Follow by Email

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thapelo Kananelo Motsetse

We met Thapelo Motsetse last March.  Actually, Dylan met Thapelo and introduced him to us.  Dylan had a developing passion for basketball, and since our house is next door to the only school with a decent court here in town, it’s an ideal place to hone one’s skills.

Thapelo was from another town.  He had moved here to work as a public defender.  Having just graduated from law school, Thapelo was studying for the bar exam while serving with Legal Aid.  His contract was scheduled to keep him here through June 2016.  He was at the school shooting hoops and the rest, as they say, is history...

There was an instant bond between Thapelo, Dylan and my brother Caleb.  I won’t lie, I felt it too.  Here was a young man with an infections personality, a contagious smile and an energy for life.  Qualities that are in short supply around here sometimes.  The first time I met Thapelo was on a rainy day, when a game of 2-on-2 broke out at the Welkom High courts.  Dylan and I played vs Thapelo and Caleb.  At first it was just a couple sprinkles, but then it turned into an outright downpour.  Puddles started to appear on the court.  But the rain couldn’t stop us, it could only hope to contain us. I don’t want to say who won, but let’s just say this old man felt pretty good that afternoon.  But what really stood out to me was the character of this young man.  No foul language, respectful of the two young women who were also at the court, a strong and confident approach to the game.

From that day our relationship only grew.  Thapelo became friends with Dylan, Tolu, Teboho, Cathy, Neo, Paddy.  He would join us every Thursday night for supper.  Many Saturdays he would pop in for awhile after some hoops with the guys.  He began attending church and Bible studies with us.  On at least a couple occasions I had the opportunity to share the gospel with him and he professed agreement and joined in with spiritual discussions.  His What’s App profile often quoted Scriptures or included prayers of thanksgiving for God’s grace.

You can tell something about a person by the way they relate to authority and to their peers.  But you can tell even more by how they relate to those “beneath” them.  Thapelo treated our children with such a wonderful affection, putting up with their nagging and often joining in their antics.  As a public defender, he would refuse to take cases of domestic abuse.  He couldn't stand the thought of defending someone who would beat their wife, girlfriend or child.

Always quick-witted, you had to watch what you said around him because he could make you look foolish fast...but always in an endearing and enjoyable way.  He used to mimic Tolu’s Nigerian accent in a way that no matter how West African Tolu is, you could still see him blushing!

A strong competitor, we played lots of games.  One of the most enjoyable memories I’ll ever have is when a game of touch rugby broke out at the Cheetah’s stadium in Bloemfontein.  We had taken some of the guys down to watch a professional rugby match.  After the game was over the boys went down to the field and started fooling around.  Some prep school kids then challenged our guys to a game of touch rugby and it was on!  Thapelo was one of those gifted athletes that moved like a cat.  Since Caleb, Tolu and I had never played before, it was a learning experience for us.  But we won that night and rode off into the sunset as pick-up, touch rugby champs!

Thapelo took the bar exam in August.  He passed some sections, had to take re-examinations on others.  Just last week he sent me a message that he had passed one of those re-exams.  Only one left in February and he would finally get his license to practice law.

This past Sunday night Dylan received a text message from one of his friends.  Thapelo had been visiting his mother over the weekend.  On his return trip he was killed in a car accident.

We were shocked!

Of course, we’ve all experienced a death of someone close.  But usually it’s due to prolonged illness or old age.  It’s something that can be anticipated.  This was a young man full of life - a life filled with potential, hopes and dreams.  He had just bought his mother a car, even though he didn’t own one himself.  He had plans of starting his own law firm (aptly named Not Guilty, Inc.).

We still haven’t learned the details of the accident.  But yesterday there was a memorial service for him here in town (he’ll be laid to rest this Saturday in his hometown of Clocolan). The service was well attended, by both black and white people.  His colleagues, magistrates, friends and even the chief prosecutor spoke highly of his character.  The magistrate whose court he was assigned to was clearly struggling emotionally, speaking of how dear Thapelo had become to her.  The final eulogy was given by the woman in charge of the Welkom Justice Centre.  She struggled through her speech, often moved to tears (something I can empathise with).  She spoke of how Thapelo had become a son to her.  Their year-end awards are coming up.  She opened a letter and announced that Thapelo would have won the award as the best defence attorney.  She then produced the trophy that already had his named engraved on it.  Then she read the speech she had already written about him to present the award.  I watched the look on his mother's face as this all took place and it crushed me.

