This time last year I was prepping to go to South Africa as a part of my gap year. I didn’t know what to expect and in my mind I had gotten the easy option. But, don’t be misled by pictures of beaches and safaris - there is much more to South Africa than that!
If you are looking to go on a mission trip, you may dismiss South Africa from the agenda because, in 2001, 80% of the population claimed to be Christian. Why go to a country that appears to be more Christian than the UK? Well, let me challenge you!
The staggering contrast is that only 21% of the population are evangelical Christians. In South Africa it is relatively easy to wear the label Christian, but many will just call themselves Christian out of tradition. There are many people who know what it means to be Christian by name but not by having a personal relationship with Christ.
In the words of my team-mate Alice, ‘God doesn’t have grandchildren!’ Many will consider themselves Christians just because their parents are, or because their parents go to church. There is a real need for good Biblical teaching and training to help South Africans know that these things don’t make them a Christian. Much Christian ministry in South Africa will involve simply providing the time to help people who consider themselves Christian really understand what that means by going through the Bible with them.
Many people get lost with the choice of churches in South Africa. Some teach the prosperity gospel, with its inciting promises from charismatic preachers. Others mix much of Christianity with African Tradition religion, including practises such as ancestral worship and taking ‘muti’ - which is traditional medicine. Once we even came across a man promoting visiting a prophetess! Students especially may feel a pressure to conform to tradition when they go back home during the summer and winter breaks. Those who reject traditional practises and choose to become a Christian can be cut off from their families.
People are open to talking about the gospel but there is a real need for it to be taught based on what is written in the Bible. There are also other aspects of Christianity that offend and clash with culture such as trying to spread the gospel to black Africans who can view Christianity as a white man’s religion.
So why go to South Africa? My time in South Africa was fundamental for growing and maturing me as a Christian. Don’t get me wrong, being a missionary does not put you in the saviour position, neither does coming from a big bible teaching church in England. God loves to see people know him and in South Africa there is a particular need for students and young people to know the gospel of Jesus for themselves, for them to read from books of the Bible first hand! I hope that if you are considering going to South Africa as a missionary that you would pray for the country you are going to, love the people there and be willing to be humbled and transformed hugely along the way!
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