The Kingdom of God is Like…

So, I read about this activity on Kathy Escobar’s blog, in her post “The Kingdom of God is Like…” You should go check it out. 

Jesus often talks about what the Kingdom of God is like. He’s trying to explain things using everyday, ordinary examples (yeast working through dough, finding a coin, gardening, buried treasure). And in all of these “ordinary” life events, we see pictures of the surprising,

grace-filled,

upside-down,

unexpected,

mysterious yet ordinary Kingdom of God.

So the challenge that Kathy put out to people was to share a story, or a moment, from their own lives, that was a picture of the Kingdom of God. I was on staff devotions at iThemba today…so that’s what we did! And, in contrast to my rather gloomy previous post, this one is FULL of joy!

Here’s some of the examples that the iThemba team gave. These are real stories of things that have happened in the past, which we feel illustrate to us something about what the Kingdom of God is like.

So, we present:

kingdom of god

The kingdom of God is like 32 boxes of Easter eggs. Boxes donated by Sunday School kids at Christ Church for the kids in Sweetwaters. Easter eggs that they earned themselves by doing chores, but instead of keeping them for themselves, they generously gave them away.

DSCF3187The Kingdom of God is like eating a delicious meal without any disturbance. A feast. A place of perfect peace.

The Kingdom of God is like a smile on a child’s face. I see the Kingdom of God every time I walk into one of the creches (preschools) in Sweetwaters.

The Kingdom of God is like a smile on a child's face...
The Kingdom of God is like a smile on a child’s face…

The Kingdom of God is like someone who decides to give away everything they get for their birthday so that others can have a better life.

 

 

The Kingdom of God is like a home visit in Sweetwaters. The unexpected joy that lights up the kids faces when they see that you’ve really come to visit them. The sitting and listening to a Gogo’s long story, or just being with a child who has been through abuse. It’s hope showing up in tangible form.

-The Kingdom of God is like the joyful expectation of children waiting in long lines outside the gate for Jabulani Kids Club on a Saturday– they’ve been waiting long before we arrive.

 

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The Kingdom of God is like the big tree in-between Mashaka Highschool and Nobanda Primary. When I have to climb that steep, steep hill to get between Life Skills classes and Devotions at Assembly, I’m able to stop and take a rest under it’s shade. It’s big enough for everyone that’s with me to sit underneath and rest and refresh ourselves.

*(No picture, but imagine a hill that’s a 90 degree cliff, and you’re probably close to what that hill of terror is like!). 

The Kingdom of God is like Sizwe’s Life Group last week, where there were  Zulu teenage boys and their parents, Californian college students and English South Africans, all playing and laughing and learning together.

 

Sizwe's Life Group

 

The Kingdom of God is like a room full of South African businessmen who found the iThemba Kids Camp video online, bawled their eyes out while watching it, then were moved to donate some much needed equipment to iThemba.

 

 

The Kingdom of God is like the light in the children’s faces when I go to teach Life Skills, and I know that these kids who didn’t have anyone to talk to about what’s bothering them at home now have someone.

 

iThemba-6936

 

The Kingdom of God is like a child who doesn’t have a Father, finding a father-figure in Sizwe, Thulani, Nathi and Syv. 

iThemba-8331

 

What about you? Can you think of a moment or a story that “is like” the Kingdom of God from your own life?

Brownies of Destruction- how sociology ruins EVERYTHING.

Have I ever mentioned that I am a very black and white thinker? This can be very depressing, because it means I follow things all the way to the end of their logical conclusion (which is usually depressing).  Which explains my current depression about the state of humanity and the entire world lately.

Basically, it’s the stuff I’m studying. The whole concept of whiteness studies (and really, much of sociology) is all about refusing to divorce present realities from their particular histories. You never just interact with a person, you interact with the whole history of social interactions, choices, sins, and triumphs that they and all their ancestors have participated in. We can’t divorce ourselves from our context. Our context gives meaning to who we are, it’s bound up in us.

