Diary of faith and soul-searching during 18 days of turmoil in Western Cape farm unrest
[notice]The Jonker family has farmed on beautiful Weltevrede for 100 years. Until recently this leading estate in the Robertson Wine Valley was a place of peace and harmony. But like other farms in the Western Cape it was recently engulfed in a wave of bitter, labour unrest that only came to an end on Tuesday (December 4) when Cosatu, representing farm labourers and Agri-SA, representing farmers, reached an agreement relating to demands for better labour wages and conditions. Philip Jonker who runs the family estate sent a series of emails to friends, documenting his experiences and spiritual journey over 18 days of violence and discord in the valley. His emails which are published below record his struggles as he sought to live out his Christian faith with honesty and courage. They also provide insights into the Western Cape labour dispute that were not covered in the many media reports on the unrest over the past few weeks.[/notice]
Friday, November 16th 2012:
Some time ago someone asked me what my dream is and I wrote: To day by day step into the bullring of everyday life where the adrenaline is pumping and blood flowing, to say and do and live to the utmost the full measure of each day. To be filled with enthusiasm, to live inspired, to keep dreaming and to let others dream. To live the freedom to which I am born again.
This week I can’t use the term ‘everyday life’. Life as we know it in our celestial valley came to a sudden halt. Towers of black smoke spiralled upwards and shots rang through the air – from a distance seeming completely unreal, like you’re watching a movie. The roads amongst vineyards and orchards were barricaded with burning tyres, rocks and chanting people. Windows of police vehicles were smashed, stoned with rocks. All permanent employees were kept hostage and there is an emotion charged climate of fear and hatred hanging over everything, the lines of worry written on the faces of people. Saddest of all is to see how the children are being wrapped up in lawlessness, partly due to the excitement but also deliberately to keep the police from using rubber bullets. Small children cry out, “Boer, we are going to burn down your farm!”, and another one next to him would cry out, “Do we have Kinderkerk on Sunday?”
Before the troubles started I called a meeting with our farm workers. I reminded them that we are there for them and that we’ll do all we can to keep them safe. I offered them my phone number to call me should anyone be intimidated or threatened. I invited them to come stay with me in my home if anyone feels unsafe. Little did I know that my phone number would be used so frequently during the next few days, not to ask for help, but to alert me about possible dangers, updating me on own initiative of what they see or overheard. I received between ten and twenty phone calls! I am touched by the deep loyalty and commitment of the Weltevrede workers. Despite huge pressure there was not one who stayed away. They all came to work. When I saw their dedication, but also the fear on their faces, I thanked them and gave them the past two days off for the safety of their homes. Sadly, the instigators portrays this as an uprising of farm workers.
On Thursday I received the first phone call that a group of hundreds is on its way to Weltevrede. I quickly went to our farm workers at their homes and warned them so they could lock and stay out of sight. We closed the winery and offices and the management were sent to my home. Everything was deserted except for me waiting. It was so quiet and all I could do was sit and quietly speak to God. I heard them coming long before I could see anything. Their thundering chants of “Viva!” and “Amandla!” echoed against the hills surrounding Weltevrede. It became louder and louder until eventually the mass of people arrived. I think it is normal to fear at that point when more than five hundred angry, armed and emotionally swept up people come toward you man alone. But I did not feel an inkling of fear because I wasn’t man alone. I discovered in me, by the grace of God alone, His spirit of love, power and a sound mind. I walked into the dancing and jumping crowd armed with pangas, machetes and clubs (knopkieries). I went up to the leader, looked him in the eye, smiled and shook his hand. Showing respect from a source of powerful humility within caught him by surprise. It was visible on his face, and parts of the crowd started to calm down. The leader asked me to sign a paper to acknowledge their request of R150/day. This was quite strange as I am not their employer, but as they were only asking for acknowledgement of their request I signed. The group were still chanting “Viva!” and “Amandla!” So I asked the leader if I could speak to the people which resulted in another look of surprise. He turned around and showed the masses