Actually, this post is not going to outright answer whether you should take your five year old to an anti-sex-trafficking rally, but it is going to try and look at the underlying assumption: how sheltered should I keep my children? Should I be telling them about the harsh realities of life- slavery, racism, crime, war, rape, tsunamis ? Or, should I preserve the safe innocence of childhood as long as possible? Continue reading “Scariness and Suffering: Should I take my 5 year old to an anti-sex-trafficking event?”
We are all gathered in a small chapel for our normal good Friday service, the candles are lit, the incense is ready, but then Ta-Nahesi Coates stands up in the middle of the service, faces the congregation, and begins to speak:
“When a black man dies, everyone wants to talk about forgiving the killer.They want to weave his death into some kind of higher meaning, some purpose. But I don’t believe in God. I believe in bodies. When I sat in the church Prince’s funeral, my black friend who was rich, well educated, whose mother had groomed him for Yale, when I sat there I couldn’t see a higher purpose in his death. Continue reading “Good Friday: The Day God Dies (or Ta-Nahesi Coates, Miroslav Volf & N.T. Wright have a conversation about bodies)”
This is a continuation of my summary of the book The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World by Miroslav Volf. For part one, go here.
The last part of the book, part three, asks the question how long we should remember. I don’t know how many reconciliation seminars I’ve been to that talk about how “forgive and forget” is not in the Bible, and while you can forgive perpetrators, it is dangerous to forget what they’ve done… I was pretty surprised Volf would go there. But, he does.
HOW LONG SHOULD WE REMEMBER?
Here, Volf asks the question how long we should remember past sufferings. We often seal our pledges to remember injustice with “always.” But Volf asks if after a while, under certain conditions, would it be a good thing to allow these memories to slip out of our minds? (Note: he makes it very clear that he’s not saying that right now, in this present world, we should erase memories which may serve to protect us from further harm—in this section, Volf is mostly talking about our lives in eternity).
He opens by quoting sections from Dante, and says, “In God, all the good that has happened in the world “is ingathered and bound by love into one single volume” (p.141). He describes the souls in Dante’s Divine Comedy, who after seeing God remember every good thing. “So precisely by seeing the God of infinite goodness, who makes one forget everything except God, one remembers—gets back in a sense—all earthly goodness and forgets all sin.” (p141).
In this section, Volf is talking about this kind of non-remembrance. Not an on-purpose forgetting, but a “not coming to mind”. The thing becomes inconsequential, and we allow it to slip from our memory. He points out that for Dante, and for him, this non-remembrance comes as a consequence of the world being put to right, as well of people being rapt in the enjoyment of God and each other (p.146).
There are many who think even this type of forgetting is immoral, a slight against the wrongs victims have suffered, and would be erasing our identities as humans—if the wrongs we suffer become integrated into our identities, who would we be without them?
Defenders of Forgetting
Volf basically argues in this section that God forgets our sin, “causes it to come to mind no more” –so eternally clinging to the memory of someone’s sin against us is contrary to God’s nature. He points out we forget many inconsequential things all the time, and perhaps if we were to see our wrongs suffered in comparison with all the goodness and wonder of God, these wrongs, too, would simply fail to come to mind. He quotes Kierkegaard in Practice in Christianity:
“If there is something you want to forget, then try to find something else to remember; then you will certainly succeed”. The way to forget wrong endured is to remember Christ—every day and in every undertaking. With memory zeroed in on Christ, we “forget everything that ought to be forgotten” like “an absent minded person.” Why? Because we are drawn out of ourselves and resituated in Christ” (p.171). Volf points out we do not have to be afraid of being forgotten. We do not have to fear that if we let go of the suffering we’ve experienced that has defined us we’ll be erased–because we are protected by divine love. He quotes Kirkegaard again:
“No, the one who in love forgets himself, forgets his suffering in order to think of someone else’s…truly such a person is not forgotten. There is one thinking about him: God in heaven, or love is thinking about him. God is Love, and when a person, out of love, forgets himself, how then would God forget him!”