We've been back in South Africa about 3 weeks.  In that time we had both tried to arrange times to see each other, but for one reason or another just hadn't been able to align schedules.  One day I was in another discipleship meeting.  One weekend he was out of town to visit his mother, another time at a session to help prepare him for his bar re-exams.  Our last memory of Thapelo was our last Sunday before furlough in the States.  July 19.  I had just finished preaching.  We needed to spend the afternoon packing, arranging things here at the house and getting ready to be away for 3 months.  Thapelo comes to me after the service and greets me.  Then he just kind of stands there.  Thapelo was extremely well-mannered, so this seemed out of place.  I asked what he was doing that afternoon.  
He said "Nothing."  
Then he asked me what we were doing.  I said "Packing... (awkward pause) ...want to come over for lunch?"
"Yeah," he said, as he uncorked that smile.
"What is Amber going to say?" I remember thinking to myself.  We've got so much to do and I've just invited people over for lunch.  But my awesome wife didn't even bat an eyelash.  So, we spent the afternoon trying to multi-task, visiting with the guys and getting stuff done.  But, man, am I glad we did!

We were so looking forward to reconnecting with everyone when we got back to South Africa.  I especially looked forward to seeing Thapelo.  I had started adapting a Bible study from Chuck DeCleene that I could go through with him.  We had plans.  But God had other plans.

It hurts.  I'm the missionary, but I find myself wishing I had done a better job.  Dylan is hurting terribly.  Amber and I are too.  All three of us find ourselves thinking those thoughts that come when something like this happens - maybe it's a mistake.  We'll get a message that it was somebody else.  You see someone in town and think it's him.  You wonder why a young man with such a high character, intelligence, potential and spiritual sensitivity would be taken.  There's so many that don't deserve another breath.  Why Thapelo?

But that's the point, isn't it?  We stand in judgement of the murderers, rapists, molesters.  There's no shortage of those here.  In the 3 weeks we've been back we know of 4 different break-ins.  One was a simple smash-and-grab.  Two included children being held at gunpoint or knifepoint while the intruders robbed the house.  One woman was raped twice and her son stabbed.  And deep down inside, we all know that justice must be served, that these people deserve to be punished.

But then I read Romans 2 and realise that all of us stand guilty before God.  The very fact that we think someone else deserves judgement proves that we also deserve judgement ourselves.  Yet, we see the beauty of God's justice - that the mercy of God is meant to lead us to repentance (Rom 2:4).  I can't answer the question as to why God took Thapelo now.  But I know that God is good.  I know that God is wise.  I know that God is powerful.  And so I trust God.

And I realise that I don't deserve that next breath any more than the murderer, rapist or molester.  So why do I get it?  Because God is gracious.  He gave His own Son to take the wrath against sin, so that I could be clothed with His righteousness.  And while part of me is jealous that I don't get to be with Jesus now, I also know that each day is a gift...not a gift for me to spend for myself, but for my Lord.  

Let us give Him thanks be responding in obedience to His commission, and let us honour our fellow man by loving them enough to speak to them of our great hope!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Friendly Tortoise

This past Saturday when the neighbourhood kids were at our house playing, Khanye comes to the window and shouts "Uncle Louie, the Tortoise won't leave us alone!"  That's right.  Mr. T was so lonely these past several months that he now has to be in the centre of all the activity.

Note this picture above.  Mr. T insisted on joining us all for Bible Study.  #thistortoiseneedsafriend (did I use that # correctly?).

Sunday, November 22, 2015

T-Shirts for the Guys

Had the opportunity to buy a couple gifts for some of the guys when we were back in the States.  Of course, I had to get them shirts that fit the description:

I'm so proud of myself.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

God's Protection...Again

Recently we visited Amber's side of the family.  Her grandma lives in a city about halfway between Amber's parents and my parents (where we've been staying the past couple weeks).  So her grandma's house is the perfect place to gather.  Also, her grandma turns 90 this year and still mows her own lawn, works the soil in her garden and gets on the floor to play with our kids.  Pretty amazing family, those Bradburns!

Overall, it was a pretty good weekend...except for the shooting and the car crash.

We got there on a Thursday night, ate supper, and then somehow a wrestling match broke out between my sons and me.  These matches tend to get a little loud as my children beg for mercy.  Loud enough, apparently, to drown out the sound of several gunshots and a car accident.

