|More refugees crowd into South African
Children gather at the preschool and
child care ministry of Central Methodist Mission in
Johannesburg, South Africa. They are among the thousands
of refugees who have fled Zimbabwe and are being served
by the church's "Ray of Hope" ministry.
A UMNS file
photo by Faye
By Linda Bloom*
Jan. 7, 2008 | NEW
Twelve hundred refugees sleep each night at Central
Methodist Mission in Johannesburg, South Africa.
number is up from 900 during the first few months of 2007.
Another 500 to 800 refugees can be found in the street
immediately outside the building, according to Bishop Paul
Verryn, who leads the staff there.
visited the New York headquarters of the United Methodist
Committee on Relief on Jan. 3, noted that most of the refugees
are from Zimbabwe.
Bishop Paul Verryn heads the
Johannesburg church that is a major provider of social
services in the city. A UMNS photo by Michelle
To date, UMCOR has provided $75,000
to assist Central Methodist Mission in its work with the
refugees, which includes providing shelter, food, clothing,
child care, counseling and employment assistance. UMCOR also
has helped support infrastructure costs for the building to
allow the work to continue.
“There are all sorts of
amazing partnerships beginning in the building,” Verryn told
the UMCOR staff. “But it’s getting worse in that … the number
of refugees coming through has not abated. In fact, just
before Christmas, there was another surge of people coming
The steady stream of refugees is a result of
economic instability and the political climate in Zimbabwe.
Because the South African government has not recognized
Zimbabweans as official refugees, those who try to apply for
political asylum face many bureaucratic hurdles.
Providing health care
One positive development is a clinic opened recently in the
church’s old bookshop by Doctors Without Borders. The clinic,
available to the public, serves 40 to 50 people a day. In
addition, a home-based care service provides assistance for
sensitive cases, such as patients with HIV or
Through the "Ray of Hope" project, the mission has managed
to provide temporary and safe accommodations for homeless
asylum seekers, refugees and displaced people; offer one
substantial meal each day for temporary residents; and provide
food and supplies for infants whose mothers have no financial
Also housed within the six-story church are a preschool and
extended child care, a small legal aid clinic and literacy,
numeracy and English language programs. Additional activities
range from a chess club to gospel choir, and worship services
are held each night.
“The first rule of the building is you have to be involved
in education,” Verryn said. “You either teach or you study …
or you do both.”
Just about every inch of floor space is
used for sleeping each night, including the stairs. The
project ensures clean facilities for temporary residents and
access to clean water for drinking and washing.
Harnessing teachers’ skills
A number of the refugees are professionals, and Verryn is
finding ways to both assist them and harness their skills. For
example, 140 to 200 teachers live at the mission at any one
time, and the staff is both circulating their names nationally
for possible jobs and working with the proper agency to have
their qualifications to teach in South Africa evaluated.
said he hopes the church can employ some of the teachers to
teach math and science in an after-school program or even by
starting a new school.
Refugees store their belongings in a
room in the six-story downtown church. A UMNS file photo
by Emily Fisher.
Last year’s strike by teachers
in Zimbabwe meant “the teaching profession as a whole became
suspect” in political terms, according to Verryn, and many
teachers simply do not earn enough there to support their
But he’s distressed over the large number of
teachers leaving the country. “They are amongst the best
teachers in Africa,” he said. “Zimbabwe, until recently, has
had the highest rate of literacy in Africa.”
Methodist Mission has been “exceptionally blessed” by people
from the community who bring in food and clothing for the
refugees. Verryn also has been pleased by the improved
attitude of local police, who often will bring refugees to the
While the current numbers are staggering, the
mission is the same that it’s always been. “For more than 20
years, the church has had a reasonably open policy toward
homeless people,” he noted.
Donations to the Ray of
Hope project can be made through UMCOR Advance No. 199456,
Zimbabwe Emergency, and dropped in local church collection
plates or mailed directly to UMCOR at P.O. Box 9068, New York,
NY 10087-9068. Credit-card donations can be made online or by calling (800)
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service
news writer based in New York.
News media contact:
Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Audio: Bishop Paul
getting better ... it's getting worse."
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