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.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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