Redemption: Harmonizing and Driving Out
Volf touches on the theme of identity and memory once again here, answering the objection that to forget wrongs suffered would strip people of a meaningful part of their identities. He brings up the opposite—if we are not going to forget wrong-doing, then we are saying it should be eternally remembered—and do we really want that? “Can we bear the weight of eternal memory? Would it be right for one horrible deed to mark us eternally?” he asks (p178). Volf points out that the entry into the eternal world begins with the final judgment. It is not that wrongs will be shoved under the carpet—they will all be brought to light, their full horror revealed, and then forgiven.
He highlights the idea that for modern Western people, redemption and salvation seem to hinge on meaning. We are able to redeem past suffering if we are able to weave them into our narrative identity as meaningful. “It was hard, but it made me who I am,” we say. But Volf asks: is this always true? Must suffering be given meaning to be redeemed?
He gives the example of a Holocaust survivor, who tells about arriving at the concentration camp, and telling his little brother to go with his Mom in the other line. His little brother resisted, but the older brother forced him to go, thinking it would be better. Later, he found out that he had sent his brother to the gas chamber. Can one give meaning to that?
Volf considers the healings and driving out of demons that Jesus did in his earthly ministry. He points out,
“In the Gospels there is not even a hint that Jesus tried to give meaning to illnesses—especially not a negative meaning as punishment for sin. Illness is not to be integrated into the whole; it is to be healed, removed. It presents an occasion for God’s glory to be revealed through deliverance, not for some theoretical lesson that life has meaning…”(p.187) He goes on to say that, “If deeply wounded and sinful people are to find redemption, they will need to experience this kind of salvation—one in which “driving out” and “overcoming” play as big a role as integrating and harmonizing” (p.188).
He clarifies that not all wrongs suffered are meaningless—especially those suffered on behalf of others—but this idea that we do not need to synthesize all the suffering we’ve experienced was his central idea here.
Rapt in Goodness
Volf talks about how in the world to come, we will not need memories to “keep the victims alive”—they will not be forgotten because they will be there, themselves, in person. He talks about forgiveness in the world to come, and has several amazing quotes:
“…herein lies the essence of Christian forgiveness: On account of his divinity, Christ could and did shoulder the consequences of human sin; so the penalty for wrongdoing could be detached from wrongdoers. And since on account of his humanity Christ could and did die on behalf of sinners, they, in effect, died when he died; so guilt can be detached from wrongdoers. When we forgive those who have wronged us, we make our own God’s miracle of forgiveness….we blot out the offense so it no longer mars the offender..” (p. 208)
“That many people feel a strong urge to reject forgiveness and non-remembrance is understandable. Moreover, no argument independent of belief in the God of infinite love who justifies the ungodly and finally redeems and reconciles the world can be constructed to persuade those who want to keep a tight grip on strict retributive justice and insist on erecting an indestructible monument to wrong’s suffered.” (p.209). He goes on to say “such letting go is an act of grace and is governed by the logic of grace.”
No one can demand forgiveness, no one deserves it. No one. But forgiveness can be given, as a gracious gift.
Phew! Okay, in a few days, I’ll have a reflection on this book.
My birthday, senior year of college, I missed hearing one of my favorite authors, Miroslav Volf, speaking at Taylor. My loving fiancé attended his talk, and got his most recent book (at the time) autographed for me. This book has been sitting on a shelf in the attic in Minnesota for the past three years, along with every other book in our possession. I just finished it, and since I know most of you won’t have time to read it, I thought I’d save you the trouble and give you a summary–because this book is full of hard stuff for us people who think of ourselves as being for social justice. It’s easy to think of justice in terms of guilty and innocent, oppressed and oppressor. But Volf (like a very kind doctor) makes us sit down and take our medicine. Makes us actually apply our theology to the world around us, and asks us some very hard questions.
