#Madagascar4Jesus

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In a few weeks’ time, Wayne, along with five youth leaders, will be traveling to Madagascar on mission. The team will be serving at the Diocese of Toliara’s youth conference in the areas of teaching, speaking, preaching, ministry and cultivating community and fellowship through games.

Each team member brings unique skills and gifts, and it has been a blessing and a joy (and hard work!) to help plan this mission. The team members are Neil Adams, Ryan Baatjies, Zrano Bam, Wayne Curtis, Nkosinathi Landingwe, and Rethabile Mabusela. The mission team has named themselves: #Madagascar4Jesus. The conference theme is Romans 12:1, “To offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” Neil, Zrano and Rethabile will be expounding on the theme each day. Wayne and Nkosinathi will be talking about the “Challenge of Globalisation in Relation to Christianity,” and Ryan will be preaching at the cathedral.

We know that this team is going to a blessing to the young people at the conference and that they will receive numerous blessings as well. I have no doubt that a special bond will be formed between the South African team and the Malagasy youth leaders and youth. I believe it will be a life-changing experience for them all.

The team is eager to serve, and each member has been hard at work over the past few months to raise the support needed to go on this mission trip. For Wayne, we hosted at church two “Movie Nights” in which we showed the movie War Room and sold pizzas. We also hosted “Wayne’s House Party” in which FuzionGrooves (a DJ and singer from church) provided the music. We also teamed up with the Amici de Lumine Youth Choir to hold an afternoon of choral music fundraiser. Wayne and I have been so amazed at the support he has received from church members, friends and family, who truly believe in this mission. God has really provided for us, and we are truly grateful.

The team will be traveling to Toliara, which is the southern part of the country. It consists of one of the poorest and most unreached places on earth. The people of Toliara have numerous struggles, but many of them find hope in the diocese’s holistic ministry of evangelism, education and economic development. We are grateful that Wayne and the other five youth leaders have the opportunity to go be with and to serve their brothers and sisters in Toliara. Please keep the team in your prayers—safe journey, good health, sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit, etc.—as they prepare to leave.

 

The Addict in My Church

As we plan for the International Anglicans Ablaze Conference in October, we are having seminars and consultations that deal with several topics that the conference will cover. One such topic is the scourge of substance abuse, and Wayne and I had the pleasure to attend and help host the consultation on substance abuse that Dr. Graham Bressick’s led on Saturday.

If you live in South Africa, no doubt you are aware of how drug abuse is affecting our communities. There are probably few of us who have not been affected in some way. In Cape Town, drug dealing and gangsterism go hand-in-hand. Sometimes the violence is so bad that schools and hospitals have to close down due to gang violence. Last week in Plumstead, a couple of young men were arrested for selling drugs to primary school children who attend school just off the Main Road. Driving at night through Wynberg one can often see the exchange of drugs. Last year, just outside my office window, I saw a woman doing drugs in her car. Many of the youth with whom we work have parents who are addicts. It is all around us.

I think it’s great that we as the Anglican Church are finally addressing this tough issue. So many families are affected, and they don’t know how to cope. We who are their friends feel powerless to help them.

The major takeaway I took from Saturday’s seminar was what Dr. Bressick’s called the ID-100357963eight strengths of churches. Summarizing from an American minister’s book (unfortunately, I didn’t get the name of the book or author), Dr. Bressick said that churches provide these strengths for people:

  • Accompany (companionship)
  • Convene
  • Connect
  • Stories (a place to tell our stories)
  • Sanctuary (a place to be safe)
  • Receive blessing
  • Prayer
  • Endure

Of course, this is the ideal church, the Church at its best, where the addict is welcomed. But I wonder how much our numbers would swell in our individual parishes if we did just that. I wonder how many people—members or newcomers or passersby—actually feel safe in their church. If our churches were truly a safe place where young and old, rich and poor, addict and sober could feel loved and accepted, be offered prayer, feel truly connected and a sense of companionship with friends to endure, I wonder how much that we as the Church could be changing lives and the world.

 

–Art credit: hyena reality, freedigitalphotos.net

Returning Home

It’s hard to believe that we are heading back home soon. The time has flown by quickly. We have had a great time on our furlough and look forward to serving together as a missionary couple. Here are some of our experiences and highlights on furlough.

