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Learning to be a family of families

“The church must be a place to feel at home; but if only we feel at home in our particular church, and all others are either excluded or made unwelcome or feel themselves completely alienated, something has gone wrong.” – David Bosch

In the Warden’s Report of 2020, Dean George (Youth Worker) outlined the decision the Pastorate took to house people in Barnabas House, with the plan of providing temporary accommodation until they could get on their feet. When the new Minister arrived, they were housed in the Selby Taylor Hall, while helping them with the processes of sorting out their paperwork and finding jobs. He added,

“This time has been traumatic for our church family members as well as brought some conflict, as it would with any family. I ask that you continue to keep us all in prayer as we try to bring the gospel to the most vulnerable in our communities. By trying to be the hands and feet of Christ throughout trying times we face some of the hardest moments. But this is the call of our faith and if we want to follow Christ and seek God’s Kingdom, it is this work we must engage in.”
The Begbie/Klopper cell group


Martin Ssenteza and Patrick d’Alliance Kamayirese share part of their stories.

Martin and his debt of gratitude

Martin Ssenteza and Rachel Baartman, cell group leaders

I came to South Africa from Uganda as a refugee after being constantly persecuted by the current government for being involved in human rights activism. I arrived and lived on the streets of Cape Town CBD, struggling to find food and shelter.


By around 2017, I was living in the Haven Night Shelter in Wynberg with Patrick. One day, he said he was going to church and I followed him as I had been working very long hours in the kitchen and needed a break. I remember that day there was a welcome for us at St John’s. Ron Begbie & Anthea Klopper were there and we talked, then later they invited us to cell group. And that is where we started - a family of families, getting to know each other. We were a huge group at the time.

 In the same year, somebody, a drug addict, from the Haven Night Shelter attacked me - it was something to do with food, I don’t remember exactly. After that, I didn’t feel safe in the shelter, so I told Ron and Anthea about it and they hosted me in their home for about a week. I was then given a space to live in the Rectory when Keegan and Lindsay were still there.

Around that time, many of us were experiencing xenophobic treatment and people doing something towards us because of our nationality. We struggled to find a place to stay and so we stayed in Barnabas House when it was empty (between Ministers). That was Patrick, Jane, Mike, and Fabien, who were all living there. My paperwork then had to be sorted out, and I had to go to Home Affairs in Durban and this took me about a year.

When Thabang Bengani, our new minister, and his family arrived, I was in still in Durban, so he and his family moved into Barnabas House. When I came back in 2019, I began to look for work, and as I looked, members of St Johns gave me work here and there. I still do work for many of them in their homes, because I had struggled so much to get my papers in order. Soon after this Covid hit, we were all indoors and we didn’t know what to eat, as we couldn’t work.

Many members of St John’s went to their private pockets, shopped for us and dropped food off for us. That was an amazing thing to see, somebody just calling me to say, “Hey Martin, I am outside, I have something for you guys.” And we would all come out and receive parcels, receive food. The church also supported us in that difficult time. It was a family that I feel like I owe a lot to St John’s.

I started to get involved in many duties that Sharon, Ivan and Patrick do to see where I could kind of repay the debt I could repay to St John’s Church. From that day I have been serving, I really don’t mind serving the church as much as I can. We have done a lot for the church, we have been there, been present, we have been worshiping, been praising, been sharing, …we have been growing in Christ.

I said that when the government was trying to create the tension for us as foreign nationals, St John’s gave us Barnabas House. When the government was very busy saying they should put all the foreigners in detention camps (in the time of Jacob Zuma), St Johns church did what they could, they gave us a mansion to live in, and we felt human again. Some of us had spent time on the street, so to live in a house like that was quite amazing.  It was also inspiring for us to get closer to God, to get to know God and to serve. Me, I believe in serving the church, as it is my way of serving the kingdom of God.  So that is basically my story, and I will always thank people like Ron and Anthea for so many things they did for us, so many things they were there for us, they were like our parents. They had no fear to tell us if we had done wrong and I really loved that. I also thank the good heart of Jeremy for always being there.  That is why when I am called to serve here and there for St Johns, I don’t hesitate, I just run to serve.

