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Friday, November 25, 2011

The Life and Times - Gliding

I know this is a few weeks late, but it took me that long to regain my equilibrium.  While the Lakeside team was here we took a few free hours on Sunday afternoon to take them gliding.  Mind you, this isn't hang gliding, where you are in a little fabric cocoon under a set of wings, rather you are in a little plane without an engine.  There is a local gliding club that offers rides for around $15 per 20 minutes.  This was my first time...and most likely my last.  I'm not terribly afraid of heights, nor am I terribly prone to motion sickness.  But the launch combined with the circling inside a thermal teams up on my abdomen.  I'm getting a little nauseous just thinking about it.

Often the glider would be towed up by another aircraft.  This club uses a tractor's PTO to wind a cable attached to the front of the glider.  It moves so quickly that it hauls the glider up several hundred feet into the air, where it hangs like a kite for several seconds before disconnecting from the cable.  That's a rush.  The glider runs maybe 100 yards along the ground before liftoff, then rises up to the release height-all this within a matter of seconds.  Once it's at the peak of the cable's extension the pilot pushes a pedal that drops the cable. All this takes maybe 7 seconds.  Then you start to nose dive a bit until he picks up enough speed to steer.  At that point he needs to find a thermal as soon as possible or gravity wins.  It's actually pretty safe.  You'll remember the pilot who landed the plane in the Hudson River.  He was a glider pilot first, which is probably what saved the flight as he knew how to land without alternate power.

So even if the pilot can't find a thermal he knows how to guide the craft downward without free fall.  The problem with the altitude change, whether up or down, is that it needs to be in a circular motion.  And that's when my lunch decided to pay me a little visit.

Oddly enough, I was the last one of the group to go, and everyone else made it without using the barf ziplock.  Of course, I gave everyone else a hard time, but then it came back to bite me.  Grant's ride was probably the most amazing.  I don't remember the maneuver the pilot used on him, but it is where he climbs as fast as possible, then leans the glider over to the side and free-falls.  Grant is a little bit of a thrill seeker and he said he almost lost control of his bowels when this happened.  I got a nice, smooth, reasonable ride and still ralphed, so I can't imagine what would have happened if they had done that to me.

All in all, a fun afternoon, although it really did take me about 2 days to fully recover from the motion sickness.  Ick.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Life & Times - Thabang

Usually we're pretty upbeat about ministry.  Sometimes it's still hard to believe that we get to do this job.  But there are hard times.  And last week we had one of those experiences.

On November 1st we had a new boy join The Village.  Thabang is 11 years old.  He is orphaned and had been living with an elderly great-aunt who could no longer care for him.  His school was over 3km away and without any encouragement from home he just quit going.  Apparently his behavior was becoming difficult for her to handle as well.

We usually don't take children this age, as by this point they are typically too streetwise and independent to be molded.  In this case, knowing the background, we hoped there were extenuating circumstances (such as hunger) leading to some of the problems.  We told the social workers we would work with Thabang and try to help him.

The first night he was here we found that he had gotten up in the middle of the night and taken food into the bathroom and eaten it.  He wasn't very good at covering his tracks.  This type of behavior is very normal when new children arrive, as so many of them have been fending for themselves.  We are usually able to break that behavior simply by feeding the child and showing them they will be cared for.  With Thabang this wasn't the case.  He continued to steal food, and then if he was given something he didn't like he would try to secretly throw it away and then take something he liked more.

We learned quickly that he hadn't had much authority in his young life.  Having quit school there wasn't really anyone telling him what to do at all.  Twice he left The Village just to go wandering around just because he wanted to, even though he had been told by 3 different people not to leave the property without supervision.  When given instruction by his housemother he would completely ignore it, or even blatantly challenge it.

While Thabang was clearly very intimidated by Brian and me, he displayed no concept of respect for his housemother.  He even told one of the other boys that he didn't care what she said or if she tried to punish him because he was big enough to take it.

In the short time he was with us several of us tried to reason with him.  Brian spoke with him a couple times, as did I.  We even had Zachariah speak with him in hopes that the communication barrier would be removed.  Once I tried to explain to him how good his life could be at The Village, that this could be the best thing that ever happened to him.  But his behavior continued as he rejected our counsel.

Eventually, knowing that this kind of behavior could hinder the growth of the other children, we had to tell the social worker that they needed to find a new place for Thabang.

That hurts.  When an 11 year old kid has already been set on this path in life, knowing the window has passed where he can be helped, it is hard to accept.  You would love to invest everything trying to reach him, but you can't put the other children at risk in the meantime.

