Breaking my Heart for What Breaks His

The first spiritual conversation I had at the Mamelodi Initiative was with one of my co-teachers the second week of program. They asked me about deliverance and why God doesn’t answer certain prayers and I thought I had a good answer. From what I could tell, we had relatively similar backgrounds. I explained to my co-teacher how I sometimes pray for God to give me a good grade on a exam and He answers that prayer with a no. Its frustrating, but upon reflection I always seen the value and goodness in how things turned out. Sometimes the Lord has lessons to teach us from failed exams, broken hearts, and even trauma. I’ve experienced all these things and in them I have also experienced Gods unfailing love. I left the conversation feeling closer to my co-teacher and modestly satisfied.


Later that week, I had another spiritual conversation with one of my students. One of the journal topics asked for the students response to John 3:16. Unlike the rest of the class, this student challenged the verse. She raised some questions about why the church talks so much about Jesus and not as much about God. The trinity was something I didn’t fully understand for quite some time, so I jumped at the opportunity to respond to her. Non-unique to almost all my responses to my student’s journals, I wrote at the end of the response that I would love to talk more in person with her about this. On Thursday, this student approached me during lunch and asked me to grab her one more sandwich. There were plenty of extra so I grabbed her one and then she asked if I wanted to talk about her journal. I was overjoyed; this meant she actually read my response! I told her YES, but asked if we could talk the next day so that I could prep and bring my bible.


I spent the night looking up verses supporting and explaining the Trinity. One of the Cru staff who is currently in seminary even let me use some of their software to learn more about the Trinity from a myriad of perspectives within the church. Eventually, I figured that this student wouldn’t be terribly interested in an extensive history of theological debate of the Trinity within the church, so I stuck with John 14:23-26. The time came for this student and I to meet and I approached her before she was about to leave. Right off the bat she asked about deliverance, just like my co-teacher. We were standing up in the midst of students and co-teachers shuffling around, so I ushered her over to a quieter area outside. I didn’t have my bible and she wasn’t even asking about the Trinity so I just decided to see where the conversation would go. Unlike my conversation with my co-teacher, I struggled to find similarities in this student and I’s background. She opened up to me about her family’s struggle to find a home and admitted that she goes to bed hungry sometimes. She asked me why God doesn’t answer her prayers for her family to move out of the room they rent and into a home or why God allows her to go to bed hungry. My mind was spinning, utterly at a loss for words. I’ve never experienced real hunger and I’ve never asked God to provide my family with a home. I felt an overwhelming lack of qualification. My heart broke in ways I have never experienced and even just writing this is making my heart sink again.


This student hugged me and said that God spoke to her through me, but all I could feel was useless. When I got in the car to head back to Kilnterton guilt set in which then turned into righteous anger. I have a lot of trouble answering the question of why God allows for suffering in the context of disease or hunger. I can understand the tragedy I have experienced in life because I can see clear choices that were made by individuals. With larger, systemic issues of sin, the choices of individuals become less and less clear. I can’t point this student to a specific person or choice to explain why she goes to bed hungry. I don’t know why God answered her prayers with a no and I was silly to speculate why God answered my co-teachers’ prayers the way He has. This is the mystery of God and something we must accept in faith.


Though I will forever be a loss for words at the question of deliverance, I have experienced a glimpse of what it’s like to truly love like Christ loved us. I learned that loving someone else doesn’t mean just smiling in their direction or sending them an encouraging note; it’s so much more. Loving someone else is sacrificing the blissful ignorance of living in a world where you only see your own problems to take on another persons burdens. Loving someone else is listening to the things they usually try to avoid talking about. Loving someone else is painful and hard. The ultimate act of love, the crucifixion, is the height of physical pain and represents just a fraction of the burden Jesus took on to forgive us of our sins. It should have been no surprise to me that when I pray for God to soften my heart to love like He does, I pray for exposure to more of this worlds sin and suffering.

I think that through all of this, God is calling for me to “listen carefully, doing justice for the fatherless and the oppressed so that men of the earth may terrify them no more (Psalm 10:18).” We live in a broken world where no one can escape the sting of sin; “for all have sinned and  fall short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23).” The sin we all experience points us towards a new earth where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, no crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelations 21: 4).” Sin is temporary and so is this life but that is not to say we should sit around waiting to die. God has called us all to a higher purpose with higher dreams of justice.

