South African churches struggle to assist unemployed members
April 6 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

South African churches struggle to assist unemployed members | Friday, April 6, 2001

Friday, April 6, 2001

South African churches struggle to assist unemployed members

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor A journey through southern Africa reveals a jarring juxtaposition of First and Third World conditions. Downtown Cape Town is as beautiful and modern as the best U.S. cities, while Johannesburg's skyscrapers poke through Los Angeles-style smog as commuters battle traffic and urban sprawl. Yet, shantytowns of abject squalor rub shoulders with the walled compounds of more prosperous neighborhoods. Unemployment is rampant among the poor of southern Africa, especially in the numerous black townships, where as many as 80 percent of adults can find no work. Church planters face an extra challenge when developing new works in areas where the people struggle for daily survival and cannot support a pastor or finance a building on their own. Yet, they persevere.

Many pastors in southern Africa are learning to be as entrepreneurial as they are spiritual. They seek to feed the body as well as the soul, and to assist church and community members in finding ways to feed themselves.

John Pascoe is pastor of Westridge Baptist Church, a predominately colored congregation in the Mitchell's Plain township outside Cape Town. In South Africa, "colored" is a commonly used term used to describe persons of mixed racial heritage.

Pascoe's church sponsors a soup kitchen but is also active in skills training and job creation. The church has nearly completed an outreach center to house a preschool program so parents can work, and to host other social programs. Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte and Stowe Memorial Church in Belmont have sent funds and work teams to assist in the project. Several churches in the Baptist Metrolina Association have contributed to the project, including Mulberry Baptist, Steele Creek Baptist and Oak Grove Baptist.

A sign marks the building as the F.R.O.G. Center, with F.R.O.G. being an acronym for "Fully Rely On God." The facility includes bathrooms, a kitchen, and a large multi-purpose room that can be used for both feeding and recreation programs. Basketball goals bear the logo of the "Opportunity to Serve Ministry," the church's job creation program. Learning to fabricate and weld basketball goals is one of several job-training opportunities.

Bathwell Mketsu is a church planter who serves as pastor of Great Commission Baptist Church in Khayalitsha, a large black township near Cape Town.

Mketsu bemoans the lack of jobs and the need for churches to provide skills training. Noting the pervasive presence of "burglar bars" on the windows and doors of houses in the nicer neighborhoods, he said. "It is better to train workers to install burglar bars than leave them to become burglars."

He hopes to offer computer training courses at the church if he can round up a few used computers in working condition. "We have six members who have taken training," he said, "and they could train others who would pay a small fee to take classes, creating jobs for the teachers and the students."

Gilbert Ndlovu is pastor of Ivory Park Baptist Church, which serves the combined townships and squatter villages that have grown up around the Ivory Park and Winnie Mandela townships near Johannesburg. The church started in a "zo zo hut" (a metal shack) in 1995, then moved into a borrowed tent. A donor provided funds for a building if the church would agree to offer a weekday preschool program. Several N.C. teams, including two from First Baptist Church of Kannapolis, have assisted the church with construction projects and outreach efforts.

Ndlovu worries about the poverty he sees. "I have so many visions in my mind," he says. "The first is to train people in the community to operate a small business." He offers a brochure promoting the "Micro-MBA Bursary Fund," a charitable job-training network that offers subsidized classes in local churches.

Most of the adult members at Ivory Park are women, some of whom stand by the roadside, roasting ears of corn in rusty metal drums for sale to passersby. Others take in laundry, or buy vegetables from wholesalers and resell them in the community. Ndlovu believes the business classes can help them to grow their businesses. He prays for a half-dozen sewing machines, which are available locally for about $100 each, so the church can offer sewing classes.

Adult literacy classes are also part of Ndlovu's vision, and he has arranged a missionary volunteer to teach the classes. Ndlovu hopes to begin a new work in another part of the area, which now counts well over half a million residents.

Twenty miles north of Johannesburg, Mabopane Central Baptist Church occupies a renovated warehouse that was donated by a local businessman. Energetic pastor Reuben Mamatsinya oversees operations that include a computer lab, a print shop, a preschool, a shelter for street children, and an assortment of job training opportunities including a dress-making school. Mamatsinya, who speaks frequently in local schools, hopes to land a contract to manufacture school uniforms so the program can provide steady work as well as training. N.C. partnership teams helped to convert the large warehouse into more functional space.

