The Table Podcast

Ministry Amidst Racial Injustice in South Africa

Dr. Darrell L. Bock and Neil Henry discuss racial injustice and apartheid, focusing on Henry’s experience and ministry in South Africa.

Timecodes
00:15
Henry’s work in South Africa
03:20
Henry’s family background
07:10
The effects of South African apartheid policies
15:30
Henry’s imprisonment
20:00
The effects of interrogation and torture
26:00
Henry’s Christian experience
30:00
Henry meets a police officer from his past
35:00
How Henry’s experiences shaped his ministry
37:15
The effects of gang violence on the church
43:10
God’s grace in a dysfunctional culture
Transcript
Darrell Bock
The following podcast on Apartheid, Race in South Africa, and the Provenance of God, is going to be a very detailed and graphic description of race and persecution and violence. And so we wanted to let you know that before we ran it, because we want you to be able to have the choice to choose not to listen. On the other hand, if you’ll hang in with us, we think you’re in for a very interesting look at the way in which people can treat one another in destructive ways, and the way in which God can step in to that destructiveness.

Welcome to The Table, we discuss issues of God and culture. And my guest today is Neil Henry, who has come to us all the way from Cape Town in South Africa. So he’s had a long swim. And Neil is a pastor in Lavender Hill, which is a part of a suburban township in Cape Town, is that right?

Neil Henry
That’s correct, absolutely.
Darrell Bock
And how long have you been a pastor at the church there?
Neil Henry
I’ve been at this church for seven years, but been in pastoral ministry for over 20 years.
Darrell Bock
Okay, and you’re on staff as well at the Bible Institute of South Africa, right?
Neil Henry
That’s right, I’m responsible for the Christian Leadership Program. It’s a program that trains pastor and church leaders from the greater Cape Flats community, which is the larger part of our community.
Darrell Bock
Okay, and the Cape Flats are part of the poorest parts of South Africa, correct?
Neil Henry
That’s right. The Cape Flats were developed because of the Group Areas Act. It was one of the Apartheid laws that were instituted in the early 1960s.
Darrell Bock
Okay, so our topic is race and Apartheid in South Africa, and kind of where South Africa is today, viewed through a Christian lens. And so I’ve brought Neil in. This summer, I spent some time in South Africa, And Neil was part of the program that I was put on, and I got to hear his testimony. And that’s what we’re gonna be sharing with you today, as you get a glimpse of a completely different cultural experience on race that I also think has some interesting insights for us as Christians.

So Neil will just dive into the story, if we can. Tell us a little bit about your family background, and as you do that, tell us briefly about the ethnic mix that your family is. And I’ve got to go through some terminology first. In South Africa, the term “colored” is a technical racial term for people of mixed racial background.

Neil Henry
That’s right.
Darrell Bock
And it’s distinguished from “black”, which is someone who is, I take it, completely racially black, at least as best at the person knows.
Neil Henry
And the indigenous people of Africa.
Darrell Bock
And the indigenous people of Africa as well. So these are terms that are going to be common. Some of what I’m going to have to do during this is to translate Neil’s South African English into American English, so that we can follow the story and not get lost. So with that as the introduction, tell us a little bit about your family background, and how Apartheid worked in your life.
Neil Henry
Well just very briefly, maybe let’s begin with just my ethnic mix. I was able to track our family tree, just back two generations. Can’t do much more than that. On my mom’s side, we have a mix of Irish mercenary, with young slave girl that was exiled on Saint Helena Island. And then on my dad’s side, the mix would be French Huguenot, Dutch, ostrich farmer that came from Europe, together with a khoisan slave woman that was part of the indigenous people that had been emancipated.
Darrell Bock
So this is European, Malays, Khoisan, which is what, a –?
Neil Henry
Khoisan. In the old terms, they would have been spoken about as, they were the indigenous Hottentot and Bushmen people.
Darrell Bock
Okay, all right. So you’ve got the full mix, basically.
Neil Henry
It’s all there.
Darrell Bock
So you’re colored in Technicolor almost.
Neil Henry
In many ways. I think we probably the rainbow nation all wrapped up in one. [Laughs]
Darrell Bock
Oh wow, okay. So talk about your family background, and how Apartheid affected your life when you were growing up.
Neil Henry
I was born in the 1950s, 1959, just made it into that decade. And that had always been the start of white nationalism, where the white nationalist party had developed Apartheid laws that were then instituted. My family, we – I was born in a town called Benoni, in a little township called Actonville, one of six brothers. And our family were displaced in 1963 by the Group Areas Act. Actonville had been declared an Indian area, and we were then moved to a new township. Families that had the means were able to move into a new township called Bosmont, that was a completely new development for colored people. And sort of became a middle class colored community. And those who didn’t have the means would move into council houses that the government had provided. My dad was a schoolteacher, and so he qualified for a subsidy, a housing subsidy, and so we had a fairly comfortable home.

