Thursday, July 29, 2010

Acceptable Message

On Saturday Living Hope will hold its annual Wait 4 Me event, which promotes sexual abstinence to teenagers. To attend the gathering, students must first attend a presentation and sign a card pledging to remain abstinent until marriage. From an American’s perspective, the amazing thing is that not only are these presentations made in our afternoon Teens Clubs, but also in public schools around Cape Town’s South Peninsula. It’s such a contrast to schools in the U.S., where teaching a Bible-based abstinence message is unheard of these days. By the way, about 600 kids have made the pledge.

Monday, July 26, 2010

I Didn't Get

For all the good one can do in helping the poor, the down side is creating a sense of dependency. I see it all the time in Red Hill, where unemployment is estimated at about 80 percent yet many seem quite content as long as there are enough handouts to keep them fed and clothed.

Whenever Living Hope is involved in giving something away – whether it’s food for the kids, shoes, clothing, Christmas gifts or whatever – the inevitable cry from someone is “I didn’t get!” A few weeks ago, for example, when we gave out shoes to kids who attend our afternoon programs, people came out of the woodwork – teens we never see otherwise, mothers with babies, they were all there with hands extended – and many walked away empty-handed and disappointed.

Rather than follow the command of Philippians 2:4, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others,” the mindset seems to be, “If my neighbor gets something for free, then I deserve to get it too.” After a team from my church gave away Bibles and fruit at a women’s outreach – and some ladies helped themselves to multiple Bibles and multiple pieces of fruit – a friend of mine remarked, “You could tell them you’re giving away car batteries and every one of those ladies would walk away lugging a car battery, even though most of them don’t even have cars.”

Poverty is relative. Sure, Red Hill is impoverished, but most residents aren’t starving. When kids complain about the food we give, or ask for more, or don’t say thank-you, we remind them that some people right here in South Africa don’t have anything and really are starving.

It’s a complex issue. There’s a fine line between helping someone truly in need and handing out to someone who doesn’t want to work their way out of poverty. I’m not always sure if I’m helping or hurting the person who complains “I didn’t get.” God calls His people to care for the poor, but the question is, “How best do we do that?”

Whatever the answer is, this much is certain: Material things do not last. The most important thing we can do to help the poor – and the rich as well – is to share the Gospel of Jesus, who called Himself the “bread of life” and said, “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Blame Game

Last year I wrote about an incident in which I was partially responsible for a homeless woman being ejected from the shelter where I serve as a part-time volunteer. (Click here to read that account.) This week, it sort of happened again, although this time she left on her own accord.

On Wednesday afternoon Annie decided to join us (for the first time) for our weekly Bible study at Living Grace. We were studying the fall of man. When I read Adam’s response to God’s inquiry if he had eaten the forbidden fruit – “The woman You put here with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12) – Annie immediately got up, collected her things and stormed out.

One of my fellow volunteers followed to make sure she was OK, then returned to report that she was incensed over my reading of that particular Scripture. Apparently Annie pins the fall solely on Adam, ignoring the fact that both the man and the woman disobeyed God’s command.

Listen lady, I didn’t write it. Had she stuck around I would have pointed out that if she has a problem with the history book, she needs to take it up with God.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Starlight and Sex Talk

With so many opportunities to find trouble on weekends – e.g., alcohol, drugs, sex – Red Hill teenagers need some healthier options for spending their time. To that end, we’ve begun hosting a monthly “Movie Night.” The event has been well-attended, with 30-plus kids attending each time since it was launched in May.

In June we showed Indescribable, a Bible-based talk by Louie Giglio that draws on Hubble Telescope images of stars and other formations to demonstrate the greatness of God. Last Friday we showed the sequel, How Great Is Our God, another Giglio sermon that not only continues to explore the vastness of the universe but also examines the intricacy of the human body.

The kids were impressed. If you’ve watched either of these DVDs, you’ll know why. Both bring an expanded realization of how big and powerful and awesome our God is. If you’re not familiar with these teachings, I highly recommend them – click here for more on Indescribable and here for How Great Is Our God.

