John Oakes teaching trip to Southern Africa
I have passed through Windhoek, Namibia, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth Durban and Johannesburg, and am heading back to San Diego. The final report is posted below. John Oakes
Picture is from the monument to the tribal leaders who achieved independence for Botswana from the UK in 1966.
Southern Africa January, 2015
Johannesburg, SA, Jan 2
I arrive in Johannesburg after 27 hours of travel and 11,000 miles. I am met by Kent McKeen and Clyde Delpiot. I am staying at the home of Solly and Jacqui Kganyajo. Friday is a day of resting and recuperating from travel. I will be spending a few days in Johannesburg toward the end of the trip, so will describe the city and the church here later.
Gaborone, Botswana, Jan 3-4
The flight from Johannesburg to the capital of Botswana is only one hour. Botswana is a large, land-locked country, directly north of South Africa. It is principally composed of the Kalahari Desert, so much of the country is very sparsely inhabited. The total population of the country is just over two million in an area about the size of Texas. The Southeast corner, on the border with South Africa, along the Limpopo River, is greener and is where much of the population lives. The principle culture and language are from the Tswana people, from which comes the name of the country. A much smaller population of the San people live in the Kalahari. This is a relatively “primitive” group which has lived off the land for thousands of years. Their language is a very unique blend, including clicking sounds.
Gaborone is a city of about 250,000. It was made the capital in recent times and much of the city is quite new. Until very recently Botswana was a country mainly composed of small villages. There has been a mass exodus from these subsistence farmers (mainly based on cattle, sorghum and corn) moving to the cities, including Francistown. Botswana has been blessed with a stable government which is relatively democratic. The country has gone from one of the poorest in Africa to one of the wealthiest in two generations. This has also been helped by the discovery of massive diamond-bearing deposits. The revenue from the mines has been sufficient for the government to offer nearly free health care and an educational system which is well above the average for the continent. There is a laid back and friendly feeling here.
The church I am visiting here is fairly small, with about 80 members, including about 20 singles and about 10 campus students. It is a young church, and most of the families have young children. There are no full-time ministry workers here. The leading and preaching are done by volunteers. The principle leaders of the church are Rapula and Kedi Malejane. They are the ones who met me at the airport. After a brief tour of the city, we shared lunch and ideas about how to build up the church here in Gaborone. After this, I spent time with the couple who lead the singles group, Tebogo & Their, and, still later, with Bruce and Peggy who lead the marrieds group.
Sunday I preached for the church here on Jesus in the Old Testament. There were about 60-70 present. This is a bit low for a church of 80 members but quite a number of families are not yet back from holidays in the countryside. Almost no one who lives in Gaborone was born here. The tradition is to go back to the village of birth for the holiday. The singing is really great and the church is very warm. In the evening we gathered at a home of one of the families for another lesson on Freedom in Christ and a two hour question and answer session. The church here is hungry for Bible knowledge. We could have gone one for several hours.
One of the issues for the church here is that there are significantly more women than men and the men here struggle at time to be powerful leaders in the home and in the church. This is related to the culture in Botswana, but it is a reason for the church to become a light to the world as the men learn how to lead in their families and as spiritual leaders in the church.
It would be really great if a mature couple would be willing to move here for several months or even longer to help train up the church. It would be fairly easy to adapt here because everyone speaks English. They would be happy to sponsor a mature couple to come and encourage the church. Also, they would really love it if a younger Christian would accept the one year challenge and come to help build the campus ministry. There is much potential here. Many come here from across Africa to study in Gaborone and many could be influenced for Christ.
Mthatha, South Africa Jan 4-5
A one hour flight back to Joburg is followed by a one and a half hour flight to Mthatha. This is a small city of about 300,000 near the coast in the East Cape. It is a city that has the feel of the country, being a center of farming in the wet and temperate southern coast. Mthatha is surrounded by beautiful mountains. Where it was 98 degrees in Gaborone, here it is more like 78 degrees. The language spoken here is Khosa. This word is very hard to pronounce because the Kh sound is a click which is very hard to imitate. Mthatha is proud to be the ancestral home of Nelson Mandela, known to locals as Madiba.
The church I am visiting was not started as a planting but by Christians moving here and baptizing their friends. From humble beginnings it has reached 60+ members. It would be considerably larger than this except that many who are converted move to the big cities to find work. The group here is led by Mfundo and his wife. When I arrive we race to his home as the disciples are waiting and we are late to the meeting. I speak to the group on Walking by Faith (Hebrews 11). This is their 2015 kickoff devotional, so the topic is timely. Things are a big hectic because Mfundo and his family are moving to Pretoria tomorrow to work for the church there.