For the next number of years of my life, we had a – I grew up in a primary school that was in a colored community, but reasonably well sourced. High school, much the same. But the area was racially segregated, and so we had a new railway station, but there were two sections to the station. You had a white section and a non-white section. And we were never allowed to use the white section of the station. There were facilities nearby. There was a post office that was segregated, and we would have to use the non-white section of the post office. And all amenities had been segregated.

So those early Apartheid rules, several of them, Group Areas Act, Mixed Marriages Act, the government had prohibited the marriage of people of color with white people. And then when people of color and white people live together, they then passed a law called the Immorality Act. So it outlawed any kind of relationship across the color boundary. There was a race classification register, which brought about those designations: white, Indian, colored, and black, or Bantu was the term used back then. And your identity document would carry that kind of classification as well. People of color had to carry a special document called a passbook. And that passbook was your document to be able to move out of your designated area into areas that were occupied by white folks.

Other laws included the Suppression of Terrorism Act. It was a law to help protect the nationalist party government against any kind of anti-Apartheid protests, or action against them. The Separate Development Act, which – Job Preservation Act. These were all laws that entrenched the separate development of white people from people of color.

Darrell Bock
Okay, so that’s the world that you lived in. So let’s talk about your experience. You go to college – up to this point, you’re just living a normal South African life, right?
Neil Henry
Yeah, fairly comfortable. We weren’t wealthy, and my dad was one of those reasonable civil servants. You obey the laws of government, you didn’t shake your fist in the face of those in authority, but he would inculcate values of integrity and honesty and hard work. Loyalty. Those were things that he inculcated in us. And so for all of my years, right up to my matrichia, my finishing up high school –
Darrell Bock
Matriculation, right.
Neil Henry
That’s right. Fairly oblivious of any problems in the country. Even though we lived segregated lives. The first that I became conscientized to that was probably late 1975, with the death of Steve Biko. He was a black consciousness activist, he died at the hands of the security police in ’75. Was badly beaten up, he died, and that hit the place. And as school kids, I was in my grade, 11 year, for the first time started questioning what this was about.

The following year, we had the outbreak of the June ’76 riots. School kids in Soweto rose up against the government. They didn’t arrange, didn’t tell their parents, but a mass protest took place in Soweto. And kids marched from every corner of the township towards their local police station. And they were really protesting the substandard education system. They were protesting the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. Bear in mind, Afrikaans at that stage was regarded as the language of the oppressor, and had been made the official language of the country, I think back in the 1930s, by this nationalist party government. And then of course these – in the black schools, kids were also made to learn Afrikaans as a language. So being the indigenous languages was not their first language, Afrikaans was made to be your first language.

And then behind it all, there was also the protests and calling for the police – for the release of political prisoners. At that stage, all political organizations, anti-Apartheid organizations had been banned. Leaders were imprisoned on Robben Island in Pretoria and elsewhere. And many others had been driven into exile. So that was the climate in 1976. And the thing that we would do was to avoid getting signed up in military training – because then, I had to sign up as a colored person to join what’s called the Cape Corps. It was a colored division of the South African Defense Force. There was no way I could go fight a war and defend the borders of the country for a nationalist government. So I’d applied and went to University.

University of the Witwatersrand was one of two universities that would take students of color. And we’d have to apply for special ministerial consent from the minister of the interior to be able to go. And they only took a certain number. And – but those were two universities that would take us, and so I went and I enrolled, I started studying law. Got involved around on the campus, and suddenly you discover that you’re now in an environment where students are highly politically conscientized. And I’d wandered into a mass meeting with students had been protesting – the black students had been protesting the arrest under the Terrorism Laws of a number of their leaders. There was mass pandemonium, and I opened my mouth, I suggested a sit-in, a protest of classes, a boycott of classes, a march to demand their release, send a telegram to the Prime Minister of the country. Went up to Charleston Street Post Office with this march, and them promptly got arrested for the first time by the security police.

