Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sole Searching

As I type this, I can look across the room and count five pairs of shoes. And that’s just here in my temporary South African home. I have several more back in the U.S. A 2009 survey revealed that the average American owns 11 pairs of shoes. “Need” is such a relative term, isn’t it?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Natural High

I never tire of exploring the mountains around Cape Town’s south peninsula. The images above were taken on a hike to the top of Constantiaberg Peak. At 3,045 feet, it’s the highest point on the peninsula south of the more well-known Table Mountain.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Million-Dollar Smiles

Some days are better than others. But if I’m feeling a bit down when I arrive at Red Hill in the afternoon, invariably some kid smiles at me and calls my name, and my spirits are lifted. The joy these young people have always puts life in perspective.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Delicate Matters

As part of its after-school prevention programming, Living Hope recently launched Teen Club, aimed at educating youth on issues specific to the adolescents and teenagers. In Red Hill, that takes place each Monday and Wednesday, led by me and a fellow American volunteer, Kendra Crabtree.

We just finished a lesson series on Godly character (e.g., courage, humility, wisdom, and so on). On Monday, we begin a new subject, one that I anticipate will challenge both student and teacher alike: puberty. Fortunately the Bible-based curriculum has different versions for boys and girls, so we’ll meet separately to make it easier for discussion.

But it covers some intensely personal and delicate matters – e.g., physical maturation, hormones, proper hygiene, masturbation, pornography – and no doubt will include some uncomfortable moments. And as a single guy who’s never had occasion to have “the talk” with a young man, I’m somewhat flying blind here. (There’s even a lesson titled “Understanding Girls” – is that possible?)

I’m looking to the example of Jeremiah, who initially resisted God’s call for him to be a prophet. God’s response: “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you” (Jeremiah 1:7-8).

God then touched Jeremiah’s mouth and said, “Now I have put my words in your mouth” (v. 9). I may not be calling a group of hostile Israelites to repentance, but I can identify with the hesitant prophet. I will be trusting God to put the right words in my mouth, and I would certainly appreciate your prayers for this effort in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Minister of the Gospel

Mzo, my good friend and colleague at Living Hope, is quiet by nature, much like me. (Sometimes it amazes me how much we have in common – temperament, hopes, worries, among other things. Only God could have orchestrated such a relationship between two people from vastly different cultures.)

But when it comes time to stand up and teach the Gospel of Jesus to the children of Red Hill, it’s like a switch is flipped and Mzo suddenly takes on a different personality. He has so much passion for these kids and for them to know God’s love, and he has an infectious way of sharing that and getting them excited about it.

This afternoon, I again witnessed Mzo’s love for kids, and it came in an unexpected circumstance. We were driving to Red Hill, as we typically do around 3:00 or 3:30 each afternoon, when we passed a group of four high school girls on the side of the road, thumbing for a ride. They had missed the bus to Red Hill. It was their own fault for playing around after school with no regard to time, but God was also at work here.

I stopped and the four piled in the back seat of my tiny car. As I pulled away, Mzo pulled his Bible from his backpack and said, “Girls, we’re just going to have a quick lesson now. This is an opportunity God has made for us.” And with that, he proceeded to spend the rest of the trip sharing the good news of God’s love as detailed in the third chapter of John.

I drove along in silence, just marveling at God’s hand on this situation and at how Mzo was so obediently serving as His mouthpiece to these girls (none of whom even attend our after-school programs). When we arrived at Red Hill, Mzo prayed for the girls, encouraged them to come see him if they wanted to know more about Christ, then sent them on their way – no pressure, no scolding, just true love from a heart that has been transformed by this Jesus that he so loves to share.

Heart of a Champion

I’ve been thinking a lot about appearance lately – the outward kind that the world so loves to base judgments and opinions on, and the inward kind that God says is so much more important.

When David was still a boy, he was anointed by Samuel to be the future king of Israel. But not before Jesse’s other seven sons had first passed before the priest. In fact, Samuel thought the first young man he saw, Eliab, was the one God had chosen.

