Yesterday a team of young people, adults, and children from Hatfield Christian Church converged on Berakah for a unique ministry outing.
They called her the shebeen queen. She made a welcome environment for the people in her community to feed their addictions, drown their sorrows, and pass out stone cold drunk if needed. The people loved her, respected her. A woman of influence. The money she made selling was nothing to sneeze at either.
But God created Sophie for something different. He saw her and choose her before she was even aware. And He was orchestrating an encounter that would change her life forever.
The year was 1995. A fair-skinned, solitary woman was driving through the South African township of Mamelodi, a rare occurrence even in the nascent post-apartheid years.
On the street, amidst the thousands of other people, was a dark-skinned woman carrying her 3-day old baby on her back. Sophie was laden with the packages in her arms and the burdens of her heart.
That’s when Avril saw her. It was the same African woman she had seen in a dream. She stopped her car. She gently offered to carry her bags. Suspiciously, Sophie released her burdens. Avril walked her to her house, and a beautiful, culturally divergent friendship began. This friendship was the bridge for the message of the transforming power of Jesus Christ to come to Sophie. She surrendered her life and future to God and was baptized.
It began to dawn on Sophie that God had a greater purpose for her life. She counted the cost and decided that following Jesus was worth more to her than the thousands of Rand she made selling alcohol and she gave away her license to sell. She wanted to create a place where the struggling in her community could find help, hope and freedom.
Berakah's land was purchased nearly two decades ago, but confusion amidst changing municipal regulations and shifts in leadership in the 90s caused the transfer to never complete. The last three years have been marked with hard work from Chandra, a few volunteers, a board member, two staff members, and even a lawyer who volunteered his time as Berakah had to dig through years of old records and battle through mountains of red tape.
The Big Day
We'd waited all year last year. Fought through some more red tape. Chandra provided paperwork. She rearranged the paperwork and gave it again. And, again. And then again. She sat in long queues in dingy old government buildings. She made phone calls. She sent emails. Staff members traveled to municipal offices, having to set inaccurate billing right. A local lawyer prepared and submitted documentation for free.
Then finally in December, just before we left for Christmas in Texas, an email arrived that said everything was in order and we should have a Deed of Transfer within a couple of weeks.
We arrived back in Pretoria on 10 January and started watching our email boxes. A week went by. Another week went by. Then at the end of the third week, an email arrived instructing Chandra to appear at offices in city centre (downtown Pretoria) to sign and receive the Deed of Transfer on Tuesday 31 January.
Tuesday morning finally came, and Chandra drove from our home in Pretoria East about 45 km to Mamelodi East to meet Sophie, the founder and school principal of Berakah. Together, they traveled about 30 km to the city center office.
And sat in one more queue.
Two hours into their wait, I was messaging Chandra, asking Chandra for updates:
She didn't respond at first, then she answered with a flurry of pictures.
We are beyond excited about today's breakthrough! Celebrate with us! God is so good!
Sawubona. A greeting we learned within days of arriving in South Africa five years ago. But we never knew the Zulu word meant something more than, "hello".
It means, I see you.
A few months ago, Chandra was in the dark maze of government offices in downtown Pretoria, helping a newly widowed teacher with paperwork. While there, they saw a European lady sitting alone. Her South African husband of many years had recently died, and here she was alone in strange dark offices having to submit paperwork.
Except she wasn't alone, because Chandra saw her. She and the teacher, grieving her own loss, were able to embrace this lady and pray with her. It was God saying, "I see you."
The thrill of our lives is being His eyes and His hands in this beautiful nation. We are so grateful. We pray God's richest blessings for you as you are His eyes and hands everywhere you go in 2017!
After years of pushing through for a few significant achievements in 2014 and 2015, this year has brought several breakthroughs with it by August.
The kitchen walls have been plastered and painted. The bare concrete floors are now leveled and tiled. A hand washing basin (sink) is now installed, as well as a geyser (water heater). This improvements are a significant step towards meeting health code requirements for certification.
A local building company installed and painted gutters on our classroom buildings. Additionally, they weather-sealed the roof on one classroom building. The stoops in front of the classroom blocks have been repaired and new steps added to meet safety requirements, and all of the bathroom stalls are newly painted.
As a non-profit organization in South Africa, Berakah must comply with many regulatory and governance requirements overseen by several different agencies in the South African government. Many of these requirements had never been fulfilled by previous leadership due to lack of awareness. In addition, the purchase of land for Berakah in the mid-1990s had never been completely finalized, leaving the center with no title deed for its own property.
Prayer points for further breakthrough
It's only August, and we are believing God for more breakthrough in 2016! Please pray with us as we push through in the following areas.
Hearing and Vision Screening for the children
According to everyone in my class, our trip to Berakah went fantastically!
The response from my peers to the trip was incredible, and more than one person said that they would like to go back again someday. The boys helped Glenton in the garden for their work project (they said that they enjoyed this a lot and learned from the experience) while the girls were put on the spot and had an opportunity to sing, tell stories, and decorate cookies with the kids. Everyone embraced the experience and served with joy! It was great to see their reactions to the township, as some (if not most) of them had never been before, and it was a life changing adventure! Many people brought donations, including First Aid supplies, cans of food, and hundreds and hundreds of cookies to decorate.
Thank you to everyone who prayed for us on our trip! God’s presence was with us and we are sure we did His will on this trip. I am sure that this will not be the end of our relationship with Berakah, and I am looking forward to many more visits in the future!
On 14 June, my grade (grade 8) will be going on a field trip to Berakah, and we will be observing urbanization (which is when extreme amounts of people move to the city at the same time, which is one of the reasons for informal settlements) and its effects, and then become part of the solution. The boys will be doing a work project and the girls will play and do craft with the kids.
It's great to see how excited everyone is! The girls have already been brainstorming about what to bring, and everyone is so ready to get involved! Please pray that the trip will go safely and that we won't run into any trouble while we travel, and also for a great desire to continue making a difference in our community! It is amazing to see how inspired my school is!