Dion's random ramblings

Monday, October 29, 2007

A new religion in Soweto... God wants you to drive a 4X4.... iKhasi yam is changing, and I'm not sure it's all good.

Today I spent most of the day at the Jabavu community centre in Soweto. It is a place that holds great memories for me! Whilst I was not trained in the three phase system for ministry (I came into the ministry when Noah was just putting the finishing touches to his ark... Back in 1991), I spent a lot of time in Soweto, both during my student days, and also with Bishop Verryn (before he was a Bishop).

The area has changed somewhat, there are clear signs of renewal, investment and development. I remember a particularly bleak morning in 1991, or 1992, when the school across from the centre suddenly became a war zone as police fired teargas and rubber bullets at disgruntled learners... Today I watched an elderly women planting her vegetables in the school yard. I also remember being scattered by teargas grenades at the Regina Mundi Catholic Church at the entrance to Jabavu... Now, the Church is well kept, surrounded by a green park and well paved lanes...

I drove out of Soweto today and saw the familiar sight of the cooling towers, they are still the same, although they now reflect the new prosperity of upwardly mobile young black professionals with an FNB Bank advert on the one, and scenes from township life on the other.

What is of great interest is that the mural on the one tower has an ikon of the Madonna and Child. It goes to show that there are still religious sensibilities in the township, however, the radically political faith of the 70's, 80's, and 90's has given way to a new kind of Christianity. Whereas Churches were places of prophetic witness, places of safety from batons and dogs, places where rousing speeches of freedom and the journey to a new promised land were heard, something has changed...

There are signs of a NEW religion.... Two other things that reflect the change in demography and faith in the township. First, there is the facade of the brand new, HUGE, 'Maponya Mall'. It is all glass and iron, with designer shops, and everything one's first world heart could desire! It looks like a Cathedral to commerce....

Strangely enough, just across the road one can see that it is not only the secular economy that is booming, building is underway to extend and renovate the 'Grace Bible Church' a Church that is very much en vogue with young professionals, people with BMW's, GTi's and 4X4's... Faith, but of a new kind, quite different from that of the liberation struggle. I cannot say what kind of sermons are preached in that Church, but I do wonder if they have the same message of justice, social responsibility, mercy, and courage, that were preached in years gone by. I would certainly hope so!

However both the Mapnoya Mall and the Grace Bible Church are dwarfed by another new development in Soweto. That is to be found in the HUGE (and by HUGE, I mean HUUUGGGEEE) Universal Church of the Kingdom of God 'Cathedral' just behind Baragwanath hospital. It is such a stark contrast with the houses around it... It is opulent, it has palm trees, air conditioning, and looks a lot more like a 5 star hotel...

Don't get me wrong, I think that it is great that the economic cycle of Soweto has finally had an upturn! It is wonderful. However, when the finest building in your community is a Church, not a school, or a community center, or houses for the poor, but a Church, then something is wrong! Sure, Churches need buildings, but do they need to have the kind of buildings that are so out of place with their community that they dwarf their surroundings?

Earlier this year there was a service delivery riot in Wolmaranstad. The members of the community attacked cars and people at the local Churches because the Churches were out of step with the community - the Church's buildings became a target of the community's scorn, frustration, and anger, because they did not reflect the poor, or even truly help them. Rather they seemed to them to be nothing more than expensive white elephants that stood empty for 6 days of the week...

People will soon see through the motives... Sadly, this same Church was reported to be teaching its members that God wants Christians to drive a 4X4, wear the finest clothes, and have a snappy cell phone.... , and that Jesus drives a Porche... God for him!

Somethings wrong with that picture. Perhaps when our past is so painful it is easy to forget it, but perhaps we forget too quickly...

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  • It's the same old problem of consumerism - the "church" is the new mall in many societies, pandering to the needs of people by proclaiming a "spirituality" of wealth and prosperity. What if that church had built a large community centre and school instead?

    By Anonymous Sharky, at 11:04 AM  

  • The greedy, unBiblical concept of tithing is used even more overtly than usual in a racketeering scheme which tricks people into thinking that everyone who donates large sums of money will be rewarded with more money. This is similar to illegal pyramid schemes and is only "legal" because it operates within religious circles. It works because people focus on touted "success" stories without skeptically thinking about the people for whom this didn't work who either no longer attend the church or are still "waiting" years later but who, due to their brainwashed "faith," don't have the balls to call a spade a spade.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:51 PM  

  • the person who commented about tithing and on top close his identity is a normal hypocrite who believe that all churches are there for the money but i dont blame him it was obvious he was in a wrong church or not a believer at all god said lack of knowledge is destroying people and u are one of them may god richly bless u

