Rising Up

THOMAS HAD BEEN joyfully providing pastoral care for more than five years at Dumela High School, set at the foot of a mountain in South Africa. He loved building into the next generation. But then tragedy struck the community. Over the course of just a few months, three students died in three unrelated events. The small farming village was leveled with grief. To make matters more complicated, a man in the community wanted Thomas’ job as pastor, and he saw these tragedies as an opportunity to spin grief into anger and fear.

Claiming to see the future, and tapping into superstitious fears, he predicted that unless Thomas was removed from his position, more students and teachers would die. The man further suggested that he was the only one with the power to stop impending sorrow. Terrified, the parents were ready to do anything to ensure their children’s safety, including removing Thomas immediately. “I had to decide quickly how to proceed,” Thomas says. “Would I take this attack personally? Would I get caught up defending myself or doubt my own calling?” In a climactic meeting, parents, faculty, and community members gathered to demand answers. “I knew the only thing that could cut through the chaos and the parents’ fear was the truth of God’s word,” he says. “I reminded those gathered that the reassurance they wanted wouldn’t come from a man preaching a message of doom—but from the God of hope who loved them and wanted good for them.

It was God alone who could heal the heartache in our land.” He invited the parents to come together for a week of prayer. “We gathered together each evening and gave our fears to God. Slowly, through surrender and truth, the peace of God emerged,” Thomas recounts. Today, Thomas continues pastoring the students of Dumela High School, and the village is learning to grieve their tragedy together. God used the steadfast faith of one pastor to bring calm, peace, and a sense of hope to the middle of a storm.

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