Monday, July 05, 2016

It’s a low-activity rest & recovery day, but I have a couple of things to get done in the morning. The first is to take Beth and Rachelle to the airport. I tap lightly on the house door at 7, and they’re waiting inside, packed, organized, ready to go. When you run a children’s home, you learn to be organized. We put the luggage in the back of the van and head for CPT. It’s just a 15-minute drive, and traffic is light, partly because these days the schools are on holiday.

At the curb, we get all their luggage onto a single cart and say our goodbyes. I think they’ve had a good time of refreshment here. That was certainly my goal.

On the way home I stop by a doctor’s office in Kuilsrivier to be sure I know where he is. One of the Crew is showing possible early signs of bronchitis, and we want to get right on that. Cathy Payne, who is a nurse, has confirmed our suspicions and suggested a doctor near the house who accepts walk-ins. I find his place and see that he opens at 9. Good. We’ll be here right then.

And we are. Patient X signs in, and we wait a little more than an hour. This waiting room has awesome magazines, by the way. Soon our name is called, and I wait while The Patient sees the doctor. In less than 20 minutes they’re done, and the doctor comes out to talk. He’s young and friendly, and very positive about what he’s heard about why we’re here. He tells us where the pharmacy is and sends us on our way.

The bill is less than $25.

We drive across the street to pick up 4 separate medications. The counter clerk is friendly and full of information, explaining carefully the way each medication should be used.

The bill is less than $20.

I love this country.

Back to the house to find that Salvin has come by to take Jojo and Lora to the mall. Jojo wants a South African soccer jersey, and Lora wants to see if a shop there can help restore her iPhone, which was one of the victims of the rogue wave at Dias Beach.

The other girls emerge to get some breakfast and then disappear, I assume back to bed. At noon there’s been no word from Jonathan.

Good. Situation calm and stable. Just as we like it.

Jonathan wakes up at 1—says it’s the latest he’s ever slept in his life. Glad to see we’re expanding his horizons.

Jojo and Lora get back from the mall just in time for us all to leave for VBS at 1:30. It’s raining today, so we’ll put the Bible story and memory verse first and then move the chairs to the side of the church sanctuary and have the games inside. The children are pretty energetic today—no real room to run around—so it’s a struggle to keep them reasonably quiet while Rachael tells the story and Bethany teaches the memory verse.

After we get the games started, Bethany, Lora and I jump in the van with Kevin and drive 10 minutes over to the Macassar church, where they’re having a little program this afternoon that they’ve asked us to help with. About 20 children and maybe 10 homeless people show up, and we give them the Bible story and sing some songs with them for about half an hour; then the church gives them hot soup and bread. On this cold, rainy day, that’s a real treat.

We leave as the soup is being distributed, to get back to Eersterivier and pick up the rest of the team. There we find that Willa has been at work again, making hot soup and a kind of donut for the VBS workers. We all have some and then head back to the house for supper. At the mall this afternoon Salvin picked up a Gatsby—he’s crazy about them. It’s a sub, filled with meat and chips (i.e. French fries). This one’s about 6 feet long. Seriously. We cut it into 5-inch sections and heat up 8 of them. That takes care of about half of it; we’ll eat the rest for lunch tomorrow.

Nothing scheduled for tonight, intentionally. I announce that we’ll have devotions at 8, and everybody disappears, I assume to sleep. I turn on the TV, pull up a soccer game, climb under a quilt on the couch, and doze off myself.

For devos we talk about what we’ve learned in the churches here. They’re all in the same fellowship network, all in the same (Coloured South African) culture, but very different in personality and to some extent in practice. Some appear more outgoing as a body, while others seem more reserved. But they’re all characterized by quiet joy. They’re a wonderful part of the Body of Christ.

And we pray for needs among our friends here, for strength to finish well, for needs back home, for our sick ones.

We socialize until 10, when we all decide to call it quits. That’s how tired we are. But we’re OK, and we see our way clear to finishing what God has for us here.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Independence Day. Or, as it’s known here in South Africa, Monday. We’ll celebrate tonight; more on that later.

We’re up early to do a hike. At 7.45 am we leave for Silvermine, about an hour away, at the head of the peninsula. There are hiking trails there, one of which takes you to an overlook of Hout Bay that’s remarkable.

We meet Pastor Eric Graham, who showed the 2013 team and me the spot. Eric pastors the church in Northpine, one of those in the informal network here. The team first worked with him in 2007 and has been interacting regularly with him since. He’s an avid hiker, and we can tell we’re in trouble when he puts down his backpack and does some stretching before starting up the trail. Backpack? Stretching? We’re clearly out of our depth.

