Wednesday, July 13, 2016

One "Unique" Dude

Mohau is a very funny person - sometimes intentionally, sometimes not so much.  One day, though, his self-awareness and then lack of such was both shocking and hilarious.

We had two young ladies from the U.K., Meg and Florrie, ministering with us for a few months.  Mohau developed quite an "affection" for Meg.  And by affection I mean a pretty big crush.  One day he tells me that he had asked Meg on a date and she had accepted.  Surprised, I mentioned it to Meg the next time I saw her.  She also seemed surprised.  Turns out, when a group of the young people were hanging out at one of the youth member's house, Mohau had mentioned to her that "this is fun" and "we should do this more often."  Apparently, this was an invitation to a date.  So when Meg agreed that it was fun and they should do it more often, this was also an acceptance of the invitation.    The next night after youth group Meg pulled Mohau to the side to have one of those "Clarify the Relationship" discussions.

Every Thursday is Hospitality Night at the O'Tool's house, which is a chance for some less formal discipleship and fun together.  During dinner discussion a girl who was attending one of our Bible studies at a local high school came up.

Mohau looks up from his plate and says to me "You know I have a history with her, right?"
Knowing Mohau's tendency to quickly develop fondness for members of the opposite gender (Note: There are only two genders), I respond to his question with a question of my own.
"Mohau, who haven't you had a history with?" I said.
Without missing a beat, Mohau looks directly at Meg, and completely deadpan, in front of everyone, says "Well, Meg apparently!"

Now, Meg is from the U.K.  If you know anything about England, you're probably aware that they only get like 12 days of sunlight per year.  So most people from the U.K. are pasty-white.  But in this case, she wasn't pasty-white.  She turned a bright shade of red...purple almost.  His timing was absolutely perfect!

Later that night he carried on with his comedy routine, only this time unintentionally.  Mohau chose to ride with me as we made the rounds to drop our guests off.  Ostensibly it was for added security.  But again, Mohau's general sentiments about young ladies in general, and Meg in particular, probably prompted this particular display of paternal protective instinct.  Anyway, as we're driving Mohau mentions that he's working to maintain his single status so as to not interfere with his grades in this, his final year of high school.

Mohau has a fantastic vocabulary.  I'm talking, wrinkle-your-forehead and make-you-think dimensions.  The thing is, as he tries to find the most perfect, obscure word to fit his context, he sometimes uses a word at the very outer edge of its semantic range.  Which never ceases to crack me up.

Well, in his efforts to properly describe how he's trying to maintain singleness, he says "I'm working very hard to make a eunuch of myself."  The immediate mental picture of which nearly made me snort and swerve the car off the road.  See, in his love for language and reading of Scripture he came across the word eunuch in Matthew 19:12.  And that verse uses the term eunuch in a way that is outside the normal understanding of the word.  But not knowing the normal understanding he arrived at a correct conclusion in regards to application.  But the semantic imagery his particular choice of words evoked caused me to chuckle quite heartily.  Which then made everyone wonder what was so humorous about his choice of words.  Turns out, eunuch is not a word that most millennials are familiar with.  So none of these young people knew what it meant.  Which put me in the awkward position of both explaining the origins and meaning of the word, and then waiting as everyone put two-and-two together...the meaning of the word with Mohau's statement about "working hard to make a eunuch of himself."

Oh, the joys of working with young people!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Thotagauta Bible Study

A bit over a year ago Mrs. Hanti Badenhorst asked Jim and me to take over her Bible Study at Thotagauta Secondary School.  She was moving closer to her children in the Cape and wouldn't be able to continue.  There have been a few ups and downs, mainly spiritual opposition from a woman who was supposed to be helping with the Bible Study.  But God has opened some doors and we've been blessed to continue to minister there.

Due to some of the spiritual manipulation that has gone on, we've lost several senior-level girls and boys.  But a faithful core of young guys has developed.  Jim has mainly taken the lead for this discipleship opportunity, but with his 6 week trip to the States I had the privilege to step into that role.  The boys decided they wanted to study Revelation.  So we've been working on that for the past several weeks.

In the past our study has always taken place over their lunch break.  The government has only paid about 10% of the operation expenses that this school requires since August of last year.  That presents lots of challenges.  Most of the students don't have access to textbooks and the lack of funds has taken a toll on necessary maintenance.  But one of the biggest issues is that most of the boys that we work with come from homes that can't or aren't affording a lunch for them.  In most cases school kids here wake up between 4:30-5:00am.  They may or may not get a breakfast.  And with the lapse in funding, the school's lunch program closed.  Needless to say, studying is a challenge.

