Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Labor of Faith

The book project I’ve been working on all year has been an exercise in faith. Progress has been steady, but several questions remain unanswered. Namely, who’s going to publish it and who’s going to pay for it? No one at Living Hope assigned this to me, and even if they had, there’s no money in their budget for such an undertaking. My belief has always been this was something God gave me a vision for and it’s something He will see to fruition.

Today I took another step of faith by hiring a photographer to shoot a few portraits of people who are being featured. It wasn’t a huge expense, but it was the first time any money has been spent on the project. So in opening my own wallet, I had a tiny bit of doubt: What if this thing never sees print? I do believe it will, so I press on, encouraged by the words of 1 Corinthians 15:58, which says, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

Committing to something when the outcome is yet to be realized – that’s part of what faith is all about, right?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pretty Place

This Wednesday, September 1, marks the official first day of spring in South Africa. But even in winter, the country’s Western Cape region is a place of breathtaking beauty. This image was taken a few weeks ago near Stellenbosch, an area world-renowned for its wine-producing farms and estates.


Being a former magazine editor, I was intrigued and amused to read about “The Great Typo Hunt,” a project by two guys, Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson, determined to rid America of erroneous public signage. According to a story by Reuters Life!, the pair – calling themselves the Typo Eradication Advancement League – drove across the country in the spring of 2008 “armed with sharpies, pens and whiteout, correcting spelling, removing surplus apostrophes and untangling subject-verb disagreement on signs outside stores, gas stations, parks and public buildings.” (Click here to read the entire piece.) I’m all for correct spelling and properly placed apostrophes, but I can’t help wondering: For what was surely a lot of time, effort and gasoline expended, does this really matter?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Everybody's Looking for Answers

In her book Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert seeks healing from a divorce by going on a yearlong journey with three main stops: Rome, for pleasure; Mumbai, for spiritual searching; and Bali, for “balancing.” Now Gilbert’s story is being portrayed on the big screen, with Julia Roberts in the lead role. So monumental is this new release that TIME magazine chose to review it in this week’s issue. In the same issue is a story on how the book’s popularity has helped turn Bali into a holiday destination for “a new kind of tourist.”

TIME’s Hillary Brenhouse writes: “Newly launched packages by luxury resorts and spas promise to re-create, in a few days, Gilbert’s four transformative months in Bali, with yoga classes, drawn-out beach dinners, massage therapy and cleansing temple rituals. Other excursions built around the book peddle therapeutic gatherings and self-discovery of the kind Gilbert sought.”

Halley Eavelyn, co-founder of a Las Vegas-based tour group that runs an “Eat, Pray, Love Bali” trip, is quoted saying, “It really did feel like Liz was helping us experience some of the same spiritual growth she did.” And one member of an Eavelyn-led tour said the Balinese people helped her find balance and tranquillity “ingrained in their tradition.”

All this – the best-selling book, the blockbuster movie, the “spiritual tourism” trend – just illustrates the search for meaning and purpose that’s common to everyone. As George Clooney’s character Ulysses Everett McGill said in O Brother Where Are Thou?, “Everybody’s looking for answers.” But they aren’t going to find them from a Balinese healer or in an Indian ashram. Or anywhere else outside the cross of Jesus Christ.

The Bible is very clear: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other Name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus Himself said it: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

But a lot of people would rather seek counsel from someone who’s not going to call them to account to a holy God. They’d rather hear that they only need to “look within” so they can feel warm and fuzzy and good about themselves. They don’t want to submit to the Lord of all creation because they know that way is not easy – it requires dying to self rather than worshipping self.

That’s the way of the human heart apart from Christ. And so books like Gilbert’s sell millions, and shows like Oprah’s draw devoted viewers who hang on her every word. And I suspect the devil watches and laughs.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Each month I get a statement from Shepherd’s Staff, the mission organization that receives and administers financial contributions to my work here in Cape Town. Every time I open it, I’m humbled by the generosity of people who have felt led to give. Some gifts are from people I know well; some are from out of the blue; all are part of God’s sovereign and faithful hand in providing for me. In living here as a volunteer for more than a year, I’ve come to realize more than ever that God truly “will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Financial support is important, of course, but so are prayer and words of encouragement, and I have been blessed by plenty of those as well. With regard to prayer, I’ll probably never know the extent to which people have interceded on my behalf – but I do know it’s significant. So to anyone out there who has ever contributed even one dollar, offered up one prayer, spoken one word of encouragement, or otherwise helped me and my mission in any way – here’s a big Table Mountain-sized “thank you.” I wouldn’t be here without you.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Coming to America

I’m excited for my good friend Mzo Bayeni. In November he’s going to be making his first trip to the U.S., thanks to an invitation from Nashville’s Rolling Hills Community Church. RHCC is one of two American church partners in the Red Hill community where Mzo and I work; the other is my home church, LowCountry Community in Bluffton, South Carolina. Mzo will be visiting both congregations during his travels and is looking forward to seeing some of this country that he’s heard so much about.

