Let me begin by saying that the purpose of our immersion trip is to explore the meaning of Christian hope and to identify hope that ushers forth from ministries with/by the people in South Africa. That being the framework of today’s adventures, we prepared to depart the hotel from Jo’burg on our way to Pretoria, the legislative capital of South Africa.
And, with the rising of the morning sun we were on our way by railways to Pretoria, to encounter vital ministries of hope.
Upon arrival, we were introduced to one of the most non-assuming gentleman I’ve ever encountered, Pastor Joel Mxolisi. He and his assistant were extremely hospitable and made every attempt to make us comfortable and feel at home as they shared with us the ministry they provide for the people of Pretoria. The name of the organization is Tshwane Leadership Foundation, and they recognized that in this world of vast abundance, there are so many excluded from having a seat at the table. Their goal is to work with communities and churches, inviting every person, regardless of race, religion, or social status to pull up a chair and have a seat at the table to share in the abundant resources of God.
I’ll be honest. My initial expectations were that we were simply visiting a non-profit organization doing ministry in the context of fulfilling a community need. I had not anticipated seeing the definition to Christian hope revealed in such a prevalent way. We bore witness to the life-giving, transformative power of a selfless group of people who go to the furthest extremes to execute an urban transformation to the furthest fringes of the city and community in which they reside. We spent the day touring the centers where their holistic work is administered across the inner city, as they seek to transform it through outreach programs, drop-in centers, transitional housing, providing educational and economic empowerment, and advocacy and policy work for some of the most vulnerable people in their community.
Just to give a highlight of the work of Tshwane Leadership Foundation (TLF):
- Created the first non-racial shelter for women in the city (1993), supporting more than 1,200 women. This shelter is named the Lerato House, which means House of Love.
- Created the first program (1998) to assist inner-city girls at risk to prostitution, domestic violence and those estranged from their families. Focusing on children age 9-18 years old, they teach them life skills such as cooking, house chores, and they ensure they attend school. These housing units are available for up to 2 years stay.
- Created the first social housing company in the city (1998), now managing more than 500 units, which fulfilled the need for decent affordable housing.
- Converted an old church into a multi-purpose community center, making it a pre-school, after-school care, toy library, and further development of children’s rights. The center is named Inkululeko which means Freedom.
- Established a no-fee hospice for homeless people (2005) providing dignity and comfort for those living in their last days. The hospice care center is named Rivoningo, which means Light, and provides care for 100 people.
- In 2011, right next door to Rivoningo, the Gilead Health Unit ministry was started to provide transitional residential care for 40 people with psycho-social disabilities.
All of these are just a few examples of TLF’s ministries of hope as a 501-c-3 non-profit organization. But in my search for Christian hope, I wondered who should be responsible for spreading hope. Shouldn’t Christian hope come from the church?
This question was posed to the founder of TLF, Dr. Steven DeBeer, who began this ministry with a vision at the age of 26 years young. As we toured the many facilities where lives are being restored and renewed, where second and third chances are being given, where love asks no questions but extends its hand to uplift the community. We inquired about the presence of the church in these ministries of hope, as this ministry was started with the assistance of seven ecumenical churches that saw the need for this type of help in a post-apartheid context. However, 20 years later, we discovered that only 3 percent of TLF’s funding comes from the ecumenical community. Which led to a very bold question from one of my classmates, “Is there hope for the church?” Followed by, “Where do you see hope in South Africa?” The response we received was startling.
The first answer given by Dr. DeBeer was “The Spirit will blow where the Spirit will blow. And if the church doesn’t go where the Spirit wants it to go, then there will be movements outside of the church.” He did not see Christian hope coming from the institutional church. Church can’t simply be institutions and buildings or only preaching in pulpits on Sunday morning, without engaging the community. The prophetic church must stand in solidarity with justice. Pastor Joel further added, “as of now, it’s unfortunate, but hope is not to be found in the church. It is outside of the church, in the movements, in the voices of those that are speaking truth to power.”
As I wrap up my thoughts for this day, I realize that attending to church business as usual does not assist in the proliferation of the gospel of hope. To be participants in the ministrations of Christian hope, it requires persistence and patience, a ferocity of faith, and a willingness to be emptied out only to be restored by God’s grace. This is not an easy task. It requires long suffering and endurance and the innate blessed assurance that your strength comes from the Lord and that we must keep on keeping on, despite whatever comes our way.
On this day, I experienced and learned the definition of Christian hope from a young man in the hospice center who was dying from AIDS. He said to me, “I’ve always wanted to go to the States. And I believe I will. Please, take my picture and I will get there.”
This is a picture of me and Lucky.