to quiet down. They passed a megaphone to me. It became dead quiet. This isn’t the kind of unprepared oral they teach you at school. I can’t remember all I said, but I do remember that I spoke hope and encouragement. I looked at them and loved them. I encouraged them not to lose hope and to hang on to the dream. I told them our fight is not against flesh. I told them that we are brothers and sisters and that we should talk, not fight. They asked me what I think of the R150 request. “Personally I wish it could be 250, 350 or a thousand. But it isn’t realistic,” I said. I told them to look around them, to see the standard of the housing we provide, to consider the fact that Weltevrede pays on average 80% above the minimum wage set by government and has never failed upping that annually. But still I admitted there is still much to change, I admitted that there is always room for improvement, but we need to build together to sustain the economy of our valley and the realisation of that dream. “Let’s not break down,” I said, while in the corner of my eye I saw smoke coming from one of my Chardonnay vineyards. “We have to build,” I continued. We have a choice to be negative or positive, despite our circumstances. The words we speak can spark destruction or it can spark life. I told them I know their conditions and we all need to work hand in hand, step by step, to bring change. But we also need to be patient. Change doesn’t come overnight. And the “Viva!” and “Amandla!” was exchanged for shouts of “Amen!” People from the crowd came pressing up against me, all wanting to shake my hand. One man came up to me and said, “I shake your hand, Mr Jonker, not because of what you just said, but for what you do in the community.” I couldn’t think of what he refers to. Maybe it is Kinderkerk? Maybe it is simply the spirit in me they sense, as people do sense attitude. Maybe it is the fact that God prompted me several years ago to walk the dusty roads of the local squatter camp and engage with cast out people, to sit in the dust and to tell them the good news that Jesus came with good news to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty for captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty the oppressed, to proclaim a new day. By the grace of God He has rebirthed and pressure-tested my racist and elitist heart over years of walk with Him and this week the fruit of his work over time surprised me too.
The SABC news showed a cut and edited version of the gathering at the gates of Weltevrede. The fact that it was cut left some need for interpretation. I received many sms’s and phone calls congratulating me, but there were many farmers thinking that I signed for R150 and took the side of the lawless marchers. But whether being hailed or stoned I need to remember that the fearless interaction, words and subsequent bridge of relationship between the two sides of the fire is not my own doing, but the spirit of Christ. People react in different ways to the situation. Minds are distorted by fear. Emotions run high and I hear of suggestions to take up arms, to take out key figures. This is not only reckless talk but simply unwise. You can’t fight fire with fire. It is time for those who are real in their walk with God to step into the bull ring and show the healing power of God. We need to be different. In the midst of paralysing fear and insanity we need to be calm and brave like David, to say, “You come to me with panga, fork and knopkierie, but I come to you in the Name of the Lord.” If we do this we’ll be surprised to discover how many brothers and sisters we actually have on the other side of the fire. In retrospect I should have asked the crowd to pray together. But the opportunity will come. Our battle is not against flesh. Our enemy isn’t COSATU, the Afrikaners, the ANC, the DA, the farmers, or anything we can see. The enemy wants us to believe that.
Yesterday morning we tried to work again and our workers in Mountain View and Happy Valley were once again kept hostage as no one was allowed to go to work. I went up to a group of men standing by a barricade and big fire, aerosol cans detonating like heavy calibre gun shots every now and then. I spoke to one of the leaders again, this time more direct and challenging them to come to an agreement, challenging them to think what they are doing. What message do you project when you walk with weapons? What modelling is it when you encourage children to throw stones and make fires? We all work towards a free South Africa, but you are not giving the people a choice to work. You force them all to join you. I told them that peace will return, and months and years from now we all want to live and work together in beautiful peace again, but the damage in relationships may be hard to mend, so take care. I realize you can only challenge someone if there is relationship. So let’s work on relationship as first priority.
