Sunday, August 31, 2008

My African Gogo

This is my gogo out in Soshanguve (well, not really, but I've sort of adopted her). She works at one of our orphan day centres, washing the dishes after 112 orphans have eaten... no small task!

Every time I go out there, she gives me the biggest hug and says (emphasizing each word) "I... LOVE... YOU!" She makes me feel so special.

I wonder if she knows how special she is? I always tell her that I love her, too, and that she is beautiful, but I wonder if she believes it. Life must be hard for her. It is sometimes embarrassing to be the white American who comes over, unloads some food, visits for a bit, and then goes back to my comfortable home.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Road Between...

This is a typical roadside photo on the road between Pretoria and Soshanguve. It may not look like much to you - it may look dirty and even a bit depressing - but it makes me smile.

When I leave Pretoria to go to Soshanguve, I know that while I am leaving wealth for poverty, I am also leaving the unfriendliness of a large city for the warmth and friendliness of township life. I know that everyone I meet there will greet me, shake my hand. I know that the elderly women will all hug me, the small children will all want to be held, and I know that while there may not be enough material possessions out there, there is an abundance of love.

African Beading

This woman was making a set of six placemats. She said it would take one week to make them. If you look at how small each bead is, it's amazing to me that she can even make ONE placemat.

I think she is so beautiful. There is a staid dignity in her eyes, isn't there?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday Quote

"Joy is love exalted;
peace is love in repose;
long suffering is love enduring;
gentleness is love in society;
goodness is love in action;
faith is love on the battlefield;
meekness is love in school;
and self-control is love in training."
- D.L. Moody

I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that the opposite of selfishness is not unselfishness; it's love.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Room at the Inn

As a little girl, I always wanted to have a guest room so people could come and stay with us. From extended family to exchange students to friends sleeping over, I had great ideas of how a guest room could be used. Unfortunately our house was too small (or our family was too big!), and we never did have that guest room...

Until now. I've been thinking about how many guests we've housed since we moved to South Africa. We've hosted people from Denmark, the U.S., Swaziland, England, Mozambique and yes, South Africa. There were times when I was tired, not feeling well, didn't want to prepare the guest bedroom, but then I was reminded of my dream as a little girl.

Funny how when we're children, we see the positive side of everything but then when we grow up, we see the negatives and challenges much more readily than the possibilities and potential. A friend once said to us, "If you have the choice between being relational or staying home and reading a book, choose to be relational. It's almost always the better choice." At the time I wasn't so sure I agreed with him, but looking back, I think there is value in what he said.

While it hasn't always been easy or convenient to house extra people, it has always been worth it, and always been enriching. The conversations, the things we've learned, the perspective we've gained, the relationships... are worth more than any book, worth the trouble it took to prepare the room or extra food at dinner.

"Practice hospitality." -Romans 12:13 While it's not always easy, it's always worth it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Random Thoughts

I've been in South Africa for eleven months, now, so here are some random observations to commemorate the occasion:
  • I have managed to learn the games of rugby and hockey, but I don't think I shall ever understand why a cricket game needs to take five days.
  • I still haven't learned that when you drink a cup of coffee in the car while you're driving over roads with potholes, you spill. Every time.
  • To all the people who wee along the side of the road - I can understand being desperate, but why can't you go BEHIND the tree instead of in front of it? I have had to answer some interesting questions posed by my children on the way to school.
  • I think I am the only person in Pretoria who doesn't speak Afrikaans. Sometimes this is frustrating... especially when you go to the doctor and have to fill out new patient forms (maar ek probeer baie hard om Afrikaans te leer!).
  • I love it that when I order a plain cup of coffee, I am always asked if I want hot or cold milk with that, and then given the choice between white and brown sugar as well. That would never happen in the States (although, I confess, I still occasionally miss Starbucks!)
  • When South Africa won it's first Olympic medal of these games, I cheered as loudly as any South African. In fact, I found that I cheer equally for both the U.S. and South Africa.
Sometimes it is very, very hard having one foot in two worlds, but I still wouldn't trade it for anything. Maybe I just have to deal with having two "homes". I have grown to love this country, these people. They are wonderful. And that is worth giving up Starbucks for!

