Emmerentia (Rentia) and Pierre de Jager grew up in the northern part of South Africa, raised in homes which operated under similar principles. Extremely religious, proudly Afrikaans, slaves to the law of the church and 100% racist. They were raised in an era in which apartheid in South Africa was standard. Blacks and whites were divided and white supremacy was the widely-accepted view. The church of the Dutch Reform was known to Pierre and Rentia as the “silent church.” They weren’t allowed to speak or smile. Church was all about rules and pleasing a God that they didn’t know. The Lord had a very special path for this couple that unfolds after years of being a part of the stiff, cold religious environment.
After years of stagnancy, the Lord pushed them to find a different church, one where they would feel more at home. One day at market, Pierre went to buy a cow and ended up having the unlikely conversation about church with the cattle herder. It was this man who introduced the couple to a house church, one that was much more open to prayer and worship as the Dutch Reform church Pierre and Rentia were accustomed to did not allow the congregation to pray but only the reverend. It was in this new house church that the couple learned English and stood together for the first time with blacks and whites alike, praising the Lord in the same room. It was through many small moments like this that the Lord would slowly free them from the roots of racism.
The couple describes that it wasn’t really until they were introduced to Young Life that they understood this freedom in full. Their story with Young Life is quite the winding long saga which could have only been ordained by the hand of God. Pierre heard God’s voice clearly speaking to him, asking him to move to Zimbabwe and it would be in that remote, primitive country as Rentia describes it, that the Spirit-led couple would live on a farming property known as Morning Star. For several years, they helped run the farm as caretakers despite the political turmoil that would always pose a threat. During this time, they hosted many groups on the property including Young Life. It was also during this time in Zimbabwe that Pierre was able to reach out to the community with the gospel embedded in an agricultural strategy called ‘Farming God’s Way’. Using his experience from farming in South Africa, he taught groups of mostly women how to increase yields in their maize plots and led them in Bible studies.
At Morning Star, they spent time taking in Zimbabweans, kids of color, as their own, serving them, feeding them, clothing them and playing with them, all things that they would have cringed at the thought of in years past. It was through the serving of young people, black and white alike, that Rentia and Pierre would be completely liberated from the claws of racism. Through serving teens, with excellence, with unconditional love and simply having fun, the Lord opened their eyes to a completely new way of living. This is life to the full!
After their time at the farm, they moved to a town in southern Zimbabwe near the Matopos Hills called Bulawayo. It was here that they mentored Young Life staff, Nkosi Sampindi and Patson Mpofu. Through these young and passionate leaders, they helped build Bulawayo Young Life into a vibrant and growing ministry.
Today, Pierre and Rentia live and do ministry in South Africa, in Bela Bela, north of Pretoria. They are mentoring staff and Pierre is running the camping program for Young Life Africa and the Middle East including the development and realization of Camp on Wheels. This godly couple is widely known and recognized for their gifts in hospitality, service leadership and humility. They have been described as mother and father figures, people that you can trust, people who invite you in and hold you close to their heart. The capacity that they both have to love so many so well is truly a gift. The cold, racist, hardened exterior that had clung to them for so many years has been completely chiseled away. May God be given all the glory for the transformation of these two unique lives.
In a world where racism and segregation are still devices at work, it is important to remember that no one, no matter their age, is ever “too set in their ways” for Jesus. Remember that. Pierre and Rentia are proof.