Laying the foundations of hope and healing

2007-12-06 00:00

Gunther and Monika Wittenberg appear to be an average retired couple living peacefully in their small retirement cottage. But, because I knew that

Gunther, virtually single-handed, initiated and laid the foundation of the Kenosis Community in Bishopstowe, I went along and asked him for the details.

Kenosis now has residential care for orphaned children, a crèche for farm labourers’ children and others, a training centre for women in Lutheran congregations, health care facilities (together with the local authority) and a retreat centre. These all had to be built up, step by step.

Reverend Gunther Wittenberg, Lutheran pastor, theologian and academic, is unassuming as he tells the story. He and the late Reverend Gert Landmann had a vision of a community living a “kenotic” or simple lifestyle in the eighties.

In 1989 the Kenosis Community Trust was set up and, with funding provided by the director of the Bavarian Mission, land was bought from the Lutheran church.

The aim was to establish a Lutheran religious community. In 1995 Gunther and Monika moved to Bishopstowe and in 1996 a basic course for laywomen was offered, which included training in HIV and Aids care.

In 1997 a local schoolgirl gave birth at the centre. She later died of Aids, leaving her baby at Kenosis. This tragic event was the spark that ignited the idea to accommodate orphans in a family environment.

More financial support was found, thanks to Gunther’s tireless efforts, this time from Aids and Child, a Swiss Foundation, and six houses were built on the property — some for staff and some for house mothers and children.

Bricks and tiles were made on site and volunteers helped with the building.

After consulting both Child Welfare and Cindi, suitable foster mothers were found and 18 vulnerable children in need of care came to live in the community.

Gunther developed a flourishing vegetable garden to help feed everyone and invested in chickens, rabbits and cows.

In the midst of all this activity a number of local women (farm workers) asked if a crèche could be built as it was difficult for them to leave their children alone at home while they worked in the fields. That was the next venture, with more funding from Switzerland.

By 2001 the building was completed, thanks to volunteers from Germany (church congregations) who came, 16 at a time, to two work camps.

In 2002 two women were trained by Tree — and the Early Childhood Development Centre was established.

This now caters for 50 children, some of whom are community foster children, others who are collected by the Kenosis Kombi (donated by Rotary) from local farms, an informal settlement, and from Glenwood.

As it was felt that an income-generating project would be helpful, another property was bought in 2003 and the Kenosis Retreat Centre was established with accommodation and conference facilities.

Gunther and Monika have now left Bishopstowe and live in town, knowing that capable people manage the various components of the Kenosis community.

Now the Kenosis Community Trust is responding to the need to train women to organise the care of Aids patients and hoping to establish a diaconic training centre at Kenosis.

Gunther will again contribute to a vision becoming a reality. He has indeed brought hope and healing to a community.

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