Monday, March 31, 2008

Oh Zimbabwe, How We Ache For You

This is a picture from the Sunday Times, showing a nun praying for her country (Zimbabwe) while people queue up behind her to cast their votes in an election that many believe will be rigged. All I know is that the inflation rate is 100,000%, only 1 in 5 have a job, 1/3 of the population depends on food aid, the life expectancy is down to 35 years, the people are terrorised by the government, and millions of Zimbabweans have fled across the border into South Africa, most of them illegally. And this in a country that only twenty years ago was called the "Bread Basket" of Africa, because of the wealth of agriculture. I have heard personal stories from Zimbabweans, both here in South Africa and in Swaziland. The stories will make you weep.

I don't want to start a debate on immigration, but my heart goes out to these people. When they arrive here in South Africa, they end up hiding in the townships (police can't track them down so easily there), they can't get jobs (if they are not here legally), and they aren't much better off. The South Africans out in the townships are often upset because they blame the rise in crime on foreigners such as the Zimbabweans and Mozambicans.

And here is me - born and raised in the U.S. - who has had it rather easy for most of my life. To think that I have been complaining about my microwave oven for the last week...

There goes another layer of my American worldview.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Joyful Noise

I know I blog too much about Sundays in South Africa - you're probably thinking "Not again!" - but it really is a memorable event in my life every week! For one thing, no one else has the guts to sing children's songs in "grown-up church". There's a song by Hillsong called "One Way Jesus". It's a great song, so this week WE sang it in church. And it rocked! My favorite line is, "You are the Way, the Truth and the Life; we live by faith and not by sight for You... living all for You." Imagine the sound of a few thousand adults, worshiping wholeheartedly - unabashedly - singing a "children's" song. That wouldn't happen in the States... at least I don't think so.

This Sunday the sermon text was John 8:36 "Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." At the end of the sermon, the congregation had a chance to pray, following the pastor's lead, to renounce any strongholds in their life and claim the freedom that comes through forgiveness in Jesus. There are a lot of strongholds here in Africa that stem from ancestor worship and witchcraft. I think there are strongholds in the U.S. as well, just different ones.

I don't know how to explain the feeling in the auditorium this morning, but I felt the presence of the Lord, as people earnestly sought Him. When the pastor was done praying, there was an amazing sense of joy that filled the room. The worship band came up and sang a song based on John 8:36 "Through You the blind will see, through You the mute will sing, through You the dead will rise, through You our hearts will praise, through You the darkness flees, through You my heart screams, I am free!" I have never experienced more sincere, more joyous worship than I did this morning. It was culturally very different from what I am used to, but I had a blast worshiping with my South African brothers and sisters in Christ. I don't know why, but it made me cry. The pure joy of being released from a life of bondage and receiving the love and forgiveness of Jesus is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, and I was blessed to witness it once again this morning.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Don't Try This At Home

Okay, so I blew up the microwave, but it was an accident! Lucy wanted to decorate some eggs using a marbled wax technique. The instructions said to pour boiling water over crayon shavings to melt the wax. I did. It didn't work. So I tried to melt the wax in the microwave. Turns out crayon wax is flammable (who knew?), and there is a fine line between "melting" and "nuclear meltdown".

Dan thought it was so funny he had to email photos to everyone, saying "Look what my wife did!" Me, I've been scraping wax off the microwave walls for two straight days. Yesterday Dan was gleefully researching "solvents that melt wax" on the internet.

I've decided to post pictures of my mishap, before Dan emails all of you! Enjoy a laugh at my expense... it's on the house today (but I think he's getting a little too much enjoyment out of this, don't you?).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What I Do All Day

Many of you have asked, "So what do you exactly do all day, besides blog and eat boerewors?" To answer your question:

Lately I've been working on developing an after-school programme for the orphan day centres. I have been looking over some wonderful children's bible studies from churches here and in Modesto (thank you, BVG!), and breaking one week's lesson into five, smaller sessions, adding games that contribute to the Bible lesson's theme, etc., so that every day after school, the orphans will have a programme that will centre on a weekly idea/lesson/theme/verse.

Every morning begins with prayer and devotions with the team. Some mornings we get into heated debates; some mornings we share something that touched us deeply and have "watery" eyes, and some mornings we need an extra cup of coffee.

