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That’s a pretty sharp description of The Salvation Army Montpelier Corps (church) in Durban − a hive of non-stop activity, helping an unceasing flood of humanity desperately in need of care and assistance.
At 6:45a.m. it’s as if a hot, wet blanket’s been wrapped around you, it’s already that hot and humid in Durban as it’s some time since the sun climbed out of the sea. Already a long line of men, women and children, mostly homeless, has started forming outside our walls, tummies growling with hunger. Inside a team of volunteers is frantically heating soup, making sandwiches, setting up tables and getting ready to serve God’s
Major Johnny Burgoyne, Montpelier Corps Officer, opens the gate to a patient queue that now stretches around the block. Fleetingly we doubt that we’ll be able to feed everyone, then remember the five loaves and three fish story and our faith surges back. The Major strolls down the road, chatting along the way, prior to saying Grace then watching everyone get stuck in.
Each one here has been a victim of circumstance. Each has a harsh, tragic tale to tell. Stories vary but there’s a common thread. Retrenchment, the hopeless search for jobs, of losing touch with families, being homeless and sleeping in parks and doorways, many of being robbed and beaten, the feeling of total despair. And the plight of each has a ripple effect on those dependent on them.
On the morning of our visit, none was employed and each welcomed The Salvation Army’s hospitality. We learned an important lesson: that, despite the suffering they endured daily, people still had hope in their hearts, and still bowed their heads in grateful prayer for the simple meal they’d receive.
This issue of Reporter is dedicated to the magnificent work being done in KZN by Major Johnny Burgoyne (65) and his team of intrepid volunteers under the auspices of the Montpelier Corps.
Half butchered and left to die
Donovan Arendse* is a homeless 32-year-old. Born in the Cape Flats, he grew up in East London and moved to KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) after leaving school. He got a job loading and packing containers in Durban harbour. Life was hard but satisfying.
Then, one night on his way home from work, he was viciously attacked with a machete and left to die. The horrendous scars bear testimony to the way his head and body had been sliced open, like a carcase in a butcher’s shop.
It is indeed a miracle that Donovan did not die, that he survived for somedays before the police found him and took him to hospital. Here he spent six months in a coma and the next four years in a wheelchair. He lost his speech and, of course, his job. Homeless and disabled, he begged for money on street corners.
This was not the life this young man had dreamed of. And indeed God had other plans. Donovan met a preacher and his life changed. He learnt to walk again and gradually his speech returned. He was happily employed as a petrol attendant, but was a casualty of retrenchment and hasn’t been able to find permanent work since. He does odd jobs trying to find the R30 it costs for a night in a shelter. And he dreams of some day owning a small company selling clothing.
Donovan never misses the early Thursday morning Montpelier food line. “What a difference it makes when you’re desperately poor, hungry − and homeless − to have something warm to eat,” says this indomitable survivor. He makes one realise how much kindness matters: probably more than we can ever imagine, especially when times are tough. “This food makes the world feel better − and hopeful. Thank you,” he smiles as he sips the last of his soup.
*Name changed to protect identity.
Is blood thicker than water?
When you hear the tragic, but unfortunately not unique, story of Njabulo* and Ntokozo*, you’ll probably be reminded of that old saying ‘your friends you can choose but your family is thrust upon you’. It makes you wonder if blood is really thicker than water.
Brothers Njabulo (now 27) and Ntokozo (25) were just ten and eight respectively when their parents died. Heartbroken and devastated they moved in with a family member who promised to take care of them. Sadly a
year later they were told to leave − no excuse given − and an aunt took them in. After just six months she found that she could no longer afford to look after the two growing boys so they were once more turned out. With no one to turn to and no place to go, these two pre-teen boys found themselves on the streets, homeless.
Alone and frightened, they made a promise to always care for each other. As you can imagine, life on the streets for these kids was hard − and as they’ve grown older it has not become easier, just more familiar. They’ve slept in parks and in the winter taken shelter in doorways. Neither has ever been to school. Their days are spent walking the streets looking for work – anything from washing cars to being a car guard. As a last resort they stand at a traffic light waiting for a handout.
“We are not lazy – we will do any job to make life better” says Njabulo. “The Salvation Army is our only hope and Major Burgoyne is like a father to us,” adds Ntokozo. “He is kind and gives us food and sometimes even clothes. We feel better when we come here [to the Montpelier Corps]. He prays for us.”
It’s a daily battle to find enough money to pay for the night shelter where both young men particularly appreciate the availability of showers. “We are poor, but we don’t like to be dirty,” Njabulo remarked, pulling down his mouth. “At the shelter we can have a shower and a bed for the night, and feel like real people.”
*Names changed to protect identities.
Giving everything for nothing
We would like to paraphrase Winston Churchill’s immortal World War II comment on the Battle of Britain that ‘never have so many owed so much to so few’ as there is no better way to describe our magnificent volunteers in the Montpelier Corps.
We are truly blessed to have these wonderful people giving freely of their time and goods to make a real difference in the lives of others. Our team of volunteers is amazing, always smiling, always compassionate and
caring, and always ready to reach out to our needy − the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the lost. Their support is invaluable. We could not do God’s work without their loyalty, dedication, commitment and passion. Let’s meet some of them.