Yesterday afternoon they were on their way to Oubaas van Zyl’s farm. Oubaas sent them a message to say that they can burn down the farm if they want, but it is God’s farm. He and his workers were off to a prayer meeting during that time. On their way back from church they stopped at the marching masses. He invited them so we can worship together on Sunday morning and seek God’s will in this. Last night I called a key figure involved with the uprising in Bonnievale and told him that we shall reach solutions if we seek it in the spirit, not the flesh. If God is our starting point there is much hope. If we try any alternative way it will run into a dead end. Their leaders are meeting today and considering our request to worship together tomorrow. If we have this as foundation we can sit together to find solutions next week. My question is what kingdom are we serving? The one of money? Of colour? Is it a political kingdom? Is it a kingdom of self? I think there are many piercing questions to be asked and we all need to do serious introspection and call to God for wisdom. I am reminded of 2Chron.7:14. “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.“ That is a promise. And this morning Lindelize reminds me of Proverbs 29: 7,8: “The righteous considers the cause of the poor, but the wicked does not understands such knowledge. Scoffers set a city aflame, but wise men turn away wrath.” This is not a time to show force, but powerful humility.
In less than two hours Oubaas van Zyl and I will meet with their leaders in Happy Valley. Please pray that the spirit of God will be the pivot of our relationship.
Saturday, November 17th, 2012
Thank you for the prayers. In faith we believe the more than 3 hour meeting was good, but both Oubaas and I are emotionally drained now. We had only one agenda, that is to make God the starting point. However, the rest of the members of the meeting clearly do not all put God’s Kingdom first and have some additional motives. They are not interested to use the law of the country to bring those employers who are acting outside the law to justice, they are adamant to use illegal methods on a broad scale to paralyze the economy and get effect. However I believe that our meeting at least stopped a serious disruption of Bonnievale on Monday and I trust that workers will be allowed to go to work.
They did not agree to arrange a combined worship meeting, but Oubaas was determined to keep to his word and said he will be in Happy Valley to worship with the children of God at 10h00 even if it is only him. I am going with and thereafter (at 12h00) I shall go to call a worship meeting in the squatter camp for which I need serious intercession as this is really the lion’s den.
All is peaceful in Mountain View, Happy Valley, the squatter camp and the Bonnievale farms today. Although there are rumours of barricades at the Robertson circle tomorrow I believe the Kinderkerk bus will collect children tomorrow and that it will be a specially blessed event. I just realize the essential need for Kinderkerk to keep on investing in the next generation’s lives and to model truth.
Thank you again for your prayers.
Sunday, November 18th, 2012
Thank you for your intercession. The weekend is coming to a close and involved a total of more than 12 hours of meetings in the community, of which some were worship meetings thankfully.
I attended three worship meetings this morning, two in Happy Valley and one in the squatter camp. (I do not like the term squatter camp, but that is how it is called by the inhabitants and community.) In the community there is concern about the lawlessness, but also support for the cause of the strike. At the second service a man looked me in the eye and encouraged me, and I was caught off guard when my eyes got teary. Three of us walked amongst the informal shacks of the squatter camp inviting all to join for worship. People were mostly resting, tired of the week’s marches maybe, or washing. They were reluctant to meet, but their attitude was very positive and they appreciated me being there. I think we were about 20 together. I asked them whether they feel week, tired, hungry, or maybe at the end of their own strength. I was feeling that way. But I told them that they must take heart, because no matter the situation they can remember the certainty that Jesus is there for them. I shared with them again Luke 4:18, 19 where Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight for the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” I prayed for people, also in their huts.
During the afternoon I attended a community meeting of the marchers – probably about 60 or 70 people max. They did not expect me there at all. I went with one agenda again and that was to build relationships on the foundation of Christ alone. When I walked up to them with my Bible one man said, “Don’t come hiding behind the Bible. We have had enough of that. Praying will not help today.” Most of their leaders are church leaders as well. I told them I am not bringing the Bible as a shield. I am bringing it as a foundation. Our starting block. If we don’t start there there is no hope. I told them there are too many of us calling ourselves Christians but living for a different kingdom. I told them I am a follower of Christ and I give each one of them the mandate today to hold me accountable. If they deem the way I farm or treat my employees or live my lifestyle to be contrary to the way of Christ, they may challenge me on that. Then I must change. But in the same breath I am taking the mandate today to challenge them on their conduct. We all have to do introspection. What words passed our lips this week? What thoughts crossed our minds? From which well does this flow? I challenged us both to put us in the other’s shoes.
