Sunday, January 31, 2010

Matters of Eternal Importance

Last Wednesday I witnessed a contrast between life and death in Red Hill. First, the sad news: Two weeks prior, a young man had been electrocuted while working on a transformer box. The memorial service I attended drew an overflow crowd. A somber mood prevailed, the kind you would expect when someone so young (mid-20s) departs so suddenly.

The question was asked, as Jesus had asked, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). The pastor later told me he had seen more young men attending his church in recent weeks. The hope is that they are considering their own mortality and their relationship to the God who they too will meet one day.

The good news: Three girls experienced re-birth into eternal life in our after-school program. On Wednesday afternoon, we presented God’s plan of salvation, explaining that it’s not to enough to know about Jesus as savior, but that a decision to know Him personally is necessary. After we finished and sent the kids home, these girls, ages 9, 10 and 13, stayed behind and prayed to ask Christ into their hearts as personal lord and savior.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again,” (John 3:3). It was clear that these three girls were excited to have that new birth and guarantee of eternal life. As Pastor Jeff Cranston of LowCountry Community Church always says, seeing people come into God’s kingdom never gets old.

Home Sweet Home

To everyone at LowCountry Community Church who helped with fundraising for my friend Mzo’s house: Great progress is being made.

As I shared here last month, the desire of Mzo’s heart is to live full-time in Red Hill so he can better minister to the residents there. On Friday we took a significant step toward that by moving a collection of materials to the site where he plans to build.

The materials once formed a shack in the Masiphumelele township, where Mzo currently lives. I think most of us would view this pile of scrap wood and aluminum as, well, a pile of scrap. But I promise you, Mzo looks at it and sees a home. He’s excited, and he’s grateful to everyone who contributed to help him acquire it.

Incidentally, it took two trips to get everything to Red Hill, but the unloading process went fast, thanks to a group of eager boys who descended on us to help. It looks like Mzo’s hoped-for bonding opportunities have already begun.

Uncommon Sense

The Boy Scout motto says, “Be prepared.” It’s a logical piece of advice that you don’t even need to be a scout to adhere to. But it apparently never occurs to many of the tourists who attempt to walk up Cape Town’s Table Mountain. Officials of Table Mountain National Park do issue stern warnings of the dangers, but trouble still happens on a regular basis.

After hiking up and down the 3,600-foot mountain on Saturday, I can see why. I was astounded by some of the unprepared people I passed. Apparently they think because Table Mountain is in the middle of a city, it’s a walk in the park. The reality is that it’s a relentless uphill march that requires, at minimum, several bottles of water, solid footwear, sunscreen and a determined attitude.

Yet I saw people wearing sandals, sneakers with no laces, jeans and bathing suits. I saw people carrying single 16-ounce bottles of water and nothing else. On an 90-degree day, a hiker will exhaust that amount of water well before reaching the top. One clearly exhausted woman asked me, “Is this is the mountain that never ends?”

The best, or I should probably say worst, example was the two men (pictured above) wearing dress clothes and carrying briefcases. Perhaps they had an important business meeting at the top. Meanwhile, the woman accompanying them had apparently just rolled out of bed – she was wearing, and I am not making this up, bedroom slippers.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


I am now an automobile owner in South Africa. My good friend Pat is moving back to the U.S. and needed to sell her car, a Daewoo Matiz hatchback. “NeHi,” as Pat calls it, isn’t exactly a hotrod – it’s got only three cylinders and it labors to get up some of the hills around here. But it’s great on gas (or petrol, as South Africans call it), and owning a car should save me a few thousand dollars in the long run – I’ll no longer be shelling out $400 a month for a rental and should be able to re-sell NeHi when it’s time to go home.

NeHi is also a good reminder of what’s really important – in this case, an efficient means of getting around as opposed to a status-symbol SUV that’s so common in my home country. Here in Cape Town, these boxy little economy cars far outnumber the big gas guzzlers. I’ve yet to see a Hummer, or even a Yukon or an Expedition – and their absence is a refreshing sight.

Suiting Up

The Bible instructs God’s followers to feed and clothe the less fortunate. Living Hope does the former every day, providing sandwiches and fruit to hundreds of kids at after-school clubs around the Cape Peninsula. This week, the team in Red Hill was able to do the latter as well, handing out school uniforms to 70 kids who began a new term this month.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Take Me out to the Ballgame

I attended a historic event this weekend, the opening of Cape Town Stadium. The waterfront venue is one of 10 host sites for the 2010 soccer World Cup, which runs from June 11 to July 11. As a trial run for the eight Cup matches to be staged here, the stadium hosted a contest between Ajax and Santos, two local professional teams.

Even though my enthusiasm for soccer ranks about even with my interest in Jon and Kate Gosselin’s wretched lives, I have to admit Saturday’s match was a great “I was there” moment. Only 20,000 tickets were made available, less than one-third of capacity, but the event had the atmosphere of something much bigger. I can only imagine how loud and raucous it will be when 68,000 screaming hooligans fill the stadium for a semifinal match on July 6.

Speaking of noisy – the vuvuzela is one of many reasons I abhor soccer. With thousands of fans incessantly blowing these plastic horns, it sounds like a gigantic swarm of bees or a fleet of tugboats is on the attack. Why is this necessary? My guess is it gives bored spectators something to do while so little scoring takes place on the field.