I hesitate to share this story, but you need to know the reality of life here.  "A child left to himself will bring his mother to shame."  We are seeing the fruits of scores of children left to themselves.

The most poignant truth I see in situations like these is God's relationship with mankind.  He is there, offering His love, offering adoption into His family, giving us freely the best life we could imagine.  But in our stubbornness so many of us turn Him away.  We continue to treasure the petty pleasures we find in life, rejecting the awesomeness that He wants to give us.  God doesn't reject us, we reject Him.  As Thabang refused to soften, refused to listen, so also do we, not willing to see the riches He will provide in Christ.  If that is you, please, I beg you, stop living your miserable life and accept the love and forgiveness God offers through His Son.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Life & Times - Now that He's Committed...

I've been saving this post for a long time - several months to be exact.  Aaron Powell visited us this past summer, sacrificing time where he could have been at home earning money to help with the ministry here.  It was a great chance for us to get to know him, and maybe a sneak peak for him into our family.  And I'm happy to announce that we didn't scare him away.  A couple weeks ago he worked up the nerve to ask Amber's sister Rikki (read more about Rikki here) to be his wife.  And she said "Yes"!  We couldn't be happier for them both.

While he was here Aaron graciously agreed to preach at our church.  Church for us is in a local high school in Thabong.  Every week is an adventure.  The first week I unwittingly preached with profane graffiti directly behind me the whole time.  We've found several disgusting items left in the room from immoral people.  You never know what condition the room will be in, or if you'll even be able to get into the room each week.  So for Aaron to step up and preach for us without knowing all the details beforehand was a big step.

That being said, Aaron did a great job.  Interestingly enough, he used a sermon illustration about faith.  It's a relatively common illustration used to help people understand the difference between faith and knowledge.  The object of the illustration is commonly a chair.  Typically, the speaker will draw the analogy that you walk into a room and see a chair.  You don't think about whether the chair will hold you up, you just kind of know "That will hold me if I sit in it."  But faith takes place when that person actually sits, changing a head knowledge into something acted upon.

Fantastic illustration, normally.  However, in our case, we spend several minutes each Sunday before setting up for church sorting through the chairs.  Rarely are we able to find enough chairs that look sufficiently sturdy to hold your average-sized person.  So to make up for that we use chairs that are obviously flawed, but might, I emphasize might hold an average-sized child, as long as said child doesn't move around too much. I doubt anybody else thought much of it, but the irony wasn't lost completely.

Aaron, you need to know we are excited that you will be joining the family soon.  And you need to know that you aren't off limits anymore.  Welcome to the family!

The Life & Times - African Snowstorm

No, we didn't have a blizzard on Amber's plate.  Someone got her with the old "loosen the cap on the saltshaker" trick.  There won't be snow in Africa this Christmas.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Life & Times - Thabong Outreach

Wow!  The last couple weeks have been crazy.  With construction, ministries, and keeping the Lakeside team out of trouble we have had our hands full.  You've seen some of the construction pictures.  I'll be posting some of our successes and failures in trying to keep the team out of trouble.  But for now, I'm going to share about the three-day outreach we held in Thabong.

We've done outreaches in the townships before.  Frequently in the past we've been able to do door-to-door evangelism, and once in awhile when teams are here we organize something more like a Vacation Bible School.  But each time you do something you never know what might happen.

The initial inspiration for this ministry came from Zachariah, who wanted to set up some street preaching. Knowing the Lakeside team was on the way, we thought it would be good to use their skills.  So we combined Zachariah's idea for street preaching with a Vacation Bible School-type outreach.  Since we now have church meetings each Sunday in Thabong we had the added benefit of being able to provide follow-up opportunities for this type of ministry.

Zachariah chose a busy street corner.  The lot on the corner is occupied by a tin shack.  Living in this shack are 4 teenagers, all related and living alone.  All 4 profess to be believers.  They allowed us to set up a speaker and keyboard in their yard.  This was supposed to help us draw a crowd before we started preaching.  They also allowed us to use their electricity.  We had agreed to pay them R100 (about $12.00) which would way more than cover the cost of any electricity we used.  The first day we gave them half - R50.

Here is a little synopsis of the outreach:

Day One:  We arrived early to get set up and make sure everything was ready.  I had asked Zachariah to help arrange things, both to take some of the work off us and to see how he handled something like this.  After we got located and set up Zachariah then left as we started a soccer game to begin gathering some children.  Zachariah had recruited some help on the keyboard in the form of Thapelo.  Ironically enough, Thapelo is the cousin of one of the boys from our old Bible study.  Thapelo was a tremendous blessing, as he was our interpreter.  When Zachariah wasn't there, Thapelo was.  He willingly jumped in to help whenever asked and did a great job translating to the kids.  While I don't know Sotho, I know enough to tell he was bringing the Word to them.