But God told Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

God saw something in David, and David proved him right, going on to become a mighty king and one of the great heroes of the Bible. (As well as one of the most fallible ones – see Affairs, Bathsheba.) I love that David was still young and probably not considered anything special by those around him – he was merely a shepherd boy – but he was used by God to kill Goliath, the Philistine giant.

This youngster, whose heart God had looked on and was pleased by, boldly stood up to the giant because he knew who was on his side. “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin,” David told Goliath, “but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty” (1 Samuel 17:45). Then he took out a stone, slung it and killed the guy, graveyard dead, with just one shot to the forehead.

Appearances, indeed, can be deceiving.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Call to Action

I’ve mentioned it before, but I want to again recommend a book I've been reading. The Hole in Our Gospel, by World Vision President Richard Stearns, is a stirring call to action for God’s Church to get involved in the lives of the poor. If God’s people – not the world at large, just the Christian Church – would give more generously of their time, talent and treasure, Stearns contends that poverty could be eradicated. Here’s more from the book’s website:

This is a story of how a CEO faced his own struggle to obey God, whatever the cost, and his passionate call for Christians to change the world by actively living out their faith. Believing that the “good news” is more than a private transaction between God and us, Stearns challenges readers with this question: What does God expect of us? Two thousand years ago, twelve people changed the world. Stearns believes it can happen again.

If you are a Christian, I encourage you to check out this challenging book. For more details on the book and the ideas put forth in it, go to http://www.theholeinourgospel.com.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Following Jesus' Example

With children still on Easter break this week, Living Hope is holding its quarterly Holiday Clubs in the communities of Capricorn, Masiphumelele, Ocean View and Red Hill. Younger kids meet in the morning and teenagers attend after lunch. It’s a great way to keep them occupied and out of trouble while they have so much free time on their hands.

In Red Hill the teenagers’ lesson today was on Jesus’ attitude of humility and servanthood, based on His act of washing the disciples’ feet as recorded in the 13th chapter of John. To put this lesson into action, we told the kids they would not be getting their usual snack of an apple and a pear this afternoon. Instead, they were to go out and give their food away to others in the community.

I was proud to see them do so without grumbling or complaining. One household was so touched by the gesture that they offered a boy part of their lunch in return. And as I told the kids, when you give selflessly God often blesses you with something even greater. In this case, it was a chocolate Easter egg, a box of which had been donated for the week.

But that wasn’t all. When the kids got back from their little outing, my two colleagues and I sat them down and washed their feet. There were a lot of laughs, and a little hesitancy from a couple of kids, but overall I think the message got through. At least I hope it did. Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15). The more these young people are able to live as Jesus did, the more God’s Kingdom will take root in Red Hill.

Below are more images from our Holiday Club in Red Hill this week.

Holiday Club Happenings

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunrise

King of Kings Baptist Church held its annual Easter sunrise service on St. James Beach this morning. Attendees sang worship songs, heard the resurrection story and saw three Zimbabwean men baptized in the chilly waters of False Bay. It was all a stirring start to a blessed Easter Sunday. As surely as the sun rises, the Son has risen. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!” (Luke 24:5-6). Praise be to Christ – His followers serve the living God, not a dead prophet!

Valued Family

Monday is a sad day for Red Hill. The Dick family – a hugely positive influence in the community’s Upper Camp for the past 10 years – is leaving for a new home in the Eastern Cape (about a day’s drive away). Kennedy Dick, until now the assistant pastor of Red Hill’s River of Life Church, is answering God’s call to plant a church in his hometown of Fort Beaufort. He will be joined by his wife, Renea, and their children, Joanne (10), Jeremiah (5) and Elrich (3).

I’m happy for them to have this opportunity, but I also wish they didn’t have to go. They are a bright light amidst a lot of darkness and Red Hill will sorely miss them. Joanne in particular has always been one of my favorite kids in the community. She’s absolutely precious, just a beautiful child on the inside and outside. I’ve often told her she’s going to be something special if she continues to listen to her parents and apply the spiritual lessons she’s learning.

“She loves to pray for other people,” Kennedy says. “She’s always reading her Bible. She even takes it to school. Sometimes she says things that make me think, ‘How does this child know these things?’”

