Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lessons Learned

I’d like to say thanks again to everyone who helped make my short-term mission trip to South Africa possible, through financial support, prayer and encouragement. Also, a special shout-out to Crescent Resources for letting me take a leave-of-absence, and to those at Palmetto Bluff who stepped up to help with my work while I was away.

As expected, I learned a lot during my time in Cape Town. Here’s an at-a-glance look at a few of those lessons, some spiritual, some practical and some just random:

· African children are some of the most joyful youngsters I’ve ever met. Just smile at one and they’re your friend for life.
· Africans – children and adult alike – have some of the most beautiful singing voices I’ve ever heard.
· In many instances, people with fewer material possessions display a greater dependence on God.
· Summer can become winter overnight in Cape Town.
· God will equip me for any task He calls me to – including, and especially, those that I am ill-suited for by my own abilities.
· We Americans do not “need” nearly as much as we think we do.
· “Live one day at a time” is a good approach. Tomorrow indeed has enough trouble of its own, so no need to worry about it today.
· Poverty + desperation = high crime rates in southern Africa. When the local police station is protected by an independent security company, you realize you need to watch your back.
· "Good deeds" are no good at all unless they're accompanied by love and compassion.
· Eighteen hours on a jetliner is a long time.
· If I have made a difference in just one person’s life, then the effort has been worthwhile.
· Grilled zebra does not taste good, no matter how you marinate it.
· Regardless of what people think of the Iraq War and other aspects of George W. Bush’s presidency, he is responsible for untold lives saved – more than 10 million have been positively affected by the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Africa and other locations abroad.
· The Bible is right – it really is more blessed to give than receive.
· Finally – and this is not a new revelation for me, but I believe it now more than ever – nothing in this life matters without God as the foundation. Not money, not clothes or shelter, not family and friends, not career, not accomplishments, not good deeds. “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:25). We’re only passing through this life, but the next one lasts forever. Are you absolutely sure if your eternal future is secure? It’s wise to find out. Check out for details.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Singing Praises

Living Hope Christmas Party
Masiphumelele Baptist Church, Cape Town, South Africa

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Scattered Thoughts from a South African Odyssey

Spending nine weeks in Cape Town, South Africa has been the experience of a lifetime. Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula comprise one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I’ve ever seen. And the people have been so interesting to get to know. The mix of cultures and languages – black, white and coloured people; English, Afrikaans and nine different native tongues – is fascinating.

As I head home tomorrow, I’ll take with me countless memories. It’s going to take a while to process it all. I’ve seen some harsh things. The effect of sin in our fallen world, the evil that man is capable of, is extremely disheartening. For reasons that I don’t always understand, God allows the consequences of man’s selfish will to be carried out. But I’ve also seen much evidence of His faithfulness, His love and His healing hand in people’s lives. Jesus Himself promised, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 10:10).

Unlike in America, where so much of life adheres to a schedule and a “normal” way of doing things, life in South Africa is less organized, less regimented, more random. So for my last post from Cape Town, in the spirit of randomness, I offer a few memories, a variety of images that stand out in my mind from the past two months. I’ll be home soon, but part of me will remain here in Africa, so stay tuned – influenced by insights from both sides of the sea, I expect to continue blogging on a variety of topics.

HOMELESS PEOPLE singing their hearts out to God. Granted, some of them come to the morning and afternoon devotions just so they can be first in line for the food, but some of them genuinely worship God and depend on Him for their every need, even when they don’t know where they’ll be sleeping that night.

SHEEP HEADS displayed on a sheet of plywood in Red Hill. As mentioned in a previous blog, “smileys” are a local delicacy whereby the heads are fried and eaten – eyes, brains and all. As someone commented in response to that blog, “Ewe.” I’m not sure whether the pun was intentional.

EDUCATORS WITH A PASSION for teaching the ways of God to the young people of this area. Though they’re not always formally trained, Living Hope’s Life Skill Educators have a heart for the children and a zest for life that flows through to them. The middle photo here shows Shagmie and Vernil, two of the LSEs in Capricorn Township.

“DONKEY MAN,” the shabby bearded guy who looks like an Old West prospector, riding his donkey on the sidewalk while pulling another donkey along behind. This takes place along a crowded road surrounded by pedestrians from the nearby black township of Masiphumelele. It’s one of the more random and odd sights I’ve seen.

TABLE MOUNTAIN, the 3,500-foot-tall mass of rock that looms over Cape Town and draws tourists from all over the world to ride its cableway to the top. I’ve ridden the cable car a few times, but my most enduring memory is a two-hour hike up in blazing heat. It was one of those “character-building” experiences that made the soaring views all the more worthwhile.

THE RESILIENT PEOPLE who live in the townships and informal settlements. In Red Hill, a shantytown that’s scattered along the side of a mountain overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the terrain is rough and rocky, but residents are persistent in planting vegetable and flower gardens. These gardens are flourishing, bringing life and color to a landscape blighted by fire and litter. The bottom photo here shows David and John, brothers and neighbors who share a garden that wouldn’t be out of place in Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch, the national botanical garden.

SIZWE, THE SECURITY GUARD who watches the public beach parking lot next to the house I’ve been living in. My housemates and I give him water sometimes. One day he asked me if I could “organize a sandwich” for him – as if it were an event that required careful planning. I didn’t have any sandwich materials at the time, but I did organize him a bag of sweet tarts.

THE BOOMSLANG, a cave reached by a long climb up into the mountains above the seaside town of Fish Hoek. When I set out for the Boomslang on a foggy Saturday morning, I knew I was going to be visiting a cave. However, I didn’t realize I would be crawling on my hands and knees, then on my belly, to get through it. Fortunately I’m not claustrophobic.

DRIVING ON THE WRONG SIDE of the road. After being a passenger for nearly two months, I decided to “hire” a car, as they say here, and transport myself around the Cape for a weekend. Sitting on the right side of the car, driving on the left side of the highway and shifting with the left hand requires a shift in thinking, too.

BEST BEETLE, the not-so-aptly named rental company that specializes in beaten-down, ’60s- and ’70s-era Volkswagens. Two of my co-workers, Ryan and Jess, have lime-green Beetles, both relics with an assortment of “character quirks.”

