Sunday, August 30, 2009

At a Crossroads

Working for Living Hope is giving me a first-hand look at the ideological gap between the administrations of President Barack Obama and his predecessor. George W. Bush’s PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief) initiative supported the Living Hope Prevention department, which provides life skills education in public schools and after-school children’s clubs in six Cape townships and informal settlements.

Obama has keep PEPFAR in place, but as of October 1, Living Hope will no longer benefit from its $300,000-plus annual contribution. Why? One word: Abstinence. Living Hope teaches sexual abstinence as the only guaranteed way to avoid sexually transmitted HIV. And that’s a position the current administration says it cannot support.

Impoverished South African children live in an environment where men have multiple sexual partners, and where women often give their bodies to these men in exchange for food. These kids see adults with no motivation to work and no hope outside of a 40-ounce bottle of beer. They see fathers and boyfriends beating their mothers. There’s a very real battle of good versus evil. If groups like Living Hope disappear, then evil gets the upper hand and thousands of kids suffer.

If Living Hope doesn’t secure replacement funds for the Life Skills operation very soon, the children it serves will no longer hear about values like responsibility, love, respect, integrity and service. They’ll no longer enjoy a daily snack like vegetable soup and fruit (often the best meal they get all day). They’ll no longer have an outlet to sing, dance, play sports and escape what is, for many, a difficult home life. And they’ll no longer hear about a loving God who can transform their lives for eternity.

It’s a long-standing debate, the question of abstinence versus “safe” sex. Abstinence proponents are accused of ignoring reality – i.e., “The kids are going to do it anyway …” But God’s laws continue to stand regardless of whether man agrees. Throughout the Bible, it’s clear that God intended sex only for the boundaries of a marriage relationship. When those boundaries are broken, serious consequences occur.

In a men’s Bible study I attended earlier this year, the question was posed, “How would the world be different if there were no sex outside of marriage?” The picture that results is startling. Think about it – there would be:
  • fewer broken relationships
  • no adultery
  • fewer unplanned pregnancies
  • fewer abortions
  • lower STD rates, including HIV and AIDS
  • and as one wise guy pointed out, country singers would be hurting for subject matter

Living Hope will not compromise its abstinence message, even at the cost of losing thousands of dollars in funding. If God wants this program to continue – and everyone involved here believes He does – then He will provide the means for it to happen.

If you would like to be part of the solution, go to for more information.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Triumphant over Trash

Another victory at Red Hill: On Wednesday we designated our after-school program “Save the Planet Day” and sent the kids out with trash bags to clean up the community. I’ve never seen anyone so excited about picking up rubbish. They took the area by storm, filling near two-dozen bags in less than an hour.

The lesson this week was on Nehemiah and the Israelites working together to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Save the Planet was an opportunity for the kids to apply the teamwork lesson, as well as the mandate, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

Clearly, litter is a universal practice, so hopefully the effort set an example to the adults in the community as well.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Facing Our Giants

Spending day after day in a poverty-stricken community can be discouraging work. Sometimes one can’t help but wonder: “Are we really making a difference?” But God gives well-timed victories that help keep us going.

Such was the case at Red Hill last week. Attendance had been down at the Children’s Clubs, so on Wednesday we decided to do something special by showing a movie, complete with popcorn. The film was Facing the Giants, the David-vs-Goliath story of a high school football team that overcomes its stronger opponents when it starts trusting and playing for God.

On a day when we typically might have 40 to 50 children, 75 came to see the movie. They paid attention from start to finish. They cheered during the scene where students pray and give their hearts to God. And at the end, when the undersized kicker makes a state championship-winning field goal, they let out a roar that could be heard throughout the community.

That a low-budget movie produced by a church in small-town Georgia (Albany’s Sherwood Baptist) can captivate a group of attention-deficit kids in a South African shantytown – this can only be the work of God. I wanted to shout “Go Dawgs” at UGA coach Mark Richt’s cameo appearance in the film. But the more appropriate cheer for the day would be, “Go God.”

There’s a great lesson woven throughout the movie. By the end, I realized it was as much for me as it was for the kids: Give your very best effort, do it for God, and trust Him to do the rest.

The Faith of a Child

Intercessory prayer is a key component in a missionary’s life. I have no doubt that God hears and acts on the prayers of my family and friends back in the U.S., and I am hugely grateful that these people care enough to remember me in their conversations with the Father.

