World Aids Day, (Monday, first week in Advent)

Ok folks, I won’t post all the Advent reflections on here. But it’s World AIDS day. I had to say something. 🙂 Then I promise I won’t spam you with any more unless you ask. 🙂 

The boots of all those invading troops,

    along with their shirts soaked with innocent blood,

Will be piled in a heap and burned,

    a fire that will burn for days!

Isaiah 9:5 (MSG)

We all live in the shadow of death. He doesn’t leave any of us alone, of course, but his shadow is very deep and dark right here. If I was a 24-year-old female living in Sweetwaters, I would be HIV+, since 60% of women in my age group are positive. It’s not as bad as it used to be—you don’t see a bulldozer sitting at the cemetery on a Saturday, ready to cover over graves quickly and move people along for the next funeral like you did maybe ten years ago. We’re not dying as fast as we used to. But we’re still dying.

There are those that have already been swallowed up by the Death, and those who are left behind, the long shadow falling back over us. The orphans. The widows. The Grandmothers. The brothers and sisters.

It’s war, but even if we get transmission rates to drop, even if we get prevalence down to the single digits, we’re all going to die of something. If it’s not AIDS, it’s cancer, or TB, or a gunshot, or a car. It’s a war, and so far Death has won every battle.

Well… almost every battle. There was that one time, in Jerusalem, with that one guy, named Jesus. And they say that wasn’t just a once off thing. They say that his coming to life again was the start of putting death to death, and that one day all the sad things will come untrue, and all the broken things will be made new, and death will be no more, because death himself will die.

So I’m striking another match today. This one is lighting the fire that will burn all of death’s bloodstained boots, and broken weapons. Because a Son has been born that is going to put death to death.

Today is World AIDS Day. Light a match with me. Consider donating to an organization that is working to help end the AIDS Crisis—not just by dropping transmission rates, but helping young people know how to find true life that lasts forever.

IThemba Projects is a great one: http://www.ithembaprojects.org.za

But there are others: http://www.reachforlifenoregrets.co.za

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Healed beggars and other delightfully compelling acts of God that people can’t ignore.

HEALED BEGGARSI’m still thinking about that shriveled, old, beggar. That moment when Peter stretched out his hand, helped the man to his feet, and the thin, crooked legs became strong and the twisted angles straightened, and even though the man was still as thin as a rail, he gasped with astonishment and slowly, shakily at first took a few steps, then laughed, and took a few more steps, then gave a little hop, then laughed some more.

And a crowd started to gather. And murmurs rushed through them, like the rustling of leaves, “Is that him? Isn’t that the beggar? Can he really walk? Is that him?” And the beggar shouts, “Yes, it’s me!” And he runs, and laughs again, still so astonished that it’s really his own legs holding him up. “I’m healed!” he calls out, and then he repeats himself, jumping on each word for emphasis. “I! (Jump) Am! (Jump) Healed!” (Jump, jump, jump!) And then he sees Peter and John over by Solomon’s colonnade, and rushes over to them, now eye level (now no longer looking up at them) and he gives them a huge sweaty, smelly hug, and starts blubbering with joy and won’t let go.

 

Continue reading “Healed beggars and other delightfully compelling acts of God that people can’t ignore.”

Skills

Rachel and David are coming to help iThemba. If you want to contribute to their fundraising, you can go to: http://www.gofundme.com/3jwf2w
Rachel and David are coming to help iThemba. If you want to contribute to their fundraising, you can go to: http://www.gofundme.com/3jwf2w

So, I want to tell you about some volunteers that are coming to iThemba that I am super excited about! Firstly, I’m excited because I know them– Rachel and David are two friends from Taylor University where I attended. Secondly, I’m excited because they are volunteering their awesome photography and video skills to iThemba. For two weeks they will shadow our staff, capturing images that we can use in the future.

