Keeping It Real

One Junior group delves into scripture (All Saints Belhar, Cape Town)
One Junior group delves into scripture (All Saints Belhar, Cape Town)

One thing the Rooted in Jesus Junior programme does is encourage children to memorise scripture. The idea is that the Word of God gets off the page and takes root in the child’s heart. Memorising the memory verse is a key element of the Junior programme, and it is one that I like.

Another group's Memory Verse Corner
Another group’s Memory Verse Corner

As a child, I hated to memorise scripture. I used to think, Why do I need to memorise this verse? I have a Bible, or I could ask Mom and Dad. However, the few scripture verses I did memorise as a child have come to mind at times when I really needed them, and I know it was the Holy Spirit using these verses to minister to me. I regret not memorising more scripture, so I can appreciate the importance the Junior programme places on the memory verse; and I strongly encourage Junior leaders not to skimp on this but to make sure each child memorises the verses.

Mom and Dad modeled the importance of knowing scripture and of having devotional time with God. When I was growing up, before school each day, we would have a short time of prayer together as a family, and each week we would have a family devotional time. I hate to admit it; but at the time, I didn’t really value these times together. I was always rushing before school to get ready on time and could have used the extra minute or two. Our family devotional time didn’t take much time, but it seemed to cut into my evening routine. However, I did think it was kind of cool that we had this weekly time together as a family.

Now as an adult, I realise how formational to me were these dedicated times of prayer and scripture reading together as a family. I realise how powerful it was for my parents to pray over me and my siblings each day before we went to school; those prayers of protection, guidance, and wisdom went a long way—more than I will ever know.

When I have a family of my own, I plan to carry on these two traditions of family prayer and devotional time. I plan to teach my children the importance of reading and memorising scripture, as we do it together, keeping it real.

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.

11251583_700088233434996_557583677_n
Rendani’s Junior Sunday School Group

 

A-Team

Recently, I worked with an amazing team of youth leaders to oversee the youth track of the Western Cape Anglicans Ablaze conference. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed working with such a wonderful group of folks. All of us had different skills and talents, bringing different gifts to the table. It was like God brought us together. We enjoyed being together—even our meetings were fun!

Eleven people served on this team, and together we planned and shaped the youth side of the conference. We had a marvelous array of speakers who spoke on everything from transformative discipleship to overcoming gangsterism. We had

St. Nicholas Band
St. Nicholas Band

two worship bands that provided the music, along with a Marimba band that was a huge hit too. Because we had a deep desire to help young people think differently about worship, we designed something called “creative worship stations,” in which we provided opportunities, facilitated by a leader or teacher in the field, for young people to explore worship through art, dance, spoken word and music.

More than 160 young people attended the conference, and I believe that everyone had a blessed time. I, unfortunately, missed the event because at the same time, I was overseeing another conference in Polokwane. Going into the planning of the youth track, I knew that I would miss the whole thing because I would be overseeing a Rooted in Jesus Junior training in which I needed to be present, being the primary trainer of this small-group discipleship programme for children.

11182299_585612958208301_722576631217646161_nI didn’t find it difficult to put so much work and effort into a conference that I could not attend, but I had wondered how I would feel about letting go of the work and planning and releasing my team into the oversight leadership of the conference. When I left for Polokwane two days before the Western Cape AA conference, I was a bit nervous, wondering how everything would go in Cape Town at the other conference. However, by the next day, I had such a sense of peace. I knew that my A-Team would be just fine. Actually, I knew that they would be brilliant, and I didn’t have a single worry about their leadership. They gave me such a gift to have this peace of mind. And with this gift, I was able to concentrate on my task at hand, the Rooted in Jesus Junior conference.

I am so grateful for my A-Team—for their ministries, for their passion for young people, and for the lessons they taught me about leadership; and I look forward to working with them in the future.

So here’s a big shout-out to my A-Team:
Amanda
Nigel
Wayne
Abigail
Havelyn
Brad
Auriel
Zoltan
Janice
Keegan
Henrietta

You guys are amazing and simply the best!

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.

Zululand

Some clergy present Psalm 139 in song.
Some clergy present Psalm 139 in song.

Holy space we created to pray for the children in our care.
holy space we created to pray for the children in our care

Zulu Huts

This is my last night in the Diocese of Zululand. Gordon, a priest friend of mine, and I have been leading a conference for the diocese’s clergy school. Gordon was presenting Fresh Expressions of Church, and I was introducing Rooted in Jesus Junior. We were thrilled and humbled that the bishop had invited us to come, but neither one of us knew what to expect.

Zululand is beautiful—big rolling lush hills, little huts and villages dotted along the road, cows mooing in the distance. The rolling hills and greenery remind me of Tennessee; I feel at home.

