This is Daniel Thlabathlaba’s Story of Hope

Finding the strength to start again

Every life matters, every story is worth telling – the best ones are when God tells His story through us. Stories of Hope is a collection of inspiring stories of ‘ordinary’ people whose lives have been impacted immensely through the work and care of the ministry partners of the Mergon Foundation.

This is Daniel Thlabathlaba’s Story of Hope.

There are many drivers behind homelessness, and it would be wrong to assume that it’s always issues like substance abuse, family dysfunction, mental health or criminal affiliation that lead to a person becoming homeless. Often such psychosocial factors are very well the main drivers, but Daniel Thlabathlaba has a different story of how he ended up on the street.

In the early 90s, Daniel was an influential young man in his community. He had a successful fruit and vegetable business that was supplying food to many families and events – including almost every funeral in his area. Though he wasn’t fully involved in politics at the time, he did receive benefits because of his good standing and loyal support within his community. That was until he fell out of favour with those with political influence in his town because of his refusal to support the candidate of their liking. Over time, Daniel was subtly lured into a business partnership which looked promising but, unbeknownst to him, was a form of political revenge. It wasn’t long before his business started to suffer and the bank informed him that he had no money left in his account.

Hurt and angry, Daniel ended up on the street. He decided to get out of town and make his way to Bloemfontein. ‘I gave myself to God that day, knowing that He would see what would happen to me,’ says Daniel.

Once in Bloemfontein, wondering where he was going to find food, he noticed other homeless people at the station and decided to join them. As evening came, they made their way to Towers of Hope’s soup kitchen at the Two Tower Church and invited Daniel to join them for dinner. Little did he realise that at Towers of Hope he would find a lifeline – not only physically, but also spiritually.

Towers of Hope reflects the heart of Jesus by reaching out to the poor and destitute in the city of Bloemfontein. Their programmes and projects are divided into five focus areas:


Towers of Hope serves the immediate needs of the vulnerable by providing food, clothing and basic first aid. They run a soup kitchen where 70+ people receive a basic meal every day. Those who are part of Towers of Hope’s various empowerment programmes attend lunch with staff, and food parcels are made available on a weekly basis to those who are showing that they are learning to take responsibility for their own lives. Along with monthly clothing and toiletry parcels, the ministry offers basic first aid medical service once a week during meal time.


Vulnerable persons are welcomed into the community and invited to join church community gatherings and celebrations. Particularly on a Sunday, Towers of Hope is a home to the homeless. Through the programme, Thessa New Beginnings, the ministry also focusses on reaching out to women who are trapped in poverty, abuse, and prostitution.


Towers of Hope instills confidence in its beneficiaries by empowering them through life- and job skills training programmes, such as the Proud Clean Bloemfontein neighbourhood clean-up initiative. This programme helps unemployed people to prepare for an official working environment by participating in cleanup and poster removal teams. The teams are contracted by sponsors and businesses to clean certain parts of the city, over and above the basic cleaning done by the local municipality. This not only allows them to earn a small stipend, but also to be nurtured in the ethos of work and taking responsibility.

Caring for the environment

One of the main values the ministry tries to instill in people is taking responsibility for the world in which we live. Through the Proud Clean Bloemfontein cleanup programme as well as public cleanup initiatives, people are contributing towards a cleaner and healthier environment.


For community transformation to take place, partners must take hands and join resources. That’s why Towers of Hope works alongside local NGOs, churches, businesses, universities, and individuals to see their vision of hope and dignity restored.

Daniel started going to the soup kitchen regularly and joined the life skills programme where he learnt about finances, problem solving, and how to interview, to name a few.

‘Towers of Hope has been good to me and many other people that I know. They build us up gently so that we can take responsibility for our own lives. They understand that we come here broken – some of the others worse than me,’ says Daniel.

Daniel was eventually able to join the Proud Clean Bloemfontein team. ‘Being part of the Proud Clean Bloemfontein team made me happy again. It’s not a bad job, it’s all about cleaning and I love cleaning!’ he says. In addition, Daniel now also serves as a soup kitchen volunteer, handing out food to those who live on the street – hungry and destitute, just as he once was.

Stories of Hope is brought to you by the Mergon Foundation, a resource partner to ministries who expand God’s Kingdom and bring hope and restoration to communities across Africa and the Middle East.

