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Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Community Development

In December we took each of our kids back to their old neighborhoods to give them a chance to see old friends. Three of our boys come from a township called Phomolong. While things were pretty calm when we were there, Brian & Lois Niehoff, our co-workers, told us the last time they were there it was very unsettling. There were crowds of people gathered in the roads, and people were burning tires and blockading sections of streets, apparently in some sort of protest.

Brian & Lois have been in South Africa for almost 3 years, and have done much more traveling than we have. They have seen a few of the rough neighborhoods around the country. Brian in particular has seen his fair share of poverty. They said they have never felt the way they did that day. It can be a bit unnerving knowing the crime statistics, and knowing how common hi-jackings can be.

Anyway, all this to say that Phomolong is not the nicest place to be.

So this particular day we went out with the three boys to find their old home. My parents, Frank & Maggie, went along since they were visiting at the time. As we make the turn to enter the township, we see this building. For whatever reason, it struck us all as a bit ironic. From the first photo, I think it's clear that the building in question is a Community Development Center. The second photo reveals the irony. Apparently development doesn't extend to the roof.

If anyone reading this is in charge of a Community Development Committee, and you're looking to hire someone to head the project, check and see if they have Phomolong Community Development Coordinator on their resume. Because if they do, it may not be advisable to hire them. Just a suggestion.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

An interesting article

The following article was sent to me by a friend of ours who was on a team here in March 2008. I found it very insightful.

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset

Matthew Parris
Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.
It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.
Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.
I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.
But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.
First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.
At 24, travelling by land across the continent reinforced this impression. From Algiers to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, then right through the Congo to Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya, four student friends and I drove our old Land Rover to Nairobi.
We slept under the stars, so it was important as we reached the more populated and lawless parts of the sub-Sahara that every day we find somewhere safe by nightfall. Often near a mission.
Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away. They had not become more deferential towards strangers - in some ways less so - but more open.
This time in Malawi it was the same. I met no missionaries. You do not encounter missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels discussing development strategy documents, as you do with the big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (largely from Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians. “Privately” because the charity is entirely secular and I never heard any of its team so much as mention religion while working in the villages. But I picked up the Christian references in our conversations. One, I saw, was studying a devotional textbook in the car. One, on Sunday, went off to church at dawn for a two-hour service.
It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was, in turn, influenced by a conception of man's place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.
There's long been a fashion among Western academic sociologists for placing tribal value systems within a ring fence, beyond critiques founded in our own culture: “theirs” and therefore best for “them”; authentic and of intrinsically equal worth to ours.
I don't follow this. I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the “big man” and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the (literal) inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition.
Anxiety - fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things - strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.
How can I, as someone with a foot in both camps, explain? When the philosophical tourist moves from one world view to another he finds - at the very moment of passing into the new - that he loses the language to describe the landscape to the old. But let me try an example: the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to the question: Why climb the mountain? “Because it's there,” he said.
To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It's... well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary's further explanation - that nobody else had climbed it - would stand as a second reason for passivity.
Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.
Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.
And I'm afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.

It is interesting that the author observes the change that "faith" brings about in individuals who have given their lives over to Christ. I can tell you firsthand how hopeless life in Africa can seem at times, compared to the abundance that many other places enjoy. I have wondered that the suicide rate isn't higher.

However, no matter how hopeless life may seem, for an individual who knows that life on earth lasts no longer than steam vapors, there is hope. This life is nothing compared to the awesome reality of eternity in Heaven. The Bible is clear that mankind can be assured of eternal life. It comes through salvation in Jesus Christ. The teaching that mankind can earn heaven on their own only adds to the hopelessness of life. How can one know when they've done enough? What does it take? Money, a certain church, good deeds? Is that fair to the poor, those who cannot be reached by that certain church, those incapable of certain deeds?

God, in His wisdom and love, sent Jesus Christ to suffer and die the punishment that we as sinners rightly deserve. Now that He has paid the price, God offers peace, hope, and reconcilliation as a free gift, apart from any meager payment we think we can offer. The choice is up to each individual. Am I going to release my pride and admit that eternal life can only be accepted, not earned? Have you done that? This and this alone can effect the life change observed in this article. Assurance of eternal life in Heaven will completely change your life.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Feeding Time

Here is a great photo of a chicken feeding an ostrich. Check out the look on his face. Frankie, not the ostrich.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Okuhle Soyboyise

Okuhle (meaning “Beautiful” in Xhosa”) came to us initially in March 2007. She had been living with her mother, brother Mthokozisi, and sister Cebisile in Hani Park. Her mother was severely ill and unable to care for the children, so Okuhle had been functioning as the surrogate mother, even though she was only 12 at the time.

