On Being Needy


Some of the cute kiddos I need to start learning from. :)
Some of the cute kiddos I need to start learning from. 🙂

I’ve been reading Kenneth Bailey’s “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes”. One of the things I’ve been struck with again and again is how humble Jesus is. Not just the whole incarnation God humbling himself to become a man thing. That was amazing. 

But even the kind of man that Jesus was is amazing. He was incredibly humble. 

 In the gospels we see again and again how Jesus puts himself in the position where he needs other people. He doesn’t barge in and fix everything (which, as God, he has the right and the power to do). He doesn’t snap his fingers and heal everyone. He asks the blind man, “What can I do for you?” He asks the crippled man, “Do you want to be healed?” He doesn’t impose his will on others (his good, pleasing and perfect will, I might add). 

He asks. 

 He also puts himself in positions where he genuinely needs other people. By doing so, he affirms their dignity. He asks Peter, “Can I borrow your boat to preach from? And can you keep it close to shore for me while I speak?” He asks the woman at the well  “Can you give me something to drink?” He’s tired and thirsty.  And he doesn’t have a bucket. He needs her help. It’s not some artificial ruse to get her to listen to his message. He’s actually tired and thirsty and he actually needs some water. 

Bailey quotes Daniel T. Niles, a great Sri Lankan theologian who says Jesus was “a true servant, because he was at the mercy of those he came to serve…This weakness of Jesus, we his disciples must share. To serve from a position of power is not true service but beneficence.”

This is a bit uncomfortable for someone like me who loves fixing things. I like being smart. I love having the answer. I love sharing my opinions. I hate needing help from people. I like doing things myself. Even when I’m in positions where I would genuinely need other people, I’d rather try it myself than have to ask someone for help–which basically is another way of saying I’m proud. 

It’s scary to think about in terms of missions, and community development. In both cases, we tend to think that the whole reason we are here is because we have something that other people don’t have. We have something they need (skills, education, the gospel, technology). We tell ourselves, “Oh, we’re learning things from the people in the community every day!” 

But… really? Do we really, truly think that way? Or do we just say that? Do we really, truly think that the people we’ve come to serve have something that we really need? And do we put ourselves in positions where we really need that from them?

Niles goes on to talk about how Christian missionaries and development workers have often gone “in strength”– with medicines, or new technology, or education– and in doing have stripped the gospel of it’s greatest power– it’s weakness and foolishness. (Not to “cultural-type”, but I think this is one example of why we need to hear the voices of the global body of Christ, since the point this Sri Lankan theologian makes is one I don’t often hear Western theologians making.)

As community development workers and missionaries, we’re pretty confident the things we’re offering will help people (otherwise I don’t think we’d be offering them). But if Jesus, who certainly had the best thing in the world on offer, could come in a position of weakness and service, could ask for real help from other people– we certainly should do the same.

So this is what I’m thinking about this week: 

  • What does the community of Sweetwaters have to offer me that I need to put myself in a position to receive? 
  • What can my friends offer me, that I have been too proud to place myself in need of? 
  • In what ways am I (or my mission’s agency, or my organization) insulating ourselves from needing the people we’ve come to work with? How are we supplying all our own needs rather than depending on the community?
  • What do my friends who don’t know Jesus have that I need? How am I unconsciously being proud in my emphasis on their “lostness” or “sinfulness” instead of humbly receiving from them? 

Real Life Hero: Gretta


Gretta and Sbukosezwe creche with the APU team

“Eh, it is so quiet here today without my students, Steph.” Gretta said to me yesterday when I dropped by to say hello. Gretta runs a creche (preschool) in Sweetwaters with over 90 kids. She does an amazing job of keeping them all in line, and helping them learn. The students she was talking about, though, were the 6 college students from Azusa Pacific University, who had been helping her out in the morning for a few hours every week. They would spend the morning playing with kids, and doing whatever Gretta needed done, whether it was fixing her broken tire swings, making her compost heap, or cutting out decorations for her Christmas party.

Gretta started teaching at creches over 20 years ago. She started at this creche in a tiny one-room building over-flowing with children. But through her prayer and perseverance (and partnership with iThemba), she now has a large two-room classroom, with a store-room and kitchen. iThemba has been partnering with Gretta’s creche for the past several years, and it has been so fun to see her good work with the kids and faithfulness be rewarded.

You have to do it because you love the children.” Gretta always explains. “You cannot do it for the money, because we are not paid very much at all.” Gretta, who was widowed this past year, spends her spare time in her gardens (she has three on the property of the creche). She grows veggies for the kids in the creche and the community. One of Gretta’s dreams is that the community would be inspired by her creche and gardens and start to serve each other.