SOME OF THE MOST ADORABLE and sweestest children I’ve ever met in my life. And also, admittedly, some of the rowdiest. Kids emulate what they see at home, which unfortunately means fighting, swearing and a general lack of respect in many instances. But there are plenty of children who are being raised properly. One of my favorite families is that of Pastor Kennedy, the youth minister at River of Life Church in Red Hill. Kennedy’s kids, Joanne, Eldrich and Jeremiah are pictured with me in the top photo here. A few days ago, when it was announced that I would be going home soon, Joanne (who might be the cutest kid EVER) asked me to step outside so we could talk. “I don’t have anything to give you,” she said, “but I want to tell you something: Thank you.” Then she hugged me. And then my heart melted.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas in Summer

With South Africa located in the Southern Hemisphere and summer occurring in December, there’s never talk of a white Christmas here. But the Christmas spirit is still evident, perhaps even more so because it doesn’t seem to be as diluted by all the commercial nonsense as it is in America.

Last night I enjoyed a tremendous Christmas experience at Kirstenbosch, South Africa’s national botanical garden. Situated on the flank of Table Mountain just outside Cape Town, Kirstenbosch is stunningly scenic. The local Rotary Club has been holding “Carols at Kirstenbosch” all weekend at an amphitheatre that sits on a grassy slope with a sheer mountainside as the backdrop. The temperature was blazing hot yesterday, but it had cooled to jacket weather by the time the singing began. Hundreds of people packed the lawn, picnicking in the early evening hours and then singing by candelight (and a brilliant full moon) during 90 minutes of traditional carols.

Besides the incredible surroundings, what struck me was the way the event was presented as exactly what it claimed to be – a Christmas program. Scripture passages, both Old and New Testament, were read between each song. At the end, a local pastor detailed the true meaning of Christmas and all the implications that came with that amazing event in human history. This all took place at a public, non-church gathering, on a national landmark, with a message that was clearly and unapologetically presented – that is, no watering it down in an effort to accommodate those who might be “offended.” Coming from a culture where we have national debates on whether “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” is more acceptable, I found it refreshing just to enjoy the season without all the distractions.

Friday, December 12, 2008

His Way or the Highway?

Christians often are criticized for the viewpoint that their belief system is superior to others. “Narrow-minded,” “unloving” and “bigoted” are some of the charges tossed at followers of Jesus Christ.

Of course, some people agree with certain teachings of Christ, like loving your enemies and caring for the poor. Some say, “Jesus was a great moral teacher,” or “Jesus was a prophet.” Some just say, “It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you believe.” And some say it's all a big fairy tale.

But here’s the thing: Christianity, as defined by its founder, is narrow-minded. Jesus Himself said He is the only way to God. As recorded in John’s eyewitness account, Jesus’ own words were, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John14:6). Man’s relationship with God – broken by sin – needed to mended, and God made it possible, sending His sinless son to take the punishment by being crucified on a cross.

Many charge that holding to such a position doesn't show love to people of other belief systems. But it's possible to respect others while not agreeing with their beliefs (as opposed to, say, radical Islam, whose followers want to eliminate all opposition). For Christians to say a contrary system is equally valid would not only defy their leader (and thus be hypocritical), it is actually unloving if what Jesus said is really true. Because I believe that it is, I am compelled by the love of God to share his message of salvation, in both word and deed. Remaining silent and letting friends, neighbors and relatives die and spend an eternity separated from God because I don't want to "offend" them with the truth – that’s not love at all.

“Well how do you know it’s true?” people ask. I know because the history books say Jesus was crucified, laid in a grave and three days later walked out of that grave. No other religious leader can make that claim. There are many gods and many dead spiritual leaders, but there’s only one living God. Jesus is either who He said He is – the son of God and Lord of everything, which He proved by conquering death – or He was a liar or a crazy man.

If either of the latter is the case, then none of His words are worth heeding. Even Paul, one of Christ's most passionate followers, said of his Lord, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, 19).

But the resurrection is recorded history. John described himself as “the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24). Matthew was another follower and eyewitness of Christ. Mark and Luke both wrote t heir accounts within a few decades of Jesus’ time on earth. Paul, who wrote 12 of the New Testament books, personally saw and heard from the resurrected Jesus. We don’t question other recorded historical events through the years, even though we weren’t there to see them ourselves; why should we doubt the resurrection?

Ultimately the issue comes down to a matter of faith: Do you or do you not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, was crucified for your sins, and was resurrected from the dead? For those who personally receive that free gift of salvation – by asking Christ to forgive them and be Lord of their lives – He promised eternal life on the other side of this temporary earthly existence.

For a lot of people who are reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir. But if you’re not part of the choir and you want to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas – a relationship with Jesus Emmanuel, “God with us" – I encourage you to investigate and act on the claims of Christianity. For more information, check out and

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bad Dream

Working in children’s ministry brings a lot of comical moments, whether it’s in South Africa, South Carolina or anyplace else. Two days ago, we threw a Christmas party on the beach for the kids of Red Hill. It was a great idea except for one thing – the wind was blowing about 30 mph and gusting up to 40, which meant the usual chaos was ratcheted up to a whole new level. Ever try holding a potato sack race while being sandblasted? The kids didn’t seem to care, though – they had a great time.

Well, most of them did, anyway. We let them wade into the ocean (it’s too cold and rough to actually swim), which meant most of the boys simply stripped to their underwear rather than wear swimsuits. It seems one boy left his clothes on the back of a jeep and the owner drove away while he was swimming. The little guy was inconsolable when he figured out what had happened! Fortunately, he had a towel and he finally cheered up before the party ended. It reminded me of the old “Oh no, I’m out in public and I have no clothes on” dream – but for this poor fella, it came true.


I saw another side of South Africa yesterday by taking a tour of Robben Island. This is the site of the maximum security facility where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner. (Pictured is Mandela’s cell in Block B.) Robben Island is located less than 8 miles offshore from Cape Town. The iconic Table Mountain is in view from much of the island. From beyond the prison’s courtyard, from beyond the limestone quarry where Mandela and his fellow prisoners labored, the mountain’s flat top looms, symbolizing freedom and lofty heights for the men who were unjustly detained here for so many years.

