A number of years ago, Locks Heath Free Church was challenged to respond to the world-devastating effects of HIV/AIDS. For years we had financially supported organisations such as BMS (Baptist Missionary Society) who care for those in need, and due to the far-reaching effects of HIV/AIDS, were undoubtedly helping thousands suffering from this deadly disease. However the call of God was clear – we needed to do more - to care, to love, to take action.
Our response was to partner with Hands at Work in Africa, and in turn we were introduced to a very poor community in South Africa called Belfast. When the first team visited in February 2008, we met over 30 local ‘grannies’ who despite their own clear poverty, were daily visiting and caring for the orphan, widowed and poor in Belfast. For the past five years these ladies have chosen to respond to the call of God and were caring for those living under the shadow of the HIV/AIDS virus and its dispassionate theft of life.
We now had the opportunity to partner with these amazing ladies; to encourage them, work along side them and help enable them to make a bigger difference in Belfast.
During our first visit we sought to learn, to encourage, to give – we visited many in the community and helped fence a compound for the ladies to call their home. This compound was a place for them to meet, to grow crops for the poor and hopefully one day to accommodate a number of buildings to provide crèche facilities for those with nothing, a feeding programme base camp and a safe place for child headed households to find practical love. Another planned element of the compound was to drill a bore-hole to provide a vital element of survival – clean water.
During our visit in February 2009, we were heartbroken to see that the compound had reverted to a thoroughfare for cattle and people because local herdsmen had torn down the fence.
However the ladies were still there, still serving, still loving those with nothing. As we talked and listened we discovered the ladies were also very upset about the fence - they had spoken to local police, the local chief and called for a community meeting so the chief could tell the community to show respect. They were serious about caring for the poor!
We assured the ladies that we were not planning on walking away (as they had feared). We told them our commitment was to them and not the fence - the fence could easily be restored. We told them that they were the hands and feet, the eyes and ears of God in Belfast. They cheered and clapped in response to the fence being restored – a humbling experience for they were the ones who deserved the applause. This project is not about a fence, a compound or a building, but a heart response to God's call to care for the poor.
By the middle of March the fence was restored and now crops grow; tended by grannies and orphans, growing food to sustain life. We’ve also funded a feeding programme, targeting the 50 most vulnerable children in Belfast – making a real difference.
The bore-hole on the other hand is proving more difficult. Having gained permission to drill a bore-hole, having secured funding (from generous giving by people at LHFC and restored the fencing, drilling commenced in May 2009 – but heartbreakingly no water was found! We are still discussing alternative solutions, however in the meantime the ladies collect the water, ensure crops grow, feed the poor and bring people hope.
What next? We keep supporting, praying, encouraging, visiting, serving and giving to make a difference in this community. In October 2009, another team from LHFC fly out to do precisely that – telling these amazing ladies that they are making a difference, that they are not crazy to care for the poor, they are not forgotten, they matter to God and to us.
Make a difference; pray for the ladies in Belfast – Doris (team leader), Ruth, Elisa, Dinah, Tryphina, Linneth, Betty, Renail, Sarah, Anna, Nancy, Violet and Renee – to name just some of them!
Senior Minister, Locks Heath Free Church, Fareham, UK
"No longer will the poor be nameless" Psalm 9v17