Fearless

I realized a few years ago that the closer I feel to God, the more okay I am with death, and the further away I feel, the more terrified I am of it. I thought about this again while I was walking in the Swiss alps and read Hebrews 2: 14 & 15,

“Through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

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In Seelisberg, Switzerland, backpacking along the Swiss Path with my new friend Luna (right).

It’s so true. Fear keeps us in the pit and in chains. But more so, it keeps us from abundant life. Christ came to earth and died on the cross so that we might know life. This is the gospel. That through Christ’s suffering, sacrifice, and eventual victory over death, we might know Him.

 

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And as I reflect on my four months as a “trash lady in Africa,” walking around what seems like a fairytale land, all I can think about it abundant life. When I landed at OR Tambo in Johannesburg I was scared to even get into an Uber. People told me not to go, to hire a driver, to be careful. It seems like a lifetime ago. And I appreciate the heart behind all those sentiments, but at the same time, I’m so glad that the pull I felt from God to go was stronger than the fears of those around me. My hope in Him overcomes all fear because He is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Indeed,

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil (Hebrews 6:18,19).”

 

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I am grateful for a hope that anchors me because it’s just the coolest thing to obey God. I’ve spent the night in Soweto, ridden taxis in Mamelodi, and had pop and chicken in a stranger’s house in Alexandra. Somehow I created art with special needs adults out of trash ash. A swop shop came together in just one week.  I’ve connected with pastors, activists, government officials, entrepreneurs, and social workers. I’m just one person, and yet God used me. I am convinced that there is no greater thrill than to be the hands and feet of Jesus. To fearlessly obey Him, let go of plans, trust in His protection and provision, and embrace this abundant life. In essence, to have faith, which “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).”

 

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The final piece of my project in Mamelodi was hanging the mural I painted with special needs adults in the community. I pray that this mural inspires people, drug users, children, and volunteers alike to be fearless. I pray that they would be encouraged to seek the Lord and embrace the city that He has prepared fro them. The city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrew 11:16).

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Heal their land

Someway, somehow, the Swop Shop opened on April 29th, 2019, my last full day in South Africa. God’s hand so clearly orchestrated all of it and wow, what a privilege it was to see everything come together.

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Rose and I in front of the Thandanani Swop Shop.

The first miracle was Rose. She volunteers with Thandanani’s day care and after school program. Thabo, the founder of Thandanani, and I approached her with the swop shop idea and immediately, she offered to take on the project. I was and still am awestruck! This was the biggest hurdle in my mind. Knowing I would leave the country soon, finding someone equally invested in the project seemed daunting. But by the grand opening, Rose was telling me what to do. She runs a tight ship and I am so excited to see where she takes the project.

 

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The second miracle was raising over $700 in just 5 days! Thanks to generous supporters, the Swop Shop was able to open. I am so humbled by the support people have offered, having never been to Mamelodi, and some of them, never even meeting me. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. This is an incredible start, and will give Rose and Thandanani time to develop partners that can supply more school supplies. The children were over the moon to earn just a pencil or pen; I can tell that this is only the beginning.

The third miracle was securing a recycle company to partner with. I felt a tug on my heart to buy more airtime and instead of googling like I usually do, I started calling. Before I knew it, I had a meeting with Econamic, a recycle company based in Pretoria West that collects everything from cardboard, to paper, to plastic. And they pick up on request! This was a huge hurdle because the Swop Shop cannot produce massive quantities of recycle material to make it worth their while and many companies in the Pretoria area only collect one type of recycle material. We set up a meeting, registered, and soon enough, the Swop Shop will generate a small income to fund more environmental education programs. The recycle company creates a closed loop system, which is so key to the sustainability of the project!

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Paintings using trash ash as as a medium, artwork by special needs adults with That’s It Art Gallery.

Beyond the larger hurdles though, a lot of sweet little things fell into place, too. The narratives art by special needs adults in Mamelodi was featured in the Swop Shop. It seemed fitting to display beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3) in the very place that I hope will bring healing to the land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

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Dinah Tshifura, City of Tshwane Environmental Officer, giving a lesson to the kids on recycling.