There was a law that had been instituted under the Terrorism Act, the Suppression of Terrorism Act, called the Internal Security Act. It was sort of a subsection of a law, and they called it Section 22. It was notorious, because with this law, you could be incarcerated without being charged, without the rights to receive bail, without appearing in a court, without the rights to representation, legal representation. No visitation rights. No district surgeon. And you’d be tossed into a cell for as long as the police would want to interrogate you.

The police organization back then was known as the Bureau of State Security. B-O-S-S, very appropriately, the BOSS. And that was the first of several incarcerations that I’d endured. Over a period of two and a half years, I’d never been sentenced in a court of law. But I’d had several times that I’d been picked up, beaten, interrogated, for various bits of information. And spend a fair amount of time in a number of different police sells. Amongst them, the notorious John Vorster Square. In our news at the moment is the story of Ahmed Timol, whose case is – the police reported that he’d committed suicide, he’d jumped from the 10th floor of the building. He’d obviously been thrown, as many others had. And so that case has come up in the courts at the moment. I’d been in John Vorster Square, I knew the place.

Brixton Police Station was known as the workshop. That was the nickname for it, and you could figure out why it was called workshop, ‘cause you certainly got a working over. I’d been in Kruger prison, it was on the outskirts of the city. And then the one that I remember most clearly was Mother B. It was a small prison just outside Benoni, the proud place where I’d actually grown up. In total, over a period of two and a half years, I’d had 182 days that I’d be in and out of police cells. Varying periods, sometimes for 14 days, sometimes – 28 days was one long stint, and then the longest was a 52-day stint. Others were shorter, make a weekend, three or four days.

When you’re arrested and taken to Mother B, it was obviously to interrogate you for information around the leadership of the movement. The movement, obviously, that I had then become a part of was known as the Black Consciousness Movement. And this had flowed out of the Steve Biko era. He was in fact one of the early propagators of the Black Consciousness Movement.

Darrell Bock
And the Black Consciousness Movement was a movement that just made people aware of race in general. It isn’t just strictly blacks?
Neil Henry
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And in fact, anybody that – it sort of pushed for a decolonization of the country. And for the return of assets to indigenous people. And so pan-Africanism would have been a strong part of that. There were some slogans that came out of it back then. Kill the Boer, Kill the Farmer. And those were obviously very negatively perceived.
Darrell Bock
And at this point, you’re not a believer, so you’re just going through life and have reacted to what’s going on around you.
Neil Henry
This was just a reaction to my arriving on the campus. I was not a Christian, and though I had grown up in a reasonably religious home, but my exposure to the gospel was somewhat limited. That really only came several years later, and I’ll maybe say something about that in a bit.
Darrell Bock
Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about the particular imprisonment. This is a part of the story that I particularly recall. Talk about the way in which interrogation was taking place, and disorientation for the prisoner took place.
Neil Henry
There were probably several goals behind the imprisonment. One was to remove you from association with the organization. And then of course to break you down, bit by bit, that you’d no longer be a part of it. The levels of indignity are hard to explain, that what would happen is you’d arrive at the prison, you knew you were facing at least 14 days where you had absolutely no rights. All your clothing would be taken away, you’d be stripped naked. You’d be showered and then you’d have to endure the indignity of a cavity search. You’d then be issued with what you’d live with for the next couple of days: a grass mat, probably about the size of this table that would lie on the floor; a felt mat that would lay on top of it; and then two gray blankets. We used to call them foul donkeys. That’s an Afrikaans word meaning, “gray donkeys.” And the reason for that was because the texture of the blanket was very similar to the hair of a donkey. Very course. You’d also be given a bucket, and you could decide what you do with the bucket. You could either fill it with water and use it for drinking and freshening up, or you’d use it for your ablutions. And that would be rotated every 24 hours. You decided what you would do with it.

You were placed into a cell. The building was very odd, because it was built below the ground and there bars on the inside, but the walls really were just corrugated zinc all the way around. And the cells were nine by six, so you basically had space to lay your mattress down, and a space almost the same size as the marriage alongside of it. Bare concrete. The windows were at ground level, and so there would be a grill where the glass would be.

Darrell Bock
So it’s actually above you.
Neil Henry
It’s high above, probably about nine feet. It would be about nine feet above you. So you couldn’t actually reach it. But you knew that those were the windows, because sometimes there’d be a glimmer of light coming through it. But most times it was so cluttered with dirt from the outside, because it was a ground level, you couldn’t tell. Single light in the center of the cell, sort of a pale yellow light. And you wouldn’t really know if it was day or night.

