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Celebrating 40 years of the Vineyard in South Africa

The Vineyard Movement in South Africa was birthed forty years ago in October 1982 when John Wimber along with eighty-two young people came to South Africa to assist Costa Mitchel, Alexander Venter, and Dave Owen in planting the first Vineyard church in Parkview Johannesburg. I felt that this is a significant milestone in our church family and wanted to write some thoughts to commemorate such a considerable moment in time. I asked Alexander and Costa to share some of their thoughts with us, these are transcriptions of the recordings, and I finished off with some of my reflections.

Alexander Venter:

What I celebrate in the birth of the Vineyard in South Africa in October 1982 and what I remember that was especially meaningful to me was that eighty-two, young people came out to South Africa, on their own steam together with the Wimbers. They helped to plant the church and for two weeks did evangelism in the streets and the parks, at the swimming pools, and led people to the Lord. In our first baptism while they were here sixty-five people who were literally born again from off the streets were baptized of water and had come to know Jesus. The thing that really impressed me was starting a church with spanking new believers who were unchurched and irreligious and the joy of working with them and discipling them was a real blessing. There was also the sense of God's presence and power in ministering to people and the sheer joy of doing the work of the Kingdom together was Costa, Dave Owen, and others in the core that had joined us. That would be my celebration of the 1982 birth of the Vineyard in South Africa.

Costa Mitchell:

40 years of the Vineyard and particularly my reflections on the beginning, the very basic thing that I remember that for me was the reason my entire life and ministry changed was that what we saw in Wimber and the others who were part of the early formation of the Vineyard in the USA. It was the ability to put into action things that we all believed. Not only did John articulate those things but he also put them into action. We all believed in the equipping of the Saints, and we all believed in the ministry of every believer, a priesthood of all believers, but what we saw was the easy way. Seventeen and eighteen-year-old American men and women just ministered in power in a naturally supernatural way without any manipulation without any screaming or making people feel uncomfortable. All ministry was done with dignity and with ease. That was for me the biggest impact of the meetings that we had in October 1982, that conference was life-changing in that respect we saw how people there encountered dramatic miracles.

A couple of the miracles I recall at the conference were the opening of that woman's eyes who had been blind for 15 or 20 years. A young boy who's got out of a wheelchair and was walking up and down the front of the German school hall. The middle-aged gentleman who had no teeth and a gum infection and who when Donna asked if she could put her fingers in his mouth agreed, she called her husband and said is it OK, as she put her fingers in his mouth, teeth

grew literally under her fingers, he came back in 1988 looking for Donna and showed me his full perfect set of teeth in his mouth, teeth that had grown that that night. The infection was gone. These were creative miracles in one case hands were laid on a baby that had no ears and ears grew. She described it as cauliflower heads that kind of grew under her fingers, she prayed and this child had a brand new pair of ears. There were many more wonderful miracles but the important thing was done without fanfare and without the main man. It wasn't a case of the pastor or the great man of God or the even the elders being the ones who prayed for the sick but ordinary people doing extraordinary things. That was for me the biggest impact of all of this.

I think the other side of it was what we had all felt God had been speaking to us about, worship. About worship being a function of intimacy with God and of singing real love songs to God. We had been impacted by that revelation and by the spirit, and then we saw it once again in action. We saw it in the songs, we saw it in the way that the worship was done and presented, we saw it in the no hype, no manipulation, no fluff, no smoke, and no mirrors. Just very simple singing of love songs to God and the spirit came. That for me was the second and equally transformative effect of what John and the whole team came to present and exemplify.

The third thing was and this was the thing that was particularly just between John and myself. John said most people meet the Vineyard in the conference, where all of these things are going on, people are falling down and flipping around, and there are healing signs and wonders, but he said, “What they also now need to do, is they have to meet the Vineyard in church, not conference but church.” In other words, how do we do church, how do we lead people, how do we preach, how do we minister, and how does leadership work in the context of a thing we call a Vineyard church? John spent a lot of time and gave such precious insights, stories and illustrations, and good solid teaching about the thing that so many people struggle with which is the way we do church. He called it churchmanship, the way we do church that left us with a lot of tools, a lot of equipping, a lot of information, and of course a big job to do.

John always insisted that couples be equally happy about the calling to ministry and that husbands and wives should be in ministry together. Even if their roles are different, they need to be in it together, in spirit and in heart. He encouraged the building of ministry teams so that we multiply the number and the percentage of people involved in ministry. These were the things that made for brand new fresh models that gave really gave expression to that whole DNA thing. John came out a few years later but 1982 was a moment of birthing for us. Of not just a model of ministry, not just the concept of worship, but of a model of church that still is, that I am still as passionate about now, as I was all those years ago. Contrary to some people's view on this thing it's not something that dies out, it's not something that changes with the times, and now we can go back to what is called tight jeans and smoke machines and whatever else. The principles, the values, that drive all stay the same. It's about being real, it's about being non-manipulative, it's about being unpretentious as leaders. I believe those things should carry over every generation, there will change in the movement, and of course, the ways in which some of those things are expressed will differ, but if we ever lose the center of it, if we ever lose the value of it, then we can no longer call ourselves Vineyard. I hope that encapsulates some of what we are celebrating 40 years on.

