Transforming of a City
“I have always believed, and still do, that there is a latent dynamic in the local church. If we can only mobilize this dynamic, more could be done in this broken world than anyone could imagine.” Willie Crew
The Ou Raadsaal (the Old Council Hall) on the south side of Church Square in Pretoria had seen passed many of the unjust apartheid laws that had once governed South Africa. Tonight, it saw a very different kind of council with a very different outcome—130 church leaders from across the city unanimously agreeing to actively help its most needy inhabitants.
It was 2000 and church leaders had earlier decided that instead of just another one-off event, namely a “Jesus March”, they wanted a course of action that would transform all of the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality. They met many times before and after the Ou Raadsaal meeting, eventually forming Transforming Tshwane, a collaborative effort to mobilize and engage as many churches as possible in meaningful transformational actions.
As Willie entered the gathering in the hall with its theme of ‘Dare to dream a dream for our city’, he anticipated that this might be the moment to share a dream—the Week of Bounty.
In 1984, five years before the birth of World Mission Centre, Cyclone Domoina had hit the KwaZulu Natal region in northeast South Africa leaving a trail of utter devastation in its wake. On hearing from a pastor friend in the region and seeing the footage on the evening news that day, Willie was sure various churches would be willing to help financially if he asked. But so much more than finances were needed. What if church members gave things from home that they no longer needed? His pastor, Ed Roebert, agreed to let him announce the need during the Sunday service in two days’ time. He spent the next 36 hours calling other pastors to do the same, asking that all donations be brought to the churches either after lunch on Sunday or on Monday at the latest.
On Sunday afternoon at Hatfield Christian Church, Willie could not believe the hundreds of people bringing carloads of supplies and boxes of goods. It quickly filled much of the church building and people kept bringing more. The same thing was happening at other churches around the country and, after a plea for help with transport and distribution, the national airline and railway companies, as well as the military and private transportation companies, agreed to help get everything from wherever they were located up to Richards Bay where local churches took over distributing it on. Within one week, hundreds of tons of supplies and goods were distributed to those who needed them across KwaZulu Natal. It was a week of bounty.
This model and strategy of a Week of Bounty was what Willie presented to the 130 church leaders in the Ou Raadsaal, proposing that Pretoria churches initiate and facilitate the strategy to give momentum to the fledgling transformation process in the City of Tshwane. He spoke of truth that in order to reap a great harvest, much seed must first be sown. He shared the strategy of calling local churches to work together, mobilising their members to share out of their abundance to give to the needy—not with money, but with whatever extra and unused items they can find in their homes, sheds, garages, and attics, absolutely anything from flipflops to fridges. Over the course of one week, all items would be taken to the local churches where teams consisting of church members would receive, repackage, and distribute to those in need as quickly as possible. The more involved, the greater the impact. The proposal was accepted, and dates decided upon: the Week of Pentecost, May 27 to June 3, 2001.
As the time approached, the pastors prepared by teaching their congregations what Paul had written:
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.” 2 Cor 8:13-15.
They also mobilised their members and organised teams for receiving and distributing whatever was brought in. They thought they were ready.
The Jesus March was a joyful event on that Saturday, with 20,000 believers taking part. On Sunday morning, pastors from 310 Tshwane churches across denominational and racial lines once more challenged their congregations to give and participate in the Week of Bounty. And give they did, resulting in a joyful spirit of sacrificial giving across the city.
On Monday, Pastor Victor Mokgotlhoa dropped by Willie’s office. He had tears in his eyes as he spoke of his church in Soshanguve, an impoverished part of the city. That morning he had found people waiting in a long line outside to bring their gifts as seed to change the city. One married couple had come and said, “Pastor, we want to see our city changed, and so, here is our bedroom suite. We are prepared to sleep on the floor; this is our seed to change this city.” A man had given his only car, saying, “Pastor, I will use public transport. Here is my car; this is my seed to change the city.” This was so much more than Pastor Victor had every anticipated.
All kinds of barriers, seen and unseen were being broken. On Thursday morning, those reading the morning paper in Tshwane found an unexpected headline: “Strijdom Square Collapses”.
The poetic congruence of this event cannot be highlighted enough. On the 40th anniversary of what used to be Republic Day [the commemoration of the establishment of the apartheid state], one of apartheid’s monuments, which was named after one of the architects of apartheid, collapsed in a heap of rubble. The notorious monument was also the sight of Barend “Wit-world” Strijdom’s racist killing spree [shooting seven blacks dead and injuring 15 others] in 1988.
J.G. Strijdom had been prime minister of South Africa in the 1950s and a staunch proponent of apartheid. The commemorative—and massive— bust of his head had been destroyed when another part of the monument collapsed on top of it, going through the first floor of the carpark beneath it, and creating a crater the size of a rugby pitch. Charles Malan, Afrikaner literary theorist, historian, and author, made the following observation at the time: “If the Strydom Monument in Pretoria was not sabotaged, then its collapse was a peculiar intervention of God.” Many believed that its removal was a direct result of the churches working together to transform the city.
That first Week of Bounty stretched into two months as there was so much given in that one week that it could not all be distributed by the end of the week. It was moved to five ware-houses around the city, and the distribution to the needy continued. At one warehouse—1300 square meters (13,993 square feet)—one hundred volunteers from the Lewende Woord Church worked for six weeks sorting, packing, and inviting pastors from the poorer sections of the city to come and take whatever their congregations needed. After six weeks, one third of the gifts still remained so pastors from four impoverished areas outside the city were invited to see what they might need. Forty-six volunteers then spent a day with the pastors from the suburbs of Soshanguve, Mamelodi, Eersterus, and Atteridgeville dividing everything into four piles. These were loaded onto seven- and ten-ton trucks, and municipal disaster relief vehicles and taken to those communities the next day.
As the smallest community, the ministries and churches in Eersterus had taken the smallest of the loads from the warehouses. Now cooperating, where in the past they had seldom worked together, they displayed all the goods on shelves in an empty shop loaned to them. They put in place a strict system to prevent hoarding, and 3500 people were able to choose one set of clothing over a two-week period.
The contagious spirit of sacrificial giving and generosity has been repeated most years since, with sometimes more, sometimes fewer churches participating in the Week of Bounty. Some affluent churches have established sustainable partnerships with churches who have less. Not only basic physical needs are being met, but jobs are being created and skills development projects and computer education projects are being sponsored.
The church leaders of Pretoria dared to dream for all of the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality, trusting God to fulfil it. They mobilised their congregations, the believers in the city to sow many seeds and, as a result, they are now reaping a great harvest. The walls between races, communities, and denominations are crumbling through the generous giving of people focused on the same dream.