“How was it?”, said the WhatsApp message.
Uuhhhhmmm, what do I say in a few words on a smartphone?
Praying with more than a million South African believers was priceless. It was the biggest religious gathering in South Africa since… since the previous weekend, actually. Every Easter weekend, an estimated 3-5 million members of the Zion Christian Church goes to Moria in Limpopo.
I heard people say – and made the mistake myself – that “It’s Time” was the biggest religious gathering ever in South Africa. That is worrisome. It shows that South Africans still do not know and talk to each other enough. Most of us do not even know of the annual event in Moria. In fact, this is great evidence of why we need to pray together – and talk together – in the first place.
I can understand why this event was both anticipated and criticised:
“Could the money to get to Bloemfontein not rather have been spent on the poor”, asks the critics. This is a valid question. When one mentioned, in particular, flush toilets for the poor in Kayelitsha as an example of a need, I took notice. Because on the way there, I went behind roadside bushes. At the venue, they had portable bucket toilets (Yuck!). But there is a time to pour out your proverbial perfume on Jesus, even while people ask if the money could have been better spent. (Mark 14:1-9)
“Was this really a prayer meeting for all South Africans?”
I saw at “It’s Time” how much a big percentage of white South Africans want to pray for the country. From where I sat, I estimated about 95% of attendants were white.
On the one hand, it was wonderfully encouraging to see how many people wanted to pray for the country. On the other hand? In the light that the topic was prayer for South Africa, I believe too little was done to include other South Africans. The main (only) speaker was not only a white man, but a farmer. I do not think that even the praise and worship planning included believers of other races. The planning largely excluded the poor and people too ill to travel too: Poor people could not afford to attend. And the meeting was not brought, technologically, to believers elsewhere who could not be there. Angus Buchan is also a specialist in speaking to males (men’s conferences), and sometimes criticized for sexism1 in his messages to men – but the white male organizers simply accepted (without even thinking about it) that women, if they wanted to pray for South Africa, should listen to their guy.
On the positive side, it means over 50 000 blacks and over 500 000 women humbled themselves to listen – once again – to someone who is not one of their own. (If my people, who are called by my name, humble themselves and pray…) But the over 500 000 white men has to remember that they, too, need the humility to learn from and listen to women preachers and preachers of other races.
And the message?
Uncle Angus told us of people who were converted at his conferences, and encouraged us to commit ourselves to God. He let us pray on our own, and he prays.
Like most preachers of mega churches, I see self-promotion: He has the humility that says: “I am just a semi-illiterate farmer…”, but not the humility to mention himself less often. All his stories is about things that happened while Angus was preaching, men who helped at Angus Buchan conferences, etc. This would probably have been a good day to give examples of revivals elsewhere or stories of unity and reconciliation in South Africa in 1994, but those stories would not have had Angus Buchan in them.
“Today I only say what God puts on my heart”, said he. More humble preachers know that they try, to the best of their knowledge and prayers, to do that. But in their fallibility, the listeners have to test even the preacher’s words against Scripture. This type of confidence, the assurance that their own words and God’s does not differ one bit, usually appears – as far as I can see – only in men who have been the boss of their own business for decades, who do not know what it is to eat their words or follow orders, and with limited knowledge of church history. (Church history is full of sincere people who tried to follow God, but disagreed how.)
“God is going to heal sick people in their chairs today, with nobody praying for them. There are people addicted to drugs or alcohol today, who will never touch drugs/ drink again. There comes a time when parliament in South Africa will be opened with prayer and Bible reading“, he predicts. (I think of cases when even Bible reading and prayer were abused by those who love to have power over others, how cooperation between church and state usually does more for the state than for faith, how Bible reading in parliament is not necessarily a sign of the Kingdom. But the other two things will be.)
“God does not need a million praying people together to hear you”, the critics reminded us before the meeting. This is true. We do not change God’s unwillingness by praying, we step closer to The One who wants to give good things. Why pray when a million of us does not change the mind of God? Because a million pray-ers gets (at least a little) transformed by God. And to change South Africa, we need to change South Africans.
If you were at “It’s Time”: Thank you, it was great! Keep on praying, the prayers of a righteous person are powerful! (James 5:16) And if you experienced one of the healings (from illness or addiction) that Uncle Angus mentioned, I really want to hear your testimony!
If you love God and chose not to be there: God sees your prayers as much as ours. Also keep on praying, the prayers of a righteous person are powerful! Know that we still want to pray with you, too.
For all believing South Africans who read here:
Maybe, “It’s Time” also showed us that we still need to pray and work for unity. Buchan prayed that we repent of “racialism” (his word for “racism”), and it is sad that we as South African believers still could not work together, as different races and sexes, to to organize a prayer day that all races are equally likely to come and pray for the country we hold in common. A prayer day broadcasted for rich and poor. Where spirit-filled leaders of both sexes and of all our population groups let every believer know this day is for people like her – or him – too.
Maybe it is good that people ask if the money could have been spent better. Perhaps that question could motivate some of us to do more for the poor.
If this prayer day was the whole story, then “It’s Time” was a waste of time. But if it is part of a million stories which continue in the power of God with insight from Above, it was an important event.
1To anyone who wants to say “but he only preaches the Bible, and the Bible says women should…”, it is possible to understand those very same Bible texts in another context. Here is a spoof example of using the Bible in a female leadership context, and a serious one of using the Bible in an egalitarian context.