Yet even today, nearly two decades after the end of apartheid, many people are still imprisoned in Cape Town – by poverty, by substance addiction, by disease, by a litany of other ills. Many still don’t have proper homes. Children live on the streets. (For a look at the plight of Cape Town’s “street kids,” check out Ryan Dalton’s blog at Local and national government has come a long way, but it’s far from perfect. Corruption and selfishness are still in vogue.

But really, isn’t that the case everywhere? Selfishness manifests itself in many ways and at many levels of intensity, but at our core, every one of us is looking out for Number 1. And so we too are imprisoned! We are slaves to the many gods we serve – money, “stuff,” good times, careers, adrenaline, the list goes on and on – all in the interest of making ourselves “happy.”

Jesus Christ is the only god who can bring fulfillment, because He’s more than just a god, He is the God. As Christmas approaches, we love to get stuff, and to spend time with family and friends, and to roast chestnuts over an open fire, and yes, to give stuff, too. And all those things are great! But the real reason for the season is the birth of Jesus, the Son of God who came to live a sinless life and die as a sacrifice for selfish man – to free us from the prison of our sin and separation from God the Father. Jesus is your free pass from prison. Are you still in chains?

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and marked off the heavens by the span, and calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, and weighed the mountains in a balance, and the hills in a pair of scales? (Isaiah 40:12)

Shout joyfully to God, all the earth; sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious. Say to God, “How awesome are Your works!” (Psalm 66:1-3)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Feliz Navidad

This has been a festive week for Living Hope. With the help of a mission team from Extreme Response (an Atlanta-based aid organization), LH threw a dozen Christmas parties and served more than 2,000 clients, children and staff members. It was all a blast, but the children’s parties were especially fun. The staff from each township was allowed to plan their own party, and each location (Masiphumelele, Ocean View and Capricorn) responded by treating their kids to a really special time. Clowns, bouncy houses, waterslides, popcorn machines, hot dogs, burgers and much more – these kids don’t often get to enjoy such things in their day-to-day lives. There were many highlights, including the sight of native South African kids singing and dancing to Feliz Navidad. Monday brings two final parties, for the Living Grace clients and the Red Hill kids club, both groups I’ve focused on for the past two months. I love working with Living Hope because they make an impact in so many ways across so large a metro area.

Monday, December 1, 2008

365 Days of Activism

16 Days of Activism, the international campaign against gender violence, began last week. Coinciding with the 16 days in Cape Town is an initiative by Ryan Dalton, a Tennessee transplant who maintains that activism against violence is not just a 16-day event but a 365-days-a-year lifestyle. Ryan came to Cape Town eight years ago to minister to “street children,” those countless sad cases of kids who don’t have homes for one reason or another. Since the 16 Days began on November 25, Ryan has literally been living on the streets of Cape Town's city centre, where he's raising awareness for the children while putting himself in their shoes and learning first-hand what their 24/7 lives are like. You can check out his journey at, and if you're on Facebook, type "365 days of activism" in the search field for a group page.

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day. Being in one of the most affected areas in the world – an estimated 1 out of 5 South Africans is HIV-positive – casts the event in a whole new light for me. I just read an article in which the “experts” are starting to question whether AIDS is really the problem it’s made out to be, and whether resources might be better used toward other problems. From what I’ve seen and heard about HIV and AIDS in Cape Town – e.g., people afraid to get tested because of the social stigma; sex among pre-teens because they have nothing better to do – I’d say the problem is everything it’s made out to be and more. Fortunately, Capetonians are fighting back. (The photo is from a parade today in Ocean View Township.) I pray that the support they need will continue - from the incoming U.S. administration and others with the means to give.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

African American Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone back in America. Here in South Africa it’s a non-event and everyone goes about business as usual. Fortunately for me and my fellow volunteers, our “bosses” – Living Hope volunteer coordinators Mike and Pam Talley – are Americans, and they threw a great Thanksgiving bash today. The festivities included turkey on the table and Dallas Cowboys football on the TV, the latter made possible by satellite TV and a DVR recording of the Cowboys-Redskins game two weeks ago. We also tossed a football around in the parking lot – a curiosity to the neighbors, who mostly know rugby and soccer – and watched A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Speaking of food, I’ve had some interesting African dishes lately, including crocodile kebabs (extremely tasty), zebra (tough and not so tasty), eland (a kind of antelope; quite tender and flavorful), and kudu (another type of antelope). I am thankful for many things and grilled animal flesh is one of them.

I’m also thankful that Black Friday doesn’t exist in South Africa. No Thanksgiving holiday means no day-after-Thanksgiving retail insanity. And that’s a real Christmas blessing. It’s strange, though, heading into Christmas season in a sunny, 80-degree climate. Also, schools around the country are beginning summer vacation, traffic is picking up and the locals are complaining about tourist season. Sound familiar, Hilton Headians?

Next week, I’ll be immersed in the Christmas spirit in a big way. Living Hope puts on multiple Christmas parties at each of its six locations – for staff, for clients (e.g. health care patients, the homeless) and for children. The two weeks after that (my last in the country) will be occupied mostly with Holiday Club, which is a longer version of after-school Kids Club. With three hours to fill each day, it should be interesting. It’s enough of a challenge trying to keep them attentive for just one hour. As with pretty much everything else I’ve experienced here, we’ll make a plan, carry out about 20 percent of that plan, and wing the rest – and by God's grace it’ll all turn out just fine.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wants and Needs

Want: Refinance to fund bigger garage.
Need: Roof that doesn’t leak.

Want: Next-generation iPhone.
Need: Fifty-cent newspaper that you can’t afford but sure could use so you can scan classifieds for job that may or may not be available.

Want: Kobe Beef instead of Black Angus Beef.
Need: Piece of bread after another cold night on empty stomach.

Want: Steam, mud wrap and full-body massage.
Need: Bathroom tissue to replace scrap phone book pages in communal outhouse.

Want: Full-size SUV to replace mid-size SUV.
Need: Shoes with soles intact.

