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Liebenberg, Derek
1965 to 2005
Church of the Nazarene
Zimbabwe / South Africa

Derek Liebenberg was born in Zimbabwe, and the family moved to South Africa when he was fifteen years of age. He found the Lord at the age of six through his mother Beryl. She had converted the year Derek was born after the death of his aunt Maureen. At that time Beryl followed instructions sent to her in the post by a Nazarene pastor. Alone at home, she followed each step outlined in the letter, and her heart and life were changed. Derek's Aunt Maureen had been the first Nazarene convert in Zambia through the ministry of veteran Afrikaner missionary/pastor Jannie Scheepers in the 1950s.

After completing a B.Sc. degree in marine biology at the University of Port Elizabeth, Derek felt called to the ministry and became one of the first two full-time white students at the Nazarene Bible College in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. There he completed his Th.B. and went on to England where he obtained his M.A. in Wesleyan Theology from the University of Manchester through the Nazarene Theological College in Manchester.

There he also met Miss Heather Fraser (1968-), a Canadian student working on her B.A. in Theology. They were attracted to each other and were married in 1992. They honeymooned in South Africa in 1993 and then moved to Canada. Heather grew up near Lacombe, Alberta. Her father returned from WWII as a new believer having piloted Lancaster bombers. Her parents then became founder members and long time supporters of the Lacombe Church of the Nazarene in Alberta, Canada. Heather found Christ as a young child on their farm through the witness of her parents.{1]

Derek and Heather planned to pay off a student loan in three years and then go to "the mission field" overseas. However, the Lord soon showed them a significant mission field among the working/welfare poor in North America. They found that very few churches had been planted within these poor communities in North America. Hence after pastoring a church for a few years, they founded New Life Centres, an outreach ministry in one of Calgary's many neglected neighbourhoods. Derek continued their story:

We have a tremendous burden for unsaved families that are at risk and particularly the vulnerability of children and teens in what can often be a hostile world today. New Life Centres offers recreational, educational, social and spiritual programs from Bible studies and prayer meetings to floor hockey, computer training, camping, arts and crafts, and a full summer program for children. We have a particular focus on this age group and employ our staff to deal with them personally. Since relationships are of such importance to us, that personal element is central.

We have been running NLC and a church plant for some five years now but in recent days God has begun to speak to us about returning to South Africa where my family still lives. We have been in prayer for some time about this and the opportunity has now arisen for us to be part of the launching of MEDIC (Mercy Economic Development International Corporation), which is extremely exciting.
Besides the headquarters in the U.S.A., MEDIC offices were being established in Canada, South Africa, India, Benin, and Sri Lanka. At that time MEDIC was in the process of incorporating as a non-profit organization in South Africa, and the organization had begun working with AIDS orphans in Kwazulu-Natal. The goal, God willing, was to establish MEDIC in South Africa near Durban where many working adults had died from AIDS and left thousands of small children with only older ladies to care for them. The following year MEDIC built a community center to communicate more fully the love of Christ by meeting the needs of people whose lives had been ravaged by AIDS. Derek concludes:
We are stepping out in faith since we feel that God would have us become MEDIC's first full-time missionaries. We do not know what the future will hold, but we trust that the voice of Christ, which has called us will also guide us into the unknown. We are comforted and inspired by the words of the apostle Paul to the church in Rome: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:36-39)."[2}
In 2003 the Liebenbergs settled at Amanzimtoti on the Natal Southcoast. They began repairing and renovating the derelict Nazarene Bible School campus there that had not been in use since 1990 when its students moved to the consolidated campus near Johannesburg. It was in extremely bad condition, but they were able to start using part of it and began extensive work with children in the area. Pastors and churches in the area assisted them.

In February 2004 they wrote of a close encounter with an extremely deadly snake:
Derek was on his way to the office last week on the motorbike when he rounded a corner to discover a very large emerald green mamba stretched across the road. Its tail was still in the grass on the one side and its head was crossing the white line on the far shoulder. They both got a huge fright. Derek swerved and the snake rose up and shot back in the direction that it had come with its head narrowly missing Derek's leg. He managed to avoid running over it or getting bitten. Heather was not on the back of the bike that day.[3]
Derek's ministry was called MEDSA (Mercy Economic Development South Africa), a charitable organisation working at alleviating poverty in the Bhekulwandle community just outside of Amanzimtoti, KwaZulu-Natal. MEDSA was a grassroots community-based organisation providing medical, social, recreational, financial, and educational opportunities for both children and adults, and church growth opportunities for local churches.

