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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Church Names


I passed, or rather, was passed by this church van today.  I'd hate to be the church secretary, typing that name out.  You'd have carpel tunnel before you even finished.  Seems like maybe an abbreviation is in order...

If you're having trouble making it out on my grainy photo, the name is "No. 1 Holy Apostolic In Zion Of Jerusalem Church South Africa"!  Say that 5 times fast.  But they're taking after the Baptists though, getting that numeral in the name.  Good thing too, because if that second church comes along and wants to steal your name at least everyone knows who was first.

On a serious note, though, please pray for us as we have ongoing opportunities to preach the gospel and proclaim truth.  While there are many false teachers among the "christian" churches of South Africa, there are also many who have never been exposed to true, orthodox theology.  As Pastor Joshua says, we often think they've been given the truth and rejected it, when in many cases, this is the only "christianity" they've ever known.  Pray for an awakening!

Please pray for us specifically with three opportunities the Lord has granted us:
1)  Mukhanyo Theological College - I am leading the Welkom Group, which is made up of 7 full-time students and 2 part-timers.  Of those 7, three are pastors or elders at their own churches (not counting Pastor Joshua).  This gives us an opportunity to train men who are already in positions to teach truth to their congregations!
2)  African Pastor's Conference - We host this every year and this year Pastor Joshua has had the opportunity to be the speaker at 3 conferences in Zambia and Botswana.  In an effort to provide ongoing training we host quarterly meetings with the pastors who attend the local conference.  Our next quarterly meeting is scheduled in May.  Pray for humility and openness as the Word is studied.
3)  Unashamed Camp and Youth events - You know about our December camp.  We are in the planning stages of that already.  But we also hold quarterly youth rallies to hopefully build a thirst for Jesus among our young people.  This year we're focusing on teaching young people how to study the Bible for themselves in order to discern truth from error.  Our next event is June 4th.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Baptism Pictures

The candidates

Drake
Modiehi
Monica

Tayla

Tayla

Kamohelo

Tolu

Tolu

Mohau Lebajoa


Mohau is on my left
Mohau Lebajoa is a young man that we’ve known for about a year now.  We met him through a Bible study that we have been doing at Thotagauta Secondary School.  He is completing his 12th grade year.  “Matric” is considered a very important time for South African students, as it largely determines their future opportunities.

Mohau and his older sister have been living alone for the last several years, as both parents passed away due to cancer.  The home situation was not a good environment for a young man to focus on his academics or his relationship with the Lord.  At the end of last year Mohau’s school results showed many “opportunities for improvement” and he began looking for another place to live.  About the same time God opened up an place in the flat we’ve renovated for just such circumstances.

Also at the same time, Tolu approached us about living in our flat as well.  He is one of the young men that has grown into leadership in the ministry here.  He’s studying electrical engineering, with hopes of one day transferring to Iowa State University.  With his godly character, strong study habits and self-discipline, we thought he might be an excellent mentor for Mohau.  When we renovated the garage into a flat it was specifically for young people in Mohau’s situation, not so much for those in Tolu’s situation.  But the more we spoke with Tolu the more excited we became to work alongside him in Mohau’s discipleship.  

Mohau has been staying with us for about 3 weeks now.  He moved in with a backpack and two grocery bags.  That was the extent of his belongings, and the backpack was full of school materials.  The first week he was with us we had a severe thunderstorm and he arrived home from school soaked to the bone.  His school shoes, stitched together with pieces of wire, were sopping.  Those were his only pair of shoes.  So we had the privilege of taking him down to the shoe store to purchase a pair of shoes.  Helping him through the selection process was pretty cool, as he weighed out the functionality, price, durability and attractiveness of the different options.  Just the day before he had asked if I knew of any way to solve shoe-odor in his school shoes.  He hadn’t said they were his only pair, or asked about new shoes.  He just wanted to know how to get rid of the smell.  Of course, a little baking soda will do the trick.  But the bigger issue is he also only had one pair of socks to go with those shoes.  So it’s no wonder they started to get a little musty.  

