In conversation with Sonia Swart, Investment Facilitator
“I wish I was that antelope.”
These were the words that launched our children’s ministry…
At the moment of these strange words, we drove past the Pretoria Zoo. Next to the fence, a dull, unimpressive antelope nibbles on a patch of grass. Of course, we want to know why our 9-year old boy said so. His answer:
“Then I do not have to go to church tomorrow.”
The words surprised us because our little boy was already living in friendship with God and as a family, we were active members in our beloved congregation. The bottom line was that this congregation, except for the hour of catechism teaching after church, in no way involved our children. The church was soul-destroying rather than soul-building for them.
I read about Petra Institute (then CET) in a church magazine and was immediately excited. Here was our answer! But in 1993, in the church in question, church for children was not a popular concept at a single church and intergenerational worship and activities were unprecedented. The opposition was fierce.
A long story short – friends of ours, Manie and Hester Loubser, joined Petra. In early 1994 we received a call from Manie: Petra needed a building contractor and he immediately remembered our passion for children’s ministry and that my husband was a building contractor. It was shortly before South Africa’s first democratic election and the country’s atmosphere was tense and uncertain. Despite this, our house sold quickly and we were able to make the move to Petra Institute, White River in April 1994. We were very excited, but I remember the nightly struggles before we left. Changing one’s own business to a salary-free future compels one to talk long and hard with the Lord and to underline every promise in Psalms.
Thys tackled his role in Petra’s Technical Department with dedication and I soon found myself on the training team. After a few years, Petra Management asked Thys to raise funds for Petra – and not just for the Technical Department. The end result was that we and our children traveled the country – up to five months at a time we found ourselves in a different town or province week after week. A half-year of school books, exercise equipment, sports equipment, Dad’s files … we were professional Combi packers and our Geography was phenomenal. Radio talks, performances in churches and cell groups, individual visits – these have been busy months.
Before long, we realised that the radio people were addressing our children more than of us. Or that a cell group in a particular town would invite us to visit them year after year. “You and Thys are also welcome, but bring your children” became an interesting refrain. The reason for this was simply that the truth comes from the horse’s mouth. It was easier to ask children what it is like to live without a salary and in a community, how they experience the Lord, or whatever adults are wondering about, but do not want to ask adults about!
A lifelong journey
As our children approached their final years of homeschooling, I enrolled in a pastoral counselling course. Mom’s school box then also had to ride along. Thys was diagnosed with cancer in 2005. For many hours, as he fell asleep, I completed study assignments there next to the hospital bed. A few months after Thys’ death in 2016, I received an MTh (Pastoral Counseling) from the NWU’s Faculty of Practical Theology.
Meanwhile, Thys’ fundraising mantle (we have a good name for the office, but it remains fundraising) fell on my shoulders. With more trembling than bravado, I started walking this road, but friends who invest in Petra are themselves passionate about children’s ministry and not only become Petra “partners” but also lifelong friends.
During June 2020, one man told me that they were experiencing hard times. He, like many others, has not drawn any salary since the inception of Covid and he has tried his best to maintain the 10 employees in his business. Nevertheless, he made a donation to Petra within days. Often these partners contact me to share something we can pray for. Sometimes, in my regular contact with them, a quick call leads to a few counselling sessions.
The question I often have to answer is: ‘’why do I do something like fundraising of all things, with a PhD accredited to me?’’ (yes, that also happened in between). My answer is simply: because there is no one else to do it now and my passion for Petra’s work after 27 years is not in the least less than in 1994. On the contrary!
To remain in touch, I also do neuro-coaching and writing for two other ministries on a part-time basis. I am deeply grateful to be involved in the work and people of Petra Institute, a more enriching path I could not have imagined.
Hope to meet you too, feel free to get in touch with me.