Small door, big vision
March 29 2001 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

Small door, big vision | Friday, March 30, 2001

Friday, March 30, 2001

Small door, big vision

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Cheryl Allen doesn't look like a mover and a shaker, but her delicate features overlay a bulldog tenacity, a core of inner steel and a burning heart for children. Her visionary concern for abandoned children has already impacted scores of abandoned children who have found safe harbor through the Door of Hope. If Allen gets her way, the count will reach into the thousands. Allen, who is trained in nursing and midwifery as well as theology, has been pastor of the Berea Baptist Mission in Johannesburg since 1997. The inner-city mission is located in one of Johannesburg's most dangerous and crime-ridden areas, where muggings, rapes, shootings, prostitution and drug sales are common.

Yet, Allen holds forth, though she cannot safely visit some of her congregants without an escort. Even the police avoid some local streets. In a country where most pastors are men and most adult church members are women, Allen's congregation is 80 percent male. Many are immigrants whose families have remained behind while they seek work in Johannesburg. On a typical Sunday, up to 16 nations may be represented in worship.

The church property consists of two buildings more than 90 years old, surrounded by a thick security wall. Partnership volunteers from North Carolina have repaired the roof and added a lighted cross to the sanctuary building, and renovated the interior to provide seating for 120 adults. On many Sundays, it overflows.

Allen gives God the glory for the church's success. Revitalizing the Berea mission is a story in itself: Through a careful strategy of leadership training, discipleship training and prayer, she has grown the congregation from an average attendance of 40 to 140 or more while developing solid leaders to ensure its future stability.

But Allen's vision not only reaches beyond the church walls - it includes a special project that actually uses the church wall. When Allen learned that 40-50 babies were being abandoned in the Johannesburg area every month, she led the church to begin a rescue ministry. An opening was cut into the street-side wall, with metal doors covering either side. The outer door, labeled "Door of Hope," has no latch. Word of mouth and brochures distributed in the area let expectant mothers know that the church will offer a safe harbor to babies they are unable or unwilling to care for.

Thus, mothers who might otherwise have abandoned their babies to an uncertain future can now leave them in the wall compartment, where a weight-triggered sensor alerts someone from the church to come and care for the infant.

Since its inception in 1999, more than 60 babies have found care through the Door of Hope ministry, and many have found adoptive or quality foster homes. While some infants come via the "hole in the wall," others are brought directly to the church by police, hospital workers or the mothers themselves.

Despite widespread acceptance and appreciation in the community, the Door of Hope continues to struggle with a cumbersome legal process required for licensure. The law allows care for up to six children at a time, but the ministry often has more than six children in care, so they have to be parceled out among staff members and supporters to remain legally compliant.

When it became apparent that the Berea church's facilities would be inadequate, Allen found a bargain-priced home in a suburban area to serve as a "baby house." With contributions from N.C. Baptists and other Christian groups, mostly from the United States, the Door of Hope purchased the large two-story house last year. The upper floor provides office space and facilities for the care of 12-15 children, while staff members find lodging on the ground floor.

Many people might see the Door of Hope's continued growth and ministry as a lifetime accomplishment. Where others would rest content, however, Allen has only begun to dream.

She notes that an estimated 25 percent of South Africa's population has the AIDS virus. The number is growing, and the advances in medicine that prolong the lives of AIDS patients in more wealthy countries are largely unavailable to South Africa's countless poor, who are the most affected. By 2004, as many as 1.8 million children will be orphaned by parents who have died from AIDS, she says, and many of them will also be infected with the HIV virus.

Allen envisions a network of 10 "Children's Villages" designed to care for up to 360 children each when at full capacity. Each village would include rental apartments to provide enough income to make each village financially self-sufficient, she says. Children would live in small cottages with no more than six assigned to each house parent.

"If we don't do something, we will lose an entire generation to AIDS," Allen says. Pursuing such a vision while also serving a church is a tiresome and never-ending task. But, Christians are called to obedience, even when it involves sacrifice, she says. "I'd rather burn out than fade away," she said. "The Lord gives me strength."

Allen is working through church, corporate and government channels in search of funding to build two children's villages per year for the next five years.

Many N.C. Baptists have already contributed to the Door of Hope ministry. In 1999, youth attending the four summer youth weeks at Caswell adopted the project and raised more than $13,000. The Door of Hope is also the focus of the N.C. Royal Ambassadors' statewide mission project for 2001, according to Tom Beam of N.C. Baptist Men. R.A. groups will seek to raise $20,000 through a campaign called "Dollars for the Door."

Persons wanting to learn more about the Door of Hope can meet and hear Allen during the annual N.C. Missions Conference, sponsored by N.C. Baptist Men and held at Raleigh's Forest Hills Baptist Church April 6-7. Allen is in the country as a participant in the second "Trans-Atlantic Crusades," a revival-oriented pulpit exchange between pastors in North Carolina and South Africa. She is scheduled to speak on Friday night, April 6.

Readers can also find more information through the ministry's Web site (, or by contacting Kathi Kestler of N.C. Baptist Men at (919) 467-5100 (Raleigh), (800) 395-5102 (toll-free), or (e-mail).

The BSC partnership with South Africa will draw to an official end after this year, but Allen hopes N.C. Baptists will remember that the orphaned and abandoned children of South Africa will need help for years to come.

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3/29/2001 11:00:00 PM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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