Power of Prayer

The second week of program one of my co-teachers, Grace and I started praying in the mornings before class. It’s been an incredible week! I’ve seen God work in my co-teachers, students, and experienced His work in me. God has opened up opportunities for spiritual conversations in places I didn’t expect. The spirit is indeed moving!

At the end of the frist week, one of my co-teachers expressed some concerns about integrating topics of faith into the classroom. I had played jeopardy with the kids to review some of the topics we covered and made faith one of the categories. Once of the students’ acted kind of annoyed about the faith category and this co-teacher wanted to make sure we weren’t forcing our religion on the students. Indeed, Christianity should never and can’t really be forced. Only God has the power to soften hearts, but we must still “proclaim what the Lord has done (Psalm 118:17)” and “declare with our mouths ‘Jesus is Lord’(Romans 10:9).” In any event, Grace and I were actually trying to think of more ways we could integrate scripture and faith into the classroom when this dialogue began.

The next week, after intentional prayer, the concerns about allowing Christianity into the classroom subsided. This co-teacher had taken the 4 spiritual laws booklet home, which is an evangelism tool that Cru uses to present the gospel to people. He read it and loved it! We even took one of the questions in the book and used it as a journal topic. The student that had been annoyed by the faith jeopardy category even approached me to talk about the Trinity! Our students eagerly volunteered to lead worship for the large group and for the classroom challenge at the end of the day my class elected to sing Amazing Grace.

The third week of program Grace and I stopped praying in the mornings as regularly. We still prayed on our own, but were less intentional about praying together. It was a hard week. The students were rowdy, stress was building, and I could feel my other co-teachers getting discouraged. On the last Thursday of program, the last time I saw my two South African co-teachers, my frustrations peaked. One of my students in the debate workshop not only refused to take notes on a lesson I was giving, she walked around the classroom in what I took to be an act of defiance and display of disrespect. The after-program challenge for that day was a relay race between and my co-teachers and I completely dropped the ball. We had a miscommunication about who was supposed to be the first leg of the relay and ended up not participating at all. It was difficult to see the disappointment on my students faces, but honestly I was so spent I didn’t know what to do.

The final day of program, my two South African co-teachers did not show up. One of them was sick but the other I think had a deeper issue building, resulting in her absence. With emotionally exhausted and with heavy hearts, Grace and I prayed together again. We let go of our burdens and submitted our will to God, in whom we will always find satisfaction. I am reminded of Philippians 4:12-13, In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content- whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We pray to the father, in the name of Jesus, by the spirit, which draws us nearer to the joy and strength that only He provides.

Prayer is indeed powerful. A Christ filled life must also be a prayer filled life. We are called to “Rejoice always! Pray constantly. Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t stifle the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19).” The spirit is moving in our hearts, let us rejoice in this and expand His kingdom in frequent and intentional prayer.



Precious Moments

IMG_2516My class is called the Snakes. It’s all girls and the highest level of Math, so we’re taking a whack at the glass ceiling and breaking stereotypes! Two girls in my class are actually named Precious, but all ten of them are precious in their eagerness to learn and genuine, loving nature.


During the first week of class we talked about pronouns, verb tenses, conjunctions, and punctuation. Two students in particular, Molebogeng and Precious M., struggled with pronouns. The native languages Spedie and Zulu don’t have gender specific pronouns so it makes perfect sense that this would be a tough subject. Yesterday as I was going through the student’s notebooks, I noticed that Molebogeng had caught her pronoun errors and corrected herself- breakthrough! By Gods grace, my amateur teaching got through to a student and now Molebogeng has improved her English. Praise God!


Friday of the second week of class there was a talent show for the whole west campus. My class put together this 4-part performance that included dancing, singing, and reciting poetry. We had planned and practiced all week for Precious M. to recite a poem. On her own and without anyone asking, Ntatile decided to write a poem too. She performed her poem in front of the whole west campus, boldly stepping forward in faith. As she read her poem about Gods sovereignty of creation and infinite love, my heart melted. The other students seemed to get the same chills I felt shouting out “Amen” when she finished.


I had the students write poems this week in class and Andile’s poem broke my heart. She wrote about the passing of her mother and at the top of the page was “Please read Lizzy.” Part of her poem talked about how she had trouble sleeping at night and as I read, my heart nearly leapt out of my chest. I was overflowing with empathy for Andile and immediately thought back to the nights I had trouble sleeping just a few years ago. I am so proud of Andile for her boldness. She trusted me enough to be vulnerable about what was probably one of the most difficult experiences in her life. Even more, she was intentional to share, trust, and connect with a person she has only known for a week and a half.


