South African missionary couple Wilco and Lydia Venter have been in Kenya since 2001. Currently they are working with One Collective in the UK and US to bring food, freedom and forgiveness to the marginalised Kalenjin people in a remote village about 210km north west of Nairobi. In this episode Lydia shares how God stepped into their lives 30 years ago and launched them onto a radically-new pathway.
Wilco and I grew up in the apartheid era and while Wilco upheld a more balanced outlook on politics, I was an outspoken racist and radically involved in fighting for white supremacy. I did not allow a person of colour to enter my compound and refused to buy from any shop that would allow people of colour to work at the tills.
We met at a party of a mutual friend, fell in love and got married in May 1990. Wilco worked as an electrician at Kloof Gold Mine and I worked as a secretary in Johannesburg.
We both grew up in traditional mainstream churches and, although we had a respect for God, we did not know Him as Abba Father. I met God first. In the late 80s and early 90s I worked as the secretary of the head of Karoo-Ochse in Randburg, Andre Mouton. He often shared testimonies with me that he had heard on Radio Pulpit. Often he cried as he testified, which I considered to be very weird. After all, wasn’t God just too busy in China to really care about the needs of individuals?. One day he asked me whether I also listened to Radio Pulpit. I immediately replied: “Nooooo, our car radio can’t pick up that station!”
At that time we lived in a small mining community called Glenharvie, which is about 80kms from Randburg, so I had to leave home early to miss the heavy traffic. One morning, as I turned on the car radio which was pre-programmed for Radio 702, I realised that it was on Radio Pulpit. We had no children who could fiddle with the knobs, and although utterly shocked, I started listening to the station for about an hour every day, hearing the stories of people who’s lives had been transformed by the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. Over a period of about 9 months I became convicted of my sins, but still had no idea how to get saved.
Because of the distance, I stopped working at some point, and took out a book from the local library, called The Holy Spirit written by RA Torrey. On completion of the book, I sat in my room, not knowing what to do. Suddenly God’s voice came to me as clear as the day: “What are you waiting for? For lightning from heaven? Just surrender your life to Me!”
What a great day Wednesday, the 31st of July, 1991 was! I still had no idea what had happened to me. That afternoon my father came to pick me up as we had to go to The Golden Walk Shopping Centre in Germiston for some business. Upon entering the centre I noticed black, brown and Indian people. I literally felt as if I was seeing them for the very first time in my life. I then took my father’s elbow, and told him that I loved those people. His words were: “You will not inherit a cent from me!” which was exactly what happened after my father died years later.
After my conversion Wilco struggled to come to terms with his wife’s “new” beliefs and desire to intimately know Christ better. The saddest part was that I realised at that time that I didn’t know a single Christian I could turn to for help. The pressure and the resistance from Wilco and my family became too much, and I backslid after just a few months of tasting God’s unconditional love. I was adamant that the 10% of our lives that we used to religiously give to God in our old mainstream congregation, was a waste of time and therefore I refused to go to church. However, I would secretly pray that the Lord would send someone who would bring me back to Christ.
In February 1992 Wilco was called to the army for his annual 2-month camp. Initially he was being sent to Ellisras, but then he was offered the position of personnel officer in Pretoria. The offer was conditional on him finding his own accommodation. Although Wilco’s sister and her newlywed husband stayed in Pretoria, he felt they needed time alone, so he remembered about Uncle Hennie and Aunty Henna Joubert who also stayed in Pretoria.
Wilco then decided to alternate between staying with the Jouberts and his sister. What he didn’t know, was that the middle-aged Joubert couple were radically saved. On the weekend before Wilco was due to clear out of his army duty, I visited him at Uncle Hennie and Aunt Henna’s home. That Sunday evening, as we sat in the living room, Uncle Hennie talked about being born again. With tears in my eyes I told him that I too had tasted salvation, but if I was to die that night, I’d be going to hell.
The next morning Uncle Hennie – who for some or other reason hadn’t gone to work – sat me down at their dining room table while he and Aunt Henna explained to me the “plan of salvation”. They then anointed me with oil, praying the fire of Almighty God over my life.
I was restored back to my Heavenly Father. I went home fired up, confident that I had spiritual parents to turn to whenever the road became too lonely. I also wasn’t very subtle, telling Wilco regularly that he’d be going to hell if he wouldn’t repent. He argued that he was a good man. My response — “You will burn with your goodness and all!”
One day I shared with uncle Hennie that Wilco refused to repent even though I told him almost daily that he was going to hell. Uncle Hennie rebuked me, telling her to stop doing the work of Holy Spirit. He encouraged me to call the things that are not just as though they were (Rom 4:17).
Then I, in my own simple way, started manifesting this truth. I would put salt in the food, confessing that Wilco would be the salt of the earth. I’d polish (and anoint) his shoes, declaring that his feet would spread the Good News of the Gospel of Christ Jesus. I would pour his bathing water in the bathtub, affirming that the water of God’s Word would wash and cleanse him.
One day, in the waiting room of a dentist in Westonaria, I found some Afrikaans Christian tapes displayed which were available for a small donation. That evening we listened to one side of the tape where Ds Danie Steyn talked about the difference between shadow and reality in the Church. The next evening the topic was Today, if you hear My voice … After Wilco heard the message, he sat at the side of the bed for several minutes. I knew that I had to keep my big mouth shut. I had brought the horse to the water and now it was up to the horse whether he’d drink or not. Wilco finally looked up, telling me that he thought it was time to surrender his life to Christ. I prayed a simple prayer, leading him to Christ.
The next weekend Uncle Hennie took Wilco to a “Woord & Aksie” men’s camp where the Lord confirmed His plan for his life. He and I became radically sold out to God’s purpose to expand the Kingdom of God. We started serving in a Bible-Based church and in 1995 we adopted our first black child, a little girl, Maki, who was 3 years old by then. This resulted in us becoming separated from both of our families, something that increasingly continued over the years.
While we were still living in South Africa we adopted two more babies, Joy and Stefanus. Later, after moving to Kenya, the Lord added two more children to our family — Timothy, whose mother tried twice to abort him in 2003 and Teday, a victim of the post-election clashes in Kenya in 2008.
Maki got married in Kenya and has given us three grandchildren. A few years ago both Joy and Stefanus moved back to South Africa to pursue careers. Timothy, now 18, is preparing for his final exam and Teday has recently turned 13.
To be continued
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