Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Faith and Football

Despite my distaste for soccer (or football, as it’s apparently known to the world outside the U.S.), I’m well aware that the World Cup has opened some wonderful opportunities for the Church to reach out with the Good News of God’s love. One ministry that’s doing so is the International Missions Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. They have a great website,, that’s full of stories of what God is doing around South Africa during this historic time. Click here to learn more.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lukewarm Fan

Five random thoughts about the World Cup:

1) Sorry to see the U.S. eliminated after a hard-fought game against Ghana last night. I think my mild case of World Cup Fever is subsiding.

2) Still, I gotta root for Ghana now – for the only remaining African team to win would be a colossal upset and a fitting conclusion to the first World Cup on the continent.

3) The vuvuzelas you hear buzzing in the background during the game broadcasts – they’re even more obnoxious in person.

4) Amazed, and amused, at how soccer players can be so fit and yet so delicate that they seemingly whine and cry foul every time they get bumped by an opponent.

5) After watching more soccer in the past two weeks than I’ve ever watched in my life, I remain convinced: This is the most boring game in sport.

Deep Thoughts

The more I work with children and teenagers, the more I see the depths of sin in the human heart – my own included. Sometimes I feel like I’m talking to a brick wall when teaching the teens of Red Hill. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” I’ll say. “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” Even as those words leave my mouth, one boy is hitting another, or calling names, or completely ignoring me.

Yet as I teach these lessons, I see God pointing out the same errors in my own life. Last week one of our lessons was on patience. I was trying to communicate the concept of being patient with each another, to “bear with one another in love,” as Ephesians 4:2 says. Just then one boy began to chat to his neighbor, after I had already asked him several times to keep quiet. I lost my cool and shouted at him, right there in front of the whole group. Oops.

I teach the kids to treat each other with kindness, to put others first, to speak words of love rather than words of anger and contempt. Then I catch myself feeling irritated and thinking critical and hostile thoughts about people. What’s the difference? I’m just as guilty, because Jesus said that even anger within one’s own heart is akin to murder.

I thank God for His mercy and I ask Him to help me obey the words of Matthew 7:5 – “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Holiday Happenings

Two weeks down, two to go – we’re halfway through our Winter Holiday Clubs, which coincide with the soccer World Cup, as children are out of school during this period. Following are a few images of the children, teenagers and even the ever-present dogs who have taken part in the festivities at Red Hill.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Vote for Living Hope!

The following message is from John Thomas, Chairman of Living Hope:

Please vote for this and pass it onto all your friends. It is absolutely legitimate. Chase Bank is giving away $5m via FB. No it is NOT a scam but is allocated on Facebook votes. The good news is that the top 195 charities get $20,000, 4 charities can get $100,000 and 1 charity get $250,000. All it takes is people voting. Living Hope has registered with Chase Bank for this - all it takes is your vote and then the ticking option to put it on your FB. You are welcome to copy/paste this message into your FB.

Here is the address for the "Get started to vote" page:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fun among Friends

Living Hope is partnering with an Australian ministry called Fusion, which stages street festivals in impoverished communities. This afternoon the party came to Red Hill, where about 150 children and adults gathered for fun and games. We’ll be hosting the festival again in Red Hill tomorrow and Saturday, with the goal of continuing to build relationships and foster a stronger sense of community among the residents. Below is a sampling of images from today’s event.

Quote of the Day

At our Holiday Teens Club this morning, as I was waiting on one of my colleagues to gather some craft materials, I stalled for time by asking the kids what they thought of South Africa’s World Cup match last night. (The RSA, better known as “Bafana Bafana,” lost 3-0 to Uruguay.) We chatted about this for a few minutes, then one of the kids loudly proclaimed: “Al, we didn’t come here to talk about Bafana Bafana.” And he was right. We were there to discuss something far more lasting. I appreciated the insight.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dangerous Jobs

Washington Kanyama and Bigstone Paifa are cousins from Zimbabwe. Due to political unrest and a wrecked economy in their home country, they now live in Cape Town and are members at the local church I attend, King of Kings Baptist.

When I heard that these guys are expert snake handlers, I had to get a closer look. So recently we went to a local snake park, where they both work part-time, and they showed me a six-foot banded Egyptian cobra. That’s Washington on the right in the top photo, and on the left is Bigstone (his given name – don’t ask me why, but I’d say it’s an appropriate one).

