A Beacon in the Valley
This particular Thursday night last May had been unlike any other night of evangelism our ministry team had led. Our “Coffee With God” outreach time of discussing a short Bible study in a one-on-one setting while sharing coffee together had gotten a little out of control. Normally we had a slow, but steady flow of people that allowed us to spend time with most of our participants and engage in the Bible study and any other discussions they might be interested in starting.
This Thursday night we experienced a tsunami-like flood of people who quickly and almost simultaneously surrounded our tiny table hoping to get a small cup of Nescafé Ricoffy (a hot drink blend of coffee and chicory that is popular in the South African coloured* community) mixed together with at least three heaping scoops of sugar. Additionally, unlike most of our previous weekly outings, the majority of the people that came that evening seemed to be only interested in the coffee portion of our coffee with God time, quickly exiting the area with their sugary, caffeinated drink in hand.
The mess of an evening was completed by the fact that two people who were in line for (what was supposed to be) a Bible study and coffee got into a fight leading to one of the men pulling a knife on the other. During this time, Denver, one of our ministry team members, was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was accidentally slapped in the face knocking his glasses to the ground, but yet unfazed – Denver is a fit guy and a champ after all. As things seemed to heat up I began walking my 6’5” 220 pound frame over to the two men with the goal of helping them peacefully resolve their issue. Initially I hoped my size and peaceful intervention might dissuade them from getting further into their argument. Really, though, I prayed as I walked because I was a bit unsure of how to handle the situation – I am of course a lover not a fighter. Fortunately, before I could even get halfway to them the two men ended their argument in a stalemate with each walking in the opposite direction down the road. This was the disaster that was our evangelism evening, or so we had thought.
That same evening we happened to have a professional photographer join us. He was taking pictures for an organization who partnered with Trinity Church. The photographer happened to be away taking neighborhood photos when the initial flood of people arrived and the disagreement arose, but was present during most of the remaining part of the activities.
About a month later we received some of the photos he took. The scene that he captured shed a different light on what had happened that night. Although many people rejected the “seeds” we had offered, for many others what had happened was engagement. A momentary, but meaningful engagement with their lives and with the Gospel.
Amidst the fray – and there was a whole lot of “fray-ing” going on – something special was going on as a number of individuals desired for more. They spent time talking with Nimo, Denver, Kaycee, Basil, Yolanda, and me. They asked questions, they discussed that night’s portion of Mark’s gospel we were offering, they interacted with the night’s real purpose behind the activity. They were not coerced or forced into talking, but craved something more than an overly sweet cup of coffee could provide. A number of them have continued to search and have had later conversations with some having joined us in our Sunday morning services.
These are the true dynamics of ministry at Trinity Church, a small congregation sitting in the heart of a neighborhood called Beacon Valley, an area with high poverty and even higher gang activity and drug use. A world-surprising church that itself sits within the valley all the while standing tall as a beacon of Gospel-sharing light amidst the numerous offerings of prosperity gospels and new apostle churches.
A church where even in a small congregation, the diversity spreads large with members being made up of coloured, Xhosa, British-descent, and Afrikaner South Africans; Zimbabweans, Dutch; Australians; and Americans. This diversity bringing in many different cultural backgrounds, outlooks, and histories yet everyone coming together in unity as a family of Christ. A church that seeks justice amidst the poverty where some members offer a weekly meal for the children whose parents have little. A church that opened a much-needed student- sponsored primary school (elementary school in the U.S.) in order to provide a quality education for many of the children in the neighborhood. A church that takes time to share the freeing Good News of Jesus with the alcoholic couple (we met one evening), the many drug users addicted to tik (meth in the U.S.), the gang members, and even the gang leader who happened to stop by to grab a cup of coffee and then stay for a bit to hear the Bible study we were offering. In contrast to its size, the Trinity stands large in faith and its ability to live out the great commission.
This is the church we have had the privilege of partnering with. The church, much like the aforementioned Thursday night, continues to quietly impact many people’s lives while mostly getting overlooked amidst the noise of the surrounding neighborhood and its reputation. A church that lacks ample financial resources and staff and (because of its poverty) is oftentimes looked down upon by wealthier churches in its congregation. A church that nonetheless continues to faithfully follow the Father in offering justice, mercy, and His Good News. A church that received our partnership and assistance all the while equally offering the strongest of witnesses and faith-building moments to us. May the Lord continue to use Trinity to surprise the world in all that it does and may we continue to see more of these small snapshot-like moments as it does so.
* The term “coloured” is an official designation for one of the five racial categories in South Africa and does not carry with it the racially derogatory association that it does in the United States.
By: Leo Wurschmidt, Serving in Africa