Urgent Statement on Xenophobic attacks in South Africa. 

Gracepoint-Logo-with-satellites-July2014

Dear Friends,

Over the past few days the tensions that boil under the surface in our country have one again erupted in horrendous acts of xenophobic violence – and we cannot stay silent.

In the words of the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Bishop Zipho Siwa:

“We join the Speak Out Campaign in saying we cannot afford to be silent in the face of such inhumane acts. We call on all people; the church, religious communities; business and civil society to speak out with one voice condemning the violence. We call on all leaders to speak loudly and unambiguously in condemning all attacks on foreign nationals living in South Africa. We appeal to all people in leadership and influence to refrain from using inflammatory language in a volatile situation. Our country is burning and all hands need to be on deck in putting out the fire. To avoid confusion, all other long term issues need to be shelved for now, to be addressed separately at a later stage. Ending xenophobia must take precedence. The violence and bloodshed must stop! We call on all peoples living in South Africa to SPEAK OUT AND ACT!! Let us all work together to end xenophobia through whichever platforms avail themselves including in our families, communities, social media and even on the street.”

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So what can we practically do?

Here are some ways we encourage you to respond right now:

1. Please join us in prayer. We will earnestly pray as a community at our services tomorrow at all our campuses. (Glenferness: 8:15am10am & 6pm, Phelang Ka Mohau: 9:30am, Melrose: 9am and Monte: 5pm).
2. We will be collecting tinned food, clothing, blankets, baby clothes and supplies, blankets and toiletries, to distribute to those affected by the xenophobic violence and displacement. Please bring these items to church with you tomorrow.
3. A march will be taking place in the Joburg CBD on Thursday 23 April. More details about this will follow in the next few days.

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Let us pray for our nation and our continent and allow God to stir our souls that we cannot remain silent, but do all we can to pursue justice and love for all His people.

Grace and Peace, 
Gary & Jacqui

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He has risen, now what? 

As we experience the Ressurection of Jesus Christ throughout the world, one has to ask the question, now what? For the followers of Jesus Christ, it started with them locking themselves in a room, very, very scared. (John 20). Jesus at some stage appears to the fearful follwers and speaks peace over them. From that moment on, the disciples, filled eventually with the Holy Spirit, go into the world, to spread the good news. And then get killed. For that very same faith. Their are different accounts as to how the early followers of Christ died, but the most accepted reasons are as follows;

Bartholomew (skinned alive and beheaded)—Preached the Gospel in Mesopotamia (Iraq), Persia (Iran), Turkey, Armenia and India. He was skinned alive and beheaded at Derbent (Azerbaijan, near Russia) on the Caspian Sea by order of a local king after a majority of the people of Derbent converted to Christianity. Some of Bartholomew’s skin and bones are still kept in The Basilica of St. Bartholomew in Rome, a part of his skull is in Frankfurt, Germany and an arm is venerated at the Canterbury Cathedral in England.

James, the Lesser (stoned and clubbed-to-death)—Believed to have preached in Damascus (Syria) and acknowledged as the first bishop of the Christians in Jerusalem (Israel). Historians say he was sentenced to be stoned-to-death by the Jews for challenging Jewish Laws and for convincing some of members of the Jewish community to convert to Christianity. James died when during the stoning, one person from the crowd approached him and bashed his head with a fullers club (a piece of wood used for bashing-washing clothes). He was buried on the spot where he died, somewhere in Jerusalem.

Andrew (crucified upside down on an X-shaped cross)—Preached in Georgia (Russia), Istanbul (Turkey), Macedonia and finally Greece. There in Patros, Greece, the Governor Aegiatis was angered by the apostle’s preaching and the conversion of his own family to Christianity. He ordered Andrew to renounce his faith in front of a tribunal. When Andrew resisted, the governor ordered that Andrew be crucified. He was tied upside down to an X-shaped cross with thick, tight ropes but Andrew kept preaching to spectators. He was able to convince many to accept Christianity just before he died after suffering for three days. Parts of his remains are in Constantinople (Turkey), Scotland (England), but his skull is kept in Patras to this day.