I’ll summarize the book in two parts, and then give some reflection on it. WARNING: I’m super summarizing, so I won’t be explaining every concept (especially forgiveness, which Volf has written extensively about elsewhere)—but if something peeks your interest, I’ve titled my sections after the chapters in his book, so you can find them. Also, it’s pretty heavy stuff (and long)– but also worth wading through. Here goes:
Volf frames this book by talking about his own experience of abuse in Yugoslavia, when he was randomly held and questioned for many months. He speaks of the abuse he endured by his interrogator, Captain G, and then asks the question: How should he, as a Christian, remember Captain G? How should he remember the wrongs he has suffered? If he does not want to hate or to disregard Captain G, but walk in the way of Christ, of love and reconciliation (even in his mind), how should he remember?
He explores some common ideas about memory and social justice. Elie Wiesel is famous for his views on memory. He sees “Never forget the Holocaust,” as moral imperative. To remember keeps the memory of the victims alive, helps them to heal, honors their experience, and serves as a shield from repeating past injustice.
Volf affirms these ideas, but then brings up the flip side—he points out that we shape memories, too. We remember in certain ways—not always truthfully. That in the victim there is the temptation to demonize the perpetrator (he can think of Captain G as utterly evil, when in fact, perhaps Captain G was a good father. People are complicated and contradictory like that). The victim is also tempted to remember herself as entirely innocent. Volf points out that in his memories, he never dwells on his own anger, feelings of vindictiveness, or even self-righteousness he had towards Captain G –rather, he is always right.
Memory can also be used as a weapon—look at how the memories of the Anglo-Boer war were used to stir up Afrikaner nationalism which ushered in apartheid. Look at the genocide in Rwanda between the Hutus and the Tutsis. It’s not enough to remember—we need to remember rightly.
HOW DO WE REMEMBER RIGHTLY?
1.We should speak the truth, and practice grace as we remember. As followers of Christ, we are bound to remember the truth of what happened to us, but also the truth of who we are. Volf and Captain G stand together at the foot of the cross, equal sinners. We must resist the temptation to demonize each other. We wrong the other person when we exaggerate their evil. Equally, the perpetrator has an obligation not to minimize their wrong-doing, either. It’s not that the evil must be glossed over; rather, it should be looked square in the face, for what it is—not more, not less.
2. Wounded self, Healed memories: Memories are folded into our identities, but we choose how we identify ourselves. We can control and shape how we interact with these memories. Volf can see himself primarily as a victim of Captain G, or he can see himself primarily as a valuable human, saved from sin by Christ, who had a terrible experience being interrogated in his youth.
Volf says, “Christians believe, however, that neither what we do nor what we suffer defines us at the deepest level. Though the way we think of and treat ourselves…does shape our identity, no human being can make or unmake us. Instead of being defined by how humans relate to us, we are defined by how God relates to us…we are defined by God, not by wrongdoers’ evil deeds and their echo in our memory…they may live in us, but they not longer occupy us; they may cause pain, but they no longer exhaustively define us. We are more than what we have suffered, and that is the reason we can do something with our memory of it…” (p80).
3. Frameworks of Memories. Volf also says, then, when we remember, rather than being shaped by a victim/perpetrator narrative, as Christians we should wrap our memories around a sacred narrative. The Jews were to wrap their identity around the Exodus story, and we are to wrap ours around the Passion: the death and resurrection of Christ.
Exodus: Every year, Jews were to remember Passover, but remember God’s gracious deliverance rather than re-hashing the oppression of the Egyptians. Focusing on the Egyptians could have led to xenophobia, but instead, there are many commands in the law to “welcome the stranger and alien, because remember you were foreigners in Egypt”. Israel’s national identity was built around God’s gracious deliverance, and that was the kind of people they were to be. It’s not a memory of past wrongs suffered, but a memory of God’s deliverance from past sufferings. Israel is to be on the side of those downtrodden, remembering God is the one who will one day bring justice to all. We are able to remember rightly, and not distort or villainize the perpetrator when we are confident that an omnipotent and faithful God will deliver us.
