Thursday, December 31, 2009

parting words for '09

As 2009 fades away, I am remembering a number of incidents within the past year of rescue, deliverance, salvation from evil. Perhaps we should not need the presence of evil to remember the goodness that surrounds us; yet that goodness appears brightest against the engulfing darkness that might have been. Similarly, one may know that he is called to a particular work in ordinary times; yet experiences of rescue strengthen confidence in the call, for the loss that almost was seems as gain for what will be.

Tonight I want to register my gratitude for God's protection and provision in our life, and pray that that gratitude might not run dry amidst the challenges of 2010.

-Joe

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

calling out gifts

Last week at church the pastor called up our Isaac and his Lilitha to stand behind the table as the offering was brought forward. When he had counted the money, he told Isaac how much was there and Isaac told the congregation. He then announced that Isaac was going to pray over the offering. We waited, wondering how our shy boy would handle this sudden elevation to leadership. The pastor stood patiently and silently while Isaac found his words. The pastor then thanked him and repeated to the congregation that Isaac had prayed: "God, bless everything we do."

The pastor didn't ask. He didn't question whether he would be able to do it. He simply brought him forward and expected him to find the gift within himself. And Isaac did it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

cheap grace?


Last year we reported on Isaac's preschool graduation and wondered about the purpose of caps and gowns and graduation speakers for preschool children (preschool graduation) This year Moses graduated and we again had to wonder. Was it simply teaching the kids cheap grace?

The long day, which started late and then had 5 speakers before the designated guest speaker, was harder to take this year. What I used to be able to count as cultural experience is now simply wearing. And as I watched Moses climb across the backs of the chairs in his cap and gown and Mona Lisa pick her nose with the lace on her dress, the whole thing seemed like a huge farce.

But when the long day was over and the kids had (finally) been served lunch at 4:00, Moses told us: "I just could not stop smiling, I liked wearing that hat so much." We told him that he had to work really hard in school for the next 14 years and then he would get to wear it again and there would be further opportunities to learn and be rewarded with a cap and gown. Maybe it is worth it for that.

Every preschool in the city does the same ceremony and many, many kids have parents who never graduated from highschool. Hopefully wearing the cap and gown will serve not as an end. Hopefully it will inspire a desire to learn and achieve that will take them further and further as they realise their own potential.

Moses, Nanda, Thina, Siyamdumisa, and Ndinako with their certificates

The graduates with their teachers - Titsha Sibongile and Titsha Thethelwa

video

--anna

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

worship as service

At church on Sunday the visitors and those returning after an absence were asked to introduce themselves and greet the congregation. The last in the line was a young woman. She spoke quietly and after the initial line of greeting, she cried out and fell to her knees crying. One woman began a song and another came over to rub her back as she lay on the floor. As her sobs died down, this mama helped her to her feet, wiped off her knees where they had hit the dirt floor, and put her gently back in her place on the wooden bench. The service continued as she recovered herself.
At the end of the service, everyone who wanted to be prayed for came forward; there was a teenage girl who was worried because her parents were fighting, a young man who wanted to accept Jesus, a teenage boy who wanted to be strong as he is "very weak", and there was the young woman again. Each was prayed for in turn as the congregation sang. We still don't know why that young woman was there but her pain was carried by the entire body of Christ on that day.

Yesterday we received our copy of the Mennonite bi-weekly magazine, aptly titled The Mennonite. In it I read a news blurb about two North American Mennonite congregations that had chosen to give up worship one Sunday a year in order to "do service." This was hailed as an admirable act. The attitude to worship conveyed by the actions of these two churches stood in marked and disturbing contrast to Sunday's service at the little mud brick church. There are two attitudes to worship that the Mennonite church can learn from.

1) Worship is the work of the church.
We do not go to church only to fulfill obligation. We do not go to church only to gain the strength to go out into the world and serve, as important as this may be. We go to church because this is the work of the church. When people can bring their pain into the church and release it there without shame, the church is fulfilling its call to bring hope and healing to a hurting world.

2) We are the ones in need of healing and hope.
The hurt is not all "out there." The hurt is often in ourselves, our families, our communities. We are as much in need of healing as the people out there we go to serve. And we cannot serve them unless we are right with God and our neighbours. We are never so righteous that we can forego this time in order to serve those who are more in need. We are in need ourselves.


--anna

Thursday, November 19, 2009

multiplying talents through t-shirts


When Tabor Mennonite Church asked us whether they could take an offering for a special project in Mthatha, we wanted to find a use for it that would serve multiple purposes. The church gave us money that the kids raised at Vacation Bible School and we used it to buy t-shirts and get the BBS symbol printed on them. These t-shirts went on sale at our conference and graduation this past weekend and were received with joy.

BBS was begun in 1982 as a response to African Initiated Churches' (AIC) feeling that they were not respected by mainline mission-founded churches. Certain AIC leaders identified one of the reasons for this as their own lack of education and formal preparation for ministry. BBS arose as a way to address this issue - to better train AIC leaders for ministry and to give them confidence and credibility in the larger South African church scene. We know that students proudly display their BBS certificates each year and take pride in their school and what they gain there. The introduction of the t-shirts seemed to give them another way to express their loyalty.

We also hope that the shirts will serve as a way to bring in new members. As many people we work with do not read, written promotional materials are not very productive. However, a shirt on someone's body can create interest and begin discussion.

In addition to helping us raise funds for next year's BBS workshops and a future BBS building, the purchase of t-shirts has demonstrated the concept of multiplying resources as in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Instead of simply putting the money into the BBS budget, it has purchased something that will be sold at a profit. In a place with extremely high unemployment, most people rely on social grants to eke out a living. Taking a small portion of the money available to them and investing it can make a huge difference in their standard of living.

Mama Faniso, Mama Dokolwana, and Mama Velaphi wearing their new shirts

--anna

Friday, November 6, 2009

marriage blessing

Last Sunday, our church held a special service of blessing for a newly-married couple, the husband of which is connected to the congregation through his mother. The mother had greatly desired that her church hold this service. The pastor approached the service with great consideration and, at times, consternation--so great was his desire to make sure that all would feel fully welcomed and satisfied at this event. Proof of the event's being "set-apart" in the mind of the congregation was the inclusion of a tent, sound system, and keyboard. The event began with the youth, coordinated in pink attire, dancing the couple in. Then, the pastor and his wife welcomed everyone to the service, most notably a row of special guests from the husband and wife's respective families. I was given the sermon, using a variety of texts to illustrate my points about marriage. The word hitting close to home in a context of many broken marriages, a number of people responded in an extensive period of tears, prophesying, speaking in tongues, and prayer. As calm returned, a cake was unveiled, blessed, and then cut by the couple.




