20 December 2019 | Story Igno van Niekerk | Photo Igno van Niekerk
Towers of Hope serves the needy

Picture a typical Free State winter’s night: Biting chills, blustery winds, and piercing cold. Now picture yourself outside, with the bare minimum of protection in the form of clothing or cover. For many in the city of Bloemfontein, this is their reality. This vulnerable community is the focus of service by the Towers of Hope congregation and foundation (ToH), which is housed on the historic grounds of the Tweetoringkerk (Two Towers Church) in the city centre. As their name suggests, this foundation provides an outlook for the future that uplifts the vulnerable, those who are in need of it most. Its vision? To transform communities from vulnerability to ability by helping them to realise their God-given dignity.

For seven years now, Towers of Hope has been providing both pastoral and practical help to the inner-city community of Bloemfontein for eleven years now, under the guidance of Rev De la Harpe le Roux. Their assistance programmes include a daily soup kitchen, Thessa Outreach for women who find themselves in difficult circumstances, the Proud Clean Bloemfontein job-preparation programme (sponsored by local businesses), support of elderly through needlework classes and monthly food packages, as well as partnerships with other trusts, NGOs, and sharing of resources with other non-profit organisations (NPOs).

Melissa Opperman, a second-year Theology student, often takes part in what is called the ‘Pastor’s Restaurant’ on a Thursday evening, as part of the Thessa Outreach. She says, “Here we provide the ladies working on the street with a nice cooked meal and occasionally medical services. We became so close with these ladies that they reach out to us and talk to us freely, even when we see them outside their usual environment; they gladly greet us and share their stories with us.” Melissa says this had a huge impact on her, both as a female student and as one studying Theology. She mentions that she has come to the realisation that women are often seen as inferior, but in this theological, pastoral space, there is equality. In addition, she notes: “Not only in this space are we equal; we as women are able to do anything if we put our minds to it. It is nice to hear how some of the ladies have stopped working at night and started developing their own skills. It just shows that a little hope can go a long way.”

In addition to sharing in a physical sense, there is also a sharing of knowledge. Students from the Department of Practical and Missional Theology in the UFS Faculty of Theology and Religion are given the opportunity to experience what is known in the field as ‘diaconia’: serving God by caring for one’s fellow creatures. Students are taught how to minister to those in the congregation and community, and especially to those in need. In this way, they are able to learn from the example of fine work being done here at ToH. Rev Le Roux says: “The whole exposure and engagement is aimed at taking the students out of their comfort zones of ‘nice urban middle and upper middle-class churches’, and guiding them to engage with the principles acquired through the lectures at the UFS, in the context of poverty.”

Naomi Smith, who works in the administrative office of ToH, says: “De la Harpe is the heart and compassion behind Towers of Hope. He is humble, but often reminds us that the purpose of the project is to be concerned about the person in front of you — that little face, their names, this individual.” She adds, “He constantly tells us to treat everyone here with love (especially the vulnerable), because they need it more than most.”

AJ’s story echoes many that come through the cramped office from which this entire non-profit operates: After decades as a homemaker and loyal wife, her husband left her and put her out on the street without a cent or other support. Rebecca de Wit, manager: operations, and Naomi Smith, office administrator, are not only compassionate to those who come knocking at ToH; they do their utmost to assist these desperately needful ones in some of the most basic ways: finding a place to stay, compiling and printing copies of their CVs, or finding someone’s qualification papers.Their drive and passion to make a difference embodies their organisation’s motto: Valuing the city, valuing the vulnerable, valuing empowerment.

The effect has been substantial: Based on ToH’s reputation, more than 600 people regularly turn up on 25 December for the annual Christmas dinner. This year will be the 12th such event, and it is also an occasion where the business community makes use of the opportunity to give back to Towers of Hope and the vulnerable ones served by these selfless workers and comforters. The meal ingredients are donated by local enterprises and prepared by volunteers from a number of Bloemfontein congregations, while practical gifts for needy children, women, and men are provided through corporate sponsorships.

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