Listen to Daniel’s full story here.

This is Sinethemba Beja’s Story of Hope

Farming for change 

Every life matters, every story is worth telling – the best ones are when God tells His story through us. Stories of Hope is a collection of inspiring stories of ordinary people whose lives have been impacted through the work and care of ministry partners of the Mergon Foundation.

This is Sinethemba Beja’s Story of Hope.

‘If we reduce human beings to being simply physical – as Western thought is prone to do – our poverty alleviation efforts will tend to focus on material solutions. But if we remember that humans are spiritual, social, psychological, and physical beings, our poverty-alleviation efforts will be more holistic in their design.’ – Steve Corbett (Author: When Helping Hurts) 

In an area like Zithulele in the Eastern Cape where only 25% of youth attend an educational institution, only 5% have completed matric and a staggering 70% of youth are unemployed, many young people are hopeless and unsure of how to navigate these difficult life circumstances.  

Sinethemba Beja was one such young person who didn’t manage to finish her final year of high school. Though thankful for a job as a switchboard operator at Zithulele Hospital, she never truly felt fulfilled in her work. Dreaming and brainstorming with a colleague that shared her passion and desire to do something more purposeful led Sinethemba to consult her mentor about an idea.  

‘Initially we wanted to do something for the patients because the hospital couldn’t afford to buy proper food for them. We wanted to start a farming project but neither of us knew anything about agriculture,’ Sinethemba recalls.  

Her mentor, a doctor at the hospital, suggested that she finds out more about the ‘Farming God’s Way’ course, as a possible way of serving both the hospital and the community. Farming God’s Way is a method of farming that uses biblical agricultural principles as a solution to the food security and poverty crisis in Africa. Sinethemba agreed to attend the course and with her newly acquired knowledge, she set out to realise her dream. 

‘After the course I was so motivated to come and start the project in the community. We started our first garden at a school with the slogan “plant a seed today, plant a hope for tomorrow”,’ explains Sinethemba.  

Unfortunately, circumstances and shame brought things to a halt when Sinethemba fell pregnant. ‘I was so embarrassed and ashamed. I was a Christian, sharing the gospel and now I was pregnant. I felt hopeless and decided to leave Zithulele and go back home to my mother,’ she says.  

While she was away her mentor’s husband, Ruan Cilliers, founded an organisation called Sihamba Sonke with the goal of breaking the cycle of hopelessness in the community of Zithulele by building a culture where young people have the courage to rise above their circumstances and start a restoration movement to live value-driven and purposeful lives.  

One day Sinethemba received a phone call from Ruan who was looking for someone to help with Sihamba Sonke’s agricultural programme, Foundations for Farming. Of course, he knew exactly who he wanted for the job…  

Subsistence farming still plays a massive role in South Africa’s rural communities, especially in the area where Sihamba Sonke operates, the former Transkei. Foundations for Farming inspires subsistence farmers to increase their yield with cost-effective, alternative farming principles. These same principles can be applied in all spheres of life, teaching relevant life values. They provide farmers with training and support that enables them to be fruitful with what they have and impact other areas of their lives. 

With her Farming God’s Way knowledge, an open invitation to come and join the community again – despite her circumstances – and an excitement in her heart about what was possible through a project such as this, Sinethemba gathered all her confidence and made her way back to Zithulele.  

‘I came to Sihamba Sonke as broken as I was, not feeling worthy. I felt like I disappointed God, myself and everyone else in my life. On top of that, I didn’t have the right qualifications and didn’t feel like I had anything to offer. Sihamba Sonke gave me an opportunity to work but it wasn’t just a job, it built me as a person… It built my confidence as a woman and helped me in my spiritual life,’ she shares. 

In addition to Foundations for Farming, Sihamba Sonke offers a chess-, computer-, skills- and internship programme. Each of these community programmes are grounded in long-term mentorship, employability skills and character development. The youth that take part in these programmes not only have fun, but they grow into young leaders that have a positive influence while restoring broken relationships in all areas of their lives and community. 

Sihamba Sonke believes that the strength behind their community programmes is a three-step process running in the background to ensure the programmes are locally run by trained, value-driven and purposeful leaders: 

Step 1: Young leaders join the skills year programme and grow in employability skills. 

Step 2: Young leaders join the year-long internship programme, where they guide and coach local unemployed youth to drive a community programme and thereby gain work experience.  

