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Breakthru Church members Ntsike Masondo, Brandon Zwane and Nontobeko Ndlovu show off the "A Neighbourhood that Cares" shirts they wore during the listening initiative. Photo contributed by Christine Lindell Detweiler
Lynda Hollinger-Janzen
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
MENNONITE MISSION NETWORK – Breakthru Church International, a Mennonite Mission Network partner in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, preaches the importance of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. But on Sept. 12, Ntsike Masondo learned that listening is also a valuable tool in sharing the gospel.

Masondo, a Breakthru member who lives within walking distance of the congregation, was part of the church’s Sunday afternoon listening initiative in her neighborhood. The goal was to sit with residents and find out what peace in the community looks like, and then invite these neighbors to work together to realize their vision.

Breakthru Community Action, the church’s non-profit service organization, has been collaborating with On Earth Peace, an agency grounded in the Anabaptist tradition that promotes peace education and active responses to violence. One of On Earth Peace’s strategies is a listening initiative followed by a prayer vigil that focuses on the specific concerns of each community.

So, the Sunday following the porch conversations, Breakthru’s listeners gathered to process and pray about what they heard. Fourteen neighbors joined them.

Responses to the question, “What is your experience living in this community?” were varied. Some said it was a good place to live and that they felt safe. Others perceived it as dangerous and impersonal.

Masondo said that the in-depth conversations with her neighbors opened her eyes to what happens around her. Although she had always felt safe in her block, she was shocked to hear about the level of violence all around her.

“It was mind-blowing,” Masondo said. “It’s better to know your neighbors than assume you know what they are like.”

When asked about ways to work for peace in the community, neighbors suggested the following:
  •  Learn to know each other though better communication
  •  Reduce alcohol and drug use
  •  Join together to reduce crime
  •  Beautify the community
  •  Let the community know that God is there for them
After praying about what they had learned through listening, the group moved out onto the sidewalk for a public prayer.

Thandi Gumbi, coordinator for Breakthru Community Action, took a 50 percent pay cut when she gave up her teaching position in order to devote more time to this ministry.

“My heart is for the poor and my passion is for people who have not heard the gospel message,” Gumbi said.

Breakthru Community Action has already changed the neighborhood in positive ways through weekly children’s ministries, the annual Holiday Club, a life-skills program for teenagers, creating healthier boarding-house environments for students who come to Pietermaritzburg from outlying villages, and closing down a shebeen – an illegal liquor establishment near the church.

“We continue to pray for peace in the community and that we will put our faith into action,” said Christine Lindell Detweiler, who serves with Mission Network and works alongside Gumbi.

Gumbi and Lindell Detweiler hope to attend an On Earth Peace training seminar in the United States at the end of October and to incorporate Breakthru’s peace-building ministry with the Anabaptist Network in South Africa.

 

 

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