Sunday, March 28, 2010

Off to Camp

Working with kids brings both disappointment and encouragement. I experienced a bit of both last week.

Students begin Easter break tomorrow and Living Hope is taking 100 6th- and 7th-graders away to camp. Red Hill was allotted 23 spaces, but we decided to bring only 16, picking the kids who attend the most and behave the best at the after-school clubs.

As I was handing out registration forms on Wednesday, two teenage boys, knowing I had extra spaces available, told me they were in Grade 7 and begged me to let them go. I thought they were in Grade 9, but they promised me they weren’t lying. After I sent them home with the registration forms, several of their classmates came up to me and said they had indeed lied.

I managed to catch one before I left and he finally admitted his dishonesty as he hung his head in shame. At first I felt anger, but that quickly melted into disappointment. “Have these kids not learned anything we’ve been teaching them?” I wondered.

When I arrived at Red Hill the next day, the other boy, Lucas, approached me and said he needed to say something. “I was dishonest about my age,” he said. “Will you forgive me?” I was still disappointed by what he had done – and told him so – but I was also encouraged that he had come forward to admit his mistake. I just hope he remembers the lesson next time he’s tempted to beat the system.

As for the camp, we’re going to a place called Wortelgat, located in the mountains about two hours east of Cape Town. I’m told it’s a real wilderness-type experience, and I’m just as excited as the kids. I’ll report back and post photos when we return later in the week.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Who's the Baas?

More than 15 years after South Africa’s apartheid system ended, racism still endures. Inequality between whites and non-whites is clear, particularly in the workforce, where the majority of blacks work menial jobs, if they can find a job at all.

Every morning when I head to work, I pass a convenience store about a block from my house. Lining the sidewalk in front of this store are dozens of black men hoping to get picked up for day labor. Invariably when I pass by, they each hold up an index finger, indicating their services are available to me. They see a white guy and naturally assume I have the power to employ them.

What really frustrates me is when I meet a black man – say, a parking attendant, for example – and he calls me “baas” (i.e., Afrikaans for “boss”). This is a holdover apartheid-era term that recognizes a non-white’s subservience to the man in authority. Whenever someone calls me this, I tell him, “I’m not your boss. You and I are equals.”

Today I had an interesting encounter with a guy begging for money at a stop light (a daily sight at intersections around Cape Town). Even though my black friend Mzo was with me, this guy approached my side of the car to ask for a handout , assuming that only the white guy would have money to spare.

But I said, “Ask him” and pointed at Mzo. This clearly stumped him – he studied Mzo for a second, mumbled something in Xhosa and moved on to the next car. Mzo burst out laughing, and then translated: “He said, ‘Very clever.’” The guy no doubt had never asked for or received money from a black person.

I certainly don’t have the answers to this complex issue of racism. Nearly half a century has passed since blacks won civil rights in America, yet racism lingers there. So it’s probably unreasonable to expect it to be eradicated in less time in South Africa. Still, I wish people wouldn’t assume I’m the baas just because of the color of my skin.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Give Blood, Play Rugby

When I read the sports pages in South Africa, I feel like I’m looking at a foreign language. Cricket, rugby and soccer are all sports I have little understanding of. Of the three, I’ve found rugby the most interesting, because I can somewhat equate it to American football.

This weekend I got to experience my first rugby match in person. The Stormers, one of two professional teams in Cape Town, hosted the Cheetahs of Bloemfontain. The most impressive thing to me was the toughness these guys display as they go after each other at full-speed, with no helmets or padding. I’m amazed that there aren’t more broken bones, although I supposed when your legs are built like tree trunks, it’s hard to snap one. 

Since the Stormers won, 21-8, I’ve decided I will adopt them as my favorite pro sports team in South Africa.