Some days I go shopping with Christo at Makro (similar to Costco in the U.S.) to buy food for the orphans. Some is distributed to the day centres, and some is prepared into parcels and given to the orphans once a month, to cover the meals they don't get at the day centres. The parcels take a few days to prepare. It takes at least two people and sometimes three trolleys full of food to load, unload, load, unload, and load again (Christo does most of that!). Then it has to be driven out to the townships.

Other days can involve trips to the post office, organising used clothing to be distributed to the orphans, making coffee for my boss and those meeting with him, answering phones, or just working on building relationships with those whom I work, both at the office and out in the township.

Every day ends at 1:00 for me, when I go to pick up the children from school, prepare lunch, supervise homework, etc. I guess saying that my day "ends" at 1:00 isn't quite true... in many ways it is just beginning!

To be honest - I've only been here six months, so I still feel like the "newbie" who hasn't found her rhythym yet. There is still much to learn, much to understand. I don't always see the big picture. Sometimes I only get little bits that are fuzzy. But like anyone at a new job, I plug away and hope to do better in time, becoming more intuitive as to what needs to be done, and hopefully proficient at how to do it (in a culturally relevant context... that's the hard part!).

How Do YOU Read It?

In American English, we would say, "For Rent". Here, it's "To Let". But my mind always, always fills in the space with a letter "i" so that it says, "TOILET". Why, I have no clue...

Monday, March 24, 2008

It's a Small World After All

This is an amazing story: Once upon a time there was a little boy born in Hong Kong. He went to live at an orphanage, where he was cared for by a woman from South Africa. One year later, a couple from America flew to Hong Kong to adopt him. They named him Benjamin. Five years later, they moved to South Africa. Six months later, the South African woman in Hong Kong moved back to South Africa. One week later, they all met up for an amazing reunion. And they all lived happily ever after (except that one of them had to fly back to Cape Town, while the other two stayed in Pretoria).

Loretta came over today. This is the woman who changed our son's nappies, got up in the middle of the night with him, fed him, clothed him, bathed him, and was in a very real sense his first "mommy" for the first year of his life. When we flew to Hong Kong to adopt our son, we realised that he had received the best of care from Loretta, and we had nothing but thanks for her. I am SO grateful that we got to be with her today. What an incredible blessing (and I think she was pleased to see how much Ben had grown)!

Who knew that Ben's first caregiver would be a South African, that we would later move to South Africa, that we would ever see Loretta again??? God is so awesome! You know what else? Today is a public holiday in South Africa... "Family Day." How appropriate.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Oh Be Careful Little Hands...

....what you blog!

Yesterday, no sooner had I typed my blog, confessing my need to let go of my schedule, etc. etc.... the Lord gave me an opportunity to practise what I preach. Yup. Load shedding kicked in. Only we got hit three times yesterday, as no matter where we went, it followed us.

Emma had a field trip to the cultural museum yesterday. While the kids were in the Egyptian mummy exhibit, the power went out (everyone has to do their "time" with scheduled power outages of 2-4 hours). The Grade 4 girls were screaming, which I think is funny because Emma was complaining that everything was a replica and that there were no "real" historical artifacts. I mean, it's one thing if it's pitch black and you're surrounded by "real" Egyptian mummies, but when it's just a bunch of mummy "replicas", well, it loses some of the glamour! The kids had to end their trip early and go back to school. Meanwhile, back at the office....

The power went out, and came on just after lunch. "After lunch" is when I go home, so just as the power came back on, I went home, where the power went off! Six hours later it finally came back on, only to go off again thirty minutes later. So the laundry didn't get done, dinner didn't get cooked, emails didn't get written, and baths weren't taken (no hot water by that point). I was really grumbling ("it's only supposed to be 2-4 hours!") when the Lord reminded me, "Remember that blog you wrote this morning?" Ummm, yeah..... can I take it back?? (Just kidding!) I realised that only too often I need to take a good dose of my own medicine! It is easy to "say" things, but to "do" them is another story.

Anyway, it's good to be back online! No more mummy replicas, dinner replicas, email replicas or bath replicas... I can do the real thing! Speaking of food, it's lunchtime. See you tomorrow (if we have power, that is)!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What's in Your Net?

"As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men." Immediately they left their nets and followed Him." - Mark 1:16-18

Our pastor preached on this passage on Sunday, and he made a point of saying that Simon and Andrew immediately followed Jesus. Not in a little while, not after they had finished with their nets, but immediately.

