In my history with Bethesda, I can’t recall a more challenging year than 2020. From a pandemic, to the threat of de-registration, and the struggle to start up a farming enterprise – we have all been stretched. This year would have been a catastrophe if not for the strong hand of our Lord.
Towards the end of 2019, no-one could have foreseen the Covid19 pandemic, and even if we could, there was no way of knowing how this would impact Bethesda as it has over the last 8 months. From the end of March up to this time, South Africa went into a period of lockdown with measures that were among the strictest in the world. While this was difficult to deal with, and our teachers especially had to find creative ways to cope with it, we have so much to be grateful for in that none of our Bethesda staff or kids contracted the virus at all. God has protected our staff and families mightily during this time. At school, we had a few community children who tested positive and others who simply stayed at home as a precaution when their parents tested positive, but even those cases were minimal.
The after effects of the lockdown have caused several problems throughout the country with unemployment rates skyrocketing (well over 25%) and the economy shrinking tremendously throughout the previous 2 quarters of this year. Again, God was gracious to Bethesda and we were able to keep everyone employed during this time. Many people in our community were not as fortunate. Rising unemployment caused more people to stay at home and that in turn fueled restlessness in the community. There was at least one serious incident at our gate, which could have turned into a riot if God did not protect us.
Another struggle we faced this year was to get Bethesda re-registered as a Child and Youth Care Centre with the local Department of Social Development. The Department’s reluctance to re-register Bethesda came as a complete surprise to us. This was the 3rd re-registration process that we’ve gone through with them and the first time that they’ve expressed concerns about allowing biological kids and those in care to share bedrooms. We were forced to make changes to our onsite accommodations to separate the biological children of house parents from the children placed in care with us, while remaining under the same roof. As things stand now, it seems that the registration process is nearing completion and that Bethesda will be officially re-registered to once again care for orphans and vulnerable children. We thank God for our child care team of Natasja Retief and Kelebogile Sebaka, who have worked tirelessly to get us to this point.
Jabulane Christian Academy’s principal, Anine Bonthuys and her team deserve to be commended for their efforts during the lockdown period. It’s not an easy feat to continue to provide high quality remote teaching in an area where the majority of kids don’t have access to consistent internet facilities. The teachers and leadership at school did an amazing job guiding learners through this process. JCA provided kids with soft and hard copies of work during the lockdown, teachers learned to make videos of themselves teaching, and everyone got a crash course in using technology to help our learners stay on track. We can honestly say that JCA learners did not miss any crucial teaching during the time the school was closed, or afterwards, when rotational class attendance started.
We’ve started raising funds and planning for the 5 classroom block that we intend to build in 2021. So far, we’ve raised approximately $54K on both sides of the ocean towards this project. By the grace of God, Bethesda managed to secure a matching gift towards this project of up to $100K, should we be able to raise that amount. Plans have already been drawn up and we are working towards making this project a reality in 2021.
We are learning every day that nothing is ever wasted in God’s economy. Andrew Dodd and his family went on furlough in February this year, with a firm intention to return in May, but God had other plans. With the onset of Covid and the accompanying travel restrictions, the Dodds were not able to return to SA as planned and are now permanently based in the US. Originally we had planned for the Dodd family to move back to the US at the end of this year, at which point Andrew would have taken over the responsibility of overseeing our US non-profit company, Bethesda Outreach Ministry International (BOMI). With this change of the timing of our plan, again God had gone before us to ensure that the ministry of Bethesda is secured on both sides of the ocean. Andrew and his family went through a time of great upheaval during the first few months of lockdown and we are all so thankful that God carried them through that time.
With Andrew now permanently deployed in the US, we brought in another team member to oversee some of his local duties. Quentin Saunders, an elder at Central, and a missionary involved with sports chaplaincy ministry in South Africa has taken over the local Orphan Care Development function on a part time basis. Even the fact that Quentin became involved when he did points to God’s sovereignty in arranging our plans. So far, Quentin has learned a lot about orphan care and has started connecting to local churches and individuals to help grow the development of orphan care in our area.
The rest of our admin team continue to serve with excellence in their various capacities to the glory of God. Michele Geurink oversees the daily management of onsite activities very well and Ruth Rising is dedicated to putting out high quality public relations material frequently. While many things have changed this year, the fact that Bethesda can rely on these two stalwarts has not.
As I look back at this year, I can only thank the Father of the fatherless for this team that He has assembled at Bethesda and for their efforts in raising disciples of Christ every day, for the glory of His name.