As in all special events in this setting, a hard-earned (from all the patience and sitting through what has become a long, hot day) meal ensued. The special guests and leadership took the meal together in the house of the mother of the groom, while the youth, children, and other members ate together back in the tent. Our kids, with a few other children who were already there, ate with us on the mother's premises, though they had to wait--in reverse of much North American church culture--until the adults were served first. Our oldest two have finally come to accept this. I fed Levi off my plate and Anna held Jesse. The cold Coca-Cola always tastes so good at these events!

-Joe

Thanks to Deb Byler, our special guest from Mennonite Mission Network, for the photos.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

the manly calling

Some weeks ago, I devoted two entries to events which included a young couple who had just joined the church in Mandela Park. http://josephsawatzky.blogspot.com/2009/09/beginning-of-wisdom.html and http://joeannasawatzky.blogspot.com/2009/08/mothering.html Less than two months later, that relationship has unraveled; the husband left the wife and two children and the pastor of Mandela Park behind to work with "another pastor" in an area about 80 km from here.

The news came as a big disappointment for me. The pastor was hoping that his younger colleague would be a great help to the ministry, that they could lean on one another to meet the needs of their people. In order to ensure that that might happen, we had held a special service of blessing for the couple, signaling their status as leaders of the congregation. I left that Sunday feeling pleased that we had done all we could to get the relationship off to a good start. Its unraveling, therefore, comes as a betrayal also to me, the one who offered the words of encouragement that day from the Bible.

The situation is doubtless a greater crisis for the wife and the pastor who were left behind than it is for me. Nevertheless, it also leaves me vulnerable; it forces me to face the prospect of my own ineffectiveness as a minister/teacher of the gospel. I believe in the power of the Word of God; I have experienced it in both personal study and public proclamation. As a result, I find it amazing that a person who has witnessed the power of the Spirit in the company of the Word can--and so soon--do the very thing the Word told him not to do.

According to the pastor, his departed colleague was heard to say that he "believes he is called by God to serve this other pastor". If such a call is true, that is, from God, then we must accept it (regardless, we have to live with it). Yet that call rings hollow. It comes, seemingly, from a spirit without content, without knowledge, without the Word. It comes from a spirit that says "leave wife and children for the sake of the good news"--the very ones, now in essence widowed and orphaned, whom the good news was given to serve. For what other reason was the good news given than to make us better husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, humans-in-community?

Jesus, of course, did tell us to "hate wife and children" (Lk. 14:26), among other family members, in the pursuit of following him. This is rightly a call to resist in one's life the counsel or wisdom of any human authority as greater than God; being controlled by the wisdom of one's spouse or children can lead a family away from the blessings of God. Yet, those who have entered the holy covenant of marriage will find that an increased loyalty to God will lead to an increased--not decreased--concern for the well-being of "wife and children". In other words, we must "hate them" in favor of God in order to love them as God does.

How does God love them, love us? With the words of Ephesians 5 no doubt in the background of his mind, the pastor who was left behind is fond of saying, "The wife of Jesus is the church; I have my own wife". "Just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her," so the pastor must give himself to his wife (Eph. 5:25). That is his calling as a man of God.

-Joe

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

spring

A little illustration of how everything in our house becomes a competition or you know you are living in an all-boy household when....

After four days of rain, the sun finally came out and Moses, Jesse and I took a little walk around the yard to check on all the plants. We noticed that one lavender bush was choking out another one and decided to trim back the big one. We made a huge bouquet of lavender which Moses said he wanted in his room "to make him sleepy". He also cut a little sprig for his pillow.

That night, Isaac was upset that Moses had a lavender sprig on his pillow and he didn't. So we cut him one too. The next day I happened to be walking by his room and saw Isaac with a scissors "giving a haircut" to the lavender bouquet. I decided to ignore the whole thing.

The following day I went to take off his sheets to wash them and discovered what he had been up to.


I guess Isaac won the lavender competition.

--anna

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

outside the law

Last Saturday night, I enjoyed an in-depth conversation with my neighbor and his friend as they braaied some steaks. My neighbor is my peer: 31 years old, married, a father, a committed Christian.

I listened as my two companions shared fascinating insights into the relationship of Christianity and culture in the traditional southern African setting. They spoke of conversations they used to have with other peers in their Christian fellowship in their university days. They used to debate--and the debate still rages--an issue which also occupied the mind of the early church: circumcision vs. uncircumcision.

The two largest language groups in South Africa, the amaXhosa and the amaZulu, are known to have different traditions regarding circumcision; Xhosa boys become men through circumcision in their late teen years, Zulus do not practice circumcision. In reality, the situation is considerably more complex than that, as various communities often classified as Xhosa, the amaMpondo, for example, traditionally did not circumcise. Today, that situation has changed, as there has been an epidemic of young men dying through botched circumcision rites in Pondoland, and at ages far younger than Xhosa tradition would recommend. In the end, therefore, the practice of circumcision in South Africa reveals my friends' point: there is no pure culture; culture is dynamic.

Having established this background, my friends moved to describe the aforementioned debates. On one occasion, one of their peers claimed that circumcision was essential to his Christian life because it established his credibility when preaching in the rural locations. The traditional people would not welcome the message of a male who was uncircumcised. Something about his argument, however, did not sit well with my neighbor.

"Are you saying that the gospel of Jesus Christ is limited?" Countering his peer's logic, my neighbor had told the following story.

"There was once this Zulu guy who was spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ through all these Xhosa villages. He used to get up and preach and say to the people, 'I am not circumcised', and the people loved him. That shows that the most important thing is the anointing [of the Holy Spirit], not culture."

That the Zulu preacher repeatedly emphasized that he was "not circumcised" illustrates the strength of the attachment of his Xhosa audience to this cultural practice. Indeed, because their belief in the power that circumcision bestows was so strong, it was necessary for the preacher to ascribe the power so obviously at work in him to another source.

It is interesting to read the South African context of circumcision alongside the biblical record of the same. In the book of Galatians, for example, circumcision is tied to blessings and curses. Certain people within the churches of Galatia were insisting that uncircumcised Gentile converts must be circumcised to avoid the curse of disobedience to the commandments of Jewish Law, of which circumcision, of course, was one. That curse, as described at length in the final chapters of the book of Deuteronomy, included the entire nation; the transgressions of one to the law led to the curse for many. That curse entailed loss of land to enemies, disease, plague, death.

