For the past four years we have assisted with Christmas events in the black township closest to our city. Last year I was challenged by a total stranger to seek out and help the “forgotten” financially challenged white people in the area that I lived in. There are many poor white South Africans who are pretty much forgotten! I took up the challenge, and after several months finally found a local organization called Doulus-Armoedebediening who had a long list of where these “missions” as they are called, are located. I teamed up with Maxie and her husband Chris Nortje who were dedicating their weekends to fundraising efforts in order to give at least two of these missions a happy Christmas meal and a simple gift to each adult.
Through one of our contacts, I received 15 kilos of meat, which went towards a meal that we would prepare for one of these missions close to Christmas. We were also very thankful for Activated Ministries’ generous sponsorship of books for the children in these missions, in both English and Afrikaans, and magazines for the adults.
Friday, December 16th being a public holiday, my colleague Angela, and I set off to visit a place called “Sonskyn Hoekie” [translated into English as Sunshine Corner], not knowing what to expect. All we knew was that there were several families living on a farm. From what we have since learned, certain farmers make available a part of their land for destitute white people, who are allowed a small space, where they can build a shack or room. There are public bathrooms and a communal kitchen—some of these missions have a dining/community hall. The people are not allowed to cook in their rooms, but may eat in their rooms. The farmer is paid a small fee each month when people are able to afford it. We found out that that does not happen too often.
We were surprised to see how basic and poorly people there are living. At this particular place, our sole object was to meet with the children and give them books. We also wanted to assess the situation to see where else we could be a help in the future. Most of the children are Afrikaans speaking, and were absolutely thrilled to receive the books we had for them. Some titles have been translated into Afrikaans, and several were just hot off the press. They gladly took the English books too, as the school-going children learn English, and the older siblings enthusiastically said they would read these to their younger siblings, translating as they go along. We were very impressed by the children as although they were living in poor circumstances they were very polite and respectful. I spoke in Afrikaans to them as they led me around the camp searching out their friends, as they did not want anyone to miss out on such an opportunity. One of the boys, was so very attentive, and corrected my Afrikaans every now and then, and we would joke and laugh about the mistakes we both made trying to speak one another’s language.
We had been told by some donors, that these poor people refused to receive anything in English and that we were wasting our time, but we found out that the children and their parents were very thankful to receive the English books. Most parents were bragging about how much their kids loved to read, so we were happy we had something meaningful to give them. The most gratifying experience was to see their little faces light up and a huge smile change their little faces. One little boy, as soon as I gave him a book, immediately sat down on the sand, hugged his book, then opened it, and started talking about the pictures. He could not read yet, but he wanted to describe the story on each page by the picture he was looking it. He was so happy to have his very own book. A young mother had tears in her eyes when I handed a baby Bible to her. She said, “I have been praying for a Bible for my baby, because I want her to learn about God and Jesus from a young age. How did you know I wanted that so badly?”
It was a very sad sight for sure, as it’s quite obvious that these folks, perhaps not all of them, have given up on life, and pretty much have no vision to make anything of themselves or their lives. Some of the parents told us that their children were visiting relatives, and we were happy to hear that, as probably they were getting a good break from such abject poverty.
We spent some time encouraging some of the adults, trying to give them an incentive to do something with their lives. From all accounts, sadly some of the young men there, who do have a skill, prefer to just beg at the lights, buy alcohol and also hop from farm to farm—and are called “mission jumpers”! They have not yet found purpose in life, nor are they looking, and seem to be satisfied with just making it one day at a time.
One person who stood out to us, was Deon. He had been a very successful businessman, and had months before through a series of events, lost everything he had—and is now a couple of million rand in debt. He is totally bankrupt, everything was taken from him and he ended up at this place two weeks earlier. But by the time we met him, he had already secured some work on a nearby farm, saying now he takes orders, whereas before he was the one to give them. He has a goal to move out as soon as he can. He looks very different to the others there and in fact when we first saw him, we thought he was a visitor. He takes care of his appearance, is keeping a distance from alcohol--and being in such a position has been a wake-up call for him.
