The story of Iris Ministries South Africa is to a large extent the story of Surprise Sithole, a man of God who has experienced many miracles. In the mid-90’s, shortly before he connected with Iris, he received a prophetic word from the Lord about moving to a white river. At first he didn’t understand what it meant, buy then he found out that there’s actually a place named White River in South Africa. So he and his wife Tryphina moved from Mozambique to SA.
God continued to speak to Surprise about ministering on “the mountain” – Backdoor, a township outside White River. Back then, Backdoor was known to be a very dangerous place, where the crime rate was very high and robbery was a part of daily life. The Sithole family moved there anyway, and they were severely tested – once they were almost killed by a violent gang. But as their church plant grew and their social ministry expanded, the community started to change.
As I wrote in my previous blog post, there are still many problems in Backdoor, but the crime rate really has decreased a lot since Iris started working there. Of course, it’s hard to tell if that would have happened anyway, but surely Iris has contributed a lot to the good trend. Its community center, Village of Hope, includes a preschool, a bible school, a feeding programme, a sowing center, a youth ministry and soon also a carpentry. Everything they do is aiming to bring help and hope to the people.
And hope is important. When I talked to Teisa Nicole, who is leading the Backdoor ministry, she said that if people feel hopeless it’s very hard to help them change their situation. What good is it to help youths with computer skills and job interviews if they don’t believe that it will help them anyway? I think this is true. Aid must not only bring stuff and knowledge to people, but also faith and hope.
This means that the charismatic theology of Iris is beneficial for development. A secular organisation will only be able to bring the hope of what it or the government is able to do, something that of course is limited. A non-charismatic church organization can only bring the hope about a better life in Heaven. But a charismatic church organisation is constantly preaching about how God can and want to change your situation through His limitless miracles.
Most sermons I’ve heard here concerns how God wants to heal you, give you a job, restore your family relations and so on. Most testimonies I’ve heard here concerns how God has changed people’s lives through bringing them out of poverty and distress. People at Iris know that He is alive, He is good, and His plans for us is to bring us a future and a hope (Jer 29:11).