This can be a beautiful thing—it gives me a sense of connection, a sense of self and purpose that’s much larger than my individual little self. But it’s also extremely depressing, because I’m living out not only my ancestors triumphs, but also I’m advantaged because of my ancestors sins. I’m advantaged because of a history of my race disadvantaging people.

But of course, this leads me to think about the connectedness of other things. I remember always loving the red brick town hall in our down-town Pietermaritzburg.

Our beautiful town hall... is actually  a symbol of colonial domination
Our beautiful town hall… is actually a symbol of colonial domination

It’s an amazing feat of Victorian architecture, the largest all-brick building in the Southern Hemisphere. I always thought of it as part of our city—it  was something to be proud of, it was ours. Then I went to Oxford and saw hundreds of buildings just like it, and suddenly our town hall didn’t seem South African, it seemed like an anachronistic import from a colonial power. It seemed like a statement glorifying the British Empire. It started to smell like oppression, and suffering, and the squelching of local culture and traditions. It looked like domination. And I realized that maybe for many people in South Africa, that beautiful red-brick building was not beautiful, it was ugly.

And then I visited Gothic cathedrals, beautiful buildings made for the glory of God—only to learn that it was only possible to build those buildings because people were exploited and worked, lived and died building it for almost no wages.

The song “It is well with my soul” is a beautiful Christian hymn reminding us that in the middle of life’s stormy, scary, lonely times, God is with us and all can be well with our souls.

Horatio Spafford. Amazing Christian hymn writer or crazy cult leader?
Horatio Spafford. Amazing Christian hymn writer or crazy cult leader?

But the guy who wrote it shortly afterwards started a cult, moved his family to Jerusalem where they waited for the imminent return of Christ, stopped working and just lived off of rich people they manipulated into their cult and ruined many people’s lives. It was NOT well with that guy’s soul.

And I guess I’m depressed because I want to go back to divorcing everything from it’s context, and just enjoy Augustine and forget that he was super-sexist and supported doctrines that oppressed women. I want to read old, dead white guys, and forget that I’m only reading them because women and people of other races in the USA and Europe weren’t given chances to develop their literary potential (sometimes not even allowed to learn to read).

And then, there’s the whole purchasing dilemma. I see a shirt that’s really cute and I want to buy it, but for all I know, it was made using slave labor somewhere. So if I buy it and I don’t know if it’s fair trade or not (and it turns out it’s not) then I’m part of the system of oppression. (If all the people in the British Empire had stopped eating sugar, the slave trade might have stopped much sooner). We’re keeping these oppressive systems going by our purchases.

And don’t even get me started on just wanting to buy food—but knowing that the beef I’m eating probably came from a really depressed cow that was treated super inhumanely, and that my corn-syrup infused food, and flour and EVERYTHING, is probably being grown in a way that is destroying our environment for future generations. So when I sit back to enjoy the brownie I just made, I’m actually a part of reeking havoc on God’s beautiful creation.  It’s a BROWNIE OF DESTRUCTION!!

Brownies aren't so innocent.
Brownies aren’t so innocent.

It makes me want to go live in a yurt and grown my own food and make my own clothes and never read anything except the Bible, and just pray or something.

David pointed out that if I did that—if I tried to purify myself from the evil system (which I never really could),  I couldn’t be a part of trying to change the system. There’s no such thing as “opting out”. I’m stuck. I’m a sinner. This world is sinful.

Which brings me to…. PENTECOST! This is why I needed some Pentecost this week (which is what our sermon was about this Sunday, even though the majority of the Christian world is in mourning for Lent, our church takes things like the church calendar as irrelevant, unless it’s Easter or Christmas. But that was okay, because I needed me some Pentecost).

HORAAAY! There is hope for the universe!
HORAAAY! There is hope for the universe!

Pentecost was the Old Testemant celebration of God’s provision. It came at the end of the harvest, after Passover, and was basically a time when everyone feasted and celebrated God. Yay! God gave us food for another year again! It was joyful! It was a party!