It’s a 2-hour hike with about 600 meters of altitude gain up to the overlook and back down. It’s more rigorous than the Cape hike by quite a bit. We split into 2 groups, one taking the gravel road with me—I’m concerned about the knee on irregular rocky trails—while Eric and most of the team take the trail.

The gravel road sounds easy. It’s easier than the trail, but not as easy as it sounds. It’s an unbroken uphill walk, much of it steep. We’re sweating fairly soon, and then we begin peeling off layers of clothing. My standard informal Cape Town uniform is a down vest over 4 corduroy shirts. The temperature rises quickly to 70 or higher, and soon I’m in just 1 shirt. The other 3 are tied around my waist, while the vest hangs from my belt. I look like a street person.

Near the ridgeline the trail rejoins the road, and the united group works along the crest to the overlook point.

I like to do this hike after Cape day, because when you’re watching the sunset from Chapman’s Peak Drive overlooking Hout Bay, you think you’re really high off the water. But from here, Chapman’s Peak Drive is a little ribbon of highway far below, and the overlook where we stood Saturday evening is barely discernible. We all get a lesson in relative perspective.

By the time we get back down to the parking lot, we’re in varying degrees of distress. I feel pretty good except for some soreness in the knee, but a couple of the Crew are pretty clearly dehydrated, and another has a foot problem that makes walking difficult. I assumed that folks would bring water; they didn’t. Next time I’m gonna hafta tell ‘em.

Time is a little tighter than we anticipated—we had to slow down because of the problems mentioned above—so I set the GPS for the VBS site and stop at the first drink vendor to get some bottled water and the South African equivalent of Gatorade. With everyone hydrating, we drive through town to a Burger King—yes, they have them here—to get a late lunch; we’re eating at 2 pm. Hope it doesn’t spoil our cookout tonight.

Yes, 2 pm. We’re late for VBS. We pull in at 2:15, and the locals have registration underway. Five of us jump into action, and Beth, who is the designated 2nd driver on the vehicle, takes Rachelle and the 2 dehydrated team members back to the house to get some rest.

The VBS goes well, even with the late start and the partial team. We start with games out in the yard, helped immensely by the spring-like weather. There are about 85 children by the time registration is complete.

Inside for songs, the Bible story, told by Rachael, and the memory verse, taught by Bethany. There are some glitches—a little girl throws up right in the middle of the Bible story—but the team performs outstandingly under quite a bit of stress.

The kids are all right.

After we send the children home at 4, one of the older ladies in the church, Willa, brings us each a sort of sloppy joe on fresh-made buns, and comments that it’s our Independence Day. The older ladies in this church are unusually kind and loving; I don’t usually hug women who aren’t family, but I make an exception for these. They’re saints.

Beth shows up with the others at 4:30, and we head for the nearest grocery store to get some mince (ground beef) for the 4th-of-July braai (cookout) scheduled for this evening at Tony’s house. All the Americans in our network are invited, as well as the Simpsons, who are our hosts for this week of VBS. The Grahams, the Knipes, Holly Gilbert, the Paynes—the whole group is here. I’m glad that the team has had a chance to meet this special group of people, and I’m especially glad that the Tanzania contingent has linked up with them as well.

We have burgers and dogs, cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans, and sodas (the locals call them cooldrinks)—a regular American picnic. Then we gather in the den to sing hymns and patriotic songs, including the first and last verses of the national anthem.

This is happening all around the world today. Enclaves of Americans in faraway places are gathering and acknowledging their unity as Americans. As believers, we’re also citizens of a higher country, of course, but respect for God’s providence and for His Word lead us to treasure our earthly citizenship as well. Even in a broken world, God is good, and His plans are accomplished.

The party breaks up around 9. We’re tired. Back at the house we meet briefly about tomorrow—the schedule’s stripped down to essentials, with lots of time for rest—and then have a circle of prayer for Beth and Rachelle, who are returning to Tumaini tomorrow. We hope that their days here have been refreshing, even though we know they’ve been tiring. Vacations can do that to you.

