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NCC-Habitat for Humanity 2002 "Durban Build Team"
Second Day Reflections from Johannesburg
From Phil LaBelle, a Fund for Theological Education Fellow
May 30, 2002

LaBelle, of New Haven, Conn., is part of a 45-member National Council of Churches team in South Africa through June 8 to help build Habitat for Humanity homes in Durban.  Photos by team member Whitney Dempsey of Bay City, Mich., show living conditions that are all too common in the black townships, and children at the Ivory Park Township.  The NCC team is spending a few days in the Johannesburg area before going on to the June 3-7 "build."

Children in Ivory Park, South AfricaThe Reverend Simanga Khumalo stood in front of us on the steps to a pre-school and told us about the mission of the churches he has planted in the Ivory Park township. The churches-six in all-all try to reach out to the communities of which they are a part, and this school provides an education that many children might never receive. Some of the children greeted us with hellos, while some stood by too shy to speak, and one young boy hid behind the door and began crying. The school was one large room, and the children who attended also received a meal during the day.

Rev. Khumalo is an energetic man who has a heart for the poor living in his communities. He travels among the six churches he has started, and preaches at each church at least twice a month. The community is made up of one room shacks as well as more standard housing. However, the community is also very poor, and many of the residents there are unemployed. Khumalo, a Methodist minister, has a heart for reaching people and their social needs to make their lives better and in this way share the gospel of Christ.

Just near the pre-school was an elementary school. Because there wasn't enough room in the school building for all the students, many of them had class outside. One class was learning addition, and they were writing problems from the board. I noticed that not all the students were copying the problems down on their papers, and then I saw that the ones who were writing were using little stubs of pencils to write with, pencils that were barely big enough to hold properly. Not all the students had paper, and many didn't have anything to write with at all.

I wondered how many pens I had in the mug sitting on my desk at home. I couldn't help but think of the boxes of pencils I could buy at a wholesale club like BJs or Sams for $10. Or the reams of notebook paper. Things I don't ever think about, but things that could make a world of difference to these students.

Shacks in Soweto, South AfricaRev. Khumalo next took us to a different part of the township to Ivory Park Methodist Church, the first church he founded there. The church is large and vibrant, and also has a pre-school. Behind the church in a small building were a few local residents working. They were making candles. The candles were put on a base and were wrapped in black barbed wire with the white candle in the center. Khumalo told us the candles represented Peace, Hope and Justice-Peace in the wood base, Justice in the barbed wire and Hope in the light of the candle. The candles are sold around the world, and when lit remind people to pray for those in poor conditions.

After we left Ivory Park, we traveled to Edenvale Methodist Church, a church in a white suburban area. This church is also reaching out to those around them, providing a daily soup kitchen that feeds over 200 people, housing a memorial garden where people could come to pray at any time of day for loved ones who had died, and a nursery school for local children. Across the street they are building a hospice center for those who are poor and dying of AIDS and have no place else to go. They are providing care for those who are seen as unclean and untouchable. They are showing love to those despised by society.

They, like Rev. Khumalo and the Ivory Park Church, are sharing the gospel message by reaching out to those in need around them. They are showing that there is Peace, Hope and Justice to be found in this world through the love of Christ. And that even in the most despised and neglected places, love can prevail.


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