About 2 hours after we arrived someone noticed the street in front of Grandma's house was filling with police cars, lights flashing.  Turns out there had been a shooting and car accident about 150 feet from where we were.  Grandpa Tom went out to get the four-one-one on the situation.  Early reports ranged from an episode of road rage to a drug deal gone bad.  Eventually we got the full story from the only eye witness - a woman who lives nearby.

So there was this young guy. We'll call him Guy. His brother had allegedly gotten into some hefty drug debt with a drug ring. Three guys show up at his house to get the brother but brother isn't home, so they kidnap Guy instead. Here's where the eyewitness gets involved. She's just said goodbye to some visitors in the driveway and sees this vehicle driving fast and recklessly down the road. Suddenly she sees a flash and hears a bang and the car swerves off the road and hits the fire hydrant, knocking it about 20 feet down the yard.  The car then proceeds to drive over the hydrant and puncture something that starts leaking from the car. She thinks they blew a tire, so goes running over toward the car but couldn't see it. 

Her yard is on the south of Amber's grandma. North of us is an empty lot, with a row of trees between us and the lot. The car had swerved off the road, knocked the hydrant off and 20 feet away, swerved back onto the road and around Grandma's house, then into the empty lot where it finally came to rest.

As the witness is running toward it to see if she can help she sees Guy running toward her. He stops and is waving this gun around saying "I just shot 3 guys in the head. They're trying to kill me!" She gets him to put the gun down and they step behind a fence. He fills in the details that they had allegedly kidnapped him to drive him around to get money from friends and family to pay the debt.  When they were unsuccessful they were going to take him out of town to do...whatever.  He said they were trying to put a bag over his head when the incident occurred   

The witness gets someone to call the police, then she steps back out to go see the car and sees a man walking toward them. She asks if he's one of the bad guys and Guy says no. So the new man sees the neighbor lady and his look confirms that what was in the car was not good. About that time the police arrive and she comes out to speak to them. It had been reported as a car accident and she tells them it was a shooting.  

They put her in the back of a cop car and she's stuck there for 30 minutes while they investigate the scene. She said she banged on the window the whole time and finally someone noticed, came over and said "we'll be right with you" and walked away for another 15 minutes. All this time her family and friends have no idea where she is or what's really going on.  During this time Guy is still hiding behind the fence, but he eventually comes out and turns himself in.

He is taken into custody.  One of the men had died before the police arrived, two survived and were taken to the hospital in critical condition.  Of course, these details came from a witness who heard it from the alleged shooter, so the veracity of these statements remains to be determined in a court of law.

But what we want to praise God for is how He protected us in this whole situation.  Had the car continued on it's original trajectory after it first left the road it would have crashed in Grandma's yard, possibly right into the side of the house where I was playing on the floor with two little boys...not to mention there was at least one gun discharged several times in close proximity.  Instead, it completely missed her entire property, missed two electric poles by inches (which would have made for a dark and scary night, considering we didn't yet know where the shooter was and if there was more than one), and then came to rest in an empty lot next door behind the tree line.

Of course, the tragedy is that at least one soul entered eternity, most likely unrepentant and separated from his Creator.  Of all the things that rocked us the most, the fact that life is spent on such worthless pursuits as money, power and drugs, only to end with such violent finality should cause us all to pause and evaluate what we love.  And more poignantly, how what we love affects how we as believers proclaim the message we claim to believe!

"The fool has said in his heart 'There is no God!'  They are corrupt, their deeds are vile, there is no one who does good." Psalm 14:1  
That's all of us, by the way.  Romans 3:10 makes it clear that we are all evil.  We like to point the finger at specific sins - adultery, murder, rape, drugs, violence.  But Jesus makes in clear in Matthew 5 that according to the laws of His kingdom, we're all guilty!

"Fools will die because they refuse to listen; they will be destroyed because they do not care."  Proverbs 1:32
There are consequences.  When we reject God to pursue ourselves, we face the dire end of the path we choose.

"Remember this: whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover a multitude of sins."  James 5:20
What are you doing to save a sinner?  How you spend your money shows where your heart is.  How you spend your time shows where your heart is.  Is this an urgent matter for you?

Monday, October 12, 2015


Sometimes missionaries get bitten by snakes.  But usually you’d think it would happen in some deep, dark jungle.  Not the Oklahoma panhandle.  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened.  

We had the privilege of spending several weeks in SE Colorado with Amber’s family.  The thing I most look forward to when visiting out west is being fed by Amber’s aunts.  Usually it’s a nice beef brisket, but this time Aunt Joyce decided to make some baby back ribs.  She spent like two days getting it all flavored properly.  I spent like two weeks looking forward to the feast.  