Thoughts on Culture, Worldview, and Kicking Some Bum

It's easy to point out the supposed flaws in other cultures - those aspects in which another's worldview is "wrong." What is incredibly difficult is to see those things in your own culture.

Yesterday my daughter related an experience at school that was slightly disturbing. The mother instinct in me wanted to make some noise, defend my child, get revenge, kick some bum. As Americans, we are taught to "demand our rights", be vocal, be an advocate. We are quick to say, "That's not fair", and then get on our soapboxes, demanding freedom and equality for all. But let's be honest - we tend to do this only when it directly affects ourselves.

While none of the above reactions are bad in and of themselves, I think it is a weakness in my home culture because it is often contrary to Christianity. Jesus didn't go around demanding His rights or getting angry every time someone was rude to Him. He loved people (even the mean ones), He turned the other cheek, He made Himself a servant. He extended grace in a world that desperately needed it. My small American brain cannot reconcile these two responses.

So... do I choose to follow the Bible's teachings, or those of my home culture? Please don't misunderstand me - I think there are very much times when we must stand up for what is right. I am just realising that there are things about my culture that I'm not sure are good. Would it not be better to teach my daughter how to respond with grace to the challenges and "unfairness" of life, rather than respond in a like manner to the bullies of the world?

I find that the older I get, the less I know.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

You Know it's Going to be a Long Day....

... when you're daughter is sick throwing up, and while you're cleaning up the mess your son comes running in the house screaming "MOMMY!!" because he split his knee open... again... in the exact same spot, and there's a flap of skin hanging off his knee which you have to cut off because your husband is gone with the pastor from Mozambique who's staying in your spare bedroom which reminds you that you have to plan meals and cook and actually do your hair because you have company. (Breathe...)

"All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be." - Psalm 139:16

"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." - Phil. 4:13

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Another Olympic Story

I love the Olympics. I don't know what it is... maybe it's the idea of people coming together from every nation, putting aside their differences, and celebrating their victories together. My favourite part is the Opening Ceremonies. I always like to see who the flag bearer is. This year, the flag bearer for the United States was Lopez Lomong, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, who recently gained U.S. citizenship and is competing in the 1,500 metre race.

The Lost Boys are more than 27,000 boys who were orphaned or displaced during the Second Sudanese Civil War. Government troops attacked villages in southern Sudan, killing most of the civilian inhabitants. Many of the young boys survived because they were away tending herds. The girls were raped and taken as slaves, so very few of them made it to refugee camps. The boys fled into the jungles and made journeys that sometimes lasted years, crossing several international borders to make it to refugee camps. Lopez himself was abducted by rebels, escaped, and spent ten years in a refugee camp before making his way to the United States.

One thing I love about America is that someone who comes from the worst situation can grow up to become... well... just about anything he wants. If the determination is there, the way and means will be found to reach the goal.

Lopez Lomong had to learn how to be an African American. I have to learn how to be an American African. But there is where the similarity ends. I can only imagine what experiences he has lived through. I am so proud that he got to carry the U.S. flag. He embodies the ideals of America more than anyone I know.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

How Hungry Are You?

I was helping out at a pastor's conference today. I was "The Greeter" (i.e., "Hello! Good morning! Welcome! How are you? Goeie môre! Registrasie is in die saal. Accommodations are in the building across the parking lot.")

I met people from all over South Africa, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Zambia, Mozambique, and Malawi. I asked the man from Malawi how long it took him to travel to Pretoria. He smiled broadly and said, "Four days, traveling 14 hours each day. The potholes were terrible, but we only had two flat tyres!" He then commented on how South Africa is so different from Malawi. When I asked him how so, he replied, "Well, Malawi isn't as.... developed."

