The ZCC The largest Church in South Africa (with over 10 Million members) – honoured the Ambassador from Israel in its December 2013 magazine by publishing a letter from Ambassador Lenk.
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"The ZCC Messenger" article reads ….
"From Jerusalem to Moria, from Israel to South Africa, a shared inspiration"
By Ambassador Arthur Lenk
“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” Leviticus 19:34
Diplomats, like many other people who have travelled to new places understand the power and truth of this biblical commandment. For Jews, we who have roamed the world for thousands of years, these words are especially poignant. As I was getting prepared in the first half of 2013 to serve as the new Ambassador of the State of Israel in South Africa, I certainly had some concerns. Beyond the usual concerns of a new place, culture and settling my family, I had heard much about the complicated relationship between the governments of South Africa and Israel. There seemed to be a “conventional wisdom” that South Africans do not like Israel.
Very soon after arriving in Pretoria in August, I received an invitation to attend the annual New Years’ Service of the Zion Christian Church in Moria by the office of Bishop Lekganyane. I must admit that I did not know much about the ZCC but members of my staff told me that the Bishop was a regular guest at our Independence Day events and, of course the word “Zion” peaked my curiousness. So I researched for a few minutes and it was clear to me that this was an event not to be missed.
So on a Sunday morning, I got up (very) early and drove from Pretoria, straight past Polokwane, to Moria. I was met at the entrance by ZCC officials and driven past multitudes of people walking, sitting and even dancing along the road. They were all wearing ZCC uniforms of different colors. My immediate desire was to get out of my car and walk among them. The car took me near the church where I sat with other guests and senior officials to wait for the start of the service. As I was sitting there I met the Premier of Limpopo and the Mayor of Tshwane, there were Government Ministers and university presidents. It was clear that I was in a special place.
Eventually we entered the church and a list of guests and dignitaries was distributed. My eyes were amazed to see that not only was I the second person on the list but I was the only foreign official. It had already been clear but by then it was obvious that I was among friends. And the long but very moving service began.
The Bishop’s simple but moving calls for faith despite challenges of everyday life in South Africa and offering optimism and direction, asking his followers again and again to “be strong, have faith in the God of the Mount of Zion” was especially poignant being translated in turn into Zulu/Xhosa, Venda, Tsonga and Herero languages. The hundreds of thousands of people on the grounds were sitting silently, drinking in every word.
For a Jewish visitor from Israel the subtext of the message was obvious – the God of the Mount of Zion is my God! Mount Zion is in Jerusalem, the city that is holy for Jews, Christians and Muslims. The original Moria, in the Bible (2 Chronicles 3:1), is also in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel and has been the place of yearning for the Jewish people throughout history.
We share the same holy book, the Bible. Psalms 48 begins:
Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God!
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King
For me, the moving lesson of my visit to the ZCC in Moria was to understand just how much we have in common. The lesson was that our skin color, our nationality, our religion do not matter. We have the same dreams and aspirations. I believe that Israel and its achievements have much to offer South Africans. Israel’s modern successes in agriculture technologies, in water management, in scientific innovation and in hi-tech achievements positively affect people around the world. They can have meaning and offer great possibilities for our brothers and sisters in South Africa. And for Israel and its neighbours, the lessons of South Africa and its efforts to resolve the most difficult issues can be equally inspirational.
I look forward to further opportunities to share our shared values and dreams with my friends in the ZCC. I know clearly that for members of the ZCC and millions of others around South Africa, Israel is a place of dreams, possibilities and inspiration. I hope that we can continue to inspire each other and offer opportunities of friendship and fellowship for the people of Israel and South Africa, and shall we both continue to “be strong and have faith in the God of the Mount of Zion.”
Arthur Lenk is the Ambassador of Israel to South Africa, Lesotho, Mauritius and Swaziland
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