What they would do is, they would begin to disorient you by feeding you three meals a day. You went on what they call spare diet. And spare diet would include breakfast, lunch, and supper. The way that I knew the difference was, breakfast always had – it was all mieliepap, it’s a sort of grits porridge that we were given. So you would have mielie pap in the morning, and you know that was the morning meal because it had golden syrup with it. The lunch meal had sort of a soup with it. Or you’d be given a drink called pusamandra. It was a sour-ish drink that was loaded with protein. And then the third meal would have a block of animal fat with it, and so you knew that was dinner.

So you had breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but they bring it to you at odd hours. So you could receive breakfast at 6:00 in the morning, lunch at 8:00, and then your supper at 10:00. And then you’d starve until the next time breakfast comes, and that could be at 5:00 the next morning. And then it could be 5:00 and 7:00 and 9:00, and then it would switch and go to 11:00 and 1:00 and 3:00. And so they would do that just to disorient you. And in between, you’d be fetched for interrogation.

So the process was to wear you down. You’d lose any sense of time. In order to stay focused, and this was a government who believed that they were doing what was Christian, and so they would give you a page of the bible with your meal. And they tear the whole bible apart, and you’d get a page, but each day you’d get a different page. You could have a page from Habakkuk today and Revelations tomorrow and Ephesians the next day. And that was very confusing. So I wasn’t a Christian, so I’d read, but yeah, just didn’t have an idea as to what it was about.

Darrell Bock
What it was you were reading, yeah. So now that’s interrogation, there’s this process, we probably have time just to describe a little bit of the beatings that also took place. There was physical torture as well.
Neil Henry
One of the things that we did was to produce leaflets. And it would be anti-government propaganda, and call for the boycott of white-dominated businesses, government installations, that type of thing. And so in the interrogations, in the torture, they’d want you to release information around who the leaders were. We had the leaflets were being printed, we had the meetings were being held, who the speakers would be. And various means of torture were used, most commonly beatings with the first sjambok. It was a piece of leather, animal leather, that had been dried with a whip aerial of a car, a wet towel. Electric shock. Electrodes attached to the genitals and shock pass through the body. Water boarding, very common. Sack over the head, water poured over the face. And those were to some of the cruel tortures that were applied.
Darrell Bock
And the goal was to break you down emotionally, correct?
Neil Henry
Oh, emotionally and physically. And physically, yeah.
Darrell Bock
And so this led you to a state of depression, basically, and you thought a couple of times about taking your life.
Neil Henry
Oh, absolutely. Over a period of two and a half years, it had gotten to the point – now there were a couple of things that led to my just being worn down. That was one of them. Another was a visit that had taken me to my mom’s place, they trashed my mom’s home searching for a silk screen. They didn’t find it, I didn’t know where it was, but they trashed my mom’s home. I wasn’t staying at home. She cut my shirt off, because they wouldn’t take the handcuffs off, and dabbed my body with an antiseptic bath. You know, in order to get rid of some of the fleabites that I’d had on the skin. They allowed her to dress me, she put some antiseptic cream on my upper torso. And then she made a drink of glucose and honey in milk, and when she tried to help me drink it, ‘cause I couldn’t hold it with the handcuffs on, the police and the security policemen had come, slapped it out of my hand. It smashed against the wall, and for the first time in that entire ordeal, I saw my mom weep. And that was hard. I actually determined I didn’t want to put my family through that.

A couple of other things. The police would often bring Polaroid photographs of what the students were doing while we were languishing in the cells. And I think unfortunately with a mob, you find that when your leaders are gone, the guys go partying. And that would be brandished in your face. And then I had a number of friends who had disappeared. Just disappeared, never heard from again. Their bodies were found in the bush, shot, buried, sometimes you’d never hear of them. And a very dear friend of mine had been killed by the security police. And that negatively affected me. So slid into a bit of depression. And for four years after – for three years after I’d left through the university, just floundered around with that depression.

