Blast Off!!

Last week was kids camp, and we had the pleasure of taking 50 kids to the beach for camp! This year the theme was outer space. We have been planning this camp for the past 3 months, praying, putting together the programme, preparing crafts and games, finding donations… so it was so exciting to finally be there with the kids!

I am so thankful for the fantastic team that I work with and all the hard effort everyone put in to make camp a success– and especially to the small group leaders ( made up of volunteers from the community and iThemba staff). They were a great group of leaders and were willing to do anything for the kids, whether it was be voted off to slide into the pool fully clothed, or have their faces covered in icing and facepaint!

On camp kids play games, have lots of fun and also learn about God. Children who don’t have Bibles get a free Zulu Bible, and during fun games as a team, they learn about how to use a Bible and find verses. We also have a camp speaker who gives a message every day, as well as worship.

Thank you everyone who prayed for or supported this camp in some way!

Here are a few pictures (for those of you who get this via email, it might be easier to see directly on the blog):

The kids are in small groups of 6-8, and they eat, sleep, play and do EVERYTHING as a team.
The kids are in small groups of 6-8, and they eat, sleep, play and do EVERYTHING as a team.
We played lots of games on the beach, including building team sand sculptures
We played lots of games on the beach, including building team sand sculptures
During the first activity, groups had to race around the campsite using a map to find different items, and in the end they used their items to create an edible rocket!
During the first activity, groups had to race around the campsite using a map to find different items, and in the end they used their items to create an edible rocket!
Tug of War on the beach is always fun
Tug of War on the beach is always fun
Here's Gugu, my co-worker with her team. They named themselves "The Goregeous Girls" All the teams have to come up with their own names and war cries.
Here’s Gugu, my co-worker with her team. They named themselves “The Goregeous Girls” All the teams have to come up with their own names and war cries.
This is obviously me.
This is obviously me.
The slide is a BIG HIT. Even though it was quite chilly, the kids couldn't get enought of it. And every night, the kids vote to send one leader down the slide in their clothes. :)
The slide is a BIG HIT. Even though it was quite chilly, the kids couldn’t get enought of it. And every night, the kids vote to send one leader down the slide in their clothes. 🙂
The pool is always a big hit! Kids had free time in the pool, but also played a game where they had to transfer their entire team across without getting in the water.
The pool is always a big hit! Kids had free time in the pool, but also played a game where they had to transfer their entire team across without getting in the water.
Here's one of the crafts they made: stained glass candle holders for tea-light candles. I got to do the black outlines on all 50 of them before camp.
Here’s one of the crafts they made: stained glass candle holders for tea-light candles. I got to do the black outlines on all 50 of them before camp.
David led the teams through the obstacle course.
David led the teams through the obstacle course.
This is us being loopy after 3 days of camp.
This is us being loopy after 3 days of camp.
Kids praying with each other during worship
Kids praying with each other during worship
Our two full-time volunteers at iThemba (Year of Your Lifers), Andile and Nhlaka, who have given a whole year to be with us and serve the community.
Our two full-time volunteers at iThemba (Year of Your Lifers), Andile and Nhlaka, who have given a whole year to be with us and serve the community.

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100 Paper hearts, answering emails, and other ordinary amazing things

So this is at Saturday Kids club, with my cutest ever friend...who knows she's so cute she can get away with anything.
So this is at Saturday Kids club, with my cutest ever friend…who knows she’s so cute she can get away with anything.

So, I thought I should tell you what I do with my life, when all the awesome people I work with are in Sweetwaters teaching Life Skills and being, well, awesome. (Read about the Life Skills program over at the iThemba blog).

Networking and Program support means I write a lot, I plan a lot, I sit at a desk a lot, and sometimes I get to go into Sweetwaters and have fun with kids. 🙂 Here’s an example of what a Tuesday might look like for me ( I have taken out the number of times a day I check my email, since that would get boring):

  • Get to the office and greet everyone personally before making tea. (It’s rude to just sit down and start working in this culture).
  •  Check emails. Correspond with upcoming teams and volunteers.
  • Write up a blog post for the iThemba blog (yes, the one I just told you to go read).
  • Design creative thank you letters for Running Club sponsors
  • Research articles and blogs on good development for our new up and coming interactive website.
  • Cut out 100 red paper hearts, print out 8 huge mazes, laminate 80 name tags for camp.
  • Laugh my head off at the funny things people in the office say.
  • Go to Mountain Home school in Sweetwaters to meet with the principal about our team coming in July from the UK. Judge the school’s 4th grade art competition to determine what mural will be painted by the team at their school. Visit Sbukisezwe creche to talk about the team’s visit with that teacher.
  •  Help with Thulani’s (huge!) Life Group in Sweetwaters: Play singing games with the kids, arm wrestle the tweens, then help with the review game as they go over all of the previous term’s lessons. Pour juice. Hand out chips.
  • Head home! 🙂

Some people have this idea that doing cross-cultural work overseas is some HUGELY amazing thing they could never do.They think people who end up working cross-culturally in a foreign country are some kind of sparkely angelic super-spiritual person they could never be like.

Well.

I’d love to say that’s true. But I think that pretty much everything on that list you’d probably be okay at. (Maybe cutting out paper hearts is a little tough for some of you). I will tell you it’s the BEST JOB IN THE WORLD, and I also work with the most inspiring, fun, crazy people (and sometimes I feel like I’m cheating or something because what I do is so fun, and my JOB is to be a part of this amazing organization, and aren’t people supposed to get stuck into boring desk jobs or something?) … but don’t put cross-cultural mission work on a pedistal and then claim you could never do it because you don’t have what it takes.

You probably do.

On the flip side, you may have noticed that every moment of my life is not holding hands with little children and playing in the rain and singing. A lot of it is pretty ordinary stuff that can get boring. Sometimes I don’t feel like answering a bajillion emails, or cutting ribbons or going shopping for food for visiting teams (my worst) or a bunch of other stuff that’s not my favorite. And this doesn’t cancel out what I just said about having the best job ever– it just one more reason that explains why I am normal, just like you.

And I am guessing that as much as I love iThemba there are probably other organizations and groups where you are that are caring for the poor, the widow and the orphan, and they are probably just as ordinary and just as amazing. So why are you sitting here reading this? You, too, could have an amazing, crazy, wonderful life serving God and doing life-changing things like cutting out 100 paper hearts…right where you live.

 

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. 

Skedlemba Adventures

A creche that J worked with.

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!