Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I Love My Kids!

My middle daughter has to do a report on a medical scientist who invented something or whose research benefited mankind. She had no idea where to start, so I made some suggestions - Linus Pauling and his research on Vitamin C, Dr. Jarvik and the artificial heart, the guy who invented penicillin... but none of these interested her.

So I asked her, "Well, can you think of a medical invention that has made a big difference in the lives of people around the world?" She thought for a minute and said, "Laxatives?"

She's brilliant, I tell you. And she makes me laugh to boot.

On Swine Flu, Self-Absorption and Doing What's Right

So far, according to the BBC, there have been 152 deaths from the swine flu in Mexico, 51 confirmed cases (but no deaths) in the US, 3 confirmed cases in New Zealand, and 2 in the UK. The swine flu is everywhere on the news, and well it should be, if human life is valued.

But what if I told you that 60,000 people died of cholera in Zimbabwe a few months back? Or that 1,000 people die from AIDS every day in South Africa (and that's just South Africa; not the rest of the continent)? Or that 2,000,000 children are orphans here in South Africa because of AIDS, or that 34% of the population lives on less than $2 a day?

Why is it that the US only seems to care about and report on catastrophes that might affect its own borders/people? With all due respect, I guess we're all self-absorbed to some extent: we only care when something affects or might affect us.

I've been thinking a lot about the need to do the right thing because it's the right thing to do, whether anyone notices or not, whether there is any incentive or not... even if I suffer for it - the right thing is still the right thing to do. May we all have such courage as the times demand, to rise to new levels of integrity and purposeful living.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Did I Really Say That?

I think it's high time for a funny post, so in an effort to lighten things up I decided to humiliate myself and tell you all of the horrible mistakes I've made in my attempt to learn Afrikaans:

1. Tonight we hosted a braai for some friends of ours. I served vlakoek for dessert (cake with custard filling), but when I served it, I said it was plakoek. "Vla" means custard, but "pla" means to vex, annoy, bother, be a nuisance.

2. In thanking some friends, I meant to tell them that they were angels. I knew the Afrikaans word for angel is "engel", but I didn't know the plural. Ahh... the difference one tiny letter can make! If you add an "e" to the end it becomes "engele" which means angels. I, unfortunately, added an "s" making the word "engels", which means "englishmen"... not an insult, perhaps, but to an Afrikaner it is not exactly endearing.

3. (I saved the best for last) A friend's elderly mother wanted to teach me to cook traditional Afrikaans meals for dinner. I was trying to say that I would like his mother to teach me to cook dinner, but what I actually said was, "Yes, I would like to cook your mother for dinner."

Random Quote

This made me stop and think for a long time:

"People in our world place such a premium on intelligence that they mistakenly assume those who are smart are also right."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I SURVIVED!


I survived a presidential election in Africa... I'd wear the t-shirt if they made one.

(my South African friends will think I'm being ridiculous, but for a Californian like me this was no small thing!)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On The Eve of Elections

Tomorrow South Africa will elect a new president. In the year and a half I have lived here, tomorrow's winner will be the third president. After President Mbeki's forced resignation, and then interim President Kgalema Motlanthe, tomorrow's expected winner is Jacob Zuma, a man recently acquitted (mysteriously, dare I say) of 16 corruption charges, a man who said he wouldn't get AIDS because he "took a shower" afterwards, a man whose theme song is "Bring Me My Machine Gun", a man who says that the news media "must be reformed."

On the eve of tomorrow's election, I am feeling introspective, thoughtful. In all the years I lived in the U.S., I never worried about a presidential election. Sure, I voted for who I thought would be best, but even when "my" candidate lost, I never feared for my country. Had doubts, maybe, or even disappointments, but never fear. And now I find myself living in a country - a beautiful country - in which tomorrow's election holds such uncertainty, such fear of the future. Will things turn violent? Probably not. Will South Africa "go the way of Zimbabwe"? I fervently pray not.

But I will say this: I realise, on a night like this, how fortunate I am to have lived in such safety all of my life thus far. I do not think most people in the world can say that. Yet never once do I regret the move to South Africa. This is where God has placed me, and this is where I shall stand. I choose not to fear the future. I choose instead to walk forward with my eyes fixed on Jesus.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Come Again?

I passed a store today that was having a "Buy one get one for 1¢" sale. The thing is, the smallest coin in South African currency is a 5¢ coin. They always round down, so that would mean, essentially, "Buy one get one free"... right? I'm still trying to figure that one out.

A New Name

In ancient times, renaming people was a common practice. The intention was to change the person's identity until his/her life matched the new name/title. The new name sometimes signified a change of ownership, or was reflective of a new destiny.

God gave people new names, too:
  1. Abram ("Exalted Father") was changed to Abraham ("Father of Many")
  2. Sarai ("Contentious") was changed to Sarah ("Princess")
  3. Saul ("Asked For" or "Borrowed") was changed to Paul ("Small", "Humble")
  4. Simon ("He has Heard") was changed to Peter ("Rock")
So I wonder... if God was going to give me a new name indicative of what He wanted me to become, what would it be? I have to laugh and think that it's something I'm currently *not*! Joyful, for instance. That's something I struggle with. Or "Strong and Bold."