Darrell Bock
Probably the most painful part of this story is what you just told, which is the time when there was – when your mom had to go through and exchange with the police as they had you incarcerated. And on the other end of that, you became very depressed and got on the edge of suicide. And I’m fascinated by what prevented you from killing yourself.
Neil Henry
Yeah, between 1980 and 1984, I was a very angry young man, filled with hatred. Just hated white people, and everything they stood for. And particularly, the policeman that had been responsible for some of those incarcerations, his face would come to mind often. And it drive me to the brink of suicide. And I decided the best way to go would be to smash my motorcycle into a concrete wall. And so I got onto my bike one day, had a big super bike, loosened the strap of the helmet, and then my eyes welled up with tears as I prepared to smash my bike. And I suddenly had an image in my head of a jam donut, and a can of Stoney Ginger Beer, it’s a soda that we have. The Stoney was ice cold with the dew running down the outside, and this jam donut, this golden-brown with a crystal-white sugar and –
Darrell Bock
You’re making me hungry.
Neil Henry
and apricot jam just oozing out the side. And that image was so powerful that it made me turn around and go and shoplift a jam donut and a Stoney, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I went back to my room, and slipped on the carpet, because I’d got rid of everything, thinking I was gonna die, and planning to kill myself. And then the next morning and I’d woke, and the depression was back. And I went and wanted to do the same thing, and for the second day I got that image. And that stopped me from doing that.

I went from job to job during that period, and every job, I’d either lost it or I walked out in anger after striking somebody, and normally the white boss. By 1984, just couldn’t handle it any longer. Met a friend who had come from Cape Town, and decided I’m gonna go to Cape Town to turn over a new leaf. And so I hiked to Cape Town with two rand, 37 cents in my pocket. Left all my belongings behind. Said to my mom, “I’m leaving, I’m going to start a new life.” I hike to Cape Town, and I promptly landed in the home of a Christian family in a _____ –

Darrell Bock
So just to explain, two rand is – rand is like the South African equivalent of currency, it’s –
Neil Henry
That’s right, that’s right, yeah.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, okay, go ahead. So you would be –
Neil Henry
So that would be about 20 cents US.
Darrell Bock
Twenty cents, all right. In your pocket, wow.
Neil Henry
Yes. I hiked, I went to this family in a township called Mitchells Plane, it’s a large colored township that was developed under the Group Areas Act. The family I went to were, they were a believing family. I didn’t know that. I was friends with their sons in Johannesburg, and these boys were living a righteous life. They were my friends, and they said, “Go and tell our folks that we’re okay,” which I did. They knew that I was lying. They then invited me to stay with them. Opened their home to me, this was odd. They took a stranger in off the street who came and lied to them. And this mom went down the corridor after we had dinner, and she prayed for her sons. And I realized she didn’t believe me. And then she prayed for this new son that the lord had sent into her life. And the prayer said, “Please rescue him before he perishes in hell.” And I was confronted with the reality of the lostness of my state at that point.

This family shared the gospel with me. I came to faith a week later, and then I lived with them for six months. And that began the first days of my Christian life. I met my wife that very year, they took me to a youth camp. And we met, she was a Capetonian girl. We – a year later, 1986, we got married. And then we worked with an interdenominational outreach group called Mission to Youth for a number of years. And it was really just visiting folks in various communities, sharing the gospel, door-to-door campaigns, open air services, tract drives. And we went down to a town called George. It’s outside the Cape, about 300 kilometers, and visited a hospital in a colored township that was for terminally ill patients. And the idea was to visit the beds of these patients, read scripture, pray with them. And we sort of split up into – there was a whole team of us, so we split up into ones and twos. And we went from bed to bed, and I –

Darrell Bock
So it’s a compassion ministry, basically.
Neil Henry
It is a compassion ministry, and evangelistic. We worked with the local church in the area. And so we were at this hospital, and I tumbled onto the bed of a man, and immediately I recognized him. And there was this policemen, this colonel, who I’d hated so much. Now remember, I’d been a Christian at this stage, this was about 1989, and I’d been a Christian for five years. And suddenly all of the anger and the bitterness, the resentment, the hatred, it all welled up again. And when I’d seen him, I just wanted to tell him how much I hated him. I wanted to say to him how much I was glad that he’s – and he was dying of emphysema. So he was lying on this bed, filthy hospital, and he’d –
Darrell Bock
Colored hospital, so you must’ve –
Neil Henry
Colored hospital.
Darrell Bock
A white policemen in a colored hospital.
Neil Henry
This was quite ironic, because he was a senior policeman in the South African police force. And what had happened was, between 1983, ’84, and 1989, Apartheid was being dismantled. The writing was on the wall. Sanctions, international pressure were taking its toll. Internal pressure from a number of anti-Apartheid organizations. Though they were banned, but the country was in a state of emergency. And the government knew that things would fall apart soon. And they started to put out to seed a lot of the old guard that would have embarrassed the whole transition process. And he was one that was put out. He was put out with a package, but somehow his own family had estranged themselves from him.
Darrell Bock
So he was all alone.
Neil Henry
And he was all alone, and he ended up in a colored hospital. A man who had persecuted people of color for many years was now dying in a colored hospital, being cared for by people that he’d previously persecuted. I just thought it was very ironic. I thought about it afterwards and thought, how strange that the people that he would have thrown in prison and beaten and tortured are the very people that cared for him when he died.