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:13 AM  

  • the person who wrote the column on god wants u to drive a 4x4 how can u really publish a column abut the usage of money or the status about it all not only does it serve like an embarrasment to u bt for a mature person like u is really not making sense advice grow up

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:19 AM  

  • It is all good and well to have an opnion about a matter but one needs to do the proper research when it comes to matters of Religion. It is all good and well to judge a situation from the outside. This is with regards to the Grace Bible Church comment.i.e
    strangely enough, just across the road one can see that it is not only the secular economy that is booming, building is underway to extend and renovate the 'Grace Bible Church' a Church that is very much en vogue with young professionals, people with BMW's, GTi's and 4X4's... Faith, but of a new kind, quite different from that of the liberation struggle. I cannot say what kind of sermons are preached in that Church, but I do wonder if they have the same message of justice, social responsibility, mercy, and courage, that were preached in years gone by. I would certainly hope so!

    I suggest you attend a sermon or two find out what the church is really about and maybe go to their site to research their community outreach programmes and so forth. Liberation comes with responcibility and in the day and age where information is readily available on the internet. One should not be making uninformed comments. Regards

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:06 PM  

  • This is patronizing nonsense. Typycial liberal elitism. Most liberals in SA are found in the most expensive suburbs (Houghton, etc). There is nothing wrong with them owning the economy of SA and living in mansions but there is everything wrong with black using their own money to build big churches (such as Grace Bible Church) and shopping malls. Please, sir, keep your liberal nonsense out of Soweto. Grace has been built by black money from the townships and not by handouts from Western Europe (where Christianity is now dead!) missionaries.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:56 PM  

  • Don't wonder what is preached at Grace Bible Church. Go inside and listen to what is preached. No one deserves to go to hell, including those young professionals who are driving GTIs and 4x4s. The social interventions of that church (and by the way I am not their member) is there for all to see. The HIV/Aids centre, the youth centre, the computer centre are all needed interventions in Soweto. The article sounds like sour grapes from a white man/minister who is jealous of a black preacher who has done well without the assistance of patronizing white people. Well done to Grace Bible church. They are doing on the church front what the Maponyas are doing on the business front. Forward with the attitude of self-reliance.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:02 PM  

  • Sharky is obviously uninformed. Has he ever been to Soweto? Grace Bible church has built a computer centre to empower the Soweto youth with a skill they cannot survive without in today's economy. The church has also built an AIDS hospice. What has Sharky done for Soweto?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:07 PM  

  • Would it be better if the young professionals driving 4x4s and GTIs and possessing expensive cellphones were white? Get a life sir! If blacks needed to fight for a right to remain poor, they don't need the assitance of a white guy who has never known what being underprivileged and poor mean.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:11 PM  

  • I can't believe a doctor of theology can write such rubbish. Is not the same Bible he reads that tells us about the splendour of Solomon's temple? God was impressed with Solomon but is not impressed with the black pastor who has built Grace Bible church.Is it becuase the one is black and the other was a Jew? These theologians make a simple bible very complicated!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:24 PM  

  • Freedom comes with responsibility. It was good while you and Verryn walked with us in Soweto during the wilderness. But why do you want us to die in the wilderness (read poverty)? Now that we are free from Pharaoh, we don't need someone telling us what to do. Slaves need others (masters) to tell them what to do. Sowetans like Pastor Mosa Sono and Richard Maponya (who, by the way, don't visit Soweto sporadically and then retire to the comfort of Somerset West in that European province called Cape Town) understand that they don't have to continue living with the Egyptian and/or wilderness mentality. It's a pity that people like you want to see blacks embracing poverty and shabby church buildings (as though these were virtues!). When young black professionals who drive BMWs, GTIs and 4x4s go to church, should they be pooh-pooed and referred to in the manner you have in your article? These people work, earn good money and if they choose to buy these toys and come to church on Sunday, is your God angry with them? Keep such a God to yourself! We don't need him in Soweto!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:03 PM  

  • Chill Pastor, Methodism is not THE path to God. Your sulky attitude towards the Universal Church and Grace Bible Church is too obvious to miss. These churches did not originate from England. The former comes from Latin America and Grace (read its history) started with 20 members in a school hall. If you are proud of John Wesley (God bless his heart) leave the blacks to be proud of a Mosa Sono. The people of the south (Latin America and Africa in particular) are finding their own way of expressing their faith. To theologians who are steeped in Western church traditions and doctrines, this is indeed horrifying. Relax, man of God. We are all going to heaven and we are going to have to keep with each other forever. We might as well start practicing now.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:13 PM  

  • Nthabisang moreosele
    10 January 2008

    For the destitute: Retired Pastor Mercy Ramushu of Dube Village, in Soweto, has started a new career.

    Mercy Ramushu of Dube Village in Soweto has started a new career while retired.