We have speakers each morning that talk about a variety of topics. One morning, a South African college student, Marvin, spoke. He asked the students what they wanted to be when they grow up and with confidence, Precious announced her dream of being a doctor. Marvin challenged her, asking her what she would do if someone said she could not do that and again with conviction, Precious said “YES, I can be a doctor even if you tell me no because I put my faith in God.” It was so encouraging to see what I thought was one of the quieter girls in our class declare in front of all of the other students that she puts her faith in God.


After workshops, we have challenges in which the classes compete for points. One day the challenge was to dance in front of the rest of program and my class, the Snakes, were at a loss it seemed. Sarah was our best dancer and she had left halfway through the day to participate in her churches Net Ball tournament. I expected Sarah to be gone for the day, but she came back! Just before we were about to be dismissed for the day, Sarah took the stage and danced her heart out. Everyone was cheering and clapping as she moved. My heart was so full to see her doing what she loved and even more so to know that Sarah appreciated the program enough to come back.


The first week of class Precious was annoyed at my Faith category for a jeopardy review game. The second week of class Precious opened up about her struggles, pain, and doubts. The third week of class Precious accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as her Lord and savoir. I have so much to write about this student. Precious moments with Precious Vezi are hardly fleeting. I am sure that I will reflect on moments with Precious for many years to come. Stilling out in the sun on that Friday afternoon with Precious, my heart was forever changed.


Each day, we write a journal topic on the board for the students to respond to. I read in Pretty’s journal that she believed in multiple Gods, but identified as a Christian so I resolved to go approach her with perspective cards. I thought perspective cards would be a good evangelism tool to use because they draw out what a person believes by giving them cards and having them choose which card best represents their views. Pretty wouldn’t have to talk much and I could use the cards to explain how Christianity is monotheistic. True to her patient and gentle nature, Pretty took the time to read each card carefully and was eager to listen to my explanations of the Christian cards. She actually chose all the Christian cards and was able to explain them to some of the other students who came over to join us. Unexpectedly, the student I thought was theologically disoriented ended up becoming a beacon of light for her peers. God truly works in mysterious ways.


Early on in program, the students were encouraged to bring their friends to program. The West campus is only two years old and far less known than east campus. Precious Vezi brought her friend Dineo to class. I didn’t get a lot of time with Dineo because she only showed up to class twice. The second time she left class about 5 minutes in to “go to the bathroom” and was never to be seen again. Despite the brevity of our interactions, I did learn that Dineo rapped and even had a producer. She never rapped for our class, but I hope to listen to her mix tape one day. Perhaps she’ll learn from the growth I’ve witnessed in her friend Precious.


Not once, but twice I was asked, “are you Miley Cyrus’s sister?” during program. Reneliwe was one of the students who asked me and continued to call me “Miley” from the second week onward. She seemed so excited; I even did a little Miley Cyrus concert at the end of class one day. Though she missed a few days of class, Reneliwe was always eager to learn and participate in class. Her hand seemed to default in the air and has such a curious spirit. I have enjoyed watching her grow and pray that she never loses the freedom that a life committed to Christ can bring.


My most fond memory of Lebogang is actually outside of the program. Each week, we attended different churches in the area and after the first week of program, we went to Lebogang’s church, Mamelodi International Assemblies of God. Lebogang, Precious M., and Sarah all approached me after the service with a big hug and excited smiles. Lebogang only showed up to one more day of program after I saw her, but I was still encouraged to see that she had strong Christian friends.


I also lead a Speech and Debate workshop in the afternoons. We worked on a few topics like the importance of money, compulsory voting, and eventually trash accumulation in Mamelodi. From the first time we drove through Mamelodi and the surrounding area, I noticed a great deal of trash littered in fields, streets, and around streams. I thought a great deal about how this ties into poverty, threatening pubic health and bringing down the communities general moral. In an effort to learn more about this issue from the communities perspective and spark a little environmental activism amongst the youth, I had the students come up with solutions to this issue and had them debate which solution was better in implementation, effectiveness, etc. I had a total of five students in my workshop, Andile, Ntatile, and Molebogeng from the Snakes and two students from other classrooms.


The West Campus debate team is sassy. For Promise, her sass comes from a place of passion, which I can relate to can appreciate to a certain extent. I noticed this passion in Promise when on the second day she confidently declared that she had prepared her speech for the practice debate on the importance of money. Here Promise is going to extra school over winter break and spending even more of her break preparing for my debate workshop. Her preparation and hard work paid off during the final debate when she articulately delivered the opening and closing statements for her team. Seeing her proudly finish on the final day of program validated my work for the Mamelodi Initiative tenfold.