Well, there he was, I took him by his hand and shook him. Fairly violently, because all that anger just spilled out. And I asked him if he remembered me, I asked him in Afrikaans. And he sort of shrugged his shoulders. And that upset me, that he couldn’t even remember who I was. And so I shook him again, and I gave him the nickname that he’d given me. And the moment I said the nickname, he acknowledged. He then put his hand on mine, and with tears rolling down his face, he looked at me and in Afrikaans he said to me, “Sir, would you please forgive me.” Of course I was shattered. I fell apart. I broke down, I was weeping. He was weeping.

And the crew came along, and they wanted to know what’s happening here. And so my wife came, and she’d sort of figured out this had something to do with something back in the past. And it wasn’t detail that I’d bothered to share with her. It didn’t seem that important. I mean I’d become a Christian, I’d dealt with this, I’d moved on, and so this was in the past. And all she said to the others was, “Go away, I’ll deal with this.”

And she opened her Bible and she just began to read Philippians Four, “I plead with you Syntyche and Euodia to be at peace with one another.” And she just read all account of Paul helping these folks who were in conflict. And then she read, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” and the one thing that was gone was any sense of joy. I’d never felt more miserable at that time. “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice, for the Lord is near.” And I’d not – five years I’d been reading the Bible, had not clearly heard that line. “The Lord is near, be anxious about nothing, in everything by prayer and supplication make request known to God, and the peace of God, which passes all understanding.” And she read the entire passage, and went back and read it again. And again I heard that line, “The Lord is near.”

And it suddenly struck me that the Lord could be standing in the doorway of this ward, wanting to step into our lives, and here I am in a shattered relationship with a man, and angry and bitter with him. And knowing how much I’d been forgiven, and I couldn’t find it in my heart to actually express forgiveness to this man. I broke down and wept, I stepped outside into a little courtyard, and Trish played. We’d left there a couple of days later, we traveled home, and it bothered me for two weeks. I just wanted to be with this man. I wanted to go see him. I realized he was alone and destitute, and Trish agreed that we’d go back and visit.

And when we got back there, he’d passed away. And because his family hadn’t come to claim his body, he was given a pauper’s burial during that week that we were there. And Trish and I stood at that open gravesite. Tractor came, dug a big hole, they put all these bodies in there. The state brought these bodies, laid them in there. The tractor closed the hole, a priest had sprinkled some holy water over the site. Not a prayer was prayed, not a hymn was sung, not a scripture was read, not a word of obituary was given. Just absolutely no dignity whatsoever, and he was buried that way.

I tried to go to the nurses afterwards, and it was very interesting that these nurses had no idea that this was that policeman, that had such a notorious reputation. Because in the time he was in the hospital, they could not understand. This was just a sweet old man that was suffering, and his family had rejected him. And I have no doubt that the Lord must have done a work in his life. But that moment was absolutely necessary for me. Providentially, the Lord gave me that so that I could confront just some of the issues that I’d been grappling with. And even though I’d been a Christian for so long, there were just pent-up issues that I’d never dealt with. A lot of that was sitting inside me, and that moment really just cut the skin and revealed what needed to be revealed in my own heart.

Wonderful moment, I think that I treasured because, I think without that, I’d probably still be grappling with bitterness. It dealt, it dealt with a lot of the bitterness that I had. It dealt with my attitudes towards people that were fairer skinned. It dealt with my insecurities where I’d thought of others as more superior than myself, and that I’d been underprivileged and disadvantaged because of my skin color. And interestingly, several years later, the church that I ended up pastoring down in our community was a largely white church. And many of those, that very experience just gave me the opportunity to be able to deal with that ministry more effectively.

Darrell Bock
You actually ended up ministering to a lot of people who held the attitudes that were like the policeman who had beaten you up, correct?
Neil Henry
Dozens. In fact, right up until last week, I spoke at a conference – I’m part of ACBC Africa, Association of Certified Biblical Counselors – and our conference was on race and racism. And an elderly gentleman came to me after the conference, spoke Afrikaans, he was a former policeman. And he embraced me, thanked me for sharing some of this testimony, and just said to me with a gnarled, authoritative finger pointed at me, and said to me, in Afrikaans, “You’re my brother and I love you.”