And it was at Pentecost that God sent the Holy Spirit to live in Christ followers, giving them the power they needed to be a part of the transformation and redemption of the world.  And God didn’t just give his Spirit to the important people—he fulfilled Joel’s prophecy. The Spirit was given to everyone: young, old, male, female, rich, poor, slave, free. There were no social distinctions.  The Spirit was the great equalizer, the affirmation that every person, regardless of age or class or gender is equally a part of God’s church, and equally empowered to do the work of the church—of bringing more people into God’s family, of bringing the world under the rule and reign of God. One day we’ll all stand around the throne of God—people from every tribe and tongue and nation—but at the day of Pentecost, at the birth of the church, we see a taste of that moment. We see people from many tribes and nations coming to know God, and coming to praise God.

God has always been working. The whole story of the Bible is God working in the midst of fallennes and broken systems and broken people. But Pentecost is like the explosion of this new thing where we all get to be a part of it in a uniquely special way. We have the actual spirit of God living in us, God is not just working “out there” he’s working “in here” he’s fixing brokenness inside us, making us more like Jesus, and he’s using us to fix brokenness around us. We’re no longer just a part of the problem, we’re able to be a part of the solution. CRAZY?!?

The way God works is tricky and messy and very complicated. He doesn’t just wipe us all out to get rid of the evil in us and in the world. (Or go live in his own yurt to avoid contamination from us sinful people.) He works quietly, slowly, and with much difficulty to redeem what is broken. He doesn’t throw us in the trashcan, with all our sin and failings. He slowly picks out the sin, and the death, and the webs of evil systems, and breathes his life into us, awakening the goodness that is still in us, since we were made in his image. And it doesn’t happen instantly. And it is costly. It cost him his Son.

And so there is still goodness in a brownie (even if it’s part of destroying the world). Gothic cathedrals can still glorify God. I can still sing “It is Well” and enjoy our town hall. But I also can’t forget the bitter mixed in with the sweet.  This isn’t the new heavens and new earth yet.

Hopefully that will keep me humble, help me to depend on the grace of God for the ways in which every step I take is part of crushing the fragile beauty that God originally intended for this world.

And hopefully it will create a deeper longing for that day when I can fully revel in the goodness of God—the goodness of art and food and poetry and architecture that’s completely untainted by human sin—when we are in his presence.

And hopefully it will help spur me on to be a part of the painstaking but joyful work of redeeming the brokenness in our world.

“To Never Lose Hope”

Nathi M is greeted by a hug when he arrives at Life Group.
Nathi M is greeted by a hug when he arrives at Life Group.

Recently my co-worker Sizwe went around and visited the different iThemba Life Groups to find out how things were going. Life Groups are the home groups of about 20 – 40 kids who come each week to play games, sing songs, learn about Jesus and discuss life. They support each other in making wise choices, and the discipleship fieldworkers (iThemba staff) build long-term relationships with them, reinforced by home visits. 

Here are some things that the children shared with him:

“I have learned to trust.”

“People in this area didn’t know about God, but now they will start loving his words.”

“My family lets me come to Life Group and do my chores later.”  (that’s great!!)

But this is the one that stood out to me:

“I’ve learned to never lose hope.” 

The boy who said that went on to explain to Sizwe that the way he learned this was from the story of Blind Bartimaeus that they heard. For those of you who don’t know the story, it takes place during Jesus life.

There was a blind man who sat at the city gate day after day, begging for a living. He was probably poor. He had been blind for as long as he could remember. It probably felt like his life would be dark, poor, and lonely forever. It will always be this way,” the dark voices whisper. “Nothing will ever change. You’ll always be poor, blind Bartimeaus.”  It would have been easy to despair. But one day as he’s sitting at the city gate calling out “Alms, alms for the poor! Alms!” he hears that a man called Jesus is coming. Jesus is a teacher, he teaches like no one people have ever heard, and he can even heal people. Heal people? All of a sudden there is a glimpse of light for Bartimaeus, a possibility that things could change. Bartimaeus has hope.

When Jesus does come through Jericho, he’s surrounded by crowds of people. Bartimaeus can’t see, but he can hear, and he knows he has to cry loud enough for Jesus to take notice of him. “JESUS! SON OF DAVID! HAVE MERCY ON ME!”

