Today, Natalia Strydom is a full-time minister of NG Alberton South and counsellor. She says “my calling and passion are intertwined and therefore not one day of my job has ever felt like work.”

She first discovered her calling and passion for ministry while she was participating in a programme that took students to the World Leaders Summit in Washington, DC. Years later, as Natalia was completing her studies in theology, her daughter’s father passed away. In hindsight, Natalia recognises that these events of significant losses with her brother and father as well, were years of personal and spiritual growth.

Natalia’s dream of being an agent of change and hope comes from observing the challenges in South Africa.

“Making sense of the past and moving forward from it, and working in a post-apartheid environment is one of the most profound callings everyone residing in South Africa faces.

How do we unpack the past in such a way, that we learn from history’s lessons, not to repeat history, but without carrying the pain and trauma with it? Thereby not disqualifying the reality that there was immense hurt, trauma and devastation caused. We need to fix our eyes on God, and his dream for a new South Africa, daring to dream to be co-writers of this new story.

I think we often underestimate how many things we have in common with our fellow South Africans. We all want unity. As fellow South Africans, we all want unity, we all want a safe place where our families can thrive, and we all want to hope. We all want to feel like we belong. We so often fixate on our differences, that we miss what we share.”

Crime has a tremendous impact on individuals and the greater community.

“Crime restricts our mobility and sense of security. The extent of trauma that crime and crime-related deaths have on families is a reality that we cannot ignore. The vast amount of financial insecurity due to job losses and economic growth decline has an impact on everybody. There is a drastic increase in broken families. Parents do not make the time to invest good morals and values in their children. One of the greatest factors that plays a role in our society’s degeneration is the absence of good values.

We need to allow God to rewrite our story to match what He dreams our world, our country and our families should look like. People need to realise that they are a God- idea. Every person here in South Africa was put here to contribute and be agents of change. This entails that we discover who we are and aren’t, what values we have, what gifts we have received to share, what calling each one has for their life, and what talents and skills they can use to serve others and share with others.”

Natalia remembers her brother’s final quote before his passing, “be all you can be, be the best”.    

“Being the best that you can be is only possible if you know yourself completely, love yourself and accept yourself fully. At our congregation, we believe we are called to be a home for those who do not feel they belong. It is a space we wish to create where people may encounter God to grow and to flourish. This is also the space where we then move out to be disciples and agents of change by investing in relationships with people.

We recently began an NGO with the sole purpose of serving the community. Holding Hands is an organisation rooted in the belief that we are stronger together. We partner up with businesses to raise funds that enable us to carry out hope to people. Our main project is providing counselling services at affordable rates or free of charge if community members cannot afford counselling. Part of the dream is to build these services up as conferences and courses on preventative care. Another project of ours is our daily soup kitchen that serves up to 70 homeless or jobless men and women.

We support a feeding scheme of our neighbouring congregations, we supply food hampers for more than 20 families monthly and we also participate in a feeding scheme at a local school, Montanus Primary. Here children receive a daily meal. As part of our investment in the education of these children, we pay the salary of a teacher at this school to do counselling and preventative programmes.

Our youth ministry has a holiday program every July and December to keep children out of mischief and to provide a safe and creative space to spend their holiday. This holiday program aims to teach various life skills as well as core values. We have a sewing project for domestic workers that teaches sewing skills that could help them to earn an additional income. There are other projects that we run throughout the year, like our Blessing bag project in May, where we distribute more than 200 blessing bags filled with essentials to people living on the streets. We are still expanding these services, and this year we hope to begin a community homework centre and a community coffee shop.”

Helping children, colleagues, friends and family in acquiring leadership skills will lead to a brighter future.

“Investing in leadership is one of the most critical areas that we must focus on. By investing in local key players, business leaders, teachers and community members, we equip them to in turn influence their surrounding family members, colleagues and children to grow to the point where they can also invest in others. Your influence might feel small and indistinguishable, but there was never an age-restriction or qualification requirement on discipleship. Discipleship is God’s plan to influence and grow people within the safe boundaries of relationships.”