Beyond Mabopane, along a dusty road dotted with small fruit stands, there is a rambling, ramshackle town with the unlikely name of Stinkwater. The town's name recalls a time when the only available water was in a muddy, scummy drainage pond, but wells now provide clean water.

Here lives Credo Mangayi, the king of entrepreneurial ministers. Mangayi immigrated from the Congo in 1991; bringing with him a degree in economic development and his wife, Esperance, along with a heart for serving God. Since 1992 he has added degrees in adult education and theology, and has nurtured a new church that was accepted into the Baptist Union in 1999.

Mangayi's creative efforts to promote economic independence for the people of his community clamor for attention from every corner of the church property. A bright red and white popcorn machine stands incongruously in the dirt yard outside the church, which sits at the crossroads of two dirt roads and across the street from an elementary school.

Vegetable patches dot the church grounds, where Mangayi teaches gardening skills to parishioners and other members of the community. Participants receive hands-on training at the church and enough seed to plant their own gardens for one year. The soil is poor, with a shallow layer of rock beneath the surface, so Mangayi teaches organic gardening, showing class members how to dig through the stony layer and build up good soil by using compost.

Behind the pastor's home, just a few yards downhill from the church's outdoor toilets, there is an enclosure of heavy wire that can hold up to 100 chickens in two rows of elevated wire cages. Mangayi is teaching several women in the church how to care for the chickens so they can have eggs for food and for sale. He shows how an enterprising person can start with 40 chickens, and by careful financial management can increase the number by 20 each year until they have enough to provide a livable income.

It costs about $115 to set up one person in the gardening operation, and about $250 to get someone started in the egg business, Mangayi says. In both cases, the major expense is for a sturdy fence to protect against roaming animals and human theft.

In the small church building, Mangayi coordinates sewing lessons and literacy classes. Members of his church cook soup in large pots to provide a weekly lunch to students at the elementary school, where Mangayi also offers counseling and teaches classes three days each week.

In a small outbuilding, computers covered in bubble wrap sit in a dusty row, awaiting the beginning of the next class. Some of them still run Windows 3.1. Mangayi is hoping to upgrade to computers that have CD-ROM drives, faster processors, and newer software.

On the floor beneath the computers are three metal molds used for forming interlocking cinder blocks for use in construction. Mangayi says three men can produce 150-200 blocks per day with the equipment, which costs a few hundred dollars.

In the yard, beside a large stack of completed blocks, are the metal forms for another project. Appropriate burial practices are culturally important in the area, where signs advertising funeral services dot nearly every intersection. Families scrimp and save to provide nice grave markers for loved ones but are often unable to afford them. Mangayi is teaching three men to make crosses of cement and wire mesh that can be sold inexpensively as temporary or permanent grave markers.

Mangayi was undeterred when a new beekeeping project suffered a setback after someone stole a protective fence surrounding the hives. He is confident that he can get the project going again, teaching local people to care for the bees so they can package and sell both honey and beeswax candles.

In addition to his local church work, Manayi coordinates a convention-wide program called B.U. C.A.R.E. (Baptist Union Community Advance and Relief). Terry Rae, general secretary of the Baptist Union, is especially fond of this project. "South African Baptists have always been good at proclaiming the gospel," he said, "but we have not been so good at doing social ministry." Rae has encouraged the Baptist Union to establish or expand programs related to social needs, disaster relief, and the care of children affected by the AIDS epidemic.

Southern African pastors and denominational leaders hope that N.C. churches or mission groups will adopt economic development projects such as these, providing financial help that can help deprived communities help themselves. G.A. or R.A. groups, for example, could raise money to purchase a sewing machine or to sponsor a chicken project. For more information, readers may contact Kathi Kestler of N.C. Baptist Men at (919) 467-5100 (Raleigh area), (800) 395-5102 (toll-free in North Carolina), or kkestler@bscnc.org.

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4/6/2001 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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