Sunday, May 09, 2010


We built a garden.
It began at a rubbish dump in Rosemore, a very poor, neglected suburb outside of the city of George in the Eastern Cape. Many years ago the Methodist Church worshipped on this site. But the Grand Apartheid policies of the old South Africa moved the black members to “their own” township and the remaining members gradually dwindled away...until all that was left was a broken down building that the city council eventually demolished.

That is until the Rev Ansie Liebenberg became the minister to the handful of members who faithfully met in the local crèche building. She heard how the church used to occupy what had become a wasteland, and she helped build a vision to reclaim this ground. Daring to dream the impossible, the people raised funds and bought back their land. Assisted by Methodist people from George, a simple church building arose out of the rubbish tip. Then they built a garden. The permaculture skills of the Rev Philip Bauser were imported from Johannesburg, and he helped the people build a church garden. Now they are feeding the poor in the community from the vegetables in their garden.

So this week I accompanied a group of student ministers to the Rosemore Methodist Church. My task was to help them develop a theology of ecology. Sponsored by the training unit of the Methodist Church of SA, Phil Bauser shared the principles of Earthkeeping, and taught them how to build a garden. Then they were asked to go into the community to lay out gardens for 8 local families. As the students left the church building it began to rain, and I thought that they would begin to grumble. But to my amazement, undeterred by the drizzle, small groups walked cheerfully through the surrounding shacks to their designated hosts.

I accompanied one group to a home occupied by a mother, her triplet daughters and a toddler. This was a one roomed building with a “long-drop” toilet outside. After initial introductions the family took us to the place they had identified for their garden. They knew about the garden because they had seen the example at the church.

This family’s garden was alongside the toilet – which was also where the local tap for water was located. The mother and girls joined the students in laying out the garden, putting down the mulch, and planting the seedlings. There was laughter, rain, dirty hands and excitement.

They all posed for a photograph, and prayers were offered: one of the students praying in Afrikaans while the mother simultaneously prayed in Xhosa, both expressing thanks for the gift of life.

Then a splashy scramble back to the church, soaking wet and deeply satisfied.

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