Mohau Lebajoa
Before he came I asked him if he knew what he was getting into.  For a guy who’s lived under his own authority for 5+ years, it’s going to be tough to come under the authority of someone else.  He assured me he was ready.  And I’ll say this, he’s definitely willing.  But we’ve had a couple hiccups these first few days.  From calling to notify us of school schedule changes, to getting permission to run to the store, there’s been a little bit of a learning curve for all of us.  But with Tolu’s help and Mohau’s willingness, we’ve enjoyed the transition.

Continue to pray for Mohau, for his growth spiritually and intellectually.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Girl Named Q

Over a year ago, our colleagues met a young woman and began reaching out to her.  Her mom was a domestic worker across the road from the Heffners and "Q" was staying with her off and on.  I say "her mom", but Q is actually orphaned and this woman is her foster mother.  Without going into details, the foster system here is broken...very broken.

Q is 17 years old and in 10th grade.  About 9 months ago she left home to go live with a classmate.  She wasn't getting along with her foster mom - the mom claims that she's a liar who can't be trusted.  She claims that she wasn't being cared for properly.  From her description, think Cinderella.  There's probably some truth on both sides.  But that's neither here nor there.

She had lived with this classmate in a shack behind the house in Hani Park.  We've written about Hani Park many times in the past.  It's the roughest part of the township.  In the last 8 years we've seen many improvements - electricity, sewer, proper houses built.  But that was never the problem to begin with.  The problem has always been that we're sinners.  Last week Q came face to face with that problem.

The classmate has an older brother - 26 years old.  He lives at home and apparently isn't quite right in the head.  This whole time he'd been telling people that Q is his girlfriend.  She kept telling him she wasn't.  She has another boyfriend.  Both of them claim to be Rasta (same religion as Bob Marley).  But the brother wasn't getting the message.  A week ago he came home, began berating her, asking if she knew how much money she was costing the family and demanding that she become his girlfriend.  He turned violent and began to beat her.  She probably weighs 110 - very slender and athletic looking.  He beat her into unconsciousness and only stopped because his mother returned and he turned his anger on her.

Q called Uncle Jim on Tuesday this week.  She didn't sound good.  She wanted to see Jim and Kim.  Jim said "Are you in ok?"
"No" was her reply.
"Are you hurt?" was his next question.
"Yes."
So Jim and Kim went straight to Hani Park to find her.  They were horrified by what they saw.  Bruises and swelling are still evident, although it's gone down somewhat.  A tooth was broken and so painful she hadn't eaten in 5 days.  She'd left that house and was living in a shack behind another house around the corner.

Jim and Kim took her to a dentist, and it's a good thing they did!  The dentist took one look and said "The jaw's broken."  Sure enough, x-rays confirmed this to be the case.  He said after 72 hours infection sets in and it had already been 5 days.  But for some reason the infection wasn't there.

That night Jim and Kim helped Q file a police report.  After they took the details they loaded her in the police truck and headed out to Hani Park.  They knocked on the door and he opened.  They turn to her and say "Is this the guy?"  With her positive ID, they ask him why he would do such a thing to a young girl.  His answer?  "She needed some discipline."  With that admission they slapped on the cuffs and took him to jail.

The next morning her jaw was wired shut, a procedure so painful Jim was nearly in tears to watch it.  Q is one tough girl, though.  Halfway through the procedure the dentist turned to Jim and told him there's no way this type of damage was done by a fist.  The only way this type of injury could be inflicted was through stomping.  Q couldn't remember, but then she was unconscious.

The jaw is wired shut in front and in the back on both sides.
She can't open her teeth at all, so she'll have to find a gap
big enough for a straw to fit.

Her jaw will be wired shut for 3 months and she'll be on a liquid diet.  Right now she's with the Heffners, but where she'll stay for the duration is still up in the air.  Her desire is to go back and live alone in the shack.  She says she's just never been able to stay somewhere for long without having problems so she just wants to be alone.  Her only request is that we put a lock on the door.  She asked this before we even found out about the broken jaw.


This little nail was the only thing keeping the door shut.  I could pull it out with my fingers.

Since her desire at the time was to stay in the shack, and since we can't keep someone against their will, we felt her request was reasonable.  So Tolu and I went out and installed a lock right away.  Last night Jim sent out an email to his prayer supporters detailing the situation.  She was sitting next to the computer when one of the supporters sent a reply.  When Jim came back in the room she was sitting there in tears.  Jim asked what was wrong and she said "I'm sorry.  I read your email."
Jim asked "Did I say anything wrong or anything that hurt you?"
"No," she said.  "But why would anyone care?"

