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.


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.


Restoration Hope Team from Mississippi playing with kids at Mountain Home Primary School

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Ephesians 5:11

Do you ever just look at your to do list and think–“Lord, how is this going to all get done?” This past week we had a team coming to work with us from Restoration Hope, and next week we have a visit from 40 Azusa Pacific University students for the morning, followed by a 3 day Holiday Club.

And last weekend I got sick. Which was great, because I slept all weekend…but also meant when Tuesday rolled around and the RH team was about to show up and the office was a mess and we didn’t have enough tea (or tea cups for that matter)…I didn’t feel like I was ready at all. But, as soon as my fellow team-mates from iThemba walked in the door, they all said, “What can I do?” and before I knew it, the office turned upside-down as people mopped up the kitchen floor, cleaned the bathroom, set up chairs, and figured out how a filter coffee machine works. (I don’t drink coffee!)

I am so thankful for the team that I work with. They encourage me with their service, with their helpfulness and support, and with their kind words (as well as anonymous chocolates).

The team from Restoration Hope was also an encouragement–seeing the team members who just dove right into whatever we were doing,hearing their prayers for our team and the work that iThemba does, having one RH team member read the words of Paul from Ephesians to us (“he makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love”) and then singing “Oh Come Let us Adore Him” in Zulu and English– these are moments that encouraged me.

Who in your life can you encourage today with a word, a note, a gift, or a hug?

Please join us in praying for Holiday Club this coming week. We are expecting over 200 kids for the morning program and over 50 teenagers for the afternoon. Pray for good weather, for open hearts, for energy and enthusiasm from the leaders, and for the presence of God to be felt by all who come. Pray also for safety and protection for the children–many walk to the venue from far away.

Jesus Parade

“Shoooosholoza!” Sizwe called out, and the band of children that were trailing behind us like the Pied Piper echoed “Shoooosholoza!” and blew their vuvuzelas. Balloons bobbed in the bright spring sunshine, hands clapped, feet stomped through the muddy dirt paths, and all along the way we called out, “Wozani! Come!” to the children who stopped their playing to stare at our parade.

We were quite an interesting bunch. David had his trombone (this was a lot more involved than marching band–hiking up hills and dodging cows and muddy rivers while playing requires much skill), Justina had the guitar, and the kids all had balloons or vuvuzelas. A huge banner announced, “Jabulani Kids Club! All children Welcome!”

It was our day to advertise, so we met at the school where we usually have the club at 9am, gathered all the kids together and started out. We began by singing praise songs, but the one that the kids liked the best was “Shosholoza” (the song South Africa sings at soccer and rugby matches, also made famous in the movie Invictus), so we stuck with that. One old gogo (granny) thought we were all marching to go vote. Nope. This was not a political parade–it was a Jesus parade. By 10am when we returned to start the kids club, our numbers had doubled. The kids still had tons of energy, but all us leaders were pretty exhausted. 🙂

Pray for the children who attend this Kids Club– that they will grow in Christ and their hearts will be changed. Pray for the teens who help to lead JKC– that they will be great leaders and role models.

Planting for the Future

The trees waiting to be planted at the community center.

“We need oxygen to stay alive,” said the teacher. “And trees give us…” “Oxygen!” the children shouted back. “If you cut down a tree, you are cutting down your life,” the teacher continued. Welcome to an iThemba Life Skills class during Arbor Week celebrations!

iThemba partners with various schools in the area to teach Life Skills: a required subject in South Africa that covers topics from how to get a drivers license and the importance of hygiene to more serious topics like how to deal with HIV/AIDS, rape, or incest. iThemba has permission to come and teach these classes–from a Christian worldview–and it is an amazing privilege for the discipleship workers to get to know these kids and follow up on what is going on in their lives.

Children at Nobanda school stand proud after planting their tree.

This week was National Arbor Week, South Africa’s celebration of indigenous trees and plants. Through a local businessman and our permaculture gardening initiative, iThemba was donated indigenous trees for all the different schools where we do Life Skills. The iThemba Gardening team came in to do a special lecture on the importance of sustainability in the Life Skills classes, then the kids got into groups and planted trees on their school property. Even though it was a cold, very muddy, very wet week, the tree plantings took place!

This is very exciting, because even though some people have a romanticized idea that everyone in Africa lives “at one” with nature, the fact is most people here (like in the US!) live with a very short-term view of things. Thus, there is lots of de-forestation due to  cattle farming and firewood. Grass is burnt during the winter because it makes it grow back faster in spring–but it also gives off lots of pollution.

