Born to a tribal South African family and raised in a tough section of Cape Town, Dephney Babalwa Phambaniso grew up familiar with violence, poverty and the concept of ancestor worship.
So when she first heard the gospel at a neighborhood Bible study, Dephney struggled to understand the idea of God and His love for her.
“In this part of Africa, almost everyone worships their ancestors. We understand ancestor worship, but what most of us know about Christianity seems strange,” Dephney said. For instance, “what does ‘accepting Jesus as my Lord and personal Savior’ really mean?”
Although Dephney began attending a church with her family, she still struggled to understand who Jesus is. That all changed after she accepted an invitation to attend Paardeberg Mountain Retreat, a beautiful Christ-centered camp that provides year-round, Bible-based discipleship for more than 25 churches that serve all of South Africa’s five distinct cultural groups: African Malaysians, white English-speaking, Afrikaans (Dutch dialect), Xhosa tribal people and Indians.
Though the camp was only an hour from Dephney’s home, it felt like another world. Children of all different cultures and languages joined with Christian camp counselors in playing games, singing songs and learning about Jesus against the majestic backdrop of the Cape Fold Mountains.
One evening, the camp’s pastor, Cal Lewis, spoke to the campers about Jesus’ sacrifice and the meaning of grace. As Dephney listened, she could see her sins nailing Jesus to the cross.
“Tears started rolling down my cheeks. I was crying because it was like my eyes were opened for the first time,” Dephney said. “I understood that Christ not only died for the world, but He died for me, for Dephney. He loved me!”
“I knew I had to speak to one of the counselors right away,” she said. “The only thing on my mind was to receive Jesus as my personal Savior because He loved me enough to die for me.”