I think it’s safe to say that everyone would have gone to bed earlier tonight if that had been possible.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Last Sunday in Africa. We’re ministering at 2 churches we haven’t yet visited. This morning it’s Immanuel Baptist Church in Eersterivier. This is the first church Tony Payne planted, one where I preached on my first trip to Cape Town in 2000. It’s now pastored by Kevin Simpson, a Capetonian whom I’ve known for all that time. He’s 6’6”, and we like standing next to each other just for effect. This morning the team sings a special number and I preach. Since 2007, 4 BJU teams have ministered here, so we feel like old friends. It’s good to see them again, and the affection is warm and genuine.

After church we canvass the neighborhood, distributing fliers for this week’s Bible Club, which will be held here. Since it’s still before noon (church was at 9), most of the folks are in their churches, but that means the people we see in the neighborhood are probably unchurched, so that’s a good opportunity for targeted outreach. Beth, Rachelle, and I team up with Nicole and Leah, 2 girls from the church, and work through 2 or 3 blocks. We come across a group of boys perhaps 11 or 12 years old, sitting on a curb, trying desperately to be grownups. I invite them to Bible Club, and they laugh. Not for us. What would you be doing instead? Smoking. And they laugh again. Well (smiling), I certainly understand. Smoking is very interesting and important, isn’t it? I turn to one of the boys. Would you like to come? He looks sideways at his friends and declines. Listen, if you want to come, we would love to see you. Or you can sit here and smoke. That sounds really exciting. By the way, we’ll have candy.

We’ll see if any of the young tough guys show up.

The Simpsons have made lunch reservations at Skilpadvlei wine estate, a very nice vineyard and restaurant just east of Kuilsrivier. It’s a scenic spot, in the valley just west of the mountains. We get a table on the porch and enjoy the view and the fellowship. The food is delicious—I get hake and chips—and Kevin, Jojo, and I, who are sitting together at one end of the table, enjoy talking about the challenges of ministry here.

Back at the house we take naps and/or work on getting caught up with personal business. We meet Tony at his house at 5 for the 1-hour drive to Strand Baptist Church, over near Gordon’s Bay. It’s a joyous, cordial, interactive congregation where last year’s team ministered as well. Last year they had pudding (read “lots of desserts”) after church, and this year they do the same. The team does special music, and since their pastor is away this evening, I preach on the church’s responsibility to its pastor, and it seems well received. We get along famously.

And then there’s pudding. With homemade caramel custard. And lots of other stuff. Which they insist we try all of.

It’s glorious.

Have I mentioned this is a joyous church? It really is, and their joy is noticeable immediately.

It’s well after 8 when we pull ourselves away and head for home. In lesser beings the desserts would have ruined our supper, but we’re up to the challenge of pork chops and mac and cheese and green vegetables. A handful of the guys we’ve been working VBS with come by and join us, and we tell stories and laugh raucously until 11, when the Old Codger announces that we have an early morning and it’s time to shut down the festivities.

My late mother would be astonished that I said any such thing.

A brief meeting to discuss logistics for tomorrow, and the day is done. Good congregations, good fellowship. Varied personalities, varied opportunities. A fitting end to our Sundays in Africa.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

We gather at the house at 8 to leave at 8:30 for the Cape of Good Hope. I’ve told the crew that it’s my favorite place in the world, and now it’s time to deliver.

The weather is perfect: cloudless with the promise of 60+ degrees by afternoon. We head south through Philippi to the R-310 westward along the Strand. In places we’re driving right alongside the beach, reminiscent to me of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Soon enough we hit the cluster of towns right at the west end of the Strand: Muizenberg, Fish Hoek, and then Simon’s Town. I don’t plan to retire—what’s up with that?—but if I ever did, I’d think seriously about Simon’s Town. It’s a little harbor town with houses nestled up the face of the hill and lots of little shops along the main drag. We stop for coffee and then drive to Boulders Beach to see the African penguins, the only penguins indigenous to anyplace outside of Antarctica. Because they bray like a donkey, they used to be called Jackass penguins, but the naming folks decided a new name would be a good PR move. We stand on boardwalks overlooking the little beach and watch the penguins in their natural habitat, which appears to be watching people on boardwalks watch them.

Curiosity satisfied, we drive south to the Cape, which officially is part of Table Mountain National Park. There’s a reasonable entrance fee and then a drive of several kilometers through rugged sagebrush country, windswept and desolate except for the road itself. We park first at Cape Point, which is the eastern fork of the peninsula and is also much higher than the Cape itself. There are souvenir shops and a funicular railroad that takes you about halfway from the parking lot up to the lighthouse on the summit. Reserving my knee for the hike later in the day, I sit by the railroad top terminus as the rest of the crew hikes up to the lighthouse, from which the view is spectacular.

