‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.’ Romans 8v28-29

Many of our conversations and thoughts in this crazy year have turned to this truth and the reality that God is conforming us to the likeness of his Son in all things. We don’t pretend to know the future for us as a family or for the church, but we can and do rejoice even now for the ways that God has shown his love and sovereignty through all that we are experiencing.   

South Africa and Gauteng in particular (Johannesburg and Pretoria combined) is a place of extremes: where first world and third world combine. There is real brokenness and pain cultivated through decades of racism, poverty, discrimination, trauma, crime and corruption living alongside huge wealth and a real openness for the gospel. Gauteng generates roughly 10% of Africa’s (the continent’s!) GDP and yet still 70% of the population live in townships. Coronavirus has highlighted these extremes and our lockdown has meant unemployment and even starvation for some, whilst for others, like us, it’s been an inconvenient restriction on exercise and holiday travel. For us there has been unexpected home-schooling and not being able to visit the UK this year.  

Sadly, just as South Africa announced its ban on international travel, James’ sister, Kathy, who has been terminally ill for years, took a turn for the worse and died on the evening lockdown was announced in both countries. James wasn’t able to fly back to see Kathy before her death, to support his parents during or afterwards, or to attend the funeral. We are still so grateful to God for his hand in all the events leading to her (expected but still sad) death and would value your prayers for James’ wider family.  We are also trying to have a ‘virtual UK trip’ via Zoom, but minus the Cadbury’s, so please get in touch if you would like to catch up with us and chat about the work here.  

The pandemic has drawn people in the church together. There has been a greater commitment and reliance on our small groups and we’ve engaged with some deep issues and each other’s pain. Like many churches moving online, it has been a huge encouragement to see our connect groups getting together after each Sunday ‘service’ and discussing the questions around the sermon and really engaging more deeply as they speak the truth in love to each other. We have also seen God at work in giving us courage to speak out and act in situations of injustice and to get involved where we may have previously been afraid. 

Food drive

The pandemic has meant a real need for an active mercy ministry and Hope Church has had to step up in that area. We have provided food and/or shopping vouchers for over 50 families across Hope Church, Christ Central Soweto (our plant) and Christ Church Leondale (a partner church). Lucy has also helped run a local feeding scheme which provides food parcels to 400ish families each week.  The need is growing exponentially so that we are now working out how much more Hope Church can be involved in this work and help create long-term change and gospel opportunities.

James has been focusing on issues of race and injustice, establishing a justice committee at Hope Church as we keep speaking out on this issue. We are also thinking about how to use our privilege to empower others and where we are called to give up more power or to give up more in general, and what that should look like in Hope Church and the wider African Church. We have just ended a six-week podcast series on race from a South African perspective and we are engaging on gender-based violence a lot as well. As always, we would really value your prayers for wisdom and courage in these difficult issues and that Hope Church would be a light in dark times.    

Please pray for: 

For our current staff team. It’s a strange time to be ministering and there is a lot of emotion and anxiety. Our staff team has changed enormously in 2020, which we will write another update on soon! Madhush and Faye Matthews – who have been at Hope Church since we started – have decided to emigrate to the UK so Madhush can study for a Masters in Theology at Oak Hill College. Do pray for them during that.
For Lucy as she works through how to be involved in mercy ministries at church and how we might carry on the great work that is going on all around us. Pray for her to manage with short-notice changes with school terms and commitments. The children moved schools in January, did eight weeks at school but then have been mainly at home since then. 
For James as spends time encouraging the justice committee and is involved in helping to establish the Gauteng Alliance (a city-to-city local network). Pray that we would speak out and work together as local churches. Pray for him to communicate well with others and to be wise in how to spend his time in the midst of lots of opportunities, needs and demands. 
For us as a family and for us as Hope Church as we think and work through issues of race and privilege, as well as gender equality and abuse, and what that means for our work here. 
For James’ family (particularly his parents) as they grieve the loss of Kathy.

Praise God for:

Keeping us going so far and giving us opportunities to be involved in new areas of service. 
Growth in our engagement with difficult topics and for the openness in those around us to speak out openly and engage honestly across so many different forums. 
Our health and for keeping us away from COVID-19 despite South Africa being fifth in the world’s most cases. Also for practicalities like internet that have kept us connected and for good food, tea, blankets and a fireplace to keep our home warm in our first ever full South African winter.

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