Can Robben Island Experience Redemption?

It was a brilliant day the sun was shining and there was a refreshing breeze blowing in from the Atlantic. I was glad we had gone through the registration for the conference the previous day. The centre looks fantastic and the staff couldn't have been more helpful, but I must confess I'm already feeling hemmed in even perhaps imprisoned at the thought of 6 days in a conference centre. I'm not looking forward to fighting my way through 5000 people to get my daily packed lunch, maybe I'll skip lunch. I must confess I feel a bit of a wimp thinking these thoughts knowing what real prisoners have to suffer. We arrived at the waterfront and got off the bus and headed for the boat that takes the crowds over to the Island. The waterfront reminded me of San Francisco with it's board walks but what makes this place unique is the vibrant live music that catches your ears. There seems to be performers everywhere you look. One moment you can be listening to an amazing five piece jazz band then you hear the strains of a blues guitar or you are being mesmerised by the dancing and singing of a group of teenagers. [youtube][/youtube] Contrast this with the group of over 200 people who are filing their way past security to go to Robben Island. They are made up of all ages, all sizes and nationalities. A good number of Africans are part of the group. No one seems to be making conversation. Most are thinking what it must be like to know your going to prison for over 27 years. If you want to take this trip you have to make reservations well in advance. It is always over subscribed. So what is it that draws human beings to the place if suffering for reflection? Martin Luther asks a similar question when talking about the cross of Christ. He suggests that we are almost entertained or engaged and detained as we look at suffering. He further reflects on Paul's writings when he suggests that we are reconciled to God by the suffering Christ. Could we in some strange way be Redeeming Robben Island through our visit? One thing is for sure this place needs redemption. One can't help think how such sadness and evil be used to educate and tell others about the truth of the human spirit. We can fly so high and crawl so low. What makes all this the more disgraceful is that I have just learned that the people who have been running this operation are under investigation for fraud. According to the 'Lonely Planet Guide' in 2008 investigators were brought in to trace the 3 million that had gone missing from the books. When you arrive on Robben Island you go on a short bus ride to the prison and a guide gives a very informative talk about the conditions that the prisoners endured. No one did any work that had significance or value. They spent their lives breaking lime stones and being blinded by the dust from the lime. There is no shelter from the blistering sun only a small cave where many of the literate political prisoners like Mandela would teach reading and writing to the others. Many years later tue prisoners returned . Mandela was among them. He walked on his own picked up s stone and laid it purposefully on the ground. One by one all did the dame until a heap of many stones created a Cairn. Stones that once served no purpose now stand as a reminder to future generation of the pain others endured to secure their freedom. The thing is there is very little on this site that acts as an education tool apart from the prison blocks and the cells and Mandela's cell with a blanket and chair and cup. However the most powerful statement if all was was our guide he had been a political prisoner for over 5 years on Robben Island. No words of hate no bitterness was detected from his story as we moved around the jail. Just a profound sense of deep sadness and shame that men could do this to their fellow human beings all in pursuit of an evil ideology. It was the same feeling I had as we passed through district 6 on the bus tour. The challenge for our conference is to understand and contextualise the importance of the Gospel in bringing about the changes required in our world of struggle and shame. It was surely a suffering Christ that had reconciled us to God and to each other.
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