Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving, Part 1

For the second year in a row, I celebrated Thanksgiving Day in South Africa. Since South Africans have no reason to celebrate the first harvest in America, the holiday goes by unnoticed by most people around here. But thanks to Mike and Pam Talley, Living Hope’s volunteer coordinators, all of the American volunteers (along with a few from Canada and Australia) get the day off from work and gather for a traditional feast of turkey with all the fixings.

It’s nice to enjoy a taste of home during such a uniquely American holiday. We even had football – the Talleys had recorded Monday night’s game between the Titans and the Texans – and after-dinner naps. Like all of my colleagues here, I miss home at times, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve God in Cape Town. A few other things I’m grateful for are:

• God’s love and grace
• My mother
• My friends, both American and South African
• The prayers, encouragement and financial support of friends, relatives and my church family back home
• Ample clothing, food and shelter
• The fact that I am thousands of miles away from the commercial madness of after-Thanksgiving sales

Thanksgiving, Part 2

Completely unrelated to the American holiday, Living Hope held its own version of Thanksgiving on Friday, an end-of-year chapel service to reflect and express gratitude to God for what He has done in 2009 and prior years.

Pastor John Thomas, chairman of Living Hope, spoke of how 10 years ago this week, the seed was planted for the ministry to begin. John had attended a meeting of local pastors, where he received information on the local HIV rate that moved him to begin seeking to help and share the Gospel of Christ with those infected. He also spoke of how five years ago, on this very day, the 22-bed Health Care Centre was officially opened. And he spoke of how the Living Hope umbrella has expanded to include a homeless ministry, Living Grace, and an economic empowerment ministry, Living Way.

Considering that 2009 has been a particularly challenging year for Living Hope – most notable was the loss of more than $300,000 in funding from the American government – it was really inspiring to hear the organization collectively proclaim, “God is good, all the time,” regardless of the circumstances.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


I’ve written about my friend Craig on this blog before, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that I learned his story in detail.

Craig, now 22, grew up in Capricorn, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town. When he was 15, Craig was walking down the street a block from his house when he was mistaken by gangsters for someone they had a vendetta on. Nine bullet wounds later, Craig was in the hospital, where he remained for nearly three years (“exactly 1,000 days,” he calculated when he was finally released).

Craig is one of the sweetest, most gentle souls I’ve ever met. He still lives at home and is able to generate some income by making greeting cards at Living Grace, a day center for the homeless and destitute. He figures if he had never been shot, he likely would have ended up in gangster life himself. When I asked if he had forgiven the guys who shot him, he said – without hesitation – yes.

When Craig was in the hospital, he said he looked around and saw many people in worse shape than he was, and he determined to be thankful for what he still had, including the use of his hands. Had he not been injured, he says, “I never would have met all the people at Living Grace. I never would have met you.”

Wow. Talk about putting things in perspective and appreciating what you have.


The dog in the foreground of the above photo lives in Red Hill and goes by the name Totsi (South African for gangster or thug). Like so many of the children in Red Hill, Totsi shows up every day at our afternoon Kids Club. I have no idea who owns him or where lives; he’s just always there.

Totsi doesn’t always get the love he deserves. When I arrived in July, he had a scar behind his neck where someone had stabbed him. Occasionally I’ll catch one of the kids kicking or smacking him, no doubt because that’s what they’ve learned from the adults. I love animals, so Totsi knows he’s found a friend in me, and I always encourage the kids to be his friend too.

It occurs to me that Totsi is representative of the people of Red Hill. He’s a little rough around the edges, but he has so much potential for love and faithfulness if he’s just given a little love himself. Like Totsi, the Red Hill residents endure a hard life. They are mired in poverty and other social ills. Some of them aren’t always easy to love, but that’s what they’re crying out for. A lot of Christ-followers are working in Red Hill to offer it to them – because that’s what Jesus would do and it’s by His presence that they’ll be transformed.

Please don’t misunderstand – I’m not calling the people of Red Hill dogs. I’m simply observing that they are among the least, the last and the lost that Christ gave His life for. It’s often those people who are in the best position to humbly receive His life-changing love. “But many who are first will be last,” Jesus said, “and many who are last will be first.”

