Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"so that the Son of God may be glorified through it"

On Saturday, 21 August, we went with three members of our committee from Bethany Bible School to visit our chairperson and his family at their rural homestead. A few weeks ago, and just before the August BBS conference, one of the committee members phoned to say that the chairperson was "seriously ill" and hospitalized in Mt. Ayliff, the town nearest him (about 130 km from Mthatha). We could not go at the time, though we felt that we should visit him. Later, we received another phone call reporting that he had recovered and was back home, though not well enough yet to attend BBS. Having missed him at the conference, we set out with representatives from the committee to visit him. On that visit, we learned the story of his illness and recovery.

The chairperson, who has diabetes, had passed out, or perhaps died, one day at home. Finding him motionless, his wife began to sing and praise God. In the course of time he revived, after which an ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital. As his wife worshiped in this world, the chairperson, according to his testimony, experienced another. While blacked out, he felt like he was rolling, as if "in a barrel". Then he saw "God with his angels" who told him to "go back" to "finish his work".

In anticipation of our visit, a number of friends and church members had gathered to thank God for bringing the man back to life. "Today salvation has come to this house," said one of the pastors there. Another woman, taking her word from 2 Chronicles 20:15, said, "Do not fear; the battle is not yours but God's". I shared the words of Jesus upon hearing of his friend Lazarus's serious illness: "This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it" (Jn. 11:4).

Indeed, Jesus' words contain great explanatory power for the experience of our chairperson's illness and recovery; not unlike Lazarus, though dead for awhile, he lived again through the power of God. More importantly, his death-not-unto-death, his life restored, was not for its own sake but "to the glory of God". His "coming back" was for him and his entire household, for those gathered together on that day--and now for us--a confirmation of faith in the God who saves, a revelation of the God who does not "give his glory to any other" (Isa 48:11).

There are other glories, other powers, other gods, on whom the people might have called. They called on the living God--and were saved.


Thursday, August 19, 2010


We got an email in May asking us whether we would like to have a nanny for a few months. Well, how could we say no to that? 2010 has been frustrating for me (Anna) with a baby and a two year old and no place to house the Mennonite household helper of the past 30 years. So this email was an answer to prayer in many ways. We did not yet know in how many ways.

Erica Yoder comes from Clinton Frame Mennonite Church, one of our supporting congregations, and her parents have been long time supporters of mission. She is 21 years old and at a cross roads in her life. She arrived in Mthatha on the 20th of July to stay for two months.

Erica has more than fulfilled all of our hopes for her. In addition to reading to Levi, talking with Moses, doing homework with Isaac, and playing with Jesse, she has gotten involved in the youth group at our little church, befriended our friends, attended Bible study, and generally launched herself into life in Mthatha.

Here are some pictures of Erica pursuing life to its fullest.

Our friend Sim put extensions in Erica's hair. It took two full days but the result has been well worth it. She looks great and everyone turns to see the white girl with extensions.

Erica practiced putting a baby on her back with Levi who is less likely to throw himself off than Jesse is.

Erica and Jesse.

Erica with our pastors, the Ntapos.

At church in Mthatha with Mama Ntapo (right) and some members of a visiting congregation.


Erica and other members of the Harvest Time Ministries Youth Group singing in De Aar.


American old-time religion, South African style

In our last post, I spoke of "coming home" in the Northern Cape to the "old-time religion" of the United States. The videos below contain the most striking example of that from the weekend. This group of young men is called The Friends, and they have an incredible sound.




Wednesday, August 18, 2010

many peoples, one faith: northern cape, part II

After four years of trying to understand the Xhosa-speaking segment of South African culture, the last few months in particular have broadened our perspective on this beautiful and diverse nation. For one weekend last April, and again last weekend, we basked in the glow of the spirituality and hospitality of churches in the Northern Cape Province. The purpose of these visits was to provide teaching on the Anabaptist-Mennonite way of understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ to two interested communities—Grace Community Church (with congregations in Philipstown, Cradock, and Colesburg) and New Beginnings Church in De Aar. In April we met in Philipstown; last weekend we were hosted by the good people of De Aar. Adding to our diversity, a delegation from Harvest Time Ministries, our church home here in Mthatha—and an aspiring Mennonite congregation—also attended.

The weekend was, for us, exceedingly rich—even a homecoming of sorts. By living in Mthatha, I have incorporated many songs and choruses in isiXhosa into my spiritual repertoire. In De Aar, I was surprised, and pleasantly so, to find elements of what in America we might call “the old-time religion.” Our beautiful hosts, David and Lolo Vena, like to listen to, among other things, American southern gospel (Gaither Vocal Band) in their home. Although I find my orientation more in the old gospel hymns of my grandfather and bluegrass music, cousins of southern gospel, to hear it in their home was to feel as though a special place had been prepared just for me. Far beyond that, we enjoyed good conversation, whether over tea, watching soccer, or preparing meals together. Another precious highlight of the entire weekend was the instant companionship our boys found with their two sons, Monde and Sihle.

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The worship services in New Beginnings were a true reflection of the rainbow nation. We moved seamlessly between songs in Sotho, Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans, and English. Dances unique to each tradition punctuated the songs. In my parting words on Sunday morning, I likened the whole experience to being in the midst of “those who have come through the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb” (Rev. 7:13). The message of the vision, of course, is that only the robes of the redeemed are white, the moral purity of the people through the life and Spirit of Jesus; their distinctive colors, languages, and expressions remain. In her parting words, one of the leaders of New Beginnings reminisced about being part of a government-led initiative for diversity in the public school system in 2001. She saw for the first time that goal, that unity-in-diversity, fulfilled—on this weekend, in the church.

At this point, I will not go on to describe more about the specific sessions led, lessons learned, wisdom gleaned. I do want to share some pictures of the weekend. Enjoy.

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The Venas and the Sawatzkys

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The Mthatha contingent (L to R)—Erica Yoder (our guest from Indiana for July-Sept.), Andisiwe (youth from Harvest Time), Pastor Ntapo, Mama Ntapo, Mama Cule and Shalom (on back), Joe, Anna (with Jesse on her back but out of the photo), Sis Nandi (foreground).

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Jesse with the daughter of Pastor Coetzee from GCC-Cradock.

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Andisiwe and Erica have become good friends. Erica has been attending youth gatherings with Harvest Time.

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For the evening meal we would gather at the home of the pastors of New Beginnings, Gerald and Carmen Mulenga. At left are the Coetzees from GCC-Cradock. Seated in front of the fireplace are Andrew and Karen Suderman, MC Canada Witness workers from Pietermaritzburg.

All in all, this was one of the greatest weekends we have had in South Africa.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

baby wearing Xhosa style

I have been asked many times how to put a baby on my back the way it is done here in kwaXhosa. It is a great method that you can do with any big towel or heavy blanket. Even older kids like to ride this way when they need attention and you have something else to do. Here is a little tutorial video. The same Jesse who was fussy in this video was asleep within minutes.
This is for you Alicia.



Monday, August 2, 2010

true church growth

We recently encouraged our pastor to write an entry for the website of the Anabaptist Network in South Africa.  His perspective on church growth is swimming against the tide in the vast sea of Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity in South Africa.