Reflections on South Africa

Three weeks ago, I arrived back to Belfast after spending two weeks in South Africa. I had been there on behalf of World Development & Relief and as part of a team from Methodist Church in Ireland. They were two jam-packed and joy-filled weeks. Jam-packed with warm, welcoming people who brought us into their worlds and taught us so much. Joy-filled mainly because of these people and their infectious smiles and energy and their love for God and what He has done and is doing for them.

Our trip can be broken down into some ‘sections’ according to where we spent our time: Johannesburg Central Methodist Mission, Pinetown Methodist Church and its outreach programme, Phakamisa, Hillcrest Aids Centre Trust, Hillcrest Methodist Church and the Church Land Programme. The vision behind the trip was simply for us, as Irish Methodists, to learn how the Methodist Church Southern Africa is engaging with the communities around them. Although the contexts are significantly different, Churches in South Africa and Ireland are both still navigating through divided societies and all the challenges and opportunities that brings with it.

I could write for days about everything we saw, learned, were challenged and encouraged by, but for now I am going to focus on one part of our trip, Phakamisa, one of Irish Methodism’s World Development and Relief partners (as is the Church Land Programme).

Phakamisa is a ministry of Pinetown Methodist Church. It is committed to supporting and equipping those infected with or affected by HIV and AIDs. Support comes in a variety of ways; skills and income generation training for caregivers, peer support groups, promoting healthy living and exercise and counselling.  We had 3 days with the staff and Gogos at Phakamisa (‘Gogo’ means Granny and is an affectionate term given to the caregivers), seeing a whole range of activities but also day-to-day life.

HIV and AIDs has affected such an enormous number of people in South Africa, 7million people in 2015, according to statistics and Phakamisa is working to support some of them in the Pinetown area. They do that effectively through relational support and accountability, but also in such a practical and maintainable way, particularly with regard to the skills training. Skills could be beadwork, sewing and embroidery or cooking – all things that develop their skill set but also open up doors to selling their goods and generating income.

So that all sounds great, right? - Local people learning new skills to improve their own quality of life? Well, it gets better! These women who receive training from Phakamisa then go back to their communities and pass on this skill-set to groups of women so that they too can learn, develop and create their own opportunities. This is just one example of how your money is used by World Development & Relief whether you give through the 1% Appeal, through a monthly standing order or through fundraising. Your money is enabling local people to bring about lasting change and impact in their communities. But the need is still great and we can do much more with your help.

I really could go on and on about so many things we learned, but I’ll finish with just one more. EVERYTHING we saw, from Church life to work in the AIDs Centre, is saturated in prayer.

In one meeting that a few of us had with a lovely minister in Pinetown, we were busy getting our notebooks out, checking our pens worked, reading through our list of questions… We looked at each other, not really sure how to start, when the minister said, “Shall we pray?”

It was one of those ‘DUH!’ moments. Of course that’s how we should have started, giving our time and conversation to God, inviting Him to guide us and to be part of it. How often do we get so caught up in the lists and the to-dos that we forget to pray about that which we are about to do?

For World Development & Relief fundraising is so important so that Irish Methodists can continue to work alongside these partners across the world. But please, if you can’t give financially, pray! Pray for the organisations, for the Directors and CEOs, for the staff, for the people involved and impacted by the work, for the communities being transformed by the vision and commitment of local people. Have a look at our Partnership page on the website to familiarise yourself with who you are praying for and then please, support them in prayer!

You can also get the latest World Development & Relief Report through any Methodist church or contact the office.

Laura Kerr

World Mission and Development Office

Some of the MCI team with one of the ladies support groups at Phakamisa

Some of the MCI team with one of the ladies support groups at Phakamisa