I can still remember reading the first of Mario Maneville’s reports when I returned to the role of Africa Coordinator over 18 months ago. As I read accounts of his church’s ministry to gangs, drug dealers, and prostitutes in the Cape region, I thought, “I want to see this for myself!” A year and a half later, that desire was finally fulfilled. After visiting our missionary pastor Bill Issa in Uganda, my next stop was Cape Town, South Africa. When many people think of Cape Town, images of beaches, mountains, and vineyards come to mind. Not the area where Mario lives and ministers. His community is one of the rougher neighborhoods in the Cape, a world that I had never seen firsthand. It was a violent and intimidating place for this American Midwesterner, but for Mario and his church, it was just home.
Mario grew up just a block from where he and his family now live. When he left years ago, he never wanted to return. But the Lord had other plans. Mario’s brother, Quinton, started a church there and eventually Mario returned to help him. Together they shepherd Reformed Faith Mission Community Church.
Through Mario, the Lord showed me a whole new depth to the word ‘indigenous,’ which is the strength of HeartCry’s ministry. As Mario drove me around his neighborhood, the assault on my mind and emotions intensified, “So and so was stabbed to death on this corner. So and so was shot and killed right here after we shared the gospel with him. This guy buys women’s daughters as his slaves for a few dollar per month in exchange for drugs.” As the descriptions went on and on, my heart was grieved and I felt nauseous. Finally I asked, “Mario, how does your family cope with such unrelenting wickedness?” His answer . . . “What? It’s just life, man.” That’s indigenous! Not just any South African who speaks the language could live and minister where Mario does.
After my tour, we met for men’s book study on Thursday night. They are studying a book on shepherding their families. I have to spend some time telling you about these guys. I’m sure their wives are just as remarkable, but I spent time mostly with the men. One of the men was a major drug addict who beat and robbed the elderly, stealing their pension money to buy drugs. He is now the biggest ‘hugger’ in the church, and to hear him speak tenderly of his love for his wife and kids with tears in his eyes was a testimony of grace I will not soon forget. Two of the guys were some of the most feared gangsters in that community. They spent more time in prison than out of it. I didn’t ask what horrible crimes they’ve committed, and didn’t want to know, because you would never believe it to look at them now. The love and joy of Christ shines from their faces. They went back to finish their secondary education in their 30’s. Do you know why? So they could study theology! They are enrolled in a local Bible school, and I was told that they are some of the top students.
But there was something else beautiful that I witnessed among this church. Along with former gangsters and drug dealers, you will find in this body of Christ university students and business professionals who would rather serve God in hard places than be comfortable. They too have the love and courage to walk the streets and share the gospel with the worst of society.
Speaking of that, I found myself in the deep end of difficult ministry on Friday night, way way out of my comfort zone. It is regular practice for Mario’s church to hold open-air meetings and preach in the streets. An hour before our open-air meeting, a drug dealer was stabbed and robbed on that very street. People wandered in and out of a drug house directly across the street as the gospel was preached. After the preaching, Mario and Quinton and the men took me along to walk the streets and witness to gangs. We shared the gospel with one of the most notoriously violent gangs. I was amazed as these stone-cold killers stood meekly and listened to the gospel. Along with fear, I felt pity. They know they are wicked, but they have no concern for their soul.
On Sunday morning, the church met in a local school for worship. I enjoyed every moment of the rich doctrinal teaching, believing prayer, and enthusiastic singing. People in that area look down on churches that must meet in school rooms, and Reformed Faith Mission would like to remove that stumbling block if possible. They’ve been looking, but there’s just nothing that has come available. Please pray that the Lord would provide a more suitable place to meet (preferably one that is in neutral turf for the gangs). Sunday night we met in the home of Mario & Quinton’s parents for Bible study. All of these activities can be seen in the photos below.
Please keep the Manevilles and Reformed Faith Mission in your prayers. February is their month-long evangelistic emphasis. For the entire month, they rotate a week of door-to-door with a week of street preaching. It’s exhausting and dangerous work. They never know when they might find themselves in the midst of a gang war or some drug addict might respond violently. Pray for their safety, for supernatural strength, and for the power of the gospel to be seen in the transformation of lives that many would consider hopeless. ■