Praying Pains

Back-in-the-day: Dad & Nicole
Back-in-the-day: Dad & Nicole

It was my dad who taught me to pray. When I was little, Dad and I would kneel beside my bed and pray together, Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. God bless, Mommie, Daddy, Phillip, (the twins, when they came along), Grandma, Auntie, Benji (my pet rabbit), Spot (my dog), and a host of other animals and things on my child’s mind. I remember feeling like such a big girl when Dad taught me the Lord’s Prayer.

When I became a teenager, prayer became something I did at church or with my family. Occasionally, I would pray on my own—when I needed something from God. I did not find much meaning in prayer, although my parents modeled a lifestyle of prayer for me.

As a young adult, prayer confused me: How to pray? Does God really hear me? Why should I pray if God knows what is on my mind anyway? Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? At times, prayer made me angry. Why pray, when God doesn’t listen—or even worse, doesn’t care?

In my early 30’s, I went through some bad relationships and some awful break-ups. I was angry. Was I doomed to have a broken-heart? Why didn’t God do something? Didn’t he care? I was annoyed with well-meaning people who tried to make me feel better with comments, such as: God knows what is best for you. Don’t worry, God has the perfect man for you at the perfect time. Maybe God wants you to focus on him right now. Make God the center of your life.

Those comments seem to discount my pain. I was hurting. Where was God in the midst of my pain? Then over the years, three people said some simple things that caught my attention:

Robin, my friend and former boss, assured me that God feels my pain and cries with me. God, my Creator and God, feels my pain and cries with me too? He is present in my pain? Wow. Now this is something to which I can relate, something onto which I can latch.

Fr. Leigh, my rector, said in one of his sermons that God was not despondent to our pain. Seriously, I thought—is that true? God truly cares about my pain? He emphasizes with me?

My friend Agatha once said in a passing conversation (I think with someone else, not me) that she prays to God and expects him to respond—why not? It was like I heard her comment in my mind, saying, Duh. If I pray, why wouldn’t I expect God to answer? She wasn’t saying that God would answer our prayers always with an affirmative but that God would answer our prayers, that we would always get a response. (My mom used to tell me this, but I never listened her. It took a person from outside the family to get this truth across to me.)

Now I am on the other side of young adulthood. Prayer is still a mystery to me. I still don’t get it or fully understand it, but it has become an integral part of who I am. I thank my dad for teaching me how to pray, my parents for modeling prayer for me, and my friends and priest for revealing some important elements of prayer to me.

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Reading Time

I can’t remember my life without books. Reading has always been a huge part of me, and I have my dad to thank for that. When I was little, Dad always read to me. Even though I had books of my own, he would take me to the library each week so that I could pick out new books and get used to the smells, stacks and system of the library. I loved our weekly adventure.

Poky PuppyBefore reading a storybook to me, Dad would read me a Bible story. I didn’t like them that much. I found the stories boring, but I would bide my time so that we could get on to the old lady with the house full of rabbits, to The Poky Little Puppy, to Danny the Dinosaur, or to any of the Richard Scary stories. I was patient back then.

But there is one Bible story that I vividly remember; it was about the four friends who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing (Mark 2:1–12). I remember the blue-striped robe Jesus was wearing, the smile on his face, the four friends digging through the thatched roof to get to Jesus, and the happy faces of all the friends, especially of the one who was healed.

I don’t really know why this story touched me or why I remember it so well. I think in my child’s mind, it was the first time I had an idea of who this Jesus was—he was a happy and caring man. I could go to him; I could take my friends to him. I liked the friends who were so determined and the digging through the roof. This story has always made me happy, and it still does today. Thanks, Dad.

Childhood Reflections

Over the past two months, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on my early life. During Lent, I spoke at my church on the discipleship of children. It was my first such talk on this topic, and I drew a lot from my personal experience as a child.

Palm Sunday: Church of the Good Shepherd
Palm Sunday: Church of the Good Shepherd

When I first moved to South Africa, my role at Growing the Church was to be the youth coordinator, but it quickly evolved into doing children’s ministry as well, as I ultimately became responsible for Rooted in Jesus Junior (a small-group discipleship course for children) in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. Over the past two years, this has reshaped my attitude towards children and ministry to them.