How about, "Always does the right thing, maintains integrity no matter the cost, diligently pursues righteousness and victory while keeping a spirit of thankfulness and a God-Centred world view all the while letting insults and the fiery arrows of the enemy bounce of her back while she leaps to new heights"? If there is a name that means that, I want it!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Lobola

Lobola - bride price - is still a common practice here in South Africa. As best as I understand it, the man pays the woman's family for the right to marry her. He can pay in cattle, cash, or in other goods determined through negotiations where members from both families attend.

I once asked my neighbour if she was offended by the whole practice - knowing how much (or how little) she was "worth", and she said, "Nah... it's just something you have to go through in order to get married."

I, however, was offended by the whole practice (how could you put a price on a person?), then I felt curious, and then I began to wonder how much *I* would be worth (Dan said he'd give 50 cows for me!). I eventually let the subject go, thankful that my own culture doesn't practice lobola.

Until this morning. The concept of lobola popped into my head once again, only in the context of spiritual things. If people make up the church and the church is called the Bride of Christ, then Christ's death on the cross could be considered the ultimate lobola. He gave his life for his bride. It was as if God was saying to me, "Forget the cows, forget the cash. Forget whatever it is people use to determine worth. I paid with my LIFE for you; that's how special you are to me."

I went through my whole day feeling incredibly loved and valued.

Worth More Than You Know...

Every one of these kids has lost a parent. Look at their eyes. Can you see their hopes, dreams, their unleashed potential? Imagine God knitting them together in the womb, choosing the features and characteristics of each one. Imagine what keeps them up at night, what they worry about. Imagine what they want to be when they grow up. And then pray for them.

"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. [So] do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." - Luke 12:6-7

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Aroma of Christ

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." - 2 Corinthians 2:14-15

Today we delivered food parcels for orphans to four primary schools out in Soshanguve. At one primary school there are just over 1,000 students. At the close of last year there were 101 orphans at that school. Now there are 121 - twenty more children were orphaned in just four months. More than 10% of the school's learners are orphans, and the story is much the same at the other schools.

It is heartbreaking at times - not to mention overwhelming - to have the problem always growing instead of abating. But I am reminded that I don't have to solve the world's problems; I just have to do what God calls me to do each day. Maybe today I can make a difference for THIS child. Maybe tomorrow another child. I can't reach everyone but I can surely reach some.

Do you ever feel like satan uses our fears and feelings of being overwhelmed to keep us in a state of inaction? "The problem is too big - what difference could I make?" "I don't even know where to start." "It wouldn't matter anyway." The list of reasons, explanations (excuses?) goes on... But maybe, just maybe, God needs you to touch one person's life today. And one person tomorrow. And one more the day after that.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Honouring the Right God


"You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honour the God who holds in His hand your life and all your ways." - Daniel 5:23

The God who holds your life in His hands... and all your ways. Which brings me to a question: what are your ways? What are MY ways? Too easily are we enticed by the things of this world - entertainment, looks, wealth - though those things in themselves aren't bad. It is when they take a higher place than God that it becomes a problem, these gods of silver, gold, make-up, movies, cars, food, sex, and instant gratifications.

I want to honour God with my life, whether I'm a chip fryer at Wimpy or the president of a nation (yeah, I know....). I want it to be said of me, like it was said of Daniel, "May your God, whom you serve continually..." - Daniel 6:16 Not part of the time, not just when things are going well, not when I feel like it or have enough energy, but continually.

Your God, whom you serve continually. Not the god of silver, gold, wood, iron or bronze, but the God who holds my life and all my ways in His hands. That One.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Weekend

While I was once again pining the distance between family and the familiar over a holiday weekend (missing those spiral cut hams and family feasts after church), I had one of those musically-enriching weekends that leaves one daydreaming for days afterwards.

On Saturday evening the Soweto Gospel Choir gave a concert at our church. It's one thing to listen to their CD's but to see them live... WOW. I don't know why, but it makes me cry every time.

After church on Sunday we drove to Johannesburg, to Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton to attend the annual performance of Handel's Messiah by the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra and Symphony Choir (it also marked the 250th anniversary of Handel's death). I don't know why in America they always perform Handel's Messiah at Christmas time. It actually makes more sense at Easter, especially when it reaches the culmination of Christ's death and resurrection (my humble opinion, of course).

To be in the Southern Hemisphere, 17,000 kilometres from home, and to join in the worship with other cultures- to hear music that is hundreds of years old and music that is "Proudly South African"... it doesn't get much better than that this side of Heaven.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday Quote

"When I can't feel You, I have learned to reach out just the same
When I can't hear You, I know You still hear every word I say
And I want You more than I want to live another day
And as I wait for You maybe I'm made more faithful"
- Brooke Fraser, from the song "Faithful" on the album Albertine

"Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." - Psalm 27:14

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Hoopoe of Hope

Last night my son got the stomach flu. He was throwing up all night, only he's not so good at making it to the toilet. This morning I had a lot of laundry and cleaning up to do. Yuck.