The meeting this afternoon gave me better insight into their thoughts. Amongst the leaders there are the fighters, the peace makers, the negotiators, the stubborn. And in the crowd most debate wisely, but there are those individuals whose voices seem like cutting blades, bitterness from deep wells of hurt. It is encouraging that the leaders did urge the crowd to stick to peaceful methods, to ensure children do not get involved again and to stay away from lawless practices. I do get the feeling though that this was partly because I spoilt the party, but I won’t judge their sincerity. Listening to their worries gave me a better understanding of their real concern for the life style and situation of farm workers. The whole action may be completely overdone and unwisely aggressive, but it will lead us to contemplate each farm’s standards. It is true that many farms are not profitable and that this may be a tough chapter to work through, but let’s do all we can to reach agreements. If the marchers’ intentions are purely to raise the living standards of farm workers we are together in their cause, because this is the heart of most farm owners I know. It is probably more a matter of urgent improvement and what step up is possible immediately.
We have a meeting again tomorrow at 06h15. Sorry to ask this so frequently, but please pray for the spirit of love, power, and sound minds. We need wisdom.
At the same time one of our managers receive death threats. Please pray for his safety.
Tuesday, November 20th, 2012
Everything is peaceful. On the surface at least. Appreciating it while it lasts.
I am still so saddened by the effect on the children. Some adults may understand the reasons for the violent actions, the statements some want to make by their unlawful actions, the plans of others to defend themselves, but children interpret it differently. At pre-school the little ones do not play Cowboys and Crooks anymore. The play “Farmers and Strikers”. And where there has been a beautiful unison amongst the little ones suddenly everything is black and white again. Toddlers who can barely speak yet, call out, “We are going to burn down your farm!” Yesterday I drove through a very peaceful Mountainview. Everything seemed back to normal, except for a little cute girl, probably six or seven years old, who pretended to throw a stone at my vehicle. This never happened before. She has no grudge personally. She simply saw these things last week. I can understand when older people still have bitterness about the past. But we all hope that with a new generation the scene is set for things to be different. How could we allow this to happen? Do we want to lose another generation to racial division and prejudice?
One day we shall all stand before God, each one on his own. And on that day He will not ask us why we burnt down vineyards, because that doesn’t matter. Things do not matter. But God is a relationship God and He may ask us why we messed up relationships. He may ask us how we treated our employees, how we treated the poor. He may challenge us on our modelling to children. He may challenge us on the division we brought amongst people. And we are accountable for our lives. As my one farmer friend, Willie, says, “When I get in bed after a long day’s work, it is with my own conscience, not that of others or a collective group. I alone am responsible for my life, my thoughts, my words, my conduct.”
I am simultaneously challenged and encouraged like rarely before. The Bible says, “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy clothes also comes in, if you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here is a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet, ‘have you not discriminated amongst yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Religion is dead. And if we still play church, we should stop. Because if our faith doesn’t matter and make a difference in times like these, it’s a farce. Then it is not real. But if we come to the end of our selves, God may begin to live through us. It isn’t about religion. It is about relationship. By His grace I can testify of a God that is real and very much present tense.
This weekend, while I was walking amongst the shacks my phone rang. It was a spiritual mentor of mine on whose farm Lindelize and I met years ago in Zimbabwe. He lost his farm since, like so many farmers have. Ironically I was walking next to a Zimbabwean at that moment, who has ended up in the Bonnievale township in search of a better life as the economy of Zimbabwe fell apart due to the land grab. I sort of expected the phone conversation to be a warning that this is the beginning of the end, that this is going the way of Zimbabwe, but no. He encouraged me to be strong, to hold on to hope. “Connect with the right people,” he said, “search out those whose hearts are pure, those with the right spirit. And be careful too, as many goats bleat like sheep. And then there are also wolves in sheep’s clothing too.” I do pray for a spirit of discernment to see clearly who are truly born anew and who are false.