The good news is, we had more time with the boys since they weren't stuck waiting in line for some rice, porridge or beans.  But obviously the rice, porridge and beans aren't just a meal, they're essential.  So some fruit, nuts, biscuits and whatnot go a long way.  In fact, now that JT, DJ and the other guys are grown, they've shared how much the biscuits we brought to Bible study meant to them.  So the last several weeks something that so many take for granted, like a simple lunch for school kids, has become part of our Bible studies.

The good news is that there was reportedly a sizeable payout to the school recently so the lunch program may be restarting.  In the meantime, we're in exam season.  That means the normal school schedule is scrapped in favour of the various exams.  It also means that we have more time with the boys.  Which is good, because it's tough to cover anything meaningful in a 35 minute lunch break.
Necessity is the mother of invention.

Mohau, the young man that currently lives with us, is a connection from this Bible study.  He has taken a lot of leadership with the younger guys regarding communication and coordination.  It's enjoyable to see his example and affection for these boys.  And as he grows hopefully he'll continue to be a good example for them to follow.

Please pray for this Bible study, for Mohau, Dichabe, Thato, Matela and the rest of the guys.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Taken: Star Wars

So one day I walk into the church office and Pastor Josh shows off his new purchase - the just released Star Wars: The Force Awakens DVD.  When I return home I tell my kids about Josh's new prize possession.  To which Meredith responds "We should kidnap it!"  That's my girl.

Of course, the first thing to do is make a ransom demand.  But I had to train them on how to properly make a ransom note to avoid detection.  Frank & Joe Hardy taught me everything I ever needed to know.

They spent Saturday evening making the note, but when they arrived at church early on Sunday morning to find the DVD in Pastor Josh's office it's nowhere to be found.  He had taken it home the day before for safekeeping so that it would be available to watch on Monday, his day off.

But my hooligans were not to be so easily deterred.  And of course, they found a willing accomplice within the Bolaji family.  Exchanging the note with "E" Bolaji (names changed to protect the not-so-innocent), they captured Josh's The Force Awakens DVD in mint condition.

Disney's decision to release the DVD before International Star Wars Day (May the Fourth) is suspect, but it lent itself to a perfect deadline.  Alas, only to find out that Pastor Josh wanted to play hardball.  Channeling his inner Harrison Ford, he chose not to negotiate with my little terrorists.

The only acknowledgement was this much-commented on Facebook post...

The silent treatment is ineffective with children, however.  His decision to ignore their ransom demands only led to an escalation.  The O'Tool children needed to send a message that they are not to be trifled with.  So, in the spirit of a famous mafia family, it was painfully apparent that Pastor Josh needed to learn a lesson.  And how else to intimidate an insubordinate subordinate than to leave the head of some creature dear to said subordinate in said subordinate's bed?

Not wanting to decapitate an Ewok, and knowing that Wookie heads are notoriously difficult to obtain, the only alternative was the noggin of some droid.  And when Amber noticed that one of our old speaker covers was exactly the size and shape of BB8's head, the way forward was clear.  An hour of work yielded a spot-on rendition of the cranium of Artoo's heir apparent.

From there it was nothing to get hands on the Bolaji house keys and place the menacing ultimatum upon Josh's billet.

The message came through loud and clear, as the ransom was paid promptly the following afternoon.

The lesson, as always, is the lure of the dark side is strong...especially when Cadbury is involved!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Palm Trees

Growing up in west-central Iowa, palm trees were something you saw on TV.  They represented exotic beaches, desert islands and pirate adventures.  But now, living in the high plains of central South Africa, I've come to realise that palm trees don't necessarily represent such exciting things.  If you've ever been to Welkom you understand.

We bought a house 2 years ago and in our yard are two huge palm trees.  Guess what?  They're a pain!  They can house all kinds of vermin.  These don't bear coconuts, just these little coffee-bean looking things that litter the yard and sprout mini-palm trees everywhere.  They drop their fronds at the most inopportune times, so that you better have your head on a swivel if you're anywhere nearby.

But they still look pretty cool.

A couple months ago a work crew came to Welkom leaving little flyers at everyone's house that they are buying mature palm trees.  These trees are in great demand at new housing developments, golf courses, and especially in China.  Apparently, a large palm tree is a status symbol in China.  So many of these trees are packaged up and shipped east so that a wealthy Chinese family can have a home for vermin and get conked in the head when they walk too close.  Very posh, indeed.