But even more beautiful than the scenery are the clergy of this diocese. They have welcomed my friend and I with opened arms. The worship has been moving, exuberant, and holy. They seem to enjoy being here, being together.

I have framed my talks around our role as Christian adults to disciple children. I feel as though the Church as a whole has fallen short of this God-given responsibility. We underestimate children; but in God’s kingdom, they are of great value and God desires to use them now. They don’t have to wait until they grow up to be used by God. God wants them to play an active role in the Church today.

After yesterday’s talks, several priests have come up to me at various times, saying how they have been challenged to reach out more to children, to truly disciple them. Others said that they had many children in their churches, so many that they didn’t know what to do with them; and they felt like their Sunday school teachers had not been invested in properly to teach the children. They were going to make a priority shift, investing more in the training of teachers.

One priest shared about how many boys, who lived near the church, would play soccer on the lawn of his parsonage. This had annoyed him, he admitted, but now he saw this as an opportunity to disciple the boys—and to let them continue to have fun playing soccer. What better place for these boys to be than playing soccer on church grounds? he reflected.

Although I would love for every Zululand parish to use Rooted in Jesus Junior, I feel as though my mission on this trip has been accomplished—to help clergy develop a new mindset regarding ministry to children and to help them understand the importance of discipling our children.

Passion and Dedication

Conference One: Group Shot
Conference One: Group Shot

 A few days ago, I returned from a three-week trip Tanzania. I wasn’t able to blog about my experiences while I was on the road. Many places we stayed didn’t have indoor plumbing or running water, let alone Internet access. But I had an amazing time, and I would like to share some of my experiences in a short series of blog posts. This is the first installment.

It will take me days, if not weeks, to process all of my experiences in Tanzania. I had a great time, and I am so grateful that God gave me the opportunity to travel to that country. I was a part of a Rooted in Jesus Junior training team. (Rooted in Jesus Junior is a discipleship program for children, aged 8-14.) Four of the team members were from the UK. One was from Kenya, and two were from Tanzania. I represented South Africa and the US.

We did two four-day trainings, and they went extremely well. The first training was in a rural area; the second training was in a city. Each training had its own unique flavor.

One thing that was consistent about both trainings was the passion and dedication of the participants. In the Mom and Babyfirst training, most of the trainees were Sunday school teachers from rural areas, most of whom only had a primary education. In the second training, we were training people who played a leadership role in their parish or diocese; these people were to go back and train others in their parishes or dioceses in Rooted in Jesus Junior. Many of the participants in both trainings traveled for hours (some for an entire day) to get to the training site. At the first training, many mothers brought their children; many moms had infants on their backs. The participants were completely dedicated in their call to ministry to children.

Over our three weeks of travel, I got to know several clergy—priests, archdeacons, bishops—in various dioceses. Their passion for God and their people was evident at every turn. Many of the priests spend an entire Sunday cycling to their various parishes to preach and to offer pastoral care. The roads they travel on are often so rough that I wonder how they make it without traveling on a 4×4. Many of the priests are on call 24/7, just a mobile phone call away from the needs of their people. One retired bishop reflected on his years as bishop, talking about how people would line up at his house, asking for advice, help, food, and spiritual counsel. This was a daily affair. When I asked what he would do when people asked for food, he replied, “feed them.” He was bishop for more than 18 years.

Training Team with Bishop of Musoma (Canon Jacob, far right)
Training Team with Bishop of Musoma (Canon Jacob, far right)

One of the Tanzanian members on our team was a clergyman named Jacob. Father Jacob is a canon and was just elected the diocesan secretary of his Diocese of Musoma. Canon Jacob is the type of person you are blessed to meet in a lifetime. You can see God’s fingerprint on his life, and he is so full of joy. Canon Jacob works hard, probably too hard; but he is so passionate about the Lord and about the flock under his care. Canon Jacob’s diocese is a model of the church being the hands and feet of Christ. The diocese has a healing center that is opened 24/7. People travel near and far to come to this center where they can be prayed for. The diocese also has a secretarial school where young women can come and stay and get secretarial skills so that they can get jobs. The diocese also has a center for people who have disabilities. The diocese is not rich or well-off, but its lack of financial resources doesn’t hinder it for being the hands and feet of Christ.

I often hear that Africa is going to be the center of Christianity for the next millennium, and I believe it. I used to believe it because the faith is exploding on the continent, and the African church is full of young people. But I now believe that Africa is going to be the center of Christianity because of people’s passion and dedication for God. We in our first-world, post-modern culture have lots to learn from our African brothers and sisters.

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.