Meet the "Gang Pastor" behind Cape City's Viral Coronaviru …… | Information reporting

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Somehow, an investment banker born in Australia went to South Africa in England and was mistaken for the "Americans". So the gang is in one of Cape Town's most dangerous shantytowns.

And with them the Hard Livings and Clever Kidz.

Andie Steele-Smith was called by God into a life that is far from his Christian but comfortable existence. He has recently gained international recognition as a “gang pastor” who crosses rival borders. In the past five years in the second highest murder city of 2018, he has led murderers and drug lords to work together as part of the coronavirus pandemic as a new distribution network for the supply of soap and emergency foods.

In addition to endemic crime, Cape Town has 10 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases across Africa and 60 percent of cases in South Africa.

With both the mass media and the masses desperately looking for good news amid the pandemic, his story has been told by the Associated Press, BBC and CBS News, and even featured in Comedy Central & # 39; s The Daily Show (at 12:30 p.m.) Trevor Noah, himself a South African from Johannesburg.

CT spoke to Steele-Smith, who visits the Hillsong campus in Cape Town, about his calling, the spiritual impact of his ministry, and whether “15 minutes of fame” improve or worsen the situation:

Image: Andie Steele-Smith

You started out as a successful investment banker. How did you get to South Africa?

I grew up in a strong Christian house and a strong Christian church, but until I was about 40 years old my life was all about building my own empire.

I visited San Diego about 12 years ago to buy a coffee company. Invited to a mega church, I hardly knew that it was a Christian rehab center. The Holy Spirit condemned me and I spent the rest of the day crying like a baby. First, that these people are the same as me, but then that they are actually better than me. I was the rich arrogant fool, and my life was upside down.

I started volunteering with homeless and drug addicts in the US and UK. But in 2012 I was in South Africa on business and felt God speak to me and said that you should be here.

God gave me a very clear but blurry picture: a circle with four corners. The circle had the Great Commission at its center. The corners were justice, entrepreneurship, education and secure church communities.

Are you still a businessman?

I run a few different businesses and that supports our work. But when the need for COVID-19 multiplied and bought soap and food for thousands of people, it was bigger than we could do it alone. We are members of Hillsong Church, and their Hillsong Africa Foundation has helped, as has a Christian NGO called Chanan54.

But first I assumed that God would let me sit on the boards of some Christian charities. I purposely didn't join a ministry for a year so we could look, listen, and learn. The last thing South Africa needed was another "white savior" who said he knew what the answer was.

A year later we joined a small community in a barrack near our house in Cape Town. These were created during apartheid when the whites told everyone they didn't want to live near them: "Here is your hell hole. Stay here."

I was asked if I would do a Bible study and I asked to meet the person who had previously led it. They said, "Nobody ever did it. Everyone was too scared. "

But I was hanging out with some gangs in Los Angeles and I thought, "It's not safe, but it's not scary." So I set up a grill and started cooking. I invited six young men and eight showed up. In week 6 we had 150 on fire and started building a community.

What did you see what God did in these communities?

Lesson # 1 just surfaced. You don't need a project or program, but if you show up every day, you are no longer just a white person. Suddenly you are one of us. It's a massive difference.

However, you must be prepared to be there at all times, especially if the ambulances often do not enter these quarters after dark. So the second lesson is running into the flames instead of doing the natural and … running away.

Image: Andie Steele-Smith

All of this is based on the fact that we can raise them up and give them the privilege of running their own communities. Three years ago there was a massive storm that destroyed thousands of homes. We helped them rebuild for the next six weeks, but almost all of the work was done by these young men.

Now they go for walks in their church with their heads held high – called heroes, leaders or even pastors. When a 12-year-old boy is called a pastor, it's a pretty radical thing.

Were these gang members?

No, they were normal people. But when we served in this shantytown for a few years, we started to recognize needs in other communities. After a fire elsewhere, hundreds of people lost everything they owned. The young men actually called me and said let's go and help them. We stayed there for a month and rebuilt 700 houses. But by far the most valuable thing we have brought was solidarity.