Want: Water to irrigate 3,000-square-foot Bermuda grass lawn.
Need: Water to irrigate vegetable garden to feed family of five.

Want: Power, status, success.
Need: Peace with God.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Just Wing It

I’ve come to realize that in South Africa, nothing happens on schedule. (That is, if a schedule even exists to begin with). For example, “I’ll meet you at 3:00” typically means something more like, “I’ll meet you sometime this afternoon. It may not be exactly 3:00, but it’ll probably be within an hour of that. Give or take.” Or lesson planning for an after-school children’s club? What-ev-er. We’ll figure it out as we go. For an incessant planner and watch-the-clock person like me, it can be maddening, but I’m gradually learning to accept it.

Likewise, some of my work opportunities here have come about unexpectedly. It never occurred to me, for instance, that I might use my writing background to help people at a homeless shelter. But that’s what has happened as several out-of-work guys have asked me to write reference letters for them to give to potential employers. This week I met a new visitor to Living Grace. He just learned that he’s HIV-positive and is getting counseling and medical help through Living Hope. I worked with him to build a resume and reference letter, as he needs work to be able to stay in Cape Town and get the medical attention he needs, since back at his home in the Eastern Cape (hundreds of miles away), medical care is harder to come by.

I’ve also taken to “playing” the tambourine during the pre-breakfast and pre-lunch devotions at Living Grace and at the afternoon kids clubs in Red Hill. I’m rhythmically challenged, but I can mostly keep the beat, and it’s fun – it’s the most musically involved I’ve been since my career as a high-school trombone player of marginal talent.

By the way, the deal at Living Grace is that devotions start at 8:15 and 11:45 and include 15 minutes of singing and a 15-minute Bible lesson. Those who attend get first dibs on the food; if there are any leftovers, then latecomers can also eat. In other words, “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Out of the Zone

Part of my motivation in coming to volunteer in South Africa was to get out of the proverbial comfort zone. In my case, that means pretty much anything that forces me to interact with people I don’t know well. At Living Grace’s homeless ministry, that happens every day I’m there. Someone always wants to talk about one concern or another. I listen, I try to encourage them, I pray with them. But some situations are way beyond my limited interpersonal abilities.

This morning, I casually asked “How ya doing?” to a woman I’ve befriended these past few weeks. Her answer: “Terrible. I want to find a shotgun and kill myself. I can’t take it anymore.” Um … OK … well … yikes. I did my best to listen and encourage, but I knew enough to realize this lady has some deep-seated issues that require professional counseling. I promised her I would ask around and see if I could find someone she could meet with on a regular basis.

About five minutes after that conversation ended, a staff member introduced me to a new volunteer, an older lady who will be here for the next six months. And guess what her background is? Professional counselor! No coincidence there. God showed me a need, then immediately provided for it. “Oh, have I got a customer for you,” I told my new friend. She’s a sweet lady and she's interested in meeting with this troubled woman. Any prayers for healing are much appreciated.

Another painful circumstance at Living Grace today was the news of Claire’s death. Claire had been a frequent visitor to the facility. I never met her, but I had heard much about her – apparently she was a pretty colorful character. She was asthmatic and was found stricken at the park where a lot of homeless people stay. She was taken to the hospital and passed away on Saturday.

Life at Living Grace is anything but a comfort zone.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Scenic South Africa

View from the Team House, my temporary home

Noordhoek Beach/Atlantic Ocean

Whale off of Noordhoek Beach

Cape of Good Hope, the most southwesterly point in Africa

Company's Garden and Table Mountain

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reaching Out to Red Hill

If you’ve been following this blog, you know part of my work in Cape Town has been in a community called Red Hill. I want to tell you a little more about this special place now. Red Hill is what’s known as an “informal settlement.” That basically means a collection of shacks, pieced together with tin, scrap wood and whatever other materials can be found. The community is located, literally, on the side of a mountain. It has a few tuck shops (e.g., a small grocery or convenience store); otherwise, the nearest supplies (and jobs) are found in Simon’s Town, in the valley on the other side of the mountain. Many residents don’t have transportation and it’s not an easy walk, so in a sense, Red Hill is quite isolated.

Unemployment, alcohol abuse, malnutrition, poor sanitation and domestic violence are among the problems in the community. We just learned, for example, that a mother was severely beaten by her boyfriend on Monday night. Two of this woman’s children come to Living Hope’s after-school children’s club. It’s heartbreaking, what they’re dealing with in their home life. Sadly, local law enforcement is indifferent. In this case, police responded to the situation and issued the boyfriend a “warning.” Attempts are being made to connect the woman with a social worker.

It’s a considerable challenge to bring love and light to places like Red Hill. Living Hope’s goal is to change the culture with a multi-pronged approach – based on a Christ-centered spiritual foundation – that includes job creation and financial empowerment, good hygiene and health practices, cultivation of vegetable gardens, and leadership from both adults and children. Living Hope’s dream is for Red Hill ultimately to be self-sustaining in all of these aspects. Two churches in the community are on board as partners. One of those, River of Life Ministries, is particularly involved and is essentially the community center for the Afrikaans-speaking “upper camp.” Change doesn’t come overnight, but there is evidence of progress.

If you’re wondering, “Is there any way I can help?”, here’s one. The Cape Town public school system requires uniforms, but not surprisingly, many families can’t afford them. No uniform means no education and all kinds of potential to get into trouble. An entire uniform (shirt, pants, shoes, socks and sweater) can be funded for about $25 USD. Other school needs are basic items like pencils, colored pencils, crayons, sharpener, erasers, notebooks, and for high schoolers, text books and calculator. These needs are not only in Red Hill, but also in the other townships and informal settlements that Living Hope supports as well - Ocean View, Masiphumele, Capricorn and Overcome Heights.