In the Life Skills classes, the iThemba staff talked about the need to throw away rubbish, and even recycle, rather than just burning the rubbish. However, the area of Mpumuza is in an interesting position–because it is technically owned by the chief, the municipality does not come and collect the rubbish in the same way they do for the town of Hilton. There is a lot of bureaucracy and miscommunication between the two governing authorities, and many times the rubbish is not collected at all! It made me realize I take it for granted that in Hilton I have easy access to recycling, and sometimes I don’t even take the time to do it.

Me and my little indigenous tree!

The week ended with an a celebration at the site of iThemba’s community center on Arbor day. Right now there are only foundations at the site, but all the iThemba staff, along with the construction workers from the site, planted an indigenous tree along the boarder of the property, and drank hot chocolate under a shelter on the site!

Hot chocolate after planting our trees.

 When Helping Hurts (by Corbett and Fikkert) points out that poverty is not just financial–it is emotional, spiritual and intellectual. This week I was reminded that it is a symptom of poverty to only see the short-term and live in the immediate, grabbing for ourselves whatever resources are closest, rather than seeing the long term effects of our actions. We in the US are just as impoverished as our South African neighbors when it comes to how we steward the environment God has entrusted to us.

The pile of muddy shoes at the office when we returned from the community center–the red clay at the site is pretty sticky!
  • Pray that the people of Mpumuza would be able to find a solution for how to safely and cleanly dispose of their rubbish, and that people would take pride in their community.
  • Pray that we all (South Africans and the US) would be able to take a long-term view of things—that we would see the consequences of our actions in everyday life, and we would not take for granted the resources we have been entrusted with.
  • Praise God for providing us with trees to plant!
  • Praise God that David’s South African Qualifications Certificate arrived! He has several follow up meetings with teachers this week, and is presenting on how to use Geogebra, a maths education program, to a group of teachers this week.
  • Praise God for how well Justina (short-term volunteer from the UK) is fitting in, and for her amazing work teaching English in these schools.

(For more pictures, visit iThemba’s facebook page. Search for iThemba Projects.)

Rejoice! Grow! It’s Spring!

The sign I painted. The school is surrounded with a barbed wire fence, like most things in South Africa.

It’s Spring! Even though today doesn’t feel like it (it’s really cold!) there are flowers beginning to bloom everywhere. I love getting to wake up and go running and smell the Jasmine flowers that grow all along our road.Let me tell you about some other things that are growing this spring…

JABULANI KIDS CLUB is the name of the Saturday kids club that iThemba runs in Sweetwaters on a Saturday morning. “Jabulani” means “rejoice!” in Zulu. Usually there are 50 to 100 kids, ranging in age from 2 year olds to 12 year olds. We play games, sing songs (and dance! Which I still can’t do!) and then the kids break up into smaller groups for their lessons. Their lessons are taught by teens who have been in iThemba Bible studies for a few years. They do a great job!

Worship at Khula club

Two weeks ago, KHULA CLUB, a Saturday afternoon club for teens began. I got to paint the banner that we hang outside of the high school where we meet. “Khula” means “grow”, which we all thought was a great name…until we realized that the new tavern that has opened in Sweetwaters is also called “Khula Club.” Oops. Different kind of club.

Thulani, the primary iThemba discipleship worker who leads Khula club.

So far we have had about 20-50 teens each time. This past week it was freezing, and we didn’t expect anyone. Some of us (ahem, me) were hoping no one would show so we could go home and warm up. But, God is greater than we are, and even though these teens had to walk for many kilometers on foot, we still had twenty teens show up. We are going through a curriculum that talks about the journey of life and the decisions we make along the way. Small decisions can have big consequences. If these teens can start making the right choices today, it will have a huge impact on their future.

Please pray with us for the teens in Sweetwaters! Pray that they will keep growing closer to the Lord, and have the courage to make wise choices.

  • Praise God that driving gets easier every day!
  • Praise God for the bike that David is borrowing that he can use to get around Hilton now!
  • Please keep praying for a job for David. We are still waiting for his qualifications to be evaluated by the South African board, before he can proceed with his paperwork.

The Most Powerful Weapon

Nelson Mandela has said “Education is the most powerful weapon by which you can change the world.” iThemba Projects is trying to change the lives of children in Mpumuza through education. They are starting by working from the lowest levels of education to the highest.

