God multiplies missionaries’ plan to restock shops hit by looting

Written by Andre Viljoen on August 4, 2021

“What can we do to help?” Kent and Lyndall Vanderyacht asked after they got over the initial shock of looting that had broken out in their area days before and their hearts went out to people in a nearby township left without food and hope.

The next morning — the Saturday after the Monday when the looting started — Lyndall prayed about their desire to help and then she asked Kent what he thought about the idea of restocking a looted spaza shop — just to help get their economy going again.

They just had one, or maybe two, shops in mind, said Kent. It was like their Hearts That Hope orphanage ministry in Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal, he explained, where they care for 11 children in addition to their own four kids. “We know that God can do great big things. But for us we are happy with getting relational, getting in people’s lives.”

He said they thought that with donations of about R100 or R200 and gifts of groceries from friends and family they could help a shopkeeper or two to get back on their feet again.

So they found out it would cost about R7 500 to restock a typical spaza shop and with the help of Lyndall’s marketing-savvy brother they had a “Stock-A-Shop” web page up and running by that Saturday evening and they launched the campaign on a Sunday morning.

Kent Vanderyacht, centre, talking with a shopkeeper in his looted shop in iLembe District, KwaZulu-Natal

“By Sunday night we had a hundred grand in our bank to stock shops. And it was like, okay, I guess we’re doing this and let’s just keep going until it stops,” he said.

When I spoke to Kent earlier this week he said donations to the campaign had reached R660 000. They had restocked 26 shops in the relatively small ILembe District township nearest to them. They had also fixed and secured many of the shops which had also been vandalised.

Kent said he and two local men who were assisting him were now in the next nearest township, speaking to shop owners and assessing their needs. He estimated they would be able to assist another 60 or 70 shops. He said it was amazing how people had come on board with the campaign to help shopkeepers start again. As long as donations kept coming in they would continue with the project, he said.

Kent estimated that in the 12km stretch between Ballito and Stanger, about 150 shops were looted. In the bigger townships closer to Durban he believes thousands of small shopkeepers lost their livelihoods through the looting.

Reflecting on their recent experience, Kent, who is a missionary from the United States, said he and Lyndall were shocked on the first Monday of the looting as they watched television footage of businesses being attacked with no police in sight. As they wondered whether looting which was happening just across the freeway would spread to their suburb they considered whether they should be thinking of moving to the US. He said he had been in Lebanon when war broke out but what he saw on TV that was happening in KZN was much more scary than that war.

Subsequently, local security companies protected Ballito and businesses there were not looted. On the Thursday of that week, without telling his wife, Kent prayed for God to protect him and rode his scooter into the township across the freeway and started speaking to people. Despite the racial tension that had been building over the past few days he said ordinary people in the township who were not involved in the looting welcomed him. He visited again on the Friday and that night he and Lyndall began asking the Lord how they could help.

Kent said one of the amazing things that has happened through the Stock-A-Shop campaign is that he has ended up working with a lot of Muslim shopkeepers. He said he had always wanted to go to the Middle East as a missionary. “And I said: ‘Wow God, it’s just like you. Now I’m in South Africa and you brought the Middle East to me and I’m getting to pray with these guys.’”

He said one of the Muslim people they were helping said: “God gave you Christians Jesus as a gift, so that you can give this gift to us.”

He said that shopkeepers they have helped have said their support has given them hope and a reason to start again. He said all of the shops in the first township they helped are up and running again and there was an improved atmosphere in the area.

When I spoke to him they had just been to the next township and found that no shops were open and there was great animosity between shopkeepers and the people who had looted their businesses. He said they have met with community leaders and various role players and want to help heal relations and remind people “you are all in this together”,

Police and pastors pray for nation at mall in Diepsloot

Diepsloot Police Station spokesperson Captain Tinyiko Mathebula. (PHOTO: File/Midrand Reporter)

Diepsloot Pastors Forum and South African Police Service hosted a prayer session at a mall in Diepsloot, Johannesburg on July 18 as part of a National Day of Prayer, according to a report published in Midrand Reporter today.

A senior pastor at Almighty Christian Church in Diepsloot, Eliot Chiworeka, said the prayer event was part of the National Day of Prayer announced, following a recent episode of unrest and looting of shops in some parts of Gauteng and in KwaZulu-Natal.

“The president of the country, Cyril Ramaphosa, has urged members of all faith-based organizations to pray for the country, following the recent unrest and looting of shops while the country was battling with Covid-19 third wave. We hosted this prayer as a response to the president’s plea for prayers.”

SAPS and Diepsloot Pastors Forum host a prayer session at a local mall (PHOTO: supplied/Midrand Reporter)

Chiworeka continued: “Because of Covid-19 Level 4 lockdown restrictions, we invited only pastors and church leaders in order to comply and adhere to safety protocols as required by the Disaster Management Act.

“We strongly believe that God will intervene in calming our people and heal our land.”

Diepsloot Police Station spokesperson Captain Tinyiko Mathebula added: “Our station has a good partnership with Diepsloot Pastors Forum and work closely with them.”

Mathebula concluded: “We were part of the prayer to pray for the country.”



The news from Ethiopia’s Tigray region is bleak. Despite the communication blackout the Ethiopian government imposed, refugee testimonies and video evidence smuggled from the region describe atrocity and barbarism against civilians.

