– by Fourie Truter

Mr Leonard Ethelbert was born 25 Dec 1918 in Cape Town. As far as we understand, his father (from Egyptian decent) was in the employ of an Anglican Bishop who moved to several Anglican mission stations in Southern Africa, taking the senior Mr Ethelbert and his family along wherever he was stationed. Mr Ethelbert claims that during their stay in Umtata, he was in the same class at school with Nelson Mandela (being of the same age).

A little history
After school, Mr Ethelbert ended up working for I&J Cold Storage in Cape Town and, through his faithful years with them, gained expert knowledge of cold storage. He managed, over years, to serve many companies and farmers as a free-lance cold storage expert. As a result, he built up many good relations all over the country. During these years, he married a Zimbabwean girl and they had 2 sons and a daughter. Mr Ethelbert spent many years of his later life in Zimbabwe where he and his family settled.

The oldest and the best
At the age of 91, Mr Ethelbert decided to return to South Africa to renew his South-African identity and obtain a South African old-age pension. This he achieved, but it seems that he expected that his old acquaintances and friends shared his fortune of longevity, hoping to be hosted and helped along by them upon his return to Cape Town. But alas, none of them where to be found (living still), and so he ended up on the streets without help. This resulted in him finding shelter in one of the Haven Night Shelters. There he was told about Straatwerk Ophelp Projekte (OPHELP) where anybody (no matter the handicap) can do shifts and obtain some cash in hand to survive. In this way, Mr Ethelbert became the oldest participant in OPHELP, immediately starting to out-do many younger participants in faithfulness and diligence.

Taken advantage of
The only problem was that due to his old age, being less observant, he became a target of unscrupulous persons who seemed never to stop stealing his possessions at the Night Shelter where he was staying. A Christian fellowship (part of those responsible for running OPHELP), became aware of this plight of Mr Ethelbert at the Night Shelter and offered him a place in the Home (BethShalom) in Woodstock, managed by them as a communal home for some of their fellowship members. And so Mr Ethelbert became their ‘Oupa’.

Bold determination
At that stage (being 92), Mr Ethelbert still walked daily from Woodstock to the OPHELP Depot in the City Centre, where he completed a 2-hour shift there in the team. He was assigned the duty to wash the bibs and gloves worn by OPHELP street-cleaning teams. After the shift, he would walk back home to Woodstock, not to waste the bit of cash he earned on train or taxi fare. However, in later years he had to start taking taxis to accomplish these trips.


Entertained and happy
His favourite pastime is watching wrestling on TV and he was so disappointed when it was recently discontinued on ETV – leaving him without the means of watching it any more. But, at least, he still has his best friend with him: Jim Reeves (on several CDs) entertaining him every day by means of a CD player. At the age of 94, he took a trip on his own to Zimbabwe to visit his family, taking the train to Johannesburg and the bus from there to Harare, returning in the same way after a week.

Can you believe it?
At a further later stage, he swapped the venue of his participation in OPHELP, rather going to the Mowbray Depot where the taxi could drop him practically at the door of the Depot. This he kept up (later intermittently) to the age of 97. At the age of 98, he undertook a second trip to visit his family in Zimbabwe, this time by aeroplane, but still doing so on his own, returning in a week’s time.

Never giving up
Now at the age of 99, he constantly longs to and threatens to “go back to work” at OPHELP, but his strength fails him. Thus he has to keep himself content with his daily walk to the local main road and back (when he can make it). Miraculously, on 4 January 2018, Mr Leonard Ethelbert got up, got dressed, had his breakfast, got into a taxi, and went to “his work” (doing a shift at OPHELP in Mowbray), and returned home again by taxi. It is remarkable in that Mr Ethelbert, for as long as 12 months, could not gather enough strength “to go to work” in this way as he used to do regularly for many years.

More about OPHELP
A special feature in the OPHELP strategy is the incorporation of the weak. Foremen, leading practicing sessions, are trained to get the team to incorporate the weakest in the team, still completing the mission they undertake. For those handicapped who are not able to participate in a full 4-hour session, OPHELP runs 2-hour sessions, called “Jesus Saves Daily” in which the undertaken mission is to wash and hang up the identifying bibs/jackets the OPHELP teams wear on practicing sessions. Since these shifts are reserved for those with a handicap, the minimum criterion for participation is that the person must simply be present and able to encourage the others. In this way these Jesus Saves Daily teams, never the less, fulfil a real function in what OPHELP undertakes and achieves.

FOURIE TRUTER is the CEO of Straatwerk, an evangelistic NPO that serves and assists churches. Visit straatwerk.org.za for more information.

JOY! Magazine (September 2018)

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