Many people in South Africa warned me that the government would be hard to work with, but honestly I had nothing but good experiences. In fact, the government officials I worked with offered me a lot of encouragement! This includes Dinah with the City of Tshwane, who came by to give a lesson to the kids about recycling. I am so grateful that Dinah came through. She spoke to the children in their mother tongue and explained concepts in ways that kids can understand, through the use of props!

 

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Overall, the Swop Shop opening is a testament to the goodness, faithfulness, and power of the Lord. By no merit of my own did this project come together. In fact, I probably got in the way. “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen. (Matthew 6:13).”

Magic moments

Have you ever fully relished a moment? Life becomes slow and fast, real and surreal, all at the same time. It’s full and peaceful.

When I traveled to the Western cape last week, I had four moments like this and wow I am so grateful.

  1. Surfing in Muizenberg
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A borrowed surfboard, rented wetsuit, and very happy tourist in Muizenberg.

I’ve always wanted to try out surfing, and turns out Capetown has some of the best beginner surfing! I never fully stood up, but I got close. As the water splashed me in the face, I emerged, riding a wave, somehow half-standing, looking at the beautiful mountains surrounding me, and light glistening in the water.

  1. Running through Kristenbosch gardens

 

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Running is the best. It’s freeing, empowering, and honestly just makes me happy. And running in Kirstenbosch gardens brought me to a new level of euphoria. I soaked it in.

  1. Looking a Great White Shark in the eye
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White Shark Projects, Gansbaai, Westerncape, South Africa.

For literally over six months I’ve wanted to go cage diving with sharks and you guys, I’m here to tell you that dreams really do come true. I was nervous and cold. Great White Sharks are massive creatures. Nonetheless, I climbed in. I looked into the open sea. And suddenly, it felt like instantly, there was a Great White Shark in front of me, close enough to touch. Her big black eyes stared at me, and then she disappeared into the open space. I wasn’t scared. I felt seen.

  1. Sitting on a bench in Gansbaai, looking out at the rocky ocean

 

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I’ve met a lot of really wonderful people in South Africa. People I will miss dearly. People I love. And as I looked at the waves crashing onto the rocks, I just accepted that in this place, right now, I love them. I don’t know how those relationships will change, especially as I return to the United States, but that’s okay. Because in that beautiful moment, I felt it all, accepted it, enjoyed it, and was at peace.

Creation was and is so central to relishing moments for me. It is referenced over and over in scripture, linked to knowing God.

“As the deer pants for the water brooks,

So pants my soul for You, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God (Psalm 42:1)”

Appreciating His creation causes my mind to think slower, my heart to feel more, and my soul to find peace. It’s something that I so desire for the children of Mamelodi and often find at odds with illegal dumping and the burning piles of trash being consumed by free roaming cattle and goats.

For the months of April and May, the City of Tshwane identified more than 20 illegal dumping sites where waste is frequently burned, releasing toxins into the air and exposing vulnerable members of the community to harmful material. Air, water, and land are all affected. The void between people and creation is widened.

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About a month ago, I visited the Heatherly municipal dumpsite, where drug users actually live and collect recyclable material to feed their habit. Trash spans as far as you can see.

All the while, schools are under-resourced across Mamelodi creating barriers for children to learn.

While I was in the Westencape I relished in moments, but I also learned about solutions to waste accumulation in the townships, such as the White Shark Project Swop Shop. Swop shop models have been implemented in the Eastern and Western Capes of South Africa with great success. Essentially, swop shops allow for recyclable material to be traded for goods that meet the basic needs of the community. Recycle material is given a point value which in turn can be used to purchase anything from school supplies to used clothing.

I am launching The Thandanani Swop Shop. This concept sees the potential of Mamelodi’s recycling micro-economy, which currently works to line the pockets of drug dealers, and seeks to redirect those resources into the education of children.  As part of the shop’s opening, the community will be educated by Tshwane city officials, who focus on waste education. This educational workshop will focus on what material is recyclable, the proper way collect these materials and possible dangers, as well as review the benefits of recycling and stewarding the environment well.  The swop shop model targets children primarily as the collectors to maximize the impact on Mamelodi’s culture surrounding waste and littering in the future.