Then it’s a 20-minute hike to the stairs that go down to Dias Beach, a crescent nestled between Cape Point and the Cape itself. I give them the lecture about staying out of the water: it’s cold, of course, but more importantly, there are very dangerous rip currents here. Down 209 steps to a steeply inclined beach; it’s difficult not to run. I stop 30 feet or so from the water, and the rest of the Crew goes a little closer. I’m taking a photo of them from behind when a rogue wave jumps up and knocks them all down. And gets them all wet.

Well, that was entertaining. For me. But now they’re all wet.

We work our way over to the east end of the beach for the traditional groovy photo, and then I suggest we go further east to the rocks at that end of the beach. But for the first time on my visits here, we’re at high tide, and the waves are making transit a little tricky. I get across, with Bethany not far behind, and Jonathan and Lora soon after. But the others opt not to risk their lives.

With the high tide, the waves are crashing on the rocks with a force I’ve never seen before; the spray is high and violent; and the whitecaps extend almost without a break 100 meters or so out from the sand. It’s a brutally beautiful scene.

Back up the 209 steps. To my delight, my knee is handling the stress pretty well. I give the crew directions for hiking the rest of the way to the Cape itself; I have to walk back to the van and drive it around to pick them up. Jojo’s having a problem with his foot, so he decides to come with me. I tell Jonathan that he’s responsible to protect all these women. He takes the responsibility cheerily, with hand motions (that’s a team inside joke).

Jojo and I arrive at the Cape with the van while the rest are still up on the promontory. The Cape itself is really relatively unimpressive; as I’ve noted, Cape Point is much higher and larger. But you can stand atop the rocks, about 100 feet above the sea, and see clearly how the west coast of Africa comes straight down from the north and then turns abruptly east toward India. Bartholomeu Dias certainly had reason to be hopeful with that change.

Soon the crew arrives, and we get the requisite photo at the Big Ol’ Sign. Then north out of the park and back to Simon’s Town.

I’ve organized the whole day’s schedule around a single goal: being on Chapman’s Peak Drive just south of Hout Bay at sunset, which today is at 5:49 pm. We stop at Simon’s Town so some of the wettest personnel can buy some dry clothes—that wasn’t part of my plan—and while I’m waiting I decide to get a few days’ cash from the ATM next to where we’re parked.

I make the withdrawal and start to leave when the two men behind me in line point urgently to the machine and tell me it’s still logged in to my account. The software has been changed, you see, and I missed a step. I need to reinsert my card and re-enter my PIN to end the transaction properly.

That’s how scammers work. They have it all choreographed—they do it for a living—and they’re just 3/10 of a second ahead of your thinking. In seconds one of them has palmed my card while the other hits some random keystrokes that fill the input field, effectively driving my PIN to the screen where they can read it. A split second later I see clearly every step in the dance, but they’re gone.

I hate getting played. Like a violin.

How quickly can they empty the account?

I’m going to get a little vague here, to protect privacy, but just one team member has a phone that hasn’t gotten wet and consequently still works. And that team member, as providence has dictated, has a family member in the banking industry. We call the States, and the family member contacts TD Bank and freezes the account. The creeps get a few bucks, but that’s all.

How about that.

Well, now I’m really ticked off, but it could have been a lot worse, and believe it or not, we’re still on schedule for sunset.

Chapman’s Peak Drive is one of the world’s top scenic drives (go ahead, look it up). It’s carved into the western side of the Cape Peninsula, with high, steep drops to the ocean. I’ve learned that you need to drive really slowly so that you don’t freak out the passengers. But it’s really beautiful.

We arrive at the pull-out at the highest point around 5:30 and get out to watch the sunset, with a panorama of the ocean that stretches well more than 180 degrees. It’s a cloudless day, so the sunset is less spectacular than it would be with bands of clouds getting involved, but it’s still remarkable.

Then down into Hout Bay and dinner at Mariner’s Wharf, a very good—and very successful—seafood restaurant. We get what amounts to a private room and order seafood galore. I get kingklip, perhaps the tastiest of the South African whitefish, in a butter and lemon sauce the taste of which will bring me hunger pangs for decades to come. Everybody else gets something equally delicious, and most get dessert. And because this is South Africa, the price of it all is well within budget.

I love this country.

Home by around 9, where we work on drying out the electronics, communicating with banks, and otherwise cleaning up the debris of the day.

