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I count it a single honor for me to be able to oversee the writing of this letter, which is my last 4th Quarter Pastoral Letter. In this Special Edition, I will be sharing reflections on my ministry journey in the AFM of SA. I have invited Dr Japie La Poorta (Deputy President of the AFM of SA) to do the same.
World Pentecostal Fellowship Conference in Kuala Lumpur.
A JOURNEY INTO MINISTRY: HIGHLIGHTS & CHALLENGES
Past. M.G. Mahlobo (President of the AFM of SA) – [email protected]
Let me start by expressing my appreciation and thanks, first to my fellow AFM National Office Bearers, National Leadership Forum (NLF), my fellow-AFMI (AFM International) Office Bearers, AFM National Office Staff and last but not least my soulmate and my spouse, Jacobeth who walked beside me and lent me whatever support she could.
Graduation – George & Jacobeth.
Call to Ministry
I received a call into the ministry towards the end of 1974. In 1975 I sought confirmation of this call from the Lord because of the reluctance on my part to become a Pastor. I had plans to equip myself as a lawyer. Indeed, I received confirmation from the Lord in the same year. Having received the confirmation, I applied for a B.Th. Degree at the University of Zululand. My application was approved – however, I changed my mind towards the end of 1975 and decided to go and study at the AFM Central Bible College in Soshanguve. After the completion of my studies and internship, I was ordained as an AFM Pastor on 31 March 1979. I completed my B.Th. Degree with the University of South Africa in 1984. I had an opportunity of doing other short courses on leadership and administration after my junior degree.
Pastoral Ministry In Local Assemblies
I ministered in the following AFM Assemblies as Presiding Pastor; Machadodorp (1978-1980); Mabopane (1980-1985); Phuthaditjhaba (1985-1999) and Soshanguve Hilltop Restoration Centre since 2004 to date. From 2000 to 2004 I was part of the Ministry Team of the Doxa Deo Tshwane Inner City Campus. Several members from these local assemblies accepted God’s call to become Pastors. There were two from Machadodorp, nine in Mabopane, four in Phuthaditjhaba and one from the current Assembly. While most of them became AFM Pastors, others are involved in other ministries. I continue to pray for those who are still alive that God’s hand would continue to be upon them.
Administrative And Leadership Roles In Other Church Structures
Besides serving in local assemblies, I had the privilege of serving the in other AFM structures. I would like to thank the AFM members and leaders for the confidence they bestowed on me by allowing me to serve them in this way. There are several structures in which I served but for the sake of brevity, I would like to mention just a few.
“I was a young person when I got ordained. I was active in the church’s youth ministry.”
I served as the Chairperson of the Students Christian Movement during my high school days. I chaired the Eastern Transvaal, Pretoria and Northern Free State District Youth Departments. From 1980 to 1988, I served as the National Youth Chairperson. The National Youth Department used to convene huge National Conferences. In one instance we had over 7,000 young people in attendance. Many of our peers ended up in leadership positions in various sectors of society, including the church. It was this department that raised questions around the racial divisions in the AFM.
“Those were the years of robust debates and phenomenal spiritual growth.”
I served as the General Secretary in the former Black AFM Church (1988-1990), Composite Division (1990-1996) and in the AFM of SA post its unification (1996-2016). Serving as National Secretary was not an easy task, especially in an organization as diverse as the AFM. Beside skills in filing, recording, and conveying of decisions taken, it also required a cool head. The General Secretary’s responsibilities include being the church’s Spokesperson. Although I did not have someone to coach and groom me in secretarial responsibilities, the Lord granted me strength and guidance. Fortunately, certain systems were already in place. This position allowed me to participate in the development of several policy documents and constitutional adjustments.
One of the most difficult responsibilities as National Secretary was when I had to inform Pastors who were not ready for retirement and when I had to write about the suspension or termination of Pastoral Status. In many instances’ recipients thought I was the originator of messages and would not accept that I was a mere messenger.
For a short time, I served as Principal of the AFM of SA Theological Institute (AFMSATI). This was from the end of 1994 to 1996. At the time of my principalship, the three Bible Colleges of the Composite Division, namely Central Bible College (Soshanguve), Covenant Bible College (Durban) and Sarepta (Cape Town) had merged into one college, namely AFMSATI. Unfortunately, this milestone achievement was for a short time. The retrogression after 1996 was due to financial incentives. The struggle for one AFM College, post-church unity, has proven to be an arduous journey.
I served as President of the AFM of SA from 2016 to date. I would have taken retirement by now had it not been the lockdown restrictions on huge in-person gatherings. I would like to thank God and the church at large for the support and motivation I received during my stint as President.
GBM 2018 – Celebration 110 Years.
