A journey of home and hopeMatt Draper
Wanda Cele Road runs around the back of the seaside town of Amanzimtoti in Kwazulu-Natal. It is a thin line of separation between the historically white suburb and the Zulu tribal land on which is located Bhekulwandle. For all of my eight years spent in Amanzimtoti as a teenager, I knew that there was a (probably poor) black settlement on the other side of Old Main Road – which later became Wanda Cele – but I never knew what it was called.
This is representative of my general ignorance of the socio-politics of the time.
During my time in Amanzimtoti, schools were being integrated and the country was voting democratically. I had little understanding of the significance of Mandela’s release and almost no appreciation for how difficult it was for my Zulu and Indian classmates to attend a still predominantly white school. The spectre of national service hung somewhere in my future, and I remember the grades above me doing cadet drills on the field. I recall images from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but it would take a university education for me to grasp why it even existed.
Eighteen years after leaving, I found myself back in Amanzimtoti in April of this year. My wife, Claire, and I were being hosted by Oasis Church led by Gareth Bowley. It had come off the back of a conversation Gareth and I had had at the Advance Africa Conference in March in which he shared his conviction that God wanted to build a non-racial, multicultural and class-crossing gospel community. I shared with him how we were engaging with what we believed to be a call from God to plant a church community in Langa, and we quickly concluded that it would be good to stay in touch. As it turned out, our church leadership believed that it would be worthwhile for us to visit Oasis and learn from what they were doing, and so a four-day trip was planned.
There is more to say about our time there than I am able to capture in these paragraphs. We met warm, genuine people and made new friends. We were challenged by seeing courageous and compassionate leadership in action. We were compelled by a vision of the church embracing the glorious complexities of true diversity in a broken country. We were inspired by young people determined to break cycles of poverty and hopelessness in their lives and in those around them. We were encouraged in our own journey to yield to God’s heart for justice and dignity, and reminded of how beautifully the gospel is demonstrated when the hearts of God’s people are united by his Spirit in defiance of otherwise crippling divisions.
It was a personally very meaningful and humbling experience.
Returning to Amanzimtoti was like reuniting with an old friend. Familiar, safe and rich in memory, it still felt like a home to me – I think it always will. What humbles me is to think of all that I did not know and value during my eight years there, of how I still do not know whom of my classmates came from the other side of Wanda Cele Road. I am profoundly grateful to Oasis Church who welcomed me warmly and gave me the chance not only to go into Bhekulwandle for the first time but to make friends and worship with those who live there.
When I think of my home town now, it is with anticipation for its future not only fondness for the past. God has chosen that place to do something profound, to put his wisdom on display (Ephesians 3:10) through people living in simple obedience to his command to love one another. It’s what we have always been called to do as his people, but in the context of such a fractured society as ours, it uniquely articulates the power and beauty of the gospel. I love what God is doing in and through the Oasis community and I love that it is happening in a place so close to my heart. Gareth and his team will tell you that these are the early days and that the best lies ahead. Watch this space.