From Capetown to Baltimore…excerpts from Craig Sparks’ reflections 8.14.16

Cape Town’s a beautiful land. It’s the most stunning place I’ve ever seen with a mountain range called the Twelve Apostles. I hiked up one of them with new friends, and made my way to Table Mountain. It was a very different communion. My favorite place was Cape Point, the southern tip, where it felt like I reached the edge of the earth.

It’s a holy land. Sacred and blessed. It’s also a land with deep and lasting scars….

Today, the Apartheid government has fallen, but the scars on the land still remain. The townships remain deeply segregated with high crime rates, especially at night. I was repeatedly told that it wasn’t safe for me to go into the townships without going with a local, and not to be in the townships at night. So I made friends with locals to get to know the real Cape Town….

On my last day in Cape Town, I visited the Khayelitsha township with Pumla, one of the women who worked in the hostel where I stayed. That Sunday morning, she picked me up at my hostel to drive in to her church. Their church was simple, unadorned. I was ushered to the front, given a prime seat right behind the pastor’s and deacons’ wives. There was no piano. No organ. There were no drums or guitar. Service began when the deacons walked onto the raised platform at the front of the church, about thirty of them. Then, to my right, a woman broke into song, the first line of a Xhosa hymn. Then, all around me came the answer as the entire congregation lifted their voices in praise, rich in harmony together. I did not understand a single word of that service, but there was a spirit in that place that was universal and undeniable.

It was the spirit that had been whispering to me through my entire time in Cape Town. It’s easy to miss it in the hardship and poverty in the townships, in the physical divisions and self-segregation. But it was the same spirit of the bed-ridden elderly woman I met in Langa, in her small shipping container house. I saw her eyes light up when I took notice of the gospel singer performing on her TV.

Or the elderly gentleman who talked to me about his youth playing in dance bands in Cape Town. The older women in Langa who danced with me at a concert by a French Voo-doo Funk Band.

Or in Thami, the young woman who opened for the band who I met in the gardens on my first day. She invited me to the concert. It was the spirit alive in Jeryd Jooste, a young musician in Manenberg that I met on the prayer walk. In the midst of violence and shootings so bad that he couldn’t go outside, he sat with his guitar and wrote a song called “Sunshine Mornings” to show the true heart of Manenberg. It’s the spirit most visible in the eyes of the children everywhere you go….

Back now in Baltimore, I’ve had a chance to reflect on my time in Cape Town. In many ways, the problems that we face here in Baltimore are scaled down versions of what I saw in Cape Town. Geographic divisions and racial mistrust and misunderstanding. Lack of economic opportunity and poor transportation. Problems with education and housing. We have our own legacy of walls, and our own scars to show it. I’ve been thinking about how to be a bridge builder in Baltimore.

During our Vacation Bible School on Harlem Ave, I had a chance to sit down with Arthenia, and share a bit about my trip, the people I met, and how I am trying to help. She told me, “We need help here, too.” So I’ve started looking for organizations and musicians that might be able to work with those kids. And I’m also realizing how little I know about her, and about the rest of our friends on Harlem Ave. I feel a call to pray with them, to share a meal, to talk more with them about what they do and what they dream of doing. Right now, I’ve got a zip-line to Harlem Ave. I zoom in for an event, and then right back out. But that’s not a bridge. That’s not the kind of lasting structure that will pull our worlds closer together.

Scripture today tells us, “Where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am.” Christ’s name isn’t “easy.” It isn’t “Convenience.” “Christ’s name is “Lamb of God.” Christ’s name is “sacrifice.” Christ’s name isn’t “Tourist.” It isn’t “Volunteer.” Christ’s name is “Light of the World.” It is “Love.” If we are to spread God’s love and light, we must gather with those across the wall in His name, His true name.

I’ve been a tourist. But not in Cape Town. I’ve been a tourist here in Baltimore. But I’ve come back from South Africa with a conviction to be more than that. I want to build real relationships, real friendships. I want to climb over these invisible walls in our city, building bridges. I’ve been doing some of that volunteering for the strings program at Thomas Jefferson and with a summer camp run by a pastor in Highlandtown that I’m friends with. I’ve started looking for resources for Arthenia and Harlem Avenue so that when I call her up, and ask her to join me for lunch, I can tell her that I heard her, and I’m here to help.

I have been to such an amazing world. And I’ve brought back beautiful pictures, and stories, and music for you. But the greatest thing I have brought back is this message: Build a bridge with someone outside your walls. If you see a wall that you feel called to transcend. Answer that call.

The work Hunting Ridge has been doing on Harlem Avenue is a wonderful foundation to build a bridge on, but I know I can do better, and I suspect that many of you could, too. It’s easy when we’re working for the kids…  Through prayer and worship with them, through fellowship and conversations, through the breaking of bread and the sharing of meals, through care for kids and adults.

We live in a world with too many walls. In Christ’s name, build bridges.

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