Their programs were provided at no charge to those who were particularly poverty-stricken in the community, which had an unemployment rate of over 60 percent, a high illiteracy rate, and a disturbingly high HIV infection rate. They operated children's programs, after-school programs, feeding programs for AIDS-affected families, an HIV/AIDS support group, vegetable gardening, sewing training, arts programs, and a variety of other social activities to the benefit of the community as well as a clinic, skills training center, and a resource center. The establishment of a library and resource center with books, audio-visual equipment and computers would be of great benefit to many people, both children and adults. They had dewormed over 200 children in the clinic and treated many children for various sicknesses, and their volunteer staff took very sick children to the local hospitals to be treated for serious illness such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. Derek also gave leadership training to pastors of area Zulu churches and helped with the distribution of blankets, food, and clothing. He worked closely with the Church of the Nazarene Superintendent of the KZN (KwaZulu Natal) District on a team that was putting together "mini Bible-College" courses for pastors and laymen in order to strengthen the churches and return the campus to its original intent.

To this end Derek and Heather and their volunteers had spent significant time and energy painting and remodelling the former Bible College buildings in the township. Long term plans for the remaining buildings, currently occupied by squatters, included a hospice for those dying of AIDS, short term housing for AIDS orphans and a training center to augment the Bible College courses.

Derek and Heather and all the white staff were volunteers and raised their own missionary support, but Derek and the organization raised funds for salaries for the African staff. Their long-term goal was to raise up Zulu leaders and to empower them to take over leadership of MEDSA. On January 29, 2005 King Goodwill Zwelithini, High King of the Zulu nation, officiated at the official opening of MEDSA.[4]

In November 2005 Derek was in the U.S.A. and Canada setting up new MEDSA offices there. They reported that the various aspects of their work in Natal were thriving and progressing well. Rev. John and Trish Pritchard, pastor family from Calgary, Allberta, Canada, arrived to help for six months. John was apponted as interim director of the Centre of Hope while they sought for a permanent African director so as to leave Derek free to develop new projects including a fully functional clinic, a recycle centre and a brick making project. Derek and Heather were expecting the birth of a son, their first child, in April 2006.[5}

On the morning of December 28, 2005, Derek passed away in his sleep apparently of a massive heart attack. Heather woke up at 6:00 a.m. hearing him gasp for breath in kind of a seizure. She could not get him to respond, his eyes were open but he was not conscious. She phoned John Pritchard immediately and he came over quickly and spent 20-25 minutes doing CPR but Derek was already gone. When the paramedics came they confirmed this.[6]. Many tributes to Derek's life and ministry poured in from all over the world.

Liebenberg's theological capabilities were imbued with passion and missionary zeal. Committed "urban missionaries" and practitioners of compassionate ministry, Liebenberg and his wife, Heather, lived and served together faithfully.The couple was committed to working to aid the needy and oppressed, especially widows and orphans while they were in Manchester, U.K., Calgary, Alberta. Canada. and in South Africa at Bhekulwandle, Amanzimtoti, near Durban, Natal, establishing a center of hope for victims of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.[7]

"Derek was a man with vision and energy, consumed with an urge to help those who need it most. His passion for the underprivileged was only matched by his unique gifts of winning support for the project, and his compulsion to help was the driving force with which he pushed himself for God and His people."[8]

Paul S. Dayhoff


Notes:

1.Derek Liebenberg, E-mail letter, (Feb. 14, 2003).
2."MEDIC's First Missionaries", MEDIC Canada Update: Quarterly Newsletter, (Fall 2002).
3.Heather Liebenberg, e-mail "Prayer Update" (for February 24, 2004).
4.Derek Liebenberg, report, (16 December 2004).
5.Derek Liebenberg, November Update, "A future and a Hope", E-mail report (of December 18, 2005).
6.Elaine Brassard, MEDSA Canada, E-mail message, December 30, 2005.
7.NCN News, Nazarene website weekly news bulletin, (Kansas City, Mo, January, 06, 2006),2.
8.Dr. Richarad Zanner, "Tribute to Derek Liebenberg", Out of Africa, edited by Kyle Lauf, Weekly E-mail news,(Africa Region, Church of the Nazarene, Florida, S. Africa, 9 January 2008).



This article is reproduced, with permission, from Standing Stones of Africa: Pillars of the Faith in the Church of the Nazarene, unpublished, copyright pending, 2004, by Paul S. Dayhoff. All rights reserved.