Our Work in South Africa
In 1988, at the height of the power of the apartheid government, David Good and Carleen Gerber travelled to South Africa as part of a Plowshares Institute delegation that met with Rev. Paul Verryn who was, at that time, the only white minister serving a church in Soweto. Paul also lived in Soweto and offered sanctuary within his home to boys and young men who had been detained and tortured by the South African government. When Paul’s life was threatened, our church invited him to come to Old Lyme for a sabbatical.
Based on the strength of these experiences, we entered into a partnership with the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, first in Soweto and later, when Paul Verryn became a bishop, with Central Methodist Mission, a church in downtown Johannesburg. It was in this downtown church that Paul offered sanctuary to more than 3,000 refugees, many of them fleeing political persecution in Zimbabwe.
Since 1989, there have been numerous beneficial and enriching exchanges that have further strengthened the bonds of friendship, mutual support and encouragement that exist between our two communities. Bishop Verryn is a frequent visitor and, in 2001, Rev. Derick Maregele, from Central Methodist Mission, moved with his family to Old Lyme and served our congregation for two years as Minister of Visitation. In 2002, over 35 members of our church together with members of the Central Methodist Mission congregation participated in a Jimmy Carter Work Project for Habitat for Humanity. 2,000 volunteers convened from around the world and built 100 houses in one week. Our group was very happy to have been responsible for the construction of 7 of those new homes!
We have since been honored by a visit from 53 members of the Central Methodist Choir who thrilled us with their music. Mxolisi Duda, a talented tenor from South Africa, has been sponsored by members of our church for 8 years of graduate education in music in this country. Mxolisi is now Director of an indigenous singing group at the University of Pretoria and, during the fall of 2012 and again in 2015, young people from this group have visited Old Lyme, stayed with host families, performed at local schools and joined our congregation to sing and worship for two truly wonderful weeks. Throughout the years, the children of our church have also enthusiastically participated in the partnership, collecting and sending school supplies and exchanging art work with the children in South Africa.