A similar dynamic seems to be at play in Xhosa traditions. Although the Old Testament law consistently forbade Israel to consult the spirits of the dead whereas many African traditions are based on such communication, in both disobedience of one member to spiritual authority puts the entire community at risk of death, of the curse.

In light of this, we might not understand the so-called "Judaizers" among the early Christians so much as callous, unwelcoming traditionalists but as zealous members of the covenant community, concerned above all for the survival of the whole people of God. According to their understanding, circumcision and law-obedience was the way of avoiding the curse; the uncircumcision of certain members put the entire community at risk.

In light of Christ, however, we understand that understanding to be limited. Though he was obedient to the law, circumcised, he was also cursed according to it: hung on a tree (Gal. 3:13; Dt. 21:23). Yet, in his name, by his gospel, by his Spirit, came "love, joy, and peace" (Gal. 5:22). From the cursed one came blessing.

As Christ, so the Zulu preacher who came in his name. From him came blessing outside the dictates of the law. If blessing could come outside the traditions, then the traditions--and the powers who presided over them--were not so powerful as previously thought. They might continue to bless and curse those who continued to fear them. But for those who welcomed Christ, only the curse was lost; "from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace", blessing upon blessing (Jn. 1:16).

-Joe

Monday, October 5, 2009

waiting on Jesse

Last Monday, September 28, ended our long wait for the arrival of our fourth child. He turned out to be Jesse Immanuel Liechty Sawatzky, another big, beautiful boy.

Thinking we knew the date of conception, we had been expecting Jesse a day or two from September 8. Accordingly, we had made arrangements that Anna's mother could be with us for the birth and surrounding days; she arrived on August 31. However, as Jesse stayed inside, it became clear that she would have to extend her stay--something she had to do twice (Thanks to the Elkhart, Indiana school district!). She is now scheduled to leave on Friday.

Based on our expectation, Jesse came late. Perhaps also we produced some worry in friends and family who wondered why it was taking so long. We, too, struggled against our worst fears and had to seek assurance many times throughout the month of September. Yet, we decided that the baby was fine: Anna felt great and Jesse was moving. The wait was difficult, but we believe in waiting.

Perhaps nothing is as difficult for us in the 21st-century as waiting. Information is instantaneous in the internet age. In terms of birth, the medical establishment seems increasingly hostile to the experience of waiting--the rates of induction and caesareans are higher than they've ever been. Why wait if technology and expertise can minimize the disruption to our schedules that is birth?

There are many good reasons to wait--for example, that technology and expertise can't minimize disruption but may, in fact, create greater, more unwelcome disruptions--but for us it boils down to an affirmation of faith, a dogged insistence against the overwhelming weight of conventional wisdom to the contrary, that God still rules the world. With Paul, we "want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings . . .." We want to endure the suffering that waiting can be if it brings us closer to the God who loves us.

Many things brought us back from the pit of despair as days turned into weeks. In terms of scripture, I found myself again and again in Psalm 27. Its closing became for me a word of strong defiance against fear, and, somewhat paradoxically, a gentle assurance of God's presence.

"I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!" (vv. 13-14 NRSV).

We did see the goodness of the Lord. We did come to know again the creative power of God, the power that calls into being the things that are not and raises the dead. We came to know it in Jesse, a baby named "Immanuel", "God is with us".

We came to know it through waiting.

-Joe

Monday, September 14, 2009

conservative questions

This weekend, the headline of our favorite South African newspaper, the Mail & Guardian, read "Zuma's New God Squad Wants Liberal Laws to Go".

In short, the headline, as well as an editorial inside, describes a shift underway in South African society in which powers of "conservative" religious faith are gaining a greater hearing with SA's new president, Jacob Zuma, than they had with his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki. Under Mbeki's leadership, South Africa legalized abortion and gay marriage, two laws which Zuma's alleged "God Squad" would now like to repeal.

The articles describe some of the deep paradoxes of South African society. For example, although South Africa is reputed to have "the most liberal constitution in the world", it has arguably one of the world's most conservative populations. Conservative tendencies cut across racial, economic, and religious lines, from deeply religious supporters of the old Apartheid regime, founded as it was upon the doctrines of the Dutch Reformed Church, to members of Pentecostals and African Initiated Churches, to various Islamic groups, to staunch proponents of everything held to be traditionally "African."

Zuma, of course, was swept into office on the popular support of those who held that Mbeki was a European-educated, out-of-touch elite; Zuma, the story goes, embodies the hopes and values of the common person. Of course, the lines are never tidy; Mbeki too styled himself an authentically African leader with "African solutions to African problems", a rationale on which he championed a traditional "African" diet to the exclusion of "western" antiretroviral drugs as a treatment for persons suffering from HIV-AIDS. The Zuma-led African National Congress (ANC, the ruling-party in SA) immediately repudiated Mbeki's policies on AIDS.

In light of such paradoxes, when one leader "conserves" traditional cultural norms in one way yet not another, we might ask, "Who is conservative [or substitute "liberal"]? " Or, what classifies as a 'conservative' issue? Relatedly, who is African? What classifies as an African issue?

Who is an American? What must one uphold to be authentically American?

Or why should that be our criterion? Is there nothing else?

-Joe

Friday, September 4, 2009

this coach is bound for glory

Last week we purchased a new vehicle in preparation for our fourth child, due any day now, which will expand our family beyond the capacity of our faithful Honda Ballade. In order to get the vehicle, I had to make a five-hour trip to Durban. However, since Anna needed the Honda to get around Mthatha, we booked me a seat on a bus bound for Pietermaritzburg, not far from Durban, where I could stay with our Mennonite colleagues. We also decided that it would be a fun thing for me to do with Isaac. So, he kept me company while Levi and Moses did the same for Anna.

I had an interesting experience on the bus that night. We were welcomed heartily and proceeded to enjoy a comfortable ride through the Eastern Cape hills. After 2-3 hours, we took our first stop at the travel centre in Kokstad. Isaac had already fallen asleep, so I stayed on the bus while the other passengers filed off, and then on, arms laden with bags of chips and cans of drinks from the convenience store. The bus pulled out with a new driver behind the wheel. His predecessor then moved to the role of host, welcoming us all aboard. He did not, then, however, move into a speech about emergency exits and seat-belts; he informed us all that we were "going to pray".