Another person I met was a sweet gogo (grandma) from a township outside of Pretoria. Her husband had recently passed away. He was, as she puts it, the shepherd of that area. She then asked me, "When the shepherd goes away, what happens to the sheep?" Gogo Setty decided something had to be done, so she enrolled in Bible college (she has two semesters left), deciding to pick up the mantle of leadership left behind by her deceased husband. How's that for taking initiative?

I can only imagine what life is like for this pastor out in rural Malawi, and for the elderly gogo. If they need to talk to someone, where do they go? In whom can they confide? This man and woman were so excited to be at the conference and talk to other people who are in similar situations, as well as gain valuable education. They are hungry to learn, and will go to great lengths to do so.

So... how hungry are you?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Wise in Battle

"Real Christian combat is the struggle to keep moving toward the light precisely when the darkness is so real." - Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

I realised something about Satan today. He doesn't strike when you're at the top of your game, when you're ready for battle. He attacks you where you're weakest, when you're already down. And just when you think you don't have the strength, that's when the battle often becomes fiercest.

The good news is, we don't have to fight alone. We don't have to rely on our own strength (it would not be possible anyway!). This is when prayer and the armour of God become absolutely critical (and let's not kid ourselves; they're always critical). Another important key is the support of other people. Just as Moses needed Aaron and Joshua to hold up his arms to win the battle, so we, too, sometimes need the support of others or we'd never make it.

Just wanted to remind you to keep going, to never let your guard down, and to share your needs with others. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." - Ephesians 6:12

Thursday, August 7, 2008

An Olympic Story

I just read the most amazing Olympic story, and since the Beijing Olympics begin tomorrow, I thought it fitting to share.

Josia Thugwane won the gold medal in the marathon at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the most grueling of Olympic events. When he crossed the finish line, he became the first black South African to win an Olympic gold medal. But here's where his story becomes even more amazing:

At the time of his gold medal win, Josia still could not read or write. He lived in a tin shack in a Mpumulanga township, and cleaned toilets for a living at a coal mine. Five months before he competed in the Olympics, he was shot in the face during a carjacking.

Stop with me and weep for a moment, at the resilience of the human spirit, the hope of glory and redemption by a God who can make sense of it all. This guy didn't let anything get in his way. He never took his eye off the goal. May it be said of us as well, whatever our calling may be.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus...." - Hebrews 12:1-2

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Thoughts on Bread

Bethlehem was called the House of Bread. It actually means "House of Bread" in Hebrew, if I'm not mistaken.

Zimbabwe used to be called the Bread Basket of Africa, exporting wheat, maize and tobacco to the rest of the continent and beyond. It is now only a ruin of its former glory.

South Africa has amazing bread. Just about any time of day you can walk into a shop and buy fresh bread, still warm from the oven.

Last week we were meeting with a pastor from Zimbabwe who asked - nearly begged - for us to go back into Zimbabwe and train pastors. His heart weeps for his people and his nation. I can only imagine what the past decade has been like for him.

As this man was speaking, a verse from Scripture suddenly popped into my head: "I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty." - John 6:35

I don't know why, but it gave me goosebumps. I see this metaphor of Jesus being the Bread of Life in a whole new light now. It's time to take some bread - Bread of Life - to a world that is hungry for meaning and hope.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Tribute to Solzhenitsyn

One of my favourite authors, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, died two days ago. What an amazing man! I thought I would post some of my favourite quotes from his books and speeches.

I keep a journal in which I write down quotes from my favourite authors. I don't know exactly why I do this - maybe because I don't want to forget great things I read - but when I go back and read these quotes they always inspire me once again to make the most of my one life, something Solzhenitsyn did without question. So, without further ado:

"There is but one choice: to rise to the tasks of the age."

