Working in the apartheid army made him switch to a life of helping people

It was a confusing experience for young Pierre Van Wyk to live a comfortable life in a suburban Afrikaans area in Pretoria while his neighbours in the township of Mamelodi lived a visibly poorer life.

He says his home was a warm and sheltered environment where he lived with his parents and siblings. “I was fortunate to have two parents who were loving, caring and responsible. My dad was present and actively involved in taking care of me and my siblings.”

At school he made sure he had a good academic record, enjoyed sport and had plenty of friends.

“I enjoyed school, as kids we felt sheltered and when I was in high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life,” he adds.

So he enlisted to join the army where he says he learnt discipline.

“Today I still iron my own clothes, I clean the house and know how to get chores done,” he says with a sense of pride.

Life with the army

“But my main concern when I was in the army was the indoctrination. We were made to believe things that weren’t true about black people and we were trained to fight and kill. Many of my friends had the experience of going out into the field and hurting people, it was traumatic for them.”

Two years into his service in the army, Pierre began to question if he should be there and decided to pursue his studies instead.

“National service was compulsory if you weren’t studying, so I decided I wanted to go into social work to help people and attended Wellington College in the Eastern Cape.”

But while he was a student, it was compulsory for him to serve four weeks a year at the army camps. It was during this “down time” at the camps that he began to realise that the army was a waste of time and he wanted out permanently.

Social work and ministry

“I got my first job at the Department of Social Development as a probation officer and spent a lot of time in Children’s Court dealing with issues of child neglect and abuse,” he says.

He later joined an NGO that ran a rehabilitation centre for people living with alcohol addiction.

“I eventually resigned from social work and decided to go into ministry. I still feel like I’m a social worker at heart through the work I do today, which is helping people,” he says.

He went back to the township of Mamelodi which had always resonated with him. There, he helped domestic workers learn how to read and write and got involved in more outreach work to help disadvantaged people.

Today he helps schools with fundraising projects and administrative work, works with a network of pastors from townships in Pretoria, and supporting church leaders in church planting.

“My relationship with Heartlines began five years ago when I started helping facilitate events around the What’s Your Story? campaign,” he says. “We arranged for a large number of pastors from Pretoria to watch the movie Beyond the River, which turned out to be a very big occasion.”

From there he went on to facilitate more work equipping church leaders with Heartlines resources, organising BRIDGE events and witnessing an immense transformation in the community of Christian leaders he was working with.

“We have done a lot of storytelling with key church leaders such as bishops and heads of denominations,” he adds. “I enjoy working with Heartlines as a champion because it has created a high standard of quality resources and programmes that are good for our churches and communities.”

“I am especially looking forward to doing more work with the Fathers Matter project because a lot of young men in my community come to our doorstep asking for help. The first thing I ask them to do is tell me their story and talk about their fathers. None of them have said they have a father figure who played an active role in their lives and they have had to shoulder a lot of responsibilities on their own,” he adds.