I want to say a special thank-you to 3-year-old Addison Powell for her prayers. Last spring Addy’s parents, Willy and Janet, graciously allowed me to stay in their bonus room when renters moved into my own house. Now that I’m in South Africa, Willy says I may be the most prayed-for person in the world. In a recent email, he wrote: “Before Addy goes to bed – naps and at night – she always asks to pray for Mr. Al. Considering she makes multiple trips into and out of her room before going to sleep, each with a prayer for you, you ought to be covered.”

How’s that for an encouraging word? Thanks also to Delaney Powell (Addy’s older sister), Hannah and Madison Taylor, and Maggie Faciszewski, all youngsters of great faith who I know are praying for me. I love you all (and anyone else that I haven't mentioned here)! Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as there. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:14-15).

African Warning Sign

A "beware" you won't find in any wilderness in the U.S.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Whale-come Back

The whales have returned to Cape Town. Southern Right Whales migrate to the South African coast around this time each year, and sightings are a daily occurrence. The one pictured here was frolicking in False Bay just off of Fish Hoek Beach on Wednesday.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

8 Great Things about Cape Town …

1. 70 degrees, sun, and no humidity
2. The sweet harmonies of African gospel music
3. Antelope – in the wild and on the dinner plate
4. The Cape of Good Hope (pictured above)
5. Movie, popcorn and a Coke for less than $6
6. Lekker, the Afrikaans word for nice. e.g., “Have a lekkah day, my bru!”
7. A passion for rugby that rivals that of college football in the South
8. People of great faith in the Lord Jesus

… and 8 Not-So-Great Things about Cape Town

1. HIV and AIDS
2. Beggars on seemingly every street corner
3. Overcrowded living conditions
4. Puff adders.
5. African time, i.e., nothing ever starts or ends when it's supposed to
6. Bone-chilling cold and sideways rain
7. Crime, crime and more crime
8. People with no hope for a better existence

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hey Mr. Tambourine Man

Item No. 837 on the list of “Odd and Random Experiences of Life in South Africa”: Today my use of a tambourine led to a woman being ejected from the homeless shelter where I spend four mornings a week. Before breakfast and lunch each day, we sing songs of worship and hear a short message from the Bible. Most days there's no musical accompaniment, so I’ll bang the tambourine to at least keep a semblance of a beat. This time as I sat on the back row and played, a lady turned around, looked straight at me and said, “SHUT … UP!”

I was startled but kept on playing. She glared at me again, then when the song was over, she shouted to the manager (who was leading the singing), “Can we stop the tambourine? I hate the noise!” He told her if she disrupted again, he would ask her to leave. “You don’t have to ask me! I’ll go on my own!” she said. She gathered her belongings and stomped toward the door, then stopped for one last word aimed at me: “At least I won’t have to hear his tambourine anymore!”

The manager told me later that this woman tends to make trouble when she’s been drinking, and that was likely the case today.

Obviously you can’t please everybody. Not even at a homeless shelter on a cold rainy day …

Sunday, August 9, 2009


There’s a Xhosa kid in Red Hill named KweKwe. I knew him a little when I was here last year and I’ve gotten to know him a bit more this time. He’s only maybe 9 or 10, but he’s a hardened child. You can see it in his face. I don’t know any details of his home life, but he's clearly harboring a lot of anger and pain. Living Hope has a rule at Children’s Club that if kids fight, they get one time-out; if they fight again, they go home for the day. KweKwe has been sent home on more than one occasion.

Underneath all that anger and pain is a softer side and a longing to be loved. One afternoon a few weeks ago, I was sitting next to KweKwe while my friend Mzo was teaching the day’s lesson. I had to get up for some reason that I can’t recall now. When I came back, another boy had taken my spot. KweKwe elbowed him and demanded that he move over so I could sit back down. I sat and put my arm around KweKwe, and he spent the rest of the lesson quietly listening and clinging to my arm.

No words were exchanged between us, but just spending those few minutes next to KweKwe made me realize how vulnerable and afraid he really is. And he’s not the only one. The things so many of these kids are exposed to at home and throughout the community – alcohol and drug abuse, parents fighting (or parents and their girlfriends/boyfriends fighting), a general sense of hopelessness – make those couple of hours at Children’s Club each day a refuge for them.

