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.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Day 3 of VBS at Eindhoven we have about the same number of children to work with—about 75—and the morning goes well. Bethany does the Bible story, on Saul’s conversion, and the kids cooperate well in the games.

The key difficulty every day, it seems, is the cold. If the sun is shining, the wind is blowing, and it just chills you through. And some of the kids are running around in shorts and T-shirts, some in bare feet or flip-flops. I don’t know how they do it.

Tony notes that rain is forecast starting tonight and through tomorrow night. We talk about some options in the rain. The school has a large assembly room where we could play games, but the echo in there would make instructions difficult to hear, and the school custodial staff has just spent several days giving the floor a deep cleaning. They say it would be all right to have the children inside, but I’d hate to see mud all over that beautiful floor. I suggest having the children take their shoes off; Tony says they’d freeze to death; I think about all the ones I see running around barefoot already.

We’ll see how tomorrow turns out.

Today is our first day with a free afternoon, which means we can do something time-consuming for lunch. Back in 2013 Eric Graham, one of the missionary pastors here, introduced the team to the Hillcrest Berry Orchard, out just beyond Stellenbosch in a remarkably picturesque location. There are jagged mountains, reminiscent of California or southern New Mexico, and slopes of vineyards and orchards. We pick up Beth and Rachelle at the house and make the half-hour drive out there. The restaurant has plenty of room on the veranda for our group of 10 (one of the local youth, Salvin, we’ve invited to join us).

Our waiter is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a French-speaking country, so he and Rachelle, who grew up an MK in Quebec, engage in some conversation. This makes the umpteenth language we’ve communicated in on this trip: English, Twi, Waali, Amharic, Swahili, Afrikaans, Xhosa, and now French. (Granted, we’ve just briefly touched Twi, Amharic, and Xhosa.)

We order scones to start. They’re a semi-sweet biscuit of sorts that you eat with butter, then jam, then clotted cream, then some shredded cheese. Seriously. They’re really good. And Hillcrest, as you might imagine, has all kinds of jams. We have a time sampling and arguing over the best flavor combinations.

For drinks there’s berry juice, and various berry-flavored lemonades. I get a pot of Rooibos, because it’s just so authentic, and because a warm pot of something appeals to my cold old bones.

Then the meal. This is a high-class place, with a menu that presents all kinds of possibilities. I get the brisket, which is delightful, and everyone else is pleased with his choice as well.

No room for dessert. And the whole experience comes to not much more than $10 per person. I love this country.

There’s a store where you can buy some of all those jams, and teas, and frozen fruit, and cheeses, and whatnot. We buy a lot of stuff.

There’s a tourist town about 20 minutes away called Franschhoek, a French settlement from the days when the Huguenots were expelled from France at the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. (You remember that, right?) There are lots and lots of relatively high-end art shops and restaurants, and some gift shops that mere mortals can afford as well. We spend a couple hours cruising the main drag, including the Huguenot Chocolate Shop, whose chocolates are spectacular. But the town really needs a good coffee shop. Really. Someone should do that.

Lora notices the name of the town spelled out high on the mountainside overlooking the town, and there seems to be a road cut up through there. I ask around and confirm that we can get up there pretty easily, so we drive up to what turns out to be Franschhoek Pass, with a gorgeous view of the town and valley, which we hit right at sunset. The GPS tells us that we’re about the same distance from home whether we go back the way we came or go down the other side of the pass, and we vote to explore new territory.

So off we go, down through the ragged mountains, decorated by a storm front draping itself over the mountaintops and just obscuring them. The front is moving pretty fast in our direction, and it gives the impression of active and roiling air masses all around us. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The visual is really spectacular. We drive alongside mountain lakes and a river, through a moonscape and into a small forest just as daylight fails. Eventually we connect with the N-2 and head back toward Cape Town.

I’m a little disoriented until we see a sign indicating we’re at Sir Lowry’s Pass. That’s really good news; the pass is a major landmark east of Cape Town, with spectacular views in both directions. We’re traveling west, so I comment that we’re probably going to see some pretty nice lights. The sentence has barely escaped my mouth when we turn slightly west and are presented with a panorama of the lights of greater Cape Town, sparkling against the dark background of night. It draws verbal responses from us almost involuntarily. Well, from them; the deal we have is that they look, and I drive.