Over the past few days I have had a few questions that could not be answered by the leaders of the strikers:
1. If this was really an uprising against the wages and standard of life of farm workers, why were there no negotiations or communication of any form beforehand? Why was this such a sudden and violent action without warning, almost from nowhere?
2. If this was about conditions on the farms in our area, why did this violent action start in more than 10 towns exactly on the same day?
3. If this was about the farm workers, why aren’t the farm workers striking? The group of violent protesters are mainly outsiders, people from town and jobless ones. Not farm workers.
4. If this was really about bad treatment on farms, why were businesses targeted who generally look better after their employees?
I won’t state my perception at this stage, as I am still quite puzzled. But rest assured, whatever is hidden in darkness the truth will be proclaimed from the roof tops. I do not think peace is here to stay. We have till December 3rd to sort our hearts out, get our priorities in line, to build relationships. Thereafter, if not sooner, all hell may break loose and then we need to know who we are, who is with us, and who is against us. May we hear God’s whisper amongst the shouts.
Saturday, November 24th
I don’t think life will ever be the same again. It feels like I have been poured out like a drink offering. I can’t recall much and I am glad I did write down some thoughts along the way because as we reach this weekend all seems back to normal again. Almost as if nothing happened. The only evidence being the skeletons of scorched vineyards and circular black marks of burnt tyres on the roads.
Yesterday morning I put on my running shoes and went for a jog through the vineyards. There is plenty of work now as we lost a few days and the vineyards didn’t stop growing during the strike. I turned up towards Mountain View, jogged through the RDP area, through Happy Valley, all the way to one of the leading figures in the community. I went to ask for some water. And to talk.
I was all stiff when I eventually left after a long chat. I believe it was quite worthwhile, because she is a talkative figure in the community. She expresses her views. And I think I left with the two of us sharing a common vision. I jogged back through Happy Valley and met the owner of one of the taxi companies. I know he has influence as well, and he talks while he transports people. Then I stopped at one of the pastors, who had his camping chair set in front of the shebeen (probably not good for business). But it was a good place to be as people come and go and opinions are formed there. I just realize that if we want to reach out we need to make time and we need to connect. I believe as long as we keep ourselves cocooned separately we allow prejudice to fester. If we want to have a future here we have to step over boundaries, boundaries of status, of colour, of language, of income. It is not a natural thing. Birds of a feather do flock together. However by the grace of God I am not defined by the hue of my skin. I am not defined by my heritage or upbringing. I am not defined by my education. I am not defined by my status, income or possessions. I am not of more value in the eyes of God than the jobless. I am crucified with Christ and now I no longer live. He lives in me. And the stronger I am in my own ego and the more I pile up things around me, the less I am of use to God. God uses the weak. And when we come to the end of our selves it may not be a bad place to be. Because then God can start working in and through us.
I had meetings with our farm workers this week. I know I have said it before but I am so touched by their commitment. Yesterday I confessed to them again that I realize all isn’t what it should be on the farm. There is much to be done to better their socio-economic conditions. I would like to see them develop, earning more and for their children to have a bright future. This morning I was surprised when one of the young men came walking up to me and said he wanted to talk to me. “I am prepared to speak on the radio and television, I will tell the country we are content,” he said. This was an unbelievably bold step from him, because in our community you are easily labelled if you make your loyalty known and the pressures are fierce. So I don’t expect any of them to show their loyalty publicly.
