A Story of Resilience, Grace, Persistence and Transformation

Jennifer Henry, executive director of KAIROS, gives a Reflection on water at Keepers of the Water: A Vigil of Lament and Celebration at Church of the Holy Trinity, Trinity Square on Wednesday, January 14, 2015. Photo/Michael Hudson

Last night, as an Anglican, I attended a eucharist and dinner hosted by the Anglican Church of Korea for members of the Anglican Communion at the World Council of Churches Assembly.  It was an honour to sit beside Father Michael Lapsley.  Anyone active in the struggle against apartheid, particularly those in the Canadian churches, will recognize his name, his face and his story.

Michael Lapsley + Jennifer Henry

Father Michael Lapsley with KAIROS Executive Director Jennifer Henry

Currently the Executive Director of the Institute for Healing of Memories in Cape Town, Father Michael was a frequent visitor to Canada during the anti-apartheid period, often invited by Canadian churches and the Inter-Church Coalition on Africa (one of the precursor coalitions to KAIROS).  As a representative of the African National Congress, Father Michael brought stories of apartheid to the consciousness of Canadians, and urged them into action. Shortly after an extensive trip to Canada, and while exiled in Zimbabwe, a letter bomb exploded in his presence resulting in the loss of both hands and damage to his eyes and ears. Because of their connection to Father Michael, when Canadians heard the terrible news they felt even more compelled to bring passion and voice to the anti-apartheid struggle.

Michael’s story is one of resilience and grace. He continues to contribute great leadership by supporting deep engagement in truth and reconciliation in South Africa and around the world, including our own Truth and Reconciliation Commission here in Canada.

His is also a story of persistence and transformation. It is a story of the change that is possible when we stay the course in faithful struggle. While challenges remain, apartheid in South Africa is over because of the courage of Black South Africans and their allies working together with so many people around the world.  The WCC is recognized as having played a critical role in ending apartheid by galvanizing church support for the struggle at all levels and in all corners of the globe – a global ecumenical movement to end apartheid.

In this year, as we at KAIROS celebrate 40 years of ecumenical social justice, it was an honour to meet one of the prophets of our collective struggle. We are reminded that the movements of Canadian churches and the global ecumenical movement have, by the grace of God, contributed to incredible change and transformation. Father Michael shows us the power of persistence.

We must acknowledge with grace that, if we believe in the God of justice and peace, our work is nowhere near over.  We have so many more systems of oppression to expose and to help bring to an end. May we live our lives faithfully in the best of these struggles, and may the God of radical love bring about the healing and justice that our world so desperately needs.

For information on Father Michael’s recent visit to Canada: http://www.anglicanjournal.com/articles/healing-without-hands-10348




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