So I’ve had wonderful opportunity over the years who have been in that situation. And from both sides of the line. I mean these days, remember, we have a generation of younger people growing up that can’t make this connection to the past. These are events that happened in history, and the way that history books have been written has always been slanted. And so this has been an opportunity to be able to share some of these things and help this generation connect the dots of history. That these were real events that they really took place, and there were people that were affected, and are still affected today.

Darrell Bock
The thing that strikes me about your story, and when I was asked to comment this when you gave the original testimony in South Africa, ‘cause that’s what I was asked to do, I said to you, “It’s hard to believe but it’s important to remember that people are capable of doing this to one another.” And yet on the other hand, that God is so at work in the way your particular story has unfolded. So there’s a lot to learn here. You now teach at the Bible Institute of South Africa, and you minister, interestingly enough, in a community known as Lavender Hill. And this – you managed to live a life that is amazing. This is actually one of the more dangerous places in Cape Town. If I can make an analogy that ties to the United States, this would be like ministering in the most violent parts of South Chicago. And there are murders that literally take place across the street from your church. There’s gang activity, et cetera. Talk about, a little bit about what the people in your church nave to live with and through.
Neil Henry
We came to Lavender Hill Church six years ago, and the reason for that was, I wanted to be closer to the community that represents the – that the pastors that we’re training in our Christian Leadership program at the Bible Institute, they come from similar communities. And I felt I wanted to be at the gulface. In 30 years of ministry, I don’t think anything had prepared us for what we encountered at Lavender Hill. It is probably one of the most violent townships of Cape Town, probably the Western Cape, and even the country. I saw some stats the other day that we have an average in the Western Cape, nine deaths a week that are gang-related.

I made a comment the other day that I’m beginning to think that our new evangelistic strategy is funerals. And I could easily end up doing a funeral a week, sometimes more. And it’s normally violent death, young people between the age of 15 and 35. For folks in our community, they live with poverty, unemployment, and obviously where there’s poverty and unemployment, there’s crime, there’s theft, muggings, and then of course gangsterism which brings drugs and prostitution and dysfunctional families with high levels of child abuse and neglect. Lot of single parent families, teenage pregnancies.

What’s absolutely abnormal has become normal life in a community like that. Gunshots are every day. We’re currently in what we’re calling a ceasefire. There seems to have been some peace made between the gangs, and there hasn’t been an outbreak of shooting for almost two weeks. But years over, you remember that there was shooting. We canceled a big bible study, because shooting was very close to the church. I’ve heard shooting, I’ve heard gunshots while I’m preaching. We’d labor through services, there was a period where our numbers dropped almost by 40 percent, because folks just cannot walk through these areas on a Sunday morning to be able to get to church.

I find that the focus of a lot of what we have to do is just helping folks just instill hope, folks do despair. We have families who have become accustomed to sleeping on the floor, because when the gunshots ring out, they all drop off their beds and bullets will be flying wildly. You know, when somebody says thank you, when they thank the Lord for the safe night, that they’ve come through the night, they’re thankful that they still have a coffee cup in the morning that hasn’t been shot up during the night. So the levels of violence are high. People do despair, and hope is waning. There’s a lack of confidence in the police system, in the judiciary. And so there’s not a lot of collaboration with the community and the police to eradicate the problems.

Darrell Bock
You told me the story of one mom and the dilemma that she faced with her son in the midst of this environment. It’s not a pastoral problem, so tell a little bit about that.
Neil Henry
Yeah, this lady, she’s a member of our church, and she’s faithful. She’s been a faithful Christian for a number of years. She has a young son, 15, probably going on 16. And then she has three older daughters that live with her, all of them have children outside of marriage. The boyfriends are just gone or dead. You don’t find any fathers. They’re either dead or in prison, or they’re running with the gangs, or they run off with somebody else. So there’s an absence of males. Anyway, the one daughter was cleaning the bathroom the one day, and actually swept a panel on the side of the bathtub fell loose, and she found two packs of tablets. There’s a drug called Mandrax that’s commonly used, it’s smoked with marijuana, and is fairly available in the streets in the Cape Flats. Very popular drug, probably the two popular drugs would be methamphetamine and Mandrax. She found two packs of drugs worth nearly 800,000 rand.