Clearly there's a lot going on that we don't even know about.  Why she wants to stay in the shack when we've offered to look into alternatives, what exactly has gone on between her and the foster mother, what's her relationship with her boyfriend, where does any money to survive come from?  But have any of us walked a mile in her shoes?  Orphaned, bounced from caregiver to caregiver, raised in a culture where various types of abuse are rampant and even acceptable!

To borrow a thought from "When Helping Hurts" (one of the best books on gospel-centered poverty relief, by the way), we can never forget that people are broken themselves and are victims of broken human systems around them.

We need wisdom.  Lord God, do we need wisdom!  Please pray that we will have grace, discernment and patience as we continue to minister to Q in this situation.  Pray specifically for the Heffners as they take the point on this relationship!  Pray that the gospel would break through to her hurting and blinded heart so that she could see the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ!



video

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Top Ten Things You Learn During an El Nino Induced Drought/Heatwave

10.  There's no such thing as a cool shower.
Our water pipes run either in the attic or along the outside walls of the house.  By time it reaches the shower head the water has warmed up to a nice luke-warmy temperature.

9.  It's nice to have friends with swimming pools.
The Heffners and Mphapuli's have generously allowed us to come swim at their houses.  We've got a little plastic pool in the back for the kiddos, but the water changes funny colors sometimes.  So, a refreshing dip in a proper pool is great!


8.  You bathe the kids in buckets.
Some places in South Africa already need to bring water in on trucks.  Other places have been put on strict water rations.  Our local government hasn't said a thing...not because we don't need the rations, but because a) They are short-sighted and inept & b) Everyone would disregard them anyway.  But in an effort to be environmentally, economically, socially and botanically responsible, we bathe Travis in a bucket and then use the water to keep our trees alive.

7.  The best way to stay cool is to soak your shirt in water.
As it evaporates, especially if you're using a fan, it keeps you nice and cool.  And if you're in bed, add wet socks to the equation and Bingo!, you're cool as a cucumber.  Only remember to wait a minute before putting your newly wet shirt back on, so as to allow the water you soaked it with to cool off, as it comes out of the pipes almost as steam.

6.  40 degrees Celsius is WAYYY hotter than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
40 degrees Celsius is equivalent to 104 Fahrenheit.  That's hot!  I don't care about the proverbial "dry heat!"  A family in our church are partners in a heating/cooling business.  Last week his instruments measured that it felt like 50 degrees Celsius in the sun, 43 in the shade.  That's 122 & 110 Fahrenheit, respectively.  Ouch!


5.  38 degrees Celsius in the house is hot!
Hence, the wet socks.  Our indoor high temp was 39 degrees.

4.  You look forward to the one day that week when the forecast calls for a high of only 97 degrees.
This week's forecast?  Highs in the upper 80's with chances of rain every day.  Woo-Hoo!!!  We'll keep praying this happens.  Yesterday was our first rain in a lonngggg time.  We got 1.5 inches according to the reports.  What a blessing that the dust is now mud!

3.  When the temperature drops to 86 degrees, the kids wrap up in blankets during family devotions.
I always wondered how Africans can wear winter coats, caps and gloves when its in the 60's.  I guess my kids are officially Africans now.

2.  Eggs hard-boil themselves.
It got so hot in the kitchen at camp that when we tried to use the left-over eggs we found out they had hard boiled.  Or mostly so, anyway.  So the dogs got a nice little mostly hard-boiled treat.

...[Drumroll]...

1.  There is no cool side of the pillow.
Do I really need to say anything about this?  If Stuart Scott lived in South Africa during El Nino his one-liners wouldn't make any sense.






Oh, and as a fun little post-script, we accidentally learned how to brew alcoholic sun tea.  Learned that the hard way.  That foam on the top?  That's because it's bubbling all on it's own.  So this jug is going down the drain.





Monday, January 4, 2016

Camp Counseling

This year at Unashamed we had several opportunities to share the Gospel.  Of course, all the teaching times have a gospel-centered focus.  But I'm talking about one-on-one opportunities, or in the case in question, 3 on 2 opportunities.