    Ramushu is a pastor at Grace Bible Church in Soweto and, as part of her calling, she collects clothes for the poor, for disaster-stricken areas and for Aids orphans.

    She says it is part of her evangelical work.

    ?Oprah Winfrey is my mentor. The idea of collecting clothes for disaster areas first came to me when I saw Oprah helping the people of Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina flattened the place.

    ?Oprah is a giver and an inspiration to me. I used to give away my clothes and that of my family. I now do it regularly and ask others to donate too,? Ramushu said

    Ramushu gave Mama Angel about 15 black bags of clothes, fashionable hats, toys and shoes, before Christmas.

    These will be distributed to Zimbabwean refugees, who are squatting in the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg after having been given sanctuary by Bishop Paul Verryn.

    ?This is the fourth batch of clothes I have collected. I have sent bundles to Mpumalanga, Mozambique and the Cape. I liaise with churches in their areas, who then distribute them to their people.

    ?I have set up several nodes at Beyers Naude High School, Nkathuto Primary School, and with doctors? wives in Soweto.

    ?I act as the coordinator. I do the rounds, alerting them to the plight of new sufferers,? Ramushu said.

    Ramushu taught at Taupedi High School in Tladi for five years before she decamped for the private sector.

    She worked as demonstrator for Colgate toothpaste.

    ?I was popularly known as ?Mama Colgate?. My team and I used to go to schools and teach children about dental hygiene.

    ?I have also sent clothes to Mozambique through the National Council of African Women [NCAW]. The NCAW is a community-based organisation which was founded by Mina Soga. I have been an active member of the NCAW for a long time.

    ?I appeal to our people to be alert and aware of the plight of others. We all need a helping hand,? Ramushu said.

    This article about Grace Bible Church appeared in Sowetan early in the year. I have not seen anything similar about yourself and others of the same pigmentation, except, of course, for Bishop Verryn. Exchange your collar for journalism and maybe you will learn to research better before you put pen to paper.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:27 PM  

  • Dear Anonymous,

    Thank you so much for your various posts and insights. It would have been wonderful to address this comment to a person, but alas, you did not have the courage to leave your name.

    It is wonderful to hear of the good work that Pastor Mercy Ramushu is doing, and in fact I have heard from many others of the good work that Grace Bible Church is doing. It is encouraging! I would be happy to admit that I was wrong if this was the overwhelming testimony of the Church.

    Thanks once again for your comments and insights.

    They are appreciated.

    Rich blessing,


    By Blogger digitaldion (Dion Forster), at 9:44 PM  

  • Thanks for your admission that your perception of Grace Bible Church was totally misinformed. It would do the Body of Christ a lot of good if the barriers between mainstream, evangelical, Pentecostal, etc can be brought down. They're responsible for some fo these petty jealousies and misinformed perceptions about each other! By the way, I love the Methodists, especially their music as expressed in Xhosa hymns and in the songs of Amadodana AseWesile.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:47 AM  

  • Just as an afterthought, would it be fair to question why Amadodana AseWesile have commercialized gospel music. I mean, they have sold thousands of music albums. Where have all those riches gone? Does the Methodist Church not get a slice of the riches through some of form of royalties?

    Rich blessings!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:16 AM  

  • Why do people always have to be judgmental of each others achievements...regardless of our colour,we are one in Christ. Why the envy, jealousy and above all criticism? I'm a proud member of The Grace Bible Church, and Thank you so much for your 'Criticism and Judgments' Mr.Dion!!! All i know is i'm one and only for Christ regardless of the Church i go to, i still serve the Same GOD..Thank you all for taking your Stand...We were once oppressed but not destroyed, here we are making it in life finally!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:10 PM  

  • Interesting how you comment on the old preachings of reaching the promised land, and once there is evidence that the promised land is reached (i.e. prosperity) you criticize it. It is my thought that most people who use this rationality are being nostalgic. I myself find that I tend to lean that way. Desiring the days of old, but they are gone and they are not coming back. We must learn to adjust and enjoy the times that we are in. While not forgetting those times past we must press into the future, not forsaking God but continuing with Him in His evolving ministry to save the Earth and the people thereof.
    I find it also interesting that you praise the economic prosperity and the world moving forward (as well you should, thank God for jobs and people being able to provide for their family) but then criticize the prosperity of the church. Go and read about the tabernacle of Moses and how opulent it was. People gave a good amount of gold and many other precious items to make sure that it was built. It too was in stark contrast to their surroundings. I mean it was in the desert surrounded by tents. God Himself gave the design for that tabernacle and the design for His ark was SOLID gold. He has paved the streets of heaven with gold. The actions of the riots against the church are indicative of the fallen nature of the people not that the prosperity of the church is bad.
    Thank you and have a good day. J

    By Anonymous J, at 5:20 PM  

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