And the crowd tries to shut him up. “Be quiet! Don’t bother him! You’re annoying us! It’s crazy old blind, Bartimaeus again!”

But he doesn’t care. Hope has taken hold of him. It’s so strong, he’s willing to push through any obstacles that come his way. He calls louder, “JESUS! SON OF DAVID! HAVE MERCY ON ME!”

And Jesus stopped. And he said, “Bring him over here.”

So the annoyed crowd helps the blind man up, and guides him to Jesus. I picture him walking with his hands outstretched, searching to touch the face of the one who has heard his cry.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks.

“Rabbi, teacher, I want to see,” he says, speaking the words that have been his secret heart’s desire for so long, but he never dared to believe could ever happen.

“Go. Your faith has healed you.” Jesus said. And immediately– Bartimeaus could see.

For all those years, nothing in Bartimeaus’ life ever changed. But one day, Jesus came in and changed it.

With Jesus, comes hope.

For many of the kids in Sweetwaters, life seems pretty dark. There’s poverty, there’s not a strong education system, there’s high HIV prevalence rates. Everything is the same day after day. Nothing ever changes. “Your mom didn’t finish school?” the dark voices whisper. “You won’t. This is your life. You’ll always be stuck in this.”

But Jesus is coming. He’s here. He’s here in the body of Christ, his church, and he hears the cries of these kids. The very fact that Sizwe (and the other staff) knows these kids and loves them is a sign that Jesus noticed them. Things can be different. Things will be different. The impossible can happen.

With Jesus, there’s hope.

I’m so thankful to be part of a team that’s bringing Jesus hope to the kids in Sweetwaters, helping kids see that there is more to their stories and things can be different!

 

Something that Jesus would do

We recently had a great team from a high school in Denmark come out for a few weeks and help us work on the community center site and build relationships with the kids in that part of Sweetwaters. The team was able to level a soccer field (whohooo!) and the following week, teens from our Saturday teens club in Sweetwaters came to plant grass on it. In a little while kids from the community will be able to start using it. In an area full of beautiful rolling hills, a flat piece of ground to play soccer is a pretty great thing. The team was also able to help run a two-day holiday club for the children who live around the community center. Because of the “hype” of having a huge group of foreigners in the area, a lot of kids and parents came to play games and have fun together and learn about what iThemba is doing. So in other words… this team was awesome!

 

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Teens from Khula teens club helping to plant grass at the community center soccer field

But here’s a story that really made my heart sing and I wanted to share it with you. I heard it second hand, but I’ll take poetic liberty and tell it like I was there. Each evening, the Danish high school students would sit around and share about their day together. Towards the end of the trip, the group leader asked the teens to share a moment that really stood out for them. I love this story, because it shows how when someone lives like Jesus, it changes everyone’s perceptions, it rattle’s everyone’s comfortable boundaries and it invites those on the outside to come in closer. Here is the story that one teen shared: 

“We were going with Nathi to his afternoon Life Group. As we were walking through the streets, this man started following us. He was calling out to Nathi in Zulu, and we couldn’t understand what he was saying. He looked as if he might be a little drunk, and that made me uncomfortable. I just wanted the man to go away and leave us alone. I was hoping that Nathi would just send him away and we would be able to have our Life Group in peace. Instead, Nathi stopped and talked with the man. He told the man that Life Group was for children, but the man could come to the house, watch the games, and listen to the lesson if he didn’t disturb anyone. If he was disruptive, Nathi would have to send him away. The man came with us, and sat quietly through the whole Bible lesson, listening to every word. I realized that what Nathi did is what Jesus would have done. Jesus didn’t send people away, he invited them in. He welcomed the people that everyone else looked down on. Like Jesus, Nathi was throwing open the doors and saying, “Come in! You’re welcome here! There’s a place here for everyone! And who knows, maybe God used a children’s Bible lesson to change that man’s life.” 

