Archdeacon Bhekindlela Magongo of Swaziland, in the the Province of Southern Africa, reflects on a recent visit to the Church of Ireland.
I was invited to visit Ireland by Linda Chambers of USPG Ireland, which is involved in social development work in Swaziland, and in advocacy for Swaziland all over Ireland. I came to be a face for Swaziland, and to tell my story which is also the story of children in Swaziland today.
Swaziland is facing many difficult issues today: the HIV/AIDS infection rate is around 36%; out of a population of 1.1 million there are 300,000 OVCs (Orphans and Vulnerable Children); 75% of the population are subsistence farmers; everywhere there is poverty and hunger; children are motivated to walk long distances, up to 10km, to school because they will have their only meal there.
I experienced all these things as a child, and I hope that my story will have an impact on people here in the Church of Ireland, and encourage them to support this good work that is being done for the people of Swaziland.
I was born into a polygamous family. My mother was my father’s second wife, and she and we were badly treated. I am stilled pleased today when I look at my feet and see my shoes. As children we walked barefoot to school, summer and winter, because we were given a meal there – usually mealie and beans.
My life was transformed by a stranger, an Anglican, who paid my school fees. There is no secondary school where I grew up, and for five years I lived with a relative far from home, and didn’t see my family.
I was treated like a slave there, but I persisted because I wanted a better future for myself, my mother and my siblings.
I very much enjoyed my visit to Ireland. I have experienced friendliness and hospitality. I have been welcomed and made to feel part of the Anglican Communion, and of the Church of Ireland. I have been able to share my story in dioceses, parishes and schools, and I am very grateful for those opportunities.
I am particularly grateful to Archbishop Michael Jackson and the staff of the Dublin and Glendalough Diocesan Office for their help, and to the staff and students of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute (CITI) who cared for me so well.
I have learned a lot during my visit. I have learned about hospitality, particularly in CITI where everyone is concerned that you are ok.
In the Diocesan Office I learned how a diocese can be structured for better operations. I also learned about Safeguarding Trust and the care of children and vulnerable adults within the Church. These two issues have given me a lot to work on when I return home.
I have learned about ways that the liturgy can be adapted to suit the day or season while remaining truly Anglican. I have begun to understand the importance of personal contact in establishing real two-way relationships, and I have seen how hard USPG is working on behalf of the people of Swaziland.
This visit has raised questions for me too, mostly around issues of buildings, resources and wealth. Why do you have two cathedrals in one city? What does this say about Christian unity? What does it say about the sharing of resources in the wider communion?
I hear talks about recession, although to a Swazi Ireland appears very wealthy. Maybe recession is an opportunity for us to discern what God is saying to us about our lifestyle? In Ireland most people still eat three meals a day. In Swaziland most people are very happy to have one.
Maybe Irish people would like to give up one meal a day, or even one meal a week for Swaziland?
I have enjoyed travelling by boat for the first time, on the ferry at Passage East, and singing with some members of the Discovery Choir at the Bishops’ Appeal Conference.
As I left Ireland, you were preparing for a special conference on human sexuality. It is a luxury to be able to confer on this issue. We have more pressing problems in Swaziland. Be that as it may, this is a sensitive issue for us as God’s stewards in his Church.
On behalf of the people of Swaziland I want to thank USPG Ireland for their concern about Swaziland and for taking action about the situation in Swaziland which has led to a partnership between our two countries in God’s mission.