Down into the bowl of Cape Town’s eastern suburbs and home a little after 7. Now that was a wonderful circuit, delighting the palate, the eyes, and the spirit.

Tuna melts and a couple of kinds of leftover soup for supper. A handful of our friends from the local churches drop in and join us. These are good kids, young men who have decided, as the song goes, to follow Jesus, and who are encouraged by the visible reminder that there are others like them. Mutual edification is the order of the evening.

The whole crew plays a set of Signs, and as usual, the play is punctuated by outbursts of laughter. Joy is a wonderful thing.

At 10.30 I call for devotions, which our friends stay to join. We share what we’ve learned, what we’ve thought, what we’ve realized. And we pray for success in our efforts scheduled for tomorrow.

Now it’s 11 pm. Better get to bed; success generally requires that we be awake for said scheduled efforts.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Second day of Eindhoven VBS, and our longest ministry day in Cape Town. We’re at Eindhoven Primary School in time to set up the registration table and then circle up for prayer. There are children waiting when we arrive.

There are about 70 children today. We sing songs with them all together until 10:30 and then divide them into younger and older groups for the memory verse and Bible story. Rachael tells the story of Noah and the ark, which continues the theme of Lost & Found; Noah’s family is preserved, while those who did not believe are lost.

We’re better at getting game time going today, due to our experience yesterday, and our learning from it. The children play robustly and wholeheartedly. I point out one I remember from last year, and Tony tells me that he and his brother, also here, are from a Muslim family.

Back at the house we have PBJ and raw veggies with dip for lunch—with 3 different kinds of PB, including double crunchy and caramel crunch. More choices here than at home.

Then it’s quickly out to Florida / Ravensmead for the second and last day of Cola Wars. Most of the older kids don’t show up today; I wonder if they expected free cola and are expressing their disappointment. But there are a lot of little ones, including a couple who can’t be more than 4 but insist they’re 13. We’ve modified the games to relays and other less threatening ones, so we let the young ones stay.

We decide to take advantage of the fact that the little ones are there by setting up a separate story and snack time for them. Lora and Jojo, who aren’t in the skits to be presented to the older ones, agree to do a little Bible lesson and sing some songs with them. Bill suggests we give them their Flavor-AidTM and cheese snacks first, so they’ll have something to munch on. We get all that distributed and then turn around to find that the little ones have left. Why stay once you’ve gotten the food?

The team does a couple of skits again today, but we move the older ones inside where there will be fewer distractions and where the acoustics are better. The sermon is brought by Bill Meyers, a long-time South African pastor whom I meet today for the first time.

Afterwards we pass out snacks and Flavor-Aid to the older ones and then shower them with candy. We’re a little worried about leaving candy all over the floor. No need for worry; the kids manage to get it all.

Back to the house for supper consisting of the rest of the Knipes’ soup, this time with some of the roasted vegetables added. It’s gotten better every night.

Since this is Wednesday, the Eindhoven church has its prayer meeting at the Paynes’s house. We fill their den, which has a freestanding fireplace burning in the corner, and next to which Tony has kindly reserved me a seat. Aaaahhhh.

Jojo preaches from Jonah, and we have tea and rusks afterwards, along with fellowship. Tony asks each team member to tell one thing they’ve learned this trip, and to my delight they recount the very things that I’ve been intending them to learn: teamwork, God-centeredness, dependence, and so on.

After the church folks leave we end up laughing hysterically at one another; it’s one of those times when everybody is both funny and prepared to be amused. I suspect it’s at least partially driven by fatigue and familiarity as well.

We get back to the house after 10 pm and just head off to bed. A long day indeed, but a profitable and blessed one. From here on out the ministry tasks get less frequent—just one a day most days—and we begin to wind down toward home.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Since we don’t need to be at the VBS site at Eindhoven until 9:30, I tell the girls that we won’t show up at the house until 9 am. That amounts to an encouragement to sleep in, on both sides of the gender gap. When I show up, the girls are up and pretty much ready. When the guys arrive, we hop in the van and head out.