This week I also had meetings with fellow farm owners. Some good things were said and farm owners were encouraged not to act on emotion and not to do things that may give others the chance to point us out as aggressors. Much of the meeting was spent on safety and security. What shall we do when December 4th arrives? is asked. But the real question probably is, what shall we do before the 4th ? I am reminded of an interview with a journalist earlier this year featuring the centenary of Weltevrede. “How do you see Weltevrede in a hundred years from now?” was the question. “A place where we can follow our dreams, where there is freedom, simplicity, where we can live to inspire, a place without fences in any way.” With that I didn’t necessarily mean physical fences, but fences in our minds rather. Weltevrede neither has fences nor gates. Our vineyards and buildings are both sides of the road between Robertson and Bonnievale. At our winery anyone can walk onto the premises, or into the vineyards or to our home. We have never needed fences for the past 100 years that our family has farmed here. And I hope and pray it will stay that way. I am quite sure we shall see fences, gates, burglar bars and other forms of security put in place on other farms in the near future. Apart from the cost of this and the fact that it is ugly the down side of this is that psychologically it sends out a message: I don’t trust you. I don’t like you. I don’t value you. I don’t associate with you. These messages may have the opposite effect and encourage crime. On the other hand one shouldn’t be naïve and foolish and need to protect the families living on our farms. In my case I believe relationships with the community need to be the main form of security. I believe that if there are no relationship barriers amongst people we do not have to have physical barriers to keep us apart. And the cross is the place where every barrier is broken down. Fear is such a terrible thing. It is so easy to be paralyzed by fear. The Bible says that love and fear are opposites. Our hatred, racism, classism and judgement of others are in most cases only an expression of our own fear. Let’s be free and exchange our fear for love.
I think we are all confronted with ourselves. What we believe in. Who we are. Our priorities. As I am writing this the wind is blowing and it just started to rain. Who is out there in the cold? Who hasn’t had something to eat since yesterday? I believe God is up to something with all this. When an insect grows there comes a point of uncomfortability, before it sheds off its old skin. I believe we are at such a point. We can either be crushed, or we can shed the old shell and begin a new chapter. Almost like the Bible refers to old wine skins that can’t contain new wine as it will burst. It is time to make sure our faith is real, that our spirits are truly rebirthed by Christ. It is time to establish who we live for. Who we are willing to die for. I don’t see December the 4th as doom’s day. It is merely a political ultimatum, driven by an agenda to broaden a support base and to win votes. I ended the previous mail saying that all hell may break loose on that day. They may damage property, burn down farms, they may even kill me, but can they stop the kingdom of God advancing to bring light to darkness? Again, it is not a battle against flesh. We have to let our light shine. And for this battle we all need to put on the full armour according to Ephesians 6 and not forget to put on our shoes, to step out with the willingness to share the gospel of peace. Let’s put on the armour of light, let’s clothe ourselves with Christ (Rom. 13:12-14).
There is a call to fast and pray about what is happening. I think we can all read Isaiah 58:1 – 12 again if we are brave enough. I should type it all here, but it will make the mail even longer. If you don’t have a Bible then borrow, steal or beg one from a friend, or Google it, but promise me to go and read it. Today we may be reaping what others have sown. And what we sow today may be reaped by future generations. Let us commit ourselves to leave a legacy. Let us be known as Repairers of the Breach.
This morning we had a conference at King’s Church International Robertson and I really want to honour the role Godly mentors have played in building me and Lindelize over the past few years. I do not know how I would have coped with everything that has crossed my path over the past four years if it wasn’t for God’s grace operating through them. At the end of 2008 I was utterly broken, damaged and useless due to my own pursuits before they started restoring me. Amongst the leaders are both farm workers and farm owners. This morning we were coached to become world changers. It isn’t the time to get mad with the world. It is time to get sad with the world. Cross boundaries. Stand for something radically different. Be an ambassador of reconciliation. Eat together. Risk it. The only way to bring change is to change. Be the first to change. Be selfless. Be humble. Don’t shy away from brokenness. Love. Deny yourself and take up your cross daily.
Thank you for every prayer and encouraging e-mail. Sorry for not replying to your letters yet! I get inspiring letters form people I don’t know and countries I haven’t been to as some friends have forwarded this diary and prayer requests.
