JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (FR) – Christopher was a black Sotho chemistry graduate who spoke 14 languages at one of the most liberal and prestigious universities in South Africa. Paul was a white American missionary visiting Johannesburg to help begin a church. Neither of the two had anything in common, yet in the midst of the Afrikaan prejudice ingrained in the institutions of South Africa, these two men found common ground.
It wasn’t through a political demonstration against apartheid or at a rally – which are routine at the University of Wits. Instead, the common ground that Christopher, or “Tswana,” and Paul found was the Christian faith. “I was on campus sharing with people about Jesus,” said Paul Serravalle, who traveled to Johannesburg from Gainesville, Florida. “Christopher just walked up to me and said ‘Hi.’ Ironically, the name Tswana means ‘leave him alone.’ “
Paul shared the Gospel with Christopher, and he became a Christian. An hour-and-a-half later, Christopher led a Zulu man in a prayer to become a Christian, while witnessing with Paul in Johannesburg’s inner city. Christopher and Paul’s relationship is an example of an undercurrent rippling throughout the nation, unifying whites and blacks in a manner that no law could initiate or enact. “When people see white Christians loving black Christians, it blows them away,” Serravalle said.
Serravalle didn’t realize the extent of institutionalized prejudice in South Africa until he tried to find housing for two black students in the church. “When they found out I was looking for housing for two black guys, and not myself, they refused to rent to them, and the multi-racial residences were always filled up.” Johannesburg’s inner-city has a large population of street people who come looking for work.
“There has been an improvement, but the civic centers administration, which is responsible for handling complaints, was instructed by the sheriff to not process anymore complaints. They basically have turned their back on implementing integrated housing,” he explained.
South Africa has made headlines on everything from apartheid to the price of gold, and international sanctions have become routine foreign policy. No reasonable person could blame the world community for it’s revulsion of the legalized institution of racial discrimination. Yet the dilemma of racial prejudice and discrimination is only part of the story of South Africa.
“Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more – that is a proven truth in South Africa,” said Bill Bennot, pastor of the Maranatha Campus Ministry in Johannesburg. Maranatha began a church a year-and-a-half ago at the University of Wits, which is considered the “Berkeley” of South Africa. Since then the church has become a model of multi-racial diversity on a campus full of racial unrest.
“The campuses are facing more than just government intervention,” said Bennot. “They are facing the intervention of the mercies of God. The predominant voice on campus has mainly been condemnation and confusion. Now the gospel of Jesus Christ is coming to the forefront with a message of redemption and reconciliation. Hundreds of students are shedding the cloak of sin and sharing boldly in their new-found ‘robes of righteousness.’ “
An example is Carol Visser, an Afrikaan biochemistry student: “I was a typical student – aimless, directionless, rebellious and without hope. But the love of Jesus Christ and the power of His death and resurrection changed my life. Now I am secure in the knowledge that He has a purpose and a destiny for my life and for many others that He will reach through my life.”
“Young men and women are not only coming to their new found faith in Jesus, they are also responding to the call for leaders to go to the nations,” Bennot explained. “In the first major outreach that Maranatha Ministries had at the Wits campus, 60 percent of those that gave their hearts to Jesus became members of the newly established church.”
Debbie Ganesh, a dentistry student, says that God has prepared her to be a missionary. “I praise God for the calling He has put upon my life to go out into the nations and proclaim His glory.” Gary Gilchrist, a professional golfer, said, “God reached down to reveal Jesus to me. And when He saved me, He also called me to be a witness to all peoples.”
The zeal of the South African students is so great that Maranatha’s first training school in Africa had to be established quickly to accommodate their desire to evangelize. Just a few months after the initial outreach, over 60 young people were trained and are a part of the church’s evangelism and follow-up program. Even now Maranatha Ministries of Africa is preparing to establish it’s second church during the early months of 1990.
Some members of the Maranatha Church in Johannesburg have already relocated to Cape Town, the new target city. A trained member of the Maranatha Church also transferred to the University of Durban on the east coast. She is now gathering information necessary to begin a new ministry.
Many different African nations are represented in the Maranatha Church and these students have a vision to go back and reach their nations. “The Zulu, North Sotho, South Sotho, Tswana, Mathabele, and Shona nations are examples of the diversity that the Lord is putting together to reach Africa for Jesus.” said Bennot. “Truly the Lord takes the foolish things to confound the wise. Only Almighty God could take people from a nation known for racial discrimination and build them into a united body anointed to reach all groups of people.”
A nine by twelve foot map of the world covers an entire wall in the Maranatha center – a clear indication, according to Bennot, of the seriousness of these students’ love for Jesus and His world. “‘To God be all the glory,’ is their heart cry,” he said, “and truly no one can take credit for this precious work except God Almighty.”