Life’s different in the townships here. Because fully-developed and under-resourced areas are so close together, you can drive twenty minutes down any highway and you’re in a different world. The atmosphere shifts when you’re out in the villages of South Africa; the pace of life slows down, and a sense of community becomes stronger. Everyone knows each other in the townships, and everyone is looking out for one another. It may be that electricity isn’t standard, running water is a rarity, and violence is more of an issue; but still community thrives, and churches play a major role in bringing that community together and pointing them in the right direction.
I spent the past week and a half with Pastor Silas of Rock of Ages Living Church in Mmotla, a township located about 30 minutes outside of Pretoria. I stayed with his family; Maria, the Pastor’s wife, who spends her days taking care of children at their daycare, and their two kids, Botlhale, who’s 17 and working his way through high school, and Bontle, who’s 21. They graciously let me stay in their house, and they continuously showed me kindness in the form of delicious home-cooked meals and lots of laughter together.
Pastor Silas and I embarked on a wide range of adventures during my stay; we went on a handful of taxi rides, we ventured through a wild blackmarket, we took half of the engine out of his car for repairs, we went to see a family for a memorial service, and Silas let me share at his church service and their Bible study. We also got into a good bit of trouble together, like forgetting to bring money to buy a coldrink (soda) and getting partially lost in a taxi in a different village. Silas and I grew close, and I was able to experience a totally different side of South Africa because I didn’t have a team of Americans with me at all times. At first I was a little scared and uncomfortable to be on my own, but it proved a joyful experience that taught me a few things about this country, about the Lord, about Silas, and about myself.
Here’s a picture of Pastor Silas after we spent a while working on his car engine the first time with friend and secret-mechanic, Louis. Shortly after I took this picture, we all ate ice cream together and told stories, laughing a lot.
I found a really meaningful routine every day through watering a huge garden behind Silas’s church. Each morning we’d walk across the street together around 7:00, and I’d get the hose out and spend the next hour or two watering the plants and listening to worship music. Normally Pastor Silas waters the garden in the mornings, but I helped him out with the task while I was there.
I think God starting teaching me things through that garden. It was really satisfying to see the plants grow more and more throughout the week, and I started to realize how similar that garden is to community as a whole. In order to build a strong and fruitful community, you have to pour into it daily, like watering thirsty plants. A few days out of the week, I would go around and pick up the trash that had blown into the garden over night. Like community, and like our own souls, we can’t leave our trash and sin lying around haphazardly. We have to learn to get better and to clean up.
After I finished watering the greenery, I found a cool, shady spot against the church and spent time reading the Word and writing. Then most days I’d help Silas and Maria at their daycare, which is called a creche here. The creche meets at their church, and usually they have about 75 kids between the ages of 2 and 6 years old. Silas and Maria both strive to teach kids thoroughly in different areas of learning while keeping the activities fun. Pastor Silas taught the children about the seasons one day (it’s Spring here) and they colored pictures of birds. Silas had them practice English and Tswana (the local language) while they showed each other their pictures, working on skills like speaking and social interactions, as well as basic art skills and knowledge of colors.
When the kids weren’t learning from Silas and Maria, they would play, eat, or just make strange loud noises. They were all very interested in me also, and it took me a few days to get them to stop calling me lekgoa, which is a derogatory term for white person. They’re all so sweet though, and it’s great for them to be in a loving and warm environment like the creche, because the same can’t always be said about their home environments. I spent a good amount of time playing with kids, but they mostly were interested in feeling my leg hair, which is totally foreign to them.
Here’s Maria, teaching kids about Spring and the flowers that are starting to bloom around the area.
We spent a few hot afternoons working on Pastor Silas’s car. Well, I didn’t really work on it, it was mostly Louis. But I was always there when we’d take breaks and eat ice cream- for moral support, of course.
At the end of the day, Silas and I would usually sit outside his house and enjoy the temperature dropping and the wind picking up. It’s here that we would have deep, heart-felt conversations about life and the Lord, and our struggles. We’d talk while we looked out over a tree that stood alone in his yard, and we would watch the powerful red African sun disappear in the distance. Then, the sky would change in hue from blues to oranges to pinks and violets and then finally fade into darkness. The stars would start to peek into view, like someone was poking holes through a sprawling colorful blanket. Eventually darkness would fall completely, and there’d be no more holes to poke in the night. In these special moments, Pastor Silas shared his heart with me, and we talked about things like his preaching and his family, and spiritual warfare that he’s fighting in his community. I would tell him about struggling to be away from home and keeping my heart present in South Africa, and he’d share wisdom. Those evenings sitting under the sky were some of my favorite times of out of the whole week.
My experiences with Silas offered me a glimpse of life that I had never seen before. I was able to see how dedicated he is to his church and his community and the children at the creche, and hear stories of intense spiritual warfare, the likes of which I had never heard firsthand before. Pastor Silas and I spent a lot of time speaking about the Spirit, and Silas talked about how the Spirit is a “He” and not an “It,” and how the Spirit looks in daily life. Silas also has an incredible amount of joy, even when he’s in the face of hardship, like someone smashing all of the windows in his church. He showed me that joy is not circumstantial, but it’s a state of the heart that relies solely on the Lord’s goodness.
This just being my first week spent in a township, I’m stoked to get to spend more time with Silas and other pastors, and learn more about the Lord and life in these villages. At this point, I’ve also spent more time in the townships than I have in the first-world city, which is a cool accomplishment. In the next few weeks, I’ll be working on a few photography and graphic design projects, visiting a few different townships on day trips. Then, hopefully in early October, I’ll spend another two weeks or so with a different pastor and his family. More updates will follow soon, and thanks for keeping up with the ministry going on here!
Here’s a few more pictures from the past week.
Pastor Silas’s house.
Pure mischief at the creche.
The Pastor after preaching, dressed in his Sunday best.
A well-deserved nap after a long day.
Silas getting the fire ready for a Braai, or Barbecue.
Silas and I on my last day with him.