New Heart

John Thomas, founder of Living Hope and pastor of King of Kings Baptist Church, preached this morning on Ezekiel 36:26, in which God says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

John recently experienced a miraculous healing of his own heart. Eight years ago he suffered a valve problem that caused damage to a section of his heart. Last month he had another episode, but when the cardiologist ran tests, he not only found no further damage, he found the previous damage had disappeared. It was as if he had a brand new heart, the doctor told him.

With God, all things are possible, including both physical and spiritual healing of the human heart.

Friday, March 19, 2010

"He's Lying!"

One of the objections raised by skeptics of Christianity is whether humans are really born sinful. Some want to believe “we’re basically good people who occasionally do bad things.” But the truth is we’re basically bad people who occasionally do good things – and never the good required by a holy God whose standard is perfection. Hence, our need for a perfect savior to stand in our place, which God so graciously provided in His Son, Jesus Christ.

I’ve often heard it said that if you don’t believe people are born with a selfish nature (which is really what sin is), then just look at your own kids. Did you have to teach them to say, “Mine”? Did you have to teach them to want their own way, and to protest when they don’t get it?

I don’t have kids of my own, but I see it every day in the children I work with in Living Hope’s life skills program. We have a set of rules – e.g., no fighting, no swearing, and so on – and violators are dealt with appropriately. If two offenders are involved – say, one accuses another of swearing – invariably the response is, “He’s lying, Al!” My response is, “Well, somebody’s lying, because either he swore or he didn’t.”

Self-preservation is a universal instinct, and it goes hand-in-hand with our sinful nature. The prophet Jeremiah aptly summed it up when he wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). Beyond cure by itself, that is. Thank God for His Son who fixes blackened and broken hearts.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spin Doctors

Cape Town took a timeout from its daily routine today. Well, most of Cape Town, anyway. For 40,000 cyclists, the wheels were very much in motion.

The Cape Argus is a 109-kilometer race that essentially shuts down the major traffic routes around the Cape Peninsula. It features professional and amateur categories – Lance Armstrong was a participant, finishing ninth in his first appearance in the event – and draws thousands of spectators throughout the suburbs and towns that dot the region.

I joined my American colleagues for a front-row seat along the main road through Fish Hoek, where the first racers roared past around 7:15 this morning. Armstrong was in that group and is located somewhere in these images – the riders were moving so fast, there was no way to actually recognize him.

Amazing Grace

In my last post, I mentioned my struggles in facing the evils of human trafficking. Sometimes when I read the daily headlines and think about the atrocities that humans carry out on each other, I can’t help asking the age-old question: Why does God allow such evil to continue in the world? Sometimes I even take it a step further and ask: Was God’s decision to create mankind a colossal mistake?

Standing on the truth of His word that He is righteous, holy and incapable of error, I do believe the asnswer is no. But it sure is disheartening to see the things that man – created in God’s image though he is – is capable of.
The deeper my knowledge and understanding of Christ becomes, the more I’m able to come to terms with evil. In fact, considering all Christ did for us, I think the wickedness of man makes Him look all the more magnificent.
Looking ahead to Jesus’ crucifixion, Isaiah wrote, “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him … and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).
As I understand this, Christ bore every sin that was ever committed and ever would be committed – and the punishment for it – in His own body. His own heavenly Father turned his back while pouring out His wrath for all these atrocities. Christ did not bear just the physical agony of dying a slow death on a wooden cross; I believe He also suffered unspeakable pain in the spiritual realm that we that we can’t even begin to fathom.
John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” He gave His life for all, even the most vile of sinners. I believe somehow, at one time or another, every individual is given the opportunity to respond to this free gift. Sadly many won’t, but that doesn’t diminish the glory of God and the effort He made to save us.
For those who do believe, they can realize this truth: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

21st-Century Slavery

In preparing lessons for our after-school children’s programs this week, I’ve had to grapple with an extremely troubling issue: human trafficking. As the soccer World Cup approaches in June, we’re trying to make children and teenagers aware that traffickers are expected to descend on Cape Town in large numbers.