One of the challenges of the West Campus is that students often miss days here and there. The program at West is less developed because it is only a year old and so students often come knowing less about the program and therefore ten to be less committed. Comfort missed a few days of debate practice and was utterly lost when we tired to go over the topic. She then proudly said, “I know nothing. All I know is that I am dancing now” and proceeded to dance around the class. Comfort has brought me joy in so many ways from the way she wears her hood constantly to her appeal more ethical debate, refraining from calling her opponents “litter bugs.” I think the most precious moment involving Comfort was when she gave a speech to the whole West Campus on the last day of program. She spoke eloquently and with confidence, thanking the co-teachers, volunteers, and Mamelodi Initiative at large. My heart melted. I will miss Comfort a great deal.

To a Humble Heart God Speaks

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of talking to Dr. Jonathan Walton, a professor of Christian ethics at Harvard, about some difficult passages in the bible. The topic was on racism in the Bible and he pointed us to this:


Deuteronomy 7:1-7 “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess, and He drives out many nations before you- the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and powerful that you—and when the Lord your God delivers them over you and you defeat them, you must completely destroy them. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, because they will turn your sons away form Me to worship other gods. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and He will swiftly destroy you. Instead, this is what you are to do to them: tear down their alters, smash their sacred pillars, cut down their Asherah poles, and burn up their carved images. For you are a holy people belonging to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be His own possession out of all the peoples on the face of the earth.”


It’s hard to read, like a few other passages in the Old Testament. I’ve been bothered by passages like this for some time, not quite understanding the substance or the application. In the first half of Dr. Waltons talk, he explained that we can claim epistemological humility. Essentially, it’s okay to say, “I’ve got nothing” when we read a verse that doesn’t seem to make sense. This I agree with. Christians do not claim to have all the answers. In fact, we claim just the opposite. A pillar of my faith is the understanding of how little I understand. The more I learn the less I seem to know. To me, this undoubtedly points to something higher, a greater plan and a greater truth.


Dr. Walton then went on to make three points about the ancient tribal culture and the historical context in which these passages were written. 1) this represents and extension of household kinship structure, 2) we are talking about nomadic tribes that have no set location and 3) tribal leaders patrolled the boundaries of identity, creating, defining, or imagining and evil “other.” He then made the bold claim that God is not racist but the authors of Deuteronomy may have been. You could almost cut the tension in the room. In what seemed like a fit of confusion, one thought that pervaded my mind was “if we claim that the authors of Deuteronomy were racists and this bias seeped into their writing, then how can we trust the passage? If we begin to distrust parts of the bible, were is the basis to trust any of it?”


Questions began to flood in as the group attempted to digest this information and Dr. Walton’s response hinged on what he phrased as the difference between fact and truth. A few nights later I approached Dr. Walton to try and understand this differentiation. He used a story from the book Beloved about a woman trying to escape slavery with her two daughters to illustrate his point. This woman had almost made it to the boarder of freedom when authorities started closing in. The woman then killed both her daughters to save them from a life filled with pain and tragedy as a salve in the South. Dr. Walton explained that the truth of this story was that the mother loved her daughters, and killed them in an act of mercy. However, the facts, as Dr. Walton described, told a different story. The media and larger society painted this matricide as an act of savagery and used it to justify slavery.


To the contrary, I would argue that the “facts” Dr. Walton points to are hardly facts and really just misinterpretations. The two different stories are based on the same facts: the woman and her two daughters were slaves, in route to escape, and before they were caught, the mother killed her daughters. The differences in the stories lie in the interpretations of the facts. Why did the mother kill her daughters? What is the larger meaning of the story for the whole of society? These questions produce different answers because one interpreter is seeking truth and the other is looking for evidence to support a narrative they’ve created and are invested in perpetuating.


I do not believe that God is racist and I do not believe that Deuteronomy was written through a racist lens. People have used passages in the bible to justify racism but the bible does not produce racist thought. The brokenness of this world produces injustice, inequality and prejudice; “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God (1 Corinthians 3:19).” In fact, the bible is one of the most powerful tools we have to combat such plagues to harmony on this earth.