Some of my reflections: Andrew Christie

I came into the Vineyard and was drawn by the love, authenticity, and accessibility of the people. Then through intimacy in worship, and encountering the powers and Presence of God, my life changed forever. I was in the Vineyard for six months and Costa invited me on a trans local ministry trip to Zimbabwe. I was deeply touched and empowered by the Lord, the experience was so powerful that Costa had to drive my car as I was unable to. On our way back to South Africa, Costa asked me a simple question that would change my life forever. He asked me, casually, “So, Andy, why don’t you start a small group?” I did not even know what a small group was, but he explained that I could invite friends around to my home and teach them.

“Teach them what?” I asked, and he answered that I should register with the Vineyard Bible Institute and, while studying, teach what I was learning. Returning home I spoke with Mandy, and we decided that this could be something the Lord had in mind for us. We planted the home group in our home. The group grew rapidly, and we experienced a wonderful season of the Lord’s favour, growth, and blessing. Within about eighteen months, in August of 2002, we went public and launched Willow Hill Vineyard Christian Fellowship. The Vineyard is home for me, I found my family. Forty years ago, a few people said yes to God, and the Vineyard was birthed in South Africa. I am grateful that they did, and we have witnessed an incredible move of God in South Africa, into Africa, and across the globe. The Kingdom values we ascribe to have anchored us as a church family not to be swayed by every trend and fad that comes along. These are foundational principles for us as a family of churches and what we signed up for. The outworking of our priorities and practices may vary in our contexts as we celebrate the diversity that is to be found in His Church. However, our foundation remains in these values and principles. It is the sign on the bus which tells people where we are going.

It is important for us to say that Scripture has authority above church councils and traditions, above reason, above experiences, and above personal viewpoints. We are there to do His bidding and be less concerned with liturgy than responsiveness to Him. To use John Wimber's language, we are seeking a ‘lifestyle of relationship with God', a ‘renewal of spirituality'. This makes response to Holy Spirit, worship, and intimacy with God a fundamental Value. John Wimber, ‘Ours is neither to make names for ourselves nor to build lasting institutions, but to meet the needs of broken people through a ministry of mercy in our lifetime'. Both grace and healing amount to a contemporary way of expressing the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Healing, as Soteria means salvation, wholeness, deliverance, and restoration, as the total result of the work of Christ. Our vertical relationship with God is given the test of its outworking in love between people. We cannot say that we love God, whom we have never seen if we do not love our brother, who we do see. The rediscovery of the NT theology of the Kingdom has been of major significance for us, creating a fresh appreciation of the message and mission of Jesus in His context. Our Kingdom commitment works its way out in terms of mission and training. We value healthy-real-restoration and reconciliation in Christ between all categories of individuals and groups who are estranged from one another. This is a non-optional aspect of our communal life and ministry. We see every person as equal in value. Every person is equally loved by God. This is who we are, this is our core as a family of churches, and these are the non-negotiables of how we live out our faith. As Costa articulated, “If we ever lose the center of it, if we ever lose the value of it, then we can no longer call ourselves Vineyard.”

What I love about the Vineyard is our continual push for the naturally supernatural lifestyle. In our churches we seek to encounter His Presence in intimate, non-manipulative, or hyped worship. We don’t just proclaim His word, we demonstrate it, on Sunday mornings in our services, pursuing His kingdom to come right here on earth as it is in heaven. Through the week, as Christians we try to ethical lives of love, character, and integrity, and we should. But that’s only one leg of Christian life. Anyone can live that way, Christian or not. The other leg we seek to live out, is Jesus command to us to live a naturally supernaturally lifestyle, where as we go into our everyday life and we heal, deliver, and cleanse. As a Christian be reminded of His words to you, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” (Mat 10:8). Nowhere in the Gospels did Jesus ever suggest that His commission into a miraculous lifestyle was optional. In the Vineyard we encourage this miraculous lifestyle in all our people where everybody gets to play, not just the leaders or ‘anointed’ folks.

In closing, the Vineyard family in South Africa is a family, and over many years, we have hung out, stayed in one another’s homes, and been at conferences and retreats together. We have eaten together, walked on beaches, sat around fires drinking wine and telling stories until the early hours of the morning. But most importantly, we have worshipped together, we have seen His Kingdom come in power to heal the sick, cast out demons, open the eyes of the blind, unstop deaf ears, watched as the lame have walked, and the oppressed have been set free! We have seen the harvest begin to come in, and I believe it is just the tip of the iceberg, forty years in and the best my friends, is yet to come!

Here is the deal Vineyard family:

Luke 4:18-19 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, (19) to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Mat 28:18-20 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (19) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, (20) and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Act 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Mat 10:8 “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.”

Friends, may His love fill us, the Holy Spirit lead and empower us, and the Father embrace us as we go. Here’s to the next forty years and beyond…

Love Andrew

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