Judas Iscariot (suicide, death by hanging)—Best known as the apostle who betrayed the Lord by divulging His location, leading to His arrest and persecution. He received 30 pieces of silver from Jewish priests for the information he gave. Prior to this, Judas served as the treasurer of the 12 Apostles; in charge of keeping the group’s budget/money. Sources could not agree on how he died. There are three accepted versions: (1) he committed suicide by hanging himself to a tree, (2) he accidentally fell on a field– head first (3) he was crushed by a passing chariot (4) he was stoned-to-death by the other 11 Apostles. But all four agree that “his bowels gushed out” (Ewwww!) on all four accounts. Authors and scholars also agree that his guilt was a major part of the cause of his death.

Peter (crucified upside down)—Recognized as the head of the original Christian community in Jerusalem (Israel), he left the city when King Herod Agrippa I started to persecute all Christians in Jerusalem and ordered the beheading of the Apostle James (the Great) . After escaping from Jerusalem, Peter preached in Judea (originally Palestine) and in Antioch (Syria) where he is historically considered as the first patriarch (bishop) of the Orthodox Church. After staying in Antioch for some time, Peter went to Rome and converted thousands into Christianity. The emperor at the time, Nero, did not like the idea of Romans becoming Christians and used the new members of the group for his amusement (e.g. feeding them to lions or wild dogs, and then burning them at stake in Rome’s coliseum—yes, the tourist spot– if they do not renounce their faith). Peter was one of the most prominent victims of this persecution. He was captured and crucified upside-down at his own request, because he said he was not worthy to be crucified the same way as our Lord. St. Peter’s body lies below the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican City, in Rome.

John (thrown into boiling oil, but survived)—For most of his labours, John was with Peter in Jerusalem up until the persecution of Herod Agrippa I. During this period, scholars agree that Johh escaped and preached for sometime in Asia Minor (an area around Turkey). Years later, scholars have traced that he went to Rome where it was believed he was persecuted with other Christians and was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil—he miraculously survived. The Roman emperor at the time, Dominitian, decided after the incident to banish John to the island of Patmos (in Greece). When Dominitian died, John went back to Ephesus (in Turkey) where he spent the rest of his days. He died a very old man, the only Apostle to do so.

Thomas (impaled by a spear)—Called by most Christians as the “Doubting Thomas” for disbelieving the Lord’s Resurrection. But after his doubts were erased by touching Jesus’ wounds, he became a fearless preacher of the Gospel and builder of churches. He was the only Apostle who witnessed the Assumption of Mary and the one of the first Apostles who preached outside the boundaries of the vast Roman Empire (out of Europe). He preached in Babylon (present day Iraq) and established its first Christian church. Then he went to Persia (Iran) and travelled as far as China and India. He was martyred in Mylapore, India when a local king named Masdai condemned Thomas to death. The Apostle angered the Brahmins (high ranked priests/scholars who served as the king’s advisers) who thought Christianity disrespected India’s Caste System. Thomas was brought to a nearby mountain and was stabbed-to-death with a spear. He is believed to be buried around the suburb of Madras, in India.

 James, the Great (beheaded)—Brother of the Apostle John. He decided to preached the Gospel in Iberia (around Spain) and be the first to build a Christian foundation in the area. But according to some scholars, the Virgin Mary appeared to James and told him to return to Judea (around Israel) to help the other Apostles. He was captured and condemned to die by Herod the Agrippa 1 to please Jewish leaders who were furious at the rapid growth of the Church. James’ chief accuser was later convinced that the Apostle was indeed blessed by the Lord, he himself requested to be beheaded with James. After this, James’ body was brought back to Spain by his disciples and was buried in the area where the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is located, which is now considered as a major religious site.

