Norwich couple's mission to Cape Town poor
couple made some dramatic discoveries about how the poor live when they volunteered for a church in South Africa.
Eldred and Kathi Willey accepted an invitation from Hillsong Church in Cape Town to spend two weeks helping with their outreach programmes to poor townships in the city, where most of the black and coloured population live.
The opportunity was provided by another Norwich couple, Jon and Chantel Norman, who moved to Cape Town in April. They are thriving in their new roles heading up youth work and leading worship at Hillsong.
“Jon took us to a township called Khayelitsha,” said Eldred, “which has a population of 1.8 million, and is home to many of Cape Town’s 2,000 annual murders. Most people live in shacks made from corrugated iron and old bits of wood.
“It is too dangerous for a white person to walk the streets there, but we were driven in to meet a Christian youth group Hillsong is supporting called Africa Jam. They were really wild. The leader was from a clan of the Xhosa tribe, and he had the end of a finger missing: it had been chopped off with an axe as part of an initiation ceremony.
“The group did some bone-shaking dramas which they were using to warn other young people about gangland murders and the danger of AIDS.”
Hillsong also encouraged Eldred and Kathi to visit a hospital in Mannenberg, which has had a reputation for shootings and stabbings. “The hospital had almost as many guards as nurses,” said Eldred. “Doctors have been intimidated by gang members wanting immediate treatment for their injured friends. There was a sign in the entrance saying ‘No handguns’.
“Surprisingly, the guards and nurses welcomed us in to pray for the patients. Most of the people arriving at Accident and Emergency were young men and women dying of AIDS. As the hospital only has 200 beds, they often have to wait two days or more in a holding area. The staff put a blanket on them with a piece of paper sellotaped to it saying ‘Admit’. One woman we met was in agony because TB had eaten a hole in her lung, and she was vomiting up the painkilling tablets. There was no morphine available. She had so much sputum coming up that she could hardly talk.”
“The nurses were kind and willing,” said Eldred, “but they were desperately lacking in basic equipment.” The couple made a second visit and took in some pillows, because Accident and Emergency didn’t have any.
One evening Jon gave Eldred and Kathi tickets to Newlands Cricket Stadium, where a farmer from the Eastern Cape called Angus Buchan was telling his story. “He has no training as a speaker,” said Eldred, “and delivered a simple message. But when he asked at the end if anyone wanted to commit their lives to Christ for the first time, about 5,000 people stood up. It was one of the most moving moments of our visit.”
Hillsong Church provided the couple with accommodation in an apartment with stunning views over False Bay. “There were whales swimming past our window, and penguins walking past our front gate. We thought that mission would be doing something for God. The first lesson was that mission is God doing something for us.”
Phil and Lucinda Dooley from Sydney launched Hillsong Cape Town in June. It meets four times each Sunday at the International Convention Centre; set-up begins at 4.30am for a 9am start. Around 2,500 people are attending, and some 500 have already made a new commitment to faith.
Pictured top is Eldred Willey at False Bay and, above, Cape Town Bowl.