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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Challenge: Alcoholism

One challenge we have faced in South Africa is the problem of alcoholism. In March 2008, just days after our arrival in the country, our co-workers learned of a situation of child abuse and neglect just down the road from us and we removed those children immediately. We also contacted the social workers to ask them to investigate the situation. When the social worker arrived and saw the settlement the children were living in, her decision was quickly made for her. She wasn't even aware that settlement was there, and it was blatantly obvious that alcohol was dominating the life of everyone living there. We cared for Kesentseng and her infant sister until they were placed with an aunt several months later. Click Here to read about Kesentseng & her story.

It seems that alcoholism permeates every aspect of township life in South Africa. One cannot walk or drive through the township without seeing someone blind drunk, stumbling around and falling, or the beer truck making deliveries. Even at #7, a squatter camp without electricity, plumbing, or water they get the beer truck making door to door deliveries.

It seems that regardless of the living conditions, or the depth of one's poverty there is money for beer. When Brian was doing some filming for a video about our ministry he went to the dump to shoot some footage of the people who live there. One clip of a cardboard/old carpet shack caught a man emerging from his doorway, bottle in hand, where he promptly took a deep swig.

There is historic precedent for the impact of alcohol on the life of South Africans. I found the following clip in a 2007 online story about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS): For centuries, the only choice most South African farm workers in the Cape region thought they had was: red or white. Until the practice was banned in 1980, farmers paid part of their farmworkers' wages with bottles of wine. This so-called "dop system" continued illegally as recently as 1991, when a health care survey found that 20 percent of Cape vineyards still paid their workers with wine.

The dop system may be illegal, but many farmworkers and rural South Africans continue to binge drink after pay day, either driving into town to spend their monthly wages on locally available cheap wine, sold in "paap saks" or soft aluminum foil pouches, or simply waiting for mobile "shabeens," or bars, to drive onto the farm and sell booze by the liter.


Kesentseng and her sister are not the only children we've worked with affected by the selfish drinking choices of their parents. Lelohonolo Mahloua lived on a farm with his mother and her constantly inebriated boyfriend. The "man of the house" decided that he didn't have enough money to buy booze and pay for his woman's child, so Lelohonolo was left with someone in Hani Park, where he was quickly kicked out and left to live on his own. When we received him he had been fending for himself for quite awhile.

Other children we have worked with have shown effects of FAS. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a serious problem affecting the children of South Africa. Some regions of the country have rates as high as 12.5% of all births showing the results of prenatal alcohol abuse. A BBC article about the affects of alcohol abuse in South Africa states the following: Local primary school teacher Tina Truda says that in her classroom, alcohol-related disorders affect far more than the 8% who officially have the syndrome."When I look at the child, he's not like a normal child. When I ask him something, I must ask the question two or three times again."When we are playing or singing or doing things with our bodies I see they are lumps without muscles." She says up to 20 of the 30 children in her class are affected.

Much of the alcohol consumed by South Africans, especially those suffering from intense poverty, is homemade. The recipes vary, but without any way to manage it there is one common denominator: It is brewed to give intoxication as quickly and powerfully as possible. There are several local breweries that we have seen in the Thabong area. Some drinks are the beverage equivalent of Crystal Meth, using battery acid among other chemicals to rapidly induce drunkenness.

As I write this I don't want to give the wrong impression of our work in South Africa. Alcohol is not the problem. It is a symptom of the heart problem. HIV / AIDS is not the problem. It is a symptom of the heart problem. Drunkenness, immorality, theft, murder, witchcraft are all results of a greater problem, the problem of selfishness and sin. These vices I listed above are given by Paul as results of human beings living for themselves. Want to know what else Paul lists? Jealousy, anger, arguments. Which of us haven't participated in those, probably within the last 24 hours.

You see, in South Africa the consequenses of sin are obvious, out in the open for everyone to see. Here in the US our sin may look prettier to other people but it still causes death. Our work in South Africa is aimed at reaching the heart of the problem. Showing people that there is life to be lived outside of a pursuit of pleasure, and instead to be lived in a pursuit of our relationship with a loving God. He sent His only Son to save us, and life in Him is amazing and everlasting. One doesn't have to get their kicks from alcohol, drugs, and immorality. Serving Someone greater than us is the most awesome life a person can live, and we are blessed to just be a part of it. We wish you could all come with us.

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