Image: Andie Steele-Smith

We had prayed with the young men to get involved in the gang service. These impoverished boys rarely leave their own community, let alone go to a more dangerous place.

How does the service look in this context?

In addition to my four children, I have two local boys, Franklin and Junior, who I call my adoptive twins (19 and 14 when we started), although they have a wonderful mother and father. You do all the hard work, I'm just a glorified taxi driver with crazy ideas. I take them to a church and after half an hour they come out with 50 others running after them like the pied piper.

The young men are wonderful instinctive leaders. While giving practical instructions on how to use the hammer and nail, they also discipline them and spread the gospel.

In a shantytown we met a local gang boss who was already serving an elderly man in a wheelchair and was trying to rebuild his house. He was just released from prison after being convicted of armed robbery and murder. If he has an innate desire to do good, there is hope and we can work with it.

Two weeks later, when he was not working by our side, six young men from another gang came to attack us with knives drawn. I pulled my boys behind me and grabbed the leader on the autopilot, hugged him and kissed him on the forehead. He burst into tears, put his knife in his pocket and said, "Uncle, can we help build with you?" Above all, these boys only need a father figure. They have been gang members for five or six generations. You are not the bad guys. They have done terrible things, but they are also victims.

Image: Andie Steele-Smith

Did you see how people were saved?

We stop regularly as we work to invite people to follow Jesus. I have lost track of everything, but maybe 5,000 to 10,000 have told us that they have repented and turn to follow Jesus. But I do not call this success, it is only a small part of the total cause of what we Christians are called to do.

We have seen hundreds of gangsters give their lives to Jesus, and Hillsong takes a bus to take them to church. The pastors are in the front rows and the gangsters are right behind them. It’s pretty cool. But we get the credit where hundreds of other pastors have already invested in these churches. We only see the harvest.

Are these young men leaving their gangs? Is there less violence in their communities?

We have seen a transformation, but we are at an early stage where I think this could go. We try to address the causes of gangsterism, and Hillsong helps with the discipleship component. But before COVID-19, I would have thought that the next step would be to provide a way to get gangs out of the street and into a safe environment.

But now that they show up to work together, they have a reason to work in their own communities instead of going elsewhere to transform their thoughts.

When people get rid of alcoholism, they have to drink something. Gangsterism identifies the best entrepreneurs in a community. But they need legitimate entrepreneurship so that they can use their equal skills and work for God's kingdom and community.

How did this advertising time affect the community?

The community was happy and supportive because they saw a real change in these gangs. It was incredible for the young men. I tried to be careful with the media because I imagined that they could come in and use the boys by making things sensational.

But the Holy Spirit told me that this is a good thing and a thing of God, and I shouldn't prevent it from happening.

These boys grew up believing what they see on TV above all else. Now they see themselves on the world news, portrayed as heroes. They are heroes, but now they are beginning to believe it. When I tell them, it affects. But when the reporter says this through the television lens – sometimes with tears in their eyes – they are one foot taller.

Image: Andie Steele-Smith

How do you personally interpret this 15 minutes of fame?

To be honest, it's a distraction for me. I already work 20 hours a day, six days a week. It doesn't add anything to me personally. Instead, it distracts because it makes me tired and gives me less sleep and family time.

It's amusing and fun for a second, but it's an additional thing I have to do. It personally exposes me to the world and I would rather not do it. But now that these boys see themselves as heroes and act as heroes every day, there has been a good consequence.

Jesus says we don't have to do good deeds in front of others, but also let our light shine in front of people. How did you live in this tension?

I'm not trying to talk about what I'm doing, I'm trying to talk about what the boys are doing. I feel more comfortable when I let the light shine through them. I stuck to it when the media first spoke to me.

Nothing we or the boys do is done to get praise. We do it to see transformation. Feeding people, building houses or fighting fires are the unintended consequences if you show up and show solidarity – to show that God loves them.

The things people see and say in the media are amazing? No, those are the unintended consequences; In a sense, they are irrelevant. We are not really there for that. It is to love someone who may not have felt loved.

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