Passion. Volf says,
“For those who see the world in strictly simple moral terms, with clearly divided camps of the righteous, deserving vindication, and wrongdoers, deserving punishment—any talk of grace and reconciliation seems sentimental, even immoral. .. for Christ’s passion embodies the core conviction that, under certain conditions, the affirmed claims of justice should not count against the offender. …if the salvation of the world, not justice, matters the most, it is also understandable that a lover of humanity would embrace the grace of the Passion—and suffer under the scandal of justice both unmistakably affirmed and unequivocally transcended” (p. 111).
Paul’s account of the passion in Romans 5:17 scandalously affirms love for not just the victims, but also the perpetrators. While we were still powerless and trapped in sin, Christ died for the ungodly. Christ reconciled us to God through his death, but the Passion memory also “anticipates the formation of a reconciled community even out of deadly enemies” (p.119).
The memory of the Passion does three things:
- The Passion memory teaches us to extend unconditional grace (for this is what we have been shown).
- It teaches us we must affirm as valid the claims of justice as well. “The extension of unconditional grace does not disregard the demands of justice; rather, grace recognizes those demands as valid…forgivers forgo the punishment of person who deserve it and release them from their bonds of guilt…” (p.121)
- It hopes for communion—we forgive the offender, and hope for communion with them as well.
Because our identity springs from being beloved of God, notwithstanding our sin, we don’t have to frame ourselves as perpetually innocent and the wrongdoer as perpetually evil. We are free to be truthful. We are able to oppose wrongdoing with grace:
…that is remember wrongdoing so as to condemn it and so as to be able to work for just relations between the wrongdoer and the wronged…The wrongdoing is remembered as a condemnable injustice committed against a person, who, in his own way, is also condemnably unjust…it wards of the dangerous tendency toward self-care at the expense of others…brings healing in community and with wrongdoers, not at their expense.” (p.125).
I figure that’s enough to chew on! Part Two later this week.
Which part of all of that struck you as new or interesting?
The Tales of the Kingdom trilogy has probably shaped my view of the world more profoundly than any other series (aside from maybe Chronicles of Narnia). You should read them. All of them. There’s a king, who has been exiled from the city (which is now ruled by an evil Enchanter, who makes night day and day night). The King and his people live in a forest called Great Park. But he is coming back to reclaim the city for his own, to hunt out all the dark places, to bring light by telling stories, to bring restoration.
The Ranger watch cry, a call and response that echoes from tower to tower throughout the forest has been ringing in my head lately:
“How goes the world?”
“The world goes not well.”
“But the Kingdom comes!”
“The Kingdom comes!”
It goes not well. Very many days, it goes not well. Very many days there is brokenness, and rape, and loneliness, and hunger, and people trapped by sickness and death, and dying from Ebola in pools of their own blood, and drugs in Sweetwaters made from rat poison and ARVs, and abandonment, and people who just don’t really care, and rich people who throw parties so they don’t have to think about it all.
The world goes not well. And sometimes I stop there. But I have to remind myself:
The Kingdom comes.
The king has come and he will come again, the restoration has begun. It’s slow but it’s there. There are people carrying light into the dark places, the places no one else wants to go. So if you ever feel like the world goes not well, here are a few things you can join me in doing to remind yourself that the kingdom comes– and you can join the restoration.
iThemba Teens camp: Three days of fun for teenagers from Sweetwaters. A chance to just hang out, be silly, and be loved by the iThemba mentors. A chance for teens to process their problems in a safe space, to share about what’s really going on at home, and a chance for them to engage more fully in conversations about Jesus. We want to take 50 teens this December, and we can’t do that unless we have friends from all over the world partnering with us to sponsor them. Here’s some information on how to do that.
Donate to NGO’s fighting Ebola. The governments in west Africa don’t have the infrastructure to cope with this crisis. They desperately need NGOs who can help them save lives and stop the spread of this disease. Here’s a list of organizations working in the area. Join me and donate to one of them.
