Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mama Pat

Every year Living Hope hosts dozens of volunteers from various parts of the world and for various lengths of time. Many of them are younger – at present we have seven under age 30, plus a 33-year-old, plus me, at 41 the old man of the group. And then we have Pat Ball, aka Mama Pat, who watches over us all.

Pat is a sweet, caring, God-fearing woman from Asheville, North Carolina. She's given nearly four years of her retirement years serving with Living Hope. When I came to Cape Town the first time, in September 2007, Pat was the volunteer coordinator. We had spent the previous six months emailing about details of my church’s impending mission trip. When I finally arrived, I felt like I had known her all my life. I remember her introducing me to a South African friend of hers at church one Sunday and the woman looked at Pat and said, “He talks funny like you!”

Indeed, Pat has a great Southern accent, which is just one of the many hospitable attributes that make the rest of us volunteers feel at home. Pat is now the executive assistant to Living Hope’s general manager, but she believes her calling is also to serve as mother to the volunteers, particularly the younger ones (and me – this wonderful woman has even offered to iron my clothes, a task I loathe with every fiber of my being).

So Mama Pat opens her home to us with a standing invitation to drop in anytime. She offers counsel, prayer, and whatever other comfort and encouragement is necessary. She’s currently leading a Thursday night Bible study, which is a great blessing to us because of her knowledge of God’s Word and her graceful way of communicating it. And did I mention she irons my clothes?

I greatly miss my dear mother back home – as I’m sure my fellow volunteers do with their own families – so I’m grateful for this very special lady we call Mama Pat.

Contrasts

Cape Town’s many mountain peaks offer breathtaking views of the peninsula and surrounding waters. They also reveal just how close some of the area’s richest and poorest are to one another.

In the foreground of the above photo, multimillion-dollar estates – complete with pools, tennis courts and horse stables – grace the village of Noordhoek. Not more than a mile or so across the wetlands is the township of Masiphumelele (it’s the dense cluster of homes just beyond the water in the far left of the photo). Masi is home to some 25,000 to 30,000 people crammed into tiny brick homes and aluminum shacks.

Viewing this scene from the top of 2,400-foot Noordhoek Peak, I was reminded of something I posted on this blog when I was here a year ago. I’m posting it again, because it certainly still applies:

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 Living Grace homeless center, 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 angry 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

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

A few weeks ago I stopped at a convenience store to get a bottle of water. A TV behind the counter was showing a report on the recent wedding of Bryan Habana, a star player for the Springboks, the South African national rugby team.

“It’s just not right,” the clerk said as I paid for my drink. “Excuse me?” I replied. “It’s not right,” she said. “Whites and non-whites should not marry.”

Habana, you see, is coloured – that is, he's a native South African of mixed heritage – and his new wife is white. And that clearly did not sit well with the white store attendant.

I’m not na├»ve enough to think everyone has moved past such prejudices. Even among my own circle of friends, I know certain individuals who would agree with this woman. But it’s still troubling to encounter such blatant racism face to face.

On Friday night I attended a dance performance at Ocean View, a township of several thousand coloured people. As I watched the performers – from elementary school-age children all the way up to young adults – I was greatly impressed by their considerable talent and happy to know they are getting opportunities to develop it. I was also saddened to think about all the parents and grandparents who lived under Apartheid rule and, rather than being encouraged to develop their talents, were essentially told, “You’re no good and you’ll never amount to anything.”

Yesterday I got another view of South Africa's Apartheid past, thanks to a visit to Cape Town's District Six Museum. District Six had been a neighborhood of freed slaves, merchants, artisans and immigrants, but early in the 20th century they began to be removed under white rule. In 1966 the neighborhood was declared a “White Group Area” and the real demolition began, with homes and businesses being bulldozed. By 1982 more than 60,000 people had been forcibly removed from this once-vibrant community, and sent to outlying areas with far less desirable living conditions.

And it was all because they had different-colored skin and were considered “inferior.” Today it seems inconceivable that people behaved so despicably. Yet we all know that racism still exists and is far from being eradicated. I don’t know what the solution is, but I do know this: God made every one of us in His image and He did not intend for anyone to feel superior over another because of his or her skin color.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Death

There’s a guy named Christopher who comes to the Living Grace homeless facility on a fairly regular basis. I’m not sure if he has a place to stay or if he actually lives on the street, but whatever the case, his life is difficult.

Christopher has a vision problem and does not see well. His girlfriend, Laverne, went everywhere with him and was his “eyes” on the street. Tragically, Laverne was walking somewhere last Friday evening and was struck and killed by a drunk driver. She and Christopher had been at Living Grace for lunch just that afternoon. It’s been a shock to everyone there this week.

The good news is that recently Laverne had come forward during the morning devotion at Living Grace and prayed to receive Jesus as her Savior. So she’s in His presence right now, free of the pain of this world and rejoicing in her eternal life.

To us who remain, her sudden death is a sobering reminder of the fleeting nature of this life. We think, “It can’t happen to me.” But it can, and it will, one way or the other. Physical death is inevitable and we don’t know the hour when it’s coming.

Jesus told the story of a rich man who decided he would build bigger barns to store his crops. “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years,” the man told himself. “Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”

God’s response: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:19-20)

Please join me in praying for Christopher as he copes with the pain of losing someone so close to him. And if you don’t know Jesus as your Savior – please don’t delay the decision to ask him into your heart and forgive your sins.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Table Mountain High



One of many things that makes Cape Town so special is 3,600-foot Table Mountain. The city is nestled right at its base, giving it one of the world’s great backdrops for a major metropolis. The cable car ride to the top is a major tourist attraction and a lot of fun. But to me it’s even more fun to skip the cableway and hoof it up. You feel overwhelmed by the surroundings and you’re fighting gravity every step of the way, which makes the views so much more worthwhile.