Sharing a meal together

God made a way for Patrick

Patrick at Nyarugusu Refugee Camp

Hi I am Patrick d’Alliance Kamayirese from DRC. I have been a refugee since November 1996 till now. My story of why I had to leave DRC is a sad one, and though I have told it before, I prefer not to repeat it often, as it is very painful. It is a story of war, being attacked and injured, having to flee many dangerous situations and loss of family members.


Eventually I left Nyarugusu Refugee camp, Kasulu district, Tanzania and made the long journey south. I arrived in South Africa and went to Durban, to the Human Rights office. I then came to Cape Town, but arrived at the Cape Town bus station on 23rd June 2017 around 8:00pm. It was a cold night and I couldn’t find someone to help me to find where to go. The next day someone told me about CTRC (Cape Town Refugee Centre) in Wynberg. I didn’t know Wynberg but I got few directives. I went to Wynberg on 26th June 2017 and I arrived in this area around 10:00 am.


I struggled to find the place, so tried to first find a church because I thought that I could get directions from there. I walked up Church Street and each church that I passed was closed. I asked for directions at the magistrate offices but they didn’t help enough, so I continued to look for churches until I reached the Military base road. On Waterloo road, I saw a board with ‘Dominican Catholic Church’ sign, but didn’t find the Catholic Church. Instead I came to St John’s Anglican Church. I was very happy because the Anglican Church is my church since my birth.


When I got in the yard of St John’s, I went up to the Hall and someone who was cleaning there showed me the office. And I asked the lady (I think it was Sharon) who was there, where was the office of CTRC Wynberg. She gave me the right directions and I was able to find my way. They gave me a shelter at the Elim Night Shelter in Elsie’s River from June 26 June to around 08 October 2017.


In South Africa, God showed himself to me through different ways. Many of these miracles might not seem to be important to you but they are a big deal to me. I was telling you that I was alone in Cape Town without anybody to help me in cold weather. Since that time, miracles happened until now.

In July, I came to St John’s to pray and I met Andile Sigasana who helped me a lot, who also gave me a lot of clothes. I also met Anthea, who introduced me to Ron (her husband) and their cell group.


Revd. Ben Aldous (the Minister of St John’s at that time) also phoned me to welcome me. There are so many things, which have been done by the Minister and the pastorate behind the scenes, which I don’t know about, but the huge initiative to allow us to have a dwelling at Barnabas house helped us so much.

I was later admitted to Stickland hospital, near Belleville, and then some months later, I went to the Haven Night Shelter in Wynberg.

Revd. Duncan McLea (Interim Minister at St John’s after Rev Aldous left) with Ron supported me in my process of applying to Mr Delivery and helped me get the necessary equipment to start the job. I have been able to get other jobs as well.

In the period of COVID around 2020-2021, we had a new minister, Revd. Thabang Bengani. He also took care of us in so many ways and gave us documents, which we used to indicate that we were from St John’s Church in case the police stopped us.


Jeremy (the current minister of St John’s Church) has also contributed too much to my exit from many heavy difficulties that I was in. His wife, Brenda, helped me get a bank account and a traffic registry document. If it was not for her assistance I would still be paperless.


On 28th April 2022, the UCT Refugee clinic helped me to apply for asylum in South Africa.


At St John’s, I have learnt to operate the sound system, lead the service and the prayers as well as play guitar and sing in the worship team. I can list so many people who have helped me here and I thank each one. I started teaching online, and now teach people in many countries.


(Editor’s note: Patrick has over 20 pages of notes listing dates, names, words and acts of kindness shown to him by individuals – too many for our blog, but each one clearly precious to him and an important part of his story.)


Again you may not find the same excitement when I narrate these dates of the most important moments in my life in South Africa, but the reason why I quote them is because If it was not for God and the people of God, I would have been In a much worse situation here in South Africa, such as not having a place to stay and being outside under the cold and the rain every year. I also know how it is hard to get someone to help when it is risky and no one wants to help. It was God who preserved me through the intervention of all these members of this community.


The last time that I was asked to give my testimony in Church I quoted the phrase from Don Moen in a song named “Give thanks’ where he sings that

“And now let the weak say I am strong, let the poor say I am rich because of what the Lord has done for us."


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