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Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Life and Times - Church Update

One year ago this month we held our first church meetings in Thabong.  As with any ministry we've been involved with we try to make it a point to evaluate from time to time to ensure we're effectively using the resources God has given us.  As our first year drew to a close we sat down to review all we have learned.

And we have leaned a lot of things!

Our choices were reduced to three options:
1.  Continue as we had for the past year.
2.  Make some changes.
3.  Quit altogether.

For those not familiar with the status of our church meetings, here's a brief update.  Within our first month of meeting we were averaging about 30-35 in attendance.  About 20 of those came with us from The Village, the rest were from Thabong.  Each week we usually had 1 or 2 adults, but rarely the same ones consecutively.  Sometimes we would have up to 5-6 adults besides ourselves, with the remaining number being children from the local neighborhood.  For about 6 months a man named Zachariah had attended faithfully, but due to some family circumstances we encouraged him to move to a town about 6 hours away.

After independently chewing things over for awhile, discussing things with the Niehoffs, and praying about things we came to the following conclusions.  I'll give you a window into our thought process (scary, I know).

1.  Continue as we had for the past year:  We didn't feel we could just maintain the status quo.  Twelve months had yielded one faithful attendee...whom we had just counseled to leave!  We were afraid the children from The Village were learning by example that church is for children and adults don't go.

3.  Quit altogether:  Obviously quitting church isn't an option, because it is the body of Christ and the means God has chosen to work during this specific time in history.  Our ministry at The Village would be largely ineffective and shortsighted if we were not discipling these children to become vital parts of their own local church.  The Village is, in effect, a church plant.  It is just that this culture is so debased and depraved that we feel we must reach the children as young as possible.

2.  Make some changes:  This became the logical answer.  We identified that the two main changes absolutely necessary are Location and Leadership.  Our location at a local high school is significantly less than ideal.  The best room is realistically big enough for about 50 people, not even considering the other logistical difficulties of security access, electricity, seating, cleanliness, etc...

"Church" in this culture is often treated as a club, and although that isn't the correct mindset it is still reality.  This mindset is emphasized by the fact that most churches have their own uniform, flags, colors, regional conventions, badges, etc...  Almost exclusively people would not attend a church set up like us because of the lack of perceived prestige.  Again, right or wrong, this is the reality.

Our second change - Leadership - became evident on many fronts.  I say the following carefully and ask for understanding.  We have learned in our time here that Race is a significant issue.  Not only are we whites attempting to minister within a black community, but we are white Americans.  This means that we are "rich".  There is a common idiom in Sesotho that translates "Where there are white people there are jobs."  Interpreted into real life, this means that people came for what they perceived we could offer them.  We have been involved in ministry long enough to understand that this tendency crosses all cultural, racial, and economic divisions.  But we found it especially prominent in the 12 months of church ministry - we didn't have one adult attend for any length of time without asking for either a job or money.  Typically when it wasn't forthcoming they quit attending.

There are also certain cultural barriers that, while not insurmountable, would be vastly improved by partnering with a Sesotho or Xhosa man as the leader of the church.  Issues like music style, first-language communication, visitation and counseling, and an array of other minor but important matters could be relieved by a man native to the culture and background we are trying to reach.

Now, how to proceed?  Location could be solved by saving, fundraising, and work.  Leadership could only be solved by the call of God on the life of an individual equipped to fit the bill.

It was during this process of evaluation that both the Niehoffs, Amber and I felt led to re-check another church here in town.  Welkom Baptist Church has been in town for several decades but like many churches, businesses, and organizations its arc of existence has mirrored the prosperity of the mines.  Last year as we began our meetings this church was in a state of flux.  It had been without a pastor for some time, had began pursuing a man from another country, but due to VISA issues that family was unable to come.  This left the church as a body in an uncertain position with the potential of other issues rearing up in the meantime.

Since we began our church meetings in Thabong those VISA issues cleared up and Joshua Bolaji came to serve as pastor of the church.  Originally from Nigeria, Joshua was raised in London.  This makes for quite a unique accent!  We visited the church a couple times, met with Joshua, and as a team discussed partnership with WBC.  Joshua's preaching has been rock solid and it is nice to be able to take The Village children and mothers to a church where they have the ability to fellowship.  We also appreciate the fellowship more than ever, having gone 12 months without attending a service where we weren't responsible for every aspect of it.

In addition, we have met a man at Welkom Baptist Church named Vincent.  Vincent attended a good seminary here in South Africa and has as his goal to one day plant a Sotho-speaking in Thabong.  So we'll see what God has for our future.  In the meantime, we are excited about the possibilities of partnering with WBC and seeing all our children at The Village plugged into a church where they can be fed and led.