Day after day, after walking up and down the long dirt road to the “mission” in much desperate prayer and reflection of his situation he came up with this quote below to describe his life: “I was the best of the best in the construction industry-- then became a businessman of bankruptcy--to later become a slave of stories and sorrows--and now I hope to become God's gladiator of human kind.”
We have since met with Deon, who told us he is earnestly praying about his life, has a goal to reach, a plan in place to not only move out of the mission as soon as he can, but to turn around and help encourage those there to also improve their lives, and has asked us to assist wherever we can. We are definitely considering this!
The following day, Saturday, we teamed up with Maxie and Chris Nortje and went to another shelter in the city, called Melgisedek. This is basically a hall in the back of a rundown housing unit, where destitute people are free to stay. It’s basically one huge hall, with a little space for a mattress and a few personal belongings—which is basically what the people who stay here have. There is a communal bathroom, communal kitchen, and a small dining area. There were about 30 people staying there, and most were out, so we dropped off small plastic bags filled with toiletries marked for either men or women. They were thrilled to say the least. These people have all found themselves in tough circumstances, have no work, no family, or have lost contact with relatives, and are just surviving with the kind help of others. Later on in the day, Maxie returned with hamburgers and juice that we made at our next stop, Sonheuwel.
Angela and I met with several of the people here, and encouraged them, we handed a pack of Activated magazines to each person there, sponsored by Activated Ministries, and someone said as we were leaving, thank you for thinking of us.
Our next stop was a visit to Sonheuwel (Sunny Hills) which is a camp ground resort—also on the outskirts of the city. The owner here has taken in poor white people who may bring caravans, tents or those who don’t own anything of this sort. From what we saw, it seems those who live there have to pay something each month, at least towards utilities as well, as it’s a case of when people do not contribute, they lack the respect and responsibility and often faucets and other items go missing from the bathrooms and so on. There is a care-taker on the property who oversees the place, and all food donations go through her to be shared between the 60 plus people living there. Clothing is also donated from a church and they have a little “free” store where one day a week people may look through items to get their needs.
Hamburger patties were made by our friends, who also brought along all the other ingredients to make a good hamburger—not just any old hamburger, but a great hamburger with all the trimmings. We brought along donated juice and chips. Several of us made the hamburgers—we included some of the women who live there to help us. We handed these out to everyone there, who were very thankful for the lunch. They were so happy and touched that they were thought of at Christmas. Once again, packages of toiletries were handed out to the men and women respectively.
I met with the children, and handed the sponsored books we had brought along. These precious children were so amazing, they were grateful for the books, although all were tired from a swimming outing they had gone on sponsored by a nearby church. So it was a cherry on top of the day for them to come back to hamburgers, chips, juice and gifts of books.
There is a little prefab preschool or more likely a kindergarten for 12 of the young children. I met with Schantelle, who teaches the little ones, and she just loves her work. She is one of the moms who lives there but she pours her heart and soul into the care and teaching of the children, and has a special love for each of the children in her class. She is also very enthusiastic and inspired with all that she manages to do with her little group, albeit with not much in the way of supplies.
I gave her a good stock of children’s material sponsored by Activated Ministries, for which she was very thankful. We spent some time going over the STEPs Program, explaining how to use it and giving tips and ideas. She was absolutely thrilled. From all accounts not too long ago they had received a donation of pens, crayons and other such items for the kids, but sadly their little classroom was broken into and all the new supplies were stolen. I had bought several boxes of crayons, which I gladly donated to their little school.
A young woman who was due to have her baby soon was very thankful to receive a bag of baby clothes that I had in the car, sort of a “just in case we meet someone who had such a need.” We will be returning to these missions in the near future, to see how people are doing and coping, and how we can be a help and encouragement to them.