Well, her upbringing in a household that teaches Godly values has a lot to do with it. I was also pleased to hear Joanne herself cite the Living Hope Children’s Club in preparing her for this next season in life.

“I like the Bible stories Living Hope has taught me,” says Joanne. “I’ve learned that God’s love is bigger than anything. Now I want to tell people [in my new home] about what God has done in Red Hill.”

Clearly Red Hill’s loss is about to be Fort Beaufort’s gain.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tina Goes to Camp

An American friend of mine describes life in a third-world (or in South Africa’s case, barely first-world) country as T.I.N.A. – This Is Not America. For example, when it takes eight weeks for a package to get from the U.S. to Africa, Tina was likely on duty in the post office. Or when you go to the doctor with a wicked case of the flu and he spends all of five minutes examining and talking to you, he’s probably being assisted by his nurse, Tina.

This week Living Hope took two busloads of Grade 6 and 7 kids to camp, and Tina was clearly along for the ride. Here’s a timeline of my day on Monday:

8:00 a.m. – Pick up kids from Red Hill in personal car.
8:30 a.m. – Arrive at Masiphumelele Township, designated pickup spot for bus transport.
10:30 a.m. – Board bus two hours late because originally contracted company had no vehicles available and had to subcontract to another company.
11:00 a.m. – Arrive in Capricorn Township to pick up remaining group of children.
11:15 a.m. – Get off bus because drivers refuse to leave Capricorn until they are paid by original contractor. Stand around for two hours while company owner is tracked down and brought to Capricorn with money in hand.
1:30 p.m. – Paid in full, driver turns ignition key and finds battery dead due to having run air conditioner with engine switched off during 2.5-hour delay.
1:35 p.m. – Jump-start engine, depart for Camp Wortelgat.
2:10 p.m. – Stop in township on outskirts of city so driver can drop off bag of onions for wife. (Seriously – not making this up.)
4:30 p.m. – Arrive at Camp Wortelgat. Begin 30-minute walk with sixth-graders to “Gecko Bush Camp,” home for next two days.

The rest of the trip went mostly without incident and was a tremendous time of fellowship, team-building and, hopefully, spiritual growth for the kids. Tuesday saw intermittent rain all day, but we managed to get in some rock climbing and kayaking, both of which, not surprisingly, scared some children while energizing others. We ended the day with a “concert” in which kids from each of the six huts we stayed in came up with a song or skit to perform. My group of boys read John 3:16, followed by singing, and then rapping, Jesus Loves Me. (What, you’ve never heard a group of 12-year-old African boys rap a classic Sunday school song?)

From group activities to meals to down time in the huts, the camp was a great opportunity to deepen relationships and share the love of Christ with the kids. I’ve learned not to be surprised by some of the things they say and ask. One boy from Red Hill, for example, asked me at breakfast to show him how to eat properly with a fork and knife. Things like that, which are second-nature to most of us, remind me what a hard life kids face when growing up in poverty.

On the other hand, boys are pretty much the same no matter where they live in the world. They insult one another, because that’s the way male friends show affection. They delight in flatulence, because it’s a universally funny language. They run and jump and swing from the rafters because, deep down, they are adventurers. One day not long ago at Red Hill, I was walking to my car when I saw a group of boys gathered around a 55-gallon oil drum that was being used as a waste bin. As I got closer I saw two legs waving wildly and realized they had stuffed one of their friends in head-first. Outwardly I had to order them to help the boy out of his predicament; inwardly I was thinking, “Oh yeah, my friends absolutely would have done the same thing at that age.”

The ride home was shorter than the outbound trip, but still wearisome. En route I had received word that the bus would take my kids all the way home to Red Hill. But when we arrived at Living Hope’s headquarters, I was told I would need to help transport them back. It seems the driver had refused on the grounds that travel to Red Hill was not part of the original agreement.

Of course, neither had an onion delivery been part of the original agreement. I was sorely tempted to get in the driver’s face and tell him as much. But I knew it wouldn’t change the circumstances. Because Tina was riding shotgun and she was the one in charge.

See below for more images from Camp Wortelgat.

Wortelgat Highlights