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.

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Dan Olinger

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

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