 

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Nathi M gives a hi-five to some of the kids at his Life Group

 

 

Tie-dye, beach camps and mangers

So, in the midst of this week of mourning the passing of Tata Nelson Mandela, we at iThemba packed up and headed down to the beach for three days for iThemba teens camp. Which I think Madiba would have liked.

We spend weeks and weeks preparing for camp. We spend time praying. We cut, and stick, and make decorations, and google fun games, and pack, and pray, and hope all the teens get sponsored, and go shopping for tons of supplies, and pray, and then… we show up and hope that God shows up, too. 

And God did show up this camp. (Well, I mean, he’s always with us, but sometimes we can’t see it or feel it and camp is one of those times where you really want everyone to know he’s there). And he was. He was present in the big things and the small things– like tie-dye shirts. 

 

It was my idea, and I’d done it a few times before. With a KIT that had easy pre-mixed dyes and step-by-step instructions that made, like, one shirt. But Google told me it is very easy to tie-dye and I was a sucker and believed it, and thought it would be the perfect idea for a teen craft. Then we get to camp and I read the dye packets we bought, and they told me that we need 7 liters of boiling water per item of clothing and each packet could only dye one shirt (and  being the maths genius that I am I realized we only had 10 packets and 50 teens and so I started to freak out a little. Okay a lot. Internally. )

But we mixed up the dye, the teens dyed them and we let them sit overnight. None of the teens had ever tie-dyed before. Which was great because they didn’t know how it was supposed to end up, but  horrible because if their first and only tie-dye experience was an epic fail their whole concept of tie-dying would be forever ruined. You think I’m making a mountain out of a mole-hill, but when I explained to the teens we’d put the shirts in bags overnight, then rinse them out and take them home in the morning, one teen looked up from where he was dipping his shirt in some dye. “What? You mean we get to take these home?” I nodded. “Oh THANK YOU Auntie Steph!! Wow!! This is so great!!”  (see what I mean? Pressure, people. I don’t want to be responsible for crushing this poor teen’s joy when all the dye just rinses out of his shirt).

The moment of truth came the next morning. The teens scattered across the campsite to find taps to rinse out their shirts. Here’s how they looked:

three tie

 

It worked! I was SO happy! And relieved! And it was just MAGICAL seeing the teens unwrap the rubber bands and open their shirts, then exclaim excitedly at how they looked. The teens were laughing and comparing patterns and colors, so, so proud of what they’d made. (One teen said hers looked like it came straight from a Mr Price clothing store).  Standing there in the sunshine (after two rainy days of camp) seeing the teens in their bright, happy, hippie shirts, hi-fiving each other and complimenting their work, and just having fun being teens (knowing that some of their lives are really, really hard at home) made me sniffle a little and send up a quick, “Thank you God!” prayer.

sizwegroup And if I can start sniffling over the fact that the tie-dye shirt craft worked out, don’t even get me started on 50 teens belting out worship songs, or having the opportunity to pray with teens whose hearts needed God’s healing love, or the small groups leaders who gave 110% to their groups, or the teen who wants to meet with Thulani today so he can understand more about how Shembe* is different to Jesus, or the fact that on this camp we had teens we’ve worked with for years finally open up about the trauma, abuse, and difficult home lives they have… and it was just three days.

It’s Advent. The time we sit in waiting, thinking about the day when Christ will come. And it’s been a great but sometimes a long year for us at iThemba. Other people handle it better than I do (and I’m not even working directly with these kids!) but sometimes the corruption and rottenness in the economic and social system, the spiritual darkness, the horrible pain and suffering that these kids and teens experience really just weighs us down. We know God is with us, that he’s always present, but sometimes we just want him to really show up and make all things new right now

This camp I was reminded of the privilege I have of serving a God who is real, and listens to our prayers and groans, and shows up where we least expect it (but have secretly been longing for)–in tie-dye shirts and beach camps and mangers.

group tie

 

*Shembe is a Zulu cult with a strong presence in Sweetwaters. They belive a man named Isaiah Shembe was the Zulu Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Poem for Mandela Day

