Returning to South Africa
By Teresa Dekker
I stepped out of the van and walked the dusty, dry path into the midst of the joyous, energetic singing of the children.
I felt anticipation. I had visited here 18 months ago and was eager to see these children. I wondered if I would recognize any familiar faces. Their song of welcome repeated until we were all within their midst. The children and some of the supporting church’s members were all seated in rows awaiting our arrival. There among the ladies I connected with the warm smiles I remembered. The children had prepared a number of songs and the older ones had prepared a dance routine. As Mama Rhoddy spoke with them, I couldn’t help but notice how each of the children listened with bright eyes and respect for their teacher—even the three to five year olds! We had a chance to help serve their meal of pap, squash, leftover beans, and sausage. They loved to get their picture taken.
Mama Rhoddy and her helpers encourage and teach more than 200 children in three locations every day and provide them with a warm meal. Without this support, these children would likely only have one meal a day; many of their families are struggling with severe poverty. HIV/AIDS and unemployment have wreaked havoc in this community, just like they have in so many others.
This project is a partnership between the Namakgale Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA) and the Regional Synod of Canada. We came to visit existing ministries within the churches of South Africa and look at how we can partner with them to bring God’s healing to their communities. A partnership reminds us that we are brothers and sisters in God’s family working together for his purposes.
We met with the South Africa Diaconal Partnership (SADP) for two days in Wellington. SADP is made up of representatives from the Dutch Reformed Church, URCSA, the RCA, and the Regional Synod of Canada. Since its inception 17 years ago, SADP has envisioned the Reformed Church in North America partnering with the church in South Africa in living the Belhar Confession in a season of human dignity. God has given human dignity to all, and he wants a relationship with every person no matter who he/she is. The four values of human dignity are respect, listen, embrace, and love. Living the Belhar is important, as the South African culture values relationships so highly.
The visits have filled my heart and my mind to the brim! I see God at work in South Africa through all these champions who are trying to show his love in their community, fulfilling a need for a brother or sister. It has also made me more aware of the mandate we have for our brothers and sisters in our own communities. Just as our partners are trying to live the Belhar, we need to do this in our own communities as well.
I went to South Africa to look at the mission work we helped in, but the serendipity was that I was the mission field! They ministered to me and helped me see the dignity I was lacking to give. For in my mind, maybe even subconsciously, the very words we use to describe these brothers and sisters (less fortunate, poorer, living in shacks, needy) all imply that I am more than they. The light went on for me while listening to Nelus Niemandt, the moderator for the Dutch Reformed Church, speaking about how they were trying to teach living the Belhar and showing dignity to those in our communities. I’m sure I have heard those words many times before, but this time it was as if it was the first time. It is hard to describe God moments. But God opened my understanding of loving my church family, near and far, and those in our communities in a new way, with dignity! It is my prayer to be faithful. May God be praised!
Teresa Dekker traveled to South Africa with a team from the Regional Synod of Canada from October 18 to 31. She is a member of Drayton Reformed Church and a delegate to the Regional Synod of Canada.