The Paynes are there ahead of us and have the registration table set up out on the concrete plaza. We can see children gathering at the gate to the property, eager to get signed in. Their eagerness approaches earnestness; this is something they simply must do. That’s an encouraging sign. No hip apathy or cynicism here.

Several young men from the church have joined us in the effort. Most of them have worked with previous teams—Jason and Salvin are two that spent a lot of time with us last year, and they’re joined by several others. We assign 4 workers to the registration table, one for each category: younger & older boys and girls. The child presents his signed permission slip and is placed on the appropriate roll and on the poster on which we’ll keep attendance for the week. His name is written on a nametag of the appropriate color, which is attached to a loop of yarn that goes around his neck. Cathy has the system carefully thought out and well prepared.

As things are starting up, Tony and I walk around the neighborhood and pass out the remaining invitations, speaking to anyone we see on the street. We’re talking to a small group of women in front of a house, when I notice that one of them is smoking a joint and quickly moves to hide it around a corner of a concrete post.

These children live in a world very different from those in villages in Ghana’s Upper West Region, and certainly different from life at Tumaini. These are inner-city children whose life is gritty and urban and Darwinian. There’s marijuana smoke drifting over the schoolyard wall and used condoms lying discarded on the playground. Children are typically sexually active by age 13, and you see a defensiveness even in the youngest ones, the need to stand up for themselves and fight off larger attackers. Years ago a writer called urban America “The Concrete Jungle,” and the term applies equally well here. To those of us who have lived in cities this is not new or surprising; but to those from the suburbs and the farmlands of the American Midwest, this is another world, a disturbing and even threatening one.

So what do you do? You provide an experience that’s fun, something that will generate that earnest desire to be there. And you give them Good News of One who is infinitely bigger than they are but Who does not exploit or bully them—One who loves them and gives them all they need even at great cost to Himself. And then you show them that love in the way you treat them. They are not quick to take your hand like the Tumaini children, but your smile and attention to them make an impression and leave a lasting memory. I recognize many of these children from last year, and many of them remember my face, though of course not my name. And as the Eindhoven church members follow up on these contacts, they will have an opportunity to demonstrate in more depth and for a longer time the love of which we have spoken.

Lora and Jojo lead songs in one of the portable classrooms as the children are arriving and then into the formal Bible club time. The plan is to have about 20 minutes each of singing, Bible verse, and Bible story, segregated by age, and then an hour of games. Cathy teaches the Bible verse in Afrikaans to one group while Sarah tells the Bible story to the other, and then they switch. We’re using an old curriculum from CEF called “Lost & Found,” and today’s story is about the lost coin of Luke 16. Sarah has obtained 3 1-rand coins (about 7 cents each) and hidden 1 under a seat in each room ahead of time. To begin, she holds up the third one and says, “I’ve lost a coin that looks like this. Can you help me find it?” The children look all over the room, but no one finds it. She then “discovers” it under one child’s chair and demonstrates how happy she is to have found it—and then gives it to the child in that seat. From here the application is fairly direct: God rejoices when the lost sinner is found. When her story ends a couple of minutes before Cathy is done in the other room, we sing a verse of “Amazing Grace,” including the line “I once was lost but now am found.”

The memory verse is Luke 19.10, which fits the theme perfectly.

John is running the games today. We usher the children out into the “playground,” which is concrete, and set up several relays, including Over / Under and a simple race to deliver the ball to the next person in line. We end with “Red Light, Green Light,” which I call “Everybody Cheats.”

Then a request that they bring their friends tomorrow. Word travels pretty quickly here; I’d be astonished if the numbers weren’t up tomorrow. Today we had 77.

Back at the house, Beth and Rachelle arrive from a shopping trip with Susan Knipe just a few minutes after we get back. Susan has donated the leftover soup and bread from last night, and we make lunch of it—and probably will tomorrow as well. Soup is a great meal for a chilly day, and while it’s sunny today, it’s still chilly.

