Sunrise to sunset ... in Johannesburg
"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!