Claiming Back Our Campuses for Christ: An Example from South Africa

It would appear South Africans have forgotten that their 14-year-old democracy was born at the cost of many lives. The build-up to the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994 was foreshadowed by a possible bloodbath; however, God stayed the storm. In recent weeks, South Africa experienced a tidal wave of xenophobic-related violence, which has contributed significantly to the already escalating crime rate. This sudden, unforeseen spate of attacks has startled our nation, bringing to mind again the inhumane images that were synonymous with the apartheid era. The resurgence of a paradigm that “life is cheap” has resulted in the death of sixty fellow Africans who had optimistically sought asylum and/or opportunities for employment in our “rainbow nation.”

Many in South Africa are asking, “What
can be done to turn the tide of moral decay,
of violence and crime that our nation is
rapidly heading toward?”

Have we neglected the miracle of our democracy—as well as the God who delivered us—as did the children of Israel? The generation of Israelites, who came after Joshua and the elders who had taken possession of the promise, had forgotten that the Land was a gift from God. They “… knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel,” (Joshua 2:10) hence Israel plummeted to a state of apostasy, anarchy, and apathy, and the end result was inevitable: “… everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

Asking the Hard Questions
The apprehension about the future of South Africa has caused many to pack their bags “for Perth.” Many who cannot afford to leave, and others who choose to stay, are asking the question: “What can be done to turn the tide of moral decay, of violence and crime that our nation is rapidly heading toward?” My avid response is that we, the Church, should adopt an enduring approach by investing substantially into our children, youth, and young adults. A place of immediate departure would be an effective, well-organized, and strategic plan to restore godly values on South African university campuses and schools, one that can pave the way to a sound moral and spiritual climate in our nation.

At NIRSA (National Initiative for the Reformation of South Africa), 450 Christian leaders from a number of different domains cleared their diaries in a matter of eight weeks and responded to a clarion call to seek God’s solution to the problems in our nation in the spirit of Jehoshaphat: “Lord, we are powerless, our eyes are on thee…we don’t know what to do..” (2 Chronicles 20:12). These representatives of the Church re-affirmed, through thirty-nine resolutions, that we must move beyond repentance for our silence and live out, in a practical manner, the biblical meaning of being “the salt of the earth.” This call was a fresh reminder that we should not lose sight of the fact that our campuses are churning out the next generation of leaders, who, if not grounded in the faith and having an understanding of how to live out a kingdom lifestyle, will perpetuate the current situation as was the case with Israel, post Joshua.

The kingdom of darkness seems to understand the strategy of investing in youth as a means to promote its purposes as is evident in the story of Daniel. When Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem, he not only plundered the temple of its valuable pieces of furniture and godly vessels, he also usurped Israel’s most valuable resource: its youth and young adults. He knew that if you want to cripple a nation, you go for its youth and brainpower; he thus ordered his chief eunuch to bring to the palace “young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace” (Daniel 1:3-4). If a heathen king knew the young adults of a nation are the foundation stones to establishing an empire, how much more should we in the Church be pouring ourselves into the lives of young South Africans who are the key building blocks to a morally-sound nation?

Singapore, a city-state with very meager natural resources (i.e., it has to buy its water from Malaysia and has no minerals) invested substantially in human capital and has now become one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with minimal crime and unemployment. If the Church could make a significant input into the lives of the future leaders in schools and on campuses around the country, South Africa could reap a similarly beneficial harvest in years to come.

The University Clarion Call of African Enterprise
It is our desire at African Enterprise to generate adequate financial and human resources and enlist the help of people who are called to be part of a vision that will impact the next generation of leaders currently on university campuses. Our vision is to establish six groupings (with three universities in each):

  • Kwa Zulu Natal (Pietermaritzburg and Durban, Westville, Zululand)
  • Pretoria/Tshwane (Pretoria University, UNISA, University of the North)
  • Johannesburg (Wits University, Johannesburg University)
  • Orange Free State/North West (Potchefstroom, Orange Free State University)
  • Cape Town (Stellenbosch, University of Western Cape, University of Cape Town)
  • Eastern Cape (Rhodes University, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Fort Hare)

Each university in these groupings would have a major mission every third year, with smaller follow-up missions taking place in between. Our goal is to have a full-time worker taking care of the networks established on each combination of three campuses. This was the strategy that kept universities like Princeton, Harvard, Oxford, and Cambridge focused on the reason for their existence, namely, the quest for truth.

Since we have a unique understanding of truth, Christians have a unique right to be woven into the life and soul of university campuses. We know (from the life we now live) that truth is not a body of knowledge (Greeks held onto this philosophy to their peril); rather, it is a person—Jesus. He is the only one who ever existed who has been able to boldly proclaim (John 14:6) “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me,” and he substantiated this claim with an offer of eternal life by dying on the cross (1 Corinthians 1:18).

When the Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 1:16-17 “For by him all things were created…He is before all things and in him all things hold together,” it compels us to revisit the original motto of Oxford University—“Dominus Illuminatio Mea” (“The Lord is my Light,” Psalm 27). If all things in life are created by God and for him, how can we provide effective service to his kingdom in South Africa and beyond without having him illuminate the minds of the next generation? How then can young adults (youth and children) be sufficiently equipped to provide godly leadership in key positions of government, business, education, etc, if they rely solely on academic knowledge for their preparation for the working world?

At African Enterprise it has been our great privilege to facilitate major missions on campuses across Africa. We have seen amazing and encouraging results in our recent missions at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), Rhodes, Wits, and the University of Zululand. We are eagerly awaiting the anticipated mission to the University of Johannesburg later this year and to Durban University of Technology in 2009.

We give God praise that the 3-year cycle is already working with Rhodes and Wits universities, both of which have mini follow-up missions planned for later this year. The far-reaching effects of these missions can be seen in many testimonies. Recently, I received a phone call from two former UWC students currently exerting a Christian influence on matters surrounding the leadership of a city in the arenas of health and the environment.

As this vision grows and becomes a reality, I am convinced we can positively affect the moral climate of South Africa and the continent, and witness increasing signs, evidence of the reign of the Kingdom of God. Please pray and search your heart about this vision and about how you might help support the many societies on South African campuses that are already doing a sterling job of nation building. Pray for unity, for a wider vision, and for greater impact as these societies work together. Pray that they will have a wider vision to reach our youth and young adults for Christ. The illumination that only the Spirit of God can bring into the darkness of this world is needed now more than ever in South Africa.

Greg Smerdon is team leader/CEO of African Enterprise South Africa. He preaches in Africa and abroad and is involved in leadership development and church planting. Smerdon leads a community church and lives in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, with his wife and children.