Sunrise to sunset ... in Johannesburg

AMS Staff

"Let me give you a glimpse of being in ministry here," says Ans van der Zwaag, a CMS missionary in Hillbrow, an overcrowded, poverty-stricken inner-city area of Johannesburg, South Africa . . .
Sunrise I walk out on the streets to the market stallholders, trying to make an honest living: black people selling fruit and vegetables, people offering to braid your hair, a line of telephone sets which function like public phones for people to make calls. People "looking after' your car, waiting for a tip.

I am the only white member of Christ Church, Hillbrow. Johannesburg is a grey city, with lots of tall buildings. Rich and poor right beside each other, with beautiful shopping centers, bigger than many I have seen.

At the street corner I stop. Vendors are selling papers, broomsticks, fruit, drinks, hats, and paintings, whistling at the drivers to buy while the light is red. And then there are the many people who beg: mothers with children, teenagers.

When you don't have a job, there is no government handout. So the path to the streets is very swift. No money? No place to stay.

I walk on. Living in Hillbrow is being on guard 24 hours a day, thinking "don't leave my bag lying around, wear no jewellery, is my mobile phone safe, is the computer locked away?" (I forgot one of those questions one time and someone smashed the window of my car and gone was my mobile phone).

As I walk through the suburb on my way to the library, I meet Sipho, who is 15 years old. I know him from the soup kitchen. He says he has lived on the streets for 5 " 7 years. Yes, he had the opportunity to live in a group home, but he didn't like the rules. In a funny way he is comfortable on the streets, begging and sniffing glue.

A while ago I met Nisopho, a 23 year old girl, who had been living on the streets for some time. She gave birth to a baby who didn't live. Soon after she told me she was serious about making a change in her life, so she came home with me for a shower and some more clothes.

We had a long talk; she seemed genuine, so I gave her some money to go and stay in a shelter for the night and said, "please come back tomorrow, we can help you find a shelter". I never saw her again.

So often my prayers are with many tears for this country, where the young people (a country's future) are affected so much by HIV/AIDS and hopelessness. What do I do with all the need I see around me, the hopelessness and despair? Where do I help and what do I leave? 
I stop for lunch in town. How do I live my life with integrity, stepping out from the rich side of town (where I am comfortable) into the poor, and vice versa?  Am I to enjoy my cup of coffee in the nice shopping centre?

I pray a lot for God's compassion, being aware of the guilt trap (because giving out of guilt is only to relieve yourself from it) but it is a constant struggle.

It is important I continue to examine my motives and realize that it is God's ministry- it won't "make or break' with me personally. God is already at work here and He will continue to work here after I have left!