The Christian Experience in Langa, South Africa

Wednesday, January 9, 2008, 01:20 AM
Posted by Erica Ayala

“The key crisis in black life is the cultural crisis, e.g. a crisis in views and values”
(by Patricia Dixon from “African American Relationships, Marriage, and Families in Cultural Perspective”)

Greetings from South Africa!!! I hope that you all have been following all of the wonderful things the class has had the opportunity to experience thus far.
On Sunday January 6, 2008, our class had the chance to visit two church services in the South African township of Langa. The first visit was to the Langa Methodist Church. In the black communities in the United States, we often see that the churches carry more functions then just service on Sunday. The black church has deep roots in a lot of community projects – such as food kitchens, holiday meals, and social action. One of the most – if not the most – famous figure during the Civil Rights struggle in the United States was a Christian man. All religious institutions seemed to have a place in the social and political movements throughout history. When visiting the Langa Methodist Church, it was clear that in 2008 in Africa, the black church is still fighting for justice while serving the Lord.

As we came upon the building, we could already hear the congregation singing praise to the Lord in Xhosa (COSA). As we waited for the right moment to join the service, we were able to see some of the members prepare to enter the service fashionably late with us. Speaking of fashion, there was not much difference between what the Ethiopians in Langa wore in comparison to the American churches I have been to. The dress seemed to range mostly from business casual to conservative. The churchwomen wore their favorite “church hats” and the men wore their suits with their very fancy shoes. It would appear that our church attire in America is not much different.

One class session while in South Africa, we discussed a lot of misconceptions about Africa and Africans – one of them being that Africans dressed drastically different than Americans. The service at Langa could have easily been held in North Carolina – perhaps right down the road from Elon. In addition, it should also be noted that although the service was delivered and conducted in Xhosa, that does not mean that the congregation was unable to speak English. It has been normal for South Africans we meet to know at least three languages – one being English. I would predict that the service at Langa Methodist Church is held in Xhosa as a way of preserving the language and culture of the people. This observation related to Dixon’s article on African American Families. During Apartheid, South African blacks were forced to speak Afrikaans. Now that the country is moving towards the notion of becoming a “rainbow nation”, all cultures can speak their native language freely. It would appear that Langa Methodist is trying to reclaim, re-teach, and introduce their culture so that it will never be lost. In a nation of mega churches and sermons on-line, does this happen in the United States?
In addition to preserving a specific culture, Langa Methodist seems to encourage its congregation to take action in the African project to fight against HIV/AIDS. As we walked in, we saw three rows of seating facing the pulpit. The preacher was standing and speaking to the congregation with a cross hung directly above him and another one on the wall to his left. However, the most notable decorations were on the sidewalls of the church. There was no stained glass or manger scenes carved into the walls. There were posters and banners on the walls that all promoted HIV/AIDS awareness. Just above the cross in the front of the room was a hand made banner that read:
Take The Lead – STOP AIDS – Keep the Promise
On either side of the church were posters that showed African women and had words like “AZD” and “AIDS”. Furthermore, there were more hand made banners and smaller signs that had words like “prayer and justice” and other things like that. I was immediately shocked that these things were hanging in the church – much less the sanctuary. I do not feel that this is something that is done in the United States. In all the churches I have been in, I surely cannot remember any cause that was so greatly supported throughout the entire church. Actually, the handling of HIV/AIDS and how to educate the youth regarding the matter is somewhat of a controversy in the United Sates. Some churches are fine with speaking about the issue, talking about safe sex, and even handing out condoms. The exact opposite side of the spectrum might not discuss the issue because they feel that AIDS is an issue they need not worry too much about, since intercourse is something saved until marriage. Whatever shade Americans may fill this hypothetical scale, the sentiment of AIDS is not as “in your face”.

In my own church in New York – the first and only time I can remember my Pastor speaking to the congregation about HIV/AIDS was this past summer. He even spoke about how the HIV/AIDS problem spreads in the black community because of “down-low” brothers. To this day, no other service I have attended has tackled the problem or the possible preventative measures that should be taken. Perhaps the black churches that I have been to in the United States are not quite ready to be as open with this very sensitive disease as the Methodist Church we visited.

At the end of the service, the congregation sang one last song before the announcements and the collection – it was the South African national anthem. There was such a great joy and pride in the church. Everyone was clapping and rocking their bodies back and forth. The church swelled with their voices. I have never been to a service in America where the national anthem was sung. There seems to be a much more liberal separation between the church and the state at Langa Methodist. Both activism and country loyalty and pride is a regular routine.

In closing, I did not witness a huge difference in South Africa and America – at least not in the presentation. There were still responsive readings, hymns, and scripture. The main difference came in the proactive approach that Langa Methodist took on the AIDS crisis. With a nation that has suffered so much from the virus, I believe that it is great that the church is staking a stand. I also thought that it was great that the church service was conducted in the native language of the congregation. After several decades of discrimination and prejudice, it is good to see that the people of South Africa have not forgotten their history and their culture. As one of the deacons wished us a safe trip, he asked all of the men to stay behind. Later I found out that he told them to be a pillar of strength of all of the women on the trip. Although there are only five males and about twenty-five females, he said that they must protect all of us while we travel. He told them that they had the duty to do so. Perhaps this is something that the young men on the trip can bring back to America.

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