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Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Church Meetings

At the beginning of December we began a new ministry - we began church meetings in the Sunrise section of Thabong.  Sunrise is the home of DJ, Sam, JT, Bridge, and is near several other people who have been part of our ministry in the past.  It is on the far side of Thabong, the newer section.  Newer in the US usually means nicer; this is not so here in a township.  Newer here typically means mostly tin shacks with brick houses being added as the government housing projects catch up to the sprawl.

Sunrise itself has been around for awhile, and as far as residential areas in the township, it is relatively safe and calm - key word being "relatively".  There are frequent fights, stabbings, break-ins, and drunken brawls.  The gangs of Sunrise often fight with other gangs, specifically the guys from Straighteen.  But the people of Sunrise generally band together as opposed to other sections of the townships where it's every man for himself.  I get most of this information from talking to the guys and other people we know around here.

Within Sunrise is a school named Nanabolela.  According to Bridge this is the 2nd worst ranked school in Thabong per the last published matric results.  We're talking about probably 15+ schools, so it's a bit of a distinction to be ranked so low.  In addition to this, we've heard the school itself has a reputation of both gang-related and demonic activity.  Bridge and I met with the principal of this school and he agreed to allow us to use the rooms on Sundays for meetings and outreach activities.

There are several logistical challenges.  Most of the rooms are relatively small, probably accommodating 75 people if we really packed them in.  Due to vandalism all the rooms have been stripped of any electrical wiring.  Every room is covered in graffiti.  When we arrive each week the room we use has somehow gathered a whole new coating of dust and piles of rubbish.  The school does have chairs, but it is another weekly task to collect them and sort them, as several are broken and most have been scattered over the school property.  But the fact that we have a place to meet each week is a blessing.

The first week we had 25 people.  Of those 25, 7 of them were young boys from the neighborhood whom we had never met before.  Actually that isn't true.  We met them about 15 minutes before the service, as they had come over to the school property just to engage in some sort of hooliganism.  DJ went over and told them they needed to leave the property or join us in church.  Of course, they left immediately.  But to our surprise they went home, cleaned up and returned to the school with a couple more friends for church.

Two of those boys have been at the other two services we've held, and each week they're back with a couple different friends that they've invited to join them.  The second week we were at 27, and then our third week we ran up to 33.  We haven't yet had a concerted effort to promote the church within the surrounding neighborhoods, and God is already given us a good start.  Most of the people coming are former contacts of ours or family of DJ's.

Without electricity we've been using a battery powered keyboard for music.  It's during a ministry like this that I understand how blessed I am to have a wife who is willing and able to improvise in many areas, especially musically.  We have slowly introduced songs, having a repertoire of 9 songs after 3 weeks.  Hopefully soon we'll have figured out an alternative to the electrical problem and be able to have some more versatility with music, such as projecting the words so everyone can see them.  We've only grown a small bit and already we've realized the expense and logistics of printed song sheets is not a long-term answer.

I am the preacher and we have started studying through the book of John.  The first week the theme was "Introducing Jesus".  Week 2 brought the life of John the Baptizer and a theme of "Promoting Jesus".  The third week was Jesus' first miracle and a theme of "Proving Jesus".  This Sunday will be Jesus' reaction to the idolatry and commercialization of the temple, bringing a theme of "Worshipping Jesus".  From there we'll see what happens.  John 3 is coming up and I'm excited about working through that.  Right now we view the church ministry as our tent-making outreach.  Our day job is building an orphanage, and in our free time we do all the work to prepare for Sunday.

One thing that's nice is that each week I've had a few hours with mind-numbing, brainless jobs.  During that time I'm able to chew over the passage that I'll be teaching and get in some good meditation.  The problem is that when I come up with something I want to remember, I have to write it down.  So Brian's house now has sermon notes under the tiles, on the plaster outside, and on scraps of wood laying around the house.  God has been good to allow me to multi-task during the week.

This does bring up a great need here.  There are too many opportunities for just the Niehoffs and O'Tools.  We need help.  Right now there are a few teams and several short-term people scheduled for 2011.  But there are still some open dates if you are interested.  And rest assured, no matter your ability (or lack of it), we'll be able to find something to put you to work.  Don't ever doubt that God's working to build His kingdom.  You can be a part of it, just by investing a bit of time and money.  What could be better than making an eternal deposit with temporary blessings?

And if there is anyone out there who is seriously considering long-term ministry, contact us.  We would love to share with you the opportunities around here.

Pray for us and the Niehoffs as we work with this church outreach, and for the guys as they help us.

Oh, and one more story:  I mentioned that the walls are covered in graffiti.  I don't exactly have a Ph.D. in Informal Arts, but I've seen enough exhibits on bridges and boxcars to know that most isn't appropriate (although as an interesting side note, you can always tell the difference between big-city artwork and the redneck Iowa craft).  Well, before our first service I didn't take the time to properly tour the gallery in our chosen room.  After the service I noticed I had preached the entire service standing in front of a sharpie depiction of a scantily clad female.  Fortunately, it was relatively small and amongst all the other exhibits proclaiming who had been there, which disk jockey is the greatest, or who is enjoying the company of whom there was enough clutter that this one didn't particularly stand out.  The next week I made sure to strategically place my portable white board over that section of the gallery.

The third week it wasn't a problem, because the room we had been using and had cleaned up was now blocked with a freshly welded set of bars.  The bars were there because the room was now filled with fencing materials.  The school needs new fencing because some drunk person had been showing off on the road, tried to peel out, lost control and blew through the gate, destroying both the gate and several sections of the existing fencing.  So we had to find a new room to clean and straighten.  TIA:  This is Africa and you never know what will happen next.

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