Sometimes I think in the Christian community there is this idea that if you are going to go on a short-term missions trip the  purpose should be some form of evangelism so you can go back and tell your church how many souls you saved. (Maybe the same goes for long-term missionaries as well?) And while I think that evangelism is so, so important and I don’t want to undermine that, God has not given everyone that spiritual gift. Besides that, evangelism in a cross-cultural context is quite tricky, especially if you’re just there for two weeks. But that’s okay, because the whole world belongs to God and there are so many gifts and talents that God can use all over the world to share his good news. 

Rachel and David are only here for two weeks, but their contribution to the long-term sustainability of iThemba will be huge. By donating their time and their photography/video skills, they are going to leave behind images and videos that we can use in the coming years as we try to share the story of what God is doing through iThemba. These professional-looking images will be used in donor reports, in presentations to corporate funders, churches, individuals, on the website… and all of that will hopefully raise funds for more staff to join iThemba and more children can be reached.

Let’s be honest. If Rachel and David were just coming for two weeks to play with kids in Sweetwaters and tell them about Jesus, the biggest impact would probably be… on themselves. Your impact working cross-cultrually increases with the amount of time spent learning a culture and a language. You can’t learn enough to be super-effective in two weeks. So, you might have a life-changing experience seeing a foreign country for two weeks, but the actual impact made on the community would be quite small. But because Rachel and David are bringing their mad photography skills for these two weeks, the impact they are going to make on this community will continue on for years.

So I want to challenge you… do you have some skills you think aren’t “spiritual” enough to be used by God overseas (or in your own community)? Maybe you do finances (uh, I know plenty of organisations that need good bookkeepers), maybe you’re a graphic designer (ever consider volunteering your skills to put out a quarterly newsletter for a nonprofit?), maybe you work with computers (soooo much you could do for others with that skill)…. maybe you’re like my awesome mother-in-law who has the gift of organizing things, and you’re able to help missionaries overseas with basic admin tasks like sending out prayer letters.

“There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!'” – Abraham B. Kuyper

How about offering up your skills to God and seeing where he leads you? 

Holding up their Arms

IMG_1227These past two weeks, I’ve been working with 6 Azusa Pacific University students in Sweetwaters. This team has really stood out because of their hard work, great preparation, and initiative. They’ve been able to partner at a creche, organize a fun day to say thanks to our Sweetwaters teenagers who volunteer with us in the community, and have led Life Group Bibles studies. This week, they are running a 3-day holiday club in Sweetwaters (which they planned, along with our staff).

The APU team designed an Amazing Race (Sweetwaters style) for the Kids Crew (teens from Sweetwaters community who help with our weekly kids club). The teens had an awesome time! At one station, everyone had to kiss a chicken! :)
The APU team designed an Amazing Race (Sweetwaters style) for the Kids Crew (teens from Sweetwaters community who help with our weekly kids club). The teens had an awesome time! At one station, everyone had to kiss a chicken! 🙂

The story the APUers used for their Life Group lessons was one from the Old Testament, and I think it serves as a good picture of what this team has done for us. The story is of Moses and the Israelites battling against their enemies. As long as Moses raised his staff above his head, the Israelites continued winning. If the staff was ever lowered, the Israelites began losing. Keeping your arms upraised for a short while is easy, but doing it for a long time is very difficult. Moses grew weak holding the staff and the Israelites began losing until two friends came and supported his arms, enabling Moses to continue his God-given task. The APU team challenged the Life Groups to support each other with their God-given callings, and to keep on following God when life is difficult.

Life Group with the APU team. Even the craft related to the lesson of "holding up each other" and supporting what God has called our friends to do.
Life Group with the APU team. Even the craft related to the lesson of “holding up each other” and supporting what God has called our friends to do.

This APU team (as well as the team from iThemba Denmark board that just came to visit) have been “arm-raisers” for the full-time staff at iThemba. Their enthusiasm, their new ideas, their willingness to jump in and help where needed, their prayer and encouragement have given new strength to our staff. Doing short term trips is easy, but working in the same community day in and day out can be tiring, as our staff well know. These teams have been able to support our long-term staff, and have given them the extra support they need to keep going. It is also exciting to think about the people all over the world (like you!) who are praying for iThemba and the community of Sweetwaters, or who are giving financially to the work. You are also “holding up our arms” by helping us continue to accomplish God’s will in this area.

