Out of Aberdeen and Orkney Diocese and into Africa
Three years of preparation and planning came to an end when, on Tuesday, July 8, 12 young people from the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney boarded a plane at Aberdeen Airport bound for the Diocese of St John's, South Africa. The youth exchange teams were led by the Rev Ian Thompson as diocesan youth chaplain, and Mrs Gwynneth Lloyd of St Mary's, Aberdeen. We were joined by the Rev David and Mrs Melanie Campbell from Newport-on-Tay who, thanks to the generosity of their congregations, were able to be part of the exchange visit.
The group arrived in Umtata (which was to be their home base) tired and apprehensive, almost 30 hours after leaving home, but the excitement and enthusiasm of the young people from St John's waiting to welcome them soon dispelled these feelings.
The next three weeks proved to be a merry-go-round of experiences and emotions, the generosity of the host families and the warmth of the reception extended to the Scots was overwhelming; the poverty seen in places like the Tipini community and the sight of young children begging in the streets, both moved and challenged them and the very basic nature of some of their accommodation brought an awareness of just how affluent Scottish society really is.
The trip was in three sections. During the first few days the group spent time getting to know their African hosts, the local young people, and touring around parts of Umtata and then it was off to Butterworth for the start of the "conference season". The Scots attended three conferences, the first of which was organised by the Girls Friendly Society. This was quickly followed by the Diocesan Youth Conference and the Renewal Conference. These introduced the youth exchange team to more aspects of African culture and worship.
As well as conference going, the Scots spent time examining the social and cultural history of South Africa and the former Republic of Transkei with their hosts. This proved to be both interesting and informative as they talked together about the past and the future, the problems facing the country now and the attempts at reconciliation currently under way in the country.
The final week of the trip was spent walking down the "wild coast" on the eastern seaboard of the country with some of the members of the St John's Youth Guild. Walking between 12 and 15km a day over fairly rough terrain, sleeping in basic rondevaals (round mud houses) and cooking on open wood fires were the order of the day and this proved to be the most arduous part of the visit, at least physically. Space does not permit the tales of hole-riddled ferries. encounters with snakes, hours spent lost in the forest or rivers that had to be waded or swum across but this was an eventful week for the young Africans as well as the Scots! At the end of this adventure, however, everyone knew a lot more about themselves and each other.
The last weekend was spent back in Umtata and was largely taken up with discussions reflecting on the visit and farewells. Attendance at a National Peace Rally revealed how involved the Church is in the political life of the nation and a visit to the university made clear how great the challenge facing the country is as the problems of Door resources and limited finance are addressed. For the young Scots both of these visits revealed even more of the complexity of the situation which exits in the new South Africa.
In some ways it was a very different group of people who boarded the plane at Umtata airport to begin the long journey back to Aberdeen. New friendships had been formed, new experiences had been encountered and many new lessons learned. There was some comfort in the knowledge that some of the Africans will visit Aberdeen next year but, as the plane sped along the runway, the Scots resolved that they must return one day for they were leaving something of themselves behind with the people of South Africa who had taken them to their hearts and whom they had come to love as sisters and brothers in Christ.
This story comes from the "Scottish Episcopalian".