I want to close with one of my favourite verses. Galatians 6:14 “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified unto me, and I to the world.”
Have a blessed weekend.
Sunday, November 25th
What a glorious day. I am enthused by the vision to impact the world one person at a time.
This morning at Kinderkerk we welcomed 870 children mostly from farm workers homes. Many of them still wear the tops they received in June, many of them I know by their clothing, the one with the faded red T-shirt, the one with the stitched up pants – because that is what they wear every Sunday, possibly every other day of the week as well. Some are beautifully dressed up for the highlight of their week. Others are dirty, scarred or skinny of malnutrition. Some walk long distances to get to the road and we see them waiting for the busses at farms, many of them ready two or three hours before the pick up time. The busses and farm trucks arrive at the Robertson Primary School hall, where they receive something to eat, possibly the only food for some for the day, or even the weekend. They are there for two hours of unconditional love and fun. About 40 volunteers at Kings Church International Robertson, farm owners, farm workers, winemakers, doctors and other professional people become selflessly silly for those two hours when these children are being served as princes and princesses. Huge colourful décor, music, dance, costumes, games, puppet shows and silly acting await them. They are loved and recognized, we know their names, their birthdays, their honest prayer requests. Most of them are between 5 and 12 years old. In some little ones we already see mannerisms linked to gangsterism and drug abuse, probably copied from older ones. We see scars of physical abuse. But in most we see eyes that still have sparkle in them, because they are children. Even in the squatter camp I see dirty, barefoot little ones who believe all is well and everything is possible, like children do. Sadly they grow up and at some stage they start measuring their identities by their circumstances. Who am I? What is my value? When there seems to be no hope, no future and no recognition then self-worth erodes away. Add to this rejection, bad role modelling and negative words spoken over their lives and you see eyes become dull, young lives without vision, and soon teenagers join gangs to belong or sell their bodies for recognition. We can change that. If we commit ourselves to this vision, if we become mentors at an early age we can encourage children to dream beyond their circumstances. You are special. You are uniquely made. There is no-one else like you. There is a dream for your life. You are valuable. You can change the world around you. These children are so small but already so exposed. In our messages we deal with rejection, the need for forgiveness, to become free of bitterness, to believe, to speak positively, to love, to dream. We want to restore individuals to become secure teenagers who soon will be young adults and the parents of another generation. There is hope! After five years those children who have been involved from the start are five years older now. And we can see the difference in their dignity, their healthy self esteem, their positive outlook, their faith that even when things look impossible there is a God who loves them and can make things possible. They are leaders in the making. They will be the future history makers establishing core values of reconciliation, love, freedom, faith, and family values in our communities.
It isn’t just another humanistic program to teach them to become better citizens. We are interested in the hearts of the individuals. Because each volunteer involved has had a life changing encounter with Christ and has been liberated and rebirthed at some stage in our lives we believe in the healing power that exceeds the natural. We know that no one can be written off. No background can be too shocking. No life can be too damaged. We do not propose an adjustment of a lifestyle, we propose an end to the old self and a complete new start. No matter what the past has made you, there is an opportunity for a fresh beginning. A rebirth. It may sound all very theological, but it boils down to life changing love. If a little life consists of 6 days and 22 hours of pain and hopelessness, what is the value of only two hours a week? At least it offers an alternative, positive role models who believe in this little life.
This coming weekend we have our Christmas event and expect to have more than 1000 children together. Last year we had more than 1000 children together with a winter Christmas theme. This year the theme is A Smurf’s Christmas. We prepare to have food (thanks to Robertson Spur), sweets and gifts for at least 1100 children. This includes a children’s Storybook Bible to each, authored by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Let me know if you want to be part of this vision. We reach as many as the size of our net allows. We are sad for each little one that slips through or who can’t be reached yet.
