The Church of the Holy Spirit has always been a diverse church family, more so in recent years. So, when lockdown was announced, and employment put on hold, they began to think about making sure their brothers and sisters in Vrygrond and Westlake had enough food to get by. (And not just them: all over South Africa, Whatsapp groups and Zoom conferences multiplied as generous and good-hearted people looked for ways to channel help into townships.)
It hasn’t been easy (for anyone) but with their organic reach through CHS’ membership they’ve been relatively effective in avoiding waste and side-stepping corruption, and reaching those who are truly in need. (Brendan Fox, CHS team-leader told me that one of the Community Action Groups he was dialoguing with complained they had no one in their area, that they had full confidence in, that they could deliver to. “Just shows you,” Brendan said, crowing a little, “The church is good for something.”)
From the start, Brendan acted decisively, pulling committees together, moving talent around, and delegating – crisis is obviously bringing his leadership talent to the fore (a bit like Hazel-rah in Richard Adams’ Watership Down – now, there’s a great family read!) and, as a result, the CHS Solidarity Fund was formed. Nina Young took charge of its administration and Ronald Abels and MacDonald Phambaniso set out to do most of the legwork.
From the start CHS worked at compiling a list of vulnerable people, looking after their own first, but gradually expanding, always on the basis of relationship – they believe in knowing the people they are giving to. Questionnaires went out to determine who was receiving government grants, who was working, and who was in real need.
The method of delivering help also evolved. At first the emphasis was on food parcels. Here CHS partnered with Siyakhula, a ministry with established and well-managed procedures run by the Bay City Church, Capricorn, and operating from their premises. With CHS funding, they purchased and distributed to the Vrygrond people on the CHS list. This partnership still continues. (And here’s a BIG thank you to Errol and his team.)
But this left Westlake unprovided for. At the time, the Westlake United Churches Trust did offer to do door-to-door delivery for them, but by then they had already begun to move towards physical, store voucher cards (electronic vouchers have proven unreliable at the till-point, to the humiliation of those trying to use them). Store vouchers offered several advantages: they were easier to purchase and deliver (and delivery was confirmed once they were handed over – no chance of the voucher disappearing into electronic nowhere-land) and in the words of Ivor Keever, one of our previously homeless members, “This is better than a food parcel. I feel respected: I can buy what I need, not just what someone thinks I need.”
And there are other testimonies to the effectiveness of vouchers. David Mhlabe, a casual worker at CHS is the subject of this Whatsapp screen-grab from Judy Van Zyl (another member of the CHS Solidarity team).
In summary of the past week, last Saturday 5 of their people received food packs from Siyakhula (‘enormous’, I’m told) that should keep them for a while, and this week, going forward, CHS Solidarity will be giving out 47 Pick&Pay vouchers worth R250 each.
But even as all this, sometimes frantic, activity is going on we remember that the greatest gift we can share is the love of God.
God’s grace expressed towards us through Jesus is our motivator and, while we are concerned about efficiency, we are equally concerned about building and maintaining relationships. So, while CHS may ask pointed questions to determine who truly is in need, in Barry Lewis’ words (another team member) we also need to keep ‘our eyes open for what’s beautiful in the communities we’re giving into’. Maintaining this attitude helps us stay humble: servants of God, instead of morphing into prideful masters of men. It stops us glorying in our relative wealth and developing ‘saviour complexes’. Claudia Tregus (you guessed it – another team member) recommends the YouTube series, Helping Without Hurting as a good way to refresh ourselves in the principles of gracious giving.
The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.PROVERBS 22:9
On that note, here’s a story of ‘something beautiful’ to round off this week’s report-back. Dennis Tembo one of CHS’ Sawubona members was delighted to receive a food pack. But when Ronald explained to him that they were intended for the most vulnerable, he responded, “No. It would not be right for me to take this. I am working.” Thanks be to God for Dennis’ beautiful and upright spirit!
More on Church of the Holy Spirit and how CHS Solidarity is moving forward next week.
If you would like to donate to CHS Solidarity the details are as follows:
Account name: Church of the Holy Spirit, Kirstenhof
Band: Standard Bank, Claremont
Branch code: 025109
Account number: 072546034
Reference: CHS Solidarity Fund