For the last six years I have been involved with our diocesan link with the diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman in South Africa. I have written extensively about the diocese on my blog in the past, particularly a few years ago when the World Cup was held in that country. It has been a real privilege over the years to form some good friendships and work, particularly with clergy, across two continents and varied cultures.
Regrettably, due to other demands on my time, I shall soon be giving up as Chair of the Link Committee, however today we are meeting with Simon, Dean of Kimberley Cathedral, as he spends some time in the Oxford Diocese. It will be important to look back as well as look forward, there are some exciting developments including the appointment of a Development Officer in K and K, supported by the Oxford Diocese working with parish across a huge geographical area and supporting their outreach work into communities with many needs. Our partnership, as it has developed, has been built on trust and honesty, as well as real relationship. There have been (and still are) many challenges and an equal partnership has taken both determination and humility. We learn from one another and I have benefitted enormously from the privilege of walking with fellow brothers and sisters that path of shared faith in such different contexts.
It is at this time of year also that my parents receive their annual parcel from Germany. After the Second World War, at my mothers school, British schoolchildren were encouraged to have a pen friend in West Germany. A friendship was certainly born and for the last sixty years my parents have kept in touch with Maria and Jochen, and their family. Regular correspondence has been interspersed with visits, and throughout those years world events have been part of a shared friendship, including the fall of the Berlin Wall - never thought possible in those early days - and very important as Jochen escaped with his mother as a children from East Germany. That friendship, now marked by the regular Christmas parcel in both directions, has deepened understanding, far more than I am sure those early teachers ever thought.
Walking as friends in one another's shoes across divides, whether geographical, cultural, gender or race, changes lives and makes for a better world, as differences fade because what is shared is far more precious.
What if....we all tried walking in another person's shoes, even for one day ?