Pastor to both church and community

2013-03-21 00:00

ATTEND a community meeting in Pietermaritzburg, be it on child welfare, crime or civic issues, and you will come across a familiar figure, Pastor Paul Saul. If he is not leading the opening prayer, he is sitting in the audience. Saul celebrates 50 years as a minister this week, a length of time that has seen not just service to his church, but to the broader community as well.

He says that from an early age, he saw himself as more than just a pastor.

“I listened to a sermon sometime in the sixties and what stood out for me at that time were the words of the preacher, who said service to the community is service to God.”

He is known in Pietermaritzburg, where he has lived for the past 37 years, for his initiatives to fight crime and confront alcoholism and drug abuse. Saul has been an executive member of the Mountain Rise Community Police Forum (CPF) since 2001, and is now the deputy chairperson of the CPF.

Saul always knew religion would be part of his life. His father was a pastor, but he was not sure if he was going to follow in his footsteps. However, that decision had changed by the time he was 17, when he believes he received a calling from God. He enrolled at the Durban Bible College and had been ordained a pastor in the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) by his 21st birthday.

He worked in Stanger, Darnall, Durban and Tongaat before moving to Pietermaritzburg. Saul remembers a particularly difficult time in Tongaat, where he was sent to open a church. This required engaging in door-to-door and street evangelism. Times were tough and he did not get a salary from the mission for the first six months. He says the irony of it all was that his father was the treasurer of the AFM, who with scrupulous fairness made sure everyone else was paid, even if it meant that his own son had to make a sacrifice.

Saul said he learnt valuable lessons on integrity from that experience. It was at about this time that his community involvement started and he was approached by the Tongaat Civic Association and Tongaat Child Welfare to serve on their executive councils.

In all this time he had no car and he describes this time as 10 years of “foot evangelism”. His fortunes changed when, in 1972, he was invited to be part of an evangelistic programme in Barberton. His ministry impressed the community there so much that, by the end of it, he was presented with a Volvo.

Saul married Sheila, also a graduate from the Durban Bible College, in 1973. They had three sons, one of whom also became a minister of religion. His youngest son died at the age of eight, an experience that Saul said has made him a stronger person and allows him to identify with loss, and has deepened his empathy, making him better equipped to help and comfort others.

Besides his community work, he rose through the ranks of the AFM, taking on the role of treasurer, the position once held by his father, and secretary of the executive council. He has also served on several interdenominational organisations, including the Christian Unity Ministries, Church in Action and the KZN Christian Council. In 1998, he was elected chairperson of Christians Against Crime. This led him to be invited to serve as a court assessor in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court, where he became chairperson of the Court Assessors’ Forum.

Despite his hectic schedule, Saul always manages to exude an aura of calm and quiet dignity. He attributes this to his wife, who has always worked at his side, helping to lighten his load.

In 1982, Saul opened his own church, the Hebron Christian Fellowship, which combined his ministry and community work. The church has a community wing, registered as a non-profit organisation, that is involved in many community and social intervention projects, such as anti-substance abuse programmes and helping the poor and the unemployed.

He received a glowing tribute from Mountain Rise Brigadier Francis Bantham. She spoke of his work on crime awareness campaigns and said that he received a social responsibility award from the Pietermaritzburg community in recognition of his community projects in 2006. Bantham said that Saul is always ready to roll up his sleeves and help wherever he can, and this includes his assistance at the annual feeding scheme arranged by the Mountain Rise Police Station for about 3 000 people. She thanked him for being an integral part of the police family.

Msunduzi Mayor Chris Ndlela was equally complimentary, saying he had got to know Saul personally through his involvement in various community initiatives. Ndlela said it is people like Saul who have helped build communities and, in turn, the nation. “He is an exemplary example of an active citizen,” he said.

For Saul, the greatest miracle in his life is that he is around to celebrate the golden jubilee of his ministry. In May last year he suffered a stroke while driving. “This could have ended tragically, but the hand of God ensured that there was no accident and no one was harmed. The car just came to a standstill,” he says.

His situation was critical, as there was a blockage in the main artery which leads to the brain. Saul believes that he pulled through because of the power of prayer. He later learnt that people were praying everywhere, including in other parts of the world. At 71, he remains as spritely as ever and has no plans to retire. “There but for the grace of God go I,” he says.

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