Soccer didn't draw as big a crowd as we had hoped because kids kept coming and going.  We learned that next time we find a quite neighborhood street instead of a busy intersection.  Our upside might be lower, but we would have better control and access to an entire neighborhood, instead of so many curiosity seekers that would come to look and then leave.

After a Bible lesson on Jesus work we had scheduled crafts.  Unfortunately, many things didn't go as planned.  Each morning would be beautiful, but as soon as we arrived in Thabong the wind and dust would start to blow.  It seemed as if there weren't enough obstacles anyway so the adversary wanted to bring more.  This weather definitely kept some of the crowds away.

The first day we had about 35 people, probably 30 kids and 5 adults.  After the lesson Zachariah and Thapelo spent about 15 minutes singing Sotho songs and hoping to gather a larger crowd of adults.  None came.  Zachariah preached for about 20 minutes to the children who had stayed, and then we passed out flyers for them to take to their parents/caregivers about our church.

Day Two:  We started with a quick soccer game to get a few kids, then transitioned into dodgeball.  I can't say we were successful teaching them dodgeball, as they just tried to play catch back and forth.  But it kept them busy, happy, and most importantly drew some more.

After games we were going to start the lesson.  However, there was a little miscommunication within our little group and we handed out the balloons that were supposed to come after the lesson.  This was a terrible idea.  Mass chaos quickly ensued.  Children popped their balloons, lost them to the wind and tried chasing them, fought over them, etc, etc, etc...  We pretty much lost at least half of them for the rest of the day.  On a bright note, we had about 65 kids this day.  Grant preached using an illustration of kool-aid sprayed on a white shirt to show how sin affects our lives.  A second white shirt illustrated how Jesus cleanses us from sin.  Again Thapelo interpreted the Gospel message to the small crowd.

Day Three:  After again starting with games we realized the crowd was growing bigger on this day.  By time Bible lesson rolled around we were at 85+.  After the lesson I was able to preach using Wordless Book bracelets the team had brought.  Walking the children through each step was enjoyable.  There were two illustrations:  One, of a half jar of water which you pour food coloring into to illustrate sin, then pour bleach into the water which makes it clear again, showing what Christ does in our hearts.  The second was using a trick deck of cards in which it appears as a normal deck, then appears as if every card is the 2 of Hearts.  The point of this is that Jesus is all about our hearts as well.

After the preaching we handed out bracelets to everyone that could tell us what the colors represented.  By this time we probably had at least 130 people come, and those who hadn't been there for the lesson were being coached on the colors by those who had, just so they could get a bracelet too.  But if that's what it takes for the Gospel to be spread, then let's do what it takes, right?

As we were nearing the end an older gentleman came and explained that he trains some young men in boxing at an abandoned building nearby.  He asked if we could come speak to his boys.  Now, I'm not the most gifted evangelist, but when someone comes and asks if we would share the Gospel with his group, it's not too hard to know the answer is "YES".  We went and spent about 20 minutes sharing the same message with his guys, then giving each a bracelet as well.  By that time word had spread to the kids on the street and about 30 tracked us down.  It gives a much better understanding of what Jesus went through with the crowds following him just to see the miracles or eat the loaves and fishes.

With all the obstacles of weather, health, language, etc... the Lord was still able to bless.  The Sunday after our outreach our average attendance doubled to 66.  Only 2 new adults were there, but one of them was the boxing coach.  We praise God for His blessings on us, and pray that fruit would continue to be produced for His name.

P.S. - After the last day I went to pay the 4 teenagers the remaining R50 we had agreed on.  They weren't home because they were attending midweek services at their church.  I tracked them down to their church and offered them the R50.  They refused to take it, saying that we were there to do the Lord's work and that the first R50 would cover any of their expenses.  I actually put the R50 bill into one of the boy's hands, hoping they would acquiesce and take it.  He put it right back into my pocket.  Now this may not seem like a big thing, but let me make this clear.  In this culture, everyone has their hand out.  When we were giving out Wordless Book bracelets our crowd increased by about 40%.  People are out to get their own.  And here were 4 orphaned teenagers refusing the $6 I was trying to give them, money we had already agreed to pay.  I about wet my pants I was so shocked.  As I was leaving they said we could come back anytime and they would be happy to help us spread God's Word.
Small blessings can be such an encouragement.