And so, as often is the case, my mind began to wander. I'm not a fisherman, but I have a net in my hands that begs for my attention. Do you know what's in my net? My schedule. Every day I know exactly what I'm going to do and how the day is going to unfold. When something interrupts that schedule - a phone call, an unexpected visitor, traffic delays, load shedding (those of you in SA know what I'm talking about!), I have a really hard time adjusting. The funny thing is, South Africans are very relational - as far as I can tell people are always more important than the job at hand - so I'm starting to think God put me here to learn a few things!

Don't think because we're in "ministry" that we're perfect. There are times when I say, "Sure, Lord, I'll call this person back as soon as I finish...." or "Okay, Lord, I'll go talk to this person, but can I ignore the doorbell just until I'm done with..... and then I'll go?" I look down to find that I'm not only holding a net, but I'm tangled up in it - I've got a nice pair of "fish net stockings" on!

"Immediately they left their nets and followed Him." That's a hard one. Would you leave your place in the queue at Starbucks to follow Jesus? Would you set that latte down, unfinished? Would you leave your groceries, your braai, to follow Jesus? Your job? Your family? I don't know about you, but I have a hard time leaving my net, immediately or otherwise. I see that I still have a lot to learn, especially how to open these two hands of mine.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Sausage King of Chicago

Anyone remember the movie, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, where Ferris pretends to be Abe Froman, the "sausage king of Chicago", in order to get into the snooty French restaurant? Well, Abe Froman has nothing on Christo, the Afrikaner king of boerewors!

Boerewors is sausage, South African style. Coiled up in one long... intestine... it's braaid and then cut up into smaller pieces (unless you want to unroll the thing onto a baguette and make the world's longest hot dog!). Christo is a guy we work with. He has the world's biggest heart and is the best co-worker on the planet. He'll do anything for you, even bring you a kilo of homemade boerewors.

We braaid this last night and I actually made pap that was edible, with that tomato/onion gravy stuff. So either we're slowly turning into South Africans, or we've discovered the joys of Afrikaner comfort food. Thanks, Christo (even Abe Froman couldn't have topped this)!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Love is Blind

My accent gives me away. People greet me in Afrikaans, and when I attempt to respond, they usually say, "You don't speak Afrikaans? Where are you from?" When I tell them, they invariably say, "Shame. Why did you come here? You know this country is terrible; it used to be so nice. I'm trying to leave myself, maybe to Australia or Canada." They then go on to give me crime statistics, or tell me of a personal experience. And in some ways they're right: if you haven't been carjacked or robbed yourself, then you know someone who has. But here's the bizarre part:

When they tell me all that's wrong with South Africa, it only makes me love this country more. I don't know why, but I really, really love South Africa. I love the land and I love the people. Warts and all. The Russian author, Dostoevsky, said this, "To love a person means to see him as God intends him to be." I wonder if that applies to nations as well? But Dostoevsky isn't God, so here's what the Bible says:

"Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture... Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun." - Psalm 37:1-3, 5-6

So here's my commentary for today: Whether Obama wins or Hillary wins... whether Jacob Zuma is convicted on corruption charges or whether he becomes President.... Dwell in the land, do good, commit your way to the Lord, and SHINE.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Burning the Idols

Yesterday when I came home from lunch my front door was wide open and the screws removed from the door handle. I drove back up to the security gate to have a guard come check the house and make sure no one was inside. The house was clear and nothing had been taken, but I was a bit nervous last night, as Dan is still in California and I'm here alone with the kids.

Once the kids were in bed, I had a battle with fear. Not panic, just uneasiness. I emailed Dan and a few others to ask for their prayers and then prayed myself. As I was praying, I heard the Lord say to me, "Do you love your safety more than you love Me?" I floundered a bit. "You know, Lord, it's good to be wise, to not be foolish, and as long as I'm alive I can do more work for You", etc. etc. The question was repeated: "Do you love your safety more than you love Me? Is safety your idol?" No more excuses. I stopped and thought for a long time. "No, Lord, I love You more, though.... I am struggling tonight." Then another question: "Do you trust Me enough to sleep in peace tonight?" More thought. Then tears. Then a confession of my lack of trust. "Yes, Lord, I do trust You. Forgive me for loving my life more than I love You, the LORD of my life. Forgive me for not keeping my focus on You. My life is Yours, to do with as you see fit."

