PIETERMARITZBURG, South Africa (Mennonite Mission Network) – The manicured lawns of Breakthru Church International suffered the pounding of a thousand feet during the week of July 6-10. In the mornings, some 500 singing children spilled from vehicles and rushed into the sanctuary eager to begin worship. They came from Pietermaritzburg and surrounding townships for Holiday Club, an all-day version of Vacation Bible School.
Breakthru’s members agree the assault on the grass was a small price to pay for the privilege of touching the lives of so many children.
“We pray that the impact of learning about Jesus will live on beyond the hours these young people were at church, beyond the week that they were with us, and into their everyday life,” said Thandi Gumbi, coordinator of Breakthru Community Action, the church’s non-profit organization for social ministries.
Bible study, sports and a nutritional noon meal rounded out the Holiday Club activities that continued through mid-afternoon. The children’s voices often caused the stately church walls to pulsate with energetic music that characterizes much of Breakthru’s ministry.
As Breakthru’s lawns begin to green again, Holiday Club melodies echo through Ghost Town, Imbali and Ashdown – townships where kids continue to praise God. One mother, delighted with the songs she heard each evening after her daughter returned from Holiday Club, wrote a note thanking Breakthru for her daughter’s happiness.
The seeds of Breakthru were planted in 1975 when a nominally Christian couple, Hilton and Rhoda Toohey, experienced a radical spiritual transformation. Two decades later when the Tooheys moved to Cape Town to plant a new church, they turned over leadership of the Pietermaritzburg congregation to their son and his wife.
Since then, senior pastors Nina and Russell Toohey have been tireless in growing the Breakthru church through evangelism, an emphasis on reaching out to children and youth, discipling in cell groups and social ministries. When the church moved into its current neighborhood in 2000, a brothel and a shebeen – an illegal bar – closed down due to the church's witness and efforts to create a healthier environment. Breakthru now has three Sunday services to accommodate the numbers of new members. The congregation is laying plans to purchase a tent that can seat 1,000 people.
Mennonite Mission Network has encouraged Breakthru’s ministry in small ways. A RAD team, predecessor of the Radical Journey program, helped renovate the building in 2002. This year a Youth Venture team composed of Brittany Kiser and Kate Bender from Rockhill Mennonite Church in Souderton Pa. and Valerie Showalter of Akron (Pa.) Mennonite Church helped with Holiday Club.
Christine and Phil Lindell Detweiler and their children, Mennonite Mission Network workers, have attended Breakthru since they moved to Pietermaritzburg in 2005. They are active in cell groups and Breakthru Community Action. The Lindell Detweilers also work with church communities in Philipstown and Cape Town.