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Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Life and Times - Church Update

One year ago this month we held our first church meetings in Thabong.  As with any ministry we've been involved with we try to make it a point to evaluate from time to time to ensure we're effectively using the resources God has given us.  As our first year drew to a close we sat down to review all we have learned.

And we have leaned a lot of things!

Our choices were reduced to three options:
1.  Continue as we had for the past year.
2.  Make some changes.
3.  Quit altogether.

For those not familiar with the status of our church meetings, here's a brief update.  Within our first month of meeting we were averaging about 30-35 in attendance.  About 20 of those came with us from The Village, the rest were from Thabong.  Each week we usually had 1 or 2 adults, but rarely the same ones consecutively.  Sometimes we would have up to 5-6 adults besides ourselves, with the remaining number being children from the local neighborhood.  For about 6 months a man named Zachariah had attended faithfully, but due to some family circumstances we encouraged him to move to a town about 6 hours away.

After independently chewing things over for awhile, discussing things with the Niehoffs, and praying about things we came to the following conclusions.  I'll give you a window into our thought process (scary, I know).

1.  Continue as we had for the past year:  We didn't feel we could just maintain the status quo.  Twelve months had yielded one faithful attendee...whom we had just counseled to leave!  We were afraid the children from The Village were learning by example that church is for children and adults don't go.

3.  Quit altogether:  Obviously quitting church isn't an option, because it is the body of Christ and the means God has chosen to work during this specific time in history.  Our ministry at The Village would be largely ineffective and shortsighted if we were not discipling these children to become vital parts of their own local church.  The Village is, in effect, a church plant.  It is just that this culture is so debased and depraved that we feel we must reach the children as young as possible.

2.  Make some changes:  This became the logical answer.  We identified that the two main changes absolutely necessary are Location and Leadership.  Our location at a local high school is significantly less than ideal.  The best room is realistically big enough for about 50 people, not even considering the other logistical difficulties of security access, electricity, seating, cleanliness, etc...

"Church" in this culture is often treated as a club, and although that isn't the correct mindset it is still reality.  This mindset is emphasized by the fact that most churches have their own uniform, flags, colors, regional conventions, badges, etc...  Almost exclusively people would not attend a church set up like us because of the lack of perceived prestige.  Again, right or wrong, this is the reality.

Our second change - Leadership - became evident on many fronts.  I say the following carefully and ask for understanding.  We have learned in our time here that Race is a significant issue.  Not only are we whites attempting to minister within a black community, but we are white Americans.  This means that we are "rich".  There is a common idiom in Sesotho that translates "Where there are white people there are jobs."  Interpreted into real life, this means that people came for what they perceived we could offer them.  We have been involved in ministry long enough to understand that this tendency crosses all cultural, racial, and economic divisions.  But we found it especially prominent in the 12 months of church ministry - we didn't have one adult attend for any length of time without asking for either a job or money.  Typically when it wasn't forthcoming they quit attending.

There are also certain cultural barriers that, while not insurmountable, would be vastly improved by partnering with a Sesotho or Xhosa man as the leader of the church.  Issues like music style, first-language communication, visitation and counseling, and an array of other minor but important matters could be relieved by a man native to the culture and background we are trying to reach.

Now, how to proceed?  Location could be solved by saving, fundraising, and work.  Leadership could only be solved by the call of God on the life of an individual equipped to fit the bill.

It was during this process of evaluation that both the Niehoffs, Amber and I felt led to re-check another church here in town.  Welkom Baptist Church has been in town for several decades but like many churches, businesses, and organizations its arc of existence has mirrored the prosperity of the mines.  Last year as we began our meetings this church was in a state of flux.  It had been without a pastor for some time, had began pursuing a man from another country, but due to VISA issues that family was unable to come.  This left the church as a body in an uncertain position with the potential of other issues rearing up in the meantime.

Since we began our church meetings in Thabong those VISA issues cleared up and Joshua Bolaji came to serve as pastor of the church.  Originally from Nigeria, Joshua was raised in London.  This makes for quite a unique accent!  We visited the church a couple times, met with Joshua, and as a team discussed partnership with WBC.  Joshua's preaching has been rock solid and it is nice to be able to take The Village children and mothers to a church where they have the ability to fellowship.  We also appreciate the fellowship more than ever, having gone 12 months without attending a service where we weren't responsible for every aspect of it.

In addition, we have met a man at Welkom Baptist Church named Vincent.  Vincent attended a good seminary here in South Africa and has as his goal to one day plant a Sotho-speaking in Thabong.  So we'll see what God has for our future.  In the meantime, we are excited about the possibilities of partnering with WBC and seeing all our children at The Village plugged into a church where they can be fed and led.

If you've reached the end of this post then you must be a committed supporter of this ministry.  We ask that you continue to pray for us as we all work to spread the good news of God's love in this community.
The Christmas Program (Drake is the purple shepherd in the front row, Meredith the angel right behind him)

Three Shepherds, hopefully one day 3 wise men.


  1. just so ya know Louie, Drake has a blue shepherds outfit on not purple

  2. As committed supporters of RHI ministry in South Africa, we applaud this prayerful and considerate decision to fellowship at WBC, for us personally, it is a joy and privilege to be able to worship our Lord,surrounded by :family: we love.

  3. lol @ the color blind guy. haha

    Praying for you guys! That's a huge change but glad that God has lead you to a decision, and hope that He blesses you for it.

  4. Thinking and praying for everyone there every single day. I am also praying that I will find a way to come for another visit.