On Nov. 4, while much of the world was focused on the U.S. presidential election and the COVID-19 pandemic, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed led a “law enforcement operation” against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a regional party that governs Tigray and its leadership. Ethiopia’s law enforcement operation was prompted by TPLF’s attacking a regional military base that TPLF official, Sekoutoure Getachew, said were preemptive strikes in self-defence. For the past seven months, the Ethiopian National Defence Force, the Eritrean Forces, and the Amhara Forces have unified to eliminate both the TPLF and carry out a genocidal campaign against the Tigrayan people.

If you’re not familiar with recent Ethiopian politics, here’s a quick overview: The TPLF was one of the four ethnic-based parties within the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition, which dominated Ethiopian politics for the last three decades. EPRDF’s record in government is a mixed bag. The EPRDF helped usher in a decade of GDP growth and increased access to education and health. But they also exerted tight control over politics, severely limited freedom of speech, and committed human rights violations. While representing just 6 percent of the population, TPLF’s outsized influence and control over key political and economic sectors were grievances that galvanized a popular movement that eventually led to the downfall of the EPRDF coalition.

With this background in mind, two truths come into view: It is fair for Ethiopians to want the bad actors in the TPLF to be held accountable for their political failures. But the Tigrayan people as a whole should not be held responsible for those failures; there is no justification for indiscriminate violence. Revenge is not the answer.

Enablers and bystanders

The war is made possible by both the armed actors who are actively engaging in ethnic cleansing, rape and destruction, the war is made possible by enablers who give the campaign ideological and religious justification and refuse to condemn these atrocities. Sadly, many of these enablers and bystanders are Christians.

Ethiopia is a religiously diverse country with close to 63 percent Christians (44 percent Orthodox and 19 percent Protestants) and 34 percent Suni Muslims. Roman Catholics, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, and practitioners of indigenous religions together make up less than 5 percent of the population.

In the course of the current war in Tigray, Ethiopian Christians — evangelicals and Orthodox alike — continue to play an active role in framing the war as God’s judgment, providing religious justification and garnering popular support for the army. Many actively engage in the denial of the Axum Massacre, despite the Ethiopian government labelling the massacre “credible” and independent, international media outlets such as the Associated Press verifying the tragedy.

For example, six weeks into the war, in a Facebook post, Paulos Fekadu, an evangelical theologian, author, and preacher with more than 20,000 followers, wrote that “what is happening in north Ethiopia (Tigray) is the judgment of God” (author’s translation from Amharic).

Daniel Kibret, who is not only an advisor to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed according to local Ethiopian news outlets but also a deacon and scholar in the Ethiopian Orthodox church, legitimized the war saying, “It is wrong to claim that the war is against Tigray or Tigrayans. There are 5 to 6 million Tigrayans, it may be around 1 million of them that are involved in betrayal and treason” (author’s translation from Amharic).

As a Tigrayan and a Christian, I want to know why my fellow Christians who claim to worship the Prince of Peace have engaged in legitimizing violence and death. How do you start with the theology of the gospels — which teaches us to love our enemies, to be peacemakers and to suffer with those who suffer — and end up with a theology that endorses a war, rejoices in massacres and destruction, and brands critics as sub-human? Tigrayans are created in the image of God. So, how can Christians remain silent when God’s image-bearers are described as “daytime hyenas,” raped and maimed, and then silenced from speaking out?

Transformation of Jesus

Growing up, I learned tolerance, persistence, and faith in God from my Orthodox parents. And the evangelical churches I joined at a younger age taught me that Jesus was a compassionate shepherd who is Lord and saviour of all. Above everything, I was taught Christian unity transcends the ethnic, political, or cultural divisions that currently define Ethiopia.

But the Jesus I see many Christians in Ethiopia following looks different. The Jesus they follow apparently never said “blessed are the peacemakers,” or “love thy enemies.” The Jesus of many Ethiopian leaders looks more like a thief who came to “steal, kill, and destroy” rather than the good shepherd who came to give eternal life (Matthew 5; John 10:10-11).

It is hubris to claim to have the perfect image of Jesus — we all tend to create Jesus in our own image and our context shapes our image of Jesus. However, when Christians portray Jesus in a way that departs from the witness of scripture, we fail the God who sent Jesus as the saviour of the world.

Since the start of the war, thousands of Tigrayan believers both at home and far-off have seen death, displacement, and grief engulfing their loved ones. With the total communication blackout, the government imposed on the region, many thousands of us do not know about the fate of our families and relatives who remain in the region. This has imposed a heavy spiritual and emotional toll on Tigrayan believers. We are also reckoning with feelings of deep betrayal from our fellow Christians in Ethiopia who have been silent or complicit.

How does one resist a theology of genocide? How do we build a theology of resistance that neither mirrors the theology of genocide nor condemns Tigrayans to passively accept our fate?

Theology done in the face of genocide and humanitarian crisis is always incomplete. However, this theology of resistance always begins and ends with Jesus who came to serve and love, moving with compassion in the midst of those who had been marginalized and subjected to violence by ruling powers. It is impossible to imagine this Jesus as a bystander to the suffering of millions. He identifies with those who suffer, with those who are displaced, the orphans and the women whose dignity is violated, the families who lost their children. If Ethiopian Christians start following that Jesus, there will be no more war.

Temesgen Kahsay

Temesgen Kahsay is an assistant professor at the Norwegian School of Leadership and Theology. He is originally from Tigray, but is now based in Norway where he teaches and researches comparative religions, missiology, religion, and society.