As Paul told the believers at Corinth: “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).


Nearly every weekday afternoon after work, I drive my colleague Mzo to his home in Masiphumelele Township. Masi is home to 20,000-plus residents, mostly Xhosa-speaking transplants from South Africa’s rural Eastern Cape, located some 10-12 hours away. People come to live in Masi and other poor townships because Cape Town is perceived as the land of opportunity, a place offering jobs and a better life.

The reality is there are too many people and too few jobs, which results in throngs of day laborers waiting by the road each day, beggars at stop lights, and rampant crime. Despite the problems, however, Masi is a vibrant and colorful community, especially in the late afternoon when I make my way through there. Music blares from homes and businesses. The aroma of sheep heads and stomachs, and who-knows-what-else cooking on makeshift grills, fills the air. Pedestrians choke the streets, oblivious to passing traffic (including the mini-bus taxis, which rarely slow down for anyone).

When it comes to vehicle-pedestrian interactions, I’ve tried to adopt the attitude that this is their home, not mine, and if the culture dictates that it’s OK to walk in the street, I’ll just go with the flow. Mzo encourages me to use the horn, or “hooter,” as it’s known in South Africa. “It’s the only way you will get anywhere,” he says. “It’s the only language my people know.” But to me it’s just another part of the diverse culture that makes Cape Town so interesting.

LCC Mission Team

Enjoying the South African sun

Ministering to the ladies of Red Hill
Preparing the site for Mzo’s future home

Chopping vegetables and leading craft activities at Living Grace

Singing of how wide and deep and long and high God’s love is

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ripple Effect

When people give of themselves – their time, their money, their energy – it’s amazing to see the impact. This past week I’ve witnessed such an impact, thanks to a selfless group of people from LowCountry Community Church in Bluffton, South Carolina.

LCC sent a team of 13 to Cape Town, where they have partnered with Living Hope to serve the Red Hill community in all sorts of ways, including health tests, meals, home visits, prayer, and men’s and women’s games and crafts.

Beyond that, they brought a considerable amount of clothing and shoes for a homeless shelter, medical supplies and cash for a health care center, and money for one of my Living Hope colleagues to build a living space in Red Hill, so that he can spend more time with these people whom he is so passionate about serving and helping.

The team is the face of LCC in Cape Town, but countless others back home are part of the effort as well. They have held up this team in prayer, raised and contributed money, and donated clothing and supplies. As LCC mission pastor Joe Friesen said, people here have touched by people back home who may never see each other until they meet in heaven.

I’m blessed to be here so that I do get to see the impact: out-of-work and hungry people being strengthened by encouraging words and prayer; 50-plus women packed into a tiny church, smiling, laughing and crying as they celebrate the truth of God’s love for them; a dirt-poor couple being surprised by a visit to sing Happy Birthday and present a cake to the husband.

It’s cool to be part of a church that fosters such an attitude of selfless service and Christ-like love – and to see it on display halfway around the world. Like a pebble tossed into a pond, these acts of love create a ripple effect that I’m confident will last long after this team goes home next week.

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

Sometimes the sad stories can be almost overwhelming. I heard one this week that broke my heart. Fortunately it doesn’t have a tragic ending – at least not yet.

This week a 19-year-old girl showed up at one of our after-school programs in Red Hill. I had met this young woman once before, but otherwise had never seen her, so I asked a local pastor what her story was.

He said she was recently dumped by a boyfriend and had attempted to end her life with a drug overdose. She comes from a broken home, so a family in Red Hill has taken her in and is caring for her as if she were their own daughter. (A remarkable story in itself, considering that most people in Red Hill are so poor they can barely feed their own families.)

Sadly, this girl is not alone in her pursuit of fruitless relationships. Ingrained in the culture here is a system in which men, using what little money they have, provide food and clothing to young ladies (and older ones, too) in exchange for sex. The consequences are predictable, yet still shocking. Besides the emotional train wrecks, there are devastating physical effects. Because these guys often have multiple partners, and any one of them could have HIV, the disease spreads like wildfire. And there are many unplanned pregnancies that result in children who have no chance of growing up with a responsible father.