Jojo’s going to skip our afternoon ministry; his grandfather’s memorial service is at 11 am EDT, which is 5 pm here. He’ll connect through Facebook Messenger and participate in the service.

The rest of us are off to Florida / Ravensmead for the Cola War for the Knipes’ incipient church plant. There’s a registration table set up at the entrance to the athletic park, where Cathy Payne and a lady from the church are taking names and distributing red or blue armbands, depending on whether the registrant is assigned to the Coke or Fanta team. Helping them is Holly Gilbert, a BJU grad who has just arrived in Cape Town to homeschool the Knipes’ children. She’s been here just 2 weeks, though she’s visited the city before.

Registration has its issues. The event is designed for young people aged 13 to 22, and I noticed yesterday during canvassing that when the residents saw that, suddenly every child in the neighborhood was 13 years old. Some of them couldn’t read, but yes sir, I’m 13. Those at the table do their best to get at the truth.

We enter the park, which consists of 4 or 5 soccer / rugby / cricket fields. (Here in SA they call it “soccer” like we Americans do, instead of the more usual “football.”) We’re working on the field in the far left corner. As the registrants trickle in, team captains welcome them and direct them to the informal soccer game going on. We have a bit of a logistical problem, though: the girls don’t want to play soccer with the boys, so they hang off to the side, and a few leave. Tomorrow we’d better use a different warm-up game.

Soon Pastor Jeremy, who’s acting as MC, gets on the bullhorn and introduces the players, the concept, and the first game, Tug of War. Following that is Big Ball Soccer. (They don’t have a regulation Big Ball, but they do have several exercise balls that are at least a couple feet in diameter. Eventually there are 2 and even 3 balls in the game at once.)

After an hour of games, cheers, and general high-energy teenhood, we present a couple of skits—the doctor skit, and a more serious skit designed to model the world’s view of sin. Sarah carries in a bag of trash (“rubbish” here), and Bethany asks her about it. At first Sarah want to keep her trash, but Bethany tells her she’ll take it, and asks her to trust her. Eventually Sarah turns the bag over but wants just one piece of trash to keep for herself. And so on. It’s an interesting presentation.

That skit introduces Pastor Jeremy for the sermon. He pastors Strand Baptist Bible Church, where we’ll be ministering next Sunday night. He preaches in Afrikaans, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you what he says. During the sermon we’re setting up cups of Kool-AidTM and packets of a local cheese snack. There are about 90 teens and perhaps 15 workers here. We have enough for everyone and then give some to the little kids who hung out but weren’t allowed to play.

Back to the house; Salvin comes along to hang out with us for the evening. Beth and Rachelle (Beth says mostly Rachelle) have prepared Hubbard squash soup and about a thousand pounds of roasted vegetables. The table has been repositioned to accommodate the pull-out leaves that enlarge it at each end, and an extra bench pulled in from outside to make a good old family dinner table. I keep telling them that they’re awesome.

Cold evening, hot soup, and everything good for you.

We finish about 7, and the crew wants to do something. I know it’s been a while since they’ve had ice cream, and I tell them about Milky Lane, a chain outfit with products similar to Dairy Queen. Salvin helps us find a nearby mall that has one, and off we go to N-1 City.

Sounds like a funny name for a mall, but it makes sense. The roads in South Africa are designated with the letter N for national (like our interstates, typically with a speed limit of 120 kph), R for regional, and M for Metropolitan. The big national highway is the N-1, and the mall is right next to it just east of the city. So here we are.

It’s not busy tonight—in fact, most of the stores close at 7, while just the food court remains open. We find Milky Lane and fill a table. The menu is deeply seductive. Some get milkshakes, some get ice cream confections built on various types of waffles, some get Whizzers, which are similar to milkshakes but with lots of added stuff, a bit like a McFlurry from McDonald’s. By the time we’re done, we realize that we haven’t had this much sugar in a looooong time, and we’re all a little hyperactive. I manage to get us back to the house in one piece, and we work off some of the energy laughing at one another.