Another issue we’re pursuing with the teenagers is sexual abstinence, particularly this month as we lead up to a big event on July 31 called Wait 4 Me (which I’ll report on once it takes place). A few weeks ago I asked the teens to write down questions they had about issues they deal with in their homes and communities. The majority of the questions they turned in were related to sex. Today we dedicated our afternoon club to answering those inquiries, which included:
  • Why must people get married?
  • Why must we not have sex before marriage?
  • Can a person get HIV by only having sex once?
  • Can a 13-year-old girl get pregnant?
  • Why do boys always want to have sex with girls?
After answering questions like this, I’m thinking I’ll be ready for “the talk” if I ever have a son.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Answer: Almighty God

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, or with the breadth of His hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?” (Isaiah 40:12)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Found in Translation

A lot of international missionaries are required to learn the language of the country they’re ministering in. Fortunately for me, that’s not the case, as most of the people I work with speak and understand English fairly well. For those who don’t, I have my Xhosa-speaking friend Mzo to back me up.

I’m particularly thankful for this on Thursday nights when Mzo and I meet for Bible study with a group of Red Hill adults. Whenever I do the teaching, Mzo translates into Xhosa to ensure that everyone understands. Without him I could never have built relationships with these people, much less be invited into their homes to share God’s Word.

My original idea for this Bible study was to target men only, but God clearly has a different plan: Our original group of two has tripled in size to six, and half of them are women. One man, Zweloke, has two daughters who got interested in the study just by eavesdropping while we met in their house. Mzo and I are encouraged to see all of them with an obvious hunger to understand God’s Word and to know Him better.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Light at the End of a Tunnel

Cape Town’s Table Mountain is so massive it generates its own cloud formations. The “Tablecloth” is the name given to the frequent layer of cloud that covers the mountain’s flat top while leaving its lower reaches bathed in sunshine. The Tablecloth was out on Monday and, as pictured here, spilled over into Platteklip Gorge, a popular hiking route up the mountain. A small window in the cloud at the top afforded a glimpse of blue sky on the other side.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Stick a Fork in Me

The photo at right expresses the way I feel this weekend. After four weeks straight of “Holiday Club” ministry, I am worn out. But in a good way.

Yesterday we concluded our month-long program with the “Two Oceans Cup,” which brought together hundreds of children from across Cape Town’s South Peninsula for soccer and netball competitions, ultimate Frisbee, arts and crafts, praise and worship music, and Bible-based devotions. None of Red Hill’s soccer teams (including the under-13s, “coached” by Yours Truly) won their age groups, but I was pleased to see two of our netball teams (under-13s and under-17s) emerge as tournament champions.

Below are images from the day’s proceedings. But first, a brief list of highlights from the past four weeks:

• Working with our Teens Club has been a struggle, but God’s blessings came even in the midst of this. I’ve found the biggest challenge is conveying the idea of putting others first and “loving your neighbor as yourself.” One day in particular, the kids spent a lot of time arguing and fighting amongst themselves, and moaning and complaining to me and my colleague Kendra. But the next day they came back, sat quietly throughout the lesson and behaved like angels. It’s in times like these when I know the Holy Spirit is real, present and working in people’s hearts.

• Best quote, from Tonia, a precious 6-year-old (she’s the one pictured with the coloring sheet in the post below). One morning last week she pointed out a friend of hers doing a handstand. “That’s great,” I said. “Can you do that too?” “Yes, I can do that,” she answered enthusiastically. “Will you show me?” I asked. Without hesitating, she replied, “No, I’m too lazy.” But at least she’s honest.

• Another memorable exchange: Yesterday one of the netball players asked me if they would get anything for winning their age group. “Don’t we get a prize?” she said. “No,” I answered, “but you get the satisfaction of having won a championship.” “What does that mean?” she asked with a puzzled look. Oh well, maybe she’ll figure it out as he gets older.

• There’s a young boy named Siyema, about 3 or 4 years old, who’s a handful. He refuses to behave or listen, often running away when an adult tries to restrain him. One day he wandered over from the church, where his age group was meeting, to the metal shipping container where Kendra and I were leading Teens Club. He boldy walked right in and blew a vuvuzela at us. All I could do was shake my head in bewilderment as Kendra escorted him back to the church.

• Throughout all of this, God has been so faithful and so able to lead us through the work He prepared for us. As Christ said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). All glory and praise be to Him.

