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Church in South Africa plays important social service role


June 15, 2004
- by Annemarie Plenert, from reports


Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers Lynell Bergen and Brian Dyck recently held a teaching conference in Umtata that offered a forum for parents to talk about these concerns, read Scripture, and discuss possible solutions.

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Winnipeg, Man. — Where the government fails, the church steps in.

In South Africa, the church is stepping in to help with family issues that have become a minefield due to the cultural changes brought about by the end of the apartheid era and the increasing influence of pop culture, as well as the challenges of parenthood.

The highly charged emotions surrounding these issues make parenthood a touchy subject. “No one likes to be thought of as a bad parent or a bad spouse,” writes Lynell Bergen (Arnaud MC, Man.), mission worker with Mennonite Church Canada Witness, in her online newsletter.

But the culture-crossing issues of parenting become more difficult when Canadians and Africans try to talk to each other about parenting. There are some ways in which African parents and their kids almost seem to live in different worlds from each other, since additional tension comes from changes in South African culture. Traditionally, parents are respected because they are elders and have more wisdom and experience. “However, it seems that in these times it is music stars and sports figures and people with lots of money who get respect,” says Bergen. And when these role models have different values than parents, a power struggle ensues that parents feel they are losing.

The problem is compounded by the way families have changed. During the time of apartheid, migrant labour laws took men away from their homes, leaving single mothers and fatherless children. Often the men would have girlfriends in mining towns where they worked. Now the boys who were raised in these broken families have learned that the home does not require the presence of a man, and manhood “often seems defined as no longer having to be responsible to or for anyone.”

Girls, too, have learned that men cannot be trusted. Since men will not be faithful, marriage is merely taking on pointless responsibility. Most young women opt to have children and raise them alone without getting married at all.

These are some of the reasons that children are seen as rebellious, giving parents a sense of shame. However, this makes it difficult to deal with the issues sensitively, as blaming parents is difficult to avoid.

Lynell and her husband, Brian Dyck, recently held a teaching conference in Umtata that offered a forum for parents to talk about these concerns, read Scripture, and discuss possible solutions.

“I learned a tremendous amount this past weekend about the heartbreaking difficulties of being a parent in a time of conflicting values and worlds,” writes Bergen.

The parents feel as though they had no authority because of their poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment. However, Bergen believes there is hope in the situation. “They may not have education or money or prestige, but they have access to a very important resource: the power of love.”

To learn more about the work of Lynell Bergen and Brian Dyck in South Africa visit their website at