Nestled among the affluent suburbs of Cape Town in the shadow of the mountains, is the deprived township of Westlake where shacks and shanties have sprung up in every available space and backyard.
With twice as many people living in Westlake than intended, around half of the children have no father figure in their lives and young people have little hope of finding a job.
In this setting, violence and crime are commonplace and children and young people turn to gangs and drugs in a bid to escape the harsh reality of poverty and abuse.
However, by the grace of God, many now have a new sense of hope and purpose, thanks to the Young Legends programme, which gets young adults and children off the streets and the chance to let off steam through sport (primarily football) and other recreational activities. The vision also extends to sharing the good news of hope that is found in Jesus.
Young Legends was started about a year ago by Freeman Ndlovu, deputy treasurer at Serving In Mission South Africa, who has a passion for the community he knows and loves. Seeing children and young men hanging around aimlessly on the streets, he and two friends started an informal football training session on a piece of wasteland.
Numbers grew rapidly and before long, Young Legends had several football teams across different age brackets. Today, up to 60 young people between the ages of 10–36, regularly train and play football and Young Legends also runs a choir, dance and drama groups to accommodate those who don’t want to play football.
“We are bringing hope to those parents who thought they’d lost their children to drugs and substance abuse as they notice the difference in their children who attend Young Legends programmes,” says Neil Parmenter, who is supporting the ministry through his projects role with SIM South Africa.
“The message of hope, forgiveness and reconciliation found in Jesus is restoring family relationships and also giving young men a new sense of hope and purpose,” he adds.
“Fifteen young men now are committed Christians and being encouraged to reach their friends.”
The project is also having an impact on the Westlake community, which has seen a drop in crime and substance abuse as growing numbers of young people are motivated to keep busy in constructive and productive ways.
As footballing coach Jonathan Nyaba — born and raised in Westlake — says: “All the parents care about is getting money for a fix or alcohol for the day, so with me playing a father role to these kids and giving them hope, that’s what gets me up every day and being there for them.
“Being part of Young Legends has brought great joy in my life. I want to learn as much as I can about our loving Father and his teachings. I pray that one of these days I will give my soul to him and serve him.”
To find out more about Young Legends, go to www.facebook.com/younglegendsza and to give you a snapshot of the impact this project is having, here is Xolisa's story:
"My name is Xolisa Mdamoyi and I grew up In Westlake, where I'm still living. I come from a home that has a single parent and that’s my mother, who is the only breadwinner.
I have two siblings: my eldest brother is 30 and currently in prison and my younger brother is 23, unemployed and lives here in Westlake with us.
We are five in the house and that includes my grandparents.
I joined Young Legends and in the first few days with the team, I was introduced to their vision.
It is not about playing soccer, winning tournaments and leagues so we can make money, but it is something totally different for a football club to have.
Basically, what the Young Legends family wants to do is to change lives of the people of Westlake and introduce Christ to the community - especially the kids growing up.
Through Young Legends and Serving In Mission, I was introduced to the gospel. I accepted Christ as my Lord and Saviour and now I am born again.
My dream is to see a united community that works together in uplifting our community and the people in it.
I trust in God and believe that Young Legends was founded to fill that gap in our community and be the difference.
God is my strength and without him on our side we are nothing — through him nothing is impossible. The love I have for this team and the Young Legends family is beyond measure. Young Legends has brought out a better version of me and brought happiness at home."
Give thanks that 19 young men who had dropped out of school have enrolled at a night school to complete their schooling.
Praise God that this exciting youth ministry is having a profound impact on the township of Westlake and lives are being transformed.
Give thanks that crime and substance abuse have reduced in the community and these young people are now motivated to keep busy in constructive ways.
By Kerry Allan