Step 3: Over the two years these young leaders are enabled to purposefully integrate into the workforce, or are full-time employed to facilitate one of Sihamba Sonke’s community programmes. They then become the change themselves as they are enabled to live, share and teach the life values and skills embedded in them, impacting any environment they enter. 

This approach allows newly developed leaders to leverage local knowledge and relationships to help design programmes to work best, given this rural context. It also leads to sustainable change as the transformation is led by local community members.   

Sinethemba is now the manager for Sihamba Sonke’s agricultural programme and she is using her life lessons and wisdom to impact the lives of the young girls that she mentors. ‘Sihamba Sonke was really a platform where I started to find my purpose,’ she concludes.  
Find out more about Sihamba Sonke here:  

Stories of Hope is brought to you by the Mergon Foundation, a resource partner to ministries who expand God’s Kingdom and bring hope and restoration to communities across Africa and the Middle East.  
Listen to Sinethemba’s story here.

This is Cazile Mhlope’s Story of Hope

Changing communities by caring for children 

Every life matters, every story is worth telling – the best ones are when God tells His story through us. Stories of Hope is a collection of inspiring stories of ordinary people whose lives have been impacted through the work and care of ministry partners of the Mergon Foundation.

This is Cazile Mhlope’s Story of Hope.

It is estimated that 7,800,000 adults and children in South Africa are living with HIV. In some communities of KwaZulu-Natal, 60 percent of women have HIV. This devastating epidemic has ripped apart countless families and left many in despair.

From the age of five, Cazile Mhlope knew what it meant to lose the people closest to her. Within a few years she lost her parents, two aunts, as well as her sister. As a result, she had learnt to be responsible at a very young age.

‘After my parents passed away, I moved in with an aunt. It wasn’t long before she got sick and passed away and I had to move in with another aunt. She unfortunately also got sick and passed away,’ shares Cazile.

Finally, when there was nowhere little Cazile could go to, her sister dropped out of school to take care of her. ‘My sister found small jobs here and there and even managed to get me into school. In 2006 she got sick and within a week she, too, was gone,’ explains Cazile.

With no one left to look after her, Cazile’s eldest aunt who lived in a different village, heard the news and decided to take her and her two cousins in. ‘After that, life was kind of getting normal again and I was able to continue with school.’

Cazile, though she didn’t have a proper school uniform or adequate stationary, was simply happy to be able to go to school and get an education. In the midst of life slightly normalising, however, Cazile’s youngest cousin became paralysed and had to be hospitalised.

It was hard – suddenly her aunt had three children to take care of and now one of them needed extra attention. Between hospital visits, while the other two children were alone at home, Cazile’s aunt met someone from Key of Hope. They saw how hopeless she was and started telling her about Key of Hope’s work and suggested that the founder, Daniel Smither (Uncle Dan, as the kids call him), go and visit Cazile and her cousins at home.

Key of Hope reaches children, youth and young adults in disadvantaged communities in Durban with the hope found in Jesus Christ. Home visits are foundational to Key of Hope’s vision of life-long mentoring and discipleship. Each child involved in Key of Hope’s programme is visited by one of their caring adult staff every week, giving them the opportunity to assess basic needs and provide spiritual counsel and prayer.

‘I’ll never forget that day when Uncle Dan knocked on our door,’ recalls Cazile. ‘It was weird seeing a white person in a black community! He invited us to Kidz Klub and we were intrigued.’

From that day on, she started attending Kidz Klub every week which, she says, changed her life. ‘I got a new school uniform, new school shoes, full stationary, food, and my aunt got support from Key of Hope as well. I was 12 years old when, on a Key of Hope camp, I felt like the Holy Spirit opened my eyes. Soon after I gave my life to Jesus,’ she says.

The Saturday Kidz Klub is Key of Hope’s main gathering and serves as a gateway to their other programmes. The fun mix of games, singing, prizes, puppets, and Bible teaching attracts hundreds of children, often providing Key of Hope’s first contact with a child. Cazile joined Kidz Klub at the age of 9. In high school, she moved on to youth nights, and after high school she started volunteering at Key of Hope. Eventually she became an intern and today she is a full-time Key of Hope staff member.

