Not long ago, the future of the Transkie (South Africa) seemed bleak. Its soils had been depleted. For lack of a job, its men left home to work at the mines in Johannesburg. Its fields were surrounded by 5,000-acre farms owned by a white family. Transkie's future depended on "someone else."
But it is to the Transkie that Bob and Nelda Thelin, UCC/Disciples missionaries, were called by the Diocese of Umzimvubu. For 37 years, their task has been to affirm the dignity of the people, to bring life back to the forlorn land. The Thelins retire this month. The work they have shared with the people of Transkie is beautiful to behold. Where once there was despair in remote villages, there are now gardens and bakeries. Cooperatives are making candles for villages untouched by electricity, bricks for homes, and fences to protect fields. The land is healing. The people's future is in their own hands.
At a village 30 miles from a paved road, Ms. Manzini spoke eloquently of what had happened. "We learned God created heaven and earth and people and crops that produce fruit and vegetables," she said. "When we left the land and went to the mines, we left what God gave us and became hungry. But now it is for us to restore what God entrusted to us. " The names of the cooperatives tell the tale: Civini, "The Whole Community," Phakamani, "To Get Up," and Zamani, "To Try." Hope has the final word: the resurrection, and God's ongoing creation, is alive and well.
The Rev. Lawrence Pray is pastor of First Congregational UCC in Big Timber, Mont. He recently returned from a visit with the UCC/Disciples missionaries in Africa