Who would have thought that we would spend most of our time with the down-and-out, the outcasts of South Africa – and love it?
We are René, a former attorney from Germany, and Sandra, a former nurse from Mitchells Plain, Cape Town. We come from opposite ends of the earth, from very different cultures and family backgrounds and we have very different personalities – and yet we’re just right for each other, the perfect mix.
Married for 15 amazing years, we have three equally amazing kids, Tyron (11), Taesha (8) and Dylan (4) – and a fourth one, Zoë, who is with the Lord already. We work in full-time ministry here in Cape Town.
But that was never the plan! At least not ours.
Growing up in Germany and studying law, life was good and my career lay mapped out infront of me. Then one day, out of the blue, when I was about to graduate from law school, I simply knew that I had to go to church this very Sunday – even though I never went to church, nor did I know any church in that city. I also had no reason to go to church, I was not feeling lost nor seeking anything, but rather quite happy with my life.
Still, I ended up visiting an English-speaking church, even though I hardly spoke any English and struggled to understand much. I kept on going back – simply drawn by the love of the people. Seeing how these people lived their faith, I came to say “Yes” to this Jesus – whatever that might mean for my life, my plans, my dream.
And things certainly began to change – beside others things, I met Sandra in this church.
How did Sandra get there? Sandra had been encouraged through her church youth leader, Sister J, to go to Germany some years before. At this point Sandra was still in school, Grade 11, and Sister J wanted to know what she would do after school. Her suggestion to go to Germany came as a shock, seeing that by then Sandra had not even been to the V&A Waterfront yet! After some years of ‘pestering’ Sandra, she started to believe that travelling abroad might be a real option. Although she then tried to go to the US, those doors closed. She applied for au-pair work in Germany – only to stop Sister J’s nagging. And the doors for Germany opened within three months! That’s how Sandra ended up in Germany, in a church in Cologne, the same church I was drawn to.
I fell in love with Sandra and even though it took her a little longer, she eventually fell in love with me as well! All too soon though, her time in Germany was over and she returned to South Africa. A few months later, I flew to Cape Town to see her again in her own context and culture and meet her family. During this three week visit we got engaged, I fell in love with the people of South Africa and God placed a new dream in my heart.
The picture of young people on the Cape Flats, dropping out of school, going into drugs and gangsterism and throwing away their lives, which I saw daily in Sandra’s neighbourhood, was burned into my heart and never left me. From that time on I would dream about working with these kinds of people, reaching them with the love of Jesus while helping them to make it in life.
After we got married and both moved to Germany, I went from day dreaming back to reality as I had to finish my legal education. Graduating from law school and passing the bar exam after serving articles for two years, I was among the top 10% of my year in the country. But instead of being able to just choose the job of my choice, I found myself unemployed. After almost a year of only doing occasional odd jobs, I made the choice to start my own small law firm from home, which worked well and grew steadily. However, the dreams that had begun in South Africa kept coming back. Over the next few years God kept on speaking in a variety of ways, His word and other people, challenging us to leave the comfort of our home, job (Sandra completed her nursing training and worked as a nurse) and – after going to Bible College for two years – move to South Africa.
This process as well as our beginning stages here is a story of many ups and downs and the faithfulness of God which simply is too much to mention in this article. But it was all but smooth sailing – and still it was worth it.
Beside co-leading our NPO, Sandra and I are also practically involved in leading several projects:
Prison Ministry in Pollsmoor Prison, Streetwork in the CBD as well as our Cape Flats Bus Project.
In Pollsmoor we are working in the Remand Detainee Centre (RDF; former Maximum Security) mainly among gangsters, i.e. members of the prison gangs in the awaiting trail section, and in partnership with Hope Prison Ministry I am leading teams in the Female Centre working with the juvenile girls in the awaiting trial section as well as a Bible study for the sentenced ladies.
Our street ministry consists of walking the CBD on Friday nights, spending time and praying with young homeless, addicts, drug dealers, prostitutes and simply loving people into the Kingdom.
For our Bus Ministry we purchased and converted an old (1981) Mercedes double decker bus into a mobile Christian Youth- and Community Centre for the Cape Flats gang hotspots, which we currently operate in several areas of Manenberg.
With our bus, which has a kitchen, a counselling room, a seminar room, a computer section as well as other areas with seating arrangements, we operate in several areas of Manenberg, listening to people, giving counselling, assisting in writting CV’s, doing Prayer Walks, Community Upliftment Events, run a drug rehabilitation course for young women, run a Healing through Art women group and simply build relationships with all kinds of people to journey with them through life. At times it is just bringing a sense of normality and peace into violent situations as shooting normally stops and we experience a lot of respect from the community which we seek to meet and serve on eye level and with dignity and love.
Our ministries relationships are key and as we want to love people into the Kingdom of God, we pray that God might help us to love well. And that is something anyone can do.
Take our bus project as an example. We do not only work with ‘carreer missionaries’ and pastors / ministers, but need all kind of different people with their unique gifting and passions, as, e.g. Bus Drivers, Worship Leader, Kids-/Youth Workers, Prayer Warriors and Prayer Walkers, Counsellors , Barista Coaches, Computer Trainers, as well as simply normal people who are ready to listen to others over a cup of coffee.
In essence, we believe more in being than doing. Simply be who you are made to be in God, love Jesus and love people – using your unique and indivudual skills, gifts and talents in your sphere of influence – or with us on the bus…