Written by Ray Haakonsen
Day 8 of the Corona Virus lockdown in South Africa dawned on Friday 03rd April 2020. As Oceans Ministries we had already received 5 cancellations/postponements of teams booked at Oceans Retreat Center (ORC) for what we were anticipating to be a ‘crazy busy’ March/April period. Corvid-19 changed all that.
As Oceans in South Africa, we began to seek the Father as to what He wanted for us during this time. Through some networking we heard about a dire need amongst the homeless in Fish Hoek, many we had seen walking passed our premises pre-Corvid-19!
At the same time I have been reading a book “The Externally Focused Church” and as Oceans we recognize whilst we are not a ‘Church denomination’, each of us as believers in Christ, belong to the body of Christ and make up “The church.” There are many lines in the book that accurately define for me the truth of what it means to be “church” but I share this paragraph that defines clearly for me how the truth that God loves people, stands out.
“Churches talk about service, and everyone agrees that it ought to be important to us, but do we really know how to effectively meet the needs of our communities and reach lost people? Are we willing to step outside the safety net of our church pews and cross the street into real life, real world acts of service in order to share the truth (The Father’s Love) through practically following Jesus Christ?”
So when we heard of a need, from an organization called NET, requesting meals to be cooked and served for40 to 60 homeless who were sleeping outside the civic center located just blocks away from ORC, we readily responded. On Friday Tim and I walked over to observe how the meal were served we immediately jumped in to help. Our staff committed to serving breakfast and dinner for Saturday and so appreciated Thobeka’s assistance and great cooking. “God ordained encounters” soon followed.
Following Corvid-19 guidelines we used tape on the ground to encourage social distancing , came prepared with hand with sanitizers, and served the meal with gloves. Tim offered a prayer, two great meals were enjoyed, we connected with other volunteers, mingled the homeless and settled a few disputes, and received “thank you’s” it was blessed time and felt like “church.” People who have ended up here, some through bad decisions, some through circumstances beyond their control, was a graphic reminder that “there but by the grace of God, go I.”
On Sunday there was an urgent need for breakfast and Tim was asked to give a brief Palm Sunday message. We were glad we were once again able to be present. Shortly after noon we heard the homeless were being transferred to Strandfontein that afternoon by buses. Our Oceans team sprang into action- toilet paper and toothpaste were donated, packed bags filled with blankets and clothes for each person were loaded into our Quantum van and delivered to the Civic Center. There we helped serve one final meal, assisted the homeless as they packed their meagre possessions, calmed the fears and uncertainty of others, and followed directions of capable volunteers as each person stepped onto the bus with gloves and a mask, unsure of what their future may hold.
The transportation for two wheelchair-bound older men had not been attended to by the city, so Tim and I and Carolyn, the main organizer of the Net organization, transported them to the newly constructed mass complex established for the duration of the lockdown. The human drama unfolded for us in a tangible way as we drove into the facility with hundreds of law enforcement, city officials and medical staff waiting the arrival of the homeless from all over Cape Town. The anxiety, bewilderment, and for some resignation in the eyes of many was palpable. Our words of encouragement and care may have seemed hollow, but we truly believed this was better for them than the insanitary, unsafe and uncertain place they came from at the Civic in Fish Hoek.
As Oceans staff, here in South Africa we believe the Father is calling us to be “church” or as stated in the book I am reading to “really know how to effectively meet the needs of our communities and reach lost people.” This statement surely fits Oceans’ mandate to 1)Pray, 2) Disciple and 3) Be a place of retreat.
At a time of world shaking and uncertainty we face both now and post Corvid-19, my prayer is that we as Oceans, and for all of us as Believers-the Church-that we would be true Disciples of Christ, doing what He did as He taught from Matthew 25:40; ‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for Me.”