In some ways a full-time worker’s initial introduction to South Africa can be compared to the overwhelming feeling someone gets when they open up a university calendar for the first time. There are so many options: many appear interesting and inviting, other choices may seem to be too difficult, and then others may seem relatively easy.
Due to the history and cultural diversity it is possible to serve the Lord in South Africa as an itinerant teacher ministering to established assemblies, to pioneer new areas and groups where no assembly testimony exists, or to be involved with publishing, children’s work, or correspondence courses. One may choose to learn a local language or decide to serve the Lord using only English. Without the Lord’s guidance it is possible to have a calendar filled with activity and yet be spread so thin that very little materializes from one’s efforts.
As for our own exercise before the Lord, we have felt His guidance to work among the Xhosa–speaking people of the Fort Beaufort area in the Eastern Cape Province. In the section of the province where we live there is no Xhosa speaking assembly and as far as we know there has never been any concentrated evangelistic assembly effort, yet there are several million Xhosas within a two hour driving radius of our town.
The cornerstone of the work here is open air preaching and children’s work. There are about ten locations in the community where we have been preaching the gospel for the last three years. Some spots we preach at more regularly than others but up until now it has been the only way any type of preaching has taken place. It is extremely difficult to find a suitable venue to preach in and due to the level of crime it is also difficult to hold regular evening services. The result has been that most of our gospel preaching is done between 4 and 6 pm on weekdays and as usual is subject to weather or any other events that may be taking place nearby, such as a funeral or a church service. We know that there is power in preaching the Word of God and we look to Him to open up paths for this aspect of the work to prosper.
As in most areas where poverty and crime abound there is a ready ear on behalf of children to come to various children’s meetings that we hold. We are sometimes amazed at their enthusiasm and commitment to Sunday school and even their behavior is usually very good. One sad aspect of children’s work is that it causes us to see the fall-out of societies’ problems. For example, alcoholism results in children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, poverty results in those who are uncared for, and perhaps the most difficult thing to cope with is the children who have been sexually abused or are HIV positive. Despite these sometimes heartbreaking situations, we are thankful that the children are hearing about the One Who loves them and has a purpose for their life. Blessed be our Savior Who said, “Suffer little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not” (Luke 18:16).
Another vital part of our work in the community comes from understanding what we read in the book of Titus: “Those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.” As a Christian responsibility, it is necessary that we watch for opportunities to help people in need, wherever we live in the world. In Fort Beaufort there are many people in need, so much so that it requires us to be very discerning with whom we help and how much we help them. We have had the joy of assisting many underprivileged children at a community soup kitchen on a regular basis over the past three years. Most of these children come from very difficult home situations and are often in need of clothing and basic necessities as well as needing love and attention shown to them. Recently we have become involved with a support group for people who suffer from HIV/AIDS. Many of these people are still stigmatized by the community, especially those from more impoverished backgrounds. Helping in these situations can often be difficult and one needs to be very careful not to create a dependency or an expectation that there are unlimited resources. Even in spite of the potential pitfalls the Lord has continually opened doors for the gospel to be presented to people in need and to the professionals associated with them like social workers, teachers, police officers, and school principals.
Although the gospel has gone forth in many ways over the last three years here in Fort Beaufort and many contacts have been made we are still trusting the Lord that souls will be saved. There are many barriers to overcome such as language, proving that we accept all people as equal, and perhaps, more importantly, showing that we care about people because of the value that God has given them.