Yeah, a couple of negatives, but also a day to celebrate the beauty and power of God’s creative work and the grace of His providence. He is good, and He is great, even when the bad stuff happens. It’s a pleasure to serve Him, even when it’s not always a pleasure.

If you know what I mean.

Friday, July 01, 2016

We’ve known all week that it was going to rain on this last day of VBS at Eindhoven. When I walk across Keurboom Avenue to the girls’ house, it’s sunny and dry. When we come out to get in the van 10 minutes later, it’s raining. Halfway there, the rain stops. By the time we arrive, it’s raining again. This is typical for Cape Town.

But what’s not typical is the gloriously bright full double rainbow spread out before us as we take the exit for Delft. One team member says she’s never seen a rainbow so perfect and so beautiful.

We arrive a minute or two before the Paynes, with a couple dozen children already waiting for us. We set the table up inside the school building—the rain and wind make outside registration on the plaza completely impractical—and we get the children checked in and sent to their classroom for songs. As usual, Jojo and Lora lead the singing, with all those old-time children’s favorites, plus some we’ve imported from the VBSes in Ghana over the last few years. Then Jojo tells the Bible story to one group while Cathy Payne does the memory verse with the other, and they switch and do it all again.

The rain stops and starts every 7.35 minutes. It’s just weird. We have game time inside the classrooms—we just can’t bring ourselves to dirty that newly cleaned assembly room floor. It gets a little crazy, but it’s easy to see that the children aren’t rebellious, they’re just happy and excited and consequently rambunctious.

We have prayer with them at the end of game time and give them all a wordless book and a lollipop. Many of them tell us thanks and hug us, and I tell them, as I always do, that God willing, I’ll be back next year with new friends. And they walk off down the street to their homes, where we’ll find them next year and invite them to “Bybelklub.” The Paynes have a stack of contact cards that will keep them busy with home visits for the foreseeable future.

The rain suggests some indoor entertainment for the afternoon; I suggest Tyger Valley Mall, which until recently was the largest mall in Cape Town. In recent years the new Century City Mall has eclipsed it, but it’s been completely renovated in the last couple of years, and it looks really good. We decide to go over there, have lunch, and then explore for a couple hours.

It’s a diverse food court, with an Ocean Basket, another seafood place, pizza, sushi, steak. The team opts for Alamo Spur, a South African chain of steak houses with a Western theme. One of the team comments that it seems odd to go to a cowboy restaurant in Cape Town, but I note that we have Chinese restaurants all over the US and don’t think anything of it.

Our waiter is Xhosa (that’s the language with the clicks) and a really good waiter. We all order steaks of one kind or another. I get filet with mushroom sauce, and it’s as good a steak as I’ve ever eaten. Eight bucks. To my immediate right is a T-bone; across the table is a sirloin. Everybody’s having a really good time.

This is Africa too.

But they want to get some shopping done. I send them off with a reassembly plan and linger over my rooibos. I don’t need to buy anything, so I can just relax.

After paying the bill I wander the mall, ambling, looking at what’s interesting—mostly the people, not the stuff—and ruminating on the meaning of it all. This mall is four stories of Western consumerism, bigger than pretty much any mall I’ve ever seen in the States. The customers dress Western as well, for the most part, with the occasional Muslim headscarf along the way. This is not Wa or Mwanza—on the surface. But the people are essentially the same. They follow their traditions, do their business, love their families. Most do not really understand their higher purpose; they just do their daily tasks and seek their satisfaction in the here and now.

At 4 I meet Beth and Rachelle at the Pick ‘n’ Pay, which is a supermarket. We buy food for the next several days and then meet the rest of the team, as previously arranged, at the Mug ‘n’ Bean, a coffee shop. Load everything up and head for home.

Several team members cooperate to put together supper of stir fry. We finish in time to head for a multi-church youth activity at Eersterivier. This is the first church that Tony Payne planted, now pastored by Kevin Simpson, a South African whom Tony discipled. Kevin and I have been friends since my first trip here in 2000; it’s been a joy to see him and his family develop over the years and multiple trips.

There are about 25 young people at the activity. We mingle comfortably, playing volleyball, sharing testimonies, singing, snacking, just talking. These are small churches, and sometimes the young people get the idea that they’re pretty much alone in their commitment to follow Christ. It’s good for them to see that there are others like them.

Back to the house around 10. We do some organizational work in the van on the way home and head off to bed shortly after arriving. Long day tomorrow at the Cape.