Herbert Parkin is a healthy and energetic 82-year-old who has worshiped at Montpelier Corps for 56 years and 51 years ago brought his young bride Elaine to share in work for the Lord. When the pair is not busy in the kitchen helping with the soup and making sandwiches you’ll find them giving out clothes to the homeless.
Eric Charles (35) has a very different story to share. “My mother is an alcoholic, my father a drug addict. They divorced when I was six and I haven’t seen my father since. My two sisters were also on drugs, but fortunately one is now ‘clean’.
“We grew up in Pretoria and I left school in Grade 10. I spent years protecting my mother and sisters and was shocked when mom up and left when I was 17. I haven’t seen her since. I came to KZN in 2009 hoping to find work. For six years I lived on the streets, surviving on odd jobs. I was heavily influenced by my fellow park dwellers. While I never drank or took drugs, I did smoke.
“A friend told me The Salvation Army sometimes gives people temporary work and that’s how I came to be here. My first job as a volunteer three years ago was cleaning the garden. From then Major Burgoyne had me help with repairs in the 120-year-old house on the church property and working in the kitchen. I’m now the caretaker of the church property.
Wisdom from life on the bench
“Working at The Salvation Army got me thinking: why am I living on the streets and park benches if God is real? It amazed me that these Christians could go through trials and still be happy. I never felt worthy to come to church even though the Major assured me I would be welcome. I had to learn that God cares and loves us and through Him we will be saved. The longer I volunteered the more confident I became. My friends despised me, kept telling me not to be fooled, to only trust them. The 4th June 2016 is a very special day for me – my life changed forever; it’s the day I went to church and was saved.”
The Salvation Army obviously means different things to different people. To Eric Charles it has helped him grow tremendously as an individual. He now knows that he can be a part of society. “I’ve learnt to treat each day like your last,” he says “because you don’t know the outcome; to respect everyone and to put God first in everything.” He acknowledges that he has failed many times but now trusts in the Lord for direction. “I have nothing to lose. I know that God is the only one who can strengthen you when you’re weak. I’m still on a journey and I will trust the Lord.”
The Major stresses how blessed the Montpelier Corps is through the extreme generosity of the community. SPAR donates food that has just passed its sell by date and is still perfectly good. Monday to Friday every week a group of volunteers come to the centre and make sandwiches for the needy passers-by. On Tuesdays clothing is handed out. You know about our Thursday early mornings meal − and we’ve recently introduced the same meal on Monday mornings. We share any surplus food with local shelters. Nothing goes to waste. And we have Home League on Thursdays, offering a programme for women to enjoy fellowship, education and worship.
In addition to helping prepare meals, our amazing volunteers often bring food too – hot-dogs, chicken and soup, for instance. And they make up goodie packs of toothpaste, toothbrush, facecloth, soap, and slippers or socks, which we give to the destitute at King George and King Edward Hospitals. Once a month our congregation hands out flyers and sweets and chats to the community about Jesus. “It’s most pleasing to see people come to church,” says Major Burgoyne. “I believe if you honour God, God will honour you.”
Recently as the major walked past four men sitting at the bus stop one called out: “Thank you Pastor, you gave us food and now we have jobs.” The major felt thrilled and silently thanked God.
Soon you can help us thwart the thieves
In these hard times, any good news is great news. So we have great news for you our loyal supporters. Soon you’ll be able to remove temptation from postal thieves who target envelopes sent through the post.
Yup, you’ll be able to make your donation to The Salvation Army at any EasyPay pay-points, which include Pick n Pay, Shoprite, Checkers, CheckersHyper, Spar and Woolworths. In the meantime don’t send cash through the post. This will make it a lot easier for you because you can donate when paying for your groceries. It’s a safe, quick and trusted way to contribute to God’s work. Please continue to use the contribution form and envelope provided − or you can send your gift by electronic fund transfer (EFT) and fax or e-mail us your details and proof of payment.
There seems to be a new air of energy about South Africa today − a new optimism and hope. And it’s all because our country has a new President. While the sceptics ask ‘what can change when he is still part of the party that has allowed the country to slide into unprecedented corruption?’, Mr Ramaphosa is making it very clear that a new era will stand by the ideals expressed in our brilliant constitution. And let us not forget that he was co-architect of this constitution, together with Mr Roelf Meyer.
Cyril Ramaphosa, apart from his impressive business and personal background, has a warmth and sincerity that are echoed in his promises of service delivery, most of which are music to the ears of The Salvation Army. That he wants to be there for those who most need help, whether they have done wrong or been wronged − imprisoned or trafficked, robbed of their goods or their rights, impoverished through injustice, and so on.
We at The Salvation Army are filled with new confidence that there will be positive improvement for those who need us − the homeless, the jobless, the abandoned and abused, the young and the old. Let us herald this new with the battle cry of our founder, William Booth:
“While women weep, as they do now,
While little children go hungry, as they do now,
While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now,
While there is a drunkard left, While there is a poor lost girl upon the streets,
While there remains one dark soul without the light of God,
I’ll fight- I’ll fight to the very end!”
To continue with William Booth’s fi ght, and welcome Mr Ramaphosa in ours, more than ever The Salvation Army needs you. You are the lifeblood of this organisation that is vital to this country. And it is your constant support that helps thousands exist, of all ages, colours and creeds. I appeal to you to make a solid commitment like a regular monthly debit order, if you’re not already doing so.