Hillcrest is a small but growing town in Kwazulu Natal, South Africa, some twenty miles inland from Durban. Its Baptist church, pastored by Jonathan Holdt, has a morning congregation of about 80 people.
On the wall above the church door you see these words as you leave: ‘You are now entering the mission field’. The church has an active missionary committee, aiming to devote half the church’s income to mission.
Near Hillcrest are rural areas with large populations of Zulu people needing to hear the gospel. To this challenge the church is already responding by planting churches in strategic places.
The first was planted some years ago in Edemeni, a sprawling community where many Zulus live in their kraals. For the last five years under the pastorate of Paulus, with his wife Nelly, the Edemeni church has grown significantly.
It now has its own building and sufficient ground for future expansion. The congregation is self-supporting and in the process of planting another church in a needy area nearby.
The second church that Hillcrest began is in KwaNyuswa, at the beginning of a stunningly beautiful area called ‘The valley of a thousand hills’ (a local Zulu joke – you should send your mother-in-law on a two-week holiday on each of the hills!).
Teeming multitudes live in KwaNyuswa in small groups of rondavels and huts. There is little employment, many broken homes and much violence and illiteracy. The community is ravaged by AIDS, alcohol and drugs. Marijuana is the largest cash crop. Ancestor worship and witchcraft still hold sway.
But a church has gradually been established in this needy area under the ministry of Vica Gwala, with his wife Mantombi.
On a recent stay in South Africa we learned of two encouraging events – the first relating to this KwaNyuswa church.
Its worship services have hitherto been held in the garage of the pastor’s home. Vica has no car, but with 40 adults and 40 children attending he can shelter most, but not all, of the congregation in the garage.
A few have had to sit outside its large open doors, quite nice in the sunshine – except in mid summer when it is scorching hot; not so nice in the rainy season – and it can pour!
But recently, the church became interested in an old barn on an adjacent property. Eventually this property came up for sale – not just the barn, but a big house and a large piece of land as well.
What could the church do? It seemed likely that the vendor would give no consideration to selling the barn on its own.
The missions committee prayed and went to the selling agent. They would sell the present property and use the proceeds to buy the whole of the new one.
But the agent told them that, two days before, a doctor from Pretoria had bought the whole lot to use it for AIDS work. Their hopes were dashed!
The agent added that the doctor was coming down with his family the next weekend to look over the property. So the chairman of the missions committee and an elder arranged to meet them.
The doctor told them of his plans for the property, and how he had recently converted from being Anglican to Roman Catholic. He listened while they explained what their hopes had been.
They invited him to the morning service at Hillcrest the following day, before he and his family returned to Pretoria.
The doctor and his wife came and said warmly, ‘How much land would you want around the barn? You tell us and we will give it to you, as much as you want’.
The Lord has provided! What a joyful prayer meeting later that day!
The second encouragement happened at Hammarsdale, a large community suffering from abject material deprivation, with little spiritual light.
Jonathan Holdt has been taking Bible studies and services in the home of a couple who attend the Hillcrest church. Rarely were there more than six at the meeting.
One week a new couple arrived. They were full of questions, which Jonathan tried to answer. Soon the questions became more personal and specific. The Lord was obviously working in their hearts – and they both came to faith.
The following Thursday when Jonathan arrived as usual at the house for Bible study, he thought that something was wrong – a death or tragedy in the family – for the room was packed with 28 people.
Yet what had happened was not a tragedy but a testimony! The converted couple had gone to their friends and neighbors and encouraged them to come and hear all about what had changed their hearts and lives.
The following Sunday there were the same number again. And so it has continued, with others too joining for study and worship. Some of these newcomers have been converted and several baptised in the church at Hillcrest, much to the joy of the saints there.
Now the search is on for a property that will serve both as a meeting place and manse for a future pastor.
With such encouragements the Hillcrest church looks forward expectantly. Their long-term desire is to establish a Reformed Bible Training College, specifically focused on training Zulu men to proclaim the glorious gospel of Christ and plant more churches.
They covet your prayers and interest. Jonathan Holdt can be contacted at [email protected]