The host did offer a brief disclaimer, something like "if you aren't interested in participating, just sit quietly and respectfully so others can pray." Otherwise, there was no sense that this should be weird or out-of-the-ordinary for anyone.

Then commenced a very typical South African worship service--only, on a bus. In spite of the fact that the travelers were inevitably from diverse denominations, both mainline and independent, the worship was cohesively "African", which is to say, emotive and heartfelt. The host began by saying that we were going to pray for safety, because, though we don't know what's out there ahead of us on the road, God knows. Before the prayer, however, he led us in a worship song from the Pentecostal canon, "You are Alpha and Omega". Then he led us in prayer. His spirited lines were audible above the babble of voices all around, engaging in masithandaze sonke, or "all pray" at the same time. Then our host-driver-pastor opened it up for testimonies. One man volunteered. I heard something about Jesus being the way. Then we sang "Noyana", "Will you go [to heaven]?" With that, the service ended. The host went through the bus passing out our choice of lemon- or orange-creme biscuits and apologizing that there was "no juice" on this night. The painfully-acted martial arts movie starring Dolph Lundgren flickered back onto the solitary television screen at the front of the bus. The coach rambled on safely to Maritzburg.

-Joe

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

church and ministry

Yesterday at church, the pastor welcomed three old women who had come in support of another old woman, a regular at the church, whose son and his new wife were supposed to attend that day to receive a special blessing for their marriage. The son and his wife never came, so the significance of the other visitors' presence had to be found elsewhere--and it was.

The three visiting women all represented "classic" Pentecostal denominations, in this case, the Assemblies of God (AOG) and the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM). Both of these denominations trace their origins to the founding event of modern Pentecostalism, the revivals of Azusa Street in Los Angeles, 1906. Within months of the movement's origins in California, participants in the Azusa Street revivals were on the ground in South Africa.

I do not know whether or not these three old women know of their churches' American roots. In this case that is not the most relevant point; Pentecostalism has taken on a life of its own within the South African context, and it was events pertaining to that particular history which concerned the pastor on this day.

"All of these ministries which we are leading come from your churches," he said, addressing the old women. "We are your children."

The pastor's statement was the most explicit affirmation that I have heard within a congregational context of the distinction that scholars have made between Pentecostals and New Pentecostals. The "we" of the pastor's statement is church leaders of his generation, forty-somethings on down, who lead "ministries". The pastor's type of Pentecostalism can perhaps best be distinguished from his spiritual parents by name rather than doctrine; he and his contemporaries are inclined to use "ministry" more than "church" to describe their work for the Lord. Thus the pastor's "church" is Harvest Time Ministries. On Sunday, another woman who now worships with Harvest Time Ministries explained that she used to worship in town with Last Hour Harvest Ministries. Last November, I met a young pastor who was leading simply God's Ministry. Our Mennonite colleagues in South Africa do worship with a "church", Breakthru Church International, but it is part of a "ministry", New Zion Ministries International.

I often wonder about the independent character of such ministries. In this situation, the pastor was expressing his dependency on those who have gone before. He owed a debt of gratitude to the mothers of the AOG and the AFM who, on this day, had entered his church to confer a special blessing upon his ministry.

-Joe

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

mothering

I remember being struck a few years ago when I first read these words from Mercy Amba Oduyoye, a Ghanaian theologian. She had written of the female as "the archetype of the human" for her status as the one whom human cultures expect to sacrifice self so that others might live (176-177). Oduyoye sees in the self-giving orientation the model of humanity, the meaning of what it means to be truly human. The problem, Oduyoye wrote, is that only half of the human race, namely the female, is commonly called upon to exercise self-giving. This results in a situation in which women are disproportionately crushed, for they continue to be who they are supposed to be in the context of men who live by a different cultural definition of humanity. Oduyoye's proposal, however, was not to discard the female's well-worn way of being human; it was to invite the male to understand his humanity also according to the pattern of self-giving, or, as Oduyoye calls it, the way of "mothering" (Oduyoye's essay Feminist Theology in an African Perspective can be found in Rosino Gibellini, ed., Paths of African Theology (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994), 166-181.).

Last week, after Anna had preached the story of Ruth to illustrate how women could build up the church, the male pastor of the church confirmed the word for his mostly female congregation. "I also was absorbing this word. I also am a mother, you know."

As we made our way to leave that day, we noticed also another young couple who has recently joined the church and begun to exercise leadership. They are the third couple to attend the church, the other two being the pastor and his wife and Anna and I. The husband did a thing I had seen no other man do in our more than three years here: he tied their baby on his back. Mothering indeed.

-Joe

responsibility and exemption

We had a lovely visit last week from a friend who lives in Pretoria. She is an Afrikaner great-grandmother who has fought apartheid and racial inequality her whole life. Being around her always reminds me of the difficulty of being an Afrikaner in South Africa and the guilt that would go along with your birthright. I have always been able to exempt myself from feeling responsibility for the sins of any given culture.

Growing up as an American Mennonite missionary kid in Ireland, I tried hard to fit in and generally did. I first realised the extent to which I would never fully fit in when, in response to a particularly devastating IRA bombing, my best friend told me how ashamed she felt to be Irish. I could not comprehend this level of identification--if she did not agree with the actions of that group then she had no reason to feel ashamed. I was always able to maintain enough distance to see those acts as the problems of others, to build my identity on a position rather than a connection to a particular people.

Moving to America, I could claim my Irishness. And more often and more effectively I could claim my Mennoniteness. We have always been pacifists who fought the system and were 'in the world but not of it.' My grandfather's barn was painted yellow when his people refused to go to war. This was my heritage and I was proud of it and not responsible for the atrocities and injustices of the nation at large.

The only place where I have felt the full impact of cultural shame is in my whiteness. In some ways coming to South Africa exhonerated me from even this shame--I am white but not the particular white culture that has been the oppressor here.

Too often I believe myself to be different and exempt. Maybe this has allowed me to work for justice in a way that cultural guilt would have prevented. I must believe this to be true because my accumulation of cultures and identities only gets more complicated as I move through life. And is finding our identity outside of a particular people or nation not our goal? Taking responsibility for injustice and not allowing guilt to overwhelm is how we move forward. I have found my particular path to this as has my Afrikaner friend.

--anna

Saturday, August 1, 2009

liberation for women?

