Prayer investors’ report from South Africa

Ali Symons wrote this report after a recent trip to South Africa. She travelled with colleagues Lisa Barry, senior producer of Anglican Video, and Bev Murphy, circulation manager for the Anglican Journal. Between Sept. 28 to Oct. 3 they filmed several Anglican-supported projects in the Johannesburg area, then attended the World Association of Christian Communication Congress in Cape Town, from Oct. 6 to 10. Click here for a photo slideshow of the trip.

Bev Murphy, Anglican Journal circulation manager, embraces a preschooler at the John Wesley Centre, Etwatwa, South Africa.
Bev Murphy, Anglican Journal circulation manager, embraces a preschooler at the John Wesley Centre, Etwatwa, South Africa.

I have no idea how God manages the economy of prayer. How do well wishes and worries murmured in Canada translate into good things in other places?

I do know, though, that Canadian Anglicans have long been praying for South Africa—during Apartheid, during the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and whenever one of those aching, general prayers is offered up for “peace and justice in the world.”

I was lucky enough to travel to this prayer-infused country several weeks ago on behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada. South Africa is a deeply disturbing country in many ways: white wealth and black poverty are squeezed mall-and-slum tight together, crime is rampant, and over 30 per cent of South Africans have HIV/AIDS.

But good things are going on too. Our Anglican team saw many encouraging projects that our church has prayed for, given money to, and given prayed-over money to.

Here are three snapshots along these lines:

1. TEE College, Johannesburg

From a small campus in a rough Jo’burg neighbourhood, the Theological Education by Extension (TEE) College works to “equip anyone, anywhere for ministry.” This school runs distance theology education for some 1,200 students around southern Africa and the world. They do this in several different languages, including Xhosa and Zulu.

In the low-ceiling library, Lisa, Bev and I met Samuel, a soft-spoken man who’s almost finished his degree. While studying to become a minister and raising a family, Samuel has been working as a gas station attendant.

Other students live too far away or are too poor to come into campus. Their course material is mailed to them, and they meet in local tutorial groups. We heard of one group in the townships that meets in a shipping container.

TEE staff support these students as they study. While Lisa, Bev, and I were there. they fielded phone calls about the meaning of parables, how to submit late assignments, and gave impromptu pep talks to discouraged students. The staff (most of whom are women) are the kind you’d want at your church’s coffee hour: quick-moving and competent, with easy laughter.

The staff was abuzz about a recently answered prayer: a revival in one of South Africa’s most notorious prisons. TEE provides free theology education for prisoners, and their course material had become popular in this particular jail. Many prisoners began to meet voluntarily to study the Bible, and soon the whole atmosphere of the prison changed. The transformation was so dramatic that the secular news media picked up the story.

Our link: Through our Partnerships department, the Anglican Church of Canada has been supporting TEE College financially and in prayer for over 15 years.

Prayer suggestions:

  • Continued financial security
  • TEE students’ impact in their home communities across Africa

2. The John Wesley Centre, Etwatwa

When Lisa, Bev, and I arrived at the John Wesley Centre, we were caught up in a whirlwind of activity. First of all, there were a lot of cute kids. Cute kids learning traditional Zulu dances, cute kids reaching out for hugs in the preschool, cute kids singing “Head and shoulders, knees and toes” with their classmates. The community centre was busy with so many different projects, but all related to families affected by HIV/AIDS.

The centre is in Etwatwa, a community of about 250,000 people, where unemployment and HIV/AIDS are major problems. The John Wesley Centre has its fingers in a number of pots to help meet these needs.

In the main brick building, with light streaming in, a lively group of women were cooking a lunch of chicken à la king, rice, and delicious African squash and beets. These women are being trained as caterers, as part of the skills-building projects offered by the centre. In a nearby building, another group of women worked over whirring sewing machines, part of a craft collective called Impumelelo. These seamstresses recently secured a contract to make 1,200 bags for a conference. Lisa, Bev, and I fingered these lovely canvas bags and wondered how they would look with the General Synod 2010 logo.

The John Wesley Centre also trains people for at-home health care. I met a woman named Joyce Vumazonke, a sturdily built woman with a small sweet smile. She cares for people with HIV/AIDS or other terminal illnesses; she visits them in their home, bathes them, feeds them, teaches them exercises, and plants vegetables in their gardens.

The centre itself—bright, busy, and clean—was a bit of an oasis. When our tour continued to see a children’s meal program in the townships, we got a better sense of what local poverty looks like. Small tin houses crammed together along a dirt road. Children running barefoot and in tattered clothes. We met a large group of these active kids, squished into a small dirt yard where they were served a fresh meal a day. That day was more African squash, beets, and an egg.

“Sometimes a child will eat here Friday at noon, and won’t get another full meal until Monday at noon,” said one of the servers.

Our link: Since 2004, The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) has provided grants to the John Wesley Centre.

Prayer suggestions:

  • Closer, more fruitful links between the John Wesley Centre and the Etwatwa community
  • Funding for specific staff positions, including a social worker and several caregivers

3. Theological Student International Internship Program

We missed him by about 4 months, the apparently delightful Kyle Wagner, a Canadian theological student who worked in South Africa for three months last spring. He went over as part of the Theological Students International Internship Program (TSIIP), and Lisa, Bev, and I retraced his steps in the Johannesburg area in order to create a promotional film about TSIIP.

Mr. Wagner was in South Africa to learn about ministry in another part of the world, and support it as he could. He kept quite busy, helping out as the diocese needed him: preaching, supporting a youth group, leading Bible studies, and taking care of children at the diocese’s nursery school. He also worked with people who were displaced during the xenophobic violence of spring 2008, when poor South Africans and poor African immigrants fought over the issues of scarce jobs and resources.

Lisa, Bev, and I spoke with the people who worked with Mr. Wagner, including a gentle priest, the Rev. Rod Greville. Mr. Wagner would often shadow “Father Rod” as he performed his regular duties of services, visitations, and prayer.

We also learned that Mr. Wagner charmed some nuns. Lisa, Bev, and I spent a lovely sunny day with the diocesan sisters, including Sisters Eunice and Sister Maureen, two nuns from the KwaZulu Natal area who couldn’t stop giggling at the mention of Kyle Wagner. He worked alongside them in their ministry with the poor, but also helped them arrange flowers and told them tall tales about Canadian habits with undergarments. These high-spirited nuns appreciated his ministry of humour.

Our link: The Anglican Church of Canada’s Partnerships department has sent volunteers to South Africa and elsewhere in Africa through TSIIP, or Volunteers in Mission (VIM).

Prayer Suggestions:

  • The Diocese of Cape Town is currently looking for a bilingual Canadian volunteer to help with Francophone refugee ministry. (Contact Jill Cruse for more details.)
  • Pray for Canadian volunteers overseas: the Rev. Dr. Carolyn Langford in Uganda, and Bruce and Gerry Melville in Tanzania

These are only three brief sketches from a rich trip, where we were alternately excited, horrified, and filled with wonder. I hope these stories encourage you as you continue to toss up your prayers into that mysterious economy. We don’t know how good things come about, but we know that they do.

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