I am sad to announce that my right-hand man for 5 years now has decided to emigrate. He just got his green card and is on his way to New York. The gap that he is going to leave in C4L’s senior management team will be a hard act to follow.
But what are the prospects for a “pale male” age 40 in South Africa today? It’s pretty gloomy. The Finance Minister gave his budget speech today. One thing he noted is that tax revenue is R16 billion less that projected in last year speech. Why? Because the economy slowed down in the last half of 2012, he said.
Another factor that he didn’t mention has to be the “brain drain”. Ben Christo is a case in point. In saying so, I do not disagree with his decision to emigrate. He is half way through his career, and sees better prospects outside South Africa than in it.
When I came to South Africa 19 years ago, about 1 person in 6 were white. It is now about 1 person in 10. This reflects both The Exodus of skills and experience and population growth of 10 million – from 40 million in 1994 to 50 million today. So many young people, almost entirely black and poor, will be entering the job market in the next 20 years, while Ben Christo is still in career mode. He has read the signs of the times.
I will also miss him as a friend and trusted advisor, but I take solace from the words of St. Francis de Sales: “Friendships begun in this world will be taken up again, never to be broken off.” Today we celebrated our enduring friendship by hiking up the escarpment. We had a mountain top experience, visiting ADAM’S CALENDAR. This was partly for debriefing in these final weeks of “hand-over” and partly to prepare ourselves for the rising nostalgia.
Please, I highly recommend that you Google ADAM’S CALENDAR. It is on Ben Christo’s favorite mountain, near where he lives. I had heard about it, read about it and pondered over the claims being made about it. But I had never seen it myself. Seeing is believing. It is touted as possibly the oldest architecture in the whole world – maybe 75 000 years old? A calendar whose shadow moves across the major stone, cast by a sculpted stone a meter closer to sunset, from Equinox to Solstice – tracking the annual cycle. So it is a calendar not a clock. I can see that this could be a major new world heritage site - in its early stages of discovery.
It reminds me of the amazing story of the Canadian archaeologist who followed her hunch to Mexico to learn Spanish (the same time that I went to work in Angola), then to Spain to research medieval records in town churches, then to the Labrador coast to verify what she discovered in those old archives in Spain. She re-discovered centuries later that summer whaling expeditions occurred, then ended after several centuries, because the whale population was depleted so (or the whales adapted and swam elsewhere). By the way, on those old Spanish maps, the land mass where they set up their summer camp for processing the whale oil (used to fuel the streetlights in Paris and London) was thought to be uninhabited – so they wrote “Ca nada” meaning “Here, nothing”. The name stuck!
ADAM’S CALENDAR may be another such amazing discovery? In our time. I visited it today at it is enchanting. Enough said! Please visit it on Google.
The Signs of the Times
Ben Christo’s departure makes me reflect on being a generation older, also a pale male, and worse yet a foreigner… in a context of 45% unemployment.
As a missionary, I face three challenges that are symptomatic of this country.
First, South Africa has a run-away case of affirmative action. Many black intellectuals are saying openly that they want to start competing on merit – not because they are “historically disadvantaged”. My major concern is that the advantage in this country is being given to the majority – not to a minority. And to a majority that is in power.
Second, there are strong sentiments of xenophobia in South Africans. This has various manifestations, but the conflict in Sasolburg is this year’s major episode. I have run into it head on this year, personally, in attitudes that defy incarnational missiology.
Third, unemployment rates are soaring. In line with a world-wide phenomenon, this is mainly among youth. We prefer to give a hand up than a hand-out, but the new grant corroborates the rationale for C4L’s main focus. African Youth do not need charity, they need INSPIRATION!
The 3 reasons cited lead me to conclude that I need to be “re-treaded”. I am certainly not in a position to retire, but like Benedict I may have to do the unthinkable…
Since I first came to Africa to work in 1982, I have resisted the traditional paradigm of “missionary support”. In my heart I still do, as I prefer to function on a level playing field. But that playing field now has reached a tipping point – against “tentmakers”. So I am thinking that I need to raise “support” outside South Africa to cover 50% of my income. It may seem like regress, but I think that the logic is sound.
Another factor that I have written about previously is the trend towards a “command economy” in South Africa. This is having a huge effect on what I do for a living – training. Stacked together with the three points above, sustaining my ministry is likely to need external “balance of payments support”.
Here are some options that come to mind:
- Spend periods away (possibly in Canada) earning and saving
- Visit Canada for a sabbatical period (maybe in summer) to raise missionary support
- Get C4L to reinvent itself, as the symbiosis between it and myself are evident to all
Do I want to emigrate? (Or is it to return?) Not in my heart. I am not there yet. Just as Benedict is not leaving the Vatican, but becoming a “pope emeritus”, I still see C4L as home.