Grace and peace be multiplied to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
2020 has been both a year of tremendous difficulty and of triumph on different levels for us. We have lost some battles and probably failed in more ways than we are willing to admit, but we have also tasted victory as the Potter worked to shape us and mold us for works of service that would bring him glory and benefit his church for the good of our community.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)
These works which God prepared beforehand does not speak of specific, now-and-again ministry activity. It refers to the whole life of the believer. You as a whole are the workmanship of God in Jesus. God has foreordained the person he has created in Christ Jesus.
You might feel marred and scarred by the difficulties and personal failures of 2020, but you remain the workmanship of God in Jesus.
Here’s my encouragement to you, storm-tossed believer. Here is some insight on how God works with his people. How God works with you who have been marred by your own failures and those things that are simply beyond your control:
“Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear my words.”
Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says the LORD. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel!” (Jeremiah 18:2–6)
Jesus said that no one can pluck you out of his hand and out of his Father’s hands (John 10:28–29). Your failures, your struggles, yes, even those things beyond your control; it all happens in his hands. He will finish what he started (Philippians 1:6) and even when you are marred, it is in his hands and he will make from your life whatever “seemed good to the potter to make.”
I trust you’re encouraged. Now be further encouraged by our ministry update.
A woman after God’s heart and mine. If there is one thing that stood out for me last year it has to be the importance of a wife who loves God and whose confidence in the gospel and dependence upon God allows her to take necessary risks for the glory of God and the good of all people.
This has deepened our love for each other and intensified our desperation to see our children saved. It has allowed for freedom and accountability between us in ministry even when such ministry holds potential life-threatening consequences.
Yes, the risks are very real, but so much more worth taking when your wife values the renown and worth of Jesus more than life itself and shares in your convictions that a life that is desperately dependent upon God is a life guarded and protected by God.
About two months ago, after church, Charlene was dropping off some of the college students. After almost two hours, she had not returned home. I thought she might have had some counselling with some of the students but decided to call her, only to discover her phone ringing in our room. I left a message on the church group for the students to tell my wife I’m looking for her. One by one the students replied by saying that she only dropped them and left. I was getting worried and began calling all those whom I know she would usually visit. No one had seen her.
It had been more than two hours since she had left and I had started to get worried. Our area is not the safest area for a woman to roam around in.
I was just about to ask Quinton to take a drive with me to look for her when she came in. I was upset and relieved. Words were exchanged and emotions expressed.
My wife had felt the urgency to go visit a sickly lady to whom she had been witnessing. This lady stays in the roughest part of Bellville South. She went to go share the gospel with her and to assure her of her love and friendship. She forgot her phone and couldn’t contact me but felt compelled to share the hope of Christ with a lost soul. What more can a man ask for in a wife? When last did you feel compelled to share the gospel with someone regardless of the risks?
A little family history. It has always been our heart to take in vulnerable children from the streets or wherever, and to give them a Christian home where they will be exposed to Christ and his church. We believe this is the best way to impact the life of a child in a lasting way.
The first child the Lord gave us was only three months old. He was dirty and reeked of the smell of dagga and his mom was only fourteen years old and both her parents were addicts. He is a teenager now and doing very well in school. (I refrain from using their names in order not to expose them too much.) The other boy was eighteen-year-old, almost beaten to death by a drug-addicted father who swore he would kill him should he return home. He was bruised all over when we took him in. He was able to finish his matric with very good marks and is currently working part time. He’s been with us for almost three years now. And I’m sure you could never forget our little wonder boy, Noah. We adopted Noah after being inspired by Matthew Gibbs and his wife while lunching at Winton and Barbara’s. We had always talked about adoption but had never went into action. We got Noah when he was four months old. He is the one keeping us young.
We are also registered as a place of safety for vulnerable kids who need to be removed from a threatening environment and placed into care for about three months. We have had several kids pass through our house and were able to be a gospel witness to them while they were with us. Recently, another kid was brought to us and, after hearing her, story we felt that we could not allow her to be swallowed up by the welfare system.
Her name is Esther. She will be in matric this year. She has been with us for two weeks and she needs a lot of love, support and understanding.
She is seventeen years old and her chances of being adopted or even fostered are slim to none. Esther turns eighteen this year and will no longer be the responsibility of social services but will basically have to make her own way. We decided to take her in to help her finish school and pursue further studies. She was supposed to join us in December, but COVID-19 hit our family and she couldn’t come. Hopefully, she will come within this month. We have prayed for wisdom about our decision and are trusting the Lord to help us as we seek to love her and make her part of our family. She will not be the last. It is our desire to add as many as the Lord would allow us to have. Pray for us!
