was much excitement when the newly elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose for himself the
name Francis – evoking images of the 12th century friend of the poor
and creation. Not only did Francis (the 12th century one) care for
lepers, the poor and God’s creation but he was also a restorer of churches.
ACSA may have found itself its own Francis for our time and place in the form
of Mlu Hadebe, archdeacon and rector of Springvale parish – a rural parish ranging
over the foothills of the Drakensberg in the Ixopo region of KwaZulu Natal.
was born a city boy and grew up in the high density urban jungle of Kwa Mashu.
His mother, a single parent, taught Mlu the God’s heart is with the poor. “I
inherited her good heart”, he says. “She encouraged us always to help others.”
went to church at Ekuvukeni in Kwa Mashu, just because that was the thing to
do. But he used to escape half-way through the service. “The Offertory hymn was
my Recessional hymn” However, a change
of heart led to him becoming a server, a lay minister and then eventually an
ordinands. He was ordained deacon in
2009 and priest in 2010.
he was at seminary he was asked by the bishop: “Where would you like to go when
you are ordained?” “Stoffleton” was his reply to the astonishment of the
bishop. Stofffleton is a poor, rural parish where, it is rumoured amongst
clergy, those who fall out of favour with the bishop get sent. “I wanted to
work where the other clergy did not want to go” With this in mind, Mlu took a course in
Theology and Development – something that now stands him in good stead.
ordination Mlu served in a parish south of Durban, but found himself doing most
of his ministry in a remote outstation. He loved it and found his heart’s
leanings towards rural ministry confirmed. So when he was asked to move out to
Springvale, he was ready. However, his arrival there was depressing. The
buildings were dilapidated; the church members were sceptical about a young,
newly trained priest being able to manage. “Do you think you can fit in here?
the people asked him. “Perhaps you have made a mistake. How will you cope?” There
was R250.00 in the bank account. But they didn’t know Mlu and his vision – to
be a John the Baptist, preparing the way.
he set to work. First he had to get to know the people of this 14 congregation
parish. The only way to do this, he decided, was to walk, door-to-door through
the little settlements spread over the hills and valleys. Over the next two years he visited, held
revival services, drew in the unchurched and the lapsed. And then, like
Francis, he embarked on a restoration of the 10 of the 11 churches in the
parish. Drawing on the skill of members of the congregation and the generosity
of his Facebook friends, he commenced rebuilding, restoring, decorating. He has
learnt much about building (but also about repairing his old bakkie which
breaks down frequently).
why build and repair churches? Are there
not so many other things that need to be done?
“The churches are places of hope, especially for people who are
hopeless,” he says. “People need to be empowered to see and use their gifts and
the church is the best place for this to happen.” His judgement is accurate.
The churches are now bursting at the seams. “The walls now do the evangelism,” he
says. The Sunday school boasts over 100 children. A Men’s Guild is being launched. Some of the
local kings and chiefs are coming forward for baptism. At
recent service over 120 children were admitted to communion. Two community
deacons are shortly to be ordained.
21st century Francis is helping to bring life and hope and joy to a