Community needs go far beyond this, but it’s one area where a child’s life can be tangibly impacted for the better. If you’d like to know more, including where to send contributions, email me at

Sunday, November 9, 2008

This Is Africa

More assorted sights and sensations from South Africa:

  • Sheep heads. When they’re fried, the skin peels back and reveals their teeth, hence their nickname, “smileys.”
  • Surgery clinics. Services at some of these businesses include witch doctor remedies and other ancient practices. I pray I don’t need any emergency “surgery” during my stay here.
  • Sideways rain. And wind that makes you feel sideways.
  • Chickens in the streets.
  • Elastic time. Just as 1 U.S. dollar equals approximately 10 S.A. rand, 1 U.S. minute translates to about 10 African minutes. Or more. If someone says something will happen in five minutes, it might be twenty-five minutes, it might be fifty-five minutes, but it probably won’t be five minutes.
  • Tastes from everywhere – Moroccan, Ethiopian, Indian, Turkish, Portugese, the list goes on. I, a notoriously picky eater, enjoyed dinner at a Kurdish restaurant (spiced lamb kidneys, anyone?) on Saturday, complete with seating on the floor and entertainment by a belly dancer.
  • That thing with colored lights that signify when motorists should go, slow down and stop – it’s called a “robot.”
  • Baboons
  • Ostriches.
  • Whales.

    It's all so fascinating ...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Familiarity among the Unfamiliar

I'm starting to feel a little less like a tourist here in South Africa. I'm establishing a routine of sorts, which is comforting, since I'm a creature of habit. On the other hand, it's a different routine depending on the day of the week. But I actually like that - it's more interesting than being at a desk all day.

I spend two mornings a week at the Living Grace homeless ministry in Muizenberg, two mornings at the Living Hope home office in Capri (where I do sit at a desk ... well, actually a table in the kitchen, but you take what you can get), and four afternoons at Red Hill helping with the after-school Children's Club. On Friday mornings I go to Living Grace to speak at the pre-breakfast devotional, then head out for a work project in one of the townships.

I have five housemates, and thus five new friends who have been very welcoming to me. I'm the old guy - they're all in their 20s and early 30s - so I appreciate them not making me feel old. I'm at the same location where our Bluffton team stayed, a 15-bedroom, B&B-type house. Another team is coming in a few weeks, but right now, with only a few people here, it's quiet. And cavernous. I know, I know, a mission trip to Africa should mean I'm sleeping in a hut and going without a shower for days on end. But most of this area is very European. Some call it a first-world city in a third-world country. Anyway, some needs are universal, whether it's Cape Town, Mumbai, Bangkok or Bluffton.

Thanks to all who have prayed for me throughout this venture. Thanks also to anyone who has emailed me encouraging thoughts or posted comments on this blog. It's good to know there's an audience. One of my favorite Dilbert strips shows Dilbert standing at his mailbox sorting through the day's mail. "Occupant ... occupant ... occupant ... occupant," he says. Then, in the last frame: "Ahhh, Dilbert. I get mail, therefore I am."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Welcome to Africa

Oh, the differences between South Africa and South Carolina. Unisex bathrooms in McDonald’s. Assorted vocabulary oddities (bonnet = car hood; boot = trunk). The driving-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-road thing. KFCs everywhere – and far tastier than the American version, I’m told.

Then there are the snakes. In SC, we have our copperheads, cottonmouths, rattlesnakes – all dangerous, to be sure. But the serpents here, they’re hard-core. The cape cobra and the puff adder both live in the Cape Peninsula, and both are highly venomous and deadly. Guess what turned up in the garden on Tuesday, right outside the house where I’m staying? A puff adder.

Who knows how long it had been there. It was in some thick brush that the grounds staff was about to clear. After some unsuccessful prodding to coax it out, a call was placed to the local reptile professionals (“Snake Busters”!). They said leave it alone, it’s a protected species, we’ll come fetch it (fetch is another South African term, by the way).

Soon a free-spirited dude showed up with a hook and a sack. He quickly captured the adder, made a thorough search of the area and concluded the visitor was alone. But it’s a bit unnerving. The mountain this house rests against is prime snake habitat, and clearly human residences aren’t off limits. As the saying goes, TIA – this is Africa.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Provision in a Sun-Scorched Land

I keep coming across a particular passage of scripture lately, Isaiah 58: 10-11. It’s a huge encouragement for my work here in Africa:

If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always;
He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Would This Pass Building Code on Hilton Head?

I spent some time on Friday helping put a ceiling in a lady’s home in Capricorn, one of the townships outside of Cape Town. The goal was to install drywall beneath the metal roof to prevent leaks. With three workers crammed into a tiny two-room shack, this was easier said than done. But it got done (mostly), a little crooked here and there, but who’s keeping score? Everything is relative. There are no architectural review boards here. Just lots of neighborhoods with lots of people with lots of homes that barely offer a roof over their heads.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Adventure Continues

My teammates have deserted me. I rode with the LCC team to Cape Town International this morning, bid them goodbye and returned to my accommodations in Noordhoek. Here I’ll remain for the next seven weeks. I had envisioned this would be a moment when I stopped and asked myself, “What am I doing here?” But that moment actually came right after I arrived almost two weeks ago. Once we dove into the day-to-day work, God has affirmed to me that this is where I’m supposed to be.

Psalm 16: 5-6 says, “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places …” This seems fitting for where I am. (And not just because there's a stunning beach outside my living room window. And whales.)

The team enjoyed a fruitful final day of work on Wednesday, beginning with a visit to the Living Hope Health Care Centre. We sang songs for the patients, then split into groups – ladies washing and massage feet in the women’s ward, and Tom and I teaching a board game called Cat & Mouse to some of the men. Interacting with HIV and AIDS patients is a totally different dynamic than the previous work we had done. It was good for us to get an up-close look at another one of Living Hope’s core ministries.

Our ladies ended their time with the ladies of Red Hill by washing feet, and serving tea and dessert. After teaching her Bible lesson, Patty asked for song requests and the ladies responded with an impromptu worship service (top photo). It seems like everyone here has an amazing voice. No instruments, no percussion – they keep the rhythm with their voices and harmonize like a professional choir. “Mine, mine, mine, Jesus is mine” … “ It was a happy day when I was born again” … “We’re marching upward to Zion, that beautiful city of God” – I can still hear those voices ringing in my head.

