A home for Prieska

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Originally Prieska and his friends stayed in a bush near the church.  They slept there and then spent the greater part of their days gambling.  No one worked.  They collected bottles, begged everywhere, and gambled with whatever money they could get.  This usually carried on until one won enough to buy a bottle of ‘Vaaljapie’ or something similar. During that time they slept under the carport behind the church whenever it rained.  But during the next summer the bush was cut in order to make provision for a new shopping centre.  Then the group moved to the church and settled underneath and on top of the carport near the kitchen.  The carport was also their wardrobe, where they kept their clothes and blankets.  As these yard-sneakers became settled, they came back earlier in the evenings.  During that time a woman named Polly, with a two-month old baby, moved in with them.  In the biting Gauteng cold and frost Prieska and his friends needed more and more alcohol and also used Polly to warm their bodies.  This led to a terrible noise, shouting and bickering.  Neighbours didn’t have any rest, and the community’s unhappiness soon became known.  At one stage Polly moved back to the Karoo, but not for long.  She came again. As could be expected, ripples of unhappiness about the situation started in the congregation.  The outreach group started a special relationship with these yard-sneakers.  During the winter some members of the group provided bread and soup once a week.  And the sincerity with which this group proclaimed the gospel and tried to convince the others to find jobs and change their lives went much deeper than duty alone.  On one occasion I also took them some bread, but they were not too impressed.  They looked at it and then Prieska, the leader, said in a dissatisfied voice:  ‘But this is only bread!’ Other reactions in the congregation were not so mild.  First the church staff started moaning.  They were tired of cleaning up the mess every now and again.  Solly, the caretaker, and Anne, supervisor of the gardens, soon voiced their dissatisfaction.  ‘It is a disgrace that the church allows this!’ they said.  ‘We cannot let them live in the garden.  If only they wanted to be helped, we could have done something.  Perhaps built some toilets for them …  But no, they don’t want any help!’ Amanda, of the Women’s Group, was concerned about the hygiene in the kitchen, as well as the safety of ladies who had to do duty in the kitchen in the late afternoon or evenings – especially over weekends.  John, of the Properties Committee, supported Amanda and Anne.  He pointed out the impossibility of amenities.  ‘It will only bring more such people, and create an even bigger mess.’ Mary in the church office was worried about the safety of the ladies in the office, especially in the light of the growing number of beggars who came to the church for help.  The ladies wanted to do something to change the situation, but no one could say what the solution was.  ‘We cannot leave them like this.  Its just not right!’ Other viewpoints among church members were abundant.  One elder’s wife, who stayed next to the church, had the following comment: ‘They are bad from the inside, and I have no time for bad people.  They only drink and beg all day and we must get rid of them immediately. As the situation became known among more members of the congregation, many discussions popped up.  Some Bible study groups often discussed the situation during their meetings.  Here and there it cropped up at committee meetings.  Even the ministers often discussed this during their weekly get-togethers.  Harry pointed out that many congregations hand out soup, and at the same time try to evangelize such people, but there was nobody who could provide a home, work and medical care. Peter agreed, but at the same time warned them about the reaction of the congregation and the community if they wanted to let them stay on the church premises or even in the church hall.  ‘Not everyone feels like we do,’ he said.  ‘This is a sensitive matter and we must also consider municipal regulations.  Don’t forget Romans 13, which is very clear about this.’ Andy thought of everything.  ‘Brethren, we must be practical.  Alexandra’s Governing Board has already tried dealing with the problem.  Finally they had to rent offices in Sandton while the offices in Alexandra were used as accommodation for these people.  There is only one way to go:  Contact the municipality’s safety division and let them remove these people.’ ‘Within two days they’ll be back,’ was Vivian’s objection.  ‘And think about the newspapers,’ he added dramatically, ‘Dutch Reformed Church removes squatters.  We certainly don’t need that!’ And then Urs Anderson arrived to hold a series of pentecostal meetings at the church.  First of all he reminded us that God was merciful.  But then he added that this grace was not cheap.  It would cost us something.  And the worst is that he needed one whole evening to convince me that we refuse to give God that something.  We were all living well and had enough of everything.  He said we must lay down our lives and take up the cross.  Until this day I wear a cross around my neck as a symbol of the gospel. The next evening Urs reminded us of the Carnegie Report.  There is more bread in our land as is necessary to feed everyone.  But there are not enough hands to give it out!  The bread is not used where it is necessary, therefore it must be thrown away.  And then – and I will never ever forget this – he took his open Bible and put a whole bread inside.  Like that, Bible-and-bread in his hand, he invited the congregation to come forward, fetch a piece of bread and give it to someone else.  I gave it to a friend.  Some of the members went to look for the yard-sneakers.  It felt as if those pentecostal meetings brought everything to a head.  One group of ladies undertook to take sandwiches for the yard-sneakers daily, and someone else donated blankets. About that time the community around the church started complaining more and more.  During winter the yard-sneakers increased.  Some people even maintained that the 10 became 40.  More and more accusations about theft were made.  Incidents of bothering buyers at shops in the area, even cursing and yelling at them, increased.  Eventually I didn’t want to go shopping in that area any more.  Some of the neighbours started using violence – and threats of more violence were made.  Prieska and his friends were accused of everything that went wrong.   One resident near the church, Russel Austin, telephoned and he was extremely cross.  ‘If one of them puts a foot in my yard, I’ll shoot them all,’ he yelled.  There was also a ‘friendly ultimatum’: the congregation had to choose – either they must remove the yard-sneakers and take steps to avoid the recurrence of similar incidents, or the congregation had to provide proper amenities, which would be acceptable to the community.  ‘Remember,’ he added, ‘you know about them, and you give them food and blankets …’ 

Shortly afterwards dissatisfied church members, under leadership of an area leader, wrote a letter to the church council with the request to have yard-sneakers removed.  A sub-committee was appointed to find a solution to this delicate problem.

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