I am by no means an expert in this area, and I believe that the church in both my countries has fallen short in the discipleship of children. But in reality, discipleship begins at home. I believe that the church should play a secondary role in a child’s faith formation, reinforcing and building upon what a child is already learning at home about God and about living life as a follower of Christ.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to blog about some of my faith experiences as a child and how they have shaped me into the person I am today. I think this will help me to process my reflections and, hopefully, will inspire readers along the way.

Rooted in Jesus Junior: 3 Stories

I have talked a lot about Rooted in Jesus Junior, but there is nothing like hearing personal stories to get a micro view; so I wanted to share a few with you. I met these three amazing people at our recent training for the Diocese of St. Mark the Evangelist in Limpopo.

  • Ouma wanted to be trained as a Junior leader so that she could use the programme in her church’s feeding scheme.
    Ouma as the serpent in Adam & Eve drama
    Ouma as the serpent in Adam & Eve drama

    Her feeding scheme serves 150 children, ranging between the ages of 5 to 18. She wants to use Junior with the children who fall between the 8-12 year-old range.

  • Rendani is the youth leader at the cathedral of Polokwane. During Friday night Youth, many little ones accompany their brothers and sisters to the church or they just come by themselves. Rendani wanted to provide something formative for these children and thought that Rooted in Jesus Junior could meet this need. Rendani started using Junior with the children the Friday after he was trained, and
    Rendani
    Rendani writing memory verse

    he is using it for Sunday school with the children who come on Sunday mornings. He says that the children are enjoying the sessions so much that they can’t wait until the next time they meet.

  • Frank, a teenager who was trained, led one of the best practice sessions I have ever seen. He told me that he had stayed up the whole night preparing, and I believed him! His session was amazing, like he had been leading Junior for months.
    Frank
    Frank in the middle

    No doubt with this passion and dedication, he will make a brilliant Junior leader for the children at his church.

 

 

I hope these stories gave you a glimpse into the Rooted in Jesus Junior programme and how it is being used to disciple our children.

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Rendani’s Junior Sunday School Group

 

Foreign

Not long ago, I completed a Rooted in Jesus Junior conference, the first one that I have overseen in a rural diocese. I was in a Xhosa speaking community. For the first time in many months, perhaps all year, I haven’t felt so foreign than I did during that conference. The people struggled to understand me. I struggled to understand them–their English, their protocol, their (extreme) concept of “African time.”

The translator took liberties translating me. My sentences were brief, but she would take several minutes to translate them and embellish what I was saying. That I knew. Nothing ever started on time. We always started at least an hour late, but it was amazing how we caught up with the time, rarely going over our ending time by ten minutes.

For the most part, I do just fine in Cape Town. The culture there is Western enough to make adapting somewhat easy, but I struggle in the rural communities.

At one time, early in the conference, I asked myself, “God, why am I here? Am I getting through or just wasting everyone’s time? I think my being here is a mistake.” I felt God calling to my mind one of the scripture passages I teach on the course, Jeremiah 1:4-8 (NIV), which is about the call of Jeremiah:

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.  Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

I felt God saying to me, don’t say that you can’t speak because you are a foreigner. I have appointed you to be here before you were even born. I will give you the words to say.

After this, nothing miraculous happened. I didn’t instantly start speaking Xhosa. The translator continued to take liberties. I didn’t have any warm and fuzzy feelings that everything would be ok, but I tried with the Lord’s help to trust that God was working behind the scenes, in ways I didn’t know or couldn’t see. I could trust God to transcend our language and cultural differences. It was a test of trust, to be sure!

Mthatha RinJ Junior Delegates

At the end of the conference, several people shared testimonies about how the conference has changed their understanding of their view of children and their understanding of discipling children. Here are some:

  • “I used to think only one of my Sunday School children could pray. Now I know that they all can pray.”
  • “I used to think that the Holy Spirit was only for adults. Now I know that the Holy Spirit is for everyone.”
  • “I used to be bitter towards my youngest child because his father left me because he was born. I used to beat him. I now understand that God loves my child, that he is special to God, and that I should love him too. God has put love in my heart for my child.”

I give thanks to our God who transcends all languages and cultures, helping us to understand one another and binding us in love.

