The tragic death of young student Mveliso Majenge has provided both a huge test of faith and a remarkable gospel opportunity in South Africa.
Mve (above left) was studying with Living Hope, a non-governmental organisation based in Cape Town, on their Harvest Training Initiative, which teaches business and sustainable agricultural techniques while, at the same time, also sharing the gospel and running discipleship classes.
He and fellow students were on an end-of-term trip to a nature reserve when some of them decided to go swimming. Mve, aged just 21, got into difficulties and, despite the great efforts of the staff and his fellow students, drowned.
Neil Parmenter, a Serving In Mission worker who teaches at Living Hope, said: “It was a huge shock to everyone and people are still very much coming to terms with it.
“Mve was one of seven young people who only weeks before had given their lives to Christ. He was quite a quiet young man but he was very intelligent. You could tell from the questions he asked about the Bible and about Jesus that he really had come to believe.
“You might think that when a tragedy like this strikes it would make people question their faith but we have seen the very opposite of that.
“If anything, his death has reinforced his classmates’ dependence on God. When they see how fragile our hold on life can be, they know they must rely on God throughout.
“One of the things we teach the students is that we don’t know how long we have on this planet and that it’s important to make a commitment to Christ. Now is the day of salvation.
“Mve’s death has prompted one of the staff members to make a commitment to Christ, so even through this awful tragedy we can see God at work. As one life has gone, new life has appeared in another.”
Neil and wife Bethan are sent by Woodgreen Evangelical Church, Worcester and have been in South Africa since 2014. Originally, Neil was working as a project manager for SIM South Africa but soon found himself spending more and more time at Living Hope. Bethan also teaches some classes for Living Hope students, which she fits in around her other ministry commitments.
Neil explained: “Living Hope run a number of different projects, including an addiction recovery programme, the agricultural work, schemes to help people find jobs, a hospice, community health programmes and after school clubs to teach life skills to children and young people.
"It grew out of work to help people living with HIV/AIDS but has down developed into something much broader across the southern peninsular of Cape Town.
“The agricultural programme teaches students how to farm sustainably, either as a way to feed their families or as a way to earn a livelihood.
“But Bible-teaching and discipleship are also key parts of the programme. We have three or four Bible-teaching sessions a week, some of which I lead, as well as regular devotionals and times of prayer.
“As one of the leaders put it: ‘We grow tomatoes as a means of growing people.’”
The agricultural programme has two intakes a year, each of around 15 students. Most are aged in their 20s and, for the most part, come either from the local Cape Town area or from the Eastern Cape.
Neil, a quantity surveyor by profession, admits he had little horticultural or agricultural knowledge before he started work at Living Hope.
He said: “My focus is on the Bible-teaching, so we start each intake by doing the Alpha course with them. A majority of people in South Africa would say they were Christian but there is not enough good teaching or discipleship, so very often our students encounter the true gospel for the first time through us.
“I like to spend time with them as they work on the farm and in the polytunnels, getting to know them and just chatting through some of the challenges they face. It works well, because I am learning about agriculture through them so we have a lot to talk about. I hope I’m able to share the gospel with them through those daily encounters and encourage those who are Christians in their daily walk with the Lord.”
Of course, Mve’s death will inevitably cast a long shadow over everyone at Living Hope for some time to come. Neil and his colleagues all hope and pray his legacy will be more young people coming to a real and lifelong commitment to Christ.
If you’d like to know more about the work of Living Hope, or wish to make a donation, please go to www.livinghope.co.za.
For the continuing work of the HTI programme and that God would use it to impact the lives of students both spiritually and practically.
For Neil and Bethan, that God would use them as he sees fit in their work with Living Hope.
For Neil and Bethan to continue to forge good relationships with the students and be a source of encouragement to these young men and women.