Involvement In Other Organizations
By God’s grace and the support from the church, I also served and continue to serve in other structures outside of the AFM of SA. I served as the Chairperson of the Security Services Christian Advisory Board from 2006 to 2015, after which I continued to serve as a member of this organisation until July 2020. I am serving on the Board of Directors at the Impact Community Radio Station since 2007 to date, the Board of Directors of the People Upliftment Project (POPUP) since 2004 to date and AFM representative at the Bible Society Johannesburg Region from 1997 to 2016. It has been a great honor for me to be part of these organisations.
I have been privileged to serve as Secretary-General (2013-2019) and as President of the AFM International (2019 to date). AFM International is the fellowship of AFM churches in more than twenty-four (24) countries. It has since expanded to include Associate Member churches through signed memoranda of cooperation.
Highlights And Challenges
Some of the significant points in my involvement with the AFM include its unification under one constitution in 1996. As l am laying down the reigns, I have presented a Cohesion Framework document to the National Leadership Forum (NLF). This framework seeks to deepen the church’s unity by engendering a sense of belonging to all members and leaders. I have done so because I cherish Psalm 133, John 17:20-21, Acts 4:32 and Galatians 3:28.
AFM of SA Office Bearers in Parliament
The second highlight for me was the presentation that the AFM leadership made before the Truth & Reconciliation Commission in East London on 19 November 1997. It was not an easy task, but the leadership of the AFM was moved by a sense of social justice to do it. The church began to be vocal on social ills. It is my prayer that the AFM will be able to live up to its collective dream of becoming an agent of transformation through its community involvement.
The third highlight is the church’s involvement in ecumenical organisations. The AFM is a member of the Pentecostal World Fellowship (PWF) since 1992. Dr Isak Burger served as Vice-President before his retirement as President of the AFM of SA in 2016. I am serving as a member of the PWF Advisory Committee since 2016. The AFM is part of the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa (TEASA). We are also part of the South African Council of Churches (SACC). We also participate in the Global Christian Forum. I was honored to represent the AFM on this Forum in Bogota (Columbia) in 2018. Prospects are good that the AFM’s application for acceptance as a member church of the World Council of Churches will be approved. I am thankful to God for these developments. I have always believed, even as I do now, that AFM has a contribution to offer in these organisations.
When it comes to challenges, Leadership development remains a challenge ahead for the church. At the recent National Leadership Forum (NLF) meeting I presented a Leadership Development Framework.
Another challenge for the church is Patriarchy. AFM leadership can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to Patriarchy. Since the inception of the AFM, women have always formed an important part of its ministry. In many instances, the deployment of women in the church’s ministry has led to its growth. For many years women’s role in ministry has been confined to local assemblies – mainly in a supportive role. This pattern has not changed for many years. Up to this year, only two ordained women Pastors were elected as Regional Leaders. There is still a patriarchal resistance towards enabling and allowing women to take positions at a leadership level. We need to find mechanisms to disarm patriarchy and be deliberate and intentional about seeing women in leadership. My prayer is that the AFM will have a woman President before the Lord comes.
AN EXPERIENCE IN MINISTRY: LESSONS LEARNED
Dr J.J. La Poorta – Deputy President of the AFM of SA – [email protected]
Call To Ministry
In 1976 I entered the ministry in Kakamas, where for two years and six months I was the Presiding Pastor (1976-1978). From there, I moved to the Upington Assembly, where we served from 1978 – 1985. While in Upington, I received a call to lecture at the Sarepta Theological College where I served from 1985-1994.
Pastoral Ministry In Local Assemblies
Residing in the Western Cape, we pastored various AFM Assemblies including Macassar, Eersteriver and Bellville-South. Through my pastoral ministry, I received opportunities to exercise leadership (especially on socio-economic involvement), teach, and become a leader in the communities I ministered.
Unity Committee of the former Composite Church.
Leadership Roles In Other Church Structures
In addition to my local ministry, I became involved in the higher structures of the AFM of SA. These structures were when I was elected as Regional-, Youth-, and Children’s Ministry Leader. My involvement on this level as Secretary and later Regional Leader gave me access to the then Executive Council of the Former Coloured Section, Composite Division, and United AFM of SA. During this period, I also served on various commissions, committees, and boards within the church.
Involvement In Other Organizations
This involvement led to my exposure to the broader Body of Christ, as Secretary of the National Organisation of Pentecostal Churches, a delegate to the: Global Pentecostal – Roman Catholic Dialogue, the Joint Consultative Group of Pentecostals, the World Council of Churches and the Global Christian Forum. Further exposure was when I served as AFM representative on the National Executive Council of the South African Council of Churches and serving as the Chairperson of The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa.
World Pentecostal Fellowship Conference in Canada, 2019.