Mission-Minded

King of Kings Baptist, which founded Living Hope and is my “home” church while I’m here, just celebrated its annual missions week. This small congregation (around 300 or so members, I believe) sends and supports 21 individuals and families around Africa, Asia and Europe, and supports another dozen or so mission organizations. They’ve got it right in following Jesus’ command to “be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The world is hungry for the spiritual fulfillment and eternal life that only Jesus can provide. The guest speaker at this morning’s worship service, Willie Crew of the World Missions Centre in Pretoria, South Africa, told an amazing story of two missionaries who were traveling through Iran with a carload of Bibles. Negotiating a treacherous mountain road, their steering locked up and they screeched to a halt before tumbling down a cliff.

As they were assessing the situation, a Iranian man showed up and asked, “Where are the books?” They figured they were really in trouble now – you just don’t bring Bibles into such a hard-line Islamic country. But the man starting telling a story of how Jesus appeared to him in a dream the night before. The Lord told him, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) and the man instantly converted from Islam to Christ-follower. Then, he said, Jesus told him to go down the mountain the next day and he would be given Bibles to bring back and share with his village.

This event cannot be explained as mere coincidence. The living God wants lost people to know Him and He is using His people to make that happen. Mission work is not just for a special few with some unique calling. It’s for anyone who calls Christ their Lord and Savior and it’s to be done everywhere – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), and people need to know how to do that.

Stomach-Building Exercise

The Living Hope LSE (Life Skill Educator) staff was given this past Friday off to use as a team-building day. The group was given R100 per person (about $13) and the freedom to choose the activity to spend it on.

They chose a buffet lunch. At first this puzzled me a bit, but once I was there, I understood. It seems all-you-can-eat buffets are not common in South Africa. (Even free refills on coffee and soda are rare.) So when we visited the restaurant (located in some far-flung suburb of Cape Town), my South African co-workers took full advantage.

The buffet opened at noon and closed at 3:00, and we stayed the entire time. Steak, chicken, calamari, pastas, salads, local African cuisine, desserts – it was all there and it was all consumed. Some people failed to pace themselves and ate so much they were miserable afterwards. The Americans in the group noted that back home, you might go to such a place, have a few plates and then leave – mission accomplished. But our friends here made an event of it, and it was fun to witness and experience. And we’ll never look at a buffet the same way again.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cape Town in Bloom


Recently I visited one of my favorite Cape Town sites, the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. The property covers 1,320 acres on the slopes of the Table Mountain range. The beauty of the indigenous plantings is stunning, as is the diversity (the Cape region is said to be home to more plants per square meter than anywhere else on earth).

Skeptics say that to believe in God and the Bible is to believe a fairy tale. I say it’s ludicrous to believe that the wonders of the natural world came into existence on their own. The Bible itself says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1).

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Encouraging Words

A few days ago my friend Mzo suggested that we need to pray more for our work in Red Hill. I agreed, so we spent some time confessing that we were trying to accomplish things in our own strength and not looking to God for help.

One of my favorite Scriptures says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Contrary to what the world says, weakness isn’t always a bad thing. When we are weak we are driven to seek God and rely on Him for strength. And that deepens our fellowship with Him and allows Him to make His greatness known.

I have no doubt that God speaks to us through other people. On this particular day, Mzo and I were introduced to a friend of a friend who asked if we could give him a ride to a nearby township. This guy turned out to be a pastor and he had heard of our work in Red Hill. As we pulled up to the house where he was going, he had an unexpected word for us: He said, “You guys need to keep praying and depending on God. You're about to see Him do great things in Red Hill.” Then, citing John the Baptist, he added: “Remember, He must become greater; you must become less” (John 3:30).

This encounter was clearly a confirmation of our prayers earlier that day.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Springtime in South Africa

Silvermine Nature Reserve, south of Cape Town.

All Aboard

Cape Town children were on spring break this week, which meant it was time for Holiday Club (akin to Vacation Bible School) in the various communities Living Hope serves. Assisted by a team from Brentwood, Tennessee, each club featured an Australian train theme, the Boomerang Express (because, as with a boomerang, life “all comes back to Jesus”).

The actual Bible lessons focused on the disciple Peter and his relationship with Jesus – leaving his job as a fisherman to follow Christ, walking on water, denying he knew the Lord after His arrest, witnessing His resurrection, and ultimately becoming an influential evangelist and church leader. Each day at our club in Red Hill, “Peter” (yours truly dressed in robe and headcloth) would show up and deliver a monologue based on that day’s story. Considering that I have no acting ability whatsoever, this was yet more evidence that with God all things are possible.

We hosted between 100 and 130 kids each day (about twice what we have during our normal after-school program), so it was a busy week, to say the least. Worship music and certain teaching segments were held in the local Apostolic Faith Mission church (pictured), but because of the numbers, we had to rotate kids to outdoor sites for crafts and additional teaching. This challenge was complicated by the fact that a steady wind of 30-35 mph blew throughout much of the week.

In typical South African fashion, the whole endeavor was barely controlled chaos. But that’s part of the fun, and as always seems to happen, things worked out fine in the end. The kids had a great time, ate well (600-plus sandwiches and at least twice that many apples, oranges and bananas) and learned what it means to be a committed Christ-follower.

On Wednesday our volunteer coordinator, Mike, came to visit the Red Hill club. When I told him I was playing the role of Peter, he said by the end of the week I would be “petered out.” And indeed I was.

Holiday Club Highlights

“Mamelani!” (Xhosa for “listen.”)

Singing “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Explaing how Jesus cooked fish and bread for Peter and some of the other disciples.

Pull out a camera and kids will flock to you.

From South Africa to the Australian Outback.