An Unexpected Trip Reaps Global Goodwill
Rick Rodgers, at one time, knew every seated governor in the country, in his former
role with the National Governors' Association. But of the numbers of powerful national politicians he
has known, none compared to the international religious figures the McLean resident and businessman
recently met in another country.
Rodgers participates with the work of Lazarus House Faith Community in downtown Washington. One of its
goals is promoting racial harmony. Several years ago, they "adopted" a sister church in Johweto, South
Africa. Johweto was founded in 1983 as a true attempt at interracial living. Rodgers' group had hosted
visitors from South Africa, but had not found a way to finance a trip to Johweto. Earlier this year,
an unexpected gift included enough money to send some people to South Africa. Rodgers was among those
It's often said, to explain life's little coincidences, that God moves in mysterious ways. As Rodgers
was driving with some South Africans one night, they began to discuss Beyers Naudé, whom they credited
with ending apartheid. Naudé, a clergyman with the Dutch Reformed Church, came from one of the original
Afrikaner families and, as a white, had defied his own history and been stripped of his clerical status
and punished by the government. Now in his 80's, he is an icon of the civil rights movement in South
Africa. Someone said "I wish there were some way we could meet him."
When Rodgers and his group got to Johweto, a resident in the township knew someone who knew someone
else who made a phone call. Naudé agreed to meet them immediately! That's as if a South African came
here and said, "Gee, I've always admired Coretta Scott King," and Anna said, "Okay. I'll have my cousin
call her friend in Atlanta. She went to school with someone who knew one of their kids!"
Now the tale gets even stranger. Before Rodgers left, he and his wife were downtown on the Mall on
July 4, and ran into someone they knew who said, "Oh, be sure to call my daughter Jane while you're
there - she lives in Cape Town."
Rodgers called Jane, and shortly after they arrived in South Africa, Amy Biehl, a Californian who was
working to end racial strife there, was pulled out of her car and beaten to death. Despite the crime,
and being white herself, Jane was not afraid to take Rodgers' group to the town where Amy Biehl had
At a church service in the black township, several young people stood up and read letters to Amy, saying
they knew she was there to help. And the minister asked everyone to remember how many thousands
of black people had died, even as they remembered this one white woman. Rodgers said at the end,
the whole congregation sang "How Great Thou Art," in English. He wept.
At one point in Cape Town, Jane said, "Well, what would you like to do while you're here?"
Rick answered, "I know there's no chance, but it would be so wonderful to meet Bishop Tutu."
Amazingly, Jane knew someone who worked for Tutu! She made the phone call. They were immediately
invited to a special Eucharist the next day, after which Tutu was leaving the country.
Rick said the whole service was moving and emotional. And then, Tutu finished the service and walked
right over to Rick and his group. Get this - he invited them to join him at breakfast. Rodgers
was stunned when Tutu insisted on paying for the meal.
An unexpected trip of goodwill from one small church here to a tiny one in South Africa is
one thing, but it doesn't compare with those who, at great personal risk and sacrifice, have
given their lives for peace and justice. Rick Rodgers knows the difference, because he met the
very people who make that choice every day.