My teaching ministry allowed me to access various Theological Conferences in the USA, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Through this endeavor, I was able to write articles in various theological journals and produced researched papers. Through these engagements, I met numerous renowned Theologians. Theologians such as Jurgen Moltmann, Veli-Matti Karkainen, Miroslav Volf, Ronald Sider, James Cone, Leonard Lovett, Miquel Alvarez, Juan Sepulveda, Fredrick Ware, Walter Hollenweger, Jean-Daniel Pluss, Mel Robeck, Harold Hunter and David Daniel to mention just a few. Together with Dr Isak Burger and Pastor George Mahlobo we were fortunate to meet numerous leaders of the Pentecostal Movement in the USA and Europe at their Head Offices.
Concerning my socio-economic involvement, I was afforded opportunities to meet with various political leaders and social justice proponents in South Africa and abroad. These engagements included meetings with Presidents Mandela, Mbeki, and Zuma. I have seen and encountered extreme poverty, inequality, and distress among people from all walks of life. In these situations, we must get involved and lend a helping hand in alleviating the pain and suffering resulting from these situations.
The La Poorta Family in 1999
Calling And Ministry In Our Lives
With the birth of our eldest daughter, Althea we were living together in Upington and we had to adjust like all other couples. We were fortunate because Susan’s parents and other relatives were staying in Upington and we had that support system, that assisted us. These support systems made it possible for us to continue with the ministry and for Susan to keep the fires burning with food on the table.
“I just want to salute Susan and all other Pastors wives within and outside the AFM of SA, for keeping their husbands in ministry.”
Life in Upington became very comfortable with the birth of our other two daughters, Susan and Jacqueline – because of these support systems that were in place around us. The situation in the assembly and later the District was going well. We were able to secure church properties in Upington and the regions around Upington like “Wegdraai”, “Grootdrink”, Prieska, Danielskuil, Postmasburg, and Port Nolloth. Life turned out to be so good to us because we were living comfortably in our own house and we were able to secure some goat farming activity. We were well accepted and respected in the community.
We did not enter the ministry for money or to get rich. We entered the ministry because we firmly believed that we have been called by God and that He will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory. That was the attitude by which most of us were governed. That was and still is our approach to ministry today.
In fact, the AFM of SA did not invite me to apply for a job. It was I who came to the realisation of what my calling is – and that was why I went to the Sarepta Theological College. That was the reason why I had no objections when the Curatorium placed me in Kakamas. I regarded the placement as an opportunity to exercise my calling and learn how to trust the One who I believed and confessed, called me into ministry.
That is why it pains my heart today when people come to the church, and in writing confirm on the application forms for theological training, that they believe they are called by God. In some cases, married persons with spouses and children quit their jobs in obedience to God – who they say have called them. Then when they encounter hurdles in the ministry, that that seem to be too great to overcome with the grace of God, they resign from the ministry for whatever reason.
Answering to the call into ministry is a matter of choice to be obedient, or to be like Gideon in the Bible. Gideon asked for more and more signs to deal with his calling. Only after much confirmation did he answer to the call. It is important for all of us who believe we are called or who will be called in the future, to wrestle with God to get certainty about your call in your innermost being. When you make the call to be obedient, it is your decision. If you have heard correctly, it is your choice. If you have heard wrong or misunderstood the call, it is your responsibility to make sure. When you say you are called and you are right, you can only take credit for yourself through God’s grace. If you have missed the call or misunderstood the call you can only blame yourself and nobody else.
“Romans 11: 29 says the calling and gifts of God are irrevocable. You are either called or not, there are no two ways about being called.”
We have learned some vital lessons through these experiences. There is a saying that goes: “It is better to learn from the mistakes of others than to form your own.” By doing what the notion alludes to, those who employ it will spare themselves much pain, anxiety, and stress.
Doctoral graduation at the University of the Western Cape, 1996.
The first lesson we learned is that God is faithful no matter the feeling or experience in which you find yourself. He will always be true to his Word and promises. When He says I will never leave you nor forsake you, He means what He says.
Secondly, it is significant to note that only God calls people into ministry and no other person in the church. If God calls you, he will provide for you in ministry until the end. However, if you are not called, you are the author of your demise. God will not take responsibility for those whom he did not call or even send on specific missions.
Thirdly, the gracious gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. God’s calling into ministry may demand sacrifices that the called ones are required to meet. These demands do not include reckless or ill-advised decisions that may bring severe sacrifices encountered by the innocent people who were not part of the original choices.
We are almost at the end of 2020. This year will be remembered in world history as the Covid-19 year, where a global pandemic brought the world to a standstill. As we reflect on the past year and many other challenges let us not give up hope. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:13). Allow me to wish you a peaceful and blessed Christmas.
May 2021 renew your vigour and passion to continue to serve our Saviour and Lord, Jesus Christ with sincerity.