#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.

 

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.

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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)

Surprised by Mama

When the taxi rolled away, I saw her standing there–this typical Xhosa mama with a cap on her head, supported by crutches because she had only one leg, with her blanket neatly packed on one side and her bag of belongings on the other side. My heart sank as I thought, Oh, no. Is this one of the trainee trainers for our conference? This lady doesn’t look she can be a trainer. Can she can grasp the material? Can she lead?

mama LucyAs the conference went on, I had to repent, as Mama Lucy taught me a lesson in not judging a book by its cover. First of all, she was the first one of our trainee trainers to volunteer to lead a workshop. Second of all, she grasped the material, studied it, and prepared it, conveying it well to others. Third of all, she had a compassionate heart. She noticed the newcomers and reminded me to give them their material. She spoke up for those who were confused or who didn’t know how to express the questions they had.

In African tradition, we address older ladies as “mama.” It’s a sign of honour, respect, affection, and a sort of recognition that they are “mamas” to us all. Mama Lucy has six biological children, and I am sure she is a wonderful mama to them all; but she taught her American daughter a lesson that she won’t forget anytime soon. Thank you, Mama Lucy.

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.

Hello’s and Good-bye’s

One of the hardest things for me in my new life and ministry is dealing with all the hello’s and good-bye’s. The hello’s are great. The good-bye’s are hard.

Picking up my mom and sister at the airport= wonderful, exciting, beautiful, priceless
     Taking them back to the airport= tearful, sad, a feeling of loss

Running the Youth Alpha course at a local high school= connection, bonding, joy, relationship
     End of the Alpha course=sadness, loss, wondering if I would see most of the students again

Conducting a Rooted in Jesus Junior training=connection, excitement, new friendships
     End of the training=sadness, loss
Kissing MommieMy happiest hello’s are when I see family members again—either on this side of the world or in the States. I’m so grateful for the two weeks that my mom and sister got to spend with me in Cape Town. I loved every minute of our time together, showing them around and giving them a taste of my world, especially since it was my sister’s first trip here.

I love meeting people through the trainings and programmes with which I am involved. It’s amazing how a sense of community can form within three days or six weeks, but these projects are always short-term; and we have to move on. And so we do, waiting for the next hello.