When the APU students left on Thursday, she cried as she said goodbye to them. “You have been such an encouragement to me. I love you so much, I will call you my sons and daughters. You must go back to the US and tell everyone about Gretta, this short and stout lady who is working at Sbukosezwe creche.”

When I saw Gretta yesterday, she had made a bracelet to remember to pray for “her students” from the US. I am so inspired by Gretta’s example, and I know the APU students were also touched by her generous love, her hard work, and her dedication to the community.

Sometimes it is easy to complain, and it is difficult to give of ourselves to others. These next few weeks will be very busy for me, as we get ready for camp, for the Jabulani Kids Club Christmas party, and for the teens thank you dinner. But I think of Gretta with her 90 kids at her creche everyday, and I am inspired to keep giving and going.

  • Praise God for the great work that the APU students did with Gretta, and in the community these past few weeks. 
  • Pray for strength and energy these next 3 weeks as the end of year events start piling up.
  • Pray especially for good weather next weekend, since we have the Christmas Party, and a lot of the activities need to be done outside! 
  • Pray for Gretta, that God will keep giving her strength, and will use her to inspire the community around her. 

Saving Drowning Babies

The iThemba staff who attended the lectures given by Francis Njoroge.

One day a missions worker in Africa went down to the river to bathe. While she was there in the water, she heard a cry and discovered a baby, floating in the water, just barely alive. She quickly grabbed the baby, and brought it to the edge of the river bank and gave it CPR. The baby coughed and spluttered out some water, and lived. The next day at the river the mission’s worker discovered yet another baby drowning. Quickly, she jumped in and saved its life. She soon discovered this was a common problem, in fact, each day, there were about 3 babies drowning in the river, and the number was steadily increasing. She mobilized her overseas funders to come help set up a “Save the Baby” operation. Soon, there were trained workers who could rescue the drowning babies, (which were increasing every day). There were T-shirts, facebook pages, and photos of the desperate babies floating in the river plastered all over the internet. Her “Save the Baby” operation really started to take off.

Here, Francis Njoroge, the international development consultant from Kenya who was leading this class on development work, paused. He looked around at the class of 45 American college students from Azusa Pacific University, and at the row of iThemba staff who were attending the lectures sitting in the back.

“This is what we do, right?” he continued. “We see a desperate need, and our hearts are moved, and we jump right in to save the people in the situation. It is easy to get people excited about relief work. People like to know they are giving out food to hungry people, they are saving lives of children, they are building orphanages–people like to give things. And the people you are helping love you. You get to be a celebrity, people leave the food donation center singing. But, do we stop to ask ourselves: Why? Why are all the babies in the river in the first place? We can pour our money into relief work, but unless we get at the root causes of things, we are not really helping, are we? And unless we are empowering other people to use their God-given resources and abilities, rather than depending on the West, we are making the problem worse. If the “Save the Baby” operation runs out of money, will anything be different in that community than before they were there?
But, if the missions worker had taken the time to walk to the top of the river, and discover the reason why all the babies were in the river, and spent her time and effort helping the people to change that situation, then real change would have occurred. Even though, while she walked to the top of the river, there may have been some babies that were not saved. And that is a difficult, difficult truth.”

Francis Njoroge has worked with World Vision, Tear Fund, and other Development organizations all throughout Africa–mostly in Central and East Africa. He comes every semester to South Africa to teach the Community Engagement course for the APU students who are studying abroad here. iThemba is now working with 6 of the APU students for the next three weeks. (Which is another way of saying I get to hang out with the APU students for the next 3 weeks! :D) It is great getting to work with a group of college students that come into iThemba’s work with such a great foundation.

I learned a lot from Francis’ lectures. He was full of inspiring stories– about groups in Sudan who are self-sustaining and don’t need the relief food sent to them because they are working together as a community. Of a group in Kenya that had a dream to own their own land, and met and prayed and worked for 5 years on Tuesdays until it happened. About Christians in Sudan following Jesus’ example and meeting with the Muslims in their area to work together on developing their community. Stories that are all about people discovering their God-given gifts and becoming motivated to use them, rather than expecting the West to step in. We all have a long way to go when it comes to putting these principles into practice. But praise God that even we can have our attitudes and mindsets changed.

  • Praise God for a great 3 days of lectures with the new iThemba staff, and for our great group of APU students.
  • Pray for these students as they engage with the community– working in a creche, helping at the community center site, and leading Life Group Bible studies. Pray that they will learn, grow, encourage others, and be open to listening to God’s voice.
  • Pray for iThemba teens camp (Dec 12-14th). Pray that we will find a good speaker, and that the 50 teens who need sponsorship will be sponsored.