BIBLE SOCIETY NEWS | Kaley Payne
“Has South Africa lived up to your expectations?” asked my travel companion as we drove to the airport. “To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” I replied. And that’s the truth. If you’d asked me to describe South Africa before I visited, I would have said, “It’s like Australia, isn’t it? Similar climate, similar landscapes. Gosh, they’ve even got the same sporting colours as we do!”
My last encounter with South Africa in the news was when surfer Mick Fanning punched a shark off the coast of Jefferys Bay in the eastern cape, considered one of the best surfing locations in the world. The video of Fanning’s shark escape has over 17 million views online. Few of my friends haven’t seen it. But if you’d told me that just over the sand dunes at Jefferys Bay, thousands of people were living in squalor – many without basic toilet facilities – I wouldn’t have believed you. And yet, that’s what I saw.
South Africa is a place of extremes. Extreme sport, extreme wildlife, extreme beauty. Mixed in with that is extreme poverty, extreme violence, extreme corruption and a history, at least, of extreme racism. World news sources report that South Africa is suffering from “endemic corruption”, the “Achilles’ heel” of a country which on all counts is still considered a developing one.
25 years on from the end of apartheid, many of those I spoke to in South Africa are disheartened by the lack of change. The end of apartheid was supposed to signal the beginning of a new era of equality for all, no matter the colour of your skin. In reality, inequality in South Africa is in some places worse than it was 25 years ago. The gap between the rich and very poor is widening.
Bible Society South Africa’s project manager Mims Turley knows this. She’s lived in South Africa all her life and, like most South Africans, she’s proud of her country and believes there’s hope for change still to come. But her hope rests in the power of God to change lives.
“There are things that not one of us can change on our own. But there are little things we can do.”
Throughout 2016, Bible Society Australia is seeking to Get The Word Out in South Africa. Through seemingly small actions we know big things can happen, in God’s strength. Here’s a taste of what we’ll be doing:
We’re starting a Bible-based literacy programme to help ensure equal access to early education
There are systemic problems within the education in South Africa. Grade R (like our kindergarten here in Australia, for 4-5 year olds) used to be optional and only available in some schools – usually in wealthy areas dominated by white people. It meant that children from poorer backgrounds were starting school already one year behind their peers. Now, Grade R is compulsory, but that’s on paper only. In practice, poorer children are still being left behind. Regulation is lax and teaching materials for Grade R often don’t make it to poorer or independent schools. When we visited some of these schools in September, we saw children using colouring-in books as some of their main ‘text books’ for Grade R. That’s babysitting, not learning. And once behind, it’s very hard – and for most poor children, impossible – to catch up.
Bible Society has created a series of Bible-based literacy booklets to help children in disadvantaged schools learn basic literacy in preparation for the next grade at school. Not only do they learn the alphabet and numbers, for thousands of children it’s one of the only opportunities they have to learn from the Bible.
We’re engaging children with God’s word
On the outskirts of the city of Johannesburg, thousands of children live in informal settlements – squatter camps where dwellings are shacks made from scrap metal. Children roam the streets, unsupervised, for hours after school – if they go to school at all. But in some of these settlements, a light is shining. Church groups are starting after school care programmes, offering children a safe place to go and activities to challenge and entertain.
Bible Society is working with a local ministry in Johannesburg to run Bible memory verse programmes in schools and after school care centres. It’s an opportunity for children to get to know the Bible, and to be able to call on God’s precious words wherever they are. When we visited, the children were eager to show us their memory skills. One boy we meet could recite over 40 verses!
And we’re providing hope through the Bible to thousands of South African prisoners
Far from the smiles and eager eyes of South Africa’s children are the dark halls of the country’s crowded prisons. God’s word is changing lives here: a man serving 16 years for armed robbery and hijacking opened the pages of another inmates Bible and found hope and a future in Christ.
Bible Society is again partnering with a local church ministry to run a discipleship course within the prison walls, teaching prisoners the love of God and offering a Bible in their own language upon completion. For those who’ve lost all they have, even their freedom, receiving a Bible is a precious gift. Receiving Christ, the best reward of all.
In 2016, we’ll be asking for your help to ‘Get The Word Out’ to South Africa. It’s an opportunity for churches and Christian groups to get together, learn and pray for a country, and contribute to the work there to see people won for Jesus and give them access the word of God. We’re excited. Are you?