Craig Stewart and Luthando Tofu, who currently reside in South Africa, captivated students in Luther Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 18, as part of a community development workshop hosted by the School of Social Work.
The conversation started by informing students about The Warehouse, their organization that serves the South African church network, but the discussions soon covered issues that are not only relevant to South Africa but also to the United States.
Stewart and Tofu, despite living two completely different versions of the South African story, are alike in that they both have a passion for justice, and this is evident in their work with The Warehouse.
Tofu kicked off the evening explaining a little about the history of South Africa and how The Warehouse finds itself in that history. He explained how the vast majority of South Africans are black, yet they were treated with cruelty and injustice.
“[South Africa] was a country in which the minority ruled over the majority,” Tofu said.
Historically, the church supported the racial segregation and injustice, which caused the church to originally begin in a negative light for the majority of South Africa, and that is where The Warehouse comes into the picture.
They teach South African churches how to respond to poverty, injustice and division with renewed mindsets that complement what the Gospel says about the church. They teach the churches how to effectively face social issues instead of domesticating communities to accept their condition.
“Growing up, I heard pastors saying there was peace and happiness when two kilometers across the road there was none,” Stewart said.
They told us the real tragedy of 100,000 families that live in shacks and work many hours and days building mansions. They explained how they are on a mission to create a world where children aren’t born into destruction, and they are accomplishing it one church at a time.
Stewart explained the hardships that come from doing social work and seeing the wounds of poverty or injustice in a light that reflects the Gospel story of doubting Thomas. He admitted his flaw of ignoring wounds and pain and how this story has helped him grow as a Christian and a leader.
When Thomas heard of Jesus’s resurrection, the only proof he wanted to be able to understand was to put his hand in the wounds.
“Which is like a strange thing, the body that has been resurrected carries the wounds that killed it,” Stewart said.
Tofu and Stewart continued by explaining how this story can represent a paradox. The wounds our societies carry in both South Africa and the United States can feel like a scary place to go, but when we place our hands in those wounds, we actually discover resurrection.
Tofu wisely advised of the dangers of morphing the Gospel into a comfortable message because it then becomes false. The Gospel is constantly calling us into uncomfortable places, and that is how we will grow.
The conversation then moved to another very important issue when a question about the theology of diversity was mentioned, which led to more questions, such as if the church prefers to be segregated. This brought many seconds of silence to both men until Stewart finally answered the question with another question.
“What does it mean in this day and age to be faithful to the story of God?”
He chose his words carefully and continued. He explained that it’s not so much of trying to find a direct answer, even though the Bible does share a beautiful image of every tribe and language worshiping under the throne of God in heaven, but it’s about finding hope in this world and finding it together.
Tofu added by saying that, when you strip everything down, the only thing you should be able to find within the church is a family. That is ultimately what the church is called to be.
He continued with a great point that brings a new perspective on diversity within the church. We try too hard to create this idea of a multi-racial church, but fail to ask the question of who sits at your dinner table. That is where every relationship within the church should start.
“If you cannot accept me at your dinner table, then we’re just playing games at church,” Tofu said.
Stewart and Tofu concluded by saying the first step of building relationships is to accept each other on an equal level.