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Storey speaks about past, anti-apartheid work

Peter Storey's faith has brought him a long way.

A former South African church leader, journalist and counselor to former anti-apartheid leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Storey now serves as a professor of the practice of the Christian ministry at the Divinity School. He relayed his experiences during the struggle against apartheid and the role of Christians in the contemporary global context at the Multicultural Center Sunday night.

Storey grew up as a preacher's child in South Africa and attributes much of his "faith journey" to his father's influence.

"I saw the faith of my father and it left its mark on me," Storey said. "Faith seeps into the nooks and crannies of your life during worship and reading scripture when you don't even know it."

The community in which Storey grew up was multicultural, and he learned important lessons about the interaction between races early in life.

"I saw that blacks and whites were very different in their cultures," Storey said. "But the commonalties so far outweigh the differences, and I learned that we should cherish our commonalties."

Storey did not originally intend to go into ministry, and instead, had trained to be a naval officer. After receiving his calling, however, he attended seminary and eventually came to terms with what he believed was God's purpose in his life.

After seminary he was assigned as the chaplain to Robben Island, where many of South Africa's political prisoners were held. There, Storey ministered first to Robert Sobukwe, an influential activist against apartheid, and later to Mandela, who went on to become president of South Africa.

"I learned a lot from preaching to those prisoners," Storey said. "I saw in them immense strength, courage and morale.... I learned that greatness is not about what you wear or what you own, it's about who you are. I learned that freedom is something you carry inside yourself and it cannot be taken from you. I learned that these people lived by faith."

Storey also worked in Sydney, Australia, where he ran a center that counseled people via telephone. Storey then set up the first telephone ministries in the United States and South Africa, saying they taught him the "potential for healing through caring."

Storey then returned to South Africa where he lived in an area called District 6. Described as the "East Harlem of Cape Town," District 6 was home to a large number of mixed-race people.

In 1966, District 6 was declared a white area by the South African government, and Storey led his congregation in one of the first protests against apartheid. A plaque on the side of his church became the first monument against apartheid, and the church is now a museum.

Storey then became the senior minister at the central Methodist church in Johannesburg where he exercised his passion for inner-city churches. "The gospel comes alive when you live and work among the poor," he said.

As the president of the South African Council of Churches, Storey became close friends with Catholic Cardinal Desmond Tutu, who chaired South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and said he has "deep regard and respect for my relationship with [him]."

When questioned about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Storey noted that there were many parallels between the current situation in the Middle East and South Africa.

Such parallels have recently drawn attention on campus as part of an effort to divest from Israel.

"South Africa shows that people who have hated each other for years can live together," Storey said. "Right now the seekers of peace through justice are muted, but I believe that the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael will have reconciliation."


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