South African pastor draws from gang experience to minister in community

Gina Grate Pottenger
Thursday, February 12, 2015
ImageWhen Pastor Lloyd Solomons counsels and ministers to the youth in his church, he knows exactly what they’re going through.
In this neighborhood of Johannesburg, South Africa, youth gangs are prevalent, and many youth get caught up in drug use, drug sales, violence and other aberrant behaviors. Solomons used to be one of them.
Solomons was born into a non-Christian household. He never knew his father, and his mother died when he was 8, so he moved in with his grandmother, along with seven other siblings. His grandmother was strained in caring for so many children, so he felt a lack of love and support in his home life.
The gang culture presented an alternative family, where all the members look out for and support one another, defending each other and providing for each member’s needs. It also created a sense of identity for Solomons.
“It came with a price because we got involved in criminal activities and imprisonment and drugs,” he said. “You knew through those kind of experiences that your life has no direction and sense of purpose.”
Into this tenuous environment entered the Boundary Road Church of the Nazarene. The church held some outreach ministries to the youth in the community when Solomons was about 16 years old. Some of the other youth began attending the church, and he saw how God delivered them from drugs. He took up the invitation to go, too.
The congregation demonstrated that they were an alternative family where he could belong and which offered a better life with greater purpose if he would trust in the Lord.
“The church was able to replace [the gang] in the sense they knew that coming out of that you needed support groups and you needed constructive things that would fill that space … and different friends who would help and support you as you grew as a Christian.”
Knowing Christ personally transformed his outlook on life, particularly in the area of no longer giving excuses, instead taking personal responsibility for himself and his actions.
The love of his church gave him an eagerness to be involved in ministry to the neighborhood where he grew up.
“That’s why I chose to pastor in the community where I am, because of knowing that if God could have changed my life, then He’s in a position to do it with them,” Solomons says.
Boundary Road Church of the Nazarene, where he now pastors, is about 80 years old, and has been declared a heritage site. But unlike many aging churches, this lively congregation is filled with youth and young adults, averaging between 80 and 120 people at a typical worship service. The church stays young by conducting outreach and visitation to the youth in the community, providing counseling, and partnering with other local organizations that serve youth.
The church is in the midst of a fundraising effort so they can construct a new, larger building that will serve as a community youth center.
“At the moment, because of our infrastructure there’s a lot of limitations, but we do the best we can to reach out to some of the young people that do have some of these challenges.”
Solomons is studying for a master’s degree in theology through Nazarene Theological College in Manchester, UK. NTC is equipping him for pastoring his church, and also for training others. He has taken over as the Learning and Satellite Center coordinator for Nazarene Theological College-South Africa, based in Johannesburg, from recently retired missionary Cheri Kommel. He coordinates the running of the centers, helps to process registrations and applications, and guides the students through the classes and into graduation.
“He brings with him the youthfulness that is needed by the students and serves as an encouragement for those who might feel the call to serve at NTC,” said NTC principal Catherine Lebese. “He has a very pleasant personality and is quite patient with people and I believe he will make a good leader and he has a lot to offer the Church in SA, especially with regard to his wide experience in youth work.”