Pastors only work on Sundays

2013-07-03 00:00

MDUDUZI (Duzi) Mjwara (41) just laughed about the suggestion that a pastor’s life is an easy life because he works only on Sundays. A pastor at Crossways Church in Hilton, which belongs to the Assemblies of God denomination, Mjwara oversees the church’s Zulu congregations in Mount Michael and Tumbleweed near Howick West, an estimated 550 families.

“There was a young man who was exploring whether he had a calling to ministry, so I invited him to come and spend a week with me and do everything I did. He came to planning meetings and consultations, sat with me while I prepared my sermons, attended the youth group I run, a night prayer vigil and funeral, plus the services I led on Sunday. He even did the grocery shopping with me. He could not believe how busy I was and how much more there is to being a minister than just services.

“He was not so sure about ministry after that week,” he smiled. A family man who lives in Merrivale, Mjwara is married to Fikele, a nurse, and they have two sons, Ndumiso (10) and Olam (three).

Born and raised in the Teapots valley on the Hilton College estate, Mjwara grew up as a member of the Shembe Church, to which some of his family belonged, while others were Zionists. How he came to be a minister in a largely white Assemblies of God congregation is a story he ascribes to God: “It’s God’s grace in my life,” he said with conviction. “God worked in my heart, which is where transformation happens. If it is to happen in this country, transformation has to start in individuals, and it should start first in the church.”

Mjwara, himself, was the first —and for some time, also the only —

black member of the church. “I was working at Hilton College in the printing department and Joanne Venter, a French teacher at the school, invited me to her church. I was so afraid the first time I walked in that I was shaking. However, the warm welcome and the love I experienced kept me going back. That is where I came to faith in God.”

Mjwara was candid about his feelings about white people in his youth: “I hated white people. My experience growing up led me into student politics. Living in the Teapots valley, we were so close to huge privilege at the school, but so far away from sharing in it. Because of my activism, I was actually banned from the Hilton College estate for many years and finished my schooling at Langalakhe High School in Edendale. If you had told me then that I would end up living in a white area and working with white people, I would never have believed it,” he said, shaking his head.

Mjwara felt called to ministry, which was confirmed by the leadership of the church, and led to three years of study at Nicholas Bhengu Theological College in Gauteng, from 1996. He returned to Hilton to work in the congregation in 1999.

Mjwara rejects the dualism common in many church circles and adopts a holistic approach to his work. “If you deal only with spiritual issues and keep them separate from the rest of life, you overlook the real social and economic issues of people’s lives. We have to do more than just preach the gospel. How do you minister to people when there is unemployment and hunger in the home? It keeps me awake at night, sometimes, thinking about the needs in so many homes. How can the church bring hope to those people?” he asked, animatedly.

He is passionate about community development: “If the church was doing its job properly, there would be no need for all the non-governmental organisations involved in community upliftment. All the churches, including the African churches, should be doing this work.

“If you look at the parking lots of many African churches on a Sunday, you will see expensive cars. These churches have money, so why are they not engaged in community outreach and upliftment? Conduct a survey and find out from the community what the issues are and address them. Do something to give back to the community. If I was looking at joining a church, I would say ‘Show me what you are doing for the community, then I will join you’.”

Mjwara’s passion for community saw him spearhead his church’s efforts to establish a church and crèche in Mount Michael, which is now the base for projects such as small-business development and vegetable gardening. He has also been active in the Hilton Community Policing Forum (CPF) since its inception some years ago. He is chairperson of the Hilton CPF and secretary of the biggest CPF cluster in the province. Explaining this involvement, he said: “How do you minister to a family that has suffered a home invasion involving contact crime, or where there has been domestic violence? Being part of the CPF helps me keep a finger on the pulse of what is going on in the community.” Among the many activities that engage him as a pastor, planning and preparation for events are the most time-consuming. “Planning and carrying out ‘tent preaching’ missions are demanding, so we do them only two or three times a year. These involve a tent, music groups, prayer and support teams and preaching. “Funerals are also time-consuming and emotionally demanding. There was a time when, for a period of three months, I did a funeral every Saturday. That involves meeting with the family and preparing beforehand, the night prayer vigil on Friday night and then the funeral on Saturday. And I still have to do services on Sunday,” he said.

Mjwara’s day off is a Monday. To relax, he goes to gym regularly and enjoys outings and camping with his family. Not surprisingly, he often works on his day off to catch up. “This is a challenging life and it has not been an easy road, but in the Lord we can walk it. It is emotionally and spiritually exhausting, but it gives me great joy when I see how the gospel transforms people’s lives. At the end, it will be very fulfilling if we can look back and see that we made a difference,” he smiled.

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