On Both Banks of the River

The River of Life

I live on the banks of the Liesbeek River in Cape Town which flows from the eastern slopes of Table Mountain through suburbs and industrial areas before joining the Black River and draining into the Atlantic Ocean. For most of the history of people in this area the river has been pivotal in the lives of those living near it.  Prior to colonisation by European migrants, the Khoi and San lived along its banks. After colonial settlement the Liesbeek was the first river in South Africa to be impacted by colonial agriculture and urbanization, remaining pivotal to life along its banks.  

In the 1950s a decision was made to canalise forty percent of the river in order to control flooding and damage by the river. This decision reflected the industrial, mechanistic mindset of the age seeking to impose human order on nature’s chaos.  If rivers are simply the flow of water from one point to another then canals are more efficient at delivering water through the system, less messy and unpredictable and able to mitigate the damage caused by flood events.  This “order” has been imposed on streams like the Liesbeek to immense rivers like the Mississippi River in the United States of America.  But ultimately, canalising a river transforms it into a drainpipe, devoid of life and impact.  

In many aspects of their lives over the past centuries, the church and its work have also been impacted by the industrial, mechanistic mindset of the age, resulting in a plethora of “best practice”, “replicable” and “scalable” models of being church. These sought to impose human order on God’s work and make the movement of souls into heaven as efficient as possible.  Clearly there are exceptions but the driving force of these ideas results in churches and church communities being cut off from the messiness and chaos of their neighbourhoods and from the abundance of life in Christ interacting with these places. 

Just over 15 years ago, a small group of people living along the Liesbeek River looked at the drainpipe and began to imagine a different picture: a place where life flourished because a functioning and life-giving river had been nurtured back into abundance and reconnected with the world.   The realisation of this vision began with small actions of walking the banks of the river, cleaning up and planting plants.   Holes were cut into the concrete and small weirs created…Life returned.  

The prophet Ezekiel and the writer of the book of Revelation both picture God’s work in the world as a river that brings life and along whose banks trees grow that will be for the healing of the nations. The Warehouse works to nurture this river of life,  imagining churches that are places of life and hope working for the good of the community in which God has placed them (thanks, Bryant Myers). 

We do this by supporting, forming and caring for leaders in and of churches who are doing this work, enabling and equipping church congregations to better recognise and discern the transformative work of God’s Spirit in their communities and then organising and aligning work across neighbourhoods, cities and the country, growing the collective impact of the church in South Africa. 

Our prayer is that, through some glimpses into our work in this newsletter, you will be inspired, strengthened and encouraged in this vision.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On both sides of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Rev 22:1-2

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