By incentivizing children to recycle, we estimate that household waste will be diverted from landfills and illegal dumping sites. The perception of waste will be transformed in the community from a nuisance into a valuable opportunity for sustainable development.

Aid will be distributed to the community ethically and sustainably. Since children will work to purchase goods in the shop, we will avoid crating a dependency cycle in the community.  Children will learn value and trading skills, which will equip them to function as adults in the global economy later on in life.

The community will be incentivized towards maintaining and caring for public spaces, restoring ownership and pride in Mamelodi, thereby encouraging further investment. Our environmental awareness curriculum will ensure that future Mamelodian’s understand the full impact of illegal dumping as well as the potential of zero waste societies. These educational initiatives will therefore promote public health and create civic-minded citizens.

To get this project off the ground, we are raising funds for school supplies.

Will you consider partnering with the Thandanani Swop Shop to build the next generation of responsible citizens?

Narratives (part 2)

I’ve been working on conducting interviews in Mamelodi to get a full, documented understanding of how Mamelodians see and interact with the waste around them. So I started with my friend Thabiso, who I met in the Summer Jam Bible study.

I’ve been asking around the community, what three words would you use to describe Mamelodi and he said: community, greatness, devastated.

And three words he used to describe the illegal dumping sites: habit, circumstance, reality.

We discussed the origins of Mamelodi as a place where people would move to from their hometowns to work in the city. It was a space that brought people together with a common purpose. But now, Thabiso said, the sense of community has been run down and overtaken by individualistic attitudes.

One prevalent manifestation of this is the pull that many young people feel to leave Mamelodi once they can afford to. Thabiso opened up about his own struggle to stay in Mamelodi once he graduates, admitting that there is a desire to stay, but he’s unsure what he’ll do when the time actually comes.

Nevertheless, he said something profound about transformation in his community. That, “if you see a problem, you are the one equipped to fix it.” He reminded me of why I started thinking about trash in Mamelodi in the first place. I was on the way to another day teaching kiddos English and I saw a cow eating a pile of burnt trash on the side of the rode. This image was burned into my mind. It honestly seemed post-apocalyptic to me and I’ve struggled for a few years now to understand it. I suppose even after three months of asking questions, I still struggle to understand it. Somehow though, I believe that the Lord will equip me to address illegal dumping sites in Mamelodi.

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An illegal dumpsite where I collected trash ash to use as an artistic medium.

This week, I attempted to transform that shocking image from years ago and create new ones with the ash. I’ve been meditating on Isaiah 61, at the suggestion of a friend from church.

“To give them beauty for ashes,

the oil of joy for mourning,

the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;

that they might be called trees of righteousness,

The planting of the Lord that He may be glorified.

And they shall rebuild the old ruins,

They shall raise up the former desolations,

And they shall repair the ruined cities,

The desolations of many generations. (Isaiah 61:3,4).”

In line with most of the community activities I’ve planned in Mamelodi, I spent a lot of time planning what to do and then everything changed for the better at the last minute. LOL.

I had planned to paint a mural on my own for a local drug and substance abuse drop in centre named Thandanani, and ended up coordinating an art class of sorts for special needs Mamelodians. I collected trash ash from the nearest illegal dumping site, brought some paint, and got the class started. In hindsight, I find it fitting that these people, the least of these, people who are outcast, created beauty for ashes to transform Mamelodi’s narrative.

Indeed, Jesus taught,

“Blessed are the poor in sprit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:2-6).”

A township that many are looking to leave, devastated by decades of racist policies and laws, can be rebuilt, it’s story can be repainted, and it’s people encouraged by the truth of the gospel. Narratives are powerful and stories can change perspectives. Like the story Nathan told King David in 2 Samuel 12, which lead to repentance, transformation, and new life.

Please pray for me as I continue to work with populations on the fringes, the disabled and those struggling with addiction. May the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be pleasing in the Lord’s sight (Psalm 19: 14).

Lights on in Ethiopia

Ethiopia was easily the wildest trip I’ve ever been on. Wild and wonderful. I landed in Addis Ababa and actually had no idea where I was going to sleep, vague plans for the next few days, and the simple goal to have a time of rest and retreat.

