Every community enslaved by its context needs its Moses figures who confront the oppressive forces lined up against it and lead it out of slavery. As a nation, South Africa has been blessed with many of these kinds of men and women. None greater than Nelson Mandela who, as I write, is heading into the mountains at the end of his life. He was one of those who led us through the Red Sea of obstacles confronting our departure from Egypt, which could have so easily destroyed us twenty years ago.
But the desert on the other side of the Red Sea is never the promised land of freedom. In the Exodus-like journey of community transformation we often find ourselves stuck wandering in the desert between slavery and the fulfilled promise of our potential intended by God. For this, we need to cross the Jordan River into the promised land. The river is smaller than the sea, but the obstacles on the other side can seem bigger.
Sometimes we’re intimidated by that which needs to be done, or the opposition, as we take the promised land. There are giants in that land that need to be faced and in South Africa they continue to stand on the other side of transformation, seemingly mocking us. Our ongoing racial, cultural and economic separation and inequality, the legacy of the 1913 Land Act, and the inheritance of violence and trauma are just three of the giants that need to be faced. If we leave the desert, we will actually need to confront them. If we stay, we can pretend they don’t exist.
Similarly, in the desert we have daily provision of manna and quail. But manna and quail are not the same as a land filled with milk and honey or bearing large harvests of fruit. The daily manna and quail, though provided by God, are not his ultimate plan for his people, and before entering the promised land they come to an end. Sometimes the predictability and dependency of this provision keeps us trapped in the desert between slavery and full transformation.
Every community undergoing transformation needs to reach a point where it decides to cross its Jordan River and enter the promised land. At the Red Sea, Moses – the leader – stretches out his staff and God makes the impassable passable. But at the Jordan it is the people, in particular the church, who enter the river first, and then God makes the impassable become passable.
If transformation is to happen, we need to be a new generation of bold and courageous leaders like Joshua willing to face the giants of the new land. If transformation is to happen, we need to be a church willing to be the first to step into the rivers blocking our way and the first to lead in taking on the Jericho strongholds blocking our progress. If transformation is to happen, we need to be communities of people willing to take responsibility for entering our own promised land and working to make it real.
Ultimately, Moses or Madiba or any other hero, can only get us to the edge of the promised land, the rest is up to us.
– Craig Stewart is the director of The Warehouse, a non-profit organisation which serves the church in it’s response to poverty and injustice.
This article was first published in The Warehouse Update for July 2013. Read the full newsletter here.
How do you think we, as the church and as individuals, can be part of transformation in South Africa? What role do you think we can play?