Many people have asked "How many decisions did you have?"  Well, for a whole lot of reasons, we don't know.

First, the Holy Spirit is the One who does the work of regeneration.  There is no "sinner's prayer".  There aren't any magic words to say that will give eternal life.  John 6 tells us that the Holy Spirit gives life to whomever He wishes.  I'm not saying we aren't held responsible for our response to God's call, but no one is born again because someone talks them into it.

I can guarantee that if you give me an hour in the township, I can get 100+ kids to say the "sinner's prayer."  But what makes me think those kids were truly regenerated?

Second, this culture very much desires to please, especially someone viewed as an elder.  In the States, if you were to invite someone to church, most likely you'd get some kind of excuse - "I already have a church"..."That's my day to sleep in"..."I have to wash my hair"...something along those lines.  Here they don't want to disappoint you, so instead many people will just lie.  Maybe they have good intentions, but ultimately they're not going to follow through, they just don't want to feel like they're letting you down.  So they'll just agree to come.  Which is somewhat ironic, because by making a commitment and then not following through, they're letting you down and giving you an excuse to be disappointed in them.  But I digress.

The upshot is, we are called to make disciples.  Followers of Jesus.  And when you observe the ministry of Jesus through the gospels, this process is relational.  Messy.  Tedious.  Long.  And above all, relational.

Therefore, much of our structure is aimed at developing the types of relationships rich in the gospel.

And one of the most encouraging things about camp this year was the relationships we've been able to develop.

The theme of Unashamed 2015 was Rise Up!  Based out of John 11, we studied the story of Lazarus from several different perspectives.  Ultimately, we see the story is less about us and more about Him.  I had the privilege of teaching two more informal study group sessions based on the lives of Joseph and Daniel - two young people who were raised up by God to lead...and who through their faithful lives rose to the occasion.

One of our staff girls, Honey, brought me three of her campers one afternoon.  They had come to her after the teaching on Daniel and asked "Should we give our lives to Jesus now, or should we wait so we can have some fun first?"  They wanted to talk to me and see what this whole "following Jesus" idea required.

We spoke for probably an hour or so.  It was a great conversation.  You know how it is when you have a meaningful conversation with more than one person.  You can usually tell who is with you and who isn't.  One of the girls didn't seem to get the point at all.  But the other two seemed very thoughtful and engaged in a sincere way.  I don't know at this point how they ultimately will respond. But I know they heard the gospel as clearly as I can present it.  And I know the Spirit is powerful in His work.

Please pray for these three young ladies.  Noma, Cynthia and for the life of me, I can't remember the third name.  Two of them have stayed in touch.  As this new school year starts we hope to have more opportunity to deepen these relationships.  Pray for open doors and that we may boldly speak forth the truth which has the power to change lives!

Oh, and a really cool post-script to the week of camp...the next week Tolu and I were doing some work and stopped by a local take-out place to grab some lunch.  As we were waiting for our order I was standing in front of a rack of various and sundry sauces - what can I say, I'm a condiments guy - when all of a sudden, this girl walks up beside me and awkwardly sticks her head in between me and my sauce rack.  

"Hey, Pastor Louie!" she says.
"Hi." I responded.
Uh-oh.  I didn't recognise her at all.

"I was at camp with you last week."
I replied, "Oh, yeah?  How did you like it?" 
"It was really good" she said.  "But you scared me."
Yikes!  She must be referring to the last night when I caught one of the boys standing halfway up the staircase to the girls' room.  I kind of got in his face a little bit.  You know, just to remind him that's not acceptable.  Ok, and I wanted to send a message to the other guys too.  And according to our staffers that message came through loud and clear.  That must be what she's talking about.

"What was it that scared you?" I said.
She replied, "Well, you said that we'll all meet God one day.  The question is whether we meet Him as Judge or as Father."
"And...?" I asked.
"Well, I'll meet Him as my Father."  
"What makes you think that?"
"Well, Jesus died on the cross for my sins, so if I obey Him for the rest of my life He'll let me go to Heaven."
"You're half right" I said.  "Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins because you never could obey Him.  Even now you can't obey Him perfectly."

