In 2001, the mining company that had built and operated Bulembu for more than 60 years, closed its doors and walked away. Abandoned by the mining industry, the 10,000 residents soon deserted the town in search of employment. At the same time, the country continued to be ravaged by the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world and the resulting orphan crisis.
The town remained abandoned until in the early part of 2003, KPMG liquidators contacted Kevin Ward (founder and director of Challenge Ministries Swaziland) to encourage him to consider the purchase of Bulembu to extend the CMS work in caring for orphan and vulnerable children. Kevin drove up a very bad road to find Bulembu as a derelict ghost town; uninhabited except for a number of security guards & the mine manager, placed there to oversee the liquidation of the assets. Houses had been stripped of their roofs, doors, windows and floors. Sewage flowed into the canal. The gardens were all overgrown, and the grass around the deserted manager’s house, which is now the Lodge, reached up past the windows. The contractors tasked with moving the movable assets had stripped all movables, cables, and even the toilet-roll holders were missing off the walls. Standing in Chinda House (now the Hospitality Training Centre), the rotten wooden floor of the old badminton court had big holes in it. As Kevin prayed in that hall, the Lord gave him a picture that these buildings needed to be rebuilt, and the Scripture Isaiah 61v4-7. “And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.”
When he asked how this was possible, he realized that verse 5 meant international partners would join us. That’s when he went to talk to Neal Rijkenberg, to ask Neal to consider standing with CMS in this vision. Neal, the humble leader that he is, was delighted and determined as ever to take it on, in and through the grace of God. He built a team to take Bulembu on and get it going, passing it through all the legal requirements and getting the hard work done.
Neal and Barbara, along with David and Fiona Millin, Candace Kapp and their teams began to rebuild Bulembu in 2004 under Bulembu Development Corporation. In 2006 the Bulembu Ministries vision began to take shape when Volker Wagner, from Canada, visited Kevin and was introduced by him to Bulembu. Volker took on the Lord’s direction to stand with Neal and help build the Bulembu vision. The founding directors of Bulembu gathered together to lay down the foundations of the Bulembu vision. The founding members were Neal Rijkenberg, Kevin Ward, Volker Wagner and Rick Ueable of Partners in Action, USA.
Now, over 10 years later, an amazing transformation is evident, not only of the town, but more importantly, of the hundreds of lives that the Lord has entrusted into our care. We serve a great God, indeed!
Bulembu’s transformation is happening through two complimentary strategies – Community Care and Community Enterprise:
Community Care: Many of the first steps towards reaching the goal of building a self-sustaining community involve restoring basic social services; including a clinic, schools, churches and other community organizations. Central to Bulembu’s Community Care strategy is the commitment to provide total care for orphans and vulnerable children, ensuring each child has a safe home, food, health care, education, hope and the opportunity to be a leader of tomorrow.
Community Enterprise: Utilizing the infrastructure already in the town, Bulembu is discovering numerous opportunities to build innovative, sustainable and profitable businesses. Each enterprise is a division of the larger charity, with all surplus funds going to support Bulembu Community Care. Current enterprises include, Bulembu Bakery, Bulembu Dairy, Bulembu Honey, Bulembu Timber, Bulembu Lodge and Bulembu Water.
The transformation of lives is both the heart and vision of the Bulembu community. For over four hundred orphaned and vulnerable children and five hundred employees, Bulembu has already become their safe haven. The vision is to support and care for many more in a vibrant, self-sustaining community. Bulembu is fast becoming a sustainability model for other communities in Swaziland and Southern Africa. Hope lives there and leaders are being raised there for sustainable Kingdom Transformation.