African Christians love to sing and dance. That is what my mission team to South Africa witnessed firsthand when we visited Pastor Mandla Khumalo in Middelburg, South Africa, and other Lutheran partners, April 22-May 2. The three man team was comprised of myself; Seth Hinz, Web/Media Director for the Michigan District, LCMS; and Rev. Micah Greiner from St. Peter, Arlington Heights, Ill. – a longtime supporter of Khumalo’s ministries in Middelburg.
The purpose of this trip was to learn what God has done and is doing among the Lutherans in South Africa, especially through St. Peter Confessional Lutheran Church in Middelburg, and to explore a possible mission partnership with the congregations of the Michigan District.
When we walked up to St. Peter’s in Middelburg that first day, we were met by a choir called “Caring Friends” who sang and danced to welcome us. Hinz set to work readying the cameras and microphones to conduct video interviews of the choir members, church leaders, and administrators at St. Peter, as they shared how the Lord has blessed them through partnerships with American Lutherans.
One interview was with Elizabeth Madonsela, a member of St. Peter and the director of Caring Friends. She is a single mother of two, and unemployed. Yet, she volunteers much of her time to this group that serves their community by educating people about HIV/AIDS and other diseases through song. The HIV infection rate in Middelburg is a staggering 43 percent, and South Africa is the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic. Caring Friends goes to churches, schools, pubs, and door to door, singing about how these diseases are transmitted, treated, and helping break down stigmas that prevent people from getting tested. Madonsela says, “Our goal is to educate, inform, uplift, and share the hope and message of Jesus Christ, and develop a high spirit of caring. It’s not about you or me; it’s about the community and the world.” Through all of this, they bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ and share the grace of God.
When we visited St. Peter’s Lutheran School in Middelburg, we met with students and teachers. Once again, singing and dancing! This school was started only two years ago, and serves 251 students and is on track to add 100 more for next year. Two things set this school apart. First, it is a private school with quality education located in a “township” – formerly the blacks-only ghetto during the Apartheid era. This has brought tremendous pride to the community and elevated the standard of living greatly. Second, this is a Christian school, connected to a Lutheran congregation, where students are taught the love of Jesus Christ and about God’s plan and purpose for their lives. It is an outstanding example of how Christian Education is changing the shape of South African society.
Another important ministry is Bethel Lutheran Preschool. There are now 325 children attending as many parents realize it is a feeder to the Lutheran grade school. During chapel, the kids sing and dance, praising and worshipping God. One little girl, however, cannot dance. Her name is Mpilo Mabena, and she is paralyzed from the waist down. She has no wheelchair, but is carried or crawls from place to place. The school has welcomed her to show that it is truly open to everyone. Although she could not dance with her peers, this little preschooler climbed to the front and led the children in singing. There is a great need to start such Lutheran preschools in South Africa as a way to connect churches and communities.
We were also honored guests at the wedding of Khumalo’s son, Muzi. Throughout the “western” wedding, and the “traditional Zulu” wedding the next afternoon, people would start dancing and singing at various times. It was a truly joyful occasion as family and friends celebrated the marriage of this Christian couple.
We worshipped at St. Peter in Middelburg where Pastor Greiner preached the sermon and I brought greetings from the churches in Michigan. The service followed a very familiar Lutheran format, except that the congregation danced to every song. Before the Benediction, the liturgist pastor welcomed Pastor Greiner and myself to join him front and center for the closing songs and dance — oh yes, we danced — robes, stoles, and all!
I will be able to use the information I gathered on this trip to write a history of the Confessional Lutheran Church in South Africa, which is based in Middelburg, for their 25th anniversary in 2014. I hope that the history of this young, dynamic church will help introduce Middelburg to others in the LCMS and strengthen partnerships with Lutherans in Africa.
The information, interviews, pictures, and video will be shared with the Michigan District as it explores a mission partnership with Lutherans in this part of the world. Christianity is exploding in Africa at an unprecedented rate, and they are relying on educational and financial support from Christians in the West. We also have much to learn from these dedicated followers of Jesus as they teach us about worship, witness, and evangelism. Potential mission projects may include supporting St. Peter Lutheran School in Middelburg and Lutheran preschools in South Africa, exchanging Lutheran teachers to and from Michigan, developing job training centers, and sharing theological and evangelism strategies. Look for more information about mission partnerships in coming months.
See Pastor Bill Wangelin’s presentation of God Sighting’s in South Africa at http://prezi.com/oalsuyqmh7id/south-africa-mission-trip-2013.
Get to know Rev. Mandla Kumahlo through video of his 2012 District Convention essays as he shares God’s Word, his story, and the mission field of South Africa at www.michigandistrict.org/convention.