For a whole year now Mario and I have been a part of an experiment. We have been the part of the Junction eldership that has begun the work of starting a satellite meeting in the local township, Diepsloot. If you don't know what a township is, you're probably not from the Republic of South Africa, or RSA.
During the Apartheid era in South Africa (1948-1994) the government (run by a white minority) declared it illegal for people of color to live amongst eachother. Instead, a formal decree, the Group Areas Act, decided that areas would be portioned off for each separate race ("Apartheid" means separateness) to build and develop as they wanted.
Blacks were evicted from properties that were in areas designated as "white only" and forced to move into "townships". With little resources of their own, the structures they erected were piecemeal, made mainly from corrugated metal, or boxcars. Forced removal from city to townships has continued in post-apartheid South Africa. The difference is that under apartheid all black people faced forced removals to townships while now it is only the poor living in shack settlements (squatter camps) that face eviction to townships.
In most townships today, people live very close together in sub-standard living conditions. Running water and private flushing toilets are a rarity, so most people are forced to bring water inside to their shacks by buckets from an outside spigot. There are shared (flushing) toilets in strategic locations.
Even with the seemingly unacceptable environment, the people we know who reside there have a high standard of cleanliness and their places are always clean and well kept. Their hair and clothes usually look better than mine :)). Our friends living in Diepsloot love Jesus and are a joy to celebrate and worship with.
To make the township more personal, let me whittle it down to six faces in this picture: Lebongo, Ebiniezer (Ebi), Percival, Sipho, Priscilla and Yondela.
Lebongo (in front) is learning how to read and write. His parents, Dumisani and Monica are close friends of ours. Recently they have moved to Cosmo City, a neighborhood that is quite a step up. For the first time in their lives, the family has a water tap inside and their own bathroom. Lebongo's nickname is Xhio (KY-ah). When I would come to see their family in Diepsloot he would run out to greet me and almost knock me down with a running hug. Then he would smile like crazy, his deep, brown eyes glittering and dancing with joy. Since they've moved we notice a great void where they used to be...a community lacking leaders always misses its leaders when they leave. Lebongo knows almost every worship song and sings beautifully.
Ebineizer (Ebi) is the second son of one of my best friends, Portia. Recently widowed (Thembe died three years ago) Portia raises two boys without their father, a great challenge for anyone, even greater in a township. Because of strong family connection (her brother Pineas is very good and involved in their upbringing), the boys are doing very well. Everywhere we go Darrel and Ebi shine with what can only be described as the "favor of God". Ebi's face is perfectly punctuated by deep dimples, making him get almost anything he ever wants from me. Last week during a visit he wrote "My name is Ebineizer and I love soccer" on a piece of paper. I almost cried!! It was so wonderful... He loves to sing and dance, and many times is a public clown, making everyone laugh.
Percival (in the snowboarding top) is the son of Max and Martha, our friends who stay in Diepsloot but are soon moving to Roodeport, too far to connect on Sundays. Both parents are extremely attentive to the behavior of their kids, so Percy and his siblings are among the most reliable, well-behaved kids in our church. A Venda (the tribe from the area closest to the Zimbabwean border), Percy is a lover of all ball sports, especially soccer. If I give him a soccer ball, he'll care for it with great diligence, but will always share with his friends.
Sipho (looking sideways) is also the son of a single mom, our friend Julia-Margaret. His father left the mother and occasionally comes back to live with her while he's in Johannesburg. There are few ladies I know who have it harder that Julia-Margaret, who is constantly plagued by bad news after bad news. Recently she went into the hospital for swollen feet (they cited malnutrition and over-work), and the following day I took her children Priscilla and Sipho to see her. Both kids never had known anyone who went into the hospital and came out again, so they were thinking I was taking them to see her die. When they saw her, they broke into the most heart-felt tears that I began to cry as well. She assured them she was coming home -after she was well- the way only a mother can. The kids understood slowly, then regained their appetites and were ready to be taken back home to their older brother who was cooking dinner. We laughed, visited and went home, and for the first time ever, Sipho smiled at me. It was an incredible day.
Yondela (biting her tongue in the back) is the Aunt of Lebongo, the sister of Monica, and lives with her and Dumi. She is a delight to everyone who knows her. Because she is the "oldest child", she helps take care of the younger ones, Lebongo, Ezzo and Timna. She can clean and cook and still loves to run around and be crazy. She has seen a lot of joy and a lot of pain in her twelve years... and she loves Jesus. Singing with delight and fervor, Yondela is a great example to the smaller kids.
Priscilla (back row left) is the daughter of Thembe, a lady in Diepsloot who has been comin to church for about a year. She is not used to nice things and many times displays the habit for grabbing everything she can at the church (toys, food, drinks, her turn in line). She has to be gently coached to believe that we are all equal, all equally loved by our heavenly Father and all will be taken care of. This is not yet a belief and may never be...one of the side-effects of growing up in desperate poverty. Still, she loves church and loves coming to sing and celebrate. Yondela is a good friend to her, and a hopeful influence on her life.
These are just a few of the faces of the township we work into. Every Sunday we have a meeting where we celebrate, share time, listen to a good preach and then all of us go home and take a nap!! Now that habit is universal.