Cakes and Crosses

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It’a been quite a week here in the Lamprecht house, with a five-day long weekend (yep, you read that correctly. South African’s love their public holidays. And I love them for it), a youth camp and a birthday.

Our not-so-little man turned 1 on Friday, and we celebrated today with a little get together in his honour. Naturally, he refused his morning nap preceding the event, for no apparent reason, refused to be held or make eye-contact with anyone but Mummy for the first hour or so, didn’t even take a bite of the delicious (???) sugar free banana cake Flower Girl and I prepared for him and only really got into the swing of things to wave an enthusiastic “Good-bye” as the last guests were leaving. We have decided that any future children will celebrate their first birthday’s at age three.


All in all, though, we had a ball, and are excited for the “klein seuntjie” that he has now reached toddlerhood!

Last weekend, Herman spent a couple of days teaching sessions at a youth camp organised by his home-church denomination. He was pretty involved with the planning for the event, and excited that the focus was going to be on outreach.

The first night he lead a prayer night for nations around the world, and the young people kept at it even when he felt the need to leave at about 2am the next morning. He also taught a session about “finding God’s will for your life” and was encouraged when a number of young people approached him afterwards and expressed an interest in committing their lives to serving God in a foreign country.

We were so excited to see such a fervent desire amongst the young people to reach the whole world with the gospel, especially when we have unfortunately been experiencing quite the opposite with older members of the church community. Whilst it is sad that so many have fallen away from seeking to be obedient to God by building into His kingdom, we are inspired by the fresh excitement of young believers so ready to take up their crosses and follow Jesus.

We pray for our two kiddos, one of whom is only just starting out on life’s great journey, that like the young people Herman encountered, they also will be enthusiastic about following whatever calling it is that God puts on their hearts, and always mindful of the great task God has set before us as members of His body.

He Determines My Steps

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Monday morning did not go as planned.

The evening before, I had ambitiously figured out exactly what it was I wanted to achieve the next day. The task on top of my list was to head to the local Police station to get some documents certified. We are busy putting together a residency application for Flower Girl, and I had hoped to have everything together so that I could put it in the post that afternoon.

But then Wombat had a tough night teething (one 3-hour stretch of crying, and lots of other smaller bouts) and the two of us woke up the next morning feeling less than cheery. Herman’s car battery died, and so that took a couple of hours of to-ing and fro-ing to get sorted out. Wombat woke up at the usual time from his morning nap, but then (I guess still pooped from the night before) feel straight back to sleep on my lap. I didn’t have the heart to wake him.

Then, it was school pick-up, gymnastics, and a long, peak-hour drive home, mulling crankily over the fact that I had achieved none of what I had wanted for that day, least of all the document certifications. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself until I heard on the radio  that earlier that morning there had been a shooting at the same Police station I had been planning on going to, which had left two people dead.

I had a real sense in that moment that it was the Lord who had prevented me from accomplishing my plans for that day.

(I found out later that the shooting had occurred a little earlier than I would have probably turned up there; however, I still doubt it would have been a great experience to arrive there in the wake of something like that, with Wombat in my arms)

We can all quote verbatim that “we know in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Rom 8:28) but very rarely do we acknowledge that it is also God who, like any loving parent, understands what is good for us in the first place.
Rejoicing today knowing that whilst I may may make plans, “the Lord determines my steps” (Prov 16:9)

I wanted to write something light and fluffy tonight, but this happened:

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Helping to teach Sunday school at church this morning, we had an interesting discussion with some of the grade 3 – 5 kids in our class. They had been asked to write down the names of some “history makers” and explain what it was that made them such influential individuals. Not unexpectedly, Nelson Mandela’s name popped up quite a bit, and a couple of the kids were excited to share what they knew about him:

“He helped make South Africa a better country! And he made sure to end… what’s the name for that thing again?”

We gently prompted the kids that “that thing” was called apartheid.

One of the younger boys sitting next to me leaned across and asked, “What’s apartheid?”

I was reflecting on this with Herman on the way home from church, excitedly co

mmenting about how wonderful it was to live  in the “New South Africa” where the kids don’t even know the meaning of the word Apartheid. The fact that the term for this terrible part of South Africa’s history has, just one generation later, seems to have slipped from the day-to-day vocabulary of young South Africans in no small feat. A lot has changed in this country, for the better, and I hope that this experience I had in the Sunday school was a reflection of that.

However, the more I thought about it during the day, the more I realised I must be careful to mistake the death of terminology with the passing away of its definition. Racism, whether state sponsored or not, is still very much alive and kicking in South Africa. As a transracial family living in this country, we have experienced this, first hand many times, in both subtle, and blatantly obvious, ways. Just because we no longer talk about Apartheid doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, in some form or another.

We cannot neglect educating our children about race, and all of the issues that go along with it, and simply expect that they will, all on their own, develop positive  attitudes towards those of other social groups. In fact, some studies have shown that when parents (teachers? schools? churches?) remain silent about race, kids are still pretty good at developing racial biases without much help. It is a wonderful thing that children in South African society no longer have to suffer under the social, emotional and physical oppression that was Apartheid, but by not talking about it, might not the malignancies which still fester in many hearts simply begin to grow again? As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Flower Girl and I had an apartheid discussion the other day. It was hard. I struggled to put to words just how terrible it was that people with the colour skin of Herman and I (and Wombat) thought that people with her colour skin were not as valuable. To be honest, she didn’t seem all that bothered by the idea at this stage; but it is a discussion we will continue.

We are praying for South Africa; that the atrocity which was Apartheid might never happen again, but that it will not be forgotten, either.

That’s Entertainment

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Just heard on the grapevine (ah, the trials of a ghost writer …) that Martin is off to Cape Town today to sign a contract over the rights to producing a film version of “The Edge of Paradise”. Seems odd and a little surreal, while doing mundane home things like the laundry, to be thinking about something I worked on being turned into a movie.

I tell you what – this bookbusiness is not good for someone trying (often half-heartedly) to fight pride. I am constantly needing to resist the urge to just pop into the book-store and check on how my “baby” is doing (that would be my softcover baby. I try to ensure my blonde-haired baby doesn’t wander through shops on his own).

I was a little disappointed the other day in CUM (the Christian book-store chain) to discover “The Edge of Paradise” was no longer in the biography section. It seemed a bad sign that after only a few weeks, it was no longer in stock. On the way out, though, I spotted a couple of dozen copies on the “Best Seller” shelf ….(blush).
Please pray for my soul. I am only half kidding.

The Cup

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We celebrated Easter a little differently this year. Aside from skipping chocolate (that’s a story for a whole ‘nother post) we tried to include some of the traditional Jewish passover traditions into our usual Good Friday brunch.

We’ve never attended a “Seder” before, and so had to base our plan off of the internet, which was more difