[notice]Helenvale in Port Elizabeth has gained notoriety as the worst gangster violence hotspot in the city and one of the most dangerous places in South Africa. But for the people who live there, this small, poor, Northern Areas suburb is home. This article, is the fourth in a series of Hope In The Darkness stories about people in and close to the community who believe that there is a hope and a future for Helenvale and other troubled, Northern Areas hotspots. Stories about people who are doing something special to bring hope and change in the area. People who believe that Jesus is the answer.[/notice]
Gelvandale SA Police Services Station Commander Brigadier Ernie Neveling is well acquainted with the serious gang violence problem in Helenvale, one of the Port Elizabeth Northern Areas suburbs within his command area.
As a seasoned professional crime fighter with 36 years police service, including 7,5 years in Gelvandale, he has no illusions about the scale and complexity of the crime problem in Helenvale, nor of the daunting challenge of overcoming it.
It is therefore notable when he says that he has seen Christian activity in the area in recent times that gives him hope that Helenvale could not only be rescued but could be used by God to bring about revival in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro.
Neveling says that the Helenvale community has a very widespread church culture. “Even the gangsters went to Sunday school,” he said. However, for many years there had been little contact between the many churches active in the area. But this was starting to change and recent campaigns involving metro co-chief of police, General Dawie Rabie, police chaplain Alain Waljee and certain church leaders were visibly reviving the Christian climate in the area, he said.
“I know that they (the Christian leaders) have a vision not only to bring about change in Helenvale but to see revival for the Lord throughout the whole metro,” he said.
Comparing the situation with a time when the disciple Nathaniel asked “Can any good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46), he said one might now ask “Can any good come out of Helenvale?”.
“I believe we have asked the Lord and it will happen,” said Neveling.
He said he would never forget a time in 2009 when he and his policemen were exhausted after working long hours and through weekends to fight an outbreak of gang violence that went on without a break for months. Then one Friday afternoon, after there had been a prayer walk in Helenvale, General Rabie came into his office and said: “You can go home now. Nothing will happen.”
Neethling said he assured Rabie that he had a Plan B to bring additional forces into the area at the weekend if they were needed. Rabie responded by asking him if he did not believe his assurance that nothing would happen because of their prayer walk.
Praying with conviction
Neveling said his faith had been challenged and he had learnt a lasting lesson about the importance of praying with conviction. There were no criminal incidents that weekend or for weeks thereafter.
He said he was confident that as churches in the area started to work together and led the way in setting Jesus lifestyle examples in the community that there would be positive change. On Sunday (August 21) he addressed a street prayer meeting in Helenvale that was arranged by a forum representing about 40 of the 55 churches in the area. He called on the crowd of over 500 local residents to work together as the body of Christ to defeat crime.
Neveling said there was no legal or ethical way that the police could meet with gangsters. But church leaders could and should talk to gangsters who originally came out of their churches. They should tell them that if they did not stop their criminal activities they would assist the police in getting them arrested. He cautioned that any approaches to gangsters should be made in a public and transparent way so that churches were not seen as siding with particular gangs, thereby breaking down trust in the community.
He said churches could also play a valuable role in helping to break down a culture of non-cooperation with police at crime scenes.
Alcohol destroying community
Churches could also play a key role in combating the influence of alcohol that was destroying the wellbeing of the community. About 75 to 80% of assault cases, which unnecessarily stretched limited police resources, were alcohol related. A few days ago he saw a small child in the street with two bottles of alcohol that she had bought for her parents.
“The police should not have to go to the liquor store to follow up selling of alcohol to minors. The Christian community should be warning the liquor stores and putting an end to this practice. That’s what it means to take your streets back,” he said.
Neveling said that without the grace of God he would have never managed to cope with the pressures of police work without having a nervous breakdown. But thanks to God, and to his wife of 31 years, Marinda, who was a tower of spiritual support, he enjoyed peace of heart.
He said he recognised God’s hand and purpose in every promotion and every transfer during his long police career. He had been posted to Gelvandale from 1996 to 2000 and had been in the area again for the past 2 and a half years.
“I will do everything in my power to work to achieve whatever the Lord wants to use me for here,” he said.