For two weeks in August Rev. Sam Powers of Piedmont First United Methodist Church attended the World Methodist Conference in Durban, South Africa, worshipping and meeting with Christian leaders from around the world.
Powers, who traveled with his wife Sheryl, was one of 17 delegates from Oklahoma to make the 30 hour trek to South Africa and said the experience left him with a new perspective on life and his own ministry.
“I think for me taking Communion there, so far away in a different culture, was very cool,” Powers said. “To have that sense of the spirit of Christ on the other side of the globe was powerful.”
Powers said his trip to Durban included worshipping at the convention center and in several local churches, learning about the local history of South Africa and even taking part in a safari at an area animal refuge. Powers said he had an opportunity to learn more about the period of apartheid, when South Africa was legally forced to be segregated for nearly 50 years.
“I found out that apartheid broke up people into four categories; Indian, black, colored (mixed race) or white,” Powers said. “I thought it was similar to our segregation (in America’s past) but it was very layered. They are still healing from that and still uniting as a people.”
South Africa is an English speaking nation but made up of many different types of cultures, including Indian as Durban was a major stop on the trading route between India and England.
“There was a moment when we prayed the Lord’s Prayer and were asked to recite it in our native language,” Powers said. “It was really powerful and moving experience as we heard this prayer being said in different languages.”
Powers also said he observed a large amount of poverty while in South Africa. The nation suffers from a 25 percent unemployment rate, according to several international economic data firms, yet the nation is one of Africa’s most stable.
“It was interesting seeing a great need in the world, but also how similar we are to other people in the world,” Powers said. “We complain about such minor things in comparison to others, so it really helps me have a perspective on wants versus needs. At the same time you meet people and talk to them and you realize these people are people just like we are; they just live in different places.”
During one of the conference services all the pastors were asked to come to the front and pray with others. Powers said one woman in the choir came to him and asked for prayer that she would find a job.
“She just wants a place to work,” Powers said. “It really made me aware of the great need in the world and gave me perspective on how we can help others and how much we actually have here.”