Key of Hope bases their discipleship approach on Matthew 28:19-20. They guide holistic growth and development by:

  • giving children emotional support through mentoring relationships during home visits,
  • teaching children about Jesus and how the Gospel impacts their life at Kidz Klub, Youth Night, and devotions,
  • providing children’s school fees, uniforms, and transportation to receive tutoring at the Hope Academy programme, and
  • nourishing and strengthening children with food parcels and their sports programmes.

‘We want to unlock the future of Africa by empowering children to be ambassadors of change in their families, schools and communities,’ shares Key of Hope founder, Daniel Smither. ‘15 years ago, based on the power of long-term mentoring relationships and the language of music to communicate the truths of the Gospel, our dream to reach thousands of children affected by poverty was born. The work literally began with one child in one informal settlement and has grown steadily from there. We now operate with a staff of 35 people, ministering in over a dozen different settlements with 2,500 children being visited at home each week,’ he explains.

‘Losing so many people in my life left me with a massive fear. I used to distance myself from my story so that I wouldn’t have to go through it all again. Over the years however, I have learnt to share and connect with it. The coolest thing is that I’m now able to help kids who are going through the same things I went through when I was their age,’ Cazile concludes.

Find out more about Key of Hope’s work and programmes here:

Stories of Hope is brought to you by the Mergon Foundation, a resource partner to ministries who expand God’s Kingdom and bring hope and restoration to communities across Africa and the Middle East.

Listen to Cazile’s story here.

This is Masiwakhe Bulu’s Story of Hope

Your identity lies within  

Every life matters, every story is worth telling – the best ones are when God tells His story through us. Stories of Hope is a collection of inspiring stories of ‘ordinary’ people whose lives have been impacted immensely through the work and care of the ministry partners of the Mergon Foundation. 

This is Masiwakhe Bulu’s Story of Hope. 

It is estimated that more than 3.2 million learners are bullied yearly in South Africa. In addition, over 67% of bully victims said that they won’t ask a teacher for help because they don’t necessarily think it will change their situation.  
Masiwakhe Bulu was one such learner who had to deal with and overcome the effects of bullying as a young boy. In primary school, the other kids used to bully him because of the burn scars on his arms. Now in his early twenties, Masiwakhe is passionate about seeing change in his community, but it took a lot of grit, grace, and growth to get him to where he is today. With the help of gold Youth Development Agency (gold-youth), as well as supportive mentors and peers, Masiwakhe learnt to accept himself and realised that his outward appearance doesn’t define him. He also learnt about topics such as bullying and leadership through the gold Peer Education education Programme. 

gold-youth desires to see young Africans live purposeful lives and lead Africa into its full social and economic potential. Their model is based on the idea that personal change leads to group change, which leads to community change. With an audacious goal to develop 10 million young African leaders with character and integrity to mobilise their generation with the knowledge, tools and support to reach their full potential, gold-youth empowers peer leaders to become positive role models. 
For over 17 years the organisation has been building a lasting systemic solution that changes generations, one person, one family and one community at a time. 
The organisation believes strongly in a long-term, holistic approach to mentoring young people. Most young people in Africa are growing up in communities that offer little visible hope,’ says gold-youth’s founder, Susannah Farr. ‘But our dream is for each young person to realise that their life has purpose and value. Jesus said we are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13) and the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). As gold-youth, we disciple youth into knowing their purpose and value, creating ripples of change in character and identity as salt and light join together. This creates a  momentum that tackles the evident issues of social behaviourial change, education and unemployment. We focus on the one, as Jesus did, and see the impact on many.’ 
At the heart of peer education is the fact that many people make changes not only based on what they know, but on the opinions and actions of their trusted peers. More often than not, the message giver is the strongest message.  
The gold Programme provided Masiwakhe with a safe space to share his story, heal, and grow. ‘Joining this programme helped me to start asking myself important questions like “who am I, really?” and “what does it mean to be a leader?” It made me think about my character and who I am as a person,’ says Masiwakhe. 
‘When I joined the programme, I was able to voice my thoughts and feelings because it was a safe space,’ he shares. 
Masiwakhe has been working as a gold Facilitator Intern for a few years now, where he has the opportunity to train and mentor teenage Peer Educators. Not only is he using his personal story to create awareness around bullying, but he’s also encouraging young people in his sphere of influence that their physical appearance need not define them. ‘Who you are is embedded within you – deep down inside – and that’s where you have to look. God has instilled a gift within each and every one of us. Look at that gift and live out that gift. It’s not about how you see yourself in the mirror, it’s about how you see yourself when you close your eyes and you look inside.’ 
Find out more about gold Youth Development Agency here:  
Stories of Hope is brought to you by the Mergon Foundation, a resource partner to ministries who expand God’s Kingdom and bring hope and restoration to communities.  across Africa and the Middle East.  

