[notice]When Gateway News asked Debbie janse van Rensburg to write down how she and her husband Fanie ended up pursuing adventures with God in the Eastern Cape village of Morgan Bay, she began her story in her early childhood. “As I wrote I realised that all the experiences tie in to each other to get us to where we are now, so I needed to include all the important bits in order for it to make sense” says Debbie. This is Episode 1 of her inspiring and heartwarming story.[/notice]
Episode 1 – Bush war beginnings
Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” ~ Psalm 37:4
From as far back as I can remember, growing up in the Lowveld of what was then, Rhodesia, I have always had a deep desire and passion to be a missionary in remote Africa. I always thought that maybe this deep seated passion has something to do with us always having lived in very rural areas or from the stories my parents have shared with us about when they met and lived in Botswana, starting their married life out in a tiny little pole and dagha hut, but as I have grown in my walk with the Lord, I have come to understand that all of our hearts’ desires come from Him and He puts specific passions in our hearts from the day we are born, for His plans and for His glory.
Growing up in the Rhodesian bush war days in the early 70s was unique. As most folks from that era will remember, living with bomb shelters on all the windows, having a big cemented bomb shelter right outside our front door, traveling in convoys wherever we wanted to go, going to boarding school in an armoured vehicle and having your Dad always riding shot-gun in the back seat was just the norm and not in any way unusual. Both my parents served in the army and police reserve, so it was not often that we had both Mom and Dad at home, but again, this was normal for all the families we knew. Being at boarding school from a very early age, right on the Mozambican border, meant that many evenings we would hear and see a lot of gunfire, mortars and rockets off in the distance and some evenings it looked a bit like a fireworks show, but all the school children were very well trained on how to move quickly and quietly to the big central bomb shelter at the Hostel, should the border activity move too close, so it just became another of those things that we all just accepted as part of life, so it wasn’t an issue of living in fear – just learning at a very early age to be have a greater sense of awareness.
Too close for comfort
However, there came a time when things got a bit too close for comfort when we were woken by automatic gunfire and mortars one evening at home, when our little group of estate houses came under attack. I was about five years old at the time and it felt like the attack lasted most of the night, but miraculously none of us were hurt – just a few vehicles burnt, landmines found and one or two “terrorists” injured or killed. Shortly after this, our convoy was ambushed on the way home from the town of Chipinga, and again, miraculously – we all escaped unscathed, even the vehicles were untouched, although I remember my Dad on the back seat, where he was riding shot-gun, trying to shoot back at the ambushers screaming at my Mom who was driving, to “Slow down Gloria, the terrs aren’t going to kill us but you might !!!” I was lying face down on the floor of the vehicle in the front as we had been taught to do, should we ever be ambushed. It was after these two incidents that my parents decided we should move to a city to be a bit safer, so Dad borrowed some money and off we went to Bulawayo to live in the Caravan Park – my parents having no jobs and no house. It was around about this time that I started to understand and see how much my parents trusted God to take care of a situation. I know now, that it was their prayers kept us safe all through those years and still do.
We soon discovered that we as a family were not designed for city life and after about two years, Dad got a job as a farm manager up in the Beitbridge area, so off we went again, back to the lifestyle we all knew and loved. It was during this time that I moved to high school and was sent to a boarding school in South Africa, going home some weekends to Zims and for the school holidays. It was an idyllic time for us – we loved the farm and I loved school and all was well. But as the 80s progressed, more political unrest and army activity started to occur, so the year I finished matric, my parents told me we were moving to South Africa. We had two weeks to pack what we could in our old Valiant and trailer and because my brother and sister, who are older than me, were already in South Africa, my Dad said I would have to decide which of their clothes, books, toys etc. to take with as we could not fit much in at all. That was hard for me. The day we left I cried so hard that when I had to open the farm gate for my Dad to drive out with our loaded car, I couldn’t even see the gate post to latch it.
God made a way
We moved to Pietersburg where my sister had a one bedroom flat – so all five of us and our belongings moved from this gorgeous spacious farm on the banks of a massive river, into a one bedroom flat in the city centre – and again, my parents had stepped out in faith in a big way – moving with just what they could transport, no jobs, no house and no spare money as all their pension fund money and accounts were back on the other side of the border. And yet again I was witness to how God just made a way for us and how my parents just knew and trusted that He would. We found a plot to rent and after only a few days of Dad going from business to business asking for a job, he got a job as a mechanic at a reputable garage and I got a job as a shop cashier which is where I also met my future husband,Fanie (although I didn’t know it at the time), who had just completed his two year stint in the South African army.
My sister and I decided at this time to save up our earnings to follow a dream that we had both had since we were young kids, after meeting a lovely couple who had just come back from working on a kibbutz in Israel and hearing how they loved it. It was tight but we managed to save up enough for a return ticket and very little spending money and off we went. What an adventure we had ! We worked on kibbutz Nachsholim on the coast near Haifa – having just picked a spot off a map and not knowing a thing about it – and absolutely loved it, from working in the avocado orchards, to cleaning fish and onions in the kitchen for 300 people to working in the plastic factory alongside prisoners who were serving their sentences in community projects. I even spent time working in an Israeli creche, with a bundle of children all under 2 years old who could only understand Hebrew – now that was a challenge ! During our time there we managed to visit a few of the Holy sites which we enjoyed, but I must admit that being young, a bit crazy and just living for the next adventure, that I now feel I should have ‘lingered longer’ at these sites and listened more attentively to the guides and locals in order to understand and absorb the profoundness of where we were seeing. One day, I really hope to go back to Israel with my husband, to walk where Jesus walked and to just take it all in, rather than going there just to tick if off a list of ‘places to see’.
It was after our return from Israel that I finally realised that Fanie was indeed the man of my dreams and I agreed to marry him after his third proposal ! We got married in 1995 in Pietersburg and settled into a domestic lifestyle with joy and ease. During this time, Fanie and I got very involved in the local Presbyterian Church – he on the board and both of us as Sunday School teachers. We also volunteered to join the youth on a mission trip to a school in Zimbabwe where we shared the Gospel with the local children whilst we repaired and re-painted the school, fixing windows etc. for which we received a live chicken in return as thanks from the school children ! This was a special time for us, learning more, building friendships and just growing stronger in Christ as a couple, but through all this time, our yearning for rural mission work only increased.
…To be continued next week.