I was asked to speak yesterday at a special 'weekend for the women' at our church. The topic was to be "the responsibility of women in building up the church." The dilemma became how to address women who occupy a more gender-stratified society than I do. For example, at churches of this type men are always the official pastors while the pastor's wife is expected to unequivocally support her husband in his role.

Several months ago the pastor told Joe that he wanted to talk to him about a problem he was having. When they met, Pastor Ntapo told Joe that he didn't think his wife was supporting him as fully as she should and that it was holding him back in his ministry. Joe asked him what his wife's gifts were, to see whether there were ways in which she might be unfulfilled and in which the pastor could support her more fully. Pastor Ntapo looked at him and in a moment of honest realisation said: "you see, in our culture, women do not have a will of their own." He loves his wife and wants to support her and his head may disagree with his statement, but his life and instinct have been influenced by this belief.

At the same time, women have a great deal of responsibility within the congregation and society and serve as the backbone which provides the structure from which men can hold the up-front roles. The pentecostal tradition of the testimony, in which there is a slot in each week's service for someone to get up and share a story or a way in which God has worked in her life, has been seen as a great gender and educational-difference equaliser. Women are also asked to pray, to provide counsel, to teach the children, to lead worship, and generally to fill whatever gaps appear on a given day, including preaching.

So how was I to address these women? Do I encourage them to claim their God-given gifts to claim formal positions of leadership? Do I encourage them to exercise their power within the structure available to them?

I took my counsel from the book of Ruth. The book provides a unique glimpse into the ways in which women work within their societal structures to manipulate events to bring about the good of all. Instead of being told from Boaz's perspective (as too many stories are), the book tells the story of how Ruth and Naomi brought about the circumstances that eventually led to the birth of David and, much farther down the line, of Jesus. The book begins and ends with a patriarchal frame--beginning with Elimelech who had a wife and sons, and ending with a male genealogy showing how the union of Boaz and Ruth led to David. In so doing it asks an enticing question--in how many other stories that are told from a male perspective are women the unknown agents of change and control? Is this book the canon's effort to mediate itself and provide a clue to something missing in other parts?

I preached this text and used it to encourage the women to claim the power that they do have and to use it for great good--to be immersed in the Story in order to be properly prepared for the positions of leadership that they hold. When teaching the children, they need to be teaching the stories of the faith that give the children resources for dealing with the real world in the way that television soap operas cannot. When giving testimony, they can be prepared with a week's worth of reflections and new insight instead of relying on the old cliches too common to this genre. When praying, they can know the God to whom they pray by knowing the story. As the standard of their leadership increases, so too can their power within the church. Some women are already doing these things and I am certainly not blaming them for the inequality of their society but it is my observation that they are too often willing to cede the thinking and telling to the men, falling back themselves on cliche and inherited wisdom. Hope and worth are the real needs.

Did I pass by my chance to preach real change to these women? Did I allow myself to preach complacency within an unjust structure?

I hope not.

As I prepared to preach, I looked around and noticed the four men in the building each holding a child. There is a cultural shift happening here and it will be a slow change for everyone. A necessary step will be for the women to prepare themselves and to claim their God-given gifts, no longer seeing themselves as powerless and hopeless, taking their example from Ruth and Naomi who used the structure given to them to bring about change and good.

Mama Goniwe sharing a testimony.

Sis Nandi leading singing.



Multi-generational dancing after church --Zinje, Mama Deleki, Nontoko, and Mama Cengani.

--anna

My ideas about the book of Ruth are influenced by Richard Bauckham's Gospel Women (2002).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

a pastoral concern

This morning at the office we got a visit from one of our old Bible School leaders. Up to this point in our time in Mthatha, we've worked more closely with this man than any other individual in the Bible School. Recently, however, he resigned from our Committee citing age and fatigue. According to newer members of our Committee, however, the real reason is that he is finally being called to account on some advantages that he has taken over the years at others' expense and has no answer for the allegations.

We have been happy to see new faces on our Committee in leadership positions. At the same time, we have built up relationships with older members such as this man and care for them a great deal. By the end of our first year here, in 2006, it was already becoming clear to us that we did not agree with the spiritual orientation of this leader; his life was still ordered around appeasing his ancestors when they made demands upon him through his dreams.

Today he shared with us the latest occurrence of this reality in his life. His daughter, a professional young woman in Johannesburg, has fallen gravely ill. She has come home to the Transkei in order to rest and deal with the sickness. We suspect, because it is so common, that his daughter has HIV. However, the daughter has also received visitations from her deceased grandmother and grandfather. The family response, then, is this: slaughter an animal for the ancestor and serve its meat as a feast in his or her honor. The logic is that the woman has fallen ill because someone in the family has violated the moral order for which the ancestor, as guardian of the family, is responsible. The ancestor's visit then is interpreted as a warning to put things right with him or her in order to stave off even greater calamity. The usual prescribed method for making right is via sacrifice. So the family will spend a lot of money to pull off this feast. This is why, the old man was telling us, he was still unable to give us the money for the Bibles he took from the school's office last year; he was here to assure us that he had not forgotten. Coincidentally, this taking of Bibles from the office, which was known by another member of our Committee, was one of the grievances the new leadership had recently levied against this man.

This old man has been on my heart all week. I know that there is a conflict underway between him and the current Committee. I believe in the vision of our current Committee; I am also fond of the old man for the relationship we have forged over three years. My prayer has been that the new Committee could clear up past confusion in the school caused by the old man's leadership without humiliating him publicly before the student body. The Committee is planning something of a reckoning in less than two weeks on the Friday of the next Mthatha Bible conference. Today, the old man was all but telling us he would not be present then, citing the family issue named above.

I was relieved to have this exchange today. It was warm. We listened sympathetically to his stories. We prayed together for him, his daughter, his family. So far, our commitment to support the current Committee has not soured our relationship with this old man.

Still, I am grieved for my friend as a friend. I wish for him the courage to trust fully in Christ, our human brother, the Ancestor of us all, the one who asks nothing more of us than that we follow him. I wish for him to know that the blood of bulls and goats cannot cleanse the moral impurities of this world. I wish him to know that the sacrifice of Christ, the way of the cross, is the way of confronting directly the pain of this world, the courage to face the hard facts of his daughter's illness and seek the things that truly heal and make for peace.