Church Life and Ministry
2020 was a difficult year for all of us. It came with some amazing twists and turns and sometimes it felt like a dream where you fall but you never hit the ground.
I remember ending 2019 with so much excitement. We had to move the literature table further to the back to pack out more chairs. I remember asking for more chairs to be provided as we were receiving more and more visitors on a Sunday. That was in December when most people were leaving for holiday. Usually, the church would have less people. We packed out more than sixty chairs and even that was not enough. We ended the yar on a very high note.
January 2020 came and still people came. We still packed out all the chairs. We were just about ready to complete membership classes and bring those who applied for membership before the church when coronavirus came, walking through the borders of our country, and panic and fear hit the nation.
I don’t think any of us ever thought that something like this would happen during our time. This would also be the first time we experienced a nationwide lockdown (although some of us have experienced curfews and restrictions during the apartheid years).
We quickly had to adapt and rethink how we could still shepherd God’s people and point them to the one who has all things under his control.
I praise God for a resilient church—resilient only because of his faithfulness toward them and their dependency on God. He kept us and is still keeping us.
Christ is building his church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). This literally means that neither death, nor the threat of it, shall prevail against the church. Since the inception of the church, she has always been under threat of death. Coronavirus is a small blip on the radar of church history. Christ is building his church.
I am convinced that Christ employs at least three ways to build his church: (1) His word preached faithfully; (2) the conviction of the Holy Spirit; and (3) the fellowship of the believers (community).
Allow me to share a few observations of how I have witnessed Christ at work in building our local church, Reformed Faith Mission Community Church.
The expositional preaching of his word. I have been blessed to see how God used the preaching of his word in the practical, day-to-day lives of his saints. I am happy to say that the sermons are relevant to our lives, while being faithful to the text and its context. The Lord has blessed this church with men who spend hours to make sure we bring God’s word to the saints prayerfully, accurately, and with much conviction (2 Timothy 2:15).
I praise God for preachers like Quinton, who is probably one of my favourite preachers, and for Thato who has grown tremendously in his preaching, and for Cebo whose preaching has been used by God to highlight issues that deal directly with the selfish heart of greed and covetousness that plagues our community and believers.
I have always wanted this church to be a church where men are raised up as preachers of God’s word and I think I can see the fruit of that.
He ensures our holiness. During 2020 some members of our church approached some of the mature believers confessing that they struggle with sexual sins. This was heartbreaking but also very encouraging. The community of the church has created a safe place for believers who struggle with potentially scandalous sins to confess and repent. This comes as a result of the Holy Spirit’s conviction and faithful preaching that rain down fire on sin, while pointing sinners to the amazing grace and forgiveness only found in Christ.
Some of these cases needed the attention of Charlene and me to personally counsel some members and even to meet with a sinning member and pastor from another church, while other cases are being lovingly followed up and discipled by other mature Christians in the church. We are all accountable to each other.
Christ is building this church. He will not allow his children to remain in their sin but will lead them to deeper holiness.
He disciplines the wayward. This follows the previous observation. As I mentioned, Christ is building this church and he will not allow his children to remain in their sin. If you seek to cover up your sin, God will bring it into the open.
This is such a wonderful mercy from the Lord. He will not allow sin to destroy his children completely. As elders and leaders, we do not always know the kinds of sins our people struggle with, but the Chief Shepherd knows.
Everything lays naked and bare before him to whom we must give an account and every time he exposes the sin of his children it is a mercy that saves them from a destructive end. It is in light of such mercies that we who are spiritual should seek to restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1).
Yes indeed, Christ is building his church through the discipline and chastisement of his wayward children.
He restores the humble and repentant soul. I have seen how Christ restores the repentant soul to a more wilful, desperate dependency upon him. The purpose of sin in the believer’s life is to drive you to Christ and to make you more dependent on him.
Oh, what joy when a pastor sees this.
He upholds and mends the brokenhearted. Christ build his church by upholding the believer who had to weather storm after storm and the one whose world seem to suddenly collapse. The believer who has been betrayed and humiliated, and whose heart has been broken in ways that cannot adequately be described by words, finds an anchor in Christ that up till then might have only been an allegory, but now is very real. He upholds them with his right hand of righteousness, fighting for their vindication, while comforting them with restorative grace like a balm of Gilead. His presence is ever so near them. It is good to be near God (Psalm 73:28).
As I write, this I am thinking of two marriages on the verge of divorce with seemingly no restoration in sight. But God! I am still in awe of my God when I see what the Lord has done. How we have cried and prayed with these saints and trusting God to do what man cannot do. All our counselling would not be adequate to perform the wonders that God has done. Christ is building this local church and he does it by upholding and mending the brokenhearted.
