Wednesday, January 28, 2009

that's life

Our colleague Dan Nighswander once wondered how our reports and letters would look if we catalogued how we use all of our time - how many hours per month on financial reports, how many hours on other documentation, how many hours in lines, etc..?

Today has been one of those days. After dropping Isaac at school, we spent an hour and a half at the post office, an hour at the bank, and some time in transit between these things. Now I am at the office and Joe is meeting a pastor in town. But things change quickly in this place and the next three hours could be a lot more interesting than we want them to be.

-anna

Thursday, January 22, 2009

discernment

The day after hearing that we were to be evicted, we met with a group of people from our little church. We asked them to pray for us. They asked: "must we find you a new place to live?" We told them: "even in Mandela Park." Mandela Park is the location in which the church is situated and all of the families live. It is a former informal settlement. We had believed that this eviction was God's call to us to do something new and drastic. Maybe we could move to a rural area. Maybe we would move in among our friends from church.

The next day the church met in town to take all of the kids to the beach for the day. When we arrived they announced that they had found us a place to live. There was a house available next door to the daughter and son-in-law of one of the members. We went to see it that day. It was in the area of Mthatha that I had declared was the last place I would ever live due to its being far from town and seemingly very middle class. The previous tenants had been heavy smokers. There seemed to be no other children out playing. It was far from ideal and I was disappointed. It didn't seem like something new, it seemed like a lot of work to move somewhere that wasn't much different from where we were.

So we went back to the church. We told them that we really did want to live with them and asked would they allow us to. The pastor responded. He thanked us for this willingness and said: "because of our love for you we will not allow you to do this thing. The crime of this place is something that we of this culture must bear. We will not allow you to carry this burden." And so we moved to Southridge Park.

We don't yet know why we are there but there is great peace in knowing that we made the decision with prayer and with our church and we know that God has a reason for us to be there. We live in anticipation of the revealing of this purpose and in gratitude.

Pastor and Mama Ntapo in front of the church in Mandela Park

provision

During Advent we had family worship services every evening. We used the Jesse Tree model in which we told the story of the people of God, leading up the birth of Christ. For each story we made a symbol that was put on a tree. The boys could look at each symbol and tell many details from the story as well as draw some meaning from it. This was a great joy to their parents.

We told the boys of creation.

The next night we told the story of the Tower of Babel. We said that the people had been scattered because they wanted to be greater than God and they were trying to put their security in buildings.

The next night we told of Abraham and Sarah. It is a such a beautiful follow-up to Babel. They go far from their people and live in tents and yet they are secure because their faith is in God.

The next morning we got the letter saying that we had to move out of our house, to be homeless strangers in a strange land.

What was God doing to us? Did we really have to reenact the Biblical story in our own lives? Did we have to be taken up on our words about putting our faith in God and not in buildings?

That night we had planned to tell the story of the binding of Isaac. It was a moment that I had anticipated from the time of naming our oldest son Isaac. I knew that we would have to tell the story and had to come to terms with the story myself. Did we really have to tell it on the night when we also had to tell our Isaac that he had to move away from the place where his best friend lived and where he had security? Did we have to sacrifice our sons for this call of ours?

We told the story. God provided. God really provided. The boys hung a fuzzy sheep on the Jesse Tree to symbolize God's provision. And so we too were provided for and Isaac and Moses and Levi have thrived in the move and are as happy as ever.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

eviction

We had never been evicted until last month. We knew that our landlord did not like us. She had made various comments that implied as much. One time when I (Anna) was walking with 11-month old Moses on my back, she stopped me to ask was I not uncomfortable. I told her that I was not uncomfortable at all and pointed out that "everyone does it this way." She responded with: "well, I know they do it that way, but what about you?"

She also objected to us having chickens, to who our children played with, to the fact that our household helper stood up for herself and did not allow herself to be bullied. We should have seen the writing on the wall but didn't think that she could act on this kind of whim.

But she could.

And she did.

She intended to send us a letter informing us that she would not renew our lease and that we had to move out and never see us again but we insisted on a face to face meeting. She ensured that her lawyer was present at this meeting, lending herself legal credibility in the absence of moral credibility. In the course of discussing our options for moving, the lawyer said that most rentals were available through private dealers and "you don't move in those circles." This seemed to us like the true reason for our eviction. Somehow we had not courted the right favour, moved in the right circles, been proper enough. If we have harmed somebody, then we ask for forgiveness. But if these are the reasons, then we do not repent. If these are the reasons, then we have been effective missionaries.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"priorities"

Last week I went to Steers, a popular fast-food joint here in South Africa, to pick up some burgers for the family. When I got to the gas-station complex, there were several huge passenger buses. They were returning from the ANC's much-publicized rally that day in East London, a three-hour drive down the national highway from Mthatha. There were many people sporting bright yellow t-shirts with ANC president and national presidential candidate Jacob Zuma on the front, and the "ANC priorities" on the back.

I was probably already irritable because of the move to a new house we had just undertaken on that day (another story), but seeing these "priorities" really set me off. Where have these "priorities" been for the past 14 years (since freedom from the apartheid regime)?

Absent from this list of priorities was anything like "strengthening the military" or "building up the defense force". This might seem a good thing if it is at all likely that the ruling party will indeed forsake these unnamed "priorities" for their proposed ones. According to the brief historical record, however, the ANC government quickly subordinated a commitment to "priorities" such as rural development, education, and jobs for all to continue in the apartheid regime's pattern of massive defense expenditure.

Mark Gevisser, former president Thabo Mbeki's biographer, has posited that the ANC prioritized the military buildup in the early days of the democracy because the politicians were in part fearful of the military leaders. In exchange for loyalty and to avoid the potential rebellion of an unruly lot, the leaders of the party bowed to the military's demand to maintain/upgrade the strength of the force. This they did, for example, by purchasing costly German-made bombers, in what has come to be known in the South African press simply as "the arms deal." It is alleged that many key leaders, Mbeki and Zuma included, took bribes from the arms manufacturer in order to accept its tender over other competitors. Aside from any technical "corruption", however, the priority of arms over policies of human upliftment remains truly bankrupt.

It is also a lesson for us as we hope to see change in the administration of a nation. Though we refer to the American president, for example, as "the most powerful person in the world," there are other forces at work--forces which seek to co-opt and enslave people of high ideals and character.

It is a lesson which affirms the path of Christ who, when tempted to take power over all the kingdoms of the world, rejected the offer of the evil one to whom they had been given.

We also do well to truly remember Dr. King on this, the occasion of the holiday in his honor: a pastor who mobilized the power of people through "faith in the God who judges justly" (1 Pet. 2:23), not a commander-in-chief.

-Joe