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My first Ethiopian meal in Addis Ababa.

A friend of a friend picked me up at the airport, and unknown to both of us, we started on an adventure together! We wound up in Debre Libbanos camping on the edge of a canyon. In this small town, there is an ancient Orthodox Christian monastery where there are still regular services that you can hear echoing beautifully throughout the canyon.  People travel to this monastery for healing, to pray and confess, and also to tour. I was there to be still and listen.

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Outside the gates of the Debre Libbanos Monastery.

I spent time watching the sun rise and set. I sat, drinking the most amazing coffee, and saw light inch over and into the vast canyon.

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Sandstone canyon at sunset from the Ethic-German Lodge.

It got me thinking about a prayer that I often said while I was at Smith College. I’d always ask the Lord to make me into a light, so that I could shine on the Smith campus and tell people about Jesus. And the Lord really blessed my time at Smith with heartfelt bible studies in my room over tea, great conversations with friends, apologetic events, bold sermons, sweet discipleship and much more. I had the wrong understanding of light at the time though. I wanted to project light out of myself. To work hard, create some kinetic electricity, and then turn on a flashlight. But the light can’t come from me. It can shine through my brokenness for the glory of God, sure, but it’s always Christ that lights the flame in us. Indeed, Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

Walking with God involves accepting that Jesus is your Lord and savior and inviting the Holy Spirit to dwell in you. And I believe it is Christ in us that shines out into the world. Just as the sun peers over the Debre Libbanos canyon, “it is God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).”

At the monastery I prayed that His will would be on my heart and guide my feet to walk in His ways. Indeed, “He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30).” Please pray with me that the Lords light would shine brightly in Mamelodi. There are so many nations represented in this township. So many hearts that need to be transformed by the gospel. I have faith that “the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations (Isaiah 61:11).”

Narratives (part 1)

Let me tell you about my friend Gretchen. We met my first semester at Smith during Professor Link’s office hours for Advanced General Chemistry, or Chem 118. We both showed up so often to office hours with a few other students, that eventually we formed a study group. And let me tell you, I would not have survived three semesters of Chemistry at Smith without this study group. Fast forward four years, Gretchen is living in Nairobi and I flew up from Johannesburg a few weeks ago to visit her.

In more than a few ways, Gretchen inspired me. She’s spent the last four years learning Swahili and watching her speak to people really shifted my view on language and role it plays in connecting with people. Even though I couldn’t understand the words being exchanged, I could see people warm to Gretchen as she spoke and somehow give me grace for being her friend. People were so surprised to hear a “Mzungu,” the Swahili word for “white person,” speaking their language. It seemed like these Kenyans were used to Mzungus swooping in, speaking English, and swooping out, or maybe staying in the country but isolating themselves in nicer neighborhoods and rental cars. This reinforces the narrative that the only languages worth spending your time learning are European or maybe Chinese. If you want to get ahead per say, you must learn English. And indeed, we live in a globalized world.

But then, all of the sudden, they hear a Mzungu speaking fluent Swahili and the narrative changes. People start to wonder why she knows Swahili? And the simple answer lies in the famous words of Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understand, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, it goes to his heart.” Investing time in a language that the rest of the world says is useless to connect with others is radical love, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that Jesus calls us to.

Jesus spent time with the Samaritan woman at the well, a woman cast off from society (John 4). He seeks relationship with us, He wept (John 11:35), and ultimately died on the cross so that we may know Him. In Luke 10:38-42, when Martha and Mary hosted Jesus, Mary sat at Jesus’s feet while Martha was busy preparing the house. Jesus said, “Martha, Martha,”…” you are worried and upset about many things, be few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Mary chose connection and relationship, even at the expense of doing what seems practical. She was wise and sought Jesus first by being in his presence, because indeed, that’s what it’s all about.

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The view from our train from Nairobi to Mombasa.

One guy that we met on a train to Mombasa from Nairobi, another person amazed by Gretchen’s Swahili, said he’d like to exchange stories, and I found that interesting. He meant just totalk more, but it got me thinking more about narratives, the stories we embody, perpetuate, and internalize.