Both guys grew up catching snakes around Harare, the Zimbabwean capital. (“I always had a passion for creepy-crawly creatures,” Bigstone says.) Both there and in Cape Town, they have a reputation as someone to call if you have a problem snake on your property. They catch everything from harmless mole and garden snakes to highly venomous puff adders and Cape cobras.

Bigstone even trapped a black mamba in someone’s home in Harare, where it had hidden itself in the ceiling. He’s been bitten several times, including a dry bite (in which no venom is injected) by an Egyptian cobra. His closest call was with a spitting cobra. He was teaching a friend how to catch snakes and the friend approached too aggressively and agitated the cobra.

“That was not good,” he recalls matter-of-factly. “The moment I grabbed its tail, it quickly turned around and before I could put my goggles on, it spit into my eye. When I opened my eye, I had a scraping and itching feeling. It was like taking some small stones and putting them into the eye.”

Fortunately he got to a hospital in time and was treated, with no permanent damage to the eye. He harbors no ill feelings toward any snake, because he knows they’re just acting on the instincts God gave them.

“A snake is not out to run after people and try to hurt them,” Bigstone says. “When I catch and release a snake to another place, I’m preserving it from being killed. Because when someone sees a snake, the first thing that usually comes to mind is to kill it. Do we want them to become like the dinosaurs, where we only see them in movies? They are part of the environment. They have an important role to play in the ecosystem.”

Both guys rely on their faith when working with these animals. “I know it’s God who gives me the strength to work with snakes,” Washington says. “I know He is with me. I can walk into the bush and see a snake. Most people cannot even see them, but I can see because I know how to watch out for them and where to find them. But it’s not me, it’s God who gives me that ability.”

“Anything that I do, it’s God first,” adds Bigstone. “So if I meet a snake, I say, ‘God first.’ I’ll pray, ‘Lord help me. I don’t want to kill this snake. You don’t want me to kill it. And you don’t want it to kill me. So if you want me to catch it and put it somewhere it can’t hurt anybody else, help me. Calm my temper and calm its temper.’”

Neither Washington nor Bigstone is one of those backwoods fanatics who intentionally handles venomous snakes to prove the words of Jesus, “In my name … they will pick up snakes with their hands.” But Bigstone does identify with that teaching from Mark 16:17-18.

“I like that,” he says. “I know it’s true, that if I handle the snake properly and not roughly, it will not bite me. I know God is protecting me.”

Friday, June 11, 2010

World Cup Fever

The front page of Cape Town’s daily newspaper today contained only photos and a simple headline: “It’s Here.” The “It,” of course, is the 2010 World Cup of Soccer. After six years of planning, preparation and anticipation, the big party has begun at 10 venues across South Africa. The opening match, played at Soccer City outside Johannesburg, saw the host country’s Bafana Bafana – a considerable underdog, ranked 66 places lower than its opponent, Mexico – battle to a 1-1 draw.

Cape Town is buzzing with excitement, as I’m sure the other host cities are as well. Businesses closed early today. People of all ages wore their Bafana Bafana jerseys. Even as I write this, at 10 p.m., I can hear vuvuzelas being blown in the neighborhood. This simple plastic horn can quickly wear on a person’s nerves. But that's actually it’s purpose when South African fans use them to distract the opposing team. At the Mexico-RSA match today, 94,000 were in attendance and the majority had vuvuzelas. I have to think the collective noise – like a giant swarm of bees – had an adverse effect on the Mexican team.

If the first day was any indication, it’s going to be an exciting four weeks, even for non-soccer fans like me. Watching South Africa’s match, I found myself pulling hard for the local favorites. And I’ll be cheering on my home country when the USA faces off against England tomorrow night. I’ll be watching with my fellow Living Hope volunteers, a group that has swelled to nearly two-dozen of late, and all from either the U.S. or the U.K. Regardless of who wins, this much is certain: A lot of gloating is going to take place when it’s over.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Rest of Meekness

I am shamelessly borrowing from my pastor’s blog ( here, because I really love this quote he recently posted. It’s from the late A.W. Tozer, pastor and author extraordinaire. Thanks, Jeff!

“Jesus calls us to His rest, and meekness is His method. The meek man cares not at all who is greater than he, for he has long ago decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort. The rest Christ offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief that comes when we accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend.”

