Most of what I experience in South Africa as a visitor and a volunteer is inspiring, uplifting as well as humbling. The people we come into contact with in the townships, the shanty town houses and the farms are poor, struggling people and families just trying to get by each day, each week. They are mostly open, honest and generous with their time and what little possessions and food they have. It is gratifying, it is rewarding and it is such a joy to be involved in the mission work over here and to be involved in these people’s personal and spiritual lives.
These are the highs and beautiful times of my days in South Africa. But there are other days, dark days, sad days that manifest the frailty of life and danger here. My mission work partner, my brother in Christ and my friend Barry, has suddenly found his world falling apart around him with the devastating news that his life long bride and wife has been diagnosed with a terminal bone cancer, a cancer called Multiple Myeloma. His wife, Wendith, has been given on her first diagnosis, 7-15 years to live, but it is not the news of whether it is 5, 10 or 15 years that is most devastating to Barry. It’s the prognosis, it’s the reality that is life partner is ill, and barring a miracle, she will die.
There are no words that can comfort Barry, though we all try. He is shattered, and although Wendith strength, courage and determination shine through time and time again, the tears that swell and run down the cheeks of these two dear friends is drenched in fear and sadness. Although their faith is strong and vibrant, their mortality is telling.
We talk a lot about hope and prayer … not just prayer, but fervent payer, the type of prayer spoken of in James 5:14-25 “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over them, anointing them with oil to the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise them up.”
These are desperate days, sad days, but faith, hope and love remain.
Please pray for Wendith and Barry and their family as we wait on our Heavenly Father, the great healer and creator, to restore Wendith to a good measure of health if it be his will.
The sad news of Wendith’s health had barely become known as we gathered on Sunday for a Westville Ecclesial Outreach Day at the Lamontville (GNC) Good News Centre. Lamontville is a Zulu township in the southern suburbs of Durban. It is an area where we focus a lot of our community and preaching work in, due to its very poor and disadvantaged Zulu population.
It is not easy to find the Good News Centre in this township and during the course of our memorial service, news came that one of out members was lost and needed help to find us. Grant Larson quickly volunteered to go and find him and lead him back to the GNC. Grant found our lost member only a few minutes from the GNC heading towards him. Grant quickly stopped his car outside a factory to wave him down, but in the split second it took Grant to stop his car, a gun toting Zulu thief and highjacker and his friend, threatened Grant and told him to get out of the car fast. With the gun pointed straight at him, Grant got out of his car and within seconds they were gone …. It was a life or death moment and on this occasion it ended well with only the loss of a car, Grant’s phone and some personal possessions. All too often in South Africa this scenario ends with a shooting and most often with a death !!!
As volunteers we are constantly reminded of the dangers in South Africa. Poverty, unemployment and wayward youth creates a melting pot of crime and riots amongst those who feel most disadvantaged. White people are especially targets and are seen to be wealthy with lots of nice things …. expensive things, things that can be stolen and then sold for food, alcohol or drugs.
We are told not to drive with windows down or our car doors unlocked. We are told not to stop on the sides of roads etc …. we are told not to drive into the townships at night, and if we are ever confronted with someone with a gun, we are told just to give them what ever they ask for and DO NOT TRY & NEGOTIATE !!! Negotiating is seen by the thieves and robbers as stalling and they are more than likely to shoot you straight away if you try stalling or if you just respond to slow to their demands …. They like to hit hard and fast and get away even faster so they can make their quick getaway.
Grant was visibly shaken by this encounter and everyone rallied to support and comfort him. It was a salutary reminder and lesson to both the locals and the overseas volunteers to be vigilant about the way we conduct ourselves in these very volatile areas of Durban. There is lots of fun and laughter in so much of the work we do here, but there is also a serious side to life here. A side that can quickly turn dangerous and tragic if we let our guard down.
It has been a sad and reflective few days, dark days, days we prefer not to have, but days that come and that help shape us, make us, develop us and forge us. These are the days we get to show our faith, hope and love to one another. When one of us is sick, scared or frightened, we all feel his or her pain and their family’s pain. When one of us is sick we rally around each other and support one another, care for one another, love one another as Christ has cared and loved us.
These past few days have been dark days ….. but with faith, hope and love …. and the power of prayer, surely brighter days are ahead !!!