Listen to Masiwakhe’s story here

Seeing South Africa through a lens of hope

In January 2022 Mergon Foundation’s communications manager Ilse Burger and her husband embarked on a six-month adventure where they traversed 14000 kilometres, six provinces and countless challenging roads, recording inspiring testimonials of beneficiaries from Mergon Foundation’s various partnering organisations in South Africa. It was a unique opportunity to capture the ‘untold stories of unknown people’ whose lives have been transformed by the gospel. 12 of these stories have since been edited and packaged as radio stories (4-5 minutes long) called ‘Stories of Hope’ and are scheduled to start airing on various community radio stations across the country and further afield.

Over four decades, the Mergon Foundation has had the opportunity to partner with over 150 Christian ministries across Africa and the Middle East. It has always been a desire to capture some of the untold stories that live among these ministry partners – testimonies and stories of God’s transformative work in and through people.

Sharing a similar passion for storytelling as Ilse, well-known television and radio personality Lindie Strydom infused this project with her infectious energy from the get-go, and kindly agreed to be the “voice” of Stories of Hope. While the Burgers were on the road visiting ministries, recording stories and editing the raw material, Lindie was busy recording the intros to set the scene and lead listeners into each person’s unique story. As a pilot radio project for the Mergon Foundation, the learnings we gained from Lindie were invaluable.

Every story is worth telling

The ultimate purpose of the radio project is to inspire hope in people’s hearts, to give exposure to these phenomenal ministry partners and to remind listeners that God is moving – often in the most unlikely places.

So many people think their life story is insignificant and not worth sharing, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Every story is worth telling because every life holds a different ‘piece’ of God. Stories have a way of turning numbers into names and building bridges of compassion, of igniting hope and moving people to action. There’s always someone out there who needs to hear what you have experienced personally – maybe simply to encourage them with the knowing that they’re not alone in what they’re going through.

The power of storytelling

What’s interesting about hearing good stories is that it effectively causes two changes in our brain. Firstly, it causes neurological changes. Our neural activity increases fivefold when we listen to stories (as opposed to hearing straight facts). That’s because we’re using our motor cortexes, emotions, and visual processing. We’re literally using more of our brains and immersing ourselves in the story, which means we’re more likely to retain it later. Secondly, hearing good stories causes chemical changes. Our brains release oxytocin, which is the bonding hormone that causes us to really care about the people involved in the story. We are therefore not only hearing about a person’s experience, but actually “living it” alongside them. The more of someone’s story we share, the more oxytocin our brains release, the more likely we are to internalise that story and retain it as meaningful.

We found this to be so true during our Stories of Hope travels. Though it was tough to witness the poverty and brokenness in most areas we visited – from the Western and Eastern Cape to KwaZulu Natal, Gauteng and the Free State – the one thing we couldn’t deny is that there is hope!

Of course, everywhere we went there was a story that stood out. Every one of the 13 ministries we visited are having a profound impact in the areas they serve. Whether it was witnessing the ripple effects of someone who stood in the gap as a father for so many fatherless children in a village in the Eastern Cape; or someone in the Cape Flats who had the opportunity to get trained as a barista and now works at a five-star hotel; or someone in Durban who, by the age of 11, had lost every member of her family yet is now so free, so full of confidence and acting as a mentor for other young people who are going through the same heartache she’s known all too well… each story was impactful in its own way.

Where to find Stories of Hope

Apart from the stories scheduled to air on radio stations such as Radio Tygerberg, Groot FM, Eden FM, Radio Alpha and Coastal Radio SA, among others, they will also be available as podcast episodes and blog posts on our website. We’re trusting that Stories of Hope will find their way to every person who needs to hear them, and that they’ll bring hope to many hearts.

To follow the Stories of Hope campaign, stay tuned to Mergon’s social media platforms, where we’ll be sharing all our latest stories.