Kopano Baptist Church near Pretoria, South Africa, is about as unassuming an assembly as you will find anywhere on planet earth. Actually, you won’t find it at all unless an informed local leads you there. This fledgling church is tucked away off a rural road in a dusty village where neither fame nor fortune has ever dared show face. But God has.
According to church-growth gurus, Kopano Baptist Church is doing absolutely everything wrong. But unfazed by the dictates of such experts, God is working wonders in this obscure village through this humble church. Theirs is a story that will never be recorded on the glossy pages of prestigious journals or heralded in documentaries touting the latest ecclesiastical success story. Yet theirs is a story worthy of broadcast.
The village Kopano serves has no running water or sewer, no asphalt or gravel roads, no cars, sidewalks, street lamps or grass. Here the only things in noticeable abundance are stray dogs, brazen rats, cheap booze and abject poverty.
Kopano Baptist Church meets in an abandoned produce barn: no windows or interior walls, no carpet or restrooms, no banners, crosses, pictures, or decorative touches of any sort save the small hand-painted sign attached to the front wall that reads simply: “Kopano Baptist Church.” A few plastic chairs supplement the wooden crates that serve as pews. A string of four naked bulbs hangs over the center aisle—the electricity supplied via an extension cord plugged into the outlet of a nearby flat. Several candles waxed to the cement floor encircle the assembly to serve during the inevitable power outage. Parishioners share space with the rats—an improvement on an earlier day when rats shared space with the parishioners.
The first services of Kopano Baptist were raucous affairs as drunks with open bottles in hand freely aired beclouded commentaries. When the help of African believers from other hardscrabble villages was solicited, even they were initially petrified by the unruly behavior of these villagers. But then the fearless Spirit of God came down. Several villagers received Jesus as their Savior and identified with Him in baptism. Existing believers in the village were emboldened. In a most unlikely location, God was performing wonders.
After a period of solidification, the missionary pastor encouraged the believers of Kopano to help him evangelize a nearby squatter’s camp. They balked. The camp targeted for outreach was so desperately impoverished and unruly, even the people of Kopano were fearful to set foot there. But their pastor believes the gates of hell cannot withstand the gospel (Matt. 16:18). Renouncing fear, the members of Kopano joined him in reaching out to this neighboring community of dilapidated shacks and desperate souls. And God went with them.
I accompanied Kopano’s pastor one dark night as he transported in his family van no less than 16 people from this squatter’s camp to the weekly worship service of Kopano Baptist. As we returned the visitors to their homes following the service, drunken men caroused around an open fire on the rugged dirt path that winds haphazardly through the camp. We tried to ease our vehicle around them, but the revelers encircled us chanting loudly. The eerie shadows cast by that makeshift fire in a village without electricity was chilling. Dark forces were at work here and you could sense it. I wondered if this might be the last night of my life on earth, but mercifully, the men let us pass.
Assuming we had just been serenaded by a cacophony of vulgarities, I asked the pastor what these drunken men had been chanting in Twsana. “Pastor, Pastor” came the unexpected answer. Hope had come to their village in the face of a man of God. They had no personal interest in embracing that hope, but they celebrated its arrival. Suddenly, the dense darkness of that frightful village took on a different aura. God was shining His light here, and you could sense it. Fear was being routed by hope.
For their part, the members of Kopano are rejoicing to see their efforts bear fruit with these less fortunate neighbors. The Kopano church openly discusses the day when their own village was like the one they are now seeking to reach. In other words, in just two years the Kopano church has wielded observable, transforming influence upon her village. This village is still a den of iniquity, but the salt and light of its only church is altering the environment, and everyone senses it (Matt. 5:13-16).
Following a service at Kopano, I was privileged to witness adult women from both of these villages place their faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus for their salvation. I witnessed their turn from darkness to the saving light in Christ (John 1:1-14; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). As these women repented of their sin and prayed for God’s forgiveness in Christ, a rat scurried past in the shadows and church members spontaneously sang their way out of the building and into a cold, dark night strangely warmed by the wonder of the transforming power of Jesus.
That moment stands in my estimation as a microcosm of the purpose Jesus envisioned for His church (Matt. 5:13-16; 28:18-20). The Kopano church is transforming her village with the gospel. She is spreading that influence to neighboring villages. She is edifying believers in biblical truth. She is worshiping God with enthusiastic joy. Fame and fortune may never show their faces in this village, but God has visited Kopano Baptist, and people are singing and dancing for joy.
Dan Miller has served as the Senior Pastor of Eden Baptist Church since 1989. He graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College with a B.S. degree in 1984 and his graduate degrees include a M.A. in History from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the M.Div. and Th.M. from Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He is nearing completion of D.Min. studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dan is married to Beth and the Lord has blessed them with four children: Ethan, Levi, Reed and Whitney.