He provides leaders according to his determined purposes. For the past three to four years, Quinton and I have been praying for more elders and deacons. God has provided deacons and we are still trusting him for more deacons. However, the greatest cry of our hearts was for more elders.
First, we identified Cebo and Theo as candidates for eldership and taught on the role of shepherds and worked with them through a book on eldership. We had many conversations and studies with them on this and were convinced that the Lord had provided the church with more elders. But eldership is a calling that we do not have the authority to bestow on people. God calls men to the office of elder. Our job is to train up leaders and to discerningly affirm such a calling. It became clear that these men who are serving well as deacons are not called to be elders. They may be in the future, but not now. Both of them told us that they don’t think that God has called them and we finally accepted it providentially to be the case.
Our attention was also on Thato. This man has been serving the church well. We would hear reports of his service from members of the church. Here is a man who is already on his own accord shepherding the hearts of people from our church; a man who is an able teacher with a burden for the saints. Surely, the Lord has blessed us with an elder? Thato also declined the prospect of eldership. I wrote him a very stern letter in which I threatened him with God’s discipline, be it ever so severely should he be found to rebel against God’s call (in the spirit of Guillaume Farel to John Calvin).
For now, it seems that Christ has seen it fit to have us remain being two elders leading, overseeing, and shepherding this local church of our Lord Jesus. A wise man told me: “Only work with what God provides. God provides the capacity for the ministries he wants you to undertake.”
Christ builds his church through the community of the saints. This reality became more evident during this time of lockdown, sickness, and death. Without the community of the saints, we are not able to practice the “one another” commands of Scripture. Without the community of the saints, the gospel lacks a transforming witness to point to. Without the community of the saints, we have no authentic context in which to witness the grace that comes through the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Table.
The gathering of the saints under the preaching of God’s word is meant to be the foundation from which community is built. Community then becomes the bond of peace that unites us when we are restricted from gathering.
It was great to see how members from our church were reaching out to each other, praying for one another, and helping with food parcels where they could.
I think this was probably the busiest year for Quinton and me as we visited many who were sick and who were without income in our community. Many whose own pastors were afraid to come pray for them and to just be there for them.
We visited all the members of Reformed Faith Mission during lockdown. It is our conviction that, as shepherds, we do not have the right to run for safety when our members are suffering. We have been called to shepherd God’s flock in a real tangible way and only God is able to remove shepherds whom he has appointed for his flock. If COVID-19 is the means he uses to remove us, then praise God. Christianity was never a safe religion. It was always under threat of death and all sorts of trials.
He overrides the best made plans of man. Christ builds his church by overriding the plans of men. We have been praying for a specific building before most of the members of Reformed Faith Mission were here. We finally gave up and pursued other plans. Some seemed very positive. I remember telling Quinton like I told him about the building, “This time we are going to get this land. I can just feel it.” We drove up and down looking for land and setting up appointments, sending emails with proposal, etc. When COVID-19 came and we lost our venue, we became even more desperate. I started with plans to build a hall on top of my house, which would have cost me about R80k.
None of these plans worked out. Christ was restricting this. He is building his church.
He rewards faithfulness. Christ builds his church by rewarding the faithfulness of his people. I remember telling a couple in our church that the reason they are always in need could be that they are not faithful in the way they deal with their money. I also recall telling another couple that they cannot expect God to reward them for unfaithful service. If you are not faithfully serving Christ through serving his church, how can you expect to be served yourself? He who waters others will himself be watered (Proverbs 11:25).
God rewards faithfulness. Imagine praying for God to give you an increase in salary in order that you may spend it on your own desires. God does not answer such prayers (James 4:3).
Faithfulness speaks of the character of one who can be relied on. It speaks of the character of a righteous man. Someone whose trust in God has allowed him to abandon selfish ambition. It is the pursuit of the pleasure of God and the glory of Christ’ name; against self-promotion and building a name for oneself. Yes, faithfulness is the responsibility of man but it is enabled by the Spirit of God in man.
I believe this to be the reason why God has granted us this building. This church was found faithful through God’s enabling grace. By his grace, we have received it and through great grace we will use it to promote our Saviour’s renown and his gospel.
May 2021 be a year in which this church, Reformed Faith Mission Community Church, continues to faithfully hold on to what we have: faith in Christ and obedience to his word, as we take advantage of the open door that Christ gave us for his glory (Revelation 3:7).
Thank you for taking time out to read this lengthy report and for praying for us.
Yours in his service,
Mario F. Maneville
Reformed Faith Mission Community Church