Youth Ministry in Capetown, South Africa
[ym360 Note: Melanie Dill is one of our great friends. She is also an incredible youth worker. But, there's more! In early 2010, Melanie left the comfort of her surroundings in Birmingham, AL to go do youth ministry with impoverished teenagers in South Africa. We've convinced Melanie to be our ym360 foreign correspondent. From time-to-time, she'll check in and help us see the challenges and rewards of doing youth ministry in another culture. In this, her first article, she raises some good questions, namely, how sin is dealt with in different cultures. We encourage you to follow her blog. She's doing awesome work for the Kingdom.]
Over the last 8 months, God has lead me on an incredible journey. I have traveled from the comfort of a suburban church with a thriving youth ministry, to doing ministry in one of the poorest areas in Cape Town, South Africa, a settlement called Capricorn. Along the way, my eyes have been opened to truths about students, and about humanity.
Here, as in Birmingham, I see people who want to be known, who struggle with sin, and who are looking for something more than this life has to offer. The teenagers I serve here and the ones I served in Birmingham share many similarities. But there are marked differences. Like most middle to upper class teenagers in America, the students I ministered to in Birmingham had nice clothes, iPods, and the latest gaming systems. I love these students dearly and still keep up with many of them. The students I minister to in Capricorn have very little in the way of personal possessions. But they have an incredible spirit that refreshes and encourages me.
In Birmingham, many of the students seemed to attend church out of habit. I often struggled to really know if students were living transformed lives. Here in Capricorn, students seem to understand the cost of following Jesus. They seem to grasp the idea of transformation, and the fact that once changed, you can never go back to the ways of the world. The struggle with sin is universal, of course. And it plays out in the lives of teenagers here in Capricorn just as it did in Birmingham. But the way this struggle looks is different.
In Birmingham, it seemed that the sin students and their families struggled with were worked through privately. People put on a good show to deflect the pain they felt. There seemed to be very little in the way of honesty or transparency when it came to sin. This is not the case in Capricorn. Capricorn, appears destitute, seemingly hopeless to the naked eye. The people I work with in this community deal with the same issues that people in the US deal with, and more: abuse, sexual sin, dishonesty, alcohol and drug addiction, and broken homes. The difference in these situations is not the sin.
It seems that the people of this community are just so honest about their struggles. They're honest about their spiritual lives. I've asked numerous people in Capricorn if they believe in Jesus; they tell me they know who He is but love their alcohol (or fill in the addiction) more. Their sin is open for all the world to see, and they don't hide their struggles. They are living out their beliefs wide open . . . for good or bad. God is doing great things in ministry in Birmingham, Alabama and Capricorn, South Africa.
I learned a lot while doing ministry in the States, and I am learning a lot doing ministry here. Both cultures have so much to offer. (Sometimes I find myself wishing I could combine the corporate worship and religious gatherings of Believers in America with the honesty and openness of my Capricorn friends.) But one thing I have learned is that regardless of where we minister, teenagers are all fallen, and are looking for hope. And I know God is the only true hope. It's what keeps me doing what I do.
- How do you see your students dealing with their sin? Is there any openness or transparency? How can you encourage students to see their Christian community as a God-intended resource to help them deal with their sin?
- Melanie answered a pretty cool call on her life to leave the comfort of home and reach teenagers in an unfamiliar (to her) part of the world. Is God calling you to new ministry fields?