Community Outreach and Signs of Hope

IMG_9206In this post, I want to say a little bit about the people we have met the past couple days who are really making a difference in their local communities. First, on Sunday, we worshipped at J L Zwane Church (Presbyterian) in Guglethu township.   It is an amazing congregation. They were the first church in South Africa to deal head on with the AIDS crisis, and AIDS outreach is still one of their major mission emphases. The service was lots of fun, with beautiful hymns.  However, for me–and most of us, I think–the most powerful part of the experience was the conversation we had with the pastor before the service. We arrived a little early, and we were invited to sit in on an animated group discussion  that was taking place with some of the church leaders. Apparently, the women of the congregation had led the church service the week before, and they had wanted to talk about the problem of violence against women and children. However, the pastor said, “We we not expecting what happened.” Apparently, the testimony of the women, including one woman in particular who was a pillar of the church, telling their shocking stories had caused quite a stir, and made many people uncomfortable. But what was so great was that they were  not shying away from the difficult discussions, but insisting that people keep talking.  The pastor said, we know no one wants to talk about this, “but the church must listen to the things we really don’t want to listen to, and ask ourselves how we can respond. The church has got to keep Christians talking.”  We were all pretty amazed, especially knowing that our own congregations back home don’t want to talk about violence against women and children, either!  We also like to look away….

Then today, we were introduced to people at three different organizations. The first one was the Koinonia youth development center. They are doing great work with youth: hosting camps, providing volunteer opportunities, and also doing mentoring.   They share a facility with the Radio KC community radio project. That is a fabulous radio station that does wonderful work in the community, including having student reporters from different schools.  Then, we visited Nederburg Primary School, where one of our guides, Anwill, went to school.  It was great learning more about the school system, and also meeting some of the children and the teachers.  The government certainly needs to do more, to give these children better facilities and more opportunities, but both the teachers and he children are doing very well with what they have (I must admit that the barbed wire around the jungle gym area was disconcerting to me–but the fact is, there is barbed wire EVERYWHERE, for a reason.  The principle was telling us about the recent theft of new windows they had just put in.  Theft is a real problem.).

Overall, though, it was great to see so many people with hope for the future, a passion for children, and lots of energy around positive engagement with the community.  Things aren’t perfect (we heard again about some of the challenges with the churches, many of whom continue to take a more passive stance regarding outreach and local involvement), but that doesn’t stop anyone from working to make things better, and that was really inspiring.

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