-Joe

Saturday, July 25, 2009

a weekend Bible conference

Lots of warm greetings are shared on Friday evening.
A program of introductions and exhortations of one kind or another takes place on Friday night after supper.
Our boys play with their friend Siyanda, who lives on the grounds at the venue, at every Mthatha conference.
Dancing while singing, a favorite activity
An impromptu meeting of the BBS Committee on Friday night. We all squeezed into one member's room.
Almost ready to begin teaching on Saturday morning.
Nomantombi with Saturday lunch: samp and beans, rice, cooked cabbage, potatoes, and stewing beef.
a view on the proceedings
small group Bible study and discussion. This day's text was Revelation 5.
synchronized interpretation
more dancing in thankfulness for what God has done on this day

Thanks to Ryan Miller of Mennonite Mission Network for capturing these great images from Bethany Bible School last May!

Monday, July 13, 2009

natural miracles


We just returned from ten days traveling with our guests, Anna's parents, in the next province over, KwaZulu-Natal. We stayed in St. Lucia, a lovely little village set on a lake which features over 1,000 hippos and 3,000 crocodiles. Just minutes outside the town is Isimangaliso Wetland Park.

Isimangaliso is a Zulu word meaning wonders or miracles (the same word exists in Xhosa with only the minor difference of a prefix, imi- instead of isi-). In English, we often speak of natural "wonders". Natural "miracles", however, is an oxymoron; "miracles" is something that has been relegated to the supernatural realm.

As the indigenous southern African languages point out, that separation in common English usage is artificial. The natural world is both "wonderful" and "miraculous". It also is God's world. God is not confined to a separate "supernatural" world, something humans have constructed in order to shut out the everyday "interference" of God in their lives. The "natural" and the "supernatural" are the same world.

The relevant distinction is not between "natural" and supernatural", but between Creator and created. God interacts with the world God has created--sometimes in ways beyond our expectations, sometimes in line with them. We may call this unexpected goodness "supernatural", but really it is simply "wonderful". We may call expected goodness "natural"; it too is simply "wonderful."

In Christian perspective, the event of unexpected goodness is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. To us it seems truly out-of-the-ordinary, extraordinary; we do not know humans to rise from the dead. On the other hand, the resurrection, that end-of-life event, is no more miraculous than conception/pregnancy/birth, that beginning-of-life event. Justin Martyr, the great Christian apologist of the second century, explicitly made the comparison. Reflecting the ancient view that the human being to be was contained in the sperm or "seed", he argued for the reality of the resurrection on the basis of the reality of life's beginnings.

"And then they who observe things can see how men are generated one by another, and can marvel in a still greater degree that from a little drop of moisture so grand a living creature is formed. And certainly if this were only recorded in a promise, and not seen accomplished, this too would be much more incredible than the other; but it is rendered more credible by accomplishment."

Indeed, the difference in "credibility" according to human wisdom between the miracle of birth and the miracle of resurrection consists in frequency of occurrence; we are accustomed to birth, not to resurrection. The scriptures too admit this. Jesus is the "firstborn from the dead" (note the confluence of birth and resurrection in the title), the "first fruits" of a harvest still to come (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5; 1 Cor. 15:23).

As Paul said, "we do not hope for what is seen, but for what is unseen" (Rom. 8:24-25). But true hope in things unseen should produce delight in things seen.

-Joe

Sunday, June 28, 2009

rainy-day musings

Today we had church at home with our visitors, Anna's parents, because the service we were supposed to attend was canceled due to the weather. It is cold, windy, and raining. On the phone, the pastor told me that he didn't think anyone would show up on this morning.

This sort of thing brings up a number of issues in my mind. For one, the church could have had their little roof sealed long ago. It is not a question of money; it is a question of priorities in spending available money. At this point, the church has chosen to spend on festivals and funerals. At some point, they may decide that having a dependable structure is part of the sustainability of a worshiping community. They do desire both things--to have a better meeting space and to celebrate the special events of a community's life; yet, when pressed, they are unable to resist certain cultural expectations in the immediate in favor of considerations for the future. This is difficult. For many years, many North Americans have been spared of having to choose between these polarities. Perhaps the economic downturn has exposed that life everywhere still entails these decisions.

Second, it is up to the local church to make these decisions. Western money has often been used in places such as Mthatha to build structures for local worshiping communities. This money precludes the local church from developing the decision-making capacity they need in order for long-term survival. This money may make the church seem to spring up in the immediate, but it impedes their ability to thrive in the long-term.

In this sense, then, foreign money is less related (at least positively) to local church realities than some of us might assume. In the west, we sometimes discuss within the local congregation the morality of adding on to our current worship structure or building a new one. This is a good debate. However, arguments against building on the grounds of moral considerations are often fueled by comparisons with the church in the majority world. How can we build when what we have is already far more than others do not?

I would suggest that standards for local church buildings should be considered within the means of the local church community. Don't build a building that your congregation cannot afford. Don't go into debt. One author suggests that it is not wise to build a building for the church that is more extravagant than the homes that the majority of its members live in. A church building should serve the needs of communities. If the building itself becomes an impediment to worship, to service, to the simple act of meeting together on a consistent basis, it is time to make a change.

Of course, the local church is also not on its own--it is part of the global church. But what we assume is good for the global church may not in reality be. The local church everywhere has to decide what is good for itself under the scrutiny of the gospel. As communities of the gospel, northern churches can impact or inform the decision-making processes of southern churches, and visa versa. This is, in fact, both inevitable and an obligation. Yet it is our obligation not to put a "stumbling block" in anyone's path on our way toward realizing our full freedom in Christ.

-Joe

Thursday, June 18, 2009

this week's funeral

We spent Saturday at a funeral. We had not been to a funeral for several months but could have availed ourselves of an opportunity to attend one each weekend. A lot of people are dying. Most of this is a result of AIDS. At some of these funerals, the underlying cause of death is revealed. At others, it is not.

This time a woman from our church had lost her child. She had told me she was pregnant at an Easter service, brought her baby to the church to be blessed by the pastors which included us, and spoke to me frequently of her concern for the child because of his eczema. But now, at one year, he had cried in the night, breathed funny, and died. Just like that. Maybe meningitis, maybe an asthma attack. She will probably never know.

The funeral followed the form of all others. When we arrived, the women of the household were sitting on the floor in a rondavel with the coffin (in this case a heartbreakingly small one). Each group of entering visitors went around the circle shaking hands, then started a song which everyone joined. One from the group prayed aloud and greetings were exchanged around the room.

After several hours of this, everyone exited the rondavel and with the coffin and proceeded down the hill to the tent where the service would be held. Amid singing and praying, friends and family members spoke, with one person given the special task of explaining the history of the illness. In this case there was not the usual platform for promotion of causes as this child had not participated in any of the things usually promoted--ANC or another party, organisations and leagues, etc...