On Tuesday I was fortunate to travel to visit the ancestral home of Nelson Mandela. It is in beautiful rolling hills with almost no trees but lots of sheep, goats and cattle. We tour a small Mandela museum where I meet one of Nelson’s grandchildren. Once back in Mthatha I taught a class on Freedom in Christ or the Bible group leaders of the church. While I was speaking at Mfundo’s house the movers were removing all the belongings from their home for the move. Then I was off to the airport to return to Johannesburg. My visit to Mthatha is very memorable. The church here is healthy and the faithfulness of the Christians here is inspiring. Perhaps you will consider visiting this beautiful part of God’s earth some day.
Harare, Zimbabwe Jan 6-8
After a night in Johannesburg I am off on a 90 minute flight to Harare, Zimbabwe. I am met by the leader of the church here, David Gondongwe. He and his wife Barbara lead a group of about 220 here. They also oversee a church of about 60 in Bulawayo and two other very small groups in Victoria Falls and in the eastern highlands, as well as two small churches in the country of Malawi to the northeast.
Zimbabwe has endured nearly fifteen years of great economic hardship since president-for-life Robert Mugabe nationalized virtually all the land, confiscating the farms of the whites here. Forty years ago Mugabe was the acclaimed hero who helped depose white rule and restore power to all the people of this proud country. His despotic rule has spoiled this legacy. What was once one of the most prosperous countries in Africa now struggles with hyper inflation and an astronomical unemployment rate. Tens of thousands have migrated from the country. Even in the church, many of the most skilled and educated have left for Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and other countries. In the face of these difficulties the church has done remarkably well.
Harare is the capital, political center and largest city in Zimbabwe. It is a city of two million. The language spoken here, other than English of course, is Shona. It is a fairly close relative of Swahili, which is spoken to the North. The staple foods here are rice and a porridge of njera sadza. This is a brown porridge which many in the West would find to be very different. I can see the British influence here in that people are quite polite. Food is eaten with the hands here. Lunch at the Gondongwes includes porridge made of corn, greens from a plant which is grown in the garden and peanut stew, which is very tasty.
On Wednesday evening I gave a class on Daniel to a group of over two hundred. The attendance is excellent given that this is a week night and some are still away on holidays. As usual for Africa, the singing is really amazing. The group is deeply longing for in-depth Bible teaching here as many have been Christians for as much as twenty years.
On Thursday AM I went running with David who is training now for a double marathon (52 miles!) in Durban. To say the least, he can run me into the ground. I taught two classes for the staff (including the staff from Bulawayo), one of Freedom in Christ and another on the Kingdom of God. The staff includes Tavani Mashava (principle leader, Bulawayo), Tazvi (singles, Bulawayo), Colin (marrieds, Bulawayo) Chipo from Harare and Violet who works for HOPE. They have had interns from London and the US, and are hoping to have campus interns again for 2015. Feel free to apply! After touring the city a bit, I teach in the evening for the leadership group on Living by Faith. The place is packed, with people sitting in the next room. The feeling was electric. I will really miss my new friends in the Harare Church of Christ.
Windhoek, Namibia, Jan 9
After a four hour layover in Johannesburg, I am off on a one and a half hour flight to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. Namibia is one of the youngest countries in the world. It achieved independence in 1990, about the time South Africa was overthrowing the apartheid system. In a fairly large country there are only two million inhabitants. An interesting feature here is that the principal language here is Afrikaans, as well as an official local language and English. Namibia was first colonized by Germany in the 1880s. They lost the colony to the UK during world war I, yet there is still a lot of German influence here. The streets have German names and German is commonly spoken here. Namibia is famous for the Namib Desert and the Skeleton Coast Desert, which is the driest place on earth and the oldest desert. I was assuming that the country would be one vast desert, but this is not correct. In fact, the landscape in Windhoek is similar to that in northern New Mexico or Arizona and it is fairly green here. I see wild baboons and springbok, meerkats and warthogs are very common. The mountains around Windhoek make this a beautiful place.
Namibia, although very young, is a fairly successful country. Wise leadership which brings the different groups together (mostly) and the diamond industry have created an atmosphere of relative political stability and a reasonably high economic level. Yet there is still great inequality, with many of the native people living in stark poverty. Like in South Africa, native Africans are given favorable treatment for employment and one can hope a greater equality will be achieved.
