On the brink of losing everything, Zuki and Pali Mxoli went forward anyway. Zuki and Pali, husband and wife, clasped hands as they stood together on a small grassy mound and gazed at the beginnings of a new Adventist church.
Builders for God
By Sandra Blackmer
Zuki and Pali, husband and wife, clasped hands as they stood together on a small grassy mound and gazed at the beginnings of a new Adventist church. What are we doing? they each silently asked themselves. How foolish can we be? Pali looked at her husband and spoke out loud the words they both were thinking: “Is God really leading in this project? Are we truly following His plan?”
Zuki didn’t answer at first. Instead, he drew her to him as he began walking around the two-story structure still in early construction, peeking inside windows. He envisioned children singing and praying in Sabbath school classrooms while adults sat together in comfortable pews, studying the Bible. The community room would easily hold a few hundred people, providing opportunity for fellowship, eating meals together, and planning outreach programs. It would be an impressive structure, a place that would honor God and welcome visitors. But it could cost him and Pali everything they had—everything! Does God truly expect that from us? he wondered. Maybe we should just explain and apologize to the people and move on. Surely they will understand.
Zuki’s inner turmoil threatened to overwhelm him, but he let his thoughts drift back to when the project first began.
Zukisani (“Zuki”) Mxoli, a successful architect and property developer living with his wife, Palesa (“Pali”), and five children in Johannesburg, South Africa, always made time to share his faith with others. Not only did he talk about God with friends and coworkers—Zuki was also a lay preacher and evangelist. Leading out in numerous Weeks of Prayer and evangelistic meetings, Zuki rejoiced whenever he saw people accept Jesus as their Savior.
“I’d always had a passion for evangelism,” Zuki says, “but sometimes I struggled between running my business and soul winning. On one hand, I had to rush about to try to make money, to make a living for my family and me; on the other hand, I needed to prepare sermons and preach. It was a big dilemma.”
Zuki and Pali began praying about the situation, asking God to resolve the conflict. The Lord impressed them with the Bible text: “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). The Mxolis took this to mean that God wasn’t asking them to give up their business, but instead to use it as an evangelistic tool.
So the question was “How do we minister to others with a contracting business?”
The answer? “Build a church.”
“We found a congregation in Katlehong that had purchased a site and a basic steel structure but had no money to construct the church,” Zuki explains. “They had been struggling to raise funds for many years. They were worshipping in a very small classroom—a lot of people stuck in one small room—and trying to build a church. They invited us to come and preach, and while we were there, that’s when it hit us: Ah! We can help these people! We have the skill, the means, and the money!
We were blessed with considerable profits from building projects, so we decided to use the profits from one project to build a church for this group for free. We encouraged the members to continue raising funds, however, so they could pay for specific things they wanted for their church. The profits from the rest of our building projects would be used for our family’s living expenses. We would do this once a year: find a group that needed a church and build it for them for free, and the rest of the income would be for us.
“That’s what we thought would be good and fine and acceptable to the Lord,” he says.
Not Going as Planned
Zuki told the church members that God would provide the means, and that his company would build their church at little or no cost to them. The people were ecstatic! Things, however, didn’t go as planned.
Right after the builders had set the foundation and began building up the walls, the project from which Zuki planned to use the profits to build the church fell through. The local municipality leaders challenged the land agreement, and because of that the bank refused to fund the client any additional money. The church-building resources dried up almost overnight.
“We asked ourselves, ‘Now what?’ ” Zuki explains. “Do we tell the church folk, ‘Look, we’ve done this much, so you can now finish at your own pace?’ Or do we continue? We decided to continue.”
Zuki began using profits from other building projects, funds that were to cover his family’s living expenses, for the church project. But it wasn’t just a small church with four walls and a roof that Zuki had designed. It was an expansive, impressive, two-story facility estimated at US$300,000.
“As recorded in Exodus, God was specific regarding the building of His sanctuary,” Zuki notes. “He required fine linen, pure gold, the best wood. So we decided that we must do our best for this church to glorify God.”
At first Zuki and Pali were not overly concerned about losing the project money; the Lord had blessed their business, and they believed they still could provide the funding. New projects generally arrived quickly at their door. But now, for some reason, that wasn’t happening.
“We weren’t getting any work at all,” Zuki says. “I did everything that I’d been doing for the past 15 years, but it wasn’t working. So, basically, we dried up our savings in order to fund the church construction.”
The situation, unfortunately, went from bad to worse. With no new work coming in—in spite of all Zuki’s efforts to “put the company out there”—and with almost all their income being used to fund the church, the couple was barely scraping by financially. In time they no longer were able to make even their mortgage and car payments, and the bank eventually threatened to repossess everything.