Working in such a culture always feels like an uphill battle, so I have to break it down into a mentality of “one day, one step, at a time,” praying and trusting that God will have His way and bring transformation to people’s hearts and ultimately the entire community.

And I do see Him at work. On Tuesday at our weekly “Teen Club” – where we teach that fulfillment is found not in boyfriends and girlfriends, but only in the living God who loves us with an everlasting love – we had a solid turnout of nearly 20 kids. Some days they’re less attentive than others, but on this day they were tuned in to our guest speaker, 23-year-old Morgan Eddington from LowCountry Community Church. Morgan shared a brutally honest message about his life before and after he met Jesus as his savior, and how he and his fiancĂ© have pledged abstinence until they are married in two years. The room was quiet and the kids were clearly affected by the seriousness of the subject matter.

Morgan has been a huge asset to the LCC team all week, but even if God brought him to Cape Town only to share this one message, he did his job and he did it well.

Friday, November 6, 2009


South Africa has a huge problem with crime. The country has great numbers of unemployed people, and they are hungry and desperate. There are also countless souls addicted to various substances, and they too will do anything to feed their habit. None of this excuses crime; it’s just an observation on the state of things. Hunger and substance abuse aren't the only reasons behind crime, but they play a significant role.

I knew all this when I arrived here and I see it in the headlines every day. I try to be vigilant, to watch my back wherever I go, but I often wondered if I would make it an entire year without being victimized. I didn’t.

Yesterday my laptop was stolen. From a homeless center. While I was in the next room teaching a Bible study. My car was vandalized a few years ago, and just like back then, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. The interesting thing is, the Bible study was on Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, and in particular His instruction to turn the other cheek and love our enemies.

I was trying hard to do that, but I must confess: I was (to quote Larry the Cable Guy) “madder than a one-legged waitress at the IHOP.” Like Linus’s security blanket, my laptop was familiar and comfortable and it went everywhere with me. It’s not that I’m into high-tech gadgetry – it’s just that it was the storehouse for a lot of work and photos and music that were dear to me. Fortunately I had run a backup to an external drive in September, so I won’t lose too much information.

Really, the most painful part of all this is the circumstances under which it happened. I’m 99 percent sure I know who did it, a guy who had been coming to the shelter for the past week or so. He was helping out in the kitchen and seemed like a nice enough guy, but he was also extremely quiet and no one really knew much about him. In hindsight, I think he had been watching me work on Thursday morning, which meant he saw me put the laptop in my backpack and store the pack under a desk and behind a chair. The thief only took the laptop, so whoever took it knew exactly where to look for it.

On the positive side, a lot of the other homeless and “street people” at the shelter were livid and have rallied around me. One guy even vowed that I would see the thief again, "when he’s in the hospital.” (I had to remind this fellow about the loving-your-enemy thing we had just discussed.)

The bigger issue here is the same thing that’s at the heart of every crime and conflict, the source of all the bad news we hear about on a daily basis. It’s the age-old attitude of “me first.” Somebody wants something for themselves, because self is who every one of us naturally seeks to serve. It’s simply played out in various ways through every individual, some worse than in others.

Jesus turned that thinking on its head and said God’s design for living is “God first, others first.” As Matthew recorded it, “Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22: 37-39).

In the wake of such a disheartening turn of events, I pray that my actions will match my profession to believe this.

Help Needed

I haven’t mentioned Living Hope’s need for additional funding in a while, but I hope anyone who reads this doesn’t take that as an indication that all the support has been raised. It has not.

But rather than move to discontinue the Life Skills education program in 2010, the Living Hope trustees have decided that everyone throughout the organization will take a pay cut so that the LSE staff can indeed continue with their vital work. The thinking is that Living Hope is a family, and when one part of the family suffers, everyone suffers and rallies to help those most affected.

Still, to keep Life Skills alive even with the across-the-board pay cut, more outside funding is needed. To learn the background behind this shortfall, please see my blog entitled “At a Crossroads,” located at For more details on becoming a partner in this venture, see