At this funeral, Joe was pronounced the lead preacher with our pastor translating in such a fluid and dynamic way that they appeared to be thinking the same thoughts. He preached on the resurrection and the place of the deceased in the 'arms of a loving God.' This is important. This child is not now a restless spirit whom the living must appease but has been fully received by a loving God and will one day be with us in the resurrection.

We sang again and the coffin was carried through a parched field to a hole. Our pastor read from 1 Corinthians 15, the coffin was placed in the hole, and family members took turns putting dirt over it.

On the way out of the field there were basins of water in which to wash our hands. We were directed into the rondavel in which all visitors from Mthatha were to eat. Young women served us plates of mutton, samp and beans, beetroot, and potatoes. We had now been there for 5 hours and the cold Coke that was brought out after the salty meal tasted incredible.

At this point, normally everyone makes their exit. But for some reason, on this day, everyone went back into the rondavel where the female family members had begun the day and probably spent the night before. We did another round of handshaking and singing and an old pastor prayed. And then someone began a joyful, joyful song. The mother of the deceased child was smiling and the feeling of a burden lifted was palpable.

This mother will have to go back to her house in town and learn to live every day without her son but, on that day, our purpose had been fulfilled. By sharing her pain, the gathered people had allowed her to smile, even if just for a minute.

--anna

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

good books

We highly recommend the book Three Letter Plague by Johnny Steinberg. I think that in America it is called Sizwe's Test. The book does an excellent job of bringing out the complexities of the AIDS crisis in this part of the world and showing why our scientific solutions are just not enough.

The main action takes place about an hour from where we live and many of the things affecting the people's lives are similar to those that we hear about from people in our Bible school.

It would be a great book to read and discuss in groups or for a small group or Sunday school class to study together. We'd love to discuss it with anyone interested.

--anna

Monday, June 8, 2009

would you rather?

Sometimes we wonder what our kids think of us and what we do. And sometimes we find out.

One day we were driving home from the beach with our Botswana friend and colleague Melanie Quinn. We were playing a game of Would you rather? Would you rather eat apples or oranges? Would you rather run or ride a bike? You get the idea.

We were driving behind a very smoky and rusty bus. It was Isaac's turn.

Isaac: Would you rather drive that nasty old bus or be a pastor?

Enough said.

--anna

Friday, May 29, 2009

four whole years

Moses celebrated his fourth birthday this week--our second born, our VBAC, our talker. He's just distinctly Moses in every way.




In the morning, he opened presents (with a lot of help from Isaac) from family, including this set of living room furniture
for their playhouse from grandma and grandpa maya.















Moses took a cake to school to share with his class.





























His teacher, Titsha Sibongile, helped him cut it.




















After school, some of the boys' friends from the neighbourhood came over and we played Pin the Tail on the Zebra.
Moses and Bayanda take their turns in these pictures.














We broke a not-yet-dry-pinata. Only two heads got accidentally bashed in the process. And we removed the blindfold and stopped spinning the kids when we moved to using the aluminium bat.

Jesse came over and made them all dizzy by having them spin around a bat.

















Moses was pretty tired (and getting cranky) by the time the cake came out but he managed to get those candles eventually.



















And just for good measure--here are all three boys.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Xhosa-inspired Bread

People all over the world have ingenious ways to make bread without an evenly-baking oven--tortillas, naan, cornbread in a skillet, to name a few. The Xhosa have two kinds of bread made in a pot over a fire or over a paraffin heater.

One is a bread baked in a covered cooking pot and flipped part way through cooking. I absolutely cannot make this bread without burning the outside and leaving a doughy centre. But done right it has a soft centre and a beautifully chewy crust.

The other common kind of bread is steam bread. The risen bread dough is put in a plastic bag (traditionally in tightly wrapped banana leaves or a clay bowl) and placed in a covered pot over a few inches of boiling water. There it is steamed for about an hour. The end product is a moist, chewy bread with a soft crust.

But the revolutionary thing about Xhosa bread-making for me is the consistency of the dough. I was taught to make bread with just enough water to bind it but dry enough to turn it out and knead it. If it began to stick during the kneading, I added more flour. The Xhosa make a very, very watery dough. Kneading is done in the mixing bowl and leaves the hands very sticky.

This change in process has made the difference for me between making bread twice a year and making all of our bread. The dough is easier to knead and requires less of it. It also uses less yeast and rises really well. There is no salt used and I am afraid to try adding it as I am afraid it would reduce the excessive rising. Here is my attempt at a recipe, adding ingredients like oatmeal which the Xhosa would not use and baked in bread pans in the oven. Times and numbers are very approximate but I find that this bread is hard to mess up.

8 c. whole wheat flour
5 c. white flour
2 c. oatmeal
1/4 c. sugar
1T. yeast

Mix all ingredients. Pour several cups of water over and mix with a wooden spoon. Add more water and keep mixing. Add more water and move to mixing with hands. Stop adding water when dough is a medium thick paste. Knead (squish around in bowl with your hands) for several minutes. Pour into a large, greased bucket or pot to rise. Dough will triple so be sure your receptacle is big enough.

Rise for 1 - 2 hours. Punch down and pour into well greased bread pans, 2/3rds filled. Let rise while oven heats to 350F/180C degrees. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

If you want to try steaming the bread--follow directions up to the point of putting in bread pans. Instead, find a plastic grocery bag with no holes (put in some water to test). Pour dough into bag and tie top tightly. Boil 3 inches of water in a pot large enough to hold your grocery bag. Put a plate or baking pan in the bottom of the pot to keep the bread off the heat. When water boils, place bag in the pot with bottom down. Turn heat down to a simmer and leave for 45 minutes - one hour. Open pot a few times and add water if level drops below an inch.

Test bread by opening and looking for non-doughiness on outside. This indicates doneness. This method is really hard to mess up as oversteaming is not a big deal and does not leave bread dry or burned. When in doubt, keep steaming.

--anna

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

dog days

We were reminded again today of the tortured relationship people in this country have with dogs. Our first experience of this phenomenon occurred back in 2006.

We were on vacation near a game park in our province, Eastern Cape, staying at a lovely guesthouse on a large citrus farm. One day, we decided to take a walk around the premises. One of the farm dogs accompanied us. As we passed by a farm worker, a Xhosa man, the good-natured dog suddenly turned into a snarling beast, yapping at the man while guarding us. It was an awkward moment, and one which would be repeated once or twice more that same day. We came away appalled by the phenomenon of what we called “racist dogs”, undoubtedly reflective of the training of their owners.