Confronting the Challenge
“Repossession was the biggest challenge we were faced with,” Zuki says. “We weren’t sure what to do. So together we prayed to God. When we stood up from that home prayer corner, we looked at each other, and in unison we said, ‘We continue with the church.’ ”
In spite of the counsel of their lawyer and accountant, who told them to “stop being foolish,” Zuki and Pali pressed on, remembering 1 Corinthians 2, where it says that the things of God “are foolishness” to those who are unbelieving, but not to those who have “the mind of Christ.”
It wasn’t an easy decision, though. The financial stress was causing turmoil and stress at home, and the couple sometimes felt confused and discouraged. That’s when Zuki would say to his wife, “Let’s just drive to the plot. Let’s just go to the site.”
“We would spend two hours there, just walking around as the people were working,” Zuki says. “Then so much peace would come, and we would feel assured that this was what we must do, no matter the cost to ourselves.”
He adds, “The church folk didn’t know about our situation. They were just praising God for the wonderful thing that was happening. And those smiles! They gave us the strength to continue. We just knew that God wanted us to build this church. And our personal focus began to change. Instead of praying for money to buy homes and cars, we were simply praying, ‘God, help us to finish the church.’ ”
Finally, after not making house and car payments for three months, the bank set the date to repossess everything of value belonging to the Mxolis. It was to happen in three days, at noon. Pressure of what people would think, particularly the church people, weighed on the couple’s hearts; even stronger, though, was their commitment to stay true to God and what He had called them to do. So they trusted in God’s care and moved forward in faith.
The Lord Steps In
Three days before the bank was to shut them down, Zuki received a phone call. It was from a businessman in Durban, about 550 kilometers (340 miles) from Johannesburg. He needed an experienced contractor to oversee a construction project for him in Johannesburg and asked whether Zuki would be interested in taking on the job. He had recently learned about Zuki, he said, when he drove by “a beautiful church building coming up” and stopped to take a look. The people there explained that the property developer was building the church for the congregation at his own cost. The businessman, who was a Christian, thought, Wow! If there is anybody I can trust, it’s someone who will give their money for a church. He soon contacted Zuki and offered him the job. And it was no small project. “It was huge!” Zuki says.
The businessman flew to Johannesburg that same day, and by the next evening the paperwork was done and the contract signed—a process that usually takes months to complete for a project this large, Zuki notes. The man then asked for Zuki’s
bank information so he could transfer funds for the deposit.
Early the next morning, the day the bank was to repossess Zuki and Pali’s home and other assets, Zuki checked his bank account, hoping that the usual 5 to 10 percent deposit was there. Instead, he saw that the businessman had advanced him 50 percent of the funding!
“I called him right away and said, ‘You made a mistake. You put in too much money.’ He responded that it was no mistake and said, ‘I trust you, because you have given your all to building God’s church.’ ”
The noon deadline arrived, and so did the people to repossess the family’s vehicles and other belongings. But Zuki stopped them and said, “We want to make arrangements to pay you.” They responded, “No, we don’t want to talk to you about any arrangement, because you’ve been promising for so long. We’re just coming to pick up your stuff.”
“No, no, no, you don’t understand,” Zuki said to them. “We’re not wanting to negotiate. We want to pay you off! We just need to know: Do you want a check or cash?”
“It was the greatest moment of our lives,” he says.
The Work Continues
The church in Katlehong, named the Thembelihle Seventh-day Adventist Church, has since been completed, and people are worshipping there. Zuki’s business is booming again, and the couple’s financial concerns are in the past.
So what are they doing now? Under the auspices of their newly developed ministry called “The Word Lives Ministry Co-mission,” they continue to donate and build not only churches for God, but many other facilities as well. These include, among others, an administration building and classrooms for the Maluti School of Nursing in Lesotho, a science building for Rusangu University in Zambia, a library and chapel for Kanye Adventist Hospital in Botswana, married housing quarters for Helderberg College in Cape Town, and office headquarters for the Zambia Union Conference in Lusaka. Sometimes Zuki pays the total cost of construction; other times he partners with the church members or organization and pays perhaps half the cost of the project. The requests for help are pouring in, and Zuki and Pali continue in faith to take on donation projects—which now extend into seven countries.
“Once we take on a project, we make the commitment and then we ask God to provide the money—and He does,” Zuki says. “Our faith in Him is growing every day.
“We tell people, ‘This is not just a Zuki thing; this is a God thing. What He’s done for us and what He is continuing to do in our lives He can do in anybody’s life. You just need to take that step of faith.’ ” n
Sandra Blackmer is an assistant editor of Adventist World.