Just outside Bethlehem in the Eastern Free State is a small holding on which a community of homeless people live and work peacefully. Although the people are homeless and living on God’s grace, they are not necessarily discouraged.
For most of the residents, the community, Christenburg, is their home and their neighbors are their family.
The rest of Bethlehem’s people may consider these residents as the “discarded and discarded people” of the community, but in the eyes of the residents, they are the chosen ones of God.
Homeless, but not despondent
During RNews’s visit to the community, most of the residents said that they are having a great time. The gratitude that radiated from each resident’s eyes was noticeable. Their strong faith, despite their circumstances, was also striking.
“In the end, the Lord shows you that He needs you in places where He can use you. I believe God has called me to establish myself here in Christenburg. You don’t have to have treasures to be rich and important, you just have to have God on your side, then you are treasured,” says Frikkie Brits, a former policeman who today works in security. He lives alone in Christenburg.
After years of being “lost”, Brits found the Lord again in the church on Christenburg. He serves on the church council today and says he wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
“I get very discouraged days – days when you feel you can’t do it anymore. Then I sit down and read the Bible and pray. Then the Lord shows me a way and says: Frikkie, there is a way out.
“If we all start thinking positively about Christenburg today, we will be fine. Every day is a decision to be positive about your circumstances.”
“My wife and I have a roof over our heads, a bed to sleep on and we can eat every day. What more could one want?” says another resident Willie Beukes.
Beukes was three years old when he and his sister ended up in the orphanage in Bethlehem. His parents could not take care of them. His parents and sister have since died and he barely speaks to his brother in Bethlehem.
“Me and my wife, Annemarie, only have each other.”
After the couple lost everything, they settled in Christenburg. Annemarie is bedridden and Willie takes care of her. The couple lives on Sassa money and Willie works on the farm for extra income.
“Some days I get discouraged, but then you just have to look ahead. Holding on to the past and constantly wondering ‘what if’ will kill you.”
Marelize and Herman Marx have lived in Christenburg for 17 years. Marelize works in the kitchen at Christenburg and Herman, as well as her brother Johnny Kruger, are car attendants at Wimpy in Bethlehem.
“I will do this (work) until the day I die, because in this way I can take care of my family,” says Kruger. Kruger also has a wife and three children.
“You live from day to day and adapt to your circumstances. I pray for health every morning, because if you don’t feel healthy, you can’t work and then you don’t get money. On cold and rainy days you have to stand strong, because you need the money.”
Johnny and Marelize’s father, Neels Kruger, also worked as a car guard at the same Wimpy for many years. He died in February 2022. Their mother, Elize Kruger, has lived in Christenburg for 20 years.
“We suffer, but my trust is in the Lord. If I didn’t have Him, I wouldn’t have survived,” she says.
Dr. Niël Basson, head of Christenburg, says he himself was called by God to take leadership of the community. He has many plans in the pipeline to turn Christenburg into a self-sufficient community.
“I received a prophetic word about Christenburg – that it will be the head of the town and no longer just the tail,” says Basson.
According to Basson, Christenburg houses winged people who are broken in spirit, soul and body. Many of our residents end up in this community due to a lack of finances.
“There is a place for everyone and anyone can come and knock on our door. We don’t turn anyone away, especially not in an emergency situation.”
Sometimes people come knocking for help themselves and other times people from outside will bring the people in and also arrange to pay for their accommodation.
The police also often bring people to Christenburg who live on the street and have nowhere else to go.
‘God with us’
Christenburg originated decades ago, with the church building on the site serving as the hub of the community. According to Basson, Christenburg has had a very strong spiritual base from the beginning, and this is also where the community gets its name from.
The name of the church is Emmanuel, which means God with us, and is the basis on which Christenburg functions.
Basson has been involved in the community for the past almost 13 years. He says God led him to buy the piece of land on which Christenburg was built. However, the piece of land is not yet in Basson’s name and belongs to the estate of the previous owner, Herman Uys.
“We had a purchase contract and then Herman died two weeks later from complications due to an operation. The purchase contract then expired in the meantime against the estate, which has yet to be settled.”
The approximately 120 people, including children, who currently live in Christenburg pay a very small amount for rent. This money is then paid directly to the estate as rent for the piece of land.
“The residents pay for accommodation based on its size. The accommodation varies from rooms to small stone and wooden houses. The houses have their own bathroom facilities and the rooms share ablution facilities.”
The adult residents pay an amount of R100 and children R50 per month for a plate of cooked food per day. There is also a vegetable garden on the premises, which is maintained by the residents themselves. The vegetables are harvested for the residents.
Some of the residents also carry out jobs on the premises, for which they receive payment. This includes cutting grass or cleaning gardens. Some of the women also work in the kitchen.
“We also have a small nursery, where the income we get from it then goes towards salaries for the residents who work at the nursery.”
Most of the residents are pensioners and live on their Sassa allowance. There are also some residents who are car guards in the town.
“Paying the residents a small amount of rent and doing chores gives them back a small piece of human dignity,” says Christo Faught, manager at Christenburg.
According to Faught, the residents come and go, with some having lived there for up to 18 years. They also currently have a waiting list of people who need accommodation.
After the rent is paid to the estate, there are minimal funds left for Christenburg to look after his own needs, says Basson.
“Donations are very welcome.”
Churches are involved on and off in Christenburg and a few businesses also regularly help the community with donations.
“We get regular food donations from Pick n Pay and Woolworths and a local butcher donates meat for us. There are also benefactors who occasionally stop by us and drop off food, clothes or blankets.”
Break ‘poverty chain’
Basson has a greater vision and mission not only for Christenburg, but also for the residents, to break the “chain of poverty”.
“I applied for funding to transform Christenburg into a village over time. We want to renovate the houses by getting rid of the dilapidated cottages and building basic, well-furnished housing units.
“We also want to set up a community center where we will set up a dining hall and kitchen for the residents.”
Basson is also planning a study hall for the children where they will get extra training in English and mathematics. There is already a library on the premises, with books that have been received as donations.
Basson also wants to set up a computer center for children as a further teaching aid.
“The main goal is to train each resident in a specific skill at the end of the day. So that the residents can use those skills to generate income for themselves. We want to equip them to establish small businesses themselves – under the banner of Christenburg – later, hesty in car mechanics, sewing, baking and brewing and welding or woodwork.”