The key is to approach the bible seriously, in constant prayer, and with humble hearts. Often times, we do not read scripture with an open heart, ready to accept all that God has to offer us. We look for what we want to find in scripture instead of looking for truth. Humans are selfish and sinful, using the church as a platform to perpetuate injustice rather than following Jesus’s example. This is the crux of a spirit-lead life, denying oneself and taking up your cross to follow Him (Matthew 16: 24). I have hope yet for this world because I believe in the transformative power of the spirit. As Paul said in Galatians 5:16 “walk by the spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”

It Was the Best of Times

Similar to the passage in Tale of Two cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,” this week has been joyous, difficult, fulfilling, discouraging, and everything in between. To be more specific, I’d like to talk about 4 events that occurred this past week.


The first event: “Smith Chop Won’t Stop”


I cut my hair the shortest it has ever been on Sunday, my last afternoon before the start of program. A few of the people on this mission didn’t even recognize me when I came back that evening! A literal weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Though it was risky to get a drastic haircut in a completely different country, it was also once of the best decisions I’ve made in South Africa so far. I was on the fence about cut my hair, wondering what I would look like and overthinking if this was the right decision. The people around me raised questions and seemed nervous about the prospect of me with a pixie cut. This even includes my South African hairdresser who asked me if I was sure about cutting my hair at least 3 times. What a silly thing to fret over in comparison to the extreme poverty people in Mamelodi face on a daily basis. Still, God showed up and gave me the courage to say, “yes, I’m sure” to my hairdresser not once, not twice, but thrice.


The second event: “Drought for a Day”


I woke up Wednesday morning to the sound of squeaky faucet handles and groans of disappointment as the mission team realized the water was out. In many ways I feel that God prepared me for this. I didn’t need to wash my hair because it was so short and I am well accustomed to brushing my teeth with a toothbrush, toothpaste, and water bottle. God showed up and made what could have been a tough start to the day an opportunity to apply the skills I already had and be reminded of my privilege of having access to clean running water everyday.


The third event: “Power Outage Panic”


On our way back from the teacher social on Wednesday, the power for traffic lights went out. I have noticed that Mamelodi has a very aggressive driving culture. It’s not uncommon to hear more than three honks on our way to program each day and speeding seems to go unchecked. Considering this, you can imagine my distress when we approached a congested intersection that seemed to adopt some make shift form of right-of-way system. Still, God showed up and we made it safely home.


The finale: “The Kilnerton Plague”

I woke up Saturday morning to finding three people from the mission team sitting on the bathroom floor with blankets and pillows. My first indicial thought was that they must have had some sort of sleepover party in the bathroom. I was then told the unsettling news that a virus had infected nearly 16 people. Overnight, 40% of the people on the mission staying at Kilnerton fell ill. When I digested the news that almost every room besides mine had someone with the virus I feeling of impending doom fell over me. I had a weak immune system already form fighting off a cold so my initial reaction to those who were sick was to stay as far away as possible. Even to the point of hesitating to helping a friend carry shampoo back to her room. Though I think it is important to be aware of how viruses spread, I realized that there were so many opportunities I missed to love on the ill portion of the mission team. God showed up and convicted me. Again and again Jesus cared for the sick and instead of following His example, my selfishness and paranoia got the best of me.


The common thread through all of these events was that they all challenged my personal status quo and sense of familiarity, pushed me out of my comfort zone, and provided me opportunities for growth. As James 1: 2-4 says, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” Change, trials, challenges, and the like all provide opportunities to rely on God and trust in his faithfulness.


To a certain extent, I think that the mini crisis after crisis that has occurred this week has softened my heart toward my learners. I have now experienced a real part of some student’s daily struggle, which creates more ground upon which to connect with them. Truly, “We known that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).” All this is to simply say, this week has been full of new experiences and time to reflect. The Lord has challenged me in unexpected ways, given me grace when I needed it, and empowered me to continue the mission of expanding His kingdom in the most unlikely circumstances.





A Quiet Afternoon in the Garden


Hearing the sound of my own sniffling, birds chirping, and this pen writing.

A slight wind ruffles the dry leaves on the ground.
This place is preserved, stewarded, aesthetic.
So utterly detached from where this same slight wind,
Instead, sweeps up the ashes of burnt trash.

It’s hard to say which scene is more real.
The loose trash that covers the streets of Mamelodi,
Or the serenity of the garden I sit in.
The harsh realities we cannot ignore,
Or the beauty that points to Gods intended design.

I believe in transformation.
I know the realities of sin
And I know the realities of grace.
I believe in transformation.

Hearing the sound of my own clean breath, birds chirping, and this pen writing.