We also have a dog, having acquired her from the time she was six weeks old. Marley (named after the children's book, not the movie), is good-natured, loyal, and gentle with our children. She also barks incessantly at visitors—in particular, though not exclusively, at black South Africans.

Today, as we opened our gate to leave for school and work, Marley dashed out. At precisely the same moment, a local domestic worker, a Xhosa woman, was passing by. True to form, Marley pulled up a few feet away from the woman, barking. True to the pattern, the woman began to shriek and make flailing, defensive motions with her arms, which, of course, only intensified Marley's response. She quickly returned when we called her.

The scenario is maddening. We're sick of the seemingly inbred color-consciousness of South African dogs. We're also annoyed by people's (sometimes near-phobic) reactions to our dog, knowing that if they would remain calm and suppress their defensive, and to a dog's eyes, threatening, posture, Marley will back off.

Today, I called our pastor. “I am fine,” he said, “except that two weeks ago, I was bitten by a dog. I didn't take it seriously, and now I am sick. I'm at the clinic getting some injections.”

I don't know the whole context. And, once I witnessed the pastor's three-year old son whipping a mangy, rural mutt for sport. Clearly, there exists a tortured relationship in this country between people and dogs. But perhaps this latest bite is one further reminder of the lingering brutality of a deeply racist past.

-Joe

Monday, May 11, 2009

two kisses

At our May teaching in Mthatha on the History of Christianity, I elaborated on the early Christian practice, also attested in the New Testament, of "the holy kiss." My point was as follows.

In the Roman society in which the early church grew up, people greeted one another with a kiss. The kiss, however, was exchanged only within social boundaries--not across them. Consequently, when members of the church, drawn from "Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female," began to exchange the kiss as a sign of their unity in Christ, they drew the ire of their pagan contemporaries.

This is all interesting in and of itself, but that is not my point for the present.

One of Bethany Bible School's most inquisitive students wanted to know what "the holy kiss" had to do with Absalom's kiss (2 Samuel 15).

"Did you even know that there was such a kiss?" a visiting North American friend asked me later that evening.

I hadn't.

She went on to say that, when she and her husband, former missionaries in West Africa, reported on Africans' propensity for knowing portions of the Bible obscure to many western readers, some North American supporters "wondered what [they] were there for." The Africans, after all, knew their Bibles better than the westerners.

In one sense, yes. Her husband, however, had responded, "I think I am there to give some perspective."

I would view my job, as an American whom South Africans call "Teacher", in exactly the same way. Though many of my students are more likely to know than me that Absalom had a kiss, they are less likely to know what that kiss, if anything, has to do with other parts of the Story we call the Bible.

Hence, the student's question. I had been talking about, aside from the few references at the end of certain of Paul's letters, post-biblical material. The student heard about the "kiss" and thought of Absalom (I might point out here that he did not even think of Judas). His associations were free, unbound by time (of which elapsed more than 1000 years, between Absalom and the early church), or text (Old vs. New Testament or even second and third-century CE writings from the Graeco-Roman world).

Did he even know (and this is not ridicule!) that, at least in the sense of time, it is impossible that "the holy kiss" and "Absalom's" were one?

I take such a distinction for granted. As a result, I look to answer the question by finding out what the purpose behind the respective kisses was; only then can I compare them.

Another student, however, simply chose as his answer the simple narrative facts: "Absalom was using that kiss to overthrow his father. [Therefore] that kiss has nothing to do with ["the holy kiss"]." Case closed.

Still, I had to add: "Yes . . . Absalom used his kiss for the purpose of betrayal, the early Christians used theirs for love."

-Joe

Friday, April 17, 2009

Easter Sunday

Easter this year involved less work for us than in previous years. Levi was still recovering from a major illness and we had also found ourselves burned-out and not prepared to minister to others. We attended a local church at which we had no responsibilities and spent the day as a family, with some friends over for dinner.

The boys were semi-shocked to find chocolate for breakfast on Easter morning.


Isaac prepared himself for church.


Levi looked healthy again and wouldn't let go of his chocolate.


One of the things about being strangers in a strange land is the automatic connection you have with other foreigners, merely by virtue of your common outsider-ness. Be they Scottish, Malawian, or Pakistani there is a feeling of shared experience. We ate Easter dinner with our friend Jesse, an American/Canadian who has been in Mthatha for almost two years and 2 Scottish, 2 German, and 1 Austrian volunteer. After dinner, Joe and Jesse played music for us.


Moses and Laura took a lot of pictures together.


--anna

Thursday, April 16, 2009

institutional loyalty

In March, we met with the Bethany Bible School executive committee in order to discuss the future of the school. The school meets four times a year in Mthatha (a central location) and three times a year we also travel to four 'branches' in more rural areas.

However, the numbers at these branches have not been good and we were asking the committee to consider other ways to use the time and money that we currently spend in that travel. Or to rethink the ways in which those branches are done, how they can reach out to more people. The discussion was very painful as it continually came back to more commitments to try harder at doing the same old thing.

At one point the former chairperson named the underlying issue: "we are afraid that the school will close down and that is why we pretend that we don't see these that these numbers are not good."

We have observed this institutional loyalty in institutions in America and elsewhere; we hold tight to the institutions that are important to us as if they, and not the Kingdom of God whose purpose they are supposed to serve, are life itself.

--anna

Saturday, April 11, 2009

family vacation


Unwinding in the jacuzzi after a day of unwinding on the beach. We stayed at a backpackers on Umzumbe beach. Backpackers are low-budget accommodations, a step below B & Bs, which are a step below hotels. Backpackers are frequented primarily by single, young-adults from Europe and America sightseeing across South Africa. If you don't mind a little extra noise (from the bar--this one was quite tame) no-frills accommodation, and sharing a kitchen (this can be the most annoying part when others leave a stack of dirty dishes), they are a good value for price. Most backpackers that we have lodged at serve tasty evening meals; this one was no exception.



One day, we took a trip inland to a private game reserve, Lake Eland park. It features a long suspension bridge across a deep gorge. Moses was unfazed. The rest of us also did fine, although I (Joe) had to fight not to let my mind get the best of me.


This was the typical day: the boys playing for hours on the beach, especially in the tide pools.


burying Moses in the sand