After that, we threw two parties for the Red Hill kids. Red Hill is divided into three sections, lower, middle and upper, and Children’s Clubs are held in the middle and upper camps. We talked up the parties and told kids to invite their parents. About 80 people showed up in the middle camp. When we drove up the hill for the upper camp party (bottom photo), those kids were waiting by the front entrance with party hats on. It was a spirited celebration and a great way to end a mission trip.

Now my volunteer assignment begins. Some of it is already familiar, as I’ll continue working mornings at the Living Grace homeless facility and spending afternoons in Red Hill. I also get to use my communication background, working on some documentation for strategic mission work in the townships, and writing a history of all the Fish Hoek Baptist Trust ministries. If I had any doubt whether I’ll have enough to do in these coming weeks, those doubts have been dispelled.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

An Uphill Battle

When people live in poverty, troubles feed off one another. Unemployment means boredom, which leads to alcohol abuse, and sex among multiple partners, which causes HIV to spread. Living Hope and its parent organization, Fish Hoek Baptist Church Community Trust, battles these issues with a wholistic approach that seeks spiritual, physical, emotional and fiscal health.

HIV is made worse by the fact that those who have it in this culture are stigmatized by their community. So they’d either rather not know about it or just live with it until they die, instead of being tested or treated. But with the right medications, and the right counseling and education (all of which Living Hope supplies), people can survive and live healthy lives. They just have to be convinced.

The LCC team had a hand in this effort on Monday. Living Hope held a health fair at Red Hill to test for blood pressure, blood sugar, HIV and TB. We were told that a turnout of 20 for the HIV test would be a success. About 30 were tested and maybe 100 total showed up for the blood pressure checks. Unfortunately a handful tested positive for HIV. They’ll be counseled, cared for and directed into followup support groups.

The work of Living Hope and Living Grace is a great illustration of the principle behind James 2: 15-17. “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

I got a first-hand look at how bad alcoholism is in poor communities like Red Hill, particularly among men. As Tom and I walked around to invite people to the health fair, we came across guys who were already drunk at 10 in the morning. One guy took me to their general store (it’s a shack, just like the homes) and bought me a Coke. Then he drank and smoked with his friends as we chatted. (Don’t worry Mom, we’ve been assured Red Hill is a safe place in the daytime.) One guy told me to pray for him because he’s under so much stress. Several of them say they want to be free of the alcohol. But when they don’t have transportation and can’t find work and they’re hungry, they drink to numb the pain. It’s a vicious cycle and there are no easy answers.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Light in Dark Places

Just as a flashlight – or a torch, as South Africans call it – shines in dark corners, the love of Christ illuminates some pretty shadowy locations in the Western Cape. We got another first-hand look at this last Friday in Khayelitsha, a township of 1 million-plus. This place has a reputation. Even one of the regulars at the homeless ministry warned me not to go there. But we had a knowledgeable guide and all was well.

We learned about several positive initiatives in Khayelitsha: Learn to Earn, a Christian-led vocational school that guides residents into the workforce; LOVE (Lily of the Valley Educare), a series of daycare centers that feed kids Biblical values along with two hot meals a day; Rainbow Sports Ministry, which uses soccer and netball (sort of like basketball) to build relationships with teenagers and steer them away from trouble (teen sex, alcohol and drug use are huge problems); and a new auto repair shop that will train prospective mechanics. As Christopher, one of the Rainbow Sports leaders, told us, God is calling His people to work in ministries like this and there’s no option but to obey if we’re serious about loving others as Christ commanded.

This week brings two more days of work at Living Grace. One of our team members, Tom Lawler, will be cooking a big chili lunch for the guests there on Tuesday. Today’s a big day at Red Hill, where Living Hope will be running a health fair for HIV testing and counseling, and blood pressure and TB tests. Nancy Lawler will be helping with this; Patty Friesen and the other ladies will continue to lead women’s devotionals; and Tom and I will go out and invite people to the event. We’ll also continue to do children’s ministry in Red Hill and will finish up there on Wednesday with a party for all the kids and parents. I’ll continue to work in both Red Hill and Muizenberg for the remainder of my stay until mid-December, so the relationships we’re forming over these two weeks will be a big help in my continued work here.

More Scenes from Cape Town and Beyond

Pictured, top to bottom: Women’s Bible study at Red Hill; Khayelitsha neighborhood; Cape Town.

Friday, October 24, 2008

It's All Yours God

Cape Town is a land of juxtaposition. A homeless center next to a stunning seascape. A shantytown on a mountaintop. People in despair alongside people with hope. There’s so much that’s hard to look upon. A homeless family (parents with two kids) showed up Thursday too late for lunch. Not a scrap of prepared food was left, but “Auntie Joan,” the dear woman who helps run the place, managed to find some bread and rice to send them away with. In Red Hill, we learned that a man hanged himself last week, leaving a family behind. Another family had recently adopted a child when the adoptive mother suddenly died of an asthma attack.

It’s easy to become discouraged. But we also meet people like Craig, a 21-year-old who was caught in the crossfire of a gunfight six years ago and is in a wheelchair for life. He has a home nearby, but he comes to Living Grace every day to help out. He has a sweet spirit and an ever-present smile and the love of God in his heart. He could easily be mad at God, but he’s not.

Steven Curtis Chapman has a song called Yours. Substitute Cape Town for some of the places mentioned and you have a picture of the suffering in this part of the world, and the comfort we try to take in knowing God is still in control:

I walk the streets of London
And notice in the faces passing by
Something that makes me stop and listen
My heart grows heavy with the cry
Where is the hope for London?
You whisper and my heart begins to soar
As I'm reminded that every street in London in Yours

I walk the dirt roads of Uganda
I see the scars that war has left behind
Hope like the sun is fading
They're waiting for a cure no one can find
And I hear children's voices singing
Of a God who heals and rescues and restores
And I'm reminded that every child in Africa is Yours

And its all Yours, God, Yours, God
Everything is Yours
From the stars in the sky
To the depths of the ocean floor
And its all Yours, God, Yours, God
Everything is Yours
You're the Maker and Keeper
Father and Ruler of everything
It's all Yours

