I live and work in a community called Manenberg on the outskirts of Cape Town. Manenberg is quite well known – though usually for all the wrong reasons.
Most people who live in Cape Town see Manenberg as a hopeless hellhole populated entirely by gangsters and drug addicts. People are asking: ‘Can anything good ever come out of Manenberg?’ (That should sound familiar...)
Of course, I am generalising. But this generalisation is based on six years of trying to justify the hope I have for Manenberg to countless locals. (However, Cape Town does have some gloriously hope-filled residents, too!)
I belong to an organisation called Fusion that works with young gang members and drug addicts. Fusion holds quarterly 24/7 Prayer weeks (non-stop prayer, night and day, for a week). You sign up for an hour’s slot and come to pray in our little prayer room. The room is in a dark corner of a tired community centre in the middle of contested gang turf. Sounds idyllic, right?
Well, in this inauspicious setting, we have seen friends receive the gift of tongues while detoxing from heroin. We have heard of individuals encountering Jesus. We have witnessed people break down weeping the moment they entered the room. We have shared communion as bullets flew through our office window. And sometimes, late at night, we have fallen asleep from sheer exhaustion.
Each prayer week has a theme. The most recent one was ‘Truth versus facts’. In other words, we acknowledged that while there are some fairly ugly facts out there, eternal truth trumps earthly fact. Every time.
For example, it is a sad fact that drug-related crime has risen in Manenberg by 600 per cent in the last decade. Yet the truth is that drugs can only offer a dull counterfeit of a community fuelled by the Holy Spirit. God is stirring Christians, in collaboration with the police and government, to work towards sustainable solutions to addiction and its negative effects.
Another fact is that fatherlessness and unemployment are two significant factors behind young men joining gangs. But there is a greater truth that trumps this – that God is Father to the fatherless.
We opened a house for young men in this position just two months ago. Since then, we have seen God work in each of their hearts to affirm his love for them as their Father.
These young men, whom we are ‘re-parenting’ as part of the discipleship process, have chosen to leave behind their pasts in gangs. They are now working two days a week in our coffee shop to learn how to become employable in the long term.
Sure, it is very small scale at the moment, and there is a marathon to run. But I am learning to not write off the ‘day of small beginnings’.
We are told that God ‘calls into being things that [are] not’ (Romans 4:17). This is not a call to gloss over the facts, nor is it a call to naïve ignorance. It is a reminder that followers of Jesus are empowered to live lives of productive hope, through the practice of feasting on truth (even – especially – when it is not yet visible).
I recently heard it suggested that ‘faith for the future generates power for the present’. Here in our little corner of Manenberg, I am learning the daily discipline of believing the best over fearing the worst.
And you? Where is your ‘fact versus truth’ battleground today?