Saturday’s game was a typical shootout, ending in a 0-0 tie after 90 minutes. There was a flurry of scoring on the penalty kicks that followed, with Santos edging Ajax (the clear favorite of the fans in attendance), 6-5. As with a NASCAR race, you could have shown up in the last 10 minutes and seen everything you needed to see.

I say, give me the University of Georgia’s Sanford Stadium on a crisp October afternoon any day. Still, Cape Town Stadium is an impressive venue in a beautiful setting, and will surely give the city some great exposure during the World Cup. And it will be kind of exciting to be in town when that happens.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Children of Faith

Emihle (pictured left) and Eletu are two of our most faithful attenders at the Red Hill Kids Club. Both are real sweethearts, very polite, grateful for the food and programs that Living Hope provides. Their mother told us the girls are adamant about praying before they go to bed each night. If they forget, she said, Eletu will soon wake up and remind her.

These girls are living examples of what Jesus taught: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 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).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Under Attack

I think I am under spiritual attack. Two months ago, my laptop – which I rely heavily on for ministry work – was stolen. Now the replacement I just bought has experienced a fatal system crash. It’s very disruptive, because I’ll have to spend hours restoring data, downloading software and whatever else must be done to make it productive again.

The Bible speaks a lot about spiritual warfare, that there’s an unseen realm in which forces of good and evil interact with humans. “Be self-controlled and alert,” the apostle Peter wrote. “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

That’s why I believe the devil is somehow behind this setback – because it’s so disruptive. The enemy will do anything he can to distract, disable or otherwise render God’s people ineffective. Skeptics scoff at such a notion, but that’s exactly what the devil wants. If you don’t believe there’s an enemy, then you won’t take steps to fight him.

I’m not going to let this turn of events defeat me. I’m even trying to rejoice in it, because James 1:2 implores us to “consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” If you too know the reality of spiritual warfare, then please help me pray that I stand up against whatever obstacles come my way here in Cape Town.

As Paul wrote, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10-12).


Red Hill experienced outages of both electricity and water this week. The water problem was bad enough, especially on Wednesday when it was blazing hot. But the power outage was even worse, because it resulted in tragedy.

Apparently the residents became so impatient at the electric company’s failure to come fix the problem, they coaxed a young man to climb the main power pole and try to do it himself. He pulled out a cable, something went wrong, and he was electrocuted while dozens of adults and children watched from below.

Certainly this guy should not have even attempted the repair. But Red Hill is often forgotten when it comes to basic services such as water, power and garbage pickup. In this case, it led to a desperate act that killed a man. So sad.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Land of Extremes

Cape Town has some of the most extreme weather I’ve ever experienced. In winter, the rain can be relentless and is often accompanied by wind that blows it sideways. But the wind doesn’t truly get cranked up until spring and summer, when the region’s infamous “Southeaster” can literally knock a man down. One day last month it blew steadily at 40mph and gusted to 50, blowing rooftops away and fanning a fire that destroyed a dozen homes in one township.

And the summer heat is oppressive. Yesterday it hit 102, with no breeze. If it’s this hot here on the coast, I can only imagine what it’s like on other parts of the continent. It makes me long for the sub-freezing temperatures that I just came from back home.

But regardless of how hot it gets, I won’t be wading into the local waters to cool off. Not after what happened on Tuesday, when a visitor from Zimbabwe was attacked by a great white shark off Fish Hoek Beach, a popular swimming spot for locals and tourists alike. That was two days ago and no sign of him has been found.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Omniscient and Omnipresent

Psalm 139 is one of my favorite psalms because it talks about intimately God knows and cares for each one of us. I know some people would prefer not to believe God is watching them all the time and thus would ignore lines like “You know when I sit and when I rise” and “You are familiar with all my ways” (vv. 2-3). But to me it’s comforting, because no matter how flawed I am, God understands me better than I understand myself – and He still loves me.

Another thing I like about this psalm is that it assures me of God’s presence wherever I go. And that’s something I really need to know as I live and work in a strange land, thousands of miles from the familiarity of home. Verses 9 and 10 say: “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.”

After more than two weeks at home for the holidays, I returned to Cape Town on Friday. As my flight approached the city, I read these words again and realized that even though I am literally on the far side of the sea, God’s hand is on me, providing both direction and protection.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Faces of Hope

A friend asked me recently, “How do you answer people who want to know why you go to Africa when so many people are in need in America?” It’s a good question and it has a two-pronged answer. First, I know Africa is specifically where God has called me for this season of my life. And second, God has other work that He is calling other people to in America.

The problem is, the American church in general is too comfortable in its lifestyle to reach out to “the least, the last and the lost,” whether it’s at home or abroad. I was really shaken by this notion in a book by Frances Chan, Crazy Love, which I highly recommend. Chan, a California pastor, pulls no punches in calling Christians to live out their faith, to love the unlovely and unloveable, to not just sit in church on Sunday but to serve our neighbors in word and deed every day of the week.

Love God, love people – that’s the essence of Jesus's Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-39) – and there’s plenty of need in every corner of the world to do that. As I return to Cape Town from a restful holiday break, I’m looking forward to continuing that work with the people He has connected me with.

The image above shows a group of boys who live in Red Hill. They face a lot of obstacles in life, but they also have much potential. My job is to help them know the living God, to help them grow stronger in that relationship, and to help them achieve their potential as the unique individuals He has made them to be. Thank you for encouraging me and praying for me as I continue this work in 2010.