A once-exiled South African political activist said she will use her own experiences with suffering to understand better the suffering of others, such as AIDS victims and substance abusers.
Mankekolo Mahlangu-Ngcobo spoke Friday on what she called a "happy day" as she was ordained a deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Ms. Mahlangu-Ngcobo fled South Africa in 1980 after she was exiled for taking part in political uprisings. She returned to South Africa for a visit last year.
She is now assistant pastor at Bethel A.M.E. Church in Baltimore, where she has been a member since she came to the United States in 1981. As a deacon, she will conduct marriages and funerals as well as attend to the needs of patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome, substance abusers and teen-age parents in her church and community, she said.
Her ordination took place at Waters A.M.E. Church. Ms. Mahlangu-Ngcobo hopes to receive her doctorate in theology in May from United Theological College in Dayton, Ohio.
"There is more to a human being than the body and the mind," Ms. Mahlangu-Ngcobo said. "There is also a spiritual inside. I want to minister to all three."
A former nurse, she was expelled from her job and spent 14 days in solitary confinement in a South African jail for her political activities.
"The toughest part was the interrogation," she said. "That's where the beatings are, the kicking. They scream at you, harass you.
"People who are suffering are always questioning God," said Ms. Mahlangu-Ngcobo, adding that she herself questioned God during her own trials. "I will give my testimony in hopes of relating with them."
She left her country after her parents told her security forces had come to their home looking for her and would return the next day.
"The suffering of the sin of racism is worldwide," Ms. Mahlangu-Ngcobo said, vowing to use her experiences and African identity to help fight racial problems here. One important way of doing that will be to let people she counsels know that they should not be ashamed of being black. She said this is a common problem.
Ms. Mahlangu-Ngcobo also said she wants to combat reminders of South African oppression that she called "apartheid theology," or religious beliefs that regard being black as a curse from God.
"White people in South Africa -- some even today -- don't believe blacks have souls," Ms. Mahlangu-Ngcobo said. "But I will try to ++ bring a theology that will help my people feel liberated."
Ms. Mahlangu-Ngcobo said that she hopes to be ordained as a minister and return to South Africa. "I would like to go home," she said. "And it's just a matter of time, God willing."