Lesedi Community Centre in Heidelberg, Gauteng is doing a remarkable job of uplifting destitute people and uniting citizens in becoming the answer to local challenges. Andre Viljoen spoke to the centre manager Jaco Kritzinger
When Jaco Kritzinger suddenly lost his senior corporate management job during a company restructuring in 2018 he was in the fortunate position that God had told him to prepare for big changes that year.
During an evening prayer time in October 2017 he said he sensed the Lord impress upon him that he should not wait until January to go on his regular annual 21-day fast — he should do so immediately to prepare for what lay ahead.
And so he and his wife, Chantel, fasted and prayed — asking God to open the doors He wanted them to enter and to close any that were not in His will for them.
In mid January his employers told him “out of the blue” that he would have to go. A Heidelberg pastor told him of a newish homeless shelter [Lesedi Community Centre] in town that was looking for a manager. He suggested it might be something he could do “to keep me busy for a little while”.
“I said: “Sure”, went for an interview with the board and here I am nearly four years later. And I am not interested in going anywhere else. This is my purpose. This is what I was called to do. And all the years that I worked in the corporate world was just training for what we are doing today,” said Jaco.
My first exposure to the work of Lesedi was through a webinar hosted by Project SA in which Jaco shared on their many activities — a shelter for street people; a feeding scheme which responded epically to the food crisis during lockdown; street outreaches bringing prayer, food and practical help to homeless people; skills training, counselling, rehabilitation and health services; rubbish collection and recycling in partnership with the local business chamber; and so much more.
Watching the webinar I thought that like a diamond with many different facets, Lesedi surprises with all the different ways it shines the light of Jesus in Heidelberg and surrounding areas. I was blessed, later to learn, that Lesedi is a Tswana word meaning “light”
Something else that struck me as I watched Jaco’s presentation was the extensive local community involvement and support for this NPO, with churches, families, businesses and business people, other non profit organisations, police and even shelter residents playing an active role in its many different initiatives aimed at uplifting destitute and broken people.
The favour of God was also evident from the testimonies of people coming forward during the pandemic lockdown to inquire how Lesedi was coping with the increased need for emergency food assistance — and then donating substantial amounts of money to meet those needs.
Between March 26 last year and January 24 this year the centre distributed cooked food and food parcels worth over R3-million to desperate people in Heidelberg and neighbouring communities. At the height of the crisis they were spending about six hours a day handing out food.
During my interview with Jaco yesterday, he emphasised God’s key role in their successes.
“For example, if I look at things that happened here towards the end of last week there is absolutely no way in life that you can think that it is because of my cleverness. The Lord’s hand and leading in this is totally visible,” he said as he shared a testimony of how, through a serendipitous route, senior executives of a big company ended up visiting the centre, were moved to tears by what they saw, and subsequently sent Jaco a letter to say they were donating R160 000. And the company is not even from Heidelberg, said Jaco.
“I tell you, if I don’t spend time with the Lord and know what His voice sounds like. how can the Lord speak to me?” he said.
He said in the realm of the rational 2 plus 2 equals 4 and we accept that
“But in God’s economy and God’s way of doing things 2 plus 2 hardly every equals 4. If you do not know the voice of the Lord and you go with what makes sense to you according to economics and all the things that you have studied, then you won’t recognise when to make a decision in which 2 plus 2 equals 9 — and you are going to keep on making the ‘wrong’ decisions.”
One of their God decisions during level four lockdown last year was to partner with a business friend who needed to expand his office rental space in town. Together they used part of the new premises to start a coffee shop as a place to do barista training with donated coffee equipment, while paying for itself and creating some employment.
“It all happened effortlessly. That place in town [RVLTN Coffee Shop] is now a beacon for restoration where people come in to experience the presence of the Lord,” he said.
The coffee shop is the venue for a church cell group of about 15 people on Monday nights, for a youth gathering of about 50 people on Tuesday nights , for about 25 young adults on Wednesday evenings and for a men’s group Bible study for about 15 men on Thursday nights. They are planning to expand the coffee shop.
They also plan to launch a new shelter for abused women and children this year.
These days, because of its visible successes, people come to Lesedi to ask if they can serve as volunteers. But it hasn’t always been like that, said Jaco.
He said the centre started in 2017 as a homeless shelter in a building provided rent-free by a local church.
When he became manager in 2018, just two of them were responsible for overseeing everything. They realised the importance of building relationships and went out to the community and potential donors with the message that Lesedi was there to give to the community and that anybody who wanted to join them in this giving was welcome to help in any way they would like to.
Events that pull the town community together, like a popular annual mountain bike race and fun run, have also become core fundraising campaigns.
In a closing word of encouragement during the recent Project SA webinar, Jaco advised others who wanted to uplift their communities: “The main thing is to work with integrity and in the fear of the Lord. If you don’t have that you’ve got nothing,
“Things just happen when you have the favour of the Lord resting upon you. But you have to walk in integrity for the Lord to trust you with that. There is really a God in Heaven who sees everything we are doing, who hears every conversation — every thought of our heart — and we are accountable to Him at the end of the day.
“He really sees and He really blesses if we walk in integrity — and in His way.”
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