Well, we were so excited about the possibility of getting paid for someone to take out our nuisance trees that we had one of the reps come by for an inspection.  They pay R3,000 per tree, or about $250.  We were looking forward to a nice $500 bonus (considering we probably would be willing to pay that much for someone to take these infernal things!).  But alas, 6.2 meters is the limit they can take, and our trees are 7.2 meters tall.

However, our church had 3 palm trees that fell within the specified range, so we were able to make a cool R9,000 and rid ourselves of some high maintenance garden foliage.  And that is a huge blessing too, because that increases our church bank account by about 30% (yes, our entire church bank account is less than $3,000)  I found the process interesting and thought maybe some other Mid-American hicks might too.  Enjoy!

First, they trim them up all nice and pretty
Then they dig a trench all the way around
Note the root system.  Nothing bigger than a pencil.
That piece you see still attached is just dirt for support
in case of strong wind.

A truck with a crane lifts it out.  They tie up the fronds and
drop it on a flatbed for transport.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Church Names

I passed, or rather, was passed by this church van today.  I'd hate to be the church secretary, typing that name out.  You'd have carpel tunnel before you even finished.  Seems like maybe an abbreviation is in order...

If you're having trouble making it out on my grainy photo, the name is "No. 1 Holy Apostolic In Zion Of Jerusalem Church South Africa"!  Say that 5 times fast.  But they're taking after the Baptists though, getting that numeral in the name.  Good thing too, because if that second church comes along and wants to steal your name at least everyone knows who was first.

On a serious note, though, please pray for us as we have ongoing opportunities to preach the gospel and proclaim truth.  While there are many false teachers among the "christian" churches of South Africa, there are also many who have never been exposed to true, orthodox theology.  As Pastor Joshua says, we often think they've been given the truth and rejected it, when in many cases, this is the only "christianity" they've ever known.  Pray for an awakening!

Please pray for us specifically with three opportunities the Lord has granted us:
1)  Mukhanyo Theological College - I am leading the Welkom Group, which is made up of 7 full-time students and 2 part-timers.  Of those 7, three are pastors or elders at their own churches (not counting Pastor Joshua).  This gives us an opportunity to train men who are already in positions to teach truth to their congregations!
2)  African Pastor's Conference - We host this every year and this year Pastor Joshua has had the opportunity to be the speaker at 3 conferences in Zambia and Botswana.  In an effort to provide ongoing training we host quarterly meetings with the pastors who attend the local conference.  Our next quarterly meeting is scheduled in May.  Pray for humility and openness as the Word is studied.
3)  Unashamed Camp and Youth events - You know about our December camp.  We are in the planning stages of that already.  But we also hold quarterly youth rallies to hopefully build a thirst for Jesus among our young people.  This year we're focusing on teaching young people how to study the Bible for themselves in order to discern truth from error.  Our next event is June 4th.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Baptism Pictures

The candidates







Mohau Lebajoa

Mohau is on my left
Mohau Lebajoa is a young man that we’ve known for about a year now.  We met him through a Bible study that we have been doing at Thotagauta Secondary School.  He is completing his 12th grade year.  “Matric” is considered a very important time for South African students, as it largely determines their future opportunities.

Mohau and his older sister have been living alone for the last several years, as both parents passed away due to cancer.  The home situation was not a good environment for a young man to focus on his academics or his relationship with the Lord.  At the end of last year Mohau’s school results showed many “opportunities for improvement” and he began looking for another place to live.  About the same time God opened up an place in the flat we’ve renovated for just such circumstances.

Also at the same time, Tolu approached us about living in our flat as well.  He is one of the young men that has grown into leadership in the ministry here.  He’s studying electrical engineering, with hopes of one day transferring to Iowa State University.  With his godly character, strong study habits and self-discipline, we thought he might be an excellent mentor for Mohau.  When we renovated the garage into a flat it was specifically for young people in Mohau’s situation, not so much for those in Tolu’s situation.  But the more we spoke with Tolu the more excited we became to work alongside him in Mohau’s discipleship.  

