Despite growing up in difficult conditions in the township of Motsethabong in Welcome, in a home she shared with 16 other family members, Libuseng Tshabalala does not remember struggling. Instead she says home was a happy space for the children – her, her four siblings and five cousins – because the adults were present and supportive so they never went to bed hungry.
“It was amazing being part of a big family, I didn’t know how other households were living,” she says. “We all had school uniforms because the older kids in the family would pass them down. We performed well at school because the older kids would help us with our homework and we walked each other to and from school to stay safe.”
Her closest relationship was with her grandfather who had welcomed her mom back home after she mustered the courage to leave her abusive husband. This was just before Libuseng was born.
High school for Libuseng was a scary time of civil unrest and student protests against apartheid and she became part of a group of girls who were highly mischievous.
“I was the loudest at home and popular in school because of my talents and good performance. I learnt the art of negotiation from my aunt who took me with her to sell fish during the week and vegetables on weekends to our neighbours, which we sold out of a wheelbarrow,” she adds. “I love speaking in public and I don’t shy away from attention.”
“One day my grandfather called my sister and I aside, and told us that if we behaved well, there was a bursary set aside for us to go to college,” she says. “That conversation had a huge impact on me and my grandfather was my pillar of strength.”
He was a well-respected bishop and her already crowded home would receive visitors for church services. She says as children they found the experience quite annoying but as time went by she saw the value in Christianity as they would receive gifts such as clothes to support their family.
Becoming a believer
It was this strong support system that made it easy for her to make the decision to become a born again believer while she was still in school.
“It was a bit tough at first because the other girls at school started laughing at me and teased me for being a church goer,” she says. “I had changed. I was more disciplined and focused on my school work. Praying and reading the Bible helped me overcome this difficult period.”
One day she confronted her friends, and set them a challenge.
“I said to them ‘watch me, observe my behaviour and you will see that I will succeed and that I am not the kind of Christian you think I am’ and by the end of that year they agreed that they had seen a big transformation in me,” she says. “I invited the girls to join me and follow Christ but they were not ready.”
After matric, Libuseng wanted to study nursing but unfortunately her biology grades were not good enough. Her grandfather also fell ill and she took a year off to care for him. In 1996 she went back to school to rewrite
matric and this time around she passed with distinctions.
Journey into ministry
“Even though I still wanted to study nursing, I had already started feeling God’s calling into ministry,” she says. “I signed up for Bible college and our church created a third collection box in all its branches: collection for tithes, the building fund and for me, the college fund! I felt slightly under pressure to perform well but I was very grateful for the support.”
She remembers her college years with fondness.
“It was my first time having my own room, bed and cupboard after living with 17 people with no privacy! I took on three jobs to pay for some of my needs, which was challenging, but when I visited home one day with groceries, my grandfather was very impressed,” she says. “Despite being a bishop, he had hoped I would pursue a musical career but that day he agreed that Bible college was a good decision.”
She graduated with a degree in theology, grateful for the support of the Lutheran church, and the rest of the children in her family were also doing well. She says when her beloved grandfather passed away, he was proud of all of them.
While Libuseng was working as an assistant to her senior pastor at their local church, there were growing calls for her to preach, but out of respect for her leader, she declined. Instead she went out into the city of Johannesburg and pastored at women’s shelters, HIV support groups, schools and children’s homes. Her hard work landed her a job at the Department of Social Development to work as an HIV/AIDS coordinator.
“It had a great impact, particularly on learners in matric,” she adds.
In 2009 she moved to the North West and became a housewife. She says she was depressed and yearned to go back into youth ministry.
“I dusted off my Heartlines resources and started doing youth work again, but days before a presentation I discovered my DVD of The Bet was damaged. I called the Heartlines office, got connected with Brian Helsby who gave a new copy and introduced me to more of their projects. As they say, the rest is history,” she says.
Today she works as a senior pastor at Deeper Life Salvation Centre in Kanana, a spiritual care worker at Klerksdorp Correctional Facility and ministers in schools. She says she looks forward to promoting the Fathers Matter programme because she still feels the effects of growing up without her father. Working with Heartlines has opened a lot of doors for her over the years and she landed a regular slot on the local radio station, which she uses to teach others about the values promoted in Heartlines resources.
“Heartlines simplifies the message of the gospel. When the values are portrayed through film, it brings people close to the message of the Bible and how to make it part of your daily life. Ministering to others is not just about standing in a pulpit,” she says.
“I enjoy that I get to engage people with the resources and I enjoy connecting with my community. There’s more that can be done with Heartlines resources and it’s my vision to see them become a part of everyone’s everyday life.”