This article was originally published in the February 2020 edition of ITMI Monthly.
“There's no life in gangsterism - what you see on the outside is not what you get on the inside, I gained nothing out of it except a criminal record, pain and regrets.”
Vuyo Anta pounded the side of his hand into his other open, flat hand for emphasis.
The bill of Vuyo’s dark cap shaded his serious eyes as they scanned the group of youth gathered in front of him, seated on a pale grassy slope. Some sprawled their legs out, and others sat leaning on their raised knees for support.
Ex-gangster youth in South Africa listen to Vuyo Anta's encouragement in the Gospel.
But all of them listened intently.
Many were ex-gang members themselves, from disadvantaged and broken families and backgrounds. Some had recently experienced an attack from their former rival gang.
The South African youth were being taken on this outing because of the generosity of an ITMI supporter, whose $6,000 contribution made it possible for ITMI’s Charl van Wyk and his project leaders to fund a myriad of outreaches to over 600 men, women and children in various countries during the recent advent season.
Charl van Wyk with his wife, Sonia, and four children.
One of those project leaders, Vuyo Nyabaza, founded and is the pastor of Center of Hope Community Church near Cape Town, after being rescued from a life of crime and gangsterism. He shared that when this group of youth first heard about the outing to the public pool, they were “filled with joy.”
The youth had arrived 45 minutes before their scheduled time to enjoy swimming in a local public pool. Before swimming, they each shared where he or she was spiritually, and the challenges that they were facing.
Many said their lives aren't the same anymore. They are no longer part of gangsterism and now they can walk freely without fear. They said this was because of the investment made in their lives by Nyabaza.
After the youth shared, Vuyo Anta was introduced. Anta had served a 12 year sentence for a murder committed while part of a gang. Now he is being discipled by Nyabaza.
Vuyo went on to warn the young men not to follow in his footsteps, advising them to surrender their lives to God and trust Him.
“Due to lack of awareness and education available to our young people, many of them become involved in self-destructive activities such as crime,” Pastor Nyabaza shared, “but through our initiatives and intervention, we are able to involve the youth in healthy and positive activities, which will keep them away from these negative influences and help them to become responsible young Godly leaders and role models to their peers.”
Nyabaza also plans to reach out to the parents of the rival gang, and asked for prayer support for that outreach.
The Christmastime outing was a moving success, demonstrating love and care for the marginalized while reinforcing the Biblical truth the youth have been given through this ministry.
The generous gift provided for a handful of other outreaches like this one.
In South Africa, the Dream Girls, Soldiers for Christ, children in a registered institution of care (who were placed there by court orders), our Stone Hill early childhood development center children, the Stone Hill youth, people literally living in shacks under a bridge, children in a squatter camp and still others in another pre-school; and former gangsters, who are now following King Jesus – were all blessed by the faithful giving of this ITMI supporter.
Hope was also shared in Zimbabwe, a country and people ravaged by generations of godless politicians, by another of Charl’s project leaders, Cozmore.
Cozmore with his wife, Laizah and daughter.
Cozmore was able to reach out to the youth in a small neglected village with food and gifts.
Leftovers of their barbecue went to the village chiefs who were having a formal meeting. They were thrilled to have food delivered. (It’s hard to imagine that the youth didn’t eat every morsel in sight, but there were leftovers.)
In the Congo, outreaches included a pre-school in very disheartening circumstances and an orphanage.
Those who give generously - like the supporters mentioned earlier in this story - understand. They understand that because of Jesus’ advent into the world, “we are not hopeless. We are at the break of God’s future. The Lord will come in power and in grace, to turn the hearts of children and to turn the hearts of the parents, to turn us from despair and anger and brutality and greed and fear.” (Walter Bruggemann, Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent)
Those who embrace this truth are free from the resignation, the despair, the selfishness, greed and anxiety that stem from the world’s hopelessness.
Through obedience, faith and generosity of those who have been freed and given generously, the hearts of these children have already been turned.
No more do they lay beneath the shadow of the world’s hopelessness, condemned to a life of gangsterism, violence and regrets.
About the Authors
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 4 years. Steve lives in Arizona with his wife, Darlene.