Dinner time has arrived, smoke from outdoor grills fills the air, generators are running because of the routine power circulation, and Rooibos tea is brewing.
People from Zambia, Chile, Brazil, Scotland, Mexico, Uganda, Angola, Somalia, Morocco, and the United States get off work and head home. Behind concrete walls, with electric fencing and security systems, live people from many nations and tongues. Some have paid to sit in a pew and hear a prosperity teacher tell them lies. Some believe in a distant god that requires obedience to five pillars in order to merit eternal life. Some believe they must go to the river every Saturday to cleanse themselves from sin. Some say they are Christians yet worship their ancestors.
Some have never heard of the name Jesus. Few have found the narrow road that leads to eternal life. Welcome to Johannesburg, South Africa, where Ashley and Jonathan Holliday, along with their four children, are missionaries with the International Mission Board.
Within greater Johannesburg, there is an estimated population of more than 14 million people, with less than 8 percent being evangelical Christians. The Hollidays and their team focus attention on 48 unreached people groups out of the 55 present in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Hollidays’ vision is simple. “We want to see a gospel-focused church in every single neighborhood in this entire city, in every single segment of the city,” said Jonathan, who attended Spartanburg First Baptist while growing up.
The Hollidays seek to fulfill this vision in two primary ways:
First is prayer. Second is going out and finding places and people of peace. Several have come to know the Lord, and Bible studies have started through prayer-walking and evangelism.
One instance is when Jonathan met Lien, a woman from Zimbabwe, and K.C. from Congo, through prayer-walking. Now the three meet for a Bible study once a week.
Though the vision is simple, fulfilling the mission is difficult. There are both physical and spiritual barriers to the gospel.
Johannesburg is filled with crime. “All houses are behind walls,” said Ashley.
Therefore, she said it takes a long time to get to know neighbors. More time is required to build trust. In addition, many places are unsafe to go at nighttime, which prevents the opportunity for an evening Bible study for those who may not be able to come during the day. Because of this, the Hollidays hope to disciple other leaders who can minister in ways that they cannot.
In addition to physical barriers, the Hollidays are aware of the many spiritual barriers that affect their mission, including the presence of the prosperity gospel, the rise of Islam, syncretism in the church, and homogeneous churches that are slowly dying due to a lack of evangelism and change.
Jonathan said he recently preached at the oldest Baptist church in Johannesburg. A beautiful building, a choir loft, stained glass windows, and a seating capacity of roughly 300 characterized the church that holds roughly 15 attendees. The church desires to see the community reached, yet Jonathan said they are not functionally doing that because they do not know how. This is one example of how important it is for churches to adapt culturally, without compromising the message of the gospel, to reach the community effectively, explained the Hollidays.
The Hollidays depend on the Lord through prayer in the midst of the many physical and spiritual barriers. Jonathan said that prayer is something they very much depend on.
“And we need the prayers of people back in the U.S.,” he continued. “We need that.”
When asked why prayer is so important, Jonathan laughed, dumbfounded at the question, and exclaimed, “Why is prayer not important? Oh, my goodness,” he said.
Jonathan explained, “If we really want to see the Spirit of God save people and move, then it’s got to be His work. It means we have to align ourselves with what He wants to do, not with what we think we should do.
“If we don’t do things in His power, it’s utterly useless,” he added.
Jonathan said that one could have the most perfect, flawless, culturally appropriate gospel presentation, but if the Holy Spirit is not involved, it does not matter.
One way that Jonathan makes prayer a part of his daily life is by setting two alarms during the day — one at 10:02 (to pray for more laborers, based on Luke 10:2), and one at 2:47 (to pray for people’s salvation, based on Acts 2:47).
To those who struggle with prayer, Jonathan said, “Prayer is an invitation. Prayer is God’s invitation for you to just talk to Him. It’s not an obligation. It is a place where you can be yourself.”
Jonathan explained that the Bible is filled with prayers of anger, desperation, sorrow, joy, and lament, such as in Psalms. He said it’s important for us to align our lives and our prayer with Scripture — understanding that we may not always get what we want, but rather we’re given what we need to follow Christ.
The Hollidays have now been missionaries in Johannesburg for a year.
“It is the most diverse city I’ve ever set foot in,” he said.
According to Jonathan, Johannesburg is much like ancient Rome, in that the gospel has the potential to spread far, reaching people from all over the world.
But more important than the potential of a place is the power of God. The God who works in Johannesburg is the same God of South Carolina. The vision of God and mission of the church remains the same.
Revelation 7:9-10 says, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ ”
— Mary Margaret Flook, a senior communication major at North Greenville University, is a summer intern with The Courier.