Stirrings of the Holy Spirit

Recently, through scripture and events in my life, I feel as though God has been speaking to me about the stirring of the Holy Spirit.ID-10020880

A few weeks ago, I started reading the Book of Ezra and was struck how God “stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus” (Ezra 1:1, NRSV) to have the Temple of the Lord rebuilt and how certain Israelite tribes, “everyone whose spirit God had stirred” (Ezra 1:5, NRSV), had responded to the call to rebuild the Temple. Cyrus wasn’t even an Israelite; he was the king of Persia, which was occupying Israel at the time.

I couldn’t help but think of Wayne and his mission team to Madagascar. The Holy Spirit stirred the Bishop of Toliara’s heart to request a South African team to assist them during their youth conference, and the Spirit stirred the hearts of six Capetonian youth leaders to answer this call. Plus, the Spirit stirred the hearts of countless donors to make this trip possible for the South African team.

The Spirit stirred the heart of one of our SAMS donors to send Wayne and me an article from Weavings, which gave a refreshing new take on Romans 12:1-2 (the passage about our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit). Romans 12:1-2 just happens to be the theme at the youth conference in Madagascar. How timely to receive such an article that will provide spiritual nourishment to the mission team who has gone to serve.

And just over the weekend, the Holy Spirit moved on Wayne’s heart to go to an ATM in a certain suburb. He was planning to go to another suburb to use the ATM and to pick up some flowers for me, but he felt a prompting to go to the suburb of Plumstead. While he was queuing for the ATM, a little boy was playing on the railings outside the bank and fell off, knocking his head on the concrete. Wayne is a first-aider and was able to patch up the little boy’s gashing wound. He then drove the boy and his father to a local hospital for medical care. Wayne never got around to giving me flowers that day, but I didn’t care. Having a husband who is so sensitive to the Holy Spirit surpasses a conservatory of flowers any day.

You may say that all of these instances are “coincidences,” but I like to think of them as stirrings of the Holy Spirit, which indeed they are.

I, as so many others, oftentimes forget how God is at work in the world, often in the simplest ways.

#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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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.

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.

Mom and Dad in Cape Town!

with my GtC (work) family
with my GtC (work) family

Nearly two weeks ago, my parents touched down in Cape Town, and we have been having the best time together. It’s a delight to show them my city and to give them a taste of my new home. They have seen things ranging from the iconic and historic sites of Table Mountain and Robben Island to the local Pick n’ Pay and Food Lovers Market, two grocery stores where I shop. I treated them to fish and chips at Kalky’s, a colourful eatery in Kalk Bay; and Mom has fallen in love with our local South African “regular” tea, Five Roses.

Yet what is most special about my parents’ visit, besides our just being together, is that they are meeting and spending time with my South African family. It has been a blessing and a joy to introduce them to my new friends and to introduce my friends to my parents. My friends have rolled out the red carpet for my parents, and I am truly grateful.

The Parents with my "Strand Family"
The Parents with my “Strand Family”

Mom and Dad are amazed at the South African hospitality, and it makes them feel so much better knowing the lovely people with whom I work and hang out. I am amazed at the wonderful community in which God has placed me, all within less than six months.

Mom and Dad Relaxing at Estelle's and my Birthday Party
Mom and Dad Relaxing at Estelle’s and my Birthday Party

It is truly special for me to see family from both of my homes come together.

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.

Stretching

Str-e-e-e-t-c--h
Str-e-e-e-t-c–h

“But you moved to Africa to be stretched out of your comfort zone,” my friend said. Yeah, but, I thought, I can take only so much change. I wish God would place me in “time out” for a while.

In a few weeks, I’ll be traveling to Tanzania in order to be trained in Rooted in Jesus Junior. As I read through the training manual, I only get more excited about my trip. I’m thrilled and honored that I will be trained in this powerful and transformative discipleship course for older children and young teens and that I will be bringing back this course to South Africa so that we can introduce the course to Sunday school and confirmation teachers. People in South Africa are already asking for training, so it’s quite exciting.

At the same time, I’m a bit nervous about the trip. I will be totally stretched out of my comfort zone, as I travel in rural Tanzania. In a way, I feel as though I will be hurled out of it. This American city girl is about to get the American city girl knocked out her. I will be traveling with a training team from the UK, and we have to bring our own water and loo rolls (toilet paper). In one of the places, we’ll be using something called a “long drop toilet.” (I think I’ll let this one surprise me.) I had to get several inoculations for the trip, and I’ll have to take malaria medicine and sleep under a mosquito net. I have been invited to preach at one of the parishes; and this, in a way, makes me more nervous than anything. Talking with my friend about my anxiety led to the snippet of conversation with which I opened this blog post.

I have no doubt that my trip to Tanzania is going to change me in some profound ways. I keep hearing about how hospitable the Tanzanian people are, and I know that I will be met with some mind-blowing hospitality. I look forward to visiting Rooted in Jesus Junior groups and to meeting the children. I look forward to being trained in the course and to helping out with the training during the second week. I’m praying for God’s direction as I start planning my sermon.

Yes, I’m being stretched out of my comfort zone. Like physical exercise, it is tiring and at times painful; but it is also exhilarating.