Eastertide: The way is made by walking

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It was on Maundy Thursday that my husband and I began our pilgrimage in the south of France. Our walk on El Camino –the way. It was night, we were in an old stone church, hearing the readings about the children of Israel walking out of Egypt, and slavery, and starting their long walk to freedom.  Continue reading “Eastertide: The way is made by walking”

I’m proud of You

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Photo credit: Emily Bak Toldam, iThemba Denmark Team

Sometimes encouragement comes from the most unlikely of places. I probably would have shooed him away. He was drunk. Not drunk enough to be aggresive, just drunk enough to be honest. He decided to join in on Sizwe’s Life Group last Friday. He had seen my car (and the car of the Restoration Hope team), and figured it was about time he visited. The teenage boys had gathered on the back porch of our host’s home, and we were all discussing the journey of faith, and the story of Peter walking on water with Jesus. The topic turned to the fact that these young men could make the journey of faith easier for their own children one day, through their example as good fathers and good husbands. The whole reason Sizwe and the other discipleship field workers spend so much time with kids and youth in the community is to be role models for them, to build relationships with them and give them the support they need to make wiser choices.

Then he (this unknown drunk man) showed up and sat down in the circle with us. He had plenty to say. “I am just so frustrated.” He repeated over and over (in English, since there were a lot of us umlungus there). “I have four children, all from different mothers. I don’t have a job. I am just so frustrated. I need counselling.” He was about thirty, maybe a bit younger. He was pretty well dressed, but he never smiled.

Sizwe very skillfully explained the teen boys had homework, so we would talk with him after we wrapped up the lesson. The lesson finished and we all left, but Sizwe stayed to talk with the newcomer.

We are told stories in the Bible of entertaining angels unawares, of welcoming the “least of these” and really welcoming Christ himself. I think maybe one reason is not that we will be rewarded with a good feeling for helping them, but that these people actually have the ability to bless and encourage us. Our iThemba team has been pretty discouraged lately with some very serious situations in Sweetwaters/Mpumuza with the kids/teens we work with relating to suicides, AIDS and poor choices. Everyone has been running low on energy, and on hope.

Our new (slightly drunk) friend sat Sizwe down and explained, “You know, you guys are making a difference. I have seen you come here to this road to meet with these boys every day for the past three years. And I told myself, one day I will visit. You know, even though we parents don’t really speak much with you, we do appreciate what you are doing. And it is impacting even us at home. My child always stops me now to pray before we start eating. That is from learning about God with you.” Then he said something which has been ringing in Sizwe’s ears all week. A message from the God on high who sees the work iThemba is doing, who understands the long, hard road it can sometimes be, an echo of what will be said one day at the end of time: “You know what?” the man said. “I am proud of you. I am so proud of you.” 

Well done, good and faithful servant.

Meet Gugu!

Gugu!
Gugu!

Gugu, which means “precious” in Zulu, is very precious to the iThemba team! One of our new discipleship field workers, Gugu has a passion to see people’s lives changed. Her life was changed by Christ at her uncle’s funeral. Gugu had helped out in her church for many years before this. “I liked to go and help clean at church. I used to take my sisters and cousins with me to help me clean.” She laughs when she thinks about it. “But even though I went to church, I didn’t know God personally.” It took the death of her uncle to bring her to that point. “I loved my uncle, he was like my father, so at his funeral I gave my life to Christ. I didn’t say it publicly then, because I didn’t want to embarrass my boyfriend, but later on I did tell people openly.”

Gugu has always had a passion for kids and teenagers. “I kept serving in church, and started Bible Studies on Saturdays. I would gather teenagers to tell them my testimony. Because I had a child at age 16, I wanted them to make better choices.” Gugu’s pastor saw God had put something special in her, and he gave her chances to share with teens and the whole congregation.

In 2010, Gugu went to Union Bible Institute to learn more about the Bible. “I wanted to improve my skills teaching about the Bible,” she says.

Gugu volunteered with an iThemba teens camp while at UBI “I loved it!” she said. “I kept hoping they would need me for another camp!” When a position at iThemba opened up, she applied.

As a discipleship fieldworker, Gugu teaches Life Skills in schools in the community, she leads Life Group bible studies in the afternoons, and visits children in their homes.

“I love doing Bible studies, teaching kids about Christ and how to live for him. I also love the mentoring. When you do home visits, you get to know the kids and youth, and can see their problems and help them. To help even one person, and to see them reach their goals really inspires me.”

It’s very exciting to have a female discipleship field worker, since there are many teen girls in the community that need mentoring.

Gugu loves cooking, baking and reading, especially Christian books. She would love prayer for God’s wisdom as she helps kids and teens with their problems, and wisdom on how to discipline the unruly kids she gets in some of her Life Groups. 🙂

Walking Down a Long Road

David helped with worship and leading games
This past week was Spring Break for the kids and teens in Sweetwaters/Mpumuza. During the holidays, many kids are unsupervised, this means there is more time for them to get into trouble, but also leaves them vulnerable to abuse.
iThemba runs a Holiday club during the Spring and Fall breaks to give the children and teens something fun to get involved in, and also to reach them with the love of Jesus. This year, the kids club was an underwater adventure theme, and focused on the story of grace found in the book of Jonah. They played games, had face-painting, made lots of fishy crafts, and learned memory verses! The teens did the “True Love Waits” curriculum and were challenged to live lives of sexual purity, and depend on God to fill them with His true love. It was a huge blessing to get to help organize this event, and write the curriculum for the kids club, but the best part was working with the amazing iThemba team.
Playing the “Fishing Game” to learn the memory verse
It is tempting to run a club like this, and want to give a huge alter call and “claim statistics” on the number of kids whose lives are changed due to this club. But, while a holiday club can be a special one-time event–and we pray that it really did impact the teens and the kids lives–real life change happens over a long period of time, not because of a once-off decision. One time events like this fit into the larger story of what God is doing in these kids lives through the commitment and dedication of the discipleship field workers.
Sizwe, one of iThemba’s “fielders” at Holiday Club.
These “fielders” as they are affectionately called, have weekly Life Groups (Bible Studies), meet the kid’s families, and go to great lengths to help disciple these kids and teens. The fielders see their work as walking down a long road with the kids, not just pointing them in the right direction. Sometimes this means visiting a teen every afternoon for a month because of poor choices they are making. It means texting and calling kids on the weekend, or on our day off, just to see if they are doing okay. It means praying, not just for one, but for the hundreds of kids they are in contact with every week. This is a huge commitment. And it is not easy. Sometimes fielders get to see the fruit of their labor– teens who are now leading the Saturday kids club, kids who are now being respectful to their parents–but sometimes fielders will pour into a kid for a year, only to find out this person has been secretly getting into trouble behind their backs. You don’t do a job like that for the money, you do it because you feel called by God, and he is giving you the desire and the energy.
The great commission is a call to go about our every day lives, and as we are going, to make disciples. Who is there in your life that God is calling you to walk down the long road of discipleship with?

Praise God for the great work that the discipleship fieldworkers do, and pray that God will bless them, give them wisdom, energy, creativity and insight into the lives of these kids and teens. Pray for them as they follow up with kids/teens from the Holiday Club.