For the Love of Dickens

For the past three weeks, I have been intentional about carving out more rest and relaxation in my life. I feel as though God is calling me into a season of abiding, into a time of slowing down, spending more time with him, focusing on relationships, and engaging in things I enjoy most.

I have rediscovered my love of Henry Purcell and have been listening to him every day. I have been watching episodes of my favourite show, I Love Lucy, and laughing all over again at the shenanigans and antics of Lucy and Ethel. (Last week, when I was battling a nasty sinus infection, I wish I had a bottle of Vitameatavegamin to “spoon my way back to health.”)

And I have been reading and reading.

For some time, I have been thinking about the book David Copperfield, and I decided to read it again. Years ago, when I first read David Copperfield, I loved it. This time it’s like I’m in the middle of the story, living it out. I know many people may groan over Dickens, perhaps not having not-so-good memories of him in high school or college; but I think Dickens is one of those timeless authors who totally captures the human experience and who deals with social justice issues that are still relevant to us today.

young Charles Dickens
Young Charles

I could feel little David’s loneliness, fear, and lack of love and being wanted when he was left an orphan at an early age. (Maybe since I live in a society that has thousands of orphans, many of whom feel unloved and rejected, I can relate more to David’s experience.) My heart ached for him when he was shipped off to an awful boarding school and was regularly beaten. My heart leapt for joy when his aunt took him in and offered him her love and protection. I laughed out loud when David, as a young man, fell in love for the first time, living and breathing in his darling Dora, whom he “loved to distraction.” (Yes, our first love is always like that!)

Charles Dickens famously said that out of all the books he had written, David Copperfield was his favourite son; and I couldn’t have agreed with him more.

Mr. Sam Hannah

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Tanzania, I had to prepare a sermon. I’ll be preaching at a parish church while I’m there. Preaching is definitely not my gifting; and I’m slightly nervous about the whole thing, but I know with God’s help it will be fine.

My sermon centers around the New Testament reading for that Sunday, which is 1 John 4:7-21 (the famous passage about how loving God and our neighbour goes hand-in-hand), and the issue of children’s spiritual formation. I’ll be traveling to Tanzania to be trained in Rooted in Jesus Junior, and thinking about children’s faith formation made me reflect deeply on my own spiritual formation as a child. I was reminded of the Sunday school teacher I had as a child, and I talk about him in my sermon. Below is the clip, and it is dedicated to my Sunday school teacher, Mr. Sam Hannah, and to all Sunday school teachers for children. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

8-or-9-year old me. Age I would have been in Mr. Hannah's Sunday school class.
8-or-9-year old me. Age I would have been in Mr. Hannah’s Sunday school class.

“I want to tell you a story about myself. When I was a child, my Sunday School teacher was a man named Sam Hannah. Mr. Hannah was an elder in the church and community. He was kind-hearted and was like a grandfather to me and the other children. He prayed with us and listened to us. He would laugh with us, and I remember his lovely laugh. He was such a joyful man. Many times after church, he would buy cool drinks and candy for us kids. Mr. Hannah died several years ago, but I still remember him. I don’t remember a single Sunday school lesson he taught us, but I remember that he loved us, that he loved me. Through Mr. Hannah’s words and deeds, I knew that I was special to God and that God loved me. Through Mr. Hannah’s love, I experienced the love of God; and I have never forgotten that.

When your children grow up, they may not remember a single lesson you taught them about the faith, but they will always remember the way you loved them. Your love for them will be etched on their hearts and minds as a manifestation of God’s love for them. God is love; and if we love God, we love others, says the writer of 1 John. If we love God, we love our friends, enemies, people in our community, strangers, elders, children. 1 John 4:12 says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” If we love one another, God’s love is manifested among us.

In closing, I want to challenge you and me to love God more by loving our neighbour more. I especially want to challenge us to be more intentional about loving our children, teaching and equipping them to have a personal relationship with Christ now. Our children are not just our future; they are our present. As we love and welcome children in the name of Jesus, we welcome our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

Before I became an adult or a teenager, before I knew where my life was going or what God was calling me to do or whom he was calling me to be, Mr. Sam Hannah was playing a role of ubuntu in my life. I am who am partly because of this wonderful man.