And the gangsters had used the youngster to hide it away for them, and so this innocent kid, he was only in grade seven – grade eight. He would be the runner. So when they needed something, he’d fetch it. The police would never raid that home, that’s a fine lady’s home, and the kids are not involved with drugs. Anyway, this youngster was running the stuff. So she’d spoken to me about what she should do, and I then consulted with some senior policemen about what the avenue would be. Do we turn this over to the police? And the tension would be that if she did, and she was hesitant to do that, because she was so afraid that maybe there’s corruption within the police system, and the drugs would end up back in the street again, and she’d then be victimized for having done that by the gang.

And while I was still consulting with that, she actually came to see me and said, “Pastor, just leave it. I’ve actually gone to see the gang leader, I’ve given him back his drugs and asked him to stay away from my family.”

Darrell Bock
And he agreed?
Neil Henry
He agreed. So those are difficult issues to deal with. You wrestle with the ethics of it. But families have to make decisions in order to survive. They don’t have the means to get out of the community, and certainly police protection, there’s no such thing.
Darrell Bock
So what we’ve described in this entire podcast is kind of extreme – what I would regard as extreme dysfunction at a social level, just about every possible place that you turn. And what we’ve seen God do in your life is to actually enter in through his grace and mercy, and really give you a life that probably at one point, if you’d looked at the trajectory of where you were going, would not be expected.
Neil Henry
What has been – yeah, what is really abnormal has become normal for Trish and myself. And I’m immensely grateful for my wife. The role that she plays in keeping my bits together, to be able to do what I need to do. And she has a great deal of gumption herself. She spends a lot of time in the community. And both of us have found that the only reason we could do what we do is because we’ve been given a great amount of grace. And the more grace we’ve been given, the more we ought to be showing to others. I recognize just the depth of wickedness of my own heart, and how much I’ve been forgiven. And therefore, I would forgive others much as well.

And when we look back on the number of times that the Lord has providentially shown us his care, his provision, you know, in some ways, we regularly just erect memorial stones each time the Lord has done something amazing for us. And we look back and remind ourselves of God’s grace over a period of time. And that’s really what motivates us to keep doing. And the Lord has been faithful in all of this. The number of opportunities we’ve had to minister to others who have been broken and shattered, and it’s really just been just our own experience of God’s grace that has enabled us to be able to share and encourage others as well.

Darrell Bock
Well it’s a terrific ministry. I had the privilege of actually just sitting in the audience of the church. It’s in the middle of this community in which there are simple homes, in some of the areas there’s nothing but corrugated steel that makes up the walls, and that kind of thing. Lot of people have a dish. [Laughs] And to see it, you know, I was with you one night when you got a call from someone living across the street from the church in which the last round of major shootings had taken place in your neighborhood. And you were wrestling with how to minister to the people in that context. So Neil, I appreciate you taking the time to come all the way over to Dallas. I mean you won the award for the longest distance traveled for anyone that we’ve interviewed.
Neil Henry
For the longest swim.
Darrell Bock
That’s right. And share your story, and help us to get a glimpse out of how serious and how pervasive and how structural sometimes racism can be. And how the answer to that question is found inside the human heart in the work of God.
Neil Henry
Absolutely.
Darrell Bock
So we thank you for your testimony.
Neil Henry
It’s been a privilege, thank you.
Darrell Bock
Yeah, and we thank you for joining us on The Table. We hope you’ll be back with us again soon, and I thank you for being a part of this podcast.
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Darrell L. Bock
Dr. Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary. He has authored or edited more than 40 books, including Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels, Jesus in Context: Background Readings for Gospel Study, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods, Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, Who Is Jesus?: Linking the Historical Jesus with the Christ of Faith, and Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus: A Collaborative Exploration of Context and Coherence.
Neil Henry
Neil holds a Diploma in Education obtained at the Hewat College of Education in Cape Town and taught at Secondary School level for 11 years before entering full time ministry. He served in youth and outreach ministries for several years before commencing his studies at the Bible Institute of South Africa where he earned a BTh and BTh (Honours) from the University of Potchefstroom. He then served as pastor of the Simon's Town Baptist church for four and half years before joining the BISA staff. He serves on the Christian Leadership Programme, known as the CLP  which provides training for indigenous pastors and church leaders. His passion is to develop and teach pastors and church leaders in the area of leadership and sound biblical preaching. He continues to work with Wayne Mack in the field of Biblical Counselling.  Neil also serves as the Pastor of the Metropolitan Evangelistic Church in Lavender Hill. Neil is married to Patricia and they have they have one daughter, Tahlia, who did the Gap Year at BISA and is currently studying Oceanography.
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