From gang member to fervent apostle of redemption through restorative justice

Eugene van Kramberg (pic courtesy MCC)

By Lucas Klassen

 

ELDORADO PARK, South Africa — Eugene felt trapped. He was in prison where his fellow gang members were plotting the murder of a rival. Eugene was against the plot, but could only delay it. His gang members would see it through with or without his assistance.

 

Today, Eugene van Kramberg and his rival gang member—who survived the plot — are best friends. Now a Bishop of the Rock (Reflections of Christ’s Kingdom) church, van Kramberg is committed to stopping the kinds of criminal activity of which he was once a part.

 

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), in partnership with Van Kramberg and community members of Eldorado Park, a township of Johannesburg, has worked to establish a peacebuilding program that emphasizes restorative justice as a response to crime. Whereas punitive justice views punishment as the best response, restorative justice focuses on crime prevention and reconciliation. The victims and offenders meet face to face in the presence of a mediator in order to bring about reconciliation.

 

A goal of restorative justice is for the offender to gain an understanding of how their actions personally affect the victim. It is only through this understanding that true reconciliation can begin.

 

Van Kramberg’s church recently experienced a break-in, where two teenage boys stole several items. There was disappointment on his face as he shared this story – but not a hint of anger. Though he himself had become a direct victim of a criminal act, van Kramberg saw this as an opportunity to restore the boys. It is a ministry through which God’s love and forgiveness can be displayed in very practical ways.

 

Despite South Africa’s constitutional shift from racial discrimination, prejudices remain. Racial discrimination can lead to criminal acts. When this happens, developing an understanding of cultural differences is a necessary part of the restorative justice mediation process.

 

“It is preferable to have a black person work with blacks, and a coloured person work with coloureds,” said van Kramberg.” This is to ensure a respect of cultural differences, and is essential to a smooth and productive mediation process.

 

Peace and reconciliation were foundational aspects of Christ’s life and ministry. Just as the apostle Paul teaches of God’s reconciliation with mankind through Jesus (2 Cor. 5:17-20), van Kramberg notes that “it is our Christian responsibility to restore one another.”

 

Restorative justice not only brings reconciliation where it is so desperately needed, but it is also an extremely effective means of sharing the Gospel. Though he is a Bishop of a large congregation, van Kramberg recognizes the reach of restorative justice within a community.

 

“The bulk of ministry is outside of the pulpit,” he said as he pointed out toward the Eldorado Park community. “It is out there.”

 

Lucas Klassen is serving as an MCC intern in southern Africa

 

MCC photo by Lucas Klassen

 

Bishop Eugene van Kramberg in his church in a Johannesburg township.

 

(This story was provided and used with permission by Mennonite Central Committee. MCC is a worldwide ministry of Anabaptist churches that seeks to share God’s love and compassion for all in the name of Christ by responding to basic human needs and working for peace and justice.)