One of the privileges of the last year has been getting to know Obed Sebapalo, an Anglican ordinand from Lesotho. He’s spent two terms here in Durham and is returning home at the beginning of April. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed travelling with him to Stockton most Sundays and conversing on the way.
Lesotho is a land-locked country surrounded on all sides by South Africa. It’s economically poor, with 60% unemployment, and those who are employed are generally subsistence farmers. Around ten thousand are miners in South Africa, sending some of their wages home each month to their families. Obed is from the Thaba-Tseka district, a mountainous region with peaks generally around 2,500m. They’re high enough that they often have snow – unusually for Africa – so he was entirley unsurprised by the white stuff in Durham this winter!
He originally trained as a lawyer, and since 2002 has worked mainly as a registrar. His training for the priesthood started a year later, fitted in around his full-time work. Indeed he will continue as a lawyer after he has been ordained, as the Anglican church in Lesotho is rarely able to afford to employ priests full-time.
As anyone who gets to know Obed for any length of time discovers, he is a deeply devout person. He sees his life as a journey with God through daily prayer – he has regular prayer times throughout the day which he observes strictly. During this time there may be an act of contrition; he will invoke the Holy Spirit; he will talk to his guardian angel and the saints, and will offer to God the day with its works, joys and disappointments. However, the most important part of his spiritual journey is to take Mass and attend communion.
Within the Church of England there is often a stark contrast between the Anglo-Catholic and the charismatic spiritualities, but within African churches the distinction may often be less clear, with a recognition that God may be actively present in both. Thus, although the informal liturgy in Stockton is not his normal style, he’s been quick to see the activity of the Spirit within the community, and is open to the gifts of the Spirit being used.
Although he comes across as a quiet man who is very courteous, he is also a passionate and lion-hearted preacher. He is not afraid to challenge his audience if he believes it is what the Lord has told him to say: he has a fire that can only come from deep relationship with God.
Obed’s vocation is deeply conceived. He has “always cherished ideas of being a beacon of hope and encouragement to needy people, to ground them deeply in Christian values, to arm them with the heavenly weapons of prayer and faith to fight, and to help them on their journey to heaven”. After I’d finished interviewing him, he added:
My vocation is to serve the marginalised people, to help them to experience the divine life through the sacraments and the Word.
We’ll miss him when he returns to Lesotho, but the church’s ministry there will be greatly enriched by this ambassador for God’s kingdom.