How I suddenly understood what it means to be a child of the Enlightenment

Right in the middle of our sixty minute interview, it seemed to be silent for a few minutes. I felt very uncomfortable. The question that I just asked, didn’t fit into this context. The person in front of me, a reverend, rooted in one of the poorest Capetown townships, looked me straight in the eye and answered: “Never ever. Not any moment of my life."

After asking that question, and seeing how it was completely misfitted in this setting, in a split second I rewinded so many things that I’ve heard and read before. In Africa we don’t have the burden of being born after the Enlightenment, wrote Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his book 'God has a dream'. In Europe they use to say: "I think, therefore I am". In Africa we say: "You are, therefore I am”. When you ask someone in Africa how he’s doing, his answer will be: 'we' are good. It is about ‘us', rather than about 'me'. This is what Fanie du Toit calls interdependence. It is the acknowledgement that we're better of together.

During the taxi-ride from downtown Capetown to this township I was again confronted with the huge differences in the country of South Africa. Luckily a taxi driver full of joy supported us to bridge the barrier between the rich city center and the poor area of Gugulethu. He shared the one life lesson from his mother, after the other: "You can't save someone's life, but you can save him for a moment” and “never let a day pass by, without an act of charity”.

In this township, there used to be one murder every two-and-a-half days, in the last years. Over 100.000 people live in this area of 6,5 square kilometers. The reverend in front of me was born and raised in this circle of people. When his father retired, he had to find other ways to pay for his studies. He knocked at the door of the local church. And though the minister didn’t know him at all, he paid for everything. “From that moment on, I knew I wanted to work for this organization”, the reverend explaines slowly but firm. "And that’s why I can’t refuse a young man knocking at the door, begging for a life or education”. Now he represents South Africa one global Christian missionary level and makes it a priority to pay attention to HIV and AIDS and other social issues needing the attention of the church.

The reverend shared with us the important fact that as a leader, he was rooted in this community and that he understands the habits and expressions of the people. You have to connect to the story of your family. You are, because they were. He told us about the fact that it was difficult to deal with the resistance of the church, while he talked about HIV and AIDS in the church. "You know", he said, "the whole divide of them and us... it takes a lot of experience to see that all these divides are men-made."

Driving back down town, in the taxi, I was still flabbergasted. I will never forget the eyes of this man, when I asked him whether he had ever considered to do this work on his own, disconnected from the church, as an autonomous professional. I suddenly understood that I couldn't even imagine what it would be like, to adapt to this way of living, to live from the spiritual conviction that "what I am, is about who you are”. It makes me more than curious to learn about this way of looking at the world and living together.