By Preston Clegg
Pastor, 2BC Little Rock
In July, I joined a group of 6 other people from Second Baptist Church in Little Rock on the long trek from Arkansas to South Africa. 2BC has an ongoing partnership with several ministry friends in South Africa. We include them in our thoughts and prayers. We tell their stories. We see their faces. Our annual trips are not so much about the work we accomplish, as they are the relationships we make and strengthen. Over the last several years, South Africa has become part of our DNA as a congregation. We wouldn’t be who we are if we didn’t have a relationship with what God is doing in South Africa.
Our work in South Africa supports churches who are proclaiming the gospel to all people. In fact, one Sunday we worshipped with Berea Baptist Church in Johannesburg. Because Johannesburg is a melting pot of migrant workers from all over the continent, the church reaches out to various ethnic groups, which comprise a rich diversity within the church. They worship God enthusiastically, with joyful dance, exuberant praise, and expressive response. They literally danced as they brought their tithes and offerings to God. I left the church inspired by the authentic joy with which they approach God in worship.
We also partner with groups that care for abandoned babies and children. Because of the AIDS epidemic and adoption laws, the number of orphaned children in South Africa is staggering. One of our partners, Refilwe, serves as a foster care program for some of these children, and they host children’s clubs for some of the surrounding neighborhoods. We also partner with an organization called Door of Hope, which is comprised of care centers for children who are in the adoption process. Since its inception, Door of Hope has seen over 1200 children be adopted into Christian homes. While in South Africa, we played with some of these children and encouraged those who sacrificially care for them.
Finally, we partner with some churches in tribal villages near Winterton, in rural South Africa. Many of the small, surrounding villages have no churches, and we hope to remedy that as opportunities arise. The churches that do exist are often community centers for children and the vulnerable. Health care, literacy, and jobs are all pressing social needs in these communities, and the churches are doing all they can to minister to the people. We hope to assist them in this task.
This year’s trip was unique for several reasons. First of all, the Baptist Word Alliance gathered in Durban, a coastal city on the eastern shore of South Africa. At the BWA, we worshipped with thousands of other Baptists from around the world. Even a cursory glance around the room revealed a variety of people, from differing cultures, whose faith found diverse expressions. The only thing we had in common was Jesus, but that one tie that bound us together was stronger than our multitudinous differences. In that way, it felt like the Kingdom of God.
Because South Africa played host to the BWA in 2015, it also made this year’s trip unique in one more way. For the last several years, 2BC has partnered with several other churches throughout the country, forming the South Africa Network. These churches give money, time, and energy to help promote and sustain the work of our partners on the ground. This year, over 70 people from network churches, college students from Howard Payne University, and individuals from other churches across the country joined us on this trip. After orienting ourselves in Johannesburg, we dispersed to various places to work and serve in ways that blessed our partners and bore witness to God’s Kingdom. Having all the network churches in one location was a powerful example of how the church’s work transcends the walls of the church.
During this year’s trip, I was reminded that our God is indeed a global God. God is at work anywhere and everywhere, inviting us to join in. I was reminded that though God’s people are varied and diverse, the aim, source, and goal of our faith is the same- Jesus Christ. Our unity is found in the living Christ, not in static doctrine or cultural homogeneity. As a part of the network, I’ve learned that all of us can do more together than we can apart. As Baptists, we prize freedom, but we also value cooperation and collaboration. These are some of the reasons why we celebrate the work in South Africa and return every year. These are also some of the reasons why we celebrate the work and identity of CBF Arkansas. May we be found faithful here, there, and everywhere!