And I walk the sidewalks of Nashville
Like Singapore, Manila and Shanghai
I rush by the beggar's hand and the wealthy man
And everywhere I look I realize
That just like the streets of London
For every man and woman, boy and girl
All of creation
This is our Father's world

And its all Yours, God, Yours, God
Everything is Yours
From the stars in the sky
To the depths of the ocean floor
And its all Yours, God, Yours, God
Everything is Yours
You're the Maker and Keeper
Father and Ruler of everything
It's all Yours

Scenes from the Cape

Pictured from top: Playtime or naptime, not sure which; mingling at Living Grace; transformed lives in Red Hill.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hope and Grace

Living Hope Community Centre has made a profound impact here in the Cape Town area. Here’s one example. After LHCC began its after-school Children’s Clubs in the townships, sharing the love of Jesus and teaching Bible-based values, the government noticed something: Those kids’ behavior in the public schools improved! So Living Hope ( was invited to send staff workers into the schools and teach those values (along with things like hygiene and good nutrition) to all the students. What a concept, one unheard of in American public schools. But circumstances are so desperate in South Africa, where HIV, poverty and other social ills are so widespread, the government is open to anything that might make a difference, even Biblical values like sexual abstinence.

The LowCountry team is working with the Children’s Clubs in Red Hill, a mountaintop community where we worked during our trip last year. The kids here are awesome. They’re so playful and joyful, they just capture your heart. Part of the team is also leading crafts and Bible studies for women, helping plant vegetable gardens, and will be helping with a health clinic next week to test for HIV, tuberculosis and hypertension.

Another part of the team is spending mornings at Living Grace (, a homeless facility in the pretty seaside town of Muizenberg. Folks there can come in for hot meals and showers. They attend a devotional program before each meal, and we’re helping with both those efforts. After they sang songs of praise this morning, one man told me he’s thankful for everything he has, even the bad times. Just like Job – the Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord. It’s instantly humbling to see people praise God in dire circumstances. Not everyone has such a sunny outlook, though. There’s a lot of pain and hopelessness on people’s faces here. Lots of drug and alcohol abuse, too.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Captivated in Cape Town

We’re here safely in Cape Town. The trip took about 36 hours door to door from Bluffton. That included a brief thunderstorm delay in Johannesburg, but otherwise the travel was smooth. This area is as beautiful as I remember from last year — mountains and oceans everywhere you look. We worshipped at Masiphumelele (Masi) Baptist this morning, an inspiring way to start a mission trip. I tried to upload some video of these Xhosa people's spirited singing, but it didn’t work, so you’ll have to take my word that there were goose-bump moments.

A protest march was taking place in Masi, a township of approximately 25,000-30,000 people. A 3-year-old girl was murdered recently. From what we understand, the suspect has been jailed, but the residents were marching (peacefully) as a show of solidarity that they won’t tolerate violence in their community. Our driver almost got caught up in the march before a police officer diverted us.

We went out for lunch on the waterfront in Cape Town. Pictured, back table, clockwise from left: Rosalie Parody, Cindy Taulbee, Tonya Townsend, Patty Friesen, Joe Friesen; front table, Tom Lawler, Nancy Lawler, Tina Kautter, Eddy Messick, me. Tomorrow we get to work. I’ll update in a few days, so stay tuned …

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Partners with God

This trip to Africa that I’m about to embark on would not be possible without considerable financial and prayer support from a number of people. So, like a good NASCAR driver, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my sponsors:

Glenda Allnoch, Margaret Ann and Alex Colleran, Nick and Betty Dennis, Jim and Eva Dion, Vinny and Julie Emery, Gary and Kelli Ferguson, Joe and Patty Friesen, Kurt and Jeannie Hall, Mark Howard, Carol Huston, Rob and Gina Jacobs, Jennifer Koch, Mark and Loy Leslie, Christina Murphy, Rosalie Parody, Brian and Michelle Pennell, Clint Rushing, Sandy and Angela Stroud, Francis and Reggie Tatum, Aaron and Renea Thielemeier, Mark and Candi Wease, LowCountry Community Church and the LCC MAD (Make a Difference) ministry, and numerous others who have anonymously donated and/or prayed.

Thanks for joining me in this – we’re all partners in whatever work God will have me do over the next nine weeks in South Africa .

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Unsung Hero of American History

I want to give a shout-out to my friend Mark Leslie for his book, Midnight Rider for the Morning Star. It’s the story of Francis Asbury, a late 18th/early 19th-century Methodist bishop who rode thousands of miles on horseback to preach the Gospel of Jesus to early America. If this sounds like a dry historical biography, it’s not – Mark presents Asbury’s story as a fictional narrative (based on extensive factual research), and it’s riveting. Asbury was chased by Indians, wolves and British soldiers, eluded bullets, hid out in swamps and forests, and generally lived life on the edge as a frontierman. Although relatively unknown today, he became as familiar at the time as such contemporaries as Washington, Jefferson and Franklin. For more details, go to

Next up on my reading list: A Few Seconds of Panic: A 5-Foot-8, 170-Pound, 43-Year-Old Sportswriter Plays in the NFL, in which writer Stefan Fatsis spent the 2006 season as a member of the Denver Broncos; and Wind, Sand and Stars, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a 1920s-era French pilot who flew the mail over Spain, France and North Africa. So many books, so little time …

Monday, October 6, 2008

One Million Can Do Something Now

Wanna do something to help make a difference in hurting people’s lives? Make a donation to onemillioncan, a movement rooted in the belief that a little from each person can add up to a lot. In 2007 a group of college students did just that and generated more than $1 million for a variety of causes worldwide.

The movement has expanded to include not only college students -- now anyone can contribute to the cause of their choice, including clean water for African villages, freedom for sex slaves in India, sustainable villages for Ugandan refugees, Bibles for people in Southeast Asia, life-altering surgeries for children in Central America, homes for former child soldiers in Uganda, and recorded Scripture for African and Arabic people.

Go to for details.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Single Life

Questions one tends to hear from friends and relatives as one remains romantically unaffiliated throughout his 20s and 30s:

“You ain’t married yet?”

“You seein' anybody?”

“Why ain’t you married yet?”

“Not even any prospects?”