That proceeded into an opportunity to clarify the gospel message for her.  The fact that Jesus paid it all, that we obey now not in order to earn God's favour, but because we love Him.  We only had a few minutes, but God continues to grant opportunities.  If only I would now open my eyes to see all the opportunities He lays before me!









Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thapelo Kananelo Motsetse





We met Thapelo Motsetse last March.  Actually, Dylan met Thapelo and introduced him to us.  Dylan had a developing passion for basketball, and since our house is next door to the only school with a decent court here in town, it’s an ideal place to hone one’s skills.

Thapelo was from another town.  He had moved here to work as a public defender.  Having just graduated from law school, Thapelo was studying for the bar exam while serving with Legal Aid.  His contract was scheduled to keep him here through June 2016.  He was at the school shooting hoops and the rest, as they say, is history...

There was an instant bond between Thapelo, Dylan and my brother Caleb.  I won’t lie, I felt it too.  Here was a young man with an infections personality, a contagious smile and an energy for life.  Qualities that are in short supply around here sometimes.  The first time I met Thapelo was on a rainy day, when a game of 2-on-2 broke out at the Welkom High courts.  Dylan and I played vs Thapelo and Caleb.  At first it was just a couple sprinkles, but then it turned into an outright downpour.  Puddles started to appear on the court.  But the rain couldn’t stop us, it could only hope to contain us. I don’t want to say who won, but let’s just say this old man felt pretty good that afternoon.  But what really stood out to me was the character of this young man.  No foul language, respectful of the two young women who were also at the court, a strong and confident approach to the game.

From that day our relationship only grew.  Thapelo became friends with Dylan, Tolu, Teboho, Cathy, Neo, Paddy.  He would join us every Thursday night for supper.  Many Saturdays he would pop in for awhile after some hoops with the guys.  He began attending church and Bible studies with us.  On at least a couple occasions I had the opportunity to share the gospel with him and he professed agreement and joined in with spiritual discussions.  His What’s App profile often quoted Scriptures or included prayers of thanksgiving for God’s grace.

You can tell something about a person by the way they relate to authority and to their peers.  But you can tell even more by how they relate to those “beneath” them.  Thapelo treated our children with such a wonderful affection, putting up with their nagging and often joining in their antics.  As a public defender, he would refuse to take cases of domestic abuse.  He couldn't stand the thought of defending someone who would beat their wife, girlfriend or child.

Always quick-witted, you had to watch what you said around him because he could make you look foolish fast...but always in an endearing and enjoyable way.  He used to mimic Tolu’s Nigerian accent in a way that no matter how West African Tolu is, you could still see him blushing!

A strong competitor, we played lots of games.  One of the most enjoyable memories I’ll ever have is when a game of touch rugby broke out at the Cheetah’s stadium in Bloemfontein.  We had taken some of the guys down to watch a professional rugby match.  After the game was over the boys went down to the field and started fooling around.  Some prep school kids then challenged our guys to a game of touch rugby and it was on!  Thapelo was one of those gifted athletes that moved like a cat.  Since Caleb, Tolu and I had never played before, it was a learning experience for us.  But we won that night and rode off into the sunset as pick-up, touch rugby champs!

Thapelo took the bar exam in August.  He passed some sections, had to take re-examinations on others.  Just last week he sent me a message that he had passed one of those re-exams.  Only one left in February and he would finally get his license to practice law.

This past Sunday night Dylan received a text message from one of his friends.  Thapelo had been visiting his mother over the weekend.  On his return trip he was killed in a car accident.

We were shocked!

Of course, we’ve all experienced a death of someone close.  But usually it’s due to prolonged illness or old age.  It’s something that can be anticipated.  This was a young man full of life - a life filled with potential, hopes and dreams.  He had just bought his mother a car, even though he didn’t own one himself.  He had plans of starting his own law firm (aptly named Not Guilty, Inc.).