There are narratives floating around about Mamelodi, too. I’ve spent the last few months talking to a lot of people about Mamelodi. I’ve talked to security guards, entrepreneurs, university professors and administrators, young people at bars, social workers, youth pastors, and artists, even Capetonians and people from Joburg. People talk about danger, chaos, busyness, and the rioting that occurs every few months in Mamelodi. One Capetonian woman remembered the Mamelodi soccer team, the Mamelodi Suns. Some talked about the lack of education in the township and others spoke about the high quality of education there. Mamelodi encompasses stories of rebellion, unkept promises, disrupted processes, and micro economies.

And as I listen to all these stories, I wonder if the narrative of the gospel has taken root in Mamelodi. Do the children of Mamelodi know that they are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26)? Do they know that they are loved by Him (1 John 3:1)? The gospel is the ultimate narrative. It is the narrative through which I hear all other narratives. That “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).” He died for you and I, and He died for Mamelodi.

Uncovering the whole truth

Everyday in South Africa is a new adventure, and the latest was sitting in on a class at the University of Pretoria on Leadership in Urban Transformation. This class is filled with people from different backgrounds, ages, and vocations, but all united by a desire to see South Africa transformed and I felt like the luckiest girl in the world to be in the room. I’ve felt like this a lot lately because God has been meeting me so faithfully and clearly here.

When I first arrived in South Africa I felt overwhelmed. I really wasn’t sure what I was doing and my mind filled with doubts. Were the sacrifices I made to come here worth it? Am I doing anything worthwhile?

As I actually step out though, these doubts quickly fade away.  The words of Psalm 40 become real:

“I waited patiently for the Lord

And He inclined to me,

And heard my cry

He also brought me up out of a horrible pit

Out of the miry clay.

And set my feet upon a rock

And established my steps.

He has put a new song in my mouth,

Praise to our God!”

In just one month, He has allowed me to connect with people I never knew existed, listen to and read unique and broad perspectives, step into sacred space, walk through broken and hurting neighborhoods, and all along the way hear encouragement after encouragement. Indeed, He is faithful and keeps His promises. He will complete this work in Mamelodi.

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The University of Pretoria Leadership in Urban Transformation class walking the streets of Hillbrow, Johannesburg, a hurting and impoverished neighborhood.

So I found myself on Monday morning discussing Mark 5:25-34 with pastors, social workers, academics, students, missionaries, and government workers.

“(25) And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. (26) She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. (27) When she heard Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, (28) because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” (29) Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

(30) At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched me clothes?”

(31) “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask ‘who touched me?’ “

(32) But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. (33) Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. (34) He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” “

We first reflected on the fact that this woman suffered for twelve long years. Indeed, people suffer in Mamelodi for a long time. She tried to get better, but instead grew worse. And eventually she literally reached out for Jesus to touch any part of him, even just the hem of his robe to receive immediate freedom. Incredible.

I read on and my western lens has looked at verse 25 confused. I wrestle with the question, is Jesus upset at this woman for touching his clothes?

But hearing other perspectives around the room caused me to conclude that just the opposite is true. Jesus is singling this woman out, but not to mock or condone her. Instead, He recognizes her and invites her into deeper relationship. She falls at His feet, confesses her whole heart, and is sent out in peace, free from her former suffering.

So when I think about waste in Mamelodi, I wonder where Jesus is in the thick of it all. How can I have faith like this woman to reach out and touch Him? How can faith in Mamelodi lead to freedom for the marginalized and oppressed?

The professor of this class, Stephan de Beer, actually wrote a paper entitled “Jesus in the Dumping Sites: Doing theology in the overlaps of human and material waste” and I think he makes some excellent points. De Beer looked at communities all over the world who actually live on dumping sites. Trash and waste are, in a way, home to whole communities of people.

I’d never thought about waste this way before. I looked at the burning piles of trash in Mamelodi two and a half years ago and was in shock, horrified even to see that this was the daily reality. I saw images that to me, looked post-apocalyptic. But what if I grew up in Mamelodi? How would I see it then?