Mohau has been staying with us for about 3 weeks now.  He moved in with a backpack and two grocery bags.  That was the extent of his belongings, and the backpack was full of school materials.  The first week he was with us we had a severe thunderstorm and he arrived home from school soaked to the bone.  His school shoes, stitched together with pieces of wire, were sopping.  Those were his only pair of shoes.  So we had the privilege of taking him down to the shoe store to purchase a pair of shoes.  Helping him through the selection process was pretty cool, as he weighed out the functionality, price, durability and attractiveness of the different options.  Just the day before he had asked if I knew of any way to solve shoe-odor in his school shoes.  He hadn’t said they were his only pair, or asked about new shoes.  He just wanted to know how to get rid of the smell.  Of course, a little baking soda will do the trick.  But the bigger issue is he also only had one pair of socks to go with those shoes.  So it’s no wonder they started to get a little musty.  

Mohau Lebajoa
Before he came I asked him if he knew what he was getting into.  For a guy who’s lived under his own authority for 5+ years, it’s going to be tough to come under the authority of someone else.  He assured me he was ready.  And I’ll say this, he’s definitely willing.  But we’ve had a couple hiccups these first few days.  From calling to notify us of school schedule changes, to getting permission to run to the store, there’s been a little bit of a learning curve for all of us.  But with Tolu’s help and Mohau’s willingness, we’ve enjoyed the transition.

Continue to pray for Mohau, for his growth spiritually and intellectually.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Girl Named Q

Over a year ago, our colleagues met a young woman and began reaching out to her.  Her mom was a domestic worker across the road from the Heffners and "Q" was staying with her off and on.  I say "her mom", but Q is actually orphaned and this woman is her foster mother.  Without going into details, the foster system here is broken...very broken.

Q is 17 years old and in 10th grade.  About 9 months ago she left home to go live with a classmate.  She wasn't getting along with her foster mom - the mom claims that she's a liar who can't be trusted.  She claims that she wasn't being cared for properly.  From her description, think Cinderella.  There's probably some truth on both sides.  But that's neither here nor there.

She had lived with this classmate in a shack behind the house in Hani Park.  We've written about Hani Park many times in the past.  It's the roughest part of the township.  In the last 8 years we've seen many improvements - electricity, sewer, proper houses built.  But that was never the problem to begin with.  The problem has always been that we're sinners.  Last week Q came face to face with that problem.

The classmate has an older brother - 26 years old.  He lives at home and apparently isn't quite right in the head.  This whole time he'd been telling people that Q is his girlfriend.  She kept telling him she wasn't.  She has another boyfriend.  Both of them claim to be Rasta (same religion as Bob Marley).  But the brother wasn't getting the message.  A week ago he came home, began berating her, asking if she knew how much money she was costing the family and demanding that she become his girlfriend.  He turned violent and began to beat her.  She probably weighs 110 - very slender and athletic looking.  He beat her into unconsciousness and only stopped because his mother returned and he turned his anger on her.

Q called Uncle Jim on Tuesday this week.  She didn't sound good.  She wanted to see Jim and Kim.  Jim said "Are you in ok?"
"No" was her reply.
"Are you hurt?" was his next question.
So Jim and Kim went straight to Hani Park to find her.  They were horrified by what they saw.  Bruises and swelling are still evident, although it's gone down somewhat.  A tooth was broken and so painful she hadn't eaten in 5 days.  She'd left that house and was living in a shack behind another house around the corner.

Jim and Kim took her to a dentist, and it's a good thing they did!  The dentist took one look and said "The jaw's broken."  Sure enough, x-rays confirmed this to be the case.  He said after 72 hours infection sets in and it had already been 5 days.  But for some reason the infection wasn't there.

That night Jim and Kim helped Q file a police report.  After they took the details they loaded her in the police truck and headed out to Hani Park.  They knocked on the door and he opened.  They turn to her and say "Is this the guy?"  With her positive ID, they ask him why he would do such a thing to a young girl.  His answer?  "She needed some discipline."  With that admission they slapped on the cuffs and took him to jail.

The next morning her jaw was wired shut, a procedure so painful Jim was nearly in tears to watch it.  Q is one tough girl, though.  Halfway through the procedure the dentist turned to Jim and told him there's no way this type of damage was done by a fist.  The only way this type of injury could be inflicted was through stomping.  Q couldn't remember, but then she was unconscious.

The jaw is wired shut in front and in the back on both sides.
She can't open her teeth at all, so she'll have to find a gap
big enough for a straw to fit.

Her jaw will be wired shut for 3 months and she'll be on a liquid diet.  Right now she's with the Heffners, but where she'll stay for the duration is still up in the air.  Her desire is to go back and live alone in the shack.  She says she's just never been able to stay somewhere for long without having problems so she just wants to be alone.  Her only request is that we put a lock on the door.  She asked this before we even found out about the broken jaw.

