From ‘pot of pap’ to nationwide food aid — Pastor Bert Pretorius shares his heart

Wheelbarrows of food on their way to shacks in Cosmo City, Johannesburg — part of a massive, countrywide food distribution initiative sponsored by companies and coordinated by a massive, church-led team

Three decades ago a young South African pastor’s mindset was radically shifted during a visit to Phola Phola township in Thokoza, Alberton, where he saw young children lying on the ground, passed out as a result of malnutrition.

In an interview with Gateway News Pastor Bert Pretorius who was starting out in ministry at the time, said “I just went home and started cooking pap [porridge] on the stove. By 3am I realised I couldn’t make enough pap to feed 800 kids. But I just took what I had and that’s where it started.”

In the past two years, Pretorius who today leads 3C Church – a  multiracial, multi-site church with more than 30 000 members in the city of Tshwane and churches in other cities, and the United States – has overseen the distribution of more than R200 million rands worth of food to destitute families throughout South Africa – and they are currently preparing to hand out another R100 million rands worth of food relief.

“It’s been been quite a journey and still is — We haven’t arrived — We’re still learning on a yearly basis how to minister” he said.

Pretorius said the words of Jesus in his first public sermon, in which he said: “The Sprit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18), convicted him of the importance of helping poor people physically before you can help them spiritually.

“So after that first encounter [with the malnourished children] my whole mindset changed. And it was quite a step of faith for a white preacher at that time, doing something different from my colleagues. But the Lord has blessed that,” he said.

It’s all about getting food to those who need it

He said one of his ministry’s key lessons has been a revelation from God to always help regardless of their own circumstances. “We have always fed the poor whether we had money or not and that has been behind our biggest breakthroughs.”

“The biggest transition came with the beginning of Covid when the Lord opened an opportunity for us to feed in the community of Oliewenhoutbosch,” he said. 

After facing some early crowd control problems while distributing food parcels donated by corporate sponsors they developed an innovative, highly accountable, system of delivering food to individual homes supported by existing church software which they adapted for the purpose. 

They were also able to quickly mobilise a non-profit disaster relief foundation, Mahlasedi Foundation, which they founded, together with volunteers from their church, and from the SACOFF faith-based network which they established two years ago, which has more than 16 000 churches across the country – including deep inside rural areas.

All of these factors went a long way towards eliminating excessive costs and corruption associated with food relief distribution and led to corporates entrusting the 3C-led team with getting hundreds of millions of rands of food parcels to where they were most needed, said Pretorius.

Other recent crises have tested the ministry’s commitment to their ethos of just helping with what they have.

When mass looting broke out in KwaZulu-Natal in July last year they didn’t wait for sponsors but took what money they had as well as donations they raised from their congregations – and started helping out – cleaning shops, cleaning streets, helping people. Then two sponsors came on board – leading to a R50 million relief project which kept them busy for the rest of the year, said Pretorius.

Likewise, they are currently busy helping communities battered by floods in KZN.

Pastor Bert Pretorius, left, with one of the Mahlasedi Foundation crew members who are helping to rebuild and restore in the aftermath of the recent flooding in KwaZulu-Natal

“There are no big sponsors. We are pretty much doing it out of our own budget — but that’s how we do it — whether we are promised money or not, we take what we have — We’ve been opening roads — We’ve had our machinery down there — and we go to the remote areas where the government doesn’t go.”P

They also flew grief counsellors from their church to the area to help families cope with losses, and they have committed to rebuilding the home of people who lost five family members in the floods.

Pretorius said his church is also involved in a big way in serving in areas such as schools, universities, and policing.

“I always believe that as we do have the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we do have the solution, we do have the answer. We just have to keep on every day plugging away, every day making a difference, every day sharing the love of Christ and loving people, you know.

“So we will overcome evil by doing good. I believe that with all my heart. I believe the Bible. I believe the Word. I believe in our country. I believe in our continent. But we’ve got to get involved. Not just me and my family and my church family. No, we have to to make a conscious effort of getting into our community and not for the agenda of getting them into our churches but just loving them. We must be the salt of the earth,” he said.

Expanding on his practical understanding of the Gospel, he said: “Jesus said: ‘Make dicsciples,” because when you making the you are developing them and empowering them. And that’s what I believe we are called to do.

“He [Jesus] didn’t say: ‘Go and have church services’, He said: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations — baptising them and teaching them to obey His commands,’ — and those commands are loving God and loving people — in other words to lay down your life and live for someone else.

“And that’s what I believe. My family lives like that, my wife lives like that, my children live like that — our church believes we are called not to live for ourselves but to live for others. And that’s what making disciples means, you know. You are there to empower others, taking all your intellectual property, all your experience, everything you have, and give it away. Don’t make money out of it, just give it away, just serve and help. And I believe that with all my heart. I’m very focused. That’s what the Gospel is.”

Three generations of the Pretorius family

Pretorius’s convictions have impacted his family on a personal level. He and his wife, Charné, have three biological sons, and three adopted daughters who were all abandoned by their natural parents. His sons are all married, and he had to negotiate lobola payments for two of his daughters-in-law.

“You become part of it. It’s not just a colour thing. It’s the richness of one another’s cultures. So I am a rich man because of the experiences I have of different cultures and experiencing and growing — and seeing how rich we are as a nation. We are thankful.”

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to stay up to date with God stories of Africa and beyond

DONATE — Click on the link to donate and help us to keep on publishing uplifting news that glorifies God and strengthens His people. Thank you for your support.

You are welcome to engage with our articles by making comments [in the Comments area below] that add value to a topic or to engage in thoughtful, constructive discussion with fellow readers. Comments that contain vulgar language will be removed. Hostile, demeaning, disrespectful, propagandistic comments may also be moved. This is a Christian website and if you wish to vent against Christian beliefs you have probably come to the wrong place and your comments may be removed. Ongoing debates and repetitiveness will not be tolerated. You will also disqualify yourself from commenting if you engage in trolling.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.