The church I am visiting has fifty members. They have no full time leadership. Dilon and Fran Musvamiri do an excellent job of leading the group while holding down secular jobs. Scott and Pam McQuide are here from the US and are a very mature couple (in both senses of mature!) and are a fantastic support to the church here. The church is composed of mostly young people. I speak on Living by Faith to about fifty, including many guests. This is a really encouraging group. Their faith challenges me and the warmth or the people is almost overwhelming. Unfortunately, I am only here for one day, as I really want to get to know the disciples here. Please consider traveling to visit the church here and this amazing and beautiful country. Perhaps you will stay to be part of this group of faithful Christians in charming Namibia.
Cape Town, Jan 9-11
Saturday was a travel and rest day. A two hour flight from Windhoek to Cape Town South Africa passed over regions of Namibia which were more like my preconception, with vast areas of the Namib desert desolate and nearly uninhabited, passing over the Orange River, the border between South Africa and into Cape Town. I am met by Paul Smith. He and his wife Jackie lead the church of about 280. They came for a one year assignment and are still here three years later.
Cape Town is a spectacularly beautiful city, with a population of six million. With the ocean, the massive granite Table Mountain overlooking the city and the sea, amazing beaches (with very cold water, however) and moderate weather, it is one of the most attractive cities in the world. Robbin Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for most of his 27 years, is located very close, off the coast here. Cape Town was founded by the Dutch as the key link to its colonies in the East Indies. It was taken by the British in the early 19th century as the chief connection to India and Singapore. The Dutch Boer population, with its Afrikaans language, moved inland to the northeast to escape British domination in the general direction of Johannesburg. A long battle ensued which was more or less ended by the Boer War of 1900-01 which resulted in British victory. Tensions between “English” and Afrikaans still exists here.
The first day I take a drive with Paul Smith around Table Mountain. The views are incredible. This is supposedly the oldest mountain on the earth. Sunday for church I preached on Walking by faith. There were nearly 300 there, with quite a few guests. Afterward, I did a two and a half hour class on From Shadow to Reality. This was an “optional” class, so I expeted fifty or so to come. There were well over one hundred. The atmosphere was really great. The members and guests would have gone on a lot longer with all the questions and answers. I got to spend some time with my fellow teacher, James Lappeman and his wife, talking about the kinds of things teachers talk about.
Monday I was blessed to have Benji, a friend interested in teaching take me on the tram to the top of Table Mountain. This is a massive 3500 foot tall granite formation which stands directly above Cape Town, right up against the ocean. It has been declared one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The views are inspiring. From here you can see the Cape of Good Hope, which is the point where navigators round the Cape to head toward Asia. After a quick lunch, I am off for Port Elizabeth.
Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Port Elizabeth is about half way around the coast of southern Africa. It was established, obviously, because there is a natural port here. The story is that the wife of the man who founded the city died at a young age. Her name was Elizabeth. This is a city of 1.5 million. It is the center of the automobile industry—the only auto industry in Africa. This area was the center of the struggle against apartheid from the beginning.
The church I am visiting has 52 members. From what I can observe, this is just about the strongest church of this size I have ever visited. They have an inspiring leader couple in Neil and Noeleen Trollip. Neil has a full time job, but he is the Eveready Energizer bunny of God’s church. They have a growing campus group and the nucleus of a strong teen group as well. I am staying with a friend from San Diego, Steve and his new wife Eileen. They met on DT Heart and Soul while living more than 10,000 miles apart. One issue here is that many of the strongest members move to other cities for work.
Wednesday included a trip to Sacramento, up the coast from Port Elizabeth. The coast is fantastically beautiful. To top it off we saw zebras and springbok along the road. An attempt to take a picture of the zebras resulted in being shocked by an electrical fence. Ouch. Lunch with Steve Hewitt includes Bobotie, the local specialty, which is very tasty. In the evening I met with the church. They had to bring extra chairs and there were 60+ which is excellent for a midweek in a church with 52 members. This is a very evangelistic church and their specialty is having a great family atmosphere. What a great place for a young Christian taking the one year challenge; you have a willing and faithful church, pleasant weather, beaches, and a fertile field to spread the gospel. Please consider coming to visit our faithful church in Port Elizabeth.
Durban, South Africa, Jan 14
The flight to Durban is only one hour and a quarter. Durban is about 600 miles up the coast to the northeast from Port Elizabeth. It is in Kwazulu Natal Province. This province has Zulu as its principle language. This is probably the most famous of the South African tribes. It the one which resisted Boer and British colonization most fiercely. In the 1870s Shaka Zulu defeated a large British force in a very famous battle. Like Port Elizabeth, Durban is an important port. The water here is quite warm as it is definitely in the Indian Ocean. The climate is humid and subtropical. The population of the city is three million. It is the third largest in the country.
