“Lord, we call every alcoholic today. We call every gangster, abuser, prostitute and criminal to You today. We call them in the name of Jesus, we call salvation into their hearts.”
These prayers echoed on a parking lot littered with empty beer bottles as it became holy ground at an open air service aimed at calling for holy intervention to social ills plaguing Strandfontein.
Imams, pastors and priests joined forces with the local neighbourhood watch, community policing forum (CPF) and residents to pray for change.
The pilot service was held at the Bloudakke in Church Street on Sunday. The area was chosen as a result of ongoing alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution, domestic violence, assaults and drug sales taking place in the parking lot.
CPF chairperson Sandy Schuter says the religious leaders contacted the CPF and police two weeks ago.
“They wanted to know how they could assist and fight spiritually. We are doing the physical work, but they wanted to mobilise to fight the social ills spiritually,” says Schuter.
“We then called on residents to join the initiative. Many of them can’t contribute physically or financially but they can give in other fashions and if the religious fraternity wants to give in this fashion then we will support them, because it benefits our entire community.”
Schuter confirms the parking lot is a hot spot for criminality and substance abuse.
“This place is known for the drugs and alcohol. We have a lot of people sitting here drinking and the drug trade is taking place here. Once they are drunk or high, they harass the patrons at the shopping centre and the residents. This leads to fights and domestic violence. There is also prostitution happening in the parking lot,” says Schuter.
Pastor Jeremy Josais, of the local AFM church initiated the service, “guided by the word of God”.
“When darkness overrides the community, the power of prayer can turn it around. The ability of the believers to pray is what motivates us to help turn the situation in the community around. As a pastor, we have family members who are impacted and affected by crime. My members’ grandson was shot and we know as people start to pray, things will change. The church is the only hope for the community and I am convinced that revival is going to take place. Even though the situation is bad, prayer is a good fertiliser for renewal of families and of children,” he says.
“It is time for the members to come out of the church halls. Many are comfortable just going to their own churches but there is something about open air services. It rejuvenates desire to want to make an impact. Many people also don’t want to go to each other’s churches, but a neutral venue like an open air service, they do not worry about labels.”
He thanked all religious leaders present at the event, who agreed it “was long overdue”.
Imam Abubakr Ismail from the local mosque also prayed at the interfaith service.
“Spiritually, this is very important. We need to ask our Lord to take this evil out of our community, out of our homes, out of our city and out of our country and that God may replace it with tranquillity, peace comfort and harmony,” says Ismail.
He became involved in the initiative as he believes prayer is needed to assist the police in fighting crime.
“Their task is very tough. As a resident of Strandfontein and as religious leaders, it is important for us to do whatever we can to assist the police.”
Schuter says she is happy with the turn out and hopes the services will help bring about peace in the community.
Josais agrees. “We are in a spiritual battle. We are not only focussing on hotspots, it is for all spots in the area. When prayer comes in, it overthrows all strong holds in those areas and community. Our goal is to see the young people set free. That young people get hope and come out of addictions and that family values get restored. We want prostitution and the abuse in households to stop. We are in a crisis,” he says.
“We realise it is not the responsibility of only the police [to fight this]. There is a devil behind everything and that is what we must deal with and prayer is the only thing that can deal with it.”
Schuter encourages residents to join the next service, set to take place monthly at various locations in the area.
“Police have identified hotspots and that is where they will take their initiative,” says Schuter. “I hope the next one will be more people. There are so many people when it is negative but when it is a step in the right direction, it is very poorly supported.”
Josais says he was glad to see so many pastors and residents who attended, considering it was a long weekend and hopes the initiative will grow with each service. The initiative was supported by local ward councillor Elton Jansen, Khoisan leadership in the area, Emergency Metro Services, police and the safety structures in the area, along with the Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals several churches and residents.