On my first visit to South Africa in 2009, I remember someone saying that they could see many signs of God’s kingdom on Earth in townships. Though I don’t remember who exactly it was that said those words, I do remember being confused and doubtful that you could see God’s kingdom in places where people live in shacks, go hungry and have little access to toilets or running water. How could someone think that was what God’s kingdom would look like?
Though that trip was only 2 weeks long, after spending time out in the communities and with the people that live in those shacks, I began to spot those signs. When I first came to Grabouw, it again took time to recognise God’s kingdom in these communities. When you’ve been to visit sports mentors at home and can barely see their faces because it’s so dark, or you have to tread carefully through piles of rubbish, glass and used nappies to get to a sports pitch, it’s hard to spot Jesus. I think it’s a very Western perspective to look immediately at the physical; what people have or don’t have materially, and make a judgement on that. Too often, we neglect looking at the emotional needs of the person. Yes, the people here may not have a lot in physical terms, but in other respects they are richer than most of us. I have been blown away by how strong the sense of community is in some of the places where we run our sports clubs. Everyone knows everyone. We went looking for one of our sports mentors in Waterworks community last Friday, and even though it is huge, within 5 minutes we had found him, just by asking people we met if they knew him or where he lived. I imagine that if you told the people here that in England, people don’t even know their neighbours most of the time, they would think that was ridiculous. And it is really, isn’t it? Here, people look after each other’s children, cook together, talk together. One of my favourite things about driving through the communities in the bakkie is that everyone you see will wave, smile and shout “TIM!!!” at the top of their voice. Emma recently bought a car and we were laughing together the other day about how when we’ve been out in it, we automatically have taken to waving at strangers we pass and them waving and smiling back. In England, if you did that kind of thing, people would think you were weird and probably awkwardly change their gaze to avoid waving back. God’s kingdom can definitely be seen in the people and community here in Grabouw. No, they might not have a lot physically, but I am pretty jealous of how life is shared here.
If I needed another example to convince me of signs God’s kingdom here in Grabouw, nothing would make it clearer than our Sports Saturday event yesterday. Driving through the communities at 7.30am to pick up all our sports mentors to go down and set up early before the 160+ kids arrived, I was expecting the town to be quiet. Not the case. Though the kids were not being picked up till 8am by the buses, crowds of kids were waiting at the pick-up points from as early as 6.30am. When I drove by, they all started screaming, shouting and waving madly, the excitement apparently too much. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the day!
The kids were not put into teams based on where they came from, but by age. At the beginning of the day, it was a case of getting to know your team-mates, their names, where they played etc. Kids from different areas and backgrounds in a team. Those speaking only Afrikaans mixed with those who spoke mainly Xhosa. Sport has always been called a great leveler and unifier. ‘Invictus’ is a film all about the way in which the Springboks Rugby team was a great unifier for South Africa during the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Yesterday, it was so clear to see the effect of sport in pulling people together. By the end of the day, teams were acting like they had always played together. Even here, that sense of community so strong in the townships, shone through. Sitting at that Country Club, watching all the kids playing, having fun and being given the chance to just be kids for the day, it was clear to see God’s kingdom here on Earth. It was pretty humbling to see what a blessing taking these kids to a decent pitch, putting a kit on them, and giving them a proper ball and goals to play with was. I don’t really know how else to convey the feeling I got yesterday other than with photographs. If you can’t see God’s kingdom in these faces, look again.
Images by Lisa Baldry