  • Pray for God to continue to work through the APU team this week as they run their holiday club. On the first day they had over 200 kids, and over 70 teens.
  • Pray that God would use this trip in the lives of these APUers long-term.
  • Pray for the team of 8 from Leek Pentacostal, who are here with us for 2 weeks. They are running a Holiday Club this week, as well as working in creches next week.
  • Pray for health, energy, and good team work.
  • Pray that God would use these 2 holiday clubs in the lives of kids and teens in Sweetwaters.

Development: Getting to the Root Causes

I joined the APU lectures on Community Development this week. Even though it was the second time hearing them, they were still very inspiring. We were given permission to take some videos to use in preparing teams to come out and serve with iThemba. Here is the famous “Drowning Babies” story that I wrote about last year. Dr. Francis Njoroge is an amazing story-teller, and has years of experience doing development with World Vision and TEAR fund. It is such a privilege to hear him share. Here is a quote that was also shared at the lectures:

“May those of us involved in the peaceful struggle for human promotion bear this in mind always:

 it is good that our hands help the flight of the poor,

but may we never dare to take the place of their wings” 

Dom Helder Camaro

This is How we Know what Love is

Nonjabs, Wendy, Me, Anna, Karabo (Sam and Gugu couldn't make it.)
Nonjabs, Wendy, Me, Anna, Karabo (Sam and Gugu couldn’t make it.)

This week, the iThemba Ladies had a Valentine’s Day party (albeit a bit early!). David was away with his 8th graders on camp, so I saw it as an excuse to be as girly as possible. Anna, our Danish short-termer helped decorate and made the amazing dessert, and Karabo helped with games. We also watched part of the HBO series “The Number One Ladies Detective Agency”, about a Botswanan detective. It was fun to get to spend some time with some of the fabulous ladies I work with!

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I confess, I do like Valentine’s Day (and of course any excuse to eat chocolate). But there is an odd juxtaposition of cheesy, obtrusive Valentine’s Day marketing and the mourning, fasting, and reflection that marks the start of the Lenten season for me this year. A lot of Valentine’s Day is just consumeristic fluff, using love as an excuse to sell things. But Lent is a time to reflect on real love. 

image001February 15th is “Black Friday” in South Africa– another day that has connotations of American spending-frenzies. But Black Friday in South Africa has nothing to do with Walmart sales. It is a day created to raise awareness about rape in our country. People are encouraged to wear black to show their support for rape awareness. According to the website, a rape is said to be committed in South Africa every four minutes, and only 12 percent of reported rape cases in South Africa end in conviction.* This statistic is illustrated in the experiences of the iThemba discipleship fieldworkers, who all know children in the community who are victims of rape.

When faced with the realities of our broken world, I am glad for Lent. I am glad for a set time to reflect on Christ, who came to earth, bore our sorrows, and suffered so that we can all experience real love and freedom. Join me in praying that Mpumuza will experience the real love that comes from Christ this month-– and wear black on Friday!

(*the sociologist in me is skeptical of those exact stats, but I do know that South Africa has one of the highest rates for rape in the world).

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?

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. 

A Reason to Celebrate

The view from the top of Mbubu mountain. In the picture is Mpumuza/Sweetwaters, the area that iThemba works in.

I don’t usually give people lifts. Partly because I want taxi drivers (as evil as they are) to have jobs. And partly because South Africa has extremely high rates of hijacking. But today there was a lady struggling up the steep hill next to my house (which I know all about, since I walk up it to the grocery store about once a week), and it was also 89 degrees outside. She jumped in quickly and thanked me profusely.

“Oh, thank you Ma, thank you for the lift. I am just going to the top of the hill. You can just drop me by the Crossways pub, Ma. Eh-heeh, Ma, this weather is so crazy! We will all get sick! First it is freezing, and now it is so hot!” My little skedlemba car scooted up the hill in first gear as we chatted about the chance to finally do our washing, and how nice it was to see the sun, but how steep this hill was when walking, especially in the heat. She was a beautiful Zulu lady, with a huge purse and a shopping bag. She noticed me glancing at her bag.

