by Julie Sharpe
When I think of South Africa, “Invictus,” Nelson Mandela, diamonds, the Boer War and the Zulus are what come to my mind. Another more recent addition to those South African topics is Stanton Petersen, our Youth Ministry Director, at Westbrook. As you may have guessed, he didn’t grow up here in Minnesota…. I mean, have you heard his accent? There were no “ya betchas” or “uff dahs” coming out of his mouth even when it was -27 degrees!
Stanton has this to say about his growing up years, “I was born in 1980 during the apartheid times of S. Africa, growing up pretty segregated: the whites (Dutch/Afrikaners and English), the blacks, the coloureds and then the Indians (from India). I was part of the coloureds. We are called this because back in the 1600s when Dutch came over to the Cape of Good Hope (Capetown now)…lots of people mingled-- the whites and the Hottentot (tribal black people)-- and this is how the coloured designation began. We were classified as that proudly.... There were certain things that I didn’t even know because my mom didn’t tell me this or even talk about it. Then one day when we were going to go swimming and I saw a great looking beach. I asked my mom, ‘Hey, why don’t we go there?’ But we had to go to this harbor and mom said, ‘That’s where our family goes.’ This ignorance was great for me because it didn’t create hate in my heart.”
Now looking back, Stanton realizes how wise his mom really was about that. “My parents divorced when I was about three years old. We all lived with my grandmother and her six girls and my brother and I in a two bedroom home, most of the time.” But in 1994, apartheid ended and life changed in many ways. One of
those changes was that Stanton found himself at services put on by the local Baptist church. “Worship, testimonies, Bible teaching, and opportunities to accept Christ were a part of this service. My mom came to faith and later that night, I became a believer, too.” They became involved in the church (which was a 25 minute walk) and grew in their faith. “Later I went to school at the University of Capetown, beginning in 1998, and thought my future might be in physics or astro-physics.” But God had another idea.
“It was during this time of searching that I dropped out of school and became involved with Living Hope out of Capetown, a Christian organization, to help people with HIV. I worked in the town of Redheal. We took care of children after school and helped with physical needs (bringing people to hospitals, teaching school children about the value of abstinence, helping with schoolwork, doing meals for students) and most importantly brought the Gospel in a Bible Club. I was needing volunteers- since I had 80 children pretty much alone. After I prayed for help, God sent Rebecca and we fell in love after about five months. I proposed the day before she was to leave. We planned to get married in October, not even knowing if I would be able to be there. But I was able to come over in August of 2009 and on October the 10th of 2009 we got married.”
Stanton continued, “I feel like God called me to Westbrook. I had been praying for this opportunity, and then about a month later Kevin approached me. I feel like my time here has been laying the ground work for the future with student ministry.”
Stanton and his wife, Rebecca have four children, Kingston: seven, Myla: five, Scarlett: three and Eden: one. We are thrilled to have the Petersens here with us!