"Nationalities are the wealth of humanity; they are its crystallised personalities; even the smallest among them has its own special colouration, hides within itself a particular facet of God's design." - the Nobel Lecture on Literature, 1970

"I understand that you love freedom, but in our crowded world you have to pay a tax for freedom. You cannot love freedom for yourselves alone and quietly agree to a situation where the majority of humanity, spread over the greater part of the globe, is subjected to violence and oppression." - from an address given before the AFL-CIO in New York, 1975

"The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie. One word of truth outweighs the world." - the Nobel Lecture on Literature, 1970

Monday, August 4, 2008

Petrol Prices

Okay, so with the rising costs of petrol, and everyone back in the States complaining about how much gasoline costs (between $4.00 and $4.50 per gallon), I started to wonder, what exactly do we pay here? Obviously, I know that petrol is R10-50 per litre, but what does that translate to in US Dollars? I began to do the math:

4 litres is approximately one gallon (1.05 gallons, to be exact). So... mulitply R10-50 by four, and you get R42 per gallon. The current exchange rate is 7.22 Rand to one Dollar, so that works out to $5.79 per gallon. YIKES!

This makes my getting lost last week on the way home from choir practice all the more disconcerting, considering how much petrol I wasted by ending up on the opposite side of town (let alone how on earth I got lost?!). I could tell you what suburb I left, where I ended up, and where I was supposed to be, but suffice it to say (for those of you in California) it was the equivalent of driving from Modesto to Salida, and ending up in Turlock.

No Matter How Old You Are...

... you never outgrow the need for your mom!

My mom sent me a box last week (how lucky am I?) with some of my favourite sweets and things from the U.S. Also in the box was some flu medicine, which I secretly hoped I would never need! Guess what? Yesterday I came down with a nasty flu. I was in bed all day when I remembered, "Hey! Mom sent some flu medicine!" Opening the bottle was like receiving a long-distance hug (okay, so that sounds corny, but it's true! Getting something in the mail from mom is such a treat, even if it is flu medicine!)

Today I am feeling much better, and I am reminded once again that we never outgrow our need for mom's touch. SO.... thanks for your foresight, Mom! I feel loved!

Friday, August 1, 2008

"I just want her to smell like flowers"

This is my co-worker, Christo. Today he bought some lotion for Maria, the little girl I wrote about below. He said, "I just want her to smell like flowers when she goes to school every day. Don't you think that is important to little girls?" Then he cried. Then we all cried - every single one of us.

"Jesus wept." - John 11:35

I wonder if God - when He sees our suffering - picks us up, dusts us off, and makes us smell like flowers, so to speak. For surely, even though Christo and we love Maria, God loves her even more. We are humans and our love is flawed, but God's love is perfect - it is deeper than we can fathom and knows no bounds, no matter what we have done or where we find ourselves.

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." - 1 Corinthians 13:13


This is Maria. She is in Grade 3, and is nine years old. Two weeks ago, the tiny shack she lives in burned down. Her parents were killed in the fire. What little possessions she owned are gone.

Two days ago we drove to her primary school to deliver food parcels for the identified orphans there. The headmaster asked us if we had an extra pair of shoes and clothes for her, as she literally has nothing left except an old school uniform that the school managed to find. Maria doesn't even own a pair of shoes. She is staying with an auntie, who may or not be a blood relative.

My two girls raided their closets to find some clothes for Maria, and what we didn't have, we went out and bought. But providing clothes - while meeting physical needs - won't heal the hurt inside of Maria. When we saw her two days ago her face wasn't smiling and bright like you see in this photo. Her eyes were flat - there was no life, no spark of joy left in them.

I believe absolutely that Jesus can heal any hurt, that there is hope in the darkest of circumstances, but sometimes Jesus also just sat down and cried with people, such as when His friend Lazarus died.

The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35, "Jesus wept." But it so powerful! It doesn't say, "Jesus preached a sermon," or "Jesus debated world hunger, politics and suffering in the world." Just two words.... Jesus wept. And in those words lies the very heart of God.