Joost van der Merwe was my friend. I met him one night about 12 years ago during an outreach when he was sleeping on a piece of cardboard and covered with some plastic bags in Mahatma Gandhi (Point) Road. His clothing was in tatters and he was hungry. Fortunately we had some food and a spare blanket which we could help him with.
I found him in the same place again the following Thursday evening, and regularly thereafter. We arranged some clothing for him when he humbly requested this, as well as food from time to time.
On an occasion we shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with him, and he advised that he was saved, having previously accepted Christ into his life as his Lord and Saviour. We always ended an evening’s discussion by sharing Scripture and praying together.
Joost was a very likeable person with a great personality. There was just one problem… he consumed alcohol excessively and was often quite drunk and unable to stand or talk coherently.
Due to harassment by the authorities, Joost had to move his sleeping places from area to area, but we stayed in touch regularly and continued our friendship and we provided him with some necessities to sustain him.
Towards the end of 2016, I became very concerned about Joost… his health was deteriorating and he continued to drink excessively when he had sufficient money to buy alcoholic drinks. During November 2016 I felt that I had to talk to him about his excessive drinking. I started the conversation by saying to him, “Joost, you are my friend.” He responded immediately with, “Yes Pat, we have been good friends for more than 10 years.” I then continued: “Joost, because you are my friend, and I care for you, I want to share with you what the Bible says about excessive drinking”. I then shared with him what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth about drunkards, and stressed that I was not condemning him, but that I was very, very concerned about his well-being; and because he was my friend, I felt compelled to warn him about the consequences of his excessive drinking. He listened attentively without talking, and at the end he nodded his head and thanked me for what I had shared. I left him that evening, not realising that I would not see him again on the streets.
During early January 2017, I became worried that I could not find him and put the word out to our friends on the streets that I was looking for him. During mid-January, I received a telephone call that Joost was in Addington Hospital, and that he had just passed away.
The statistics of homelessness:
There are about 4, 000 homeless people in the Durban inner city. About half of them stay in the two dozen or so night shelters, and the rest sleep on the streets at night.
Reasons for being homeless:
The 3 major drivers for being on the streets are:
1. Seeking employment
2. Family disagreements and
3. Substance abuse
What can you do to assist?
There is much that can be said to answer this question, e.g. go through your cupboards and donate clothing that you have not used in a while to the homeless; provide food to the hungry on the streets; give money to charitable institutions who provide for the homeless; pray for the upliftment of and provision for the homeless, and for more workers to reach out to them.
But I believe I can do no better than by urging you to get involved in reaching out to the homeless yourself; Paul put this so succinctly in 2 Cor 12:14 (NIV) “… what I want is not your possessions but you …”. (emphasis added)
The Good News translation of the Bible puts it this way: “It is you I want, not your money…”
The harvest is plenty but the workers are few …
How to get involved:
Join an existing outreach organization to learn how a typical outreach to the homeless is done. You can then go back to your church leadership and, together with them, seek God’s face for guidance on starting a regular outreach in your area.
Isinkwa Setheku (meaning ‘Bread for Durban’) is a NPO (Non Profit Organization) whose main purpose is the holistic upliftment of the destitute in the Durban inner city. With its origins more than 20 years ago, it is supported by Christians from many different churches and denominations, with no single church or denomination being dominant. They are willing to assist you to get started.