Three million South Africans have lost their jobs during lockdown, according to a new study released this week. Some, including many former church employees who should have qualified for UIF claims are not even eligible for this relief because their employers did not submit the prescribed levies to the Department of Labour. Thus they have joined the ranks of the 17 million Sassa grant recipients, at a time when state coffers are running dry.
Churches and fulltime pastors are affected directly by this financial crisis as most of their revenue comes from congregants who pay tithes and offerings. In a church leaders’ webinar this week it emerged that in a denomination with 50 churches in a region, the top five congregations are wealthy while the bottom five are indigent — and there is little sharing of resources between the congregations because they operate as autonomous entities.
The Church is going to have to do church differently, post the Covid-19 pandemic.
In his two-volume set of history books, Bastaards or Humans, tracing the origins, identity, culture and challenges of Coloured people, Dr Ruben Richards, writes on the Moravian- style Christianity, in general, and the activities of the first European missionary called George Schmidt ( 1709 -1785) who was granted permission to establish a mission station for the Khoisan in 1737.
As the first European missionary sent to evangelise the indigenous people he arrived in Table Bay on board a ship and eventually set up a mission station in Genadendal, near Greyton, east of Cape Town . The significance of the Moravian theology and George Schmidt lies in this that, among other things, it emphasised practice rather than doctrinal purity and discipline rather than opinion. This ran contrary to the thrust of the official Church at the time, consequently Schmidt was imprisoned, not once, but twice, before he was expelled from South Africa, for a reason, that is so shameful, we need not go into in this essay.
Suffice to say that his worst crime was that he baptised the Khoi, thus perceived by his opponents in the official Church to be elevating them to a human level.
They were seen as sub-human. It was the Church that had its knee on the neck of the Khoikhoi from those early days. Schmidt’s ministry among the Khoikhoi resulted in the Khoikhoi learning to read and write,( literacy) becoming successful farmers (economic empowment). It is also recorded that each Khoi family was allocated a piece of plot to live on (land ownership). This was the Moravian way as practised at t Genadendal, a Dutch word meaning “Valley of Mercy”.
Today, we hear of the One Household, One Hectare programme [a national poverty-eradication land reform programme], little realising that it is nothing new. The Covid-19 pandemic is forcing new thinking on doing Church, which of necessity must become different than before. I want to suggest that, among other strategies, the Church must embark on a course of vigorously engaging local government or municipalities, to implement the provisions of Section 153 of the Constitution, which spells out its developmental duties, namely:
( a) “structure and manage its administration and budgeting and planning process to give priority to the basic needs of the community, and to promote the social and economic development of the communities “
(b) “participate in national and provincial development programmes.”
In practical terms, this means the Church in each province must convince local government authorities that it is morally and economically imperative for municipal commonage [common land for the community] found in every town in South Africa to be made available to communities on a leasehold basis, as was the case with poor White farmers, and settlers — and has been happening recently in some areas.
I believe the Church must also facilitate the mobilisation of people into cooperative units, trusts or companies to work the land and produce food — not only for own consumption but also and more importantly, for the retail market.
Examples of practical implementation
A shining example of somebody who has adopted this strategy is Kosie van Zyl, a commercial farmer from Napier, near Caledon, who pioneered ways of helping less-privileged members of his community. He negotiated a lease agreement on their behalf, established a trust and an operating company, and mentored the beneficiaries in growing wheat, barley, oats, and other crops, as well as in animal husbandry. And in 10 years these new farmers were self-sustaining, with revenues approximating R7-million per annum.
These budding agricultural entrepreneurs even acquired two farms to own, and subdivided the original leased farm in order to mentor another group as they were mentored by Van Zyl, thus another example of promoting social cohesion, as is being done between Coloured and Xhosa people in the area (See www.agridwalaguestfarm.co.za).
A recent example of this is that of someone who has become a family friend, Matanzima Baleni and his wife, Veronica, who less than 10 years ago decided to leave their children in their house in Khayelitsha, to look for a place near Malmesbury, where they could grow some crops. They started two gardens in the area, and later found a one hectare plot to hire from a local.
Today, they are growing organic vegetables which they sell successfully. These and more examples of people making productive and profitable use of the land are definite pointers to what the Church should do going forward. This country has no shortage of land but it takes faith and sheer grit to take up the cudgels and get things done.
Church – It is time for action!
Intercession is necessary and required but intervention is urgently needed in this hour. There are things we need to do physically to change our world today. May God reveal to us more strategies that we can employ after the pandemic.
May we bring closer the fulfilment of Psalm 126 for large numbers of our people, so that instead of bemoaning hunger and poverty, we may say, with the Psalmist : “We were filled with laughter , and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, What amazing things the Lord has done for them. Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us! What joy ! Restore our fortunes , Lord, as streams renew the desert. Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed , but they sing as they return with the harvest.” — Psalm 126 : 2- 6
This is the hour for the Church to decide to do church differently. Scriptures show in innumerable instances how much God cares for the poor, the orphans, the widows, the stranger, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, and even prisoners. We are thus reassured that:
“You will always win when you care about what God cares about… There is work to be done and people to be reached, and nothing can take that purpose away from you.” ( Julia Jeffres-Sadler, Pray Big Things).
Let us roll up our sleeves now; there is serious work to be done, first at the level of uprooting the slave mentality, and then, once the minds are free, from the opium of dependency. A revolution is due to start and people shall become the subjects of their own development to the glory of God .
Social grants not the way to go
Having 20 million people dependent on social grants is certainly not the route to go; it is unsustainable and an insult to the ingenuity and creativity of the human spirit. Many people are unaware of their own hidden potential and power. It is the Church’s role, among other things, to unleash this God-given endowment in each person to the glory of the Everlasting God.
Great power, great responsibility
Let me close with these words from Julia Jeffress Sadler: “With great power comes great responsibility.” As Christians we have great power and great responsibility. We need to pray with power. We need to persist with power. We need to live with power. We need to look into our future and “laugh at the days to come” ( Prov 31:25) because we know no hardship we face is a match for our God.
This is the challenge of the Church in this hour, and may God Almighty reveal to the Church its true identity, as a transformer of lives, preparing for the returning King, the Lord Jesus Christ!