Originally from the Eastern Cape province, her mother determined she wanted to return there to die. Through Morningstar, a sister organization that we work closely with, the children came to The Pines while the mother returned to her family. Within a few weeks of returning, the mother passed away.

Initially, we had problems separating Okuhle from Cebisile, as she was the only mother the 2-year-old had ever known. Cebisile was deathly ill, and doctors only gave her a couple months to live at most. We had to force Okuhle to leave her with us for care while she went to school and returned to living as a normal 12-year-old should.

After the mother died, her family wanted to bring Okuhle and her siblings to the Eastern Cape for the funeral. It was determined that Cebisile was too ill to survive the trip so she remained at The Pines while the two older children went to the funeral. They were accompanied by Aggie, one of our housemothers here at The Pines.

Once they arrived in the Eastern Cape, it became evident that the family intended to keep them. In South Africa, if you foster a child you are eligible for a small government stipend. Unfortunately, many times people want to foster children so they can get money to spend on alcohol and other such vices. We can’t say whether this was the case in Okuhle’s situation.

After a several months of working with the various government agencies involved, it became apparent that Okuhle and Mthokozisi would stay in the Eastern Cape, while Cebisile would remain at The Pines for direct medical care from the Niehoff’s. In fact, she lived with the Niehoffs for nearly a year while recovering from her various illnesses.

In March 2008, Okuhle decided to run away from her family and return to The Pines. They sent her into town one day to purchase food and she used that money to make the day+ trip back here. She tells us that life was difficult there, as the Eastern Cape is much more rural than even here in the Free State. According to what she has said, she and her brother had to work quite hard to help the family live. While we didn’t condone her running away from her family, we did begin again to work with the social workers to determine what was in the best interest of the family.

It has been decided that it would be best for her to remain here at The Pines. When she was making plans to run away she wanted her brother to come with her, and while he wanted to leave, he was afraid she would get lost on her way back, so he refused to come along. Okuhle misses her brother more than she lets on, and we are working with the government to determine if it would be best for him to return here as well. One of the reasons Okuhle returned is because of Cebisile, and we suspect it was a bigger reason than she even realizes herself. Remember that she was the de facto head of the family for quite some time. It is our desire to keep the family together as much as possible, but the process is quite tedious, as there seems to be little motivation on the part of the social worker from the Eastern Cape.

Since coming back to The Pines, Okuhle has become one of our biggest assets. Originally she struggled with selfishness, and was always looking out for only herself – understandable since she has had to do that for years just to survive. We have seen her mature to the point where the mothers now count on her as almost an assistant mama. She is the oldest in a flat with several toddlers, and has done a great job taking on responsibility and caring for their needs before her own.

Okuhle has also blossomed in school. When she first came her motivation was non-existent, and at the end of the term she was in danger of being the only older girl here to miss honor roll. It was then that her competitiveness kicked in, and with the help of a couple that was visiting here at the time she worked non-stop the last few days of the term and received honor roll right at the end. It is encouraging that she learned from that experience and now is one of our most self-motivated children. Last term she worked so hard she had made honor roll by mid-term.

Like all the children here, Okuhle is learning about God and his gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. She understands that she is a sinner and that He died to pay for those sins. She has professed faith in Him, and as she continues to grow and learn we pray that the Holy Spirit would do a mighty work in and through her life.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Broken Camera

So I was going through some old photos today while working on a project and I ran across this picture. Who is this and why was this picture on my camera? I am offering a R5.00 reward for any information relating to the identification, capture, and conviction of the culprit.

On a related note, our camera broke on Christmas Day, and we lost about 65 pictures of the kids opening presents. So if you were one of the generous people who sent money or gifts to The Pines kids for Christmas, and you were so looking forward to seeing their happy faces, I think you know who to blame.

(that's right, Jamie, we'll see who has the last laugh on this one.)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Summer in South Africa

(The following is taken from an email we received from a friend of ours...)
You are a South African bush pilot. You fly in some critical medical supplies, enjoy a quick lunch at the hospital.

It's a stifling 100 degrees in the shade and you're eager to get back up to the cool, high blue yonder.

On the way back to your plane, you discover that the only bit of shade, within 1 mile, has become very popular . . You start calculating the distance to the plane door and wonder . . .
"Do I feel lucky today?"

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Drake's first laugh

We had the opportunity to spend some time with my family in Johannesburg when we took Frank back to the airport. It obviously hasn't taken Drake long to learn what we all know. That my brother Frankie is kind of funny (looking). In the past we have been able to coax a chuckle or two out of him, but this is the first real laugh attack that he has ever had. You can tell he is getting tired by the end of the video. He had been laughing for about 5 minutes, long enough for Chubs to run back to the room and get the camera. Chubs is pretty slow, so you can imagine how long he had been laughing. It's really no wonder that Chubs likes being in Africa more than playing basketball this year.