Combatting Disadvantage in South Africa

By Scott Pederson

Disadvantage: It’s certainly a loaded word. Many images come to mind, none of them pleasant. Nevertheless, one of our callings as the Church is to enter into this complicated reality that has no simple answers. Since we live in an “instant is not fast enough” culture, it is often difficult for us to notice progress. But if we can let go of our need for instant gratification long enough, we will see there is much to celebrate. So for a moment, slow down the RPMs, and get a glimpse of how a Willow Creek partnership is making a difference in South Africa.

Willow Creek partners with 30 tremendous churches in the Limpopo region, located in the northeastern portion of this large, beautiful country. All 30 churches are in rural areas, some very rural, where poverty runs rampant and deep. One ripple effect of this level of poverty is that children must walk many kilometers to the nearest government school. And some families cannot afford the school fees and cost of school uniform requirements, which excludes their children from attending government schools. To combat this disadvantage, some of our church partners have established small schools to provide basic education for children in need, and others have begun afterschool drop-in centers where students can receive additional help with their studies. 

These churches are doing a heroic job, using what little they have to give the students a fighting chance—but most of the church schools just don’t have enough books. Sometimes there is only one book for the whole classroom, so the teacher writes the material on a painted blackboard on the wall for the students to learn. And this is all the children have available to read. I’ve visited many schools like this in Limpopo, and the lack of books is painful to observe. While some of the children might learn to read, they do not have the tools necessary to reach their potential, to grow and advance their education in a way that will improve their lives and communities. They simply do not have that advantage.

This is where Books for Africa steps in. Books for Africa is one of Willow Creek’s technical partners (organizations that have specific skills or resources that strengthen the efforts of our global church partners). Their mission is to end the book famine in Africa. The organization believes that “education is the great equalizer in the world, and books are at the foundation of a strong educational system.”For many children in Africa, the gift of books truly is a gift of hope.

Books for Africa provides books for free. Yes, you read correctly—free. They seek out and gather donated books from all over the United States. The staff sorts, stores, receives requests from ministries, packs the books in containers, and handles all the logistics required for international shipping. 

With much help from Books for Africa, the book famine may soon be over for our church partners and schools in Limpopo. Recently, a 40-foot shipping container arrived in Durban, South Africa, filled with 24,000 books covering a wide range of subjects for preschool children to high school students. These books will change everything for the students, schools, and afterschool drop-in centers. Literacy rates will begin to rise as children enjoy learning to read because of these beautiful books.

To deliver the books, Willow Creek only needed to pay for shipping, the port-clearing process, and ground transport to the final destination. Where did the money come from that allowed us to help erase this disadvantage of book famine in Limpopo? It came from the generous giving of the Willow Creek congregation during last year’s Celebration of Hope.

Sometimes fighting the ugliness alongside those living amid disadvantage makes the battle a bit less daunting for everyone. When each of us offers our gifts, God multiplies His work in extraordinary ways. 

We are so grateful for the Limpopo Church Network allowing us to participate in bringing light to their villages, communities, and schools. We are grateful for Books for Africa and their tremendous generosity and willingness to partner with us to deliver 24,000 books to a bunch of excited churches, students, and teachers. And we are grateful for the Willow Creek congregation, who generously provided the funds needed to eliminate this specific disadvantage. Tremendous teamwork.

>Scott Pederson is Willow Global’s field manager for South Africa.


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