While context and understanding my own bias and lens is important, there are core truths that motivate me to keep working. Truths such as our God is a God of order (1 Corinthians 14:40), we relate to God in His creation (Exodus 40:34-38), and man has been commanded by God to care for and steward the earth (Genesis 2).

And I’ve seen glimpses of these truths. My friend Thato, who owns a small business in Mamelodi took me on a journey up the Magaliesberg mountain range on the outskirts of Mamelodi. He showed me is this private nature reserve where there are trash cans or “dust bins” as they say in South Africa, maintained green space, quiet, order, peace. And driving up to this preserve, we saw that homeowners are trying to change the tide of dumping with “no dumping” signs along their walls and fences.

Im wondering if faith in Mamelodi and hope for it’s future could be the lynchpin to freeing the community from the burdens of waste. I’m seeking the Lord’s vision for what the City of God looks like. But I know that I must uncover the whole truth just as the woman confessed to Jesus in verse 33.

So I hold all this in tension. Please pray that I would find Jesus in the dumping sites and adopt a new lens through which to see Mamelodi and everything in it. Thank you to all those who have prayed for the Lords provision on this mission. I am continually blown away by His goodness!

 

Here, now

In the Bible study workshop two questions were written on the board: who is God to you? And what is the purpose of Christianity?

We actually had more kids than expected in the workshop, so I got to stay on as a volunteer and pair up with a student, Vhuhwauho, to discuss these questions.

After just a few moments of thought, she responded, “the purpose of Christianity is to bring people to God.”

I was amazed.  In such a simple and succinct answer, she addressed a profound truth. In worship, evangelism, mission, liturgy, communion, fellowship, reading scripture, all of it goes toward the goal of bringing people to God.

The question, “what is the purpose of Christianity?” is an interesting one too. It’s something I haven’t heard addressed in western contexts. We are often focused on reconciling the existence of God and science or discussing the historical accounts of Jesus. We ask, “where is the proof for God?” or “isn’t their a grain of truth in all of the world religions?” instead of critically thinking about the church. I believe that apologetic questions are important, and that indeed, we should always be prepared to give and reason for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15), but shouldn’t we first establish what we are hoping for? When we ask, “what is the purpose of Christianity?” I contend that we are really asking, “What is the church? Why do we have the church? And what should we expect from the church?”

Vhuhwauho’s answer is clear: the purpose of the church is to advance the gospel. Jesus died on the cross so that sinners like you and I could enter into relationship with God. Experiencing the truth of the gospel goes far beyond simply hearing that Christ died for us. It’s believing this truth, letting it transform your life, and walking humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). The gospel is the only way through which humans can be brought to God. It is the rock upon which the church is built (Matthew 16:18) and ultimately why I have come to South Africa to work on a waste management project in Mamelodi.

The gospel, or good news that Jesus came to die for our sins and bring people to God, pushes ordinary people to go out and take extraordinary action for the Kingdom of God. It inspires people to care for the orphan and widow (James 1:27), to invite strangers into your house (Hebrews 13:2), to love their enemies (Luke 6:27), be radically generous (Matthew 19:21), and take up your cross to follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24).

I am just another broken sinner, but the gospel has captured my heart and I can never go back.  I can’t chase the American dream of a white picket fence and steady paycheck. He has set my mind on the things above (Colossians 3:2), and I now see the things of this earth with eyes wide open (John 9:25). Waste in a South African township, and even more so in an informal settlement, is not glamorous, but being here, now, I feel aligned with God’s will. And that is the best feeling in the world. My hopes are to see the Kingdom of God built on earth and experience God’s character in new cultures. Please pray with me that the gospel would transform Mameldoi, that the people who live in informal settlements would experience the peace of God which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and connect with Him in the environment around them, His creation. I pray that every child in Mamelodi could have quiet moments like I enjoyed in the Drakensburg mountains this weekend. He is the light that will pierce through darkness (John 8:12), release the captives from prison, restore sight to the blind, and set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18).

