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.