  • Wayne’s first trip to NYCDSCN7951
  • Wayne’s first snow
  • DSCN8110Wayne masters driving on the right side of the road.
  • Taking walks with Mom and Dad
  • Spending quality time with donors and supporters
  • Sharing our stories from the field with others
  • Meeting my bestie’s husband
  • Visiting Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum
  • Enjoying special friend time
  • Sharing in parish life again at my home church, St. George’s
  • Meeting a ton of new parishioners at St. George’s
  • Attending the SAMS missionary retreatIMG_1686
  • Wayne experiences his first Super Bowl and March Madness
  • Making my first pecan pie
  • Having random conversations with little brother
  • Hanging out with little sis
  • Chilling with big brother and getting spoiled by him
  • Playing and cuddling with my fur-nephew
  • Discovering Cook-Out Burgers (I could float back to Cape Town.)
  • Eating biscuits, sausage, and bacon (Once again, I could float back home.)

I’m looking forward to getting back home, although I’m sad to leave my family and friends here. When I’m in Cape Town, I miss my family and friends in the States. When I’m in Tennessee, I miss my family and friends in South Africa. It’s the tension but beauty of living cross-culturally and having two homes.

Important Note:
We are running short on what we need for our monthly support. If you would like to SAMS 2 smallpartner with us in ministry by making a one-time donation or by making a pledge, please visit
https://secure-q.net/Donations/SAMS/3296

We thank you in advance for your generosity!

Joey’s Prayer

American Flag ID-10047802Our time in the States has been a whirlwind—family time, friend time, meeting with current donors, meeting with potential new donors, raising awareness of our ministry, building relationships, and making time for rest, relaxation and fun. This has been our experience of our first missionary furlough. Unfortunately, our time has been sorely lacking on the rest and relaxation front, and I feel as though we are also falling short of having quality time with family and friends. It has been a balancing act, and I don’t think we have mastered the act; and now it is nearly time to return home.

Despite the busy pace of our time, it has been wonderful being Stateside; and we have loved every bit of time we have spent with family, friends and supporters. We have received much encouragement from everyone who is a part of our lives and that has flowed into our spiritual and emotional reserves, preparing us for the next leg of our ministry, one as a missionary couple.

There have been so many highlights, and there are many stories to share. I keep thinking about one, though, that I want to share with you. Not long ago, Wayne and I had the privilege to spend time with the youth at our church, St. George’s. After our presentation, when we were talking with several of the young people, a young man came up to me. He told me that he remembered my speaking to the youth before I left for Cape Town more than three years ago. He asked me if I remembered; I replied “yes.” He told me that he still had my prayer card that I handed to the youth (I didn’t remember the prayer cards.) and that he had posted it up in his room and has been praying for me every since. I couldn’t believe this–that this teenage boy remembered me and had been praying for me for the past three years! I nearly had tears in my eyes; it was one of the sweetest things I have heard. I know many people are praying for us, but to be reminded that more people than we realize are praying for us was extremely encouraging. Plus, Wayne and I work with young people in South Africa and knowing that this young man in the States is praying for us and our work with his South African counterparts is special to us in so many ways.

We are grateful for Joey’s prayer, and we ask that you join him in his prayer for us, especially as we prepare to go back to the field next month.

Advent in Summer

DSCN6142As I work at home today and listen to Christmas music, my brain is trying to wrap around the fact that this year I will be having a summer Christmas. It’s hot outside; yesterday was very hot—even for me, someone who loves summer and heat.

I overheard an American say that he was looking forward to spending Christmas in a country that wasn’t too commercial about it. I’m not sure about that, at least in regards to Cape Town. The shops started putting up Christmas stuff in early October, and the Christmas music has been blaring in them for some time. In some shops, it looks like Santa Claus’s factory blew up in there. It’s Winter Wonderland (in the summer) overkill. People keep warning me about the jacked-up prices (which is definitely true) and the upcoming holiday traffic. Apparently, the country pretty much shuts down from mid-December to mid-January to celebrate the festive season. After all, it is the heart of summer and school break. I, for one, am looking forward to having some quality time off before heading to the States for a while.

But I am so busy. It has been an intense two months of trying to get things organised and in a good place. Yet so much still needs to be done before I head Stateside. I’m trying to have my ministry work in good shape while I am out of the office; I’m trying to organise some training conferences for early next year. I have last-minute visa stuff to sort out, and I have to lay the foundation for my Home Missions Assignment. In addition, I need to start support raising. Whew.

Yet I am determined to enjoy every moment of my summer Christmas with my hubby and SA family and friends. So this year I will be dreaming of a balmy Christmas and walking on a sandy-beach wonderland.

 

 

Running in Soweto

Last week, my Nashville church, St. George’s, lost a beloved and faithful member. Across the miles, I feel the loss of Don, a dear friend and an instrumental role-player in my journey to become a missionary to South Africa.

