HARRISBURG, Ark. – A South African ministry has started at Drover Cowboy Church in Harrisburg.
While staying at a duck lodge after being displaced by a house fire in February 2022, Drover Cowboy Church Pastor Chance Watson and his family were able to meet and interact with South Africans also staying there.
The South Africans were working on a farm in the area through the H-2A program. According to U.S. Department of Labor, H-2A permits “nonimmigrant workers to perform agricultural labor or services of a temporary or seasonal nature.”
“We moved into (the duck lodge) for a month or two before the South Africans arrived and then we were with them for another couple months. It just kind of rolled from there. We spent a lot of time with them every morning and every evening,” Watson said. “I was aware that there were South Africans working in the area on many local farms, but this was the first time that I had been able to really spend time with any and build a relationship with anyone of their background.”
Watson began to bounce ideas off them for outreach to other South Africans, such as hosting a braai. Watson described a braai as “grilling and fellowship.” Everyone brings their own meat to grill, and the host provides sides.
The guys at the lodge told Watson he would never get South Africans to come together. That didn’t deter him. Watson said, “We’ll see what God says.”
God formed a consistent message, but Watson said they needed one more piece to the puzzle before Drover Cowboy Church could effectively reach these men. They needed a man of peace with a heart for God, his countrymen, and a means of reaching other South Africans en masse.
Not long after, Watson said God answered that prayer and sent that man to a Sunday morning service. The braai outreach began in late spring.
“It’s really taken off,” Watson said, noting average attendance is between 40 and 80 at the monthly braais. Some of the men travel three or four hours to attend the event. “They’re coming from everywhere. They just want fellowship with their countrymen. We take advantage of that time by fellowshipping with them.”
South African Cobie Roux, who helped organize the braai ministry, called Drover Cowboy Church “one of the most welcoming churches” he has ever been to.
“The ministry is amazing. The South African braai … has opened a lot of doors for a lot of our brothers and sisters from South Africa to come out, hear the Word and just socialize with everyone,” Roux said. “Anyone who comes to Drover Cowboy Church for any of the ministries we do – whether it’s men’s Bible study, women’s group, church on Sunday, the braais, anything – you always feel welcome. Everyone is just so happy to see you. It really is a life changing church.”
As the host, the church provides the sides. Many times, the cooks use traditional recipes provided by the mothers and wives of the South African men.
“It’s been pretty amazing to see their families sending requests to us, ‘Hey, will you make a birthday cake for my son? Here’s a recipe,’” Watson said. “On top of that, they’re watching our services. It’s a regular occurrence to have a service and one of the South African guys will walk up to the front of the church and wave and then walk back to their seats before church starts because their mom or wife or whoever told them they were watching online.”
Watson said many great relationships have been built between folks at Drover Cowboy Church and family members in South Africa over these recipes, and it is very likely to see comments from many of them watching the church’s live feeds online.
“Watching these men and women relax and speak in their own language so far from home, it is almost as if you can see them physically be relieved of stress and anxiety,” Watson said.
After the meal, they transition to a time of Bible study. Watson said he has seen God’s Word and the Holy Spirit working in the South Africans in a powerful way.
As the season came to an end in 2022 and the men were returning home, the folks at Drover Cowboy Church began thinking on how to continue the ministry in 2023.
“God had that answer ready as soon as we asked the question,” Watson said.
One of their last South African friends to leave the United States asked to sing a special at Christmas with the church’s worship leader. Watson said the man “wowed” the church with a time of worship in Afrikaans, his home language, and English combined.
“At that point, God began to work on us to partner with him to add the missing piece, worship, to the braais and to move from a Bible study to a ‘church,’” Watson said.
So, beginning with the first braai in March of 2023, they closed with worship in the men’s home language of Afrikaans.
“It was a wonderful time in the Lord, whether you understood a word of the music or not. You just knew God’s plan was working and He was being praised,” Watson said.
Watson said they have seen the ministry spread through the state and nation. For instance, earlier this year, a few of the South Africans traveled to Marvell to start a braai at another church.
“They felt like they had at least 70-100 South Africans in that area who just didn’t want to drive so far. So, they started a braai at a church there,” Watson said, noting another braai starting in Pennsylvania. “They’re mimicking what we are doing, and we know this because the South Africans are sending us the flyers that they are putting online. They are using our flyers, changing dates and locations. It’s pretty neat.”
Watson said they look forward to continuing and growing this ministry.
“We prayerfully will proceed through the door God has opened and reach the nations wherever we find them,” he said.