Good News in the Neighborhood: Building for Gospel Movement in South Africa

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I grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo but moved to South Africa in 2002 as a refugee. There I joined a Novo missional team which led my wife Petunia and I to pioneer an InnerCHANGE team in 2007. InnerCHANGE is a Novo collective which is a missional order serving in communities of poverty around the world. We value lifelong learning and our primary university is our context of life and ministry. It is from the context of the township of Soshanguve in South Africa that I am privileged to learn about what it means to be a missionary through the stories authored by many of our neighbors.

A key part of our ministry here is cultivating good news agents.

I will share the story of John, one of our local leaders. I met him as a young teenager when he joined the basketball team I started at his middle school in 2008. He was punctual, committed, yet short-tempered and of average skill as a player. A few years later, I asked the players to choose their captain and John was chosen. I would not have picked John because of his temper and skill. But he was good news for the rest of the players—they looked up to him, and I was blind to that. 

Not long after, John’s only parent—his mother—passed away. He started drinking heavily and regularly, and unofficially left the team. (Alcohol abuse is a stronghold in our context.) I was able to persuade John to come back and overcome his alcohol addiction. Three years ago, he started helping out as an assistant basketball coach of our team. John won the hearts of many teenagers and their parents because of his ability to care for them. He was a good news addition to the leadership of the team because of his contagiously lovable personality. 

John came to Christ while coaching and he is now our team sports coordinator. He leads other local leaders in discipling teenagers and children through sports. Because of their work, InnerCHANGE now has a stronger reputation here as an organization that uses existing assets in the community to infuse children and teenagers from the streets with life skills—skills that build our community. Our life skills curriculum is based on the Bible, using biblical passages and Discovery Bible Studies to teach.

What we do through sports is just one way we have experientially learned how to be good news agents in our community.

So what is a good news agent? I describe one as someone who seeks the peace and prosperity of their context (Jeremiah 29:7) in tangible ways and invites other people to do the same, so that quality of life can be improved, lives can flourish, and communities can be built from the inside out. The end in mind is for the Kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). 

John Perkins, through his book, Beyond Charity, inspired my understanding of a good news agent. According to him, “The gospel is the love of God made visible, able to be touched and felt through physical agents of his kingdom.” 

I have come to understand that the goal of discipleship is to develop good news agents. We become followers of Jesus so that we can become good news agents. The latter are messengers of love in ways that are meaningful to their context. Jesus tells his disciples that people will identify them with him by the way they love (John 13:35).

Good news agency is only meaningful when it contextually speaks into issues, becoming a tangible answer to a real prayer. It is often expressed through acts of service. The beneficiaries of these acts of service are most likely to describe a deed as good news when it communicates their dignity as God’s image bearers. John Hayes, the founder of InnerCHANGE, stresses that “the world needs more people to live the good news.., in a way that can be seen, heard and handled.” 

This good news should not be confined to one context; it should aim to cross over the boundaries of a particular neighborhood so that multiplication and expansion occur—a gospel movement. The fruitfulness of good news agency should be seen qualitatively and quantitatively. Qualitatively by the depth of someone’s commitment to obediently follow Jesus and ability to love others. Quantitatively by the way it is transferred to as many lives as possible, since our goal is to reach out to the whole world, one relationship at a time and one neighborhood at a time.

As someone from the majority (non-western) world with a lifelong commitment to a ministry of presence and action in communities of poverty, this is my understanding of gospel movements: They are brought about through ways of living inspired by biblical principles that are meaningful to the people in their local context. The meaningfulness should be tested by how transferable these practices are to ordinary people, with ordinary people, and by ordinary people. They will implement these principles in their places of influence (where they spend the majority of their time) so that communities can be built up from the inside out and quality of life can be improved. I believe that the goal of a gospel movement should be to nurture and develop good news agents in society who will participate in helping it flourish. The goal is also to develop people who will sustain and expand this Kingdom mandate.

You may be asking what it actually looks like to be a good news agent.

Here is a real-life example. In many contexts where InnerCHANGE has teams, issues of violence and poverty are our neighbors’ daily bread. The reality of violence raises the need to participate in developing peacemakers. The reality of poverty raises the need to participate in developing prosperity agents. Jeremiah 29:7 challenges all of us to seek the peace and prosperity of the contexts we live in because if they prosper, we too will prosper. 

Inspired by this passage, InnerCHANGE South Africa leaders are participating in their neighborhood watch to minimize crime in their neighborhoods—thus promoting peace. 

We are also learning to be prosperity agents through our involvement in education and other initiatives. We prepare our neighbors for jobs through a computer literacy course, training in how to write a curriculum vitae (resume), and how to prepare for a job interview. We have entered into partnership with a job recruiting company which sometimes comes to our office to interview our neighbors for jobs. Some of those interviewed are now working. 

These ways of service as peacemaking and prosperity agents have been platforms to disciple many of our neighbors in the ways of Jesus and develop them as partners in this mission of being gospel-inspired good news agents.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

1. What might a good news agent look like in your context? How does he or she make Christ proud?

2. What would it mean for you to be a good news agent in your context?


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Luc Kabongo is the InnerCHANGE Africa regional director. He is married to Petunia and a father of three children. As a family, they live in the township of Soshanguve, a community of poverty located outside of Pretoria, the capital of South Africa.