2007 Team. (Don is on the far left.)
2007 Team. (Don is on the far left.)

I first started coming to South Africa with outreach teams from St. George’s, and Don was one of the organizers. I have many fond memories of him on these trips, but my favourite one is of his running in Soweto. In this township where so many white South Africans are too scared to venture in, Don, a short, white American man, would get up early in the morning to go running. I thought this was super cool but rather risky. Yet I enjoyed hearing his stories about the people with whom he met and talked along the way. I thought it would be cool to go running with Don one morning, but 1) I don’t run and 2) he got up really, really EARLY to go running; and I was always exhausted and ready for any extra minutes of sleep I could get on these jam-packed mission trips.

Now I wish I had gone running with Don, but I am grateful for this memory I have of him and for this lesson he taught me about perceptions of certain areas. Sometimes we just need to get out of our comfort zone and take a run—or a nice long walk.

Expectations of Hope

Recently, I got to experience two celebrations with two groups of special young people—the opening of the school hall at Heathfield High and confirmation at my Cape Town parish church, All Saints Plumstead.

It was such a privilege and a joy to be at the school hall opening because I feel such a connection to that school, due to my IMG_0670relationship with the learners and teachers because of the Alpha course we ran last year and are currently running now. Plus, I have friends and family members who attended this school. At the ceremony, I got to sit with the teachers, which was a real treat; and I kept thinking of my dad, who taught school for 36 years. I truly believe for many children, after their parents and grandparents, teachers play the most important role in their lives. That was certainly the case in my life.

All Saints Confirmation 2015On Sunday, we had eight young people to get confirmed at my church. I know these young people quite well because my husband served as their youth leader for several years. It was truly special to witness them take this commitment, this important step in their faith formation. I know this commitment meant something to them, that they will strive to serve the Lord with all their heart; and that truly makes me happy.

When I think about the young people who were just confirmed and about the youth who are taking the Alpha course at Heathfield High, I get excited. In the States and in South Africa (and probably in every country in the world), many adults like to complain about young people. But when I look at the youth in both my countries, I see hope. Young people rise to the level of expectations, and we adults often have low expectations of them, which is a dis-service to them. We can do better than that. Let’s have great expectations for our youth; they deserve nothing less.

Balancing Act

Trying to balance ministry, family, me-time, God-time and friend-time is hard. I more or less always feel the tension. Recently, I have felt it a lot and have not responded well.

When I get overwhelmed, stressed, or way out of balance, I get cranky and irritable. My to-do list grows, as I try to control what I can. When I don’t tick off everything on my to-do list, which I rarely do, I feel like I failed. This leads to feelings of guilt that, in turn, leads to more moodiness. It becomes a vicious cycle, and those close to me almost have to be saints to put up with me.

I feel as though I am disappointing a lot of people these days. I am so busy that I have little time to spend with my family and friends on this side and to talk with my family and friends on that side. Last Thursday, I had a stress headache, which is a huge warning sign that I need to slow down and take a break. So instead of going to the gym after work, I came home and watched a musical. I enjoyed it—yet I felt guilty about indulging in a luxury, watching a movie during a weekday. I had supper to cook, lunches to make, clothes to wash—why on earth was I watching a movie?

Guilt

Guys & Dolls, one of my favourite musicals, happens to be about a missionary
Guys & Dolls, one of my favourite musicals, happens to be about a missionary

I think I am in need of a holiday, a real vacation in which Wayne and I can go away for a while and just relax. In the meantime, I am relieving my stress through musicals, which have become a sort of a mental escape for me. I can totally switch off and sing to my heart’s delight.

I admit: I am an over-achiever, a product of my American-driven culture. Being a missionary has not cured that part of my personality. On the contrary, I have carried that part of me into my ministry, which is not necessarily a good thing. When I don’t see the results that I want to see or expect to see, I feel like I am failing. But who puts that pressure on me? It’s me. I am my own worst enemy.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

In times like these, I try to keep in mind two of my favourite quotations:

God calls us to be faithful, not to be successful.”
–Mother Teresa

Man is born to live, not to prepare for life.”
–Boris Pasternak

I pray, asking God to help me live in the moment and for wisdom on how to put my life back in balance. And I dream about what sort of musical my life would be if I could portray it in song and dance.

Perceptions

selfie with learners in Afrikaans class @ Heathfield High
selfie with learners in Afrikaans class @ Heathfield High

Earlier this week, I spoke at the Heathfield High School assembly, talking about the upcoming Youth Alpha we are going to run in the school. Last Friday, I spoke during chapel at Bishops Diocesan School, encouraging the boys to be open to God’s call on their lives as they make plans that will shape their future. They are two schools from very different worlds—one is in a coloured area, attracting co-ed learners from a primarily low-income background and attracting many African immigrants. The other school is probably the most elite boys’ school in the country; it would be similar to America’s Woodberry Forest School.

