This article was originally published in the April 2014 edition of ITMI Monthly.
“I don’t think he knows who we are,” Pastor Mlungisi Zuma told ITMI’s Kelly Smith. They were in a well-lit, non-private hospital room near Zulu Natal, South Africa. The two men were visiting a man they knew as Mr. Cele.
“He is mumbling and saying a lot of things, but he is making no sense at all,” the pastor observed. Kelly and the new South African pastor of his church continued chatting with the delirious patient.
The patient was a balding middle-aged Zulu man with a full graying beard and mustache. His eyes were bleak and lifeless. He slouched in the inclined hospital bed, his neck at an awkward angle. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, but the covers were pulled snugly up to his under-arms.
As a Zulu living in the hilly community of Zulu Natal, South Africa, Mr. Cele’s life likely consisted of constant oppressive attempts to appease his ancestors through self-mutilation and sacrifice. He likely trudged up and down steep hills daily to meet his needs for water and food. Statistics tell us he mourned the deaths of a high number of friends and family due to HIV/AIDS and poverty.
Like the rest of those living in Zulu Natal, South Africa, Mr. Cele likely trudged up and down steep hills daily to meet his needs for water and food.
As their small talk topics dwindled, Kelly and Mlungisi began sharing the gospel.
That’s when it happened.
The man seemed to return to himself. He began responding coherently to the good news Pastor Zuma was sharing. Kelly and Mlungisi repeated a clear explanation of the gospel to the now attentive invalid.
After the gospel was presented, the sick man uttered the beautiful words, “I understand what you are saying, and I want to receive Jesus as my Lord.”
After leading the man in prayer, the conversation continued, but the visitors noticed the new believer had returned to his previous state of confusion. They believed the Spirit cleared this man’s mind long enough for him to receive Christ!
Three days later, the man’s family left the hospital after visiting him. While still traveling home, they received word that Mr. Cele had passed away.
This incredible story doesn’t end there.
Normally, the oldest brother of the deceased organizes a funeral that matches his own beliefs. But to the Smith’s surprise, Mr. Cele’s family decided he should have a Christian funeral because he died a Christian. This opened up the opportunity for Pastor Zuma to share the same message their loved one had received with his family and community!
The family’s response was encouraging. They commented that they enjoyed what was shared and respected the authority with which Mlungisi spoke.
This incredible story of God’s work among the Zulu began several years ago, with the Smith family’s constant, faithful baby steps. Joyfully and sacrificially serving their community for years - one family, one meal, one school at a time - has led to an established credibility with the community.
Thanks to their leadership, a body of believers is gathering and growing. Because of the Smith's prayer and advocacy over several years, the church has a godly, Zulu leader in Pastor Zuma.
That’s just one of many ways the Smith’s have blessed this impoverished, HIV/AIDS ravaged community deeply entrenched in ancestral worship.
The Smiths reflected, “there are still many dying, afraid and alone, or living, afraid and alone, with no knowledge of their creator God who loves them so completely, and will walk with them through anything.”
Each December, the Smiths stage Christmas celebrations at several schools in their community where they give personally purchased gifts to children who otherwise would not know Christmas. As a part of this much-anticipated celebration, the children also perform skits and hear an age appropriate gospel message delivered by a Zulu pastor in their own language.
Kids line up to receive gifts at a Project Christmas Blessing event.
A sampling of the gifts given at Project Christmas Blessing.
The Smiths shared, “This year’s Project Christmas Blessing was loads of fun and a huge blessing as usual. The Gospel was shared and everyone enjoyed their gifts. One of the teachers mentioned that they always look forward to this, as it is a special day to just relax and have fun, compared to all the difficulties and heartache that they all experience in their lives.”
This year, the program included a skit by the youth of the Smith’s church. Among other things, many received beautiful pillow case dresses made by some ITMI supporters in Phoenix, Arizona. The Smiths said, “One girl we know of refused to take hers off at all until it absolutely needed to be washed.”
These seemingly-small-but-actually-enormous victories would never be happening without partners faithfully praying for and supporting the Smith’s ministry.
They can’t be there without support. They can’t advocate without others advocating for them. They need our partnership. They need our prayers. They need our support.
Thanks for yours!
Summer Kelley is a writer living in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and three kids. She’s had the honor and privilege of telling ITMI’s stories since 2006. She’s a homeschooling mom and a T-shirt and jeans aficionado who likes all things simple. When she’s not writing or homeschooling, you can find her honing her skills as what some might call a "suburban survivalist" as she learns to thrive in the suburbs with 3 kids. As a productivity and organizing enthusiast, she may or may not spend hours attempting to use technology to "save time.” Summer loves reading, the outdoors and Coca-Cola Classic from the fountain.
Steve Evers has advocated for and served the ITMI partners as ITMI Director since 2001. Approximately once a year, Steve visits with ITMI partners in their countries and brings stories back to encourage supporters. Steve enjoys photography and mechanics, (both hobbies that have greatly benefited ITMI partners!) Prior to becoming ITMI's Director, Steve served on the Board of Directors for 12 years. Steve lives in Arizona with his wife, Darlene.