If you've reached the end of this post then you must be a committed supporter of this ministry.  We ask that you continue to pray for us as we all work to spread the good news of God's love in this community.
The Christmas Program (Drake is the purple shepherd in the front row, Meredith the angel right behind him)

Three Shepherds, hopefully one day 3 wise men.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Life and Times - Christmas At The Village

Christmas Eve Day kicked off our celebration of Christ's birth at The Village.  During the afternoon we gathered everyone together for a reading and discussion of the Christmas story.  We talked about God's demonstration of love in sending His Son as the gift of eternal life.  All the presents piled up from the children's sponsors made a great object lesson. Of course, some of the kids were pretty anxious to see what was in all those pretty boxes!

Our family spent Christmas Eve with Paddy and Lisa Winson, some good friends of ours here in town.  We played a rousing game of Chocolate Scrabble, in which Paddy continually introduced new rules to her advantage.  We even experienced a new Christmas Tradition - Christmas Crackers.

Sunday started with a bit of a difficult situation regarding a crew of people who had invited themselves over for the afternoon festivities, but we were able to get that straightened out.  Church was a tremendous blessing, as we were able to attend services at Welkom Baptist Church (more on that later).  Then we headed to The Village for an afternoon with the children and several dozen visitors.

We had a great time and it was definitely a unique celebration.  For many of the children at Restoring Hope Village this was their first time to celebrate a real CHRISTMAS, and their first time to receive presents from someone who truly cares.  For the Americans, the 90 degree heat left us dreaming of a white Christmas.

A special thanks to all the family and friends who made a special effort to make Christmas a wonderful day both for us and for the children at Restoring Hope.  We appreciate all your thoughts and prayers.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Life and Times - Bible Study

Each Tuesday we have Bible study with the children at The Village.  Here are a couple clips:

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Life and Times - Congratulations Niehoffs!

Charlie Levi Niehoff joined The Village family almost two weeks ago (we waited to post it here so no one important would see it on our site before theirs:-).  He is a healthy, happy little boy.  And as you can see in this photo, there are a few other family members that are happy as well.  Big congratulations to Brian and Lois!  And we're all thankful to have Brian's parents, Bob and Susan here to help.

The Life and Times - Trees

Recently we received a nice donation from a local organization, LegalAid.  They purchased several trees for us to plant around The Village property.  Since it was just an overgrown, trash-strewn field less than 2 years ago these trees will go a long way to making to property beautiful.  Some of the trees are also fruit trees, so in a few years we will hopefully be enjoying more than just aesthetic benefits!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Life and Times - Just Another Day

Last week I was in the middle of working on the house when two women showed up at our gate.  They were carrying an infant.  When I greeted them they told me they had been directed to us by the police.  Apparently they had discovered two young children that had been abandoned.

The oldest is a four year old girl, and the other is less than a year.  One of the women knew the family of the father.  The father had been in jail for raping the 4 year old, but had either been released or escaped and has since disappeared.  (Escape from jail is actually relatively common.  I'm guessing there might be "ways" to arrange it.)  The mother has also disappeared, leaving these two children on their own.

The woman in pink took the two children in 3 weeks ago.  She wants to keep the baby, presumably for the grant money she can receive.  But she claims she doesn't have time to look after the 4 year old.  Understand the 4 year old has been molested repeatedly by the father.  Of course, how would someone have time to look after an infant but not a 4 year old?  Obviously there are some ulterior factors at play.

Lois took these women to the social workers, as we don't take any children without going through the appropriate channels.  While there we were asked to take 4 other children.  These children actually spent a night here at The Village a couple months ago.  Their situation at home has been researched and determined that it is not suitable for them.  They are orphans but there are some relatives with whom they had been staying.  

Since leaving us they have been in the care of another temporary home in a town about 30 minutes away.  The oldest girl is 12, and in the short time here it was evident to us that she is already too streetwise for us to accept.  The photo on the right was taken by Bob, as Brian, Lois and I discussed how best to proceed with accepting the children from either situation.

Regardless of whether we are able to accept the children from either situation, it will present challenges.  The 12 year old is most likely already sexually active.  The 4 year old obviously has been violated in a way that will likely affect her for the rest of her life.  Both could potentially bring issues and baggage that will affect the other children we already care for at The Village.  So we could use some intense prayer for wisdom and for the sovereign protection of God over our ministry.  And these children are especially in need of prayer, as their lives have been screwed up in so many ways beyond their own control.