I am inspired by the life of Mother Theresa who gave her life to pick up the rotting and dying, those turned away by hospitals who were left in the gutters of Calcutta to die. She and her sisters in faith would pick them up, clean them, serve them and in many cases only surround them with joy and love for a precious few hours or days until they eventually did pass away. Malcolm Muggeridge wrote on her life and commented, “It was an awareness that these dying and derelict men and women, these lepers with stumps instead of hands, these unwanted children, were not pitiable, repulsive or forlorn, but rather dear and delightful; as it might be, friends of long standing, brothers and sisters. To soothe those battered old heads, to grasp those poor stumps, to take in one’s arms those children consigned to dustbins, because it is his head, as they are his stumps and his children, of whom he said that whosoever received one such child in his name received him.”
She was asked how it is possible that these young sisters remain joyful in such conditions to which she answered, “They know very well that it’s to Christ the hungry and Christ the naked and Christ the homeless that they are doing it. And this conviction and this love is what makes the giving a joy. “We give our whole hearted free service to the poorest of the poor – to Christ in his distressing disguise.”
She prayed, “Though you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I still recognize you, and say: ‘Jesus, my patient, how sweet it is to serve you.”
She went further to say, “What the poor need, even more than food and clothing and shelter, is to be wanted. I have come more and more to realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience.”
After Kinderkerk I walked through the squatter camp with three young Xhosa men who live there. One of them is a leader volunteer at Kinderkerk. We stopped in the dusty open plain in the middle of the township. The four of us stood there and prayed. We made a public statement before everyone who could see, including the spiritual forces, that this is the domain of light. In the spirit we put a stake in the ground to claim the terrain under the authority of Christ. We prayed a blessing of provision, of healing, freedom and revival on each man, woman and child. I prayed for the three men with me, that God will equip them as men of God, young leaders chosen for a time such as this.
May this hope strengthen you as well today.
Tuesday, December 4th
It is the morning of the 4th. The valley woke up to the singing of birds. There is peace.
Earlier this morning I went to Mountain View, Happy Valley and the squatter camp. After threats of strikes and mass action most people were prepared for the worst today, but instead people greeted each other on their way to work, carrying their food parcels in the one hand, waving with the other hand. I saw a father leisurely walking hand in hand with his little boy. The images of the serenity of this morning were truly special as the sun rose over the peaks of the mountains surrounding our valley. The only contrast was one individual who ran around with a whistle, piece of sharp iron in the hand, trying to invite a following, but he remained alone. I hope the peace we see today is deeply rooted in inner peace, as Christ didn’t promise a calm life, but peace within. It is often midst the worst of troubles when this inner peace is most distinct.
This morning I received a phone call from Wellington Kaponda, my Zambian mentor-friend and he said, “I just want to encourage you. We are not to reap from the curses of the past, we may watch the repercussions around us still, but we are not heirs of it. In Christ we are set free, for we have confessed the wrongs of the past. This is one of the things Jesus died for on the cross.”
I am touched by the way people from all over are holding my arms high in this time. Lindelize. My parents. Those working with me at Weltevrede. Children. Family. Friends. Neighbours. Those amongst the farmers, those in Mountain View, Happy Valley and the squatter camp. Brothers. Sisters. And you who are reading this and praying, some forwarding my letter, some contacting me. I am overwhelmed by what God is doing in and through people all over. In these times of trouble many groups are calling on people to become members, political parties, unions, societies. Boerevereninging. Cosatu. AfriForum. Fahwu. AgriSA. And probably several other clandestine groups as well. Come to me all who are weary, they say. This is the time to belong. Samehorigheid. There is safety in numbers. Eendrag maak mag. There is truth in this, although we have to consider who we are. I do believe that when the heat is turned on we have to come clear on who we are. It is time to show our real colours. It is time to pledge our allegiance. I have pledged mine to Jesus who said, “Come to me all who are weary, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matt.11) Meek and lowly of heart. Rest for souls. Easy. Light. Let’s go to Him. He isn’t called the Prince of Peace for nothing.
May we have peace, whether in circumstances of calm or chaos.
All the best