Addressing Community Problems
My eldest son followed in his dad’s footsteps and is presently in his final year as a theological student. In our church (Dutch Reformed Church) it is compulsory, in the final year, to have a “probation sermon” which means, on a certain Sunday, you arrange with one the professors as well as a number of other specified people to attend a normal church service, after which the student and the invited guests meet under the chairmanship of the professor to evaluate the entire service and obviously, the sermon in particular. This can be quite stressful, as you can imagine.
Yesterday was D-day for my son. We attended the service and I also attended the discussion afterwards. Last week my son blogged about his plans for the sermon, which you can read here.
South Africa does have an extremely high crime rate and the area where my son is staying (and where he is also involved as youth pastor at a church) has been going through a time of an abnormally high crime incidence. Although we have heard from him about certain initiatives being taken by the church to get involved in the fight against crime, I was extremely impressed when I saw the things happening at the church yesterday. They’ve been able to find a balance between merely playing a spiritual role (comforting and counselling traumatised people) and fighting the war against crime. This area is mostly rural where most of the people live on small plots. The distance between neighbours may therefore be 100 metres (300 feet) or more, which means that it is not easy for neighbours to hear when problems occur. Most of the plots are on dirt roads and in cases of emergency the police and health services have problems in locating the house where they were called to. The church, working together with other organisations, are now helping the community to acquire reflective boards with their plot numbers clearly indicated on it. Church members with knowledge on security are giving training sessions to help residents to make their properties safer. Meetings are regularly held (at the church) where security forces and other organisations meet with church members to establish ways to combat the crime in the area. And obviously, the church has a specialised counselling service for those traumatised by crime.
I get uncomfortable when Christians who had been involved in crime make plans on how they intend to go out and kill the criminals. This isn’t the role of the church. But I also feel uncomfortable when the church does nothing more than praying (even though I believe that this needs to be done much more than is presently taking place.) I had the impression that this church is taking the problems in the community seriously and is honestly looking for ways to address the problems in a way that even those who are not church members or Christians will feel that the church is serious in making a difference in the community.
Afterwards, when the professor who had led the discussion and myself were speaking outside, I said to him: Swaziland’s biggest problem is AIDS. This is where God has called us to make a difference in the community. This church is situated in a community where the biggest problem at present is excessive and violent crime. This is where God is calling them at this stage to make a difference within the community.
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This is a blog where I would like to share some of my ideas about contemporary mission. I have more than 25 years experience as a full-time missionary in Swaziland, have done a PhD on the theology of mission – specifically on the relationship between mission and eschatology – and am presently specialising in the problem of HIV/AIDS and how the church should approach this problem. You are welcome to respond and share your ideas on this blog.
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