I love working with young people in South Africa. I have to admit that I often have an instant “in” with them as soon as I open my mouth. They are so fascinated about America and American culture and often ask me the most interesting and sometimes uncomfortable questions.

Although I have been living in Cape Town for more than two and half years, I am still somewhat dumbfounded over the prevalence of American culture in this country. If you turn on a pop radio station, 90% would be American singers. Reality shows, police dramas, Dr. Oz and the like, and sitcoms from the States dominate TV channels. What’s showing at the cinema? mainly American movies. But what is really sad is that a lot of the entertainment we export here doesn’t paint us Americans in a good light.

Young people often ask me, Is everybody wealthy in America? Do you have any homeless people? Is it really that violent there? Many are shocked to find out that we have homelessness, people addicted to the same drugs that are destroying lives here, and other issues. Many African youth are fascinated with African Americans and our culture. Have you met Jay Z?, a young man recently asked me. Do rappers really dress like that? I love how African Americans speak. I love your gospel music. I often smile. I can relate to some of those cultural questions; others, I cannot. It gets complex.

I think what grieves me the most are shows, such as My Sweet Sixteen and Pimp My Ride. Many youth think it’s not uncommon for Americans to spend $10,000 on a young person’s 16th birthday, and this insane excess is influencing them to pressure their parents to pay a lot of money (sometimes going into debt) for matric balls (similar to the American prom) and 21st birthday parties. I try to explain to young people that these reality shows aren’t real; that’s why these extremes are on TV. Ordinary Americans don’t live like that.

As we live as community, we begin to break down perceptions such as these; and that is one of the beauties and challenges of cross-cultural living.

It’s All About Us

American Flag ID-10047802SA Grunge FlagID-10092404 (1)

“It’s all about us.”

My heart sunk upon hearing those words.

Recently, I had one of those cross-cultural experiences that left me shaking my head in dismay. I was a part of a meeting in which three young American guys wanted to meet with some local Anglican youth leaders to share with them about an upcoming music concert they were organizing and to learn from them about how to attract a more ethnically diverse audience that truly reflects the diversity of Cape Town. (Apparently, when they had their big music concert a few years ago, it mainly attracted white, middle-class young people.) This was how the meeting was pitched to me.

After introductions, the three guys dived right into marketing strategies: How can we get the word out about the concert? Which methods are most effective? The local youth leader guests had a lot of suggestions. After tackling this for nearly an hour, the American guys moved on to dates: What is the best day of the week to hold this concert? Which is best—evening or afternoon? Then they asked advice about what to charge.

When I asked the question about who was on the line-up and if they were using any local talent, one of the guys misunderstood my question, thinking I was referring to local church bands or choirs. No, I replied and pressed on with my inquiry: Are you including any national South African Christian music groups? There are a lot of great music groups in this country. If you want to appeal to a wider audience, you need to consider including South African groups. The three guys seemed stunned. One sputtered out, “Well, it is really all about us.” That’s when my heart sunk. And I thought to myself, Yes, it is really all about you.

I’ll give the guy the benefit of the doubt; I don’t think he meant his words to come out like that. What he was trying to say was that the concert only included their musicians because this concert was a part of a wider movement and they know the musicians with whom they are working. However, it came across to me, to this American who is living and serving in Cape Town, this ethnically diverse city, that the organisers of this music concert already have a plan in mind. They wanted to meet with local people, leaders who could get the young people to come; but at the end of the day, I don’t think they wanted to listen to them or to learn from them.

I went away grieved, shaking my head and thinking, This is why so many people think we Christian Americans are so arrogant. We come to another country to serve; we want to help. We listen nicely to the local population but go along with the plan we have in mind. Because in the end, we really know better and we want to go home feeling good about ourselves.

Perhaps I am being unfair in my reflections, but this has been my experience on a handful of occasions; and it is very painful.

I have made a lot of cultural mistakes since I moved to South Africa. I am still learning, but I honestly believe that I am willing to learn and I think God has given me the gift to be sensitive to others, no matter their culture or background. No doubt, these three guys want to do something good and want to serve the Lord, but they came across as wanting to come with their agenda and to do their own thing and not being willing to listen or to learn. A bit of humility and a listening heart would have gone a long way. I hope at the end of their concert, they won’t find themselves in a similar situation they were a few years ago.

I welcome your thoughts about similar cross-cultural experiences you have had. We can all learn from one another.

(Art credit: “US Flag Stock Photo” by nixxphotography and “Grunge Flag of South Africa” by zdiviv, both courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net)