By Ilana Koegelenberg and Rodain Joubert
Pastor Gareth Lowe, former Rhodes student, currently fills the senior pastor position at the Grahamstown His People church. Married with two children aged one and three years old, him and his wife Taryn are actively involved in the church where he’s been since his university days.
Q: How did you personally get involved with His People?
A: I got involved with His People when I came to Rhodes as a student in 1994. I heard about it and I went to Bible school first and just gradually got more and more involved from there.
Q: In the HP building code a strong emphasis is placed on family, how important is your family to you?
A: Well, very important. More important that the ministry actually. My wife and my kids are, outside God, my most important priority.
Q: What is your membership like?
A: There’s not one type of person who comes to His People. There’s a very mixed membership from a very diverse background.
Q: Could you tell us about the sort of events/activities that His People organises/partakes in?
A: Well there are three main activities that His People arrange. The one is the Sunday service. People come along on a Sunday and typically there is praise and worship, a sermon, often praying for people’s needs and the fellowship afterwards. The second one is cell groups. These are small groups that meet in homes or coffee bars to develop more personal relationships. The third one is our part time Bible school, ENLI (Every Nation And Leadership Institute) on Tuesday evenings and is quite intense teaching of the word of God.
Q: What is the Christian denomination of the His People organisation?
A: It’s called Every Nation. It’s a family of churches worldwide. They’re growing all the time and have up to 500 churches worldwide. Their aim is to literally take the gospel to every nation.
Q: Do you advocate the “aggressive conversion” which some people have been concerned about?
A: The only time we do street evangelism is during orientation week and I think we need to do it then because it’s an extreme time for people. His People are not the only people evangelising at this point. The biggest evangelists are the drinking evangelists. They have well surpassed His People for many years and they are very direct and confrontational about it. All we are asking for is a free chance to be able to share with people. I think it’s fine as long as people do it by giving someone dignity and respect, which means that when someone says they don’t want to be spoken to, then they mustn’t be.
Q: Is there a disproportionate amount of attention paid to your evangelism as opposed to that of other groups?
A: Definitely. There are certain kinds of people fighting for a monopoly on campus and those are the drinking people, the people who are advocating a humanistic worldview in life, an immoral life style. They basically want supremacy and dominance on campus and they deliberately want to silence anyone who has a different worldview to them.
Q: What is your response to the anti-Christian sentiment displayed amongst some groups at Rhodes?
A: I think that people who want to live a certain way will resent people who live a different way to them and especially if they’re telling people about it and inviting them into that lifestyle. Maybe they feel challenged about it and as a result they don’t like it.
Q: Do you believe that people have maligned views about His People?
A: Definitely. I think people misconstrue what His People is really about. They take one aspect of it, which is sharing our faith with people, and they make that the whole. We love God and we love people and we’re trying to get the message of salvation, the gospel (which literally means good news), out there. But the challenge is that people only want help if they think they need it. So our difficulty is to communicate people a message that will help them when they think they don’t need it. That’s where resistance comes in and where people don’t want to hear what you say or perhaps they have heard it and they don’t like it and they react against it.
Q: What current projects are you and HP involved in?
A: We run a crisis pregnancy centre in town. We also do quite a lot of work in the township, especially with the youth. We offer things like extra lessons and tutoring to them. We recently ran an arts concert called ‘Sketches’ featuring talent in the church. Another thing is: all the praise in worship we sing in the church was home-written within the past 12 months by people in the church. So there is a lot of creativity going on there.
Q: What are His People’s goals as a society?
A: To love God, and to love people and to make Jesus famous.
Q: Do you believe that Christian views are under-represented at Rhodes?
A: Very much so. By and large Rhodes University is a secular university. It’s a very postmodern university and post modernism by its very nature rejects the notion of truth and absolutes. It’s sceptical and cynical of authority and fears any kind of organised spirituality or religion. I would say Christianity is often underplayed or ignored or even attacked.
Q: What do you think is the role of religious structures on campus?
A: I think perhaps the biggest role is to fill the massive vacuum that has been left in education. Most of our education today tries to teach you a skill to make you employable but education doesn’t tell us how to connect with the spiritual side. It doesn’t tell us anything about God, anything about morality or on how we ought to live. So I think Christianity has a huge amount to say in the modern university context.
Q: What is your attitude towards other religious bodies?
A: First and foremost I believe in free speech and in a free society. What we stand against is totalitarian societies which forbids the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship and the freedom of expression. So we are totally for the existence of other societies with diverse and even contradictory beliefs to our own. But going beyond that, I also think that in the free market place of ideas, truth will prevail. So we feel very much at ease with other organisations out there.
Q: What’s your view on the current state of our youth and especially Rhodes university students?
A: I would say that very unfortunately the dominant worldview that the youth are being taught is not going to cause them to maximise their life and reach their potential. They have a worldview of everything being absurd, that life is meaningless. This results in despair and often tragically, suicide. So I do think young people today, especially on our university campuses, are not getting the truth, the love and the meaning that they need to live a fulfilled life.
Q: What is your message to the students of Rhodes?
A: It would be that Jesus is King of kings but also a God of great love who longs to have a personal relationship with each and every one of us.
Off the point…
1. What’s your favourite toothpaste? Aquafresh.
2. Jellytots or smarties? Both, please.
3. Funniest movie you’ve ever seen? As a kid it was ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’, ‘Father of the Bride’ was pretty good, but now with my son I watch ‘Shrek’ a lot.
4. Favourite pizza topping? Mushrooms (but not magic mushrooms).