Dubai airport, and our bodies say that it is 4.30am. As usual on overnight flights travelling economy no one really got any sleep; a few minutes of dozing but nothing more. I caught up on a couple of films. Social Network was really interesting about Mark Zuckerberg and the story of Facebook. Given the phenomenal size of the FB community now (over 500 million) it was staggering to be reminded that it has only existed for 6 -7 years. The growth is staggering. We want to be networked with others; we want to maintain relationships, reconnect with people from our past, discover new people, and share stuff with one another. I love it. But there is a question about depth. There is a major question about replacing virtual relationships with face to face meeting, talking, discussing, arguing, seeing people’s faces, sharing their smiles and their tears. We live in a world where people who struggle with the face to face stuff but revel in the virtual – the film at least suggests FB’s creator is one who struggles himself with face to face stuff. God made us for relationship, not at a distance but face to face. The most wonderful truth is this includes face to face with God.
The 2nd film was definitely more about being very late, unable to sleep – so Toy Story 3 fitted the bill. But Pixar animation that it is it is also about relationship – and the power of loyalty, friendship, love and family. It is an animation with a message.
The travelling has been very smooth so far. We all look rather tired and worn but are equally cheerful and enjoying discovering more about one another. So I’d better stop before the virtual conversation with readers replaces the face to face stuff with my fellow travellers.
DURBAN – ARRIVAL
The flight to Durban was uneventful; just quite long.
As we all got our bags down from the overhead lockers, put our jackets etc on and then stood and waited for the doors to be opened I reflected on this ritual of arrival. Whatever nations we were from there is a common ritual here now; including turning on the mobile, and the chatter of texts being received – nearly all from the company welcoming us to South Africa and telling us about calls, call charges etc. We all make these preparations then have to wait. We’ve been travelling 8+ hours but suddenly, ritually impatience kicks in; we want to arrive.
There are similar rituals to be noticed in the queues for passport control, baggage arrivals and then passing through customs. The safe arrival of baggage is something we all long for; particularly on the outward journey; for here in our luggage are all our worldly goods for the next 2 weeks. We want to know we have clean underwear and socks; that our fresh clothing is available etc. I admit due to past experiences I always travel with a pair of socks, underwear and a shirt in my hand luggage. One can survive a long time if necessary washing things out overnight. It all makes me ponder my wealth – for in my case is far more clothing than most people in the world possess in their home. I am travelling with more books than you will find in the average British household. The piece of plastic in my wallet can access more money in seconds than most will earn in a year. I have a passport and freedom to travel and roam. I am enormously rich – though in UK terms I would not be seen as such in reality even there I am relatively well off. One of the most disturbing words of Jesus for me is ‘Too whom much is given, of them much is required.’ How well am I responding to this requirement?
TALA SAFARI PARK
Very generously our first full day is designed to help us relax, recover from the journey, be together, and be shown some of the delights of the province. So we visit Tala Safari Park. We see the wonderful scenery between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. We enjoy seeing wildebeest, impala, hippos, kudu, zebra and particularly giraffe. We don’t find the rhino – but that’s the way of safari. The bird life is also stunning. Is this what we came for? Well no we came to meet people, discover their lives and the lives of their churches. But yes it is; all of us are proud of our own nations and its particular wealth in nature etc. We have to learn to receive from others what they want to share with us and show us. So it is fabulous to do; it feels like holiday rather than work but it is receiving and seeing more of the context. This is a private game reserve financed by the owner of the largest chicken producing company. We drove past these farms en route, and can see some from parts of the reserve. On our drive back through the most torrential hail storm, which then cleared to give us fantastic views of the valley of 1000 hills we see an area where there are plans for a new reserve, 5 times the size, but to be created for the local community to have employment, earn income through tourism et. So we discover different economic models; different values lying behind the same business; different reasons for being in business at all. Our guide, Arnie, is fantastic as he knows the history and geography so well. He is deeply honest about the changes in the nation and how he has had to wrestle with many issues, including the darker parts of his own heart. Yes its a privilege to go on safari; but it is amazing what you discover – eyes, ears and minds have to be constantly open. You never know where a God moment or insight might suddenly pop up.
AN EVENING ALONG DURBAN BEACH
The wind was strong but so pleasantly warm. The waves were crashing in. Fisherman sat on the jetties watching their lines, with beers besides them. The promenade is wonderful for an evening walk. This Friday evening there were many doing the same. I was surprised by the number of Muslims here; and by the elaborate decoration to be seen on some of the burkahs. Stretches were quiet but then others had music blaring out from Joe Cool’s, and ice creams and burgers and pizzas were all on sale. If it wasn’t for the warmth and the different multi-cultural mix it could have been Bournemouth or Barcelona. Durban has some huge impressive hotels looking out across the Indian Ocean. Bishop Rubin and I talked as we walked; Rosemary and Rose talked as they walked. We shared stories; we made reflections and comments on our different situations. We learned of and from one another. Walking side by side, slowly, casually, is so very different from talking in meetings, across tables etc. In every walk of life we need to take more time to walk side by side in uncluttered time. We need to hear each others stories. As we do so we have the opportunity to build trust; to discover the depths of our common humanity; to understand. Only this way are we likely to find the way through some of the issues we face in our societies, between our nations and within our churches. Jesus spent a lot of his 3 years in public ministry walking alongside his disciples. He still walks alongside us; but am I noticing his presence? Am I listening? Am I opening my heart to him?