The depth of evil associated with this issue is astonishing. I was shocked to read that today, despite more than a dozen international conventions banning slavery in the past century and a half, there are more slaves than at any point in human history. Children are lured away from their homes (or off the streets for those who have no homes), with the promise of a better life. People of all ages are bought and sold as if they are nothing more than cattle. Kids as young as 3 and 4 are exploited sexually , offered up for prostitution and for pornographic purposes. The list of atrocities is long and painful to confront.

The problem is especially acute in South Africa, where there are an estimated 38,000 children trapped in the sex trade. According to a January 18 article in Time magazine, “More than 500 mostly small-scale trafficking syndicates … collude with South African partners, including recruiters and corrupt police officials, to enslave local victims.”  For the four-week period of the World Cup, Cape Town public schools will be closed, meaning more children will be on the streets and vulnerable to those who would seek to take advantage of them.

I can’t comprehend the hardness of heart that would compel a person to treat a child, or person of any age, in this way. If you don’t believe Satan is real, then just google human trafficking and read some of the horror stories. Only a supernatural force of evil could influence people to sink to such depths.

But there is hope in the One who has already overcome the devil and all the havoc he has wreaked on the world. God is a God of justice and He “works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed” (Psalm 103:6). He has made it clear in Scripture that He loves children and all who are oppressed, and that there is misery in store for those who mistreat children:

Jesus “called a little child and had him stand among them. And He said … if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18: 2-3, 6).

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Paul rhetorically asked in Romans 8:31. Still, these little ones need your prayers, as do teenagers and others who are vulnerable to those who would exploit them. For more insight into South Africa’s human trafficking crisis, see,9171,1952335,00.html. For more information on the issue in general, see


One of the more exuberant characters at the Living Grace homeless center is Lionel. Technically he’s not homeless – he lives in the nearby Capricorn township – but he’s been out of work for a while and comes to the center for meals. He’s always bouncing off the walls, making jokes and laughing, clearly enjoying life despite his circumstances. Today he was even more enthusiastic than usual and he was eager to tell me why.

It seems he was on his way home yesterday when he ran into two ladies who asked him if he knew God. He said he had heard about some spiritual things at Living Grace, but he didn’t really know God. He invited them into his home, they talked for a while, and he ended up praying to commit his life to Jesus. “Something has changed inside me,” Lionel said. “I can feel it.” Amen to that! I told him that’s the Spirit of God who is now living inside him.

Later in the morning, Lionel came skipping into the building and breathlessly asked if I could write a resume (or C.V., as they call it here) for him. He had just spoken to a grocery store manager who told him there was a cleaning position if he could just bring a C.V. in. Of course, I was happy to help – just seeing the look of joy on Lionel’s face was worth the effort.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Team Effort

When mission teams visit Red Hill, the excitement level inevitably ratchets up. So it was this past week as Nashville's Rolling Hills Community Church came calling.

Much like LowCountry Community Church did last November, the RHCC team made door-to-door visits, ministered to women and men through crafts and games, helped with the afternoon Children’s Clubs, undertook a major renovation project on the local health clinic, and hosted a community-wide celebration featuring worship songs, testimonies and dinner.

All their work was a blessing, but the clinic project was especially significant. The crumbling structure had been out of use for months, forcing the weekly government-run healthcare operation into the much smaller Living Hope containers. Six members of the Rolling Hills team, along with several laborers hired from within the community, repaired the foundation and added new flooring, roofing and a shelter. In exchange for the repairs, the local government has offered Living Hope use of the facility for ministry events.

The Thursday evening outreach was a well-attended and highly spirited gathering, with children and adult community members helping lead worship and Rolling Hills team member Brett James introducing a song he wrote especially for Red Hill. See below for more images from the week, and for further insight into the team’s work, visit their blog at

Reaching Out to Red Hill

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Matthew 25:34-40

“The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 

The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”