The Sharnbrook team from the UK was able to be a part of Mandela Day (Madiba’s birthday and a day of community service here).They partnered with a local school in Sweetwaters, and together with the gogos (grandmothers) and mamas of the children in the school, we repainted almost the entire school. In the media in SA and the US right now it seems everyone is cynical about race relations. Current events have shown both of our countries have a long way to go in terms of really reconciling, listening, learning and altering unjust systems. But I also think that because these problems are so huge and overwhelming, that doesn’t give us a right to sit around being cynical and assume it’s someone else’s job (like the government) to fix things. In little ways we each need to take responsibility and do something towards listening, reconciling and working for justice every day. Here is a poem I wrote about it (warning: it contains a word that some cultures find offensive). I have linked in articles on the current events mentioned within the poem. I’m not much of a poet, but maybe you’ll like it. 🙂

 

so they say there’s yelling about some kid named Trayvon

that the system beat up on

in the US of A

so they say there’s people throwing crap on

the airport in Cape Town

because of the DA

so they say the family can’t agree on

the land he should be buried on

in the R of SA

and all the blacks will just kill the whites anyway.

 

Mandela’s just a face on paper money,

we can use to buy bread, cigarettes and votes with

and the rainbow nation is just good political rhetoric.

 

Okay.

So they say.

 

But we were there

there with all those mamas and gogos

getting our brown and cream hands sticky

with brown and cream paint

and making the chipped, cracked school walls new again.

I was there in my paint-splattered work jeans

they were there in their rainbow colored aprons

and we were there with paint freckling our faces.

 

And when you can sing Nkosisikeleli with someone

whose voice drowns out your own

and you both want God to bless Africa

and they can laugh at the way you dance

but you can dance together anyway

and then sit because all the laughing muscles inside are tired

and you can share food

and wash dishes

and scrub floors

together

then I say

maybe it doesn’t matter what they say.

 

Because we did have a great party that birthday.

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.

Art Shows and Running Clubs

In Sweetwaters there are no organized after-school activities for children or teens. The schools do not have sports teams that compete against each other, and there are no after-school cultural activities. Here’s two cool after-school clubs that iThemba has been involved with lately. These after-school clubs not only keep kids off the street and doing something productive, but they also give children a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem. Both of these programmes also help to link the community of Sweetwaters/Mpumuza with the community of Hilton. Ever wonder what hope really looks like? Here are two tangible examples:

Running Club: In a partnership with the JAG foundation, Thulani, one of our discipleship fieldworkers, has a running club with some students from Mashaka school. This club meets after school for training and this term they are competing against other high-schools in the area. Many of these schools are very privileged– they are some of the best schools in our country! It is so much fun to give these students a chance to compete (and do REALLY WELL!) in this context. At their recent meet at Maritzburg College, many of the students placed within the top 15 in their section (each section had up to 150 runners). This week, the students are competing at Michael House boys boarding school.

Warming up and ready to go!
Warming up and ready to go!
Time to stretch
Time to stretch
Nompilo running hard
Nompilo running hard
The team
The team

Art Club: Anna has been running an after-school art club for eighth grade students at Mashaka. Every week for the past 3 months, these 24 students have faithfully come and done art-projects. Anna just arranged  an art exhibition so the students could show their work to their parents and the community. Members of the Hilton community also attended. The students received awards for their participation,  and the school choir sang and danced. It was great to see students so proud of the work they had done.

Students proud of their work!
Students proud of their work!
Anna with some of her students, and their certificates
Anna with some of her students, and their certificates
Visitors from the Hilton community also came to see the art.
Visitors from the Hilton community also came to see the art.
some of the artwork done by the gr8 after-school club
some of the artwork done by the gr8 after-school club
Some students showing off their work.
Some students showing off their work.
Anna and the Mashaka art teacher, who teaches during the week.
Anna and the Mashaka art teacher, who teaches during the week.