Uncle Paul was wanting to get some old, broken fence posts pulled out on the ranch.  I hopped in the pickup after both our wives made us promise to be back by 1:00 sharp for lunch.  We did a few small jobs and then started to pull the posts.  Uncle Paul was running the bucket on the tractor, as I walked the old fencerow as a spotter.  Once we found a post I’d throw a chain around it and then Paul would pull it out.  He’d warned me to watch out for snakes, a warning that I didn’t take lightly due to my intense theological training and innate fear of animals without legs.

We got to a particular section of the fencerow covered in some taller weeds.  It was there that the attack happened.  Ol’ Mo had warned me that August is the most dangerous season for rattlers, because they're shedding their skin and don’t see well to rattle.  Well, turns out he was right.  Rattlesnake fangs are hooked and when they strike they open their mouth wide, sink their fangs into soft tissue and pull back.  It’s on the backward pull that they inject their venom. By God’s grace, when the snake struck at me my hand was bent and it’s fang hit me square on the knuckle.  That prevented it from sinking into any soft tissue.  There was a pliers on the ground and we found a pool of venom on the pliers head.

I knew right away I’d been hit, so I pulled my glove off and found a spot of blood on my right index knuckle.  I bled it as much as I could and then sucked on it - which you’re not supposed to do because the mouth is some of the most absorbent tissue in the body.  Since we saw the venom on the pliers and since my hand didn’t start swelling, it seemed safe to keep working.  After about an hour my finger did start to stiffen a little bit, kind of like when you jam your finger.  Not wanting to lose my hand, we decided to go to the hospital.

On the way, we noticed the clock was creeping very close to that promised 1:00 hour.  Both Uncle Paul and I were more afraid to call our wives than we were of the snakebite itself.  Paul called Aunt Joyce and I asked that they not say anything to Amber until we’d seen the doctor and had some information to share.  Well, Aunt Joyce kind of sucked in her breath when Uncle Paul told her what had happened.  Amber, being prone to much eavesdropping as well as strong doses of pessimism, figured something was wrong and would not be dissuaded by Joyce’s calm demeanor.  When Paul called back 15 minutes later and Joyce left the room, she was certain something was up.  She heard Joyce say “Bruce isn't there?” When Aunt Kaye confirmed that Bruce is indeed one of the doctors in Boise City, Amber pressed for more information.  That’s when Aunt Joyce said “Your husband was bitten by a snake.”  To which Amber responded “Oh, good.  I’m so relieved.”  I’m not even making that up.  Apparently she thought I’d been cut in half, or been crushed, or had my stunning good looks marred in some irreparable way…you know, something truly terrible.  A snakebite is very low on Amber’s extensive list of anxieties for her husband’s welfare.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch, I wasn’t too concerned myself.  Uncle Paul?  Well, he was cool, calm and collected and I’m generally not given to panic.  I figured “Hey, it’s rattlesnake country.  This kind of stuff happens all the time.  Everyone knows what to do.”

Well, when we arrived at the hospital we tried to avoid the large E.R. fees by seeing a doctor directly.  But the receptionist would have none of it.  I guess hospital policy dictates that snakebites are emergencies and must be handled in the room designated for such.  They started taking my vital signs and asking me all sorts of questions.  Every nurse had a good laugh when they heard I was from Africa and came to Oklahoma to be bitten by a snake.  Eventually the doctor arrived and said that they have one vial of antivenin on hand.  But before doing anything he had to call poison control for instruction.  Turns out, snakebites are so rare that even a doctor who’s been practicing for almost 40 years needed to brush up on his protocol.  Leave it to this tenderfoot to be the one who helps them further their education on the subject.

Ultimately, while it may have been foolish to continue working out on the ranch for awhile, it ended up saving us lots of money.  If we had gone in directly they would have injected the antivenin, put me on a helicopter and airlifted me to Lubbock.  The vial alone would have been $5k plus the helicopter and hospital fees.  As it was, since it had been so long and there was such a small reaction, Poison Control instructed the hospital to monitor my vital signs for 6 hours and then discharge me if it didn’t become more serious.

So, I ended up getting the most expensive afternoon nap of my life.  Aunt Joyce sent in a plate of ribs and fixin’s, I watched Netflix in a nice leather recliner and caught some shut-eye.