Over 30 years ago, a young black South African was running from the law and the LORD. Mandla Khumalo was a rebel and freedom fighter in the 80’s under the South African Apartheid regime and was busy burning government buildings to the ground in protest against his people’s enslavement. Khumalo didn’t trust God and didn’t believe in Jesus Christ. He was taught that the Christian God is a white man with a beard and that the devil is a black man with horns and a tail. Jesus Christ was used as a tool to teach black people that white people were ultimately superior and that black people were put on the earth to serve their betters.
The Apartheid regime segregated society based on four race classes in descending order: white, colored, Indian, and black. Whites were given the most privilege, opportunity, and respect; blacks were given the least freedom, choice, and honor. The Apartheid government publicly declared that native blacks were only capable of learning a basic education and were meant for a life of service and labor. Blacks were not considered leadership material, not allowed to vote, and were thought to have no need for a complicated and holistic education. The government set up a different curriculum for blacks called Bantu education (Bantu is an African word for ‘the people’). Black children were taught a stunted and inadequate curriculum without mathematics and science.
The Apartheid government decided that black people where not good enough to live as neighbors with white people. Towns were built with proper amenities, good schools, trash removal, running water, and only white people were able to live there. Townships were created for the inferior classes without attention and proper care for the basic human needs. Blacks were required to carry a permit at all times and were only allowed to enter the town during certain hours of the day in order to ensure that their place in society was maintained and that systemized segregation was upheld.
Khumalo was using fear and violence to fight the oppression and bloodshed wrought by the Apartheid government against his people. On the run from the law, being sheltered by a pastor, he was invited to a church service. Out of courtesy, Khumalo attended the church service and felt God speaking directly to him in the crowd. He began to read the Bible and was brought to understand that God is love and that he must spend the rest of his life fighting for peace by acting out peace and love to all the people of South Africa. Khumalo turned himself into the police. After confessing his behavior and evangelizing to them, they released him under the condition that he would no longer use violence to try to gain freedom.
Khumalo started a church, which later became known as St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, in Middelburg, South Africa. The church grew quickly into a vision for a complete community change. He wanted to take care of the widowed and orphaned, provide education, inspire job creation, and create community health care initiatives. In 1989, with the help of committed American church partners, Khumalo started a preschool (known as a creche in South Africa) to help educate the youngest children with proper education and the Good News of Jesus Christ. The preschool grew to a full-day school which opened in 2011 with only 39 students. Today, there are a total of 900 students from preschool through grade 10, and the school will grow to a complete high school by 2019. Job creation initiatives were developed to help entrepreneurs launch new businesses, including microloans and new business incubation centers. In 2016, a new clinic and orphanage were built to care for the community and provide much needed services.
Be the Church!
The Gospel was born into this world, into an animal feeding trough, to enter into our mess and reality. Jesus did not abandon us but he lived alongside us, and died the death we deserved so that we might know our Father. The Gospel is not stagnant or simple words on a page in an old book–it is living and active. The Gospel is so contagious that it must be spread with excitement and passion that knows no bounds, color of skin, or limits to grace. We are called to believe and that belief calls us to action, to help all those around us with real and meaningful love that points people to the one true Jesus Christ.
In early 2016, a man approached me a parking lot and explained that he is a parent of a third grade girl at our school. He thanked us for all the hard work that it takes to provide a quality education and asked a question I hadn’t heard before. He asked, “Are there two Jesus Christs?” I thought perhaps he was joking or confused but he explained that the Jesus he was taught about when he was young was an evil man who was used to prove that white people were superior to all other races. He saw Jesus as a God of inequality, oppression, and fear. He told me that the Jesus we are teaching his daughter about is a God of love, inclusion, and freedom. He said, “I want to know about the Jesus you guys are teaching the children about.
We believe that all we do is a means to an end, and that end is hope in Christ.
“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart of man imagined, the things God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Photos courtesy of Christian Outreach for South Africa (COFA)