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

 

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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!