A Letter From South Africa

“Why Would Anyone Stop Here?”

“HIGH RISK AREA​—ROBBERY AND PROSTITUTION,” warns the sign alongside the narrow country road. We pull off the road and into the dust to join a few other cars waiting under a prominent billboard that points the way to a luxury resort and casino complex farther down the road. Expensive cars speed by, and we cannot help but notice the puzzled glances out of the car windows. ‘Why would anyone stop here?’ those puzzled expressions seem to say.

As our car comes to a halt, we step out to join the group of neatly dressed people standing in the shade of the billboard. Our group is made up of individuals from a multitude of racial and ethnic backgrounds, something still fairly unusual to see in South Africa. We have traveled to this area about 60 miles [100 km] northwest of Johannesburg, hoping to share Bible truths with those who live in the villages here.

We hold a brief meeting on the roadside to discuss a Scripture text and finalize arrangements to call from house to house. A prayer is said, and we return to our cars. Across the plain and far into the distance stand houses and shacks in chaotic array. They are dwarfed by towering dark mounds of tailings from the platinum mines. The widespread poverty around us belies the immense mineral wealth lying belowground here.

My wife and I are with two visitors from Germany, and the four of us begin our morning by calling from house to house. About a third of the residents here are unemployed, so the homes are humble. Many are shacks of corrugated iron over a rickety timber frame, held together by large nails driven through flattened beer-bottle caps serving as washers.

As we approach each home, we call out a greeting from the gate, and we are often met by the woman of the house. Those we speak to are eager to hear the message we bring, and we are treated like honored guests. The sun beating down on the metal roofs turns the houses into furnaces during the day. The children are often dispatched into the house to fetch chairs to place under a tree, and we are invited to sit down in the shade.

The family gathers and sits on rough stools or upturned crates. Even young children are called from where they are playing with their homemade toys to come and listen.  We share some scriptures and invite the school-age children to read from our Bible-based publications. Almost everyone we meet is happy to accept our literature, and many invite us to return.

At midday, we pause for a sandwich and something cool to drink before returning to visit those we have called on before. Our first stop is to see Jimmy, an immigrant from Malawi who works in one of the local platinum mines. We have been calling on Jimmy for a number of months. He is always glad to see us, and we have spent some time discussing the Bible with him. Jimmy is married to a local Setswana woman and has two delightful children. We failed to find him at home on our last visit, so we are eager to see how he is.

As we pull up to Jimmy’s simple home, we can immediately see that something is wrong. His normally immaculate garden is unkempt, his corn patch has withered, and the chickens that scratch out their existence on the meager soil are gone. The door is locked with a heavy chain on the outside. A neighbor comes over to see what is happening. We ask where Jimmy might be. She breaks the shocking news: Jimmy has died, and his wife and children have moved back to be with her family.

It is considered impolite to pry, but we ask for details. “He was sick, and then he died,” she tells us. “There are many diseases these days. A lot of people are dying.” Although she has not named anything specific, as such matters are seldom mentioned, the steadily growing line of new graves in the local cemetery is stark testimony to the truth of the woman’s words. We discuss the resurrection hope with her for a while, and then with heavy hearts, we leave for our next call.

We enter another village and drive to the last row of houses, where a mine dump rises steeply from the earth. We turn into the drive at the end of the street. Brightly painted on a rock in the garden are the words “Indecision is the thief of time; procrastination is its chief accomplice.” David, * who is the author of the sign, pokes his head out from behind the engine of his ancient Volkswagen Beetle. He squints into the setting sun and then smiles broadly as he recognizes us, the light glinting off the fashionable gold facings on his front teeth. He wipes his hands and comes forward to greet us.

“Hello, my friends!” he calls out. “Where have you been?” It is good to see David again. He apologizes that he cannot spend much time with us today because he has found work since our last visit and needs to be at the mine in a little while. Throughout our animated discussion, the smile never leaves David’s face. “That first day you met me changed my life!” he says excitedly. “Seriously, I don’t know where I would be today if you hadn’t come.”

Our spirits lifted, we leave David. As the sun starts to sink below the horizon, we turn our car homeward. Taking a last look over the plain, hazy now as the sunlight sparkles in the dusty air, we wonder how all these people will be reached with the good news. We feel deeply the meaning of Jesus’ words: “The harvest, indeed, is great, but the workers are few.”​—Luke 10:2.

[Footnote]

^ par. 12 Name has been changed.

[Picture Credit Line on page 17]

Kind permission given by the South African Post Office