We still haven’t learned the details of the accident.  But yesterday there was a memorial service for him here in town (he’ll be laid to rest this Saturday in his hometown of Clocolan). The service was well attended, by both black and white people.  His colleagues, magistrates, friends and even the chief prosecutor spoke highly of his character.  The magistrate whose court he was assigned to was clearly struggling emotionally, speaking of how dear Thapelo had become to her.  The final eulogy was given by the woman in charge of the Welkom Justice Centre.  She struggled through her speech, often moved to tears (something I can empathise with).  She spoke of how Thapelo had become a son to her.  Their year-end awards are coming up.  She opened a letter and announced that Thapelo would have won the award as the best defence attorney.  She then produced the trophy that already had his named engraved on it.  Then she read the speech she had already written about him to present the award.  I watched the look on his mother's face as this all took place and it crushed me.

We've been back in South Africa about 3 weeks.  In that time we had both tried to arrange times to see each other, but for one reason or another just hadn't been able to align schedules.  One day I was in another discipleship meeting.  One weekend he was out of town to visit his mother, another time at a session to help prepare him for his bar re-exams.  Our last memory of Thapelo was our last Sunday before furlough in the States.  July 19.  I had just finished preaching.  We needed to spend the afternoon packing, arranging things here at the house and getting ready to be away for 3 months.  Thapelo comes to me after the service and greets me.  Then he just kind of stands there.  Thapelo was extremely well-mannered, so this seemed out of place.  I asked what he was doing that afternoon.  
He said "Nothing."  
Then he asked me what we were doing.  I said "Packing... (awkward pause) ...want to come over for lunch?"
"Yeah," he said, as he uncorked that smile.
"What is Amber going to say?" I remember thinking to myself.  We've got so much to do and I've just invited people over for lunch.  But my awesome wife didn't even bat an eyelash.  So, we spent the afternoon trying to multi-task, visiting with the guys and getting stuff done.  But, man, am I glad we did!

We were so looking forward to reconnecting with everyone when we got back to South Africa.  I especially looked forward to seeing Thapelo.  I had started adapting a Bible study from Chuck DeCleene that I could go through with him.  We had plans.  But God had other plans.

It hurts.  I'm the missionary, but I find myself wishing I had done a better job.  Dylan is hurting terribly.  Amber and I are too.  All three of us find ourselves thinking those thoughts that come when something like this happens - maybe it's a mistake.  We'll get a message that it was somebody else.  You see someone in town and think it's him.  You wonder why a young man with such a high character, intelligence, potential and spiritual sensitivity would be taken.  There's so many that don't deserve another breath.  Why Thapelo?

But that's the point, isn't it?  We stand in judgement of the murderers, rapists, molesters.  There's no shortage of those here.  In the 3 weeks we've been back we know of 4 different break-ins.  One was a simple smash-and-grab.  Two included children being held at gunpoint or knifepoint while the intruders robbed the house.  One woman was raped twice and her son stabbed.  And deep down inside, we all know that justice must be served, that these people deserve to be punished.

But then I read Romans 2 and realise that all of us stand guilty before God.  The very fact that we think someone else deserves judgement proves that we also deserve judgement ourselves.  Yet, we see the beauty of God's justice - that the mercy of God is meant to lead us to repentance (Rom 2:4).  I can't answer the question as to why God took Thapelo now.  But I know that God is good.  I know that God is wise.  I know that God is powerful.  And so I trust God.

And I realise that I don't deserve that next breath any more than the murderer, rapist or molester.  So why do I get it?  Because God is gracious.  He gave His own Son to take the wrath against sin, so that I could be clothed with His righteousness.  And while part of me is jealous that I don't get to be with Jesus now, I also know that each day is a gift...not a gift for me to spend for myself, but for my Lord.  

Let us give Him thanks be responding in obedience to His commission, and let us honour our fellow man by loving them enough to speak to them of our great hope!







Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Friendly Tortoise

This past Saturday when the neighbourhood kids were at our house playing, Khanye comes to the window and shouts "Uncle Louie, the Tortoise won't leave us alone!"  That's right.  Mr. T was so lonely these past several months that he now has to be in the centre of all the activity.

Note this picture above.  Mr. T insisted on joining us all for Bible Study.  #thistortoiseneedsafriend (did I use that # correctly?).

Sunday, November 22, 2015

T-Shirts for the Guys

Had the opportunity to buy a couple gifts for some of the guys when we were back in the States.  Of course, I had to get them shirts that fit the description:



I'm so proud of myself.