“Oh Ma, can I tell you why I am so happy today?” I nodded. “Oh! It is because it is my birthday today, Ma! And this is a cake that I was given by Madam. I am thirty eight today.” She chuckled with happiness and clutched her cake box. “I am the only one of my friends to make it to thirty-eight. All my other friends have passed. It is because of the sickness here, the HIV. But, I am thirty eight, because Nkulunkulu–I mean, God–has heard my prayers and preserved my life. And in two years I will be forty! Then I will have a big party. To make it to forty years will be so great.” She sat back in the seat and grinned.

I thought of women in American who dread the big “40”. I wished they could meet this lady, who understands that life is a gift.

This week was David’s birthday. The big “23”. 🙂 We are having fun celebrating his life, with guitars, braais and breakfast in bed. Whose life can you celebrate this week?

Praise God for the gift of life, and for a reason to celebrate this week!

Pray with us: For the many people in Kwa-Zulu Natal, specifically the Sweetwaters/Mpumuza area who are infected with HIV/AIDs. This week I was in a Life Skills class with some iThemba guys, and in the discussion it became clear that many students in the class had common misconceptions about AIDS: that you can be cured of it if you take ARV’s, that sleeping with a virgin will get rid of the disease, that only older people can contract it. Pray for the iThemba staff who work with these teens. Pray that the teens will learn the truth and live wisely. 

Teens Camp

Teens Camp 2011
Teens Camp 2011. Maybe this year you’ll help send a teen to camp! 🙂

Did you ever go to a Christian camp as a teenager? Did you ever get that feeling, like God was right there listening to you and speaking to you? Of course, we all know that God is always with us, continually speaking and challenging us–but I think sometimes we don’t listen as well in the busyness of our daily lives. Camp can be a time to disconnect from our normal routines and hear what God wants to say to us.

iThemba sends 50 teens to a three day camp every summer (in the winter we do a kids camp). Our goal with these camps is to create a safe environment where teens feel comfortable sharing what is going on in their lives, a place where they can hear the word of God–and of course a chance to have a whole lot of fun! The campsite iThemba uses is at the beach, and some kids and teens have never seen the ocean before, even though it is only an hour away from where they live!

The beach!

The teens are divided into groups (“cabins”) and stay with their counselors 24/7–at meals, during the speaker and worship, during games. This helps them form relationships with their leaders, and hopefully helps them to feel loved and safe. It is on these camps that many times iThemba fieldworkers see remarkable breakthroughs in teens they have been working with for a long time. Sometimes teens who have never opened up start sharing about their difficult home situations, or abuse they have suffered. Sometimes teens make the decision to commit their lives to Christ for the first time. Teens who go on these camps recieve follow up and discipleship year-long through iThemba Life Groups (Bible Studies) and church.

iThemba does not like to hand out things for free, so they do charge the teens a minimal amount to come on camp. But, the full cost of taking a teen on camp is paid for by sponsors, who volunteer to “adopt” a teen. These sponsors pay for the teen to attend camp, and pray for their teen by name during the week of camp. This prayer is so important–it’s what allows the Holy Spirit to move so mightily during these camps!!

Would you consider sponsoring a teen this year? The cost per teen is R600 or $80  or  £50 which includes transport, food, accommodation, crafts, a Bible, toiletry pack…and an experience (for them) that is out of this world. 

How? In the US, make out a check to Restoration Hope. Include a note with your name, email address, and that the check is for TEENS CAMP. They will then transfer the money to South Africa. We will send you your teen’s picture and prayer requests via email. 🙂 Mail Checks to Restoration Hope P.O. Box 5583 Brandon, MS 39047. Or give online through their website (with the reference YOUR LAST NAME and TEENS CAMP) by going to http://www.restorationhope.org.  

In South Africa, you can do an EFT to: iThemba Trust Sweetwaters. First National Bank. Bank Street Branch code 22 08 25. Cheque account number: 62154083407. Reference: Teens Camp and your SURNAME.

Here’s a video that talks about iThemba kids camp. Teens camp is very similar! 🙂