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Golden Gate National Park, Mushroom Trail

 

He completes good work

On the fifth day of program, I witnessed before my very eyes the Lords hand at work. When I helped to craft the Mamelodi Initiative (MI) Community Engagement curriculum, I had a vision. In my perfect world, students would work or projects related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and engage the community to reach these goals. I had no idea how this would take shape, so when my South African co-teachers suggested we take the kids on a field trip to the Mamelodi Old Age Home just down the street, I figured I had to settle for what was doable.

But actually, we couldn’t have taken the kids to a better place.

Leading up to the field trip, I introduced the students to the concept of sustainability and gave basic outlines to SDGs.  Groups split into five main goals: zero hunger, life on land, good health and well being, clean water and sanitation, and quality education. I hoped that first, The Old Age Home would get back to me and second, that there would be relevant jobs for the kids to do. Sure enough…

For zero hunger, students broke off to cut up fruit and clean the kitchen for the Old Age Home. And get this, no fingers were chopped off!

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MI students cutting cantaloupe for residents.

For life on land, a group went out to collect trash around the property. Though one of the kids, Patrick, complained about this job he confessed later, smiling, that he enjoyed the field trip. Plus, he showed up to program the next day!

 

For good health and well-being, the students gave residents haircuts and cut their nails. I was so impressed by how the co-teachers and students jumped right in, put on masks and gloves, and got to work. Just look at how cute these 10thgrade barbers are!

For clean water and sanitation, a group cleaned some of the common spaces at the home. Though not so glamorous, students and co-teachers worked hard and left the home with spotless windows and floors.

For quality education, a few students and I went around to residents and offered to read to them. The only book I had on hand was my Bible, which I let my students borrow. Watching these kids spend time with the elderly melted my heart. Students got to absorb wisdom from a previous generation and the residents were kept company, listened to, and hopefully encouraged.

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MI students Andy (back) and Hlogi (front) connecting with two residents.

I spent time with two ladies, Edna and Mita. Since I had given away my Bible, I whipped out my Bible app and what happened next brought the whole event, coordinating, months of thinking and planning, everything, into a moment of clarity. I started to read Philippians 1 and Mita, who is missing most of her teeth started to repeat every couple of words I read. I slowed down. We got into a pattern of reading and repeating. And finally, we made it to Philippians 1: 6, “for he who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Indeed, He completed this good work and I’m still in awe.

Over twenty permissions slips in, no one got hit by a car crossing the street, all children accounted for, and the South African co-teachers rose up to lead the kids into their SDG groups. Amazing.  Praise God!

Be transformed by the renewing of your mind

It’s hard to believe that already four days of the Mamelodi Initiative Summer Jam are over! I have a class of 10thgraders, who are all wonderful in different ways.

The first day of class I introduced my students to the concept of Asset-Based Community Development, which is essentially seeing what a community does have rather than focusing on what is lacking. This means utilizing the strengths of a community and determining the skillsets, resources, and passions of community members. So, on the third day of class I had my students do just that.

I divided the students into groups that each of my co-teachers could lead and tasked the groups with drawing the outline of one person at a time. On then inside the body outline, the students were asked to write the qualities and interests of that person. And on the outside of the body outline, the students were asked to write the resources and supports around them.

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Prince in front of his asset map

Some students, like Lucky and Prince, were able to write outside their outline things like leadership roles in organizations and their support teams. Others, like Kagiso and Mahlatse, just listed their favorite rappers all over the page. Honestly, as a teacher, I was just so happy that all the kids were engaged in some way and pleasantly surprised that the logistics got smoothed out.

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Mahlatse and Kagiso in front of their asset map, rapper edition

One group actually ended up doing this activity communally. What I thought would be a very individualistic activity with some group encouragement, they turned into something much cooler. Community transformation sparked by engagement is only possible with a communal mentality and that’s exactly what these kids showcased. So with three posters, fours kids, crossed out names rewritten, and a mix of different marker colors, Bontle, Scelo, Hlogi, and Modiegi get an A+ from me.

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Team Mamelodi: (left to right) Hlogi, Bontle, Modiegi, and Scelo

I’m so glad that my students could be reminded through this project that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God (Psalm 139:14;Genesis 1:27). Indeed, assets to the community of Mamelodi!