Building Bridges to Serve Youth in South Africa
She spends the morning discussing with a group of pastors where some extra hands might benefit their projects, in the afternoon she meets an incoming team of international volunteers and orients them to their new environment, and evening finds her coordinating a youth worship event. Such is a relatively typical day for Renske Aerts (MAGL '06), who serves as a project manager for Soul Survivor in Durban, South Africa.
"Our desire is to bring the presence of God to 'the last, the least, and the lost,'" says Aerts. "Soul Survivor started about 15 years ago as a youth movement; worship, teaching, and ministry have always been its pillars, and in the last few years we have felt that as we were worshipping God, he was leading us to look out into the world." One of the results of this fresh outward focus was increased networking with churches in Durban, with a view towards sending international teams to minister there.
Aerts plays a key role in this unfolding work by functioning as a bridge person between local churches in Durban and the teams of young people who come to serve. She begins by identifying local church projects that would be helped by a force of young volunteers, and making sure that they can be approached in a way that is safe and sustainable. Aerts then collaborates with Soul Survivor's UK office, which recruits and trains the team members and leaders. Once the teams arrive in Durban, Aerts is their first on-the-ground contact; she provides them with orientation and facilitates the relationships between team leaders, team members, and locals. She is also involved in organizing youth events, featuring worship, teaching, and ministry, which aim to touch the hearts of local youth and empower them to help the poor in their own country.
It is difficult to underestimate the importance of bridge-building within the highly diverse South African context. "We're finding that many churches in South Africa are still grappling with crossing the divides between different cultures, and the divide between rich and poor," Aerts explains. "There is a lot of fear of 'the different.' But we're also seeing great success stories in which people are reconciled with each other and lives transformed through the outreaches of local churches." The teams of international volunteers contribute to this process by offering their time and abilities to support local church projects. For example, a team of schoolteachers from the UK introduced new songs, games, and teaching methods in several preschools located in poor townships in the Durban area; both the children and the local preschool teachers still benefit from and use their new knowledge. Another team organized sport events for a local orphan support ministry, which helped the local church gain respect and affirmed its relationship with key community leaders; a project of this scope would not have been possible without some outside help.
Aerts has been putting to good use the tools she gained during her MAGL training at Fuller, which she completed largely through online courses; the MAGL program is set up to allow students to study with an online cohort while continuing their ministries around the globe. "The missiological tools have been especially helpful this past year, as I've been connecting with many churches doing mission in their community," she says. "I've also been able to help several church leaders to think through some of the missiological implications of the outreaches they wanted to set up." Aerts also gained a fresh perspective on embracing the poor through her study of Jesus' social concerns in courses on the Gospels at Fuller.
Working to bring the presence of God to "the last, the least, and the lost" is no easy task, but Aerts finds it immensely fulfilling… and hopes that the bridges she is building will continue to impact people's lives for years to come.