For devotions we talk about things we’re thankful for from the day, as well as differences between these children and the others we’ve worked with throughout the trip. That will help inform our ministry for these last 2 weeks.

Well, that was quite a day. We’re tired, but it’s a good tired. Same schedule tomorrow.

Monday, June 27, 2016

First activity of the day is a VBS planning session at Eindhoven with the Paynes at 9:30. It’s chilly and spitting occasional rain when we arrive. We lay out the schedule and the individual responsibilities for registration each day, songs, Bible story, memory verses (Cathy will teach them in Afrikaans), and games. The nice thing about meeting here at the school is that there’s an asphalt playground for games in good weather, and a large room indoors that will work well if it rains. I know from previous years that acoustics inside will be a problem; with the echo in the large brick and concrete room, singing will sound great, but shouting directions is an exercise in frustration for the speaker and the hearer alike.

Plans made, we split up into several teams, combining our team with several coworkers from the church, and canvass the whole surrounding area, passing out printed invitations and inviting all the elementary-age children we can find. The children are genuinely excited that there’s something to do on their winter break; they’ll tell all their friends, and we’ll have a crowd, especially after the first day—assuming the ones who come on the first day actually have a good time.

While we’re canvassing, Cathy takes Beth and Rachelle shopping for several things they’d like to get for the work at Tumaini, things they can’t get in Mwanza. It’s like the Paynes to help with this. They’ve lived here for more than 30 years, and Cathy knows where the stuff is. Her help is extremely valuable, and she gives it freely.

For lunch we take care of the leftovers from yesterday’s lunch at Ocean Basket and supper of spaghetti. As I expected, the sauce is even better a day later.

A couple of the girls have decided that they need sturdier (and warmer) shoes for canvassing; the flip-flops just aren’t cutting it this winter. 🙂 So everyone but Jonathan jumps in the van and heads back to Zevenwacht. While the team goes shopping, I go back to Super Spar for cheese. And chocolate. Because of South Africa’s Dutch heritage, gouda is both plentiful and inexpensive here; I get a block nearly the size of my head and 3 kinds of good chocolate. And a bag of dry beef biltong (jerky). You know, just the essentials.

Back to the house in time to head over to Florida Sports Park to canvass for tomorrow’s Cola Wars, which Bill Knipe has organized in connection with the early stages of a church plant in the Florida community. Several churches are participating in the effort, and I see pretty much all my Cape Town friends at once—the Paynes, the Knipes, Eric and Katie Graham and their children, and a couple of national pastors and young people that I’ve met on past trips. The Gang’s all here.

We split up into teams and canvass the whole area surrounding the park. The neighborhood is very similar to Delft in appearance. It was a high-crime area for many years but has recent been cleaned up somewhat. This activity will be for teens, so we’re looking for them. Our kids realize that many of the teens they’re talking to on the street are either drunk or high—or perhaps both. I’ll be interested to see whether they’ll react like similar teens in the US—too cool for any teen activity—or whether they’ll see the event as something to stave off the boredom and despair that leads them into drug abuse in the first place.

My team hands out all their fliers, and we reassemble back at the entrance to the park. Very productive couple of hours. To thank us, Bill has invited everyone over to their house for supper. Susan is a gifted hostess—in 2013 she learned late on a Saturday evening that she was going to have 6 BJU team members living in her house for 4 days—thanks to a colossal blunder by Yours Truly—and she handled it with aplomb, whatever that is. Tonight we have 20 or so people in for soup and garlic bread and beverages and dessert, and everything goes smoothly. There are great conversations going on all over the room, and when we move into the living room for singing and prayer, it just gets better. This is a good family, servants who love service. The team will profit from their unaffected example.

Back at the house, we review the 2 events for tomorrow, the parts everyone is playing, the details we need to complete preparation for. The next 2 days will be the busiest of our time here; after Bill’s Cola Wars activity is over on Wednesday, we’ll have just 1 VBS per day for the rest of our time. I’m glad we start busy and end with lighter demands on us; that will bring us smoothly to completion of the task, God willing.