Friday, June 4, 2010

Works in Progress

Working with young people in an impoverished community can be awfully discouraging at times. There are days when I wonder, “Are we making any difference at all in these kids’ lives?” So on the occasions when I do see progress, it’s a real pick-me-up.

Ayandiso, also known as Hennie, is one such youth who’s making some real progress. He’s one of those kids you wish you could clone, because he makes a teacher’s job so much easier. I think he’s got a pretty tough home life, and like most kids his age (he’s 12), he battles peer pressure and faces a lot of temptations to do wrong. I first took notice of Hennie late last year when, in a teen’s group discussion on the topic of “what I would like to change about myself,” he said he wanted to stop swearing and fighting. I told him afterwards that I was proud of him for saying that, because admitting your faults is the first step to overcoming them. About two months later, Hennie stayed after Kids Club one day and admitted all his faults before God, asking Jesus Christ to become Savior and Lord of his life.

As this year has progressed, I’ve seen that commitment bear fruit in this young man. From what I can tell, he has stopped swearing and fighting. He’s become incredibly selfless, always volunteering to hand out food to the younger kids, and helping me clean up and stack chairs afterwards. If I need papers or Bibles to be handed out, he’s right there.

Lately we’ve had so many attendees at our twice-weekly Teens Club that we’ve not had enough chairs. We’ve tried to turn that situation into a lesson on selflessness by encouraging the boys to give up their seats to any girls who are still standing. Invariably this results in a lot of grumbling on the boys’ part, but Hennie never moans and is always the first to relinquish his seat. In fact, now he’s learned to wait until all girls are seated before he seeks a chair for himself.

I know he’s not perfect – we’re all a work in progress – but to see a kid mature like Hennie is, especially in an environment where the odds are so stacked against him, it’s a great testament to the transforming power of Christ, and a deeply satisfying thing to be a part of.

Good Groceries

Cape Town is a melting pot of cultures and thus is home to a delightful array of culinary options. There are local (Cape Malay, Xhosa) and pan-African (Ethopian, Morrocan, etc) flavors; there is much Asian influence, particularly Indian; there’s lots of fresh seafood; there’s exotic game (springbok, ostrich). Here, in no particular order, is my top 10 list of Cape Town dishes and eating establishments.

1) Samoosas: Triangular pastry shells fried or baked and containing a savory filling of spiced chicken or minced beef.
2) Biltong: Cured and spiced strips of meat – similar to beef jerky, but with more exotic sources, such as kudu, ostrich and springbok, along with the more conventional beef.
3) The Gatsby (pictured): Think of this as a sub sandwich on steroids. Built on a giant hoagie roll, it’s stacked with meat (steak, chicken, calamari), often garnished with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise, and always topped with a generous portion of hot fries (or chips in the South African/British vernacular). A full Gatsby can easily feed a family of four.
4) Hake Roll: My favorite is from Fish Hoek Fisheries, a takeout-only haven of deep-fried goodness. A buttered hamburger bun sandwiches a thick fillet of steaming-hot hake, sprinkled with salt and vinegar, all for 15 Rand (about $2 USD).
5) Smiley: A cooked sheep’s head, so named because of the trademark grin that results when the skin is cooked. A staple of Xhosa culture.
6) Hummus and Garlic Naan: Widely found in a number of restaurants, but my favorite is from Mesopotamia, a downtown Kurdish spot with dim lighting, floor seating, amazing coffee and a belly dancer whose services are included in the final bill (“1 Belly Dancer: 10 Rand”).
7) Burrito at Pancho’s: The closest thing I’ve found to genuine Mexican food in Cape Town. Pancho’s burrito is built more like a lasagna, with layers and layers of tortilla shell, meat and cheese. It’s so big, I’ve yet to finish one off at a single sitting.
8) Rooibos Tea: Unique to the Western Cape province, Rooibos (i.e., “red bush”) tea does indeed have a reddish hue, and is a delicious and healthy staple of many South Africans’ (and expatriate Americans’) diets.
9) Sundried Tomato Ciabbata Bread: I buy this at the Food Barn, a quaint little deli/bakery/bookshop near where I live in the village of Noordhoek. Carb overload and worth every calorie.
10) Breyani: A Cape Malay dish of lentils with curried chicken or beef. Can be prepared with varying degrees of spiciness. The best I’ve tasted was a spicy version prepared by a teacher friend of mine. It was almost too hot to eat, but I couldn’t stop myself. To quote one of my redneck cousins, them’s some good groceries right there!