Phillip (crucified)—Preached in Greece, Syria and in Turkey (in the cities of Galatia, Phrygia and Hierapolis). Philip partnered with Bartholomew in his missions. Like all Apostles, Philip became an exceptional speaker. According to sources “Through his miraculous healing and preaching, Philip converted the wife of the Preconsul of the city” of Hierapolis. Of course, this event angered the Preconsul and ordered that both Philip and Bartholomew be tortured and crucified upside down. While on the cross, Philip continued to preach and he was able to convince the crowd and the Preconsul to release Bartholomew, while insisting that he (Philip) remained crucified. Bartholomew was released but Philip died on the cross and was later buried somewhere within the city.

Matthew (burned-to-death?)—Was a rich tax collector and the most educated among the Apostles. Christian tradition says he preached in Ethiopia (in Africa), Judea (Israel today), Macedonia, Syria and Parthia (northeast Iran). Bible scholars have different versions on how he died. Some say he was either killed with a sword in Parthia or he died a natural death in Ethiopia. The most interesting and dramatic story says Matthew came to a city (unnamed) and was able to convert the family of the local king to Christianity. This angered the king and ordered his soldiers to capture Matthew. In front of a huge crowd, they nailed him unto a bed, covered his whole body with paper, oil, brimstone, asphalt and brushwood and then they set him ablaze. Matthew was able to endure the torture while praising and preaching, but eventually died “a happy death”. Everyone who touched the burnt bed after was miraculously healed and converted into Christianity, including the king who asked for forgiveness and became a staunch Christian believer.

Jude Thaddeus (sawed or axed to death?)—the Patron Saint of Desperate Cases and Lost Causes was a farmer before becoming an Apostle. He was a partner of Simon the Zealot and together they preached and converted non-believers in Judea (Israel), Persia (Iran), Samaria (Israel), Idumaea (near Jordan), Syria, Mesopotamia (Iran) and Libya. It is also widely believed that Jude travelled and preached in Beirut, Lebanon. He also helped Bartholomew in bringing Christianity to Armenia. The cause of his death in unclear because of the existence of two versions: (1) He was crucified in Edessa, Turkey; (2) He was clubbed-to-death and his body was either sawed or axed in pieces after (together with Simon the Zealot). Some sources say he was buried either in Northern Persia or the most accepted version that his remains are buried in a crypt at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Simon the Zealot (sawed or axed-to-death?)—Before becoming an apostle, Simon was a member of the “Zealots”, a political movement rebelling against the Roman occupation of Jerusalem. Identified by some as the second Bishop of Jerusalem after James the Lesser (who was beheaded). He’s also believed to have preached in the Middle East, North Africa, Egypt, Mauritania and even Britain. His martyrdom is being debated by scholars and historians who claim Simon might have been crucified by the Romans in Lincolnshire, Britain, crucified in Samaria (Israel) after a failed revolt or sawed-to-death in Suanir, Persia with Jude Thaddeus.

The point is that the death and RESSURECTION of Christ prompts us to action. We can no longer take refuge in a static world if the power of the RESSURECTION resides in us. 

God calls Abram out of a static existence without any idea of where to. Abram responds counter – culturally, packs everything up and leaves with his family to an unknown land and an unknown destiny. (Genesis 12). What’s your story? 

T.S. Eliot writes of ” a man who leaves the comfort of his home only to return and rediscover his home, only to truely know it for the first time.” 

Our  ‘leaving’, ‘comfort’, ‘home’, ‘returning’, rediscovering’, is probably all very different. But what dies it mean for you? There is something intrinsically wrong if we walk away from the empty tomb unaffected. For those who walk away from the empty cross still carrying the burden of sin, shame and guilt is to is miss the meaning if the cross completely. To walk away from the empty tomb without embarking on a risky journey, I believe, is to is the meaning of the RESSURECTION. 

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. C.S. Lewis 


He has risen, now what?