At such a young age, a child’s life can go in either direction, up or down. In these circumstances, the odds are stacked against them going up. But where there’s Christ, there’s hope – living hope, according to the verse that inspired the name of the NGO that has done so much to shine light into these dark places around Cape Town. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead …” (1 Peter 1:3).

I pray that such hope can continue to be spread in Red Hill and the other townships and settlements where Living Hope works. For more information on how to help support this vital work – which desperately needs funding to continue in 2010 – please visit


I took a tour through an ugly side of Cape Town’s past yesterday. The Cultural History Museum is housed in a 330-year-old building called the Old Slave Lodge. Many of the exhibits focus on the horrific living conditions residents endured before slavery was abolished in 1834. The display pictured here describes the equally deplorable conditions experienced on ships en route to the Cape.

Garden Spot

Company’s Garden is one of the loveliest spots in all of Cape Town. A public park, it dates to 1648, when the Dutch East India Company established it as a fruit and vegetable garden for their ships as they passed between Europe and the East.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Unwelcome Houseguest

Read the local newspapers around Cape Town and very quickly you’ll gather that baboon-human interactions are an ongoing issue. Particularly in the more rural areas, the primates tend to wander onto residential properties and cause all kind of havoc – tearing up gardens, getting into rubbish bins, and sometimes even raiding homes for food.

I wasn’t home to witness it, but yesterday one of these “break-ins” occurred at the bed-and-breakfast where I’m temporarily housed. The B&B owner said he walked into the kitchen around mid-afternoon and found a baboon helping himself to a bowl of fruit. He was even so brash as to peel a banana and leave the remains on the floor! Fortunately he left without incident, which apparently doesn’t always happen, as these “cute” creatures can bare their teeth and become pretty ferocious.

The really shocking thing to me is that it’s not like this was out in the wild – the B&B is located one block off the main street in town in a densely populated neighborhood. Most baboons are part of a troop, but it seems this fellow was acting on his own – the B&B owner said the wildlife authorities told him they are quite familiar with this particular baboon but just haven’t been able to corrall him yet.

As the saying goes, “This is Africa.”

Sunday, August 2, 2009

South African Splendor

One of the many reasons I love Cape Town is the spectacular scenery and the many opportunities for exploring it on foot. Saturday I hiked up to a rock formation called the Elephant’s Eye and was rewarded with these views of the surrounding mountains and the valley below.

Men of the Banner

In Boston’s Banknorth Garden, 17 championship banners hang from the rafters, signifying the Celtics’ unparalleled success in the National Basketball Association. When opposing teams come to town, the reminder of their host’s dominance is literally hanging over them. With a championship history like that on display, opponents can’t help feeling a little awed – perhaps even defeated – before the opening tipoff.

Men have always used banners to signify who they belong to, where they are from, and who they have been victorious over. In World War II, fighter planes displayed the American flag along with small banners denoting the enemy planes they had shot down. We proudly sing our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. Old Glory reminds the world of our identity as Americans and our heritage of courage and victory.

The Bible talks about banners, too. In the 17th chapter of Exodus, the story is told of Joshua and the Israelites’ victory over the Amalekite army. The chapter concludes as follows: “After the victory, the Lord instructed Moses, ‘Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.’ Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-nissi (which means ‘the Lord is my banner’)” (NLT).

The Lord is also referred to as a banner in Isaiah 11:10, which says, “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.”

If you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, then He is your banner. Even though sin and death are still present in our world, you can live a victorious life in Him, because He has already defeated those things. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus said. “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

When a college football team runs onto the field before a game, a cheerleader or mascot often leads the charge. And what are they carrying as they run? A banner that prominently displays the team’s name or logo. Members of God’s family, wherever we go we have Jesus, the triumphant Lord of all the universe, going before us as our banner. As Psalm 16:8 says, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

Jimmy Taylor, one of my fellow church members from back home, has developed a learning curriculum and a soon-to-be completed book on this topic. The intent is to help Christian men understand who they are in Jesus Christ, to understand the power and authority they have over evil, and to claim the freedom from sin that they already have in Christ – and then to share those truths with their families and communities. If you would like more information on these Men of the Banner resources, email me at