This little nail was the only thing keeping the door shut.  I could pull it out with my fingers.

Since her desire at the time was to stay in the shack, and since we can't keep someone against their will, we felt her request was reasonable.  So Tolu and I went out and installed a lock right away.  Last night Jim sent out an email to his prayer supporters detailing the situation.  She was sitting next to the computer when one of the supporters sent a reply.  When Jim came back in the room she was sitting there in tears.  Jim asked what was wrong and she said "I'm sorry.  I read your email."
Jim asked "Did I say anything wrong or anything that hurt you?"
"No," she said.  "But why would anyone care?"

Clearly there's a lot going on that we don't even know about.  Why she wants to stay in the shack when we've offered to look into alternatives, what exactly has gone on between her and the foster mother, what's her relationship with her boyfriend, where does any money to survive come from?  But have any of us walked a mile in her shoes?  Orphaned, bounced from caregiver to caregiver, raised in a culture where various types of abuse are rampant and even acceptable!

To borrow a thought from "When Helping Hurts" (one of the best books on gospel-centered poverty relief, by the way), we can never forget that people are broken themselves and are victims of broken human systems around them.

We need wisdom.  Lord God, do we need wisdom!  Please pray that we will have grace, discernment and patience as we continue to minister to Q in this situation.  Pray specifically for the Heffners as they take the point on this relationship!  Pray that the gospel would break through to her hurting and blinded heart so that she could see the glory of God in the person of Jesus Christ!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Top Ten Things You Learn During an El Nino Induced Drought/Heatwave

10.  There's no such thing as a cool shower.
Our water pipes run either in the attic or along the outside walls of the house.  By time it reaches the shower head the water has warmed up to a nice luke-warmy temperature.

9.  It's nice to have friends with swimming pools.
The Heffners and Mphapuli's have generously allowed us to come swim at their houses.  We've got a little plastic pool in the back for the kiddos, but the water changes funny colors sometimes.  So, a refreshing dip in a proper pool is great!

8.  You bathe the kids in buckets.
Some places in South Africa already need to bring water in on trucks.  Other places have been put on strict water rations.  Our local government hasn't said a thing...not because we don't need the rations, but because a) They are short-sighted and inept & b) Everyone would disregard them anyway.  But in an effort to be environmentally, economically, socially and botanically responsible, we bathe Travis in a bucket and then use the water to keep our trees alive.

7.  The best way to stay cool is to soak your shirt in water.
As it evaporates, especially if you're using a fan, it keeps you nice and cool.  And if you're in bed, add wet socks to the equation and Bingo!, you're cool as a cucumber.  Only remember to wait a minute before putting your newly wet shirt back on, so as to allow the water you soaked it with to cool off, as it comes out of the pipes almost as steam.

6.  40 degrees Celsius is WAYYY hotter than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
40 degrees Celsius is equivalent to 104 Fahrenheit.  That's hot!  I don't care about the proverbial "dry heat!"  A family in our church are partners in a heating/cooling business.  Last week his instruments measured that it felt like 50 degrees Celsius in the sun, 43 in the shade.  That's 122 & 110 Fahrenheit, respectively.  Ouch!

5.  38 degrees Celsius in the house is hot!
Hence, the wet socks.  Our indoor high temp was 39 degrees.

4.  You look forward to the one day that week when the forecast calls for a high of only 97 degrees.
This week's forecast?  Highs in the upper 80's with chances of rain every day.  Woo-Hoo!!!  We'll keep praying this happens.  Yesterday was our first rain in a lonngggg time.  We got 1.5 inches according to the reports.  What a blessing that the dust is now mud!

3.  When the temperature drops to 86 degrees, the kids wrap up in blankets during family devotions.
I always wondered how Africans can wear winter coats, caps and gloves when its in the 60's.  I guess my kids are officially Africans now.

2.  Eggs hard-boil themselves.
It got so hot in the kitchen at camp that when we tried to use the left-over eggs we found out they had hard boiled.  Or mostly so, anyway.  So the dogs got a nice little mostly hard-boiled treat.


1.  There is no cool side of the pillow.
Do I really need to say anything about this?  If Stuart Scott lived in South Africa during El Nino his one-liners wouldn't make any sense.

Oh, and as a fun little post-script, we accidentally learned how to brew alcoholic sun tea.  Learned that the hard way.  That foam on the top?  That's because it's bubbling all on it's own.  So this jug is going down the drain.