It will certainly be a culture shock. Actually, he’s already experienced a bit of that simply by applying for a visa. Having helped him with the process, I can confirm that the U.S. is thorough in its post-9/11 screening policy. The online application asks, for example, “Do you intend to engage in a terrorist act while in the United States?” I wonder if anyone has ever checked yes to that one? It also asks if the applicant intends to engage in drug trafficking, prostitution and a host of other illegal activities. The questionnaire took about 30 minutes to complete online – far longer than the paper one I had to fill out for a South African visa.

We had heard that there was a strong possibility Mzo’s application could be denied because he’s young, single and theoretically doesn’t have much to make him want to return to South Africa. It’s not true, of course – he’s completely committed to his job and his country. With the prayer support of a lot of people here and in the U.S., Mzo went to the U.S. Consulate last Wednesday for an in-person interview. The good news arrived yesterday when his passport was delivered with the visa attached. The trip is a great opportunity for Mzo and I know both he and the people he visits are going to be blessed by it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Powerful Reminder

We showed The Passion of the Christ at our Teens Movie Night at Red Hill on Friday. With its graphic portrayal of Jesus’ trials and punishment, it’s a powerful and difficult film to watch. Clearly it got the teenagers’ attention. We started this monthly event back in May and this was the first time I didn’t need to hit the pause button halfway through and remind them to be quiet. When it ended I noticed one girl had been crying.

We can’t fully comprehend what Jesus really endured on the cross. Besides the physical torture, there was the agony of suffering His Father’s wrath and scorn in the spiritual realm. But Jim Caviezel’s portrayal of Christ does give a strong visual of what it meant to be “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Making a Joyful Noise

I want to give a big shout-out here to Pastor Vinnie Emery and the Promiseland children’s ministry at LowCountry Community Church. When I came to Cape Town last year, I brought along a set of portable speakers and a half-dozen CDs of children’s worship songs, all donated by Vinnie and LCC. The impact of that music on the lives of Red Hill children has been immeasurable.

It would be an understatement to say these kids love to worship God in song. From high-energy tunes like Big House and Lovely Noise to praise choruses like How Great Is Our God and Your Love Is Deep, they never tire of singing and raising their hands to the Lord. It’s cool to see how God can take music from one culture and use it to touch lives in a vastly different culture on the other side of the world.

As followers of Christ we’re all united in one family, so it’s really not such a far-fetched thing. And it works in reverse too – I have a whole playlist of African gospel songs on my iPod. Hey Vinnie, maybe we can teach those LowCountry kids how to praise African-style, eh?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Non-Conformist for Christ

In researching a book about Living Hope, I continue to be amazed by God’s power to heal and restore. In addition to telling the history of this nearly 11-year-old ministry, the book will feature about two-dozen “people stories,” every one of them testifying to the loving touch of the Creator.

One of my favorites so far involves Tarryn and Thorina, 15-year-old twin sisters who live in the Mountain View community. Like Red Hill, where I spend a lot of my time, Mountain View is an informal settlement, meaning it’s basically a collection of aluminium shacks with communal water taps and toilets. Substance abuse and host of other societal problems plague the community, and it was in this environment that Tarryn and Thorina grew up.

But through involvement in Living Hope’s after-school programs, as well as in a nearby church, the girls came to know Jesus Christ as their Savior. Now they’re helping lead the way in bringing His love to their peers and neighbours.

In speaking with me, Thorina made one of the wisest statements I’ve ever heard from a teenager, from any culture. “I used to think I had to do certain things to fit in,” she said. “I tried drinking and smoking once, but I didn’t like it. I said, ‘Why do I need to fit in? I was born to stand out.’”

In surroundings like those of Mountain View, that’s one courageous individual.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Love Does Not Envy

Living Hope’s Wait 4 Me program encourages teenagers to take a stand and commit to sexual abstinence until marriage. On Saturday more than 500 kids assembled at King of Kings Baptist Church to celebrate that commitment in a wedding-themed event that featured high-energy music, drama and a powerful message about God’s love.

The guest speaker, Pastor Jeremy Kories of Ocean View Baptist Church, brilliantly linked abstinence with the teaching that love “does not envy” (1 Corinthians 13:4). When practicing abstinence, Kories said, the temptation is to envy those who are sexually active. But God’s love is more than able to keep one from envying and to help them stand firm. And for those who have already had sex, He is equally able to forgive and redeem.

The event ended with an invitation to receive counselling, with more than 100 kids responding. It was encouraging to see kids so open to sharing their concerns and problems. But sadly, quite a few of the respondents indicated they had been raped. As one of our Life Skills staff members said, the real work is just beginning. These kids who have been hurt will need lots of support as they seek to heal, and much followup is required to help every one of the attendees live for God and keep themselves pure.

Good-Natured Fun

This is the Silvermine Nature Reserve, one of my favorite spots in Cape Town. The reservoir is bordered by picnic areas and is suitable for swimming, and the area is full of hiking and mountain bike trails. It’s one of many reasons why Cape Town is surely one of the greatest cities in the world for outdoor enthusiasts.