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Helping kids avoid gang life is S. Africa church’s goal

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (BP)–Homes and cars are riddled with bullet holes. Gangs rule this South African neighborhood, and crime is high.

Schauderville Baptist Church has been in the Schauderville community since 1903. The tall, rock structure is located on the edge of the Coloured* neighborhood in northern Port Elizabeth, the second oldest city in South Africa.

As rough-looking men walk by the church building they stare questioningly at it, hearing the loud noise coming from within.

During the World Cup, the church is hosting a Holiday Bible Club to teach children about Jesus while letting them have fun and keeping them safely off the streets. It’s difficult to contain the excitement of more than 100 children as they watch skits, scream with delight when their team wins a game, and dance and sing as loudly as they can, “Jesus is my superhero, my star and my best friend.”

Wayne Barros, pastor of the church, is leading the event for the children, ages 2 to 13.

“The idea is that we keep them fairly busy, because … the area where the children come from is needy, and most come from poor backgrounds,” Barros said.

The northern areas of Port Elizabeth are known for unemployment, homelessness, poverty, dysfunctional families, and gangs. Residents never know when a fight will break out in the streets or shops.

With the children out of school during the World Cup, churches like Schauderville Baptist host Holiday Bible Clubs to keep the children out of harm’s way. The church is one of the few safe havens for children and teens who live in Schauderville.

In this community, children as young as 13 become gang members. The church works hard to keep the youth from choosing gang life. Jezel Smith**, 22, who is leading the games for the Bible Club, grew up in Schauderville. She wants to show the children there is more to life, “that Jesus can make a difference.”

The Coloured people of South Africa don’t know their exact lineage, but it is probably a mixture of Asian and European settlers. Identity is something many Coloureds do not feel they have, so they turn to a life in gangs.

Selling drugs, specifically crystal methamphetamine (commonly called TIK), is one of the ways gangs make money in Port Elizabeth. Shebeens, another moneymaker, are illegal bars built on the sides of homes, and they are everywhere in this community. With the high rate of unemployment, people turn to alcohol to forget their troubles, and alcoholism is a plague on this community.

On the same street as the church is the home of the head of the local gang. It’s the largest house around, and no one goes near it. For Barros, the gang’s headquarters is a daily reminder of what he must guard children from, as well as what he must struggle against to tell them about Jesus.

“I feel it’s important to do this work,” Barros says about teaching the children, “because the more we can reach them spiritually we can save a household, we can save a group … all they need is love and a bit of care.”
*Coloured refers to a defined people group unique to southern Africa
**name changed
Jeffery Aaron, a writer for IMB’s Global Communication Team, is covering the ministries and games during the World Cup.

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  • Jeffery Aaron