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Story last updated at 4:49 PM on Wednesday, June 22, 2011

See with eyes of goodness, Rev. Tutu tells Rotarians

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Rev. Mpho Tutu speaks during the Rotary International District 5010 banquet at Bald Mountain Air in Homer.

"Service above self" reads the motto of Rotary International, the worldwide 1.2-million member humanitarian organization. Last Saturday at Rotary International's District 5010 banquet, Rev. Mpho Tutu challenged Rotary members and friends to understand a deeper meaning to that motto.

In her talk, "Seeing With the Eyes of Goodness," Tutu spoke of how one can see the hidden truths behind the veil of reality.

"Learning to see with the eyes of goodness — God has recruited a team of angels to help us with that task," she said.

The daughter of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize and a spiritual leader in the South African anti-apartheid movement, Rev. Mpho Tutu, also an Anglican minister, wrote "Made for Goodness" with her father. She earned a master of divinity degree from Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., and began her ministry at Christ Church in Alexandria, Va. She founded and is the executive director of the Tutu Institute for Prayer & Pilgrimage. Tutu has run ministries for children, rape survivors and refugees.

Last week, District 5010 held its annual conference for members from 37 clubs in Alaska, three in the Yukon Territory, Canada, and 31 in Russia east of the Ural Mountains. About 300 Rotarians and guests attended the banquet held at Bald Mountain Air — transformed for the night into a grand hall decorated with a sea theme.

Tutu alluded to the Russian presence in her opening remarks.

"I cannot see Russia from Alaska," she said. "But through the good works of Rotary International, I can see Russians from where I stand."

She also mentioned Rotary International's campaign to end polio and her delight in speaking to Rotarians.

"My father survived polio, and thanks to your efforts, we are this close to eradicating polio from the world," Tutu said, holding her fingers just millimeters apart.

In "Made for Goodness," Tutu said she and her father wrote about seeing with the eyes of goodness.

"It seemed like the hardest thing to do and therefore the one worth tackling," she said.

How does one see with the eyes of goodness? Angels lead the way, Tutu said. They are not divine beings.

"Angels are just ordinary people who speak in extraordinary ways," she said. "Anyone can be an angel."

On a pilgrimage to South Africa, Tutu spoke of meeting a woman who fed more than 100 children breakfast and dinner. She called that woman an angel with an enormous smile.

"Some people whose smiles reach from the tips of their toes to the tops of their bodies — people who smile like that are people who have learned to see with the eyes of goodness," Tutu said.

Seeing with the eyes of goodness means seeing other realities. Short and dark, Tutu spoke of her friend Catherine, a tall blonde woman, and their closeness. One time they were talking "19 to the dozen," as she said her father put it, "on a range of topics: family, children, world peace and chicken seasoning."

A child listening looked at them and asked, "Are you two sisters?"

"'Yes,' we answered simultaneously," Tutu said. "Sometimes to truly see, we need to skip the evidence of our eyes."

On another visit in South Africa, Tutu spoke of going to Kliptown in Soweto, the town where the Freedom Charter was signed in 1955, a multiracial gathering that affirmed the commitment to a nonracist South Africa.

An impoverished community, people there lived in tin-roof shacks, used communal toilets and got water from public faucets. Filthy wastewater ran through the streets.

"Everywhere we looked we saw poverty and lack and heartbreak," Tutu said.

Then she went to the Kliptown Youth Center and heard a youth group sing.

"The 10 children who gathered to sing could have lifted off the roof with their harmonies," Tutu said. "They sang with full force, and being South African, full body."

The children sang a song thanking God for what they had — "Thanks be to God I have people who love me," one verse went.

"We had walked around their community and saw what was wanting," Tutu said. "They sang of what they had. I had to wonder which of us was poorer."

The people of Kliptown had community, love and friendship.

"Yes, there was lack. Yes, there was want. Yes, there was grinding poverty," Tutu said. "But I wonder how rich we can be if we're siloed in our self-contained units of everything we want. I wonder if it is not true wealth that values people and relationships above things."

Speaking to the Rotarians of a district with three official languages — French, Russian and English — Tutu told a story of her daughter, who did not speak Xhosa, the language of one South African tribe, playing at a South African church with a girl who did not speak English. At worship's end, the girls had communicated enough to decide they would go get ice cream.

"Love and determination will build bridges where language can dig a chasm," she said. "The eyes of goodness are the eyes that see possibility ... Love and determination can create communities and bridge continents."

Tutu closed her talk with a response they imagine from God to prayer she and her father share in their book.

"Ask me any question. My answer is love," she said. "When you want to hear my voice, the answer is love. If you are looking for me, the answer is love."

For more information on Tutu Institute for Prayer & Pilgrimage, visit www.tutuinstitute.org.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.