John Thomas began his work as Senior Pastor of Fish Hoek Baptist Church in January 1987. John had developed a burden for a group of people living illegally as squatters in a nearby area and went to his church leadership with a very difficult question: should we defy the Apartheid-era government and reach out to these squatters to save souls?
The church leadership made the courageous decision to reach out and set up a temporary structure for worship services and other ministries. The settlement (later known as Site 5) needed a pastor who spoke Xhosa and so John called on the only Xhosa-speaking pastor he knew, Pastor Phillip Mokson. His work laid a foundation for the ministries that would be built years later.
In the early 1990’s, the government made plans for a formalized development for the squatters living illegally in Site 5 to a township, which was called Masiphumelele. The residents demanded their church be granted a prime central location within the new community and their sights were set on a plot where the local primary school, the town hall and the clinic would also be located.
Fish Hoek Baptist acquired the land in early 1993 and with aid in funding completed the church in 1994. Pastor Mokson became an influential leader and the Masi Baptist Church became a cornerstone of the community over the years. Tragically, Pastor Mokson was later killed – a tremendous loss for Masi Baptist and the people of the township.
Among the many problems in this impoverished community were HIV and AIDS. It was through this horrible disease that God gave John Thomas what he described as “a wakeup call”. He heard a statistic that the infection rate in Masi was 44% – the statistic was incorrect (was more like 17%), but it was this statistic that moved him into action.
In November 1999, Pastor John pulled together a knowledgeable team and they began HIV and AIDS outreach work in Masi. As their efforts grew, the need for a centre, separate from the church, became urgent. In July 2000, with the help of a generous friend, Pastor John was able to acquire a property in the Capri area opposite Masi. By September 2000, a trust had been registered, called the Fish Hoek Baptist Church Community Trust, with an overriding emphasis on spreading the good news of Jesus Christ in a life-changing way: the prevention, care and treatment of HIV and AIDS; and community development through education and health-related programmes.
This property had sufficient ground to allow for future expansion and provided a centre from which to grow, and thus began the work of Living Hope. In November 2004, 22-bed Health Care Centre was added to the property.
Living Hope expanded its operations to the township of Ocean View in 2002, the settlement of Red Hill in 2003, and the township of Capricorn in 2006. The ministry also added a Xhosa speaking counselor and pastor, Pastor Nobuntu Matholeni, to better serve the needs of the residents in these communities.
Living Grace’s story runs prallel to Living Hope. In 1993, Fish Hoek Baptist Church launched CCFM, a Christian radio station. The station manager (and John’s wife), Avril Thomas, operated a daily soup kitchen from the stairway of the CCFM building, which is adjacent to a public park where many of the homeless take refuge. As she heard their stories, Avril began focusing more on the homeless ministry, which soon came to fall under the umbrella of Living Hope.
With donor assistance, they were able to acquire a building across from CCFM in April 2004. Based on input from those they served, they created a comprehensive program that provides to physical needs (e.g. food, locker storage, shower, laundry), social support (counseling, rehabilitation opportunities, job searches) and spiritual guidance (daily devotions, discipleship, prayer). Living Hope’s ministry to the destitute in Muizenberg officially became known as Living Grace in April 2008. Today the building in Muizenberg is divided into two main ministries: downstairs is the homeless ministry; upstairs is the recovery programme.
When the first support group of Living Hope was formed in 2003, an immediate need was recognized – income generation for the members. Volunteers taught the group to make greeting cards, jewelry and Christmas decorations, which were sold locally and to visiting international teams. In 2004, the clients at Living Grace started to make some wire craft which provided them with a reasonable living. Crafts were sold via catalogue to the US and a shop was opened in Muizenberg known as Living H.O.P.E. shop (Helping Other People Earn).
A new store, African Hope Crafts, was established across the street from the Living Hope Capri site. Today jewelry is made on site by local residents – the shop is a great model of an employment model that works.
Another volunteer asked the patients in the Health Care Centre how she could help. The answer: “Teach us how to sew.” She taught an initial group of 10 women and provided them with sewing machines after they left the HCC. A Living Hope receptionist showed them how to make ladies’ handbags. The business was transferred to the local women who now make and sell the handbags themselves.
In 2007, following the launch of these business ventures, the Living Way entrepreneurial empowerment model was developed, and in April 2008 the first group of entrepreneurs were trained. Living Way was able to acquire the site of the life skills training college near Masi to provide a place for these burgeoning entrepreneurs to take classes and hone their skills. The Living Way campus officially opened in 2009.
From humble beginnings, Living Hope’s programmes grew rapidly to include woman’ health consultation, dressing clinics, home-based nursing care, nutritional support, HIV and AIDS pre- and post-test counseling, life skills training to children, support groups, after-school children’s and teens clubs to bring young people together for the learning of Biblical values.
In 2009, the palliative health care work was renamed Living Care and the prevention efforts were dubbed Living Right. The Fish Hoek Baptist Church Trust became the Living Hope Trust.
In 2007 Fish Hoek Baptist Church was recognized for the Courageous Leadership Award, awarded by the Willow Creek Association and World Vision each year to honour a local church that is making a mark in history to battle against HIV and AIDS.
Living Hope from its outset dreamed of exactly what it is today. The work of Living Care, Living Grace, Living Right and Living Way continues – all going forward doing God’s work in God’s way.