Someone once said that the problem with being a living sacrifice is that you can crawl off the altar. So last night I crawled back up and once again gave God control. I slept like a rock last night, and not even the hadida ibis birds who wake me up every morning before the sun rises could shake me. By the grace of God, I have all that I need, at all times, in all situations. (2 Cor. 9:8) And this morning my heart is filled with joy.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

South African Sundays

I wish you could have joined me in church today. There is no way to adequately explain South African worship. It is something that truly has to be experienced to get the full effect. But since you're not here, I'll do my best to relate the morning to you:

Picture a church with 2,000 people in the auditorium. White, Black, Asian, Indian, you name it, they're all here, in their traditional dress. Old men, babies, and every age in between. The worship leader looks and sounds like he's from the Wiggles (the Australian children's band). The bass guitarist rocks with his six-string bass. In the congregation is a man who brings his own tambourine every week, and in the back is a man who brings his own trumpet, occasionally blowing it in service when he feels inspired (which, to my American ears, unfortunately sounds like a goat in labor... with triplets). Today we are singing a house favourite:

Lift up your heads, ye gates of brass
You bars of iron, yield
And let the King of Glory pass,
The cross has won the field!

Only in a country in which violent crime has forced people to live behind walls, electric fences, barred windows and metal gates does this song make sense. Next to me is an Indian woman in her sari, and on the other side, a black South African in traditional dress with a colourful head scarf. When the song comes to the chorus, which is "Alleluia" sung four times, the congregations goes wild, jumping up and down. I think I can say on authority that no one jumps higher than Africans! Suddenly, the trumpet blows from behind (and the goat gives birth!). The crowd cheers! On to verse two:

Arise, my warrior Bride,
You armies of God, take the land.....

More jumping, more "goat births", and believe it or not, I'm starting to get teary-eyed. If you come to South Africa expecting the worship to be like it is in America, you will miss the beauty. It is not a performance, it is not polished, it is sometimes not on pitch, but it is sincere, it is precious, and it is a most acceptable offering to a Holy God who deserves our praise no matter what's going on outside the building.

I wish you could have been here this morning. I am sure you would have been blessed.

And the winners of South African Idol are....

Precious, Emma and Lucy! Here they are groovin' to Sean Kingston (notice the wooden spoon microphones!)

Friday, March 7, 2008

In Need of a Hug

Here is the downside of being a missionary, AND YET...... "Praise be to the LORD, to God our Saviour, who daily bears our burdens." - Psalm 68:19

Everyone thinks I'm a superhero,
traipsing off to Africa like a
female version of David Livingstone
but they don't know that
it hurts when Grandpa dies and
there's no one to hug me,
no shoulder to cry on;

I'm alone and
I must tell the kids
only I don't have the heart
because it's Granny and Grandpa Day
at school, so I

drive around aimlessly
through blurred saltwater vision,
not noticing third world
traffic, beat up taxis
edging me off the road...

I pick up smiling children
covered in bits of
popcorn and sticky sweets,
overhear some ladies
planning their weekend and
I want to be invited,
want someone to hug me...

I gaze at unfamiliar stars
in the Southern Hemisphere
and think that Grandpa has
joined the Great Cloud of Witnesses
who cheers me on to
finish the race

but what I want is a hug
because it's hard to be
17,000 kilometers from home
when someone I love

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"One Thing I Do Know..."

In 2 Corinthians 6:3-10, Paul tells the Corinthians to.... well maybe you should read it for yourselves, because it's hard to summarize Paul:

"We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as imposters; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything."

To commend is to recommend. Paul is essentially saying to follow his example in the above situations. He's covered just about every scenario except birthday parties and root canals! I don't know that I can say, "In kindness, follow my example. In sincere love, follow my example. In hardships and distresses, follow my example." I am forced to stop and think about my behaviour in certain situations.

I am not a philosopher like Paul. I don't always burn with passion for the Lord like Paul. I do not seem to be so single-minded and unwavering as Paul. I am not a "great apostle" like Paul. But I can tell you this, echoing the words of the blind man in John 9:25: "One thing I do know. I was blind, but now I see." And for today, that is enough.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Snack Foods Gone Awry

"Crazy Cheese Aerosol Cheese - American Flavour" (and just what exactly do Americans taste like??)

"Directions: For best results, remove cap (that's always a good idea). Hold applicator tip close to food (apparently this part is very important because it's in bold print). Press nossle (that's how it's spelled) firmly to one side and move slowly across food surface (because if you move it fast you might not get enough American flavour aerosol cheese on whatever it is you're spraying)."

Maybe it's just me, but I do not think the words "aerosol" and "cheese" belong in the same sentence. Still, it made my day. And of course, one can only put aerosol cheese on.... yes, that's right... "Salticrax: Bites of Creativity"