Celebrate Advent. Advent means arrival- it’s the time in the Christian tradition when we look forward to the celebration of the arrival of Jesus (the first time he came, and the time he’s coming again). So if you’re one of those social justice people like me who ever feels the world goes not well, and want to remember again that the Kingdom comes, join me. I’m going to try to write a reflection every day of advent- sometimes gathering good things others have written, sometimes writing my own, probably looking at social justice things, but maybe not… it will be an adventure. I don’t want to spam all of my followers who don’t have time to read things or aren’t into the whole Jesus thing. So if you want daily Advent reflections, email me at steph.ebert17(at)gmail(dot)com and I’ll sign you up. Otherwise, once a week I’ll post something on the blog, that’s kind of a summary.
“So, how goes the world?” you ask.
“It goes not well,” I say. “But the Kingdom comes,” I add.
The Kingdom comes.
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.
I’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)
- 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.
“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.
“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.
Skedlemba: Zulu slang,(adj): junker, second-hand, broken, falling-apart, like basically when something has been duct-taped that really shouldn’t be duct-taped, but somehow it still works.
The iThemba staff have christened my car skedlemba. J, our short-termer from Cambridge, arrived just 3 days after me, and skedlemba arrived the day before her–all three of us started at iThemba together. A white South African whose been living (and driving) in the States for the past four years now driving a black British Nigerian in skedlemba around Sweetwaters for 5 weeks–sounds like the start of a really bad sitcom.
I don’t think people really knew what to make of us–black guys selling stuff at the robots would ask me for money in English, but say, “Hey, what’s up?” to J in Zulu. Or the time at Life Group when Sizwe just burst out laughing because it was so funny to him to see a white person translating for a black person. Or the time J was treating me for tea, and the black waiter gave me the bill. And then there was Skedlemba himself– the time J started rolling away in the car because the handbrake wasn’t strong enough, or when we used an umbrella to ring the bell on one of those (typical) huge South African electric gates because I couldn’t get out of the car. So much laughter. So much praying. So many great conversations happened in Skedlemba over these past five weeks.
J was an awesome short-termer, and let me tell you some reasons why (and hopefully inspire you for the next time you go on a short term trip) :
She asked lots of great questions: How do I show respect here? How do I greet people here? Tell me about what people believe here. I just noticed something, is that typical, or was that just a specific incident? How can I show appreciation in an appropriate way in this situation?
She was culturally aware: Even though J did not know that much about South African culture, she was aware enough to realize it was different, and she needed to learn how to adapt to it. Many times short-termers are not aware of differences, or, they assume that others will accommodate their preferences, rather than jumping in and trying to adapt to where they are.
She came to serve: J was willing to do anything. She was not here as a cultural tourist, she came to work. That meant getting up early everyday of the week, it meant singing songs or telling stories to children even if she was not prepared, it meant teaching spontaneous English lessons to teens on a Saturday, it meant going 100% even when she had the flu for two weeks. J didn’t come with a grand plan of what she wanted to accomplish while she was here, she explained what her gifts were and said, “how can you use me?”
Sometimes I wonder about the value of short-term missions. Since my job is to help co-ordinate short-term missions trips with iThemba, I had to wrestle with the idea to make sure that I was really investing in something I believed in. Too often, short-term mission trips are done badly, those coming out are not well-prepared (or prepared just enough to be dangerous). Too often, the wealth of the teams, their Western individualistic mindsets, or their desire to accomplish things for their home church rather than help the host team stands in the way of their ability to really serve or grow.
However–short term missions trips can also have a huge benefit to the people going out and the host team. Our team was really encouraged by J’s visit–it helped remind us of the significance and importance of what we are doing in Sweetwaters/Mpumuza, it brought a mini-revival to the work that we do day in and day out. In only 5 weeks, J was able to build relationships with teachers in the area, and deepen the ties between people in Sweetwaters and iThemba projects.
Maybe short-term missions trips are like skedlemba. They aren’t perfect–in fact, there are probably a lot of problems with them. But, in our imperfect world, they can still accomplish something for the kingdom of God.
Thanks for coming J! We’ll miss you! See you soon!
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: deathofthewriter.wordpress.com
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.