One thing unique about Durban is that 30% of the population is of Indian descent. The church here also has a good number of people from the Indian subcontinent. The church reflects the diversity of the city, with a large portion of white, black and Indian. I am met at the airport by Duncan Comrie. He and his wife Lisa lead the church here. This is my second time to Durban. I have been very much anticipating getting to see Duncan Lisa again. Their two girls have grown up and are now very spiritual—one a teen and the other in campus. The church here is 80+. This is a relatively mature church, but the young are also well represented, with a healthy mix of campus and teens.
Unfortunately, I am only here for one day which does not give me much time to do my favorite thing, which is to meet the Christians and share our lives. In the evening I teach a class on Acts and Church History for the church. Again, turnout is great and there is hardly an empty seat in the place. I stay up late with the Comries sharing our experiences and our vision for the church here. They oversee churches in Zambia and in Zimbabwe. Their family is a model of love and Christian hospitality.
In the AM I get some time with Raj, the leader of the singles group who happens to be from Milwaukee, Wisconsin where my wife Jan and I were members many years ago. Raj came here for the one year challenge and never returned home. This seems to be a pattern here as South Africa, despite its challenges, is a wonderful country, and many come and never leave.
Johannesburg, Soweto and Pretoria, Jan 15-18
The flight to Joburg is only one hour. I am finally on the last leg of my visit to our sister churches in southern Africa. Johanneburg is the economic and cultural capital of South Africa. Its twin city Pretoria is the seat of government. The metropolitan population here is about eight million. Joburg is a city of stark contrasts, which is true of most of South Africa. One sees affluent, western-style areas interspersed with the townships. The most famous of the townships, of course, is Soweto. Here the poverty is rather in-your-face, but underlying this is the fact that much progress has been made since the apartheid system was abolished. Let us not pretend that there is no tension between the black, the “colored” the Afrikaaner and the English, but the change, even since my last visit is truly striking. If we can extrapolate a few more years, we can hope for a country in where there is equal justice for all.
In any case, as with everywhere I visit, the greatest pleasure is getting to know brothers and sisters of like mind from no matter what culture or language. Thursday evening I travel with Themba to Soweto for a midweek service of the region of the church which meets there. Themba is single. He and a single sister Yvonne together lead this region, with the support of a number of mature couples. We had a bit of an adventure, including our car dying in the middle of the main highway of the city. We had to push it off the highway in the rain. I taught about 110 on Living by Faith (a teaching which was required of me personally for the day’s crisis). The love and the spirit in this, the former home of Nelson Mandela and the largest township in the country is very encouraging.
Friday included speaking for the Northwest region of the Johannesburg church. There are a bit over 1200 members of the church here. They have been growing the past few years and are regaining a vision to plant churches across southern Africa, as well as helping to support both financially and spiritually churches in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, Namibia and more. The service in the evening has about 250 in attendance. I taught on From Shadow to Reality. The group ate up this teaching. In Soweto the group was 98% black. Here the group is fairly close to 50/50 white and black. Even in post-apartheid South Africa this mix is extremely rare.
The church is led by Justin Renton and his wife Irene. They are assisted ably by Werner Vos and his wife Liza. Today I had lunch with Justin and Werner. We had encouraging discussions of what can help the church here to spread the gospel in southern Africa. Both are truly visionary men of God. The church here is happy, united and growing in Christ. I get the sense that they are in good hands. Until just two or three years ago, the teen ministry was in very bad shape. Help came in the form of Dave Pocta and his wife who really helped start youth and family ministry. The baptized teen group has grown from literally zero to more than fifty in the last two years. This is a great relief to the families here. The campus group has had a huge revival as well.
I am not teaching on Saturday, but had breakfast with Justin, Andrew, Jakes and Milton, all of whom are interested in teaching for the churches. This was followed by a family group leader’s workshop for the entire church. Sunday was church with the central and east regions of the church here. I taught on From Shadow to Reality. There were about 450 in attendance. Here I meet Ivor Botha who has been a pillar leader here in South Africa for many years. Just last month he had open heart double-bypass surgery. He nearly died. He struggled to make it up the steps to the stage where he thanked the church for their prayers. There was not a dry eye in the house. Afterward I have lunch Kent McKean as well as Barnabas and Bertha Chukwuueke who lead the Central Region. They just came back from five weeks in Blantire, Malawi where they were helping to strengthen a church there which has gone through very difficult times. This coupe has an amazing heart for God and for his church.
I head back to the states encouraged by my brothers and sisters here in southern Africa. I have learned a lot, and changed a few stereotypes about this part of the world. Faith is being restored here and leaders are being raised up. We will be hearing great things from Southern Africa. Please, please consider coming to visit one or more of these churches but be careful as with a few that I met you may end up staying.
Jan 18, 2015