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.

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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.

Helpless But Not Hopeless

I held her in my arms and let her cry. I didn’t know how to pray for her. I couldn’t find the words. I let her cry, and I cried with her.

Let’s call her LeThabo. At the Friday Night Youth Celebration at Anglicans Ablaze, we had a special time of ministry and prayer. I served on the ministry team. A young girl, probably around 15 or 16, came up to me for prayer. “My mother has HIV,” she whispered in my ear, “and we are poor. I’m scared.” And then she broke down in tears. How to pray for her? I thought. I was so overcome with, why, God, why? LeThabo’s story is so common here; she represents thousands upon thousands of South African young people. I prayed for her mom’s healing; I prayed for her and her siblings, but it felt fake. I was so angry. Then I could no longer find the words. We wept together, and I found myself saying to her, it’s OK to cry, just let it all out. God understands your pain and weeps with you.

I felt so helpless as I held LeThabo in my arms, but neither one of us was hopeless. I don’t understand why there is so much pain and suffering in South Africa and in the world. I don’t understand why teenagers, whose greatest concern should be their studies and who should be blossoming into life, have to bear so much pain and responsibility. It doesn’t seem fair; it’s not fair.

At the times when we can’t find the words to pray, we can weep with our sisters and brothers in their pain and trust that God hears our prayers of tears.

 

Trust in him at all times, you people;

pour out your hearts to him,

for God is our refuge.

–Psalm 62:8

 

The [Holy] Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

–Romans 8:26

 

 

 

Humility

Archbishop Justin He washed their feet. Narrow and wide; male and female; shades of brown, black, and white—12 pairs of teenage feet, he washed. The head of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, got on his knees, gently taking up a pair of feet to wash. Then he blessed the bearer of the feet.

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.

I will never forget this day, when I had the absolute honour of overseeing the hosting of Archbishop Welby when he spoke to the youth at Anglicans Ablaze. His talk was real, vulnerable, relatable, encouraging. He spoke about how God used Paul and Barnabas’ disagreement over the young man Mark, who had deserted them on a mission, for good, helping to spread the Good News and how Paul later “re-commissioned” Mark, requesting his help on another mission. The archbishop tied this to our lives today, reminding us how God can use for good the mistakes we have made. Archbishop Welby also talked about how modern-day society, even himself at times, suffers from the “imposter syndrome”—the fear of having people know who we truly are on the inside, warts, fears, jealousies, muck, insecurities, desires, and all. If people really knew us, they wouldn’t like us.

Then, at the end of his talk, the archbishop washed 12 pairs of feet, demonstrating Christ’s love for his church. There was not a dryArchbishop Justin 2 eye in the room. You could feel God’s presence; it was the presence of love, nearly tangible, like a cloud. Archbishop Welby’s action was the act of love and a servant spirit. It was humility incarnate. I could sense God saying to us all, Go and do likewise.

Youth Day

Today is Youth Day. A day when South Africa stops and remembers the role that youth played in the struggle against apartheid, in particularly the Soweto Uprising of 16 June 1976, in which 13-year-old Hector Pieterson was one of the first victims. Also on this day, the country celebrates the role that youth play today in South Africa. I think it is cool that the country has set aside a special day to celebrate its young people.

I’m often asked what similarities and differences I see in the state of young people in South Africa compared to the U.S. Honestly, in a way, it is hard to compare. Many times it comes down to class, as it does in the U.S. The biggest difference I see is that the young people of South Africa face so many difficult situations, some near impossible, such as being the head of their families because of their parents’ death, than the youth in America; and unlike American youth, they don’t have the resources to help them cope. For example, in the States, there are so many resources—counselors, therapists, non-profits, churches, social warefare programs, so forth—available for young people to access, whereas here, there is a huge lack of resources. Most of the schools, such as the one in which I recently worked, don’t have a single counselor on staff. The lack of resources is one of the hardships of a developing country, such as South Africa.

And South Africa, like the U.S., tends to do a lot of complaining about its young people—the lack of respect, laziness, failure to commit, having a sense of entitlement. What’s new? Doesn’t each generation complain about the upcoming one? My generation was given the infamous misnomer of “Generation X.” What was fair about that?

Alpha Group
Alpha Group

But I don’t want to end on a sour note. I think there is a lot of good to celebrate in the young people of South Africa, as in the States. If I think about the young people I have had the privilege to get to know in South Africa, I feel encouraged, seeing a bright future for this country. I feel particularly blessed to have had the opportunity to lead a Youth Alpha course at a local high school. For each session, we had an average of 42 students. These students were committed, engaged, inquisitive, bright, compassionate, and fun-loving. I truly believe that many of them will go on and do great things for their local communities and for their country; I think God has a special plan for many of them–well truly, he has a special plan for all of them. I just had the sense that I was in the presence of some very special young people, and it was a huge gift to me.

So today, whether if you live in South Africa or in the States (or in another country), be sure to tell at least one young person how special he or she is, encourage that young person, let him or her know that you believe in him or her. One simple but sincere word of encouragement can go a long way.

Placement Decision: Growing the Church

Drumroll, please.

After much prayer, discernment, and reflection, I have decided to serve with Growing the Church, an Anglican initiative of southern Africa that is committed to the spiritual and physical growth of the church. To put it plain and simple, I feel as though this is where God is calling me to serve. The vision of Growing the Church is to help the Anglican Church “be a vibrant God-centered church, which is clearly growing spiritually, numerically, and holistically.”

Growing the Church is a provincial ministry that serves the entire Anglican Church of Southern Africa, which includes the countries of Angola, Mozambique, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, St. Helena (where Napoleon was exiled and did not escape), and South Africa. The initiative began in 2007 and is still in the growth stage. One of their ministries is the “school of youth development,” and I will be helping to grow, shape, and develop this ministry. The details of my work are still to be fleshed out, but I think a lot of it will evolve organically overtime once I’m in Cape Town. I also have the opportunity to work on one or two publications while I’m there.

Katy, Trevor, and me
Katy, Trevor, and me

I’m super-excited about being a part of Growing the Church. It’s a small organization, but God is already using it in big ways. It will be a privilege and an honor to be a part of this team. I love working with young people, and to have the opportunity to help equip and empower young people to be leaders in their churches and communities is a dream come true! South Africa has one of the youngest populations in the world, and the church in South Africa is rightly concerned about the future of this generation, as they are faced with so many difficult issues, such as the lack of quality education, high unemployment, and HIV/AIDS. The young people of South Africa (and the province of southern Africa) are the church and country leaders of today and tomorrow. It’s very humbling and exciting to know that God has chosen me to come and walk beside them on this journey of faith.

local youth leaders, me, Estelle (far right)
me with local youth leaders and Estelle (far right)

I am also super-excited about the people with whom I will be working. Father Trevor Pearce is over Growing the Church and Estelle Adams also plays a key role in the initiative. Both Trevor and Estelle took such wonderful care of Jen and me while we were in South Africa, and we had an amazing time with them. I instantly connected with them; and when I move to Cape Town next year, I feel as though I will be moving to a city with family members waiting to welcome me with open arms.

I hope you will share in my excitement. Thank you for your continual prayers.