After teams completed their lecture training, they were sent out into surrounding communities that had agreed to host a J-Life team for a few days. Our team of 10 people was sent to Berea, an area just outside of Jo’Burg rated in the top 5 cities for crime in the world. Out of the 9 locations J-Life partnered with this year, it was the only one with an inner-city focus. Most other teams were sent to townships similar to Extension 23, where I spent a week in June.
We partnered with Johannesburg Bethany Baptist Church where we ate our meals and based our daily ministry. The pastor of the church and his family graciously opened their home for us to spend the nights while we were there. The youth at the church jumped in with us whole-heartedly and we got to know Sunay, Muzi, and Caleb throughout our time there. This was very exciting as they are the ones who can carry on the ministry once we leave. The three and a half days we were there saw a variety of park evangelism, dance ministry, soccer games, and youth gatherings. It was stretching for many people, including myself, who were not accustomed to open air services and street evangelism requiring starting up conversations with strangers, intending to share the Gospel.
Monday and Tuesday evenings were both dedicated to running a short youth program where we invited people we met in the parks and on the streets. In keeping with the area’s reputation, we learned that a girl had been found murdered in the park right across the street from the church on Monday afternoon. It was in that very park that we went and extended an invitation to the groups of guys smoking weed in the shadows. Initial fear of talking to a shady “group” was replaced by recognition of human beings as many of them actually showed up to the church and participated in the discussions. We centered the nights around the theme of money, drugs, sex, and alcohol as these are predominant themes in the lives of kids from the time they are as young as 7 years old. We created a drama that portrayed life as a bus with each person the driver of his own: we showed the choice to invite money, drugs, sex, and alcohol onto our bus – pushing Jesus to the back – on the first night. The second night showed Jesus offering love, joy, peace, and self-control as replacements for those habits we may think we need. We showed the problem even when we try to push negative things out on our own strength and the problem refuses to leave and make room for positive things. We need to ask Jesus to be the one to take control and “drive our bus” and throw out the bad habits in order to invite the good ones in. Even after we have given Jesus control, it is still a daily choice as the temptations will never leave. It was a simple, but powerful skit that caused a lot guys to look at what they allowed in their own lives. Many of them opened up during a short discussion and shared how hard it is to get away from that stuff, or even that they didn’t know it was wrong to do things like having sex before marriage.
In just a few short days many people in our group connected with individuals in the community and some will even be able to continue cultivating those relationships. One of the hardest things I’ve faced this summer is never spending more than a few days with most of the people I meet. Unfortunately, there are times when I allow that to cause me to miss out on what could be a powerful relationship even for a short time. It was encouraging to watch others on my team leap those hurdles and build into the people they met, even knowing they may never see them again. It inspires me to take advantage of every opportunity to meet new people and to allow them to speak into my life.