Walking the Path: My Interfaith Journey

A Pagan seminarian's perspective on faith, theology, and facilitating interfaith dialogue.

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Ubuntu: My African Journey

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

I spent fifteen days walking the sands of another continent this year. Fifteen days eating the fruits of another land, looking into the eyes of people I had never met, and marveling at the infinite beauty and potential of the human spirit. The cultural immersion trip I participated in was sponsored by my school, Iliff School of Theology, and led by two of my professors who are originally from Harare Zimbabwe. 

During the course of those fifteen days we interfaced with universities, non-profit organizations, orphanages, climbed the rocks of Great Zimbabwe, witnessed the power of Victoria Falls, toured the Apartheid museum, and walked the halls of the prison on Robben Island. The trip was simultaneously amazing, exciting, and excruciating. In other words I will never forget it.


 One of the key concepts that keep re-surfacing for me is the complexity and power of the human spirit. I'm not going to lie--there were moments within the trip where I wanted to cry in frustration and scream my anger at the top of my lungs at the inequities and injustice present not just in African society, but also in ours. The parallels are striking and tragic. But where we here in America are good at keeping our poor, our homeless, and our hungry hidden away, they live in the open unabashedly in a society still struggling with the aftereffects of apartheid.




I'm not going to sugar coat anything...Zimbabwe is a country with a tragically high unemployment rate. South Africa is relatively better off, but still struggles with the legacy of racial tensions and socioeconomic inequity that comes with centuries of oppression. But hands down, everywhere we went we were welcomed warmly. People smiled and laughed. They shared their food with us. They listened. I learned a term while in South Africa called Ubuntu: I am because you are.

"A person is a person through other people: strikes an affirmation of one's humanity through recognition of an 'other' in his or her uniqueness and difference. It is a demand for a creative intersubjective formation in which the 'other' becomes a mirror (but only a mirror) for my subjectivity. This idealism suggests to us that humanity is not embedded in my person solely as an individual; my humanity is co-substantively bestowed upon the other and me. Humanity is a quality we owe each other. We create each other and need to sustain this otherness creation. And if we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are therefore I am."*

This concept, while not new, becomes intensely personal when adopted at any level of interaction. How many of us are working from an "us versus them" paradigm? Let's take the obvious cliche--children are starving in Africa, but why does that concern me or my family? 1000 Muslims were killed in Nigeria last week, but that also doesn't concern me. Racial discrimination, as well as violence enacted because of gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc becomes a collective human experience instead of someone elses' 'problem' when seen through the lens of Ubuntu. Kindness, compassion, grace, and love become the necessary tools we must use when interacting because there is no other option that doesn't discredit our shared humanity. I wonder, as I reflect on this message, how we can incorporate this idea in our daily lives. How do we live Ubuntu in our personal lives, and extend it to our greater human family? 

There is a great story we were told involving a young woman who has come to be known as "Ubuntu Girl": http://www.theubuntugirl.co.za/

I am deeply humbled to have had this experience, and to walk away with new understandings and insights. This trip has changed me greatly, probably in ways I have yet to even realize. Thanks to all who helped me achieve this journey, who walked beside me and who inspired me. You have my eternal love and gratitude.




*Eze, M.O. Intellectual History in Contemporary South Africa, pp. 190–191

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Tagged in: 2015 africa South Africa
My name is Vesper Andes (They/Them). I am a wife, mother, chaplain, educator, and mystic. I am an eight-year veteran of the United States Air Force, and my career has spanned network administration, funerary honors, chaplaincy, life coaching, and case management. I am currently a staff chaplain at Children’s Mercy of Kansas City. I enjoy facilitating interfaith dialogue and cultivating communities of conscience.


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