It Ain't about the Shoes

Samaritan’s Feet (not to be confused with disaster relief organization Samaritan’s Purse) is a ministry founded by Nigeria native Manny Ohonme. Manny grew up dirt-poor and never had a pair of shoes until he was 9, when a visiting missionary gave him a pair. He also heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and was introduced to basketball.

He quickly discovered a talent for the game, which he ultimately parlayed into a college scholarship in the U.S. After graduating, beginning a successful business career and starting a family, Manny decided to leave his executive position and start serving poor children like he had once been. Samaritan’s Feet was the result. The organization distributes brand-new shoes to impoverished kids around the world. But as Samaritan’s Feet and its volunteers emphasize, it’s really not about the shoes; their most important aim is to tell kids about God’s love and purpose for them through His Son. Just as God had a plan for Manny’s life, so He does for every one of us as well.

On Thursday we held a Samaritan’s Feet outreach in Red Hill. It truly was not just about the shoes. The kids – more than 150, in groups of eight at a time – listened to the telling of Manny’s story, had their feet washed (a symbolic act representing Jesus’s humble service) and were prayed with, all before receiving their new shoes.

Below are images from this most worthwhile outreach. For more information on Samaritan’s Feet, click here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Sports Week

Down to our last week of the month-long school holiday, we’re focusing primarily on sports – soccer for boys, netball for girls, and pretty much anything that will keep preschool kids occupied. We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of volunteer help, both local and international. Included in the latter category is a team of Brazilians who are lending their soccer expertise this week.

We also have a big outreach event on Thursday in which every child and teenager in our program will receive a new pair of shoes. Friday is the culmination of the holidays, with a massive event that brings all the Living Hope kids together for soccer and netball competitions. Reports and photos from those events to come; for now here are a few images from our sports ministry this week.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Ayoba Time

For those who didn’t score tickets to any of the 10 World Cup venues, the Fifa Fan Fests are the next best thing. In Cape Town the Fan Fest occupies the Grand Parade, the downtown park where Nelson Mandela gave his first speech after being released from prison in 1990. With a massive high-def screen, food court, souvenir shops and capacity for 17,000 – many of them wielding the obnoxious vuvuzela – it has a vibe that I suspect is similar to the actual event. The best part is, it’s free.

Yesterday Mzo and I took the train downtown to watch the Germany-Argentina match at the Fan Fest. I didn’t have a dog in the fight, but since my last name is German, I decided to pull for that side. It was a raucous atmosphere, especially as the Germans continued to pile on goals in blasting the Argentines 4-0 (or 4-nil, as the soccer aficionados say). The vuvuzelas were buzzing and the park remained packed after the match, thanks to a free concert by my favorite South African band, Freshlyground.

All the free entertainment has to be paid for somehow, of course. In this case, it’s largely by one of the principal World Cup sponsors, Coca-Cola. No food or drink is allowed to be brought in, so if one is thirsty, the options are to drink a Coke product or stay thirsty. Another sponsor is MTN, a cell phone company whose “It’s Ayoba Time” ad campaign has been a big hit. “Ayoba” is a South African slang term used to express amazement, delight and approval. And really, everything about the day was Ayoba, except for the ride home, when all 17,000 of those Fan Fest attendees seemingly were on the same train as us back to the suburbs.

Here are a few more images from the festivities.

Friday, July 2, 2010


Last night I witnessed what is, unfortunately, a pretty common occurrence in South African townships and informal settlements. When too many aluminum shacks are tapped into too few electrical lines, fire is often the result. At Red Hill, a power surge crackled through a line and ended in a small one-room dwelling, engulfing it in flames and gutting the inside in about 15 minutes. Fortunately no one was inside or injured, but the owners lost all their clothes and other possessions.

I was there because Mzo and I were about to hold our weekly men’s Bible study. We heard someone yell “Fire” and ran to the site. Mzo and several other men started filling and slinging buckets of water, and I found a fire extinguisher in our Living Hope container building, which sits just in front of the house that burned. I didn’t have a number for the fire department, but I did call the nearest police station – and no one answered. That’s comforting, eh? So I called another police station and they apparently relayed the message because a fire engine eventually arrived to douse the remaining flames.

It was a scary few moments, but nothing that the community had not seen before. Such is life in the shacks.