Westview members have 2nd home in Africa

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 6, 2010

There are more than 8,500 miles between Opp and Limpopo Province, South Africa. But to Westview Baptist Church pastor Scott Ferguson and his congregation, it’s almost like they’re neighbors.

Ferguson’s church has spent the last three years making several trips a year to the remote province of South Africa, where Westview church members have served as missionaries to the Tsonga-Shangaan people of the region. In December, Ferguson and church member Nate Smith took a 10-day trip to the area.

“There is a need to reach specific people groups in Africa that aren’t usually served by missionaries,” Ferguson said. “We’re working in a region that has about 750,000 people, but there are only three churches and about 2,000-3,000 believers, so there’s still work to be done.

“In the past three years, we’ve probably had 12-14 different members of our church make at least one trip. It’s an important part of our mission.”

Ferguson said the area is more modern than one might expect — most houses have electricity and either a television or radio. However, there is little running water and the majority of the adult population is illiterate. Ferguson said Westview’s main purpose in the missions has been to help train locals on how to spread the gospel to the Tsonga-Shangaan people.

“As white Americans, we could draw a crowd, but we probably couldn’t get many people to accept the gospel,” Ferguson said. “So what we’re trying to do is train some of the church leaders in that community on ways they can bring the gospel to their own people. That will be our major focus in 2010.”

Ferguson said Westview recently signed an agreement to continue missionary work in the region for the next three to five years.

December’s trip was the first time overseas for Smith, whose wife Laura attended a previous mission trip to the region.

“I had a wonderful time and would love to go back on a future trip,” he said. “It was definitely the experience of a lifetime.”

Smith explained the focus of the December trip was to better understand the culture and lifestyle of the Tsonga-Shangaan people.

“It was kind of a cultural analysis study,” he said. “We spent a lot of time just sitting around and talking with the villagers. We wanted to see how their family structure worked, different rituals and things like that. There was actually a lot of time where we just drove around, surveying and visiting some of the smaller and more remote villages.

“We surveyed an area that’s basically the equivalent of Geneva, Covington and Coffee counties combined. We were just trying to develop a plan of how to reach them with the Gospel.”

Ferguson said most of the villagers are receptive to their foreign visitors. He explained that most of the school children study English, but many of the adults only speak the local Tsonga-Shangaan dialect. Smith added that many of the teenagers have cell phones and other Western amenities.

The Westview missionaries arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Dec. 1, and then drove six hours north to the Limpopo Province.

“When you think of Africa, you might picture very primitive,” Smith said. “But we landed in Johannesburg, and it was a very modern city; it was like landing in Atlanta or New York City. But as we got further north, it got more rural and you began to see traditional huts and that sort of thing.

“The particular house we stayed in, they would heat our water and put it into a big tub. Just having a warm shower was something I started to miss, toward the end.”

Ferguson said the missions have been a positive experience for both himself personally, and Westview Baptist Church as a community.

“It has been a wonderful thing for our church,” Ferguson said. “I have been there five times in the last three years. I know their names and they know mine. And I’m pretty much in weekly contact with the pastor there, through e-mails and telephone calls and that sort of thing.

“They love me very much, and I love them very much, even though we have different colored skin and come from different mindsets. It just shows you how the Good News can reach everyone.”