I was hanging his bedding on the clothesline to dry, and as I shook out his pillowcase, a freshly-laundered barf chunk that had stuck to the pillowcase flew off and stuck to my face.

Enter the BIG BLACK GRUMPY cloud over my head (mind you I was doing all of this right after my first cup of coffee; not a fun way to wake up). But as I stomped back into the house, I turned and looked across my yard, and there in the grass was an African hoopoe, one of my favourite birds (I call it the Mohawk Bird).

I suddenly realised I don't have much to complain about. I got a glimpse of one of God's creatures, my son was well this morning, I had food in my tummy (and coffee!), my family loves me... how easily I let the minor irritants of the day cloud my mood!

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful." - Colossians 3:15

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Potato Chip Theory #2

I've always said that you can tell a lot about a country by its potato chip flavours. That was theory #1. My newest theory is this:

Every South African potato chip flavour has chili in it. Sweet Chili, Thai Chili, Sour Cream and Chili, Fiery HabaƱero Chili, Cheese and Chili, Spring Onion and Chili.... it reminds me of the list of shrimp dishes in Forrest Gump.

Mind you, I like chili, so this is not a problem, but in my perfect world, Cool Ranch Doritos would cross the Atlantic.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Ambience Isn't Great, but the Food is Fantastic

Today I tried a South African delicacy that few know about... few Westerners, that is. It's called Sphotla (aka The Mamelodi Burger) and can only be found in places like Soweto, Soshanguve and Mamelodi, in tuck shops or take away places. What is it, you ask?

1. Take a quarter loaf of bread, and slice it in half, making two very thick pieces of bread
2. In between the two pieces, layer lettuce, polony (sort of like bologna), russians (sausage), fried eggs, chips (french fries), and douse it all in atchar (pickled mangoes and chili in oil).

While a cholesterol-watcher's nightmare, it's actually tastes good. The atchar is the glue that holds the whole thing together. And the best part? Sphotla, which can easily feed two people, only costs about 90 cents.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Star is Born

This is Nellie and Naledi. Nellie runs an orphanage. Naledi is the newest member of the "family."

Nellie found Naledi at the dump - the landfill - on top of a heap of rubbish, thrown away like a piece of trash. I cannot imagine what the mother's circumstances were to do such a thing, but surely her heart is filled with pain and hopelessness.

Naledi means "star" in Zulu. Nellie gave her that name and thinks she's about four months old. It is amazing how babies grow and thrive with a little love, how much we all grow and thrive with a little love.

Nellie doesn't get much help from the government; every time they come to see her they want her to build another addition, add a few toilets, do something to the facilities before they'll give her a grant to help fund the orphanage. And every time Nellie does these things, they come up with a new requirement. But that never seems to stop Nellie. She has over twenty kids that she cares for now, and her arms are always open for more.

Nellie is a beautiful woman of God who lives each day by faith, relying on God to provide for her needs and that of the orphans. If the world is looking for heroes, it has no further to look.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Water is Back, But...

The good news is, we have running water once again.

The bad news is, I don't think I'll be drinking it anytime soon.

Shipwrecked Faith

"... fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith." - I Timothy 1:18-19

Some have rejected their faith, rejected their good conscience, and shipwrecked their faith. And in its place stands... doubt, disillusionment, bitterness, the ephemeral pleasures of sin, mistrust. But these are all such unpleasant things compared with faith and a good conscience, so why would anyone make such a trade?

Or, to put it bluntly, what would it take to shipwreck your faith? A hypocrite who lacked integrity? Someone who pretended to love you in Jesus' name in order to get something in return? Someone who abused you in the name of religion? I can think of a hundred things that could shipwreck a person's faith, and quite frankly, those dangers are all around us.

So how strong is your faith? Will it stand up to all of that - false teachers, abuse, liars, hypocrites, pursuers of selfish gain? For surely, without the grace of Jesus, we are all prone to act as such.

"Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." - Ephesians 6:13

Keep your ship in the water, my friend. No matter how big the storm, or how high the waves, keep sailing. Stay the course.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

In God We Trust?

"Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the LORD." - Isaiah 31:1

For the past two days our power has gone out. Today we have no running water. I used to get so irritated when this kind of thing happened; there isn't a good reason for its occurrence in the suburbs of Pretoria. Now, however, it's just part of life.

In a way, it's a good thing. It reminds me that there really isn't anything you can depend on in this life - not circumstances, not finances, not even people. I don't mean to sound negative but it's true. The only thing - ONLY thing - you can really count on is Jesus. And yet I find too often that I put my trust in my situation or the ability to control my day and its outcome.

There isn't much you can do without power or running water except be with people, and isn't that what it's all about? Love God, love people.

"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." - Psalm 20:7