Reason for Hope

This video is from an advertising campaign put out by a South African Bank. I think its really inspiring to hear our young people speak out against some of the problems we are facing in our country, and call people to action. (The ANC didn’t like it, which you can read about here). One of the issues facing South African youth today is a lack of hope. Many have been “born free” (post-apartheid), and yet there is still so much unemployment, violence and corruption, many feel the government has failed our country.

LesMis_rables_2446250bI’ve been thinking about the foundation for our hope, lately. I just watched the movie version of the musical Les Miserables (yes, it only came out in SA a few weeks ago), and that musical always makes me cry. I don’t cry because the music is so amazing (which it is). I don’t cry when in the movie children are shot and killed fighting for their freedom, or when innocent people are forced into prostitution because they don’t have another way to make any money. I always cry at the very last song, because that is the song which I believe sums up the movie’s message: In this present darkness, we can fight against the sadness and misery around us with small acts of grace towards each other.

Like the protagonist, Jean Valjean, we can consistently look out for the poor, the widow, the orphan around us, and simply and quietly dispense grace wherever we go. The reason why is found in the words of the last song. Unlike the political revolutionaries in the movie, who “beat their plowshares into swords, and their pruning hooks into spears” (Joel 3:10) in order to bring freedom, Jean Valjean was willing to risk his life performing small acts of grace, because his life had been transformed by grace, and he knew a day was coming when “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Micah 4:3).

The words of the final song say: “And remember the truth that once was spoken: to love another person Is to see the face of God. Do you hear the people sing, lost in the valley of the night? It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light. For the wretched of the earth there is a flame that never dies, even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise. They will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord. They will walk behind the ploughshare; they will put away the sword. The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward.” 

Sometimes life is frustrating. I want to see immediate changes to the suffering and brokenness around me. But my hope of heaven, where one day everything will finally be made right, is what gives the daily encouragement to keep fighting for change here on earth.

We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in heaven. (Colossians 3:4-5)

Pray: 

  • For Anna Johanson, our newest short-termer from Denmark, who is starting to teach art classes in Sweetwaters schools this week!
  • For the 44 APU students who will be visiting on Tuesday to learn about iThemba.
  • That I will be able to continue to get rest as I recover from my sickness. 

Thankfulness

We celebrated thanksgiving here in South Africa with 15 other American missionaries. Thinking back over this past month, I certainly have a lot to be thankful for!

David has a job teaching 8th and 9th grade math at Grace College, a local high school in Hilton.

The view over the sports fields at Grace College. You can see the Drakensberg mountains from the school, and sometimes in the winter, you can see snow on them.
The view over the sports fields at Grace College. You can see the Drakensberg mountains from the school, and sometimes in the winter, you can see snow on them.
The admin block at Grace College, the high school where David will be teaching Math. Also, it's where I went for high school.
The admin block at Grace College, the high school where David will be teaching Math. Also, it’s where I went for high school.

The Jabulani Kids Club Christmas party was a success! We had over 260 kids (and a bit of a panic because we only had supplies for 200–but it all worked out).

There were so many kids we didn't have enough crafts, so the little ones just danced during craft time.
There were so many kids we didn’t have enough crafts, so the little ones just danced during craft time.
The kids waiting for Baba Christmas to come. We had over 260 kids attend.
The kids waiting for Baba Christmas to come. We had over 260 kids attend.
Baba Christmas (as Father Christmas is called here) dancing for the kiddies.
Baba Christmas (as Father Christmas is called here) dancing for the kiddies.

I work with an amazing group of people. They inspire me everyday with their enthusiasm and dedication. We just had a fun day at uShaka Marine world as a reward for all successfully completing the 6 most important tasks we had in the past 6 weeks. We had lots of fun on the slides, and then some of the iThemba guys started playing volley ball in the pool (and managed to get all the kids singing and dancing and playing, too). One mother thought that we were a professional volleyball team!

The iThemba team...and the ball that made people think we were professional volleyball players??
The iThemba team…and the ball that made people think we were professional volleyball players??
Somehow I don't think this one needs a caption.
Somehow I don’t think this one needs a caption.

Praise God for how he has provided for David and I in these past 3 months here in South Africa. 

What are you thankful for?