"When you gone find you a good woman and get married?"

And the implicit “What’s wrong with you?"

It’s not that I don’t want to be married. It’s not that I subscribe to the view of George Clooney’s character, Everett McGill, in the movie O Brother Where Art Thou? – “A woman is the most fiendish instrument of torture ever devised to bedevil the days of man.” Not at all. But I also don’t chase after marriage just because society says it’s the thing I’m “supposed” to do.

Sure, marriage and kids and a house in the suburbs are part of the good old American dream, and raising a family is a noble thing. But I believe God is directing my life, and so far that direction has not included marriage. I believe God has some specifically defined purposes for me (and for every person who will seek and submit to Him). In his bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren did a great job of outlining God’s purposes – worship, fellowship, discipleship, service and mission – and encouraging each reader to figure out how God wants him or her to uniquely achieve those purposes.

I believe Jeremiah 29:11, where God says, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” I hope those plans include a wife, one who loves God and with whom I can spend my life serving Him.

But if that’s not part of the plan, fine by me. Because there’s more to life than “happiness” here during my short time on earth. There’s a whole eternity, and it’s begun already with lasting peace and joy in a relationship with my heavenly Father.


P.S. to the above blog: There’s a great movie in theatres now about marriage and commitment, Fireproof, starring Kirk Cameron. Highly recommended – see for details.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Going MAD

On October 17 I will leave for Cape Town, South Africa, where I will spend nine weeks volunteering with Living Hope, a ministry that my local church supports and partners with. Living Hope’s stated mission is 1) to spread the good news of Jesus Christ in a life-changing way and to encourage people to follow Him; 2) to play a vital role in the prevention, care, treatment and support of people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS and other chronic illnesses; and 3) to undertake the development and promotion of community health through educational and health-related programs. I will also spend some time with one of Living Hope’s sister ministries, Living Grace, which serves the homeless in the town of Muizenberg.

I suspect some of my friends are wondering, why leave a paying job and travel thousands of miles for a non-paying one, even if it’s only for a temporary period? And if you want to care for the sick and the poor, why can’t you just do it here in the U.S. in your spare time? True enough, I certainly can, and I should at every opportunity. But this special opportunity will allow me to devote more time and energy to the effort. And please understand, I’m not doing it for accolades, and I’m not writing about it to draw attention to myself. God has been good to me and I simply want to share that love with others, in word and in deed.

Regardless of where we are, Jesus’ followers are called to live out their faith – to put into practice His commands to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and “to love your neighbor as yourself.” That mandate forms the core of LowCountry Community Church’s mission program, and LCC's goal is for every one of us to go “MAD” – that is, to Make A Difference in the lives of people we touch. (Incidentally, I believe we are called to make a difference as individuals, rather than leaving the job to the government, as some politicians would have us do.)

John Thomas, the visionary founder of Living Hope, visited LCC last January and delivered a sermon that made a difference in my own thinking, prompting me to pursue this return to South Africa after first going there on a mission trip in September 2007. (That's one of teammates, Jen Harsta, pictured above – the image is one of my favorites from the trip.) Pastor John challenged his listeners to not just talk about caring for the poor, but to do something, citing God’s words through the prophet Isaiah – “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke … to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter .. to clothe [the naked]” (Isaiah 55:6-7).

Interestingly, almost immediately upon returning home after my two weeks in Africa last year, I came across the band Caedmon’s Call's just-released CD, Overdressed, and was stunned to find it included a song titled ... Two Weeks in Africa! It’s about a girl who goes on a mission trip – a trip that sounded much like my own experience – but when she came home, she got caught up in everyday life and almost forgot about the experience. The song played a big role in keeping the trip seared into my consciousness, along with the possibility of a longer return stay. Its lyrics are displayed below.

Two Weeks in Africa

By Andrew Osenga/Caedmon's Call

Johannesburg to Cape Town
The plane had barely touched down
She was taking photos for her friends back home
This was always where she felt her heart belonged
She was finally here
The sky was bright and clear

Two weeks
And we all can feel the calling
Two weeks
To make the world a little smaller
And so a girl got on a plane
For two weeks in Africa

Johannesburg to Houston
She came home on a mountain
But school was starting, things kept moving on
Before you knew it, seven years had gone
She found a picture of her, standing, smiling
Arms around the starving kids
She swore to not forget
She swore to not forget

Two weeks
And we all can feel the calling
Two weeks
To make the world a little smaller
And so a girl got on a plane
For two weeks in Africa

And if we follow our dear sun
To where the stars are not familiar
Faces turn to numbers
Numbers fall like manna from the sky
Why, oh why?
Oh Father, why?

One village in Malawi now has water running pure and clean
One church alive in Kenya 's full of truth and love and medicine
We put the walls up, but Jesus keeps them standing
He doesn't need us, but He lets us put our hands in
So we can see, His love is bigger than you and me

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Walk in the Woods

I'm feeling nice and refreshed after a long weekend of backpacking in the hills of western North Carolina. Breathing in fresh mountain air, rock-hopping over fast-flowing streams, drinking in 360-degree views from 6,000 feet, and sharing it all with a group of guys I love like brothers - good times.

Thanks to Pastor Brian Rose of LowCountry Community Church for leading the excursion and making sure we had some discussions that ran deeper than a backpacker's frying pan. Using Jesus' Sermon on the MOUNT, Brian devised a study that helped us learn some essential qualities of a MOUNTain Man. I think we all came away feeling closer to God, and closer to one another. And there was plenty of time in between to laugh and act like 5-year-old boys, which we did our fair share of as well.

See below for a few snapshots of this memorable time in the wilderness.

MOUNTain Men

Pisgah National Forest, Transylvania County, North Carolina

From left: The Right Rev. Rev. Brian Rose, Jamie "The Pirate" Bodie, Doug "I Guarantee You That's Being Honest" Bleam, me, Shannon "Fire Master" Shea. Not pictured: Jeff "My BFF" Armstrong.

Posing on the East Fork of the Pigeon River

Lunch break!

Jeff and Doug practice for the Scottish Highland Games

Jeff and Doug practice Leave No Trace ethics