The Zulu people are a strong and proud kingdom, the largest ethnic group in South Africa at 10 million strong, living mainly in the Province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). The past 30 years here have brought triumphs and challenges.
Studies and surveys have shown that KwaZulu-Natal has suffered the highest number of HIV-positive people and AIDS-related deaths in South Africa. KZN also has the highest rate of tuberculosis cases and deaths. Thanks to progress in the fight against AIDS, the province has come back to a life-expectancy of 60 years old from 49 years old in 2006. Children are one-third of the KZN population, and of those about 21% are orphans (842,000 children) and another 5% have a living parent but reside with a relative or friend. A number of homes in the area are child-headed households.
Much has been done by the government and the private sector to provide housing and subsidies for the poor and to care for vulnerable children, but situations in local communities are continually changing and local answers are needed. Further, with 27% unemployment, jobs are needed as well as the education and training necessary to get good jobs.
Our mission is to bring about gospel-driven change in the lives of individuals, resulting slowly in community-transformation (relief of widows, orphans and the poor).
Our mission is not to address symptoms, but root causes. The answer for any community in the world begins with the destiny-changing, hope-infusing, and life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ – the true gospel. One by one, we are seeing life-change toward Christlikeness as hearts are changed by the truth of God’s Word.
Our key projects, which are progressively unfolding, are:
1) Development of the 7 Rivers Farm, an agroforestry farm (forest gardens) that will sell produce and products to help fund staff for our other ministries, assist foster families when needed, and provide work for some of our foster parents.
2) Continuation of compassion ministry and evangelistic outreach in the schools and in the community through special programs and door-to-door community health evangelism;
3) Creation of a skills development centre to train locals in crafts, carpentry, welding, farming, beekeeping, baking and sewing.
4) Creation of the Thola Discovery Centre, an after-school care centre that provides local children with homework help, ESL, Bible club, character club, and sports and music activities;
5) Creation of The 7 Rivers Foster-Care Network in which specially trained Christian parents in the African community provide homes for orphans and vulnerable children.
We try to plan and act consistently with the following values:
Ministry moves forward on its knees. Desperate prayer is essential (Colossians 4:2-6).
Local churches are the focal point of God’s work in the world today (Acts 14:21-23).
Bible preaching and teaching in the local heart-language is essential for community transformation (Acts 22:1-21).
Biblical gospel ministry involves the gospel message, moral-practical teaching, and compassion work (Matthew 4:23, 9:35).
Relief, rehabilitation, and development each require different levels of assistance. We must give a hand up rather than a handout, and not do for others what they can and should do for themselves. We must show compassion without creating dependency (Luke 10:30-37).
Developing the heart, head and hands of leaders from within the community is essential for lasting transformation (Romans 15:14).
Transferring biblical values and parenting skills is essential to generational transformation of families and communities (Proverbs 29:15-17).
Work is good; God created us to work and then rest in order to provide for ourselves and to share with others in need. Character and job-skills training are critical to human dignity and thriving (Ephesians 4:25-29).
Kelly and Cherise Smith settled in the Olwasini Valley in 2005 and began what was to become the 7 Rivers Outreach, sharing Christ and healthcare information from home to home in the midst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. They have begun many of the outreach efforts of 7 Rivers, are involved with a local church-plant, and direct the development of infrastructure on the farm. They serve with ITMI (In Touch Mission International) and have five grown children.
Buhle Smith grew up in our community and was adopted into the Smith household during her teen years. In 2017, she completed a course of theological studies at Berean Bible Institute in Johannesburg, and has returned to the valley serving with ITMI (In Touch Mission International) to focus on community health evangelism, teaching The Story of Hope, and job skills development for local teenage girls.
David and Karin Brown have been involved with church-planting and leadership development in South Africa and abroad since the 1990s; they moved to Amanzimtoti in 2018. David did his doctoral work in compassion ministry in the African context, and he serves as the Director of 7 Rivers Outreach. The Browns serve with BMW (Biblical Ministries Worldwide) and have four married children and ten grandchildren.
Dan and Debbie Willoughby settled in our area in 2015. Their main function is networking with pastors in the African community, mentoring young men and couples for future pastoral ministry, and providing training in evangelism and counseling. The Willoughbys serve with BMW (Biblical Ministries Worldwide) and have five adult children living in Europe and the U.S.
David Morris is a retired ABWE missionary who helped plant Grace Baptist Church of Amanzimtoti, and spearheaded that church’s adoption of the 7 Rivers ministry. Now based in the United States, David oversees recruiting and accounting for 7 Rivers Outreach.
The 7 Rivers Outreach is a part of the GEN2 Ministry Group, a network of outreach ministries connected with Grace Baptist Church of Amanzimtoti. The 7 Rivers Board of Directors is comprised of godly ministry and business men and women from all over KwaZulu-Natal representing the diversity of South Africa. The chairman of the 7 Rivers Board is Desmond Venter, pastor of Grace-Toti, and the Director of 7 Rivers is an elder at Grace-Toti.