to make a gospel difference in South Africa, with the resources that God has entrusted us. Furthermore, in the year I have been here, I have begun to build unlikely relationships through conversation and prayer, so I have a hopeful-realism, that the vision of a united South Africa can be reality.
However, at present, each morning when I go to work at church, it feels like I am headed to another universe. A majority white church in a majority white suburb. I work with people who struggle to conceptualise, and perhaps just often forget, that the South Africa I grew up in (and live in presently) is very different from theirs. I’ve had to put up with ignorance about black people and culture, not to mention being complimented on my English, which is rather absurd since we have 11 official languages.
In my interactions with colleagues and congregants, my background is seldom explored, whether it be music, preaching style or my way of doing community. It is assumed that their culture is the default. People notice when the few Africans in a larger white group are huddled together, but they are never aware of their white only groups.
All that said, I know that my colleagues and congregants are not raving racists. Therefore, this is not a personal judgment of them, but I do wish that all of us would stop being oblivious to the intricacies of our society, and that we would display greater efforts to know and understand one another.
Ross on Serving in a Mainly White Church in a Mainly Black Nation:
The last year or so has revealed to me just what a divided nation we still are and it has opened my eyes to just how normally we view some very abnormal things in South Africa. For example, BBC is a “majority minority” church. Now that might not be a problem in the rest of the world, but it is when the minority was the oppressor. And BBC isn’t alone here, a quick tour of South African churches will show that while the nation is divided every day, it is most clearly divided on a Sunday, in a way that shows that the work of apartheid continues in hearts, minds and pulpits in South Africa. There are pockets of change, but they are few and far between.
Recent strife has forced people to take on the tough work of reconciliation, repentance and transcultural community.
The black families that we have at BBC have had to be very patient and gracious with us. It has been very good for us to hear recently from some of them just how “white” we are in thinking and practice. It is part of the blindness of privilege that makes one think that their cultural practice is the actual right way to do things, and that people need to fit in with that norm if they want to belong to the community. If anything, this recent strife in South Africa has been helpful to those willing to listen, as it has removed naive and foolish notions of “colour blindness”, and instead forced people to engage in the far tougher but more meaningful work of reconciliation, repentance and transcultural community, where race isn’t ignored, but instead the unity of the gospel can unite even across wide racial and cultural gaps. The idea of colour blindness has a nasty way of continuing the oppression of people of colour.
Tumi on Planting a Transcultural Community out of BBC:
I firmly believe that in order to build a transcultural church, we need to have some uncomfortable conversations. It is only in scripture that people from different backgrounds are mandated to this and to find ways to live together as new people united in the gospel. In Revelation 7 scripture paints a picture of how it will be in the end. Therefore, the church should strive to see the kingdom of God being established, even as we fail forward. Genuine gospel relationships, as we worship and fellowship are our best weapon and building block.
It is the church of Jesus Christ that needs to challenge South Africa’s dark and murky past.
A multicultural church should be the safe space that South Africans need to engage with one another. Christ has reconciled us to himself and others, and it is the church of Jesus Christ that needs to challenge South Africa’s dark and murky past.
As BBC, we recently planted a transcultural church where our team has a good mix of ethnicities and cultures. We still have a long way to go, and at times, leading such a team feels more like umpiring than shepherding. On one hand I have to deal with blacks who are trying to understand how a loving God allowed apartheid in his name. On the other hand, I encounter whites who feel “guilty” about the past and just want us to move on. I’ve had some difficult conversations with both groups, but I honestly think that we are building something that could change not just the face of BBC but our country. And it will. It is God’s church after all.
Ross on Planting Against Racism:
This situation has had us thinking for a while as leaders in the church. We didn’t want the easy fix of a few Zulu songs on a Sunday to show how open we are to other cultures. Rather, we wanted to live out our mandate to make disciples who make disciples and to do that in a way that shows the diverse nature of our land. To that end, we have been training black African church leaders who can lead us into a new future, and they have been training us. BBC has just appointed its first two black African church elders. This is astonishingly and alarmingly overdue, but just shows the blindness of systemic prejudice. Both of these men have taken the road less travelled to join a majority white church when they could be leading homogenous churches of their own. Both of these men have experienced persecution for that.
Christ’s blood that flowed over us is a more powerful force than the blood of ethnicity, race or family lineage.
These men will lead truly transcultural church plants and Tumi Moraba has begun that work already. In the midst of all of this conflict, Tumi has been able to establish a launch team of 70 adults that actually represents our nation in terms of demographic. They have been having weekly dinners and have wrestled hard through how the gospel speaks to racial unity and reconciliation. They haven’t tried to adopt an approach that ignores race. They speak about it, but believe that in the end, the blood that flowed over us from Christ’s veins is a more powerful force than the blood of ethnicity, race or family lineage. This isn’t easy or glamorous work. BBC Midrand (the plant) has already been called “BBC black”, and some people have already fallen away from the launch team finding the notion of a truly transcultural community to be too much hard work. Lots more work is required, but we are committed to seeing Christ glorified in a new and counter cultural kind of community.
The work will continue in South Africa. We will do all we can to confront racism and prejudice of all sorts, starting with the tough sort that lives in the recesses of the hearts of church leaders, and we will continue in our efforts to raise up godly black African leaders who can lead new sorts of communities into the future of this land. This is a small act of leveraging the systemic privilege that we have enjoyed. It doesn’t help to say we don’t see colour. We do. But we see people of every colour united in a wonderfully diverse way in praise of their great King Jesus. That is better than a rainbow nation. That is the new Jerusalem. We would like to start practicing for it now.
Ross lives in Blairgowrie with his wife Sue and young son, Daniel. He is lead pastor and elder at Bryanston Bible Church and his current responsibilities include overseeing the teaching and preaching at BBC, and developing future leaders so that BBC can fulfil its call to be a multiplying church.
Tumi is 37 and lives in Jo’burg with his wife, Lalie and their two children Ariella and Asher. In his past life, he worked as an administrator in an open source software company, but has been involved in full time ministry since 2006. He joined BBC in 2015, as a church planter and is currently the Lead Pastor of BBC Midrand.