Did you realize that the first 6 years of a child’s life are so critical for their mental, emotional, social and physical development that if they are not stimulated and exposed to new ways of thinking at this age, it is almost impossible for them to catch up to their counterparts? Even if they have access to excellent primary and highschool education, if they have not aquired those foundation phase skills, it sometimes does not make a difference.

iThemba is working with 15 different preschool teachers in Sweetwaters/Mpumuza area, and they constantly receive requests to start working in new schools. Many of these teachers have had no training in Early Childhood Education, and are overwhelmed with trying to feed and entertain these young kids in tiny facilities. This week I was with Justina, our current short-term worker from the UK, visiting a preschool in Sweetwaters that iThemba has just started working with. In a 40-square-foot room, there were 19 three to five year olds, packed together to stay out of the rain. The two ladies running the preschool were so busy cooking food and wiping noses, not much education happened that day.

However, teachers that are partnering with iThemba now have access to supplies they can borrow from iThemba’s resource library. They have access to curicculum, and are coached in how to use it. They recieve points every quarter for their progress: points for artwork on the walls, points for different activity areas, points for following the curriculum, just to name a few–and these points can be spent at the resource shop at their quarterly teacher training workshops. It’s so exciting for us to see these teachers progress.

In a recent evaluation, students from iThemba preschools performed 30% higher than other kindergarteners on basic skills tests.

Justina is also helping teach English at the primary and high school level in Mpumuza. Right now, she is using debate to help the 10th and 11th graders gain confidence in their writing and speaking abilities–and the kids love it! (see photo above).

Education is a powerful weapon to change the world–but it is weak on its own. If people’s education increases, but their moral stature does not, then iThemba is just helping to equip people to be more clever in their wickedness. That’s why I am so glad that iThemba’s education program is just one part of their community development project. It is our prayer that through iThemba that the people of Mpumuza will find not just restoration from physical and educational poverty, but from spiritual poverty as well.

Pray for Justina— follow the blog of her time here at:

Pray for the teacher training programs as well as for the English lessons–that children and teachers would be equipped for the future. Pray also that God would send equipped staff to work with iThemba on this initiative–as right now iThemba is working at their capacity and still receiving requests for more help.

White, Middle-Class, American Slacktivism

College Student with the "boyfriend jeans" Indie look, with a waterbottle and a Fair Trade leather purse texting

So, the problem with being a sociology minor is that I start to see everything in terms of bigger cultural structures. For example, while there are still lots of self-centered, fast-food eating white American college students, there is a quickly growing counter-cultural group of “fair-trade-coffee-drinking-go-“green”-and-recycle-and-wear-Toms-shoes-to-stop-social-injustice” white American college students (see image to the left.) My caption will probably make no sense to you, unless you know a college student like this, or, unless you enjoy the blog “Stuff White People Like” as much as I do.

These college students, with their comfortable upper-middle class lives, like to feel like they are doing something to help the world, and so they change their facebook statuses to raise awareness about stopping child soldiers in Uganda, and drink out of nalgene waterbottles (or at least recycle 50% of their waterbottles if they don’t have a nalgene). They are the kings and queens of slacktivism: doing things to make themselves feel good about helping the world, but don’t have any actual practical benefit.These college students come in the Christian version (they follow people like Shaine Claiborne and David Platt), or the non-Christian version (they follow people like Bono from U2 and Che Guevara). But it boils down to pretty much the same thing.

Sometimes I am scared that I fit into this category too well. I don’t have any Toms shoes, but I do like Whole Foods. And I read more blogs on social justice than I actually engage in it.

Th problem is, the counter-cultural green-fair-trade-social-justice college student is just as self-centered as the fast-food-eating one. It’s still all about me. Making myself feel good for being socially active and aware. How do I know that going to South Africa to work with iThemba is not just one more thing I’m doing self-centeredly to make myself feel better than others?

Thankfully I have prayed enough about working with iThemba to know that this is what God wants me to do with the next step in my life, regardless of how it “looks” to other people. The aim is not to make myself feel good, the aim is to be obedient to God. Working with iThemba is something that God has been shaping me for, and it is a huge blessing that I get to be a part of it. I still think I am going to get more out of it than I actually give–which would still make it selfish, I suppose– but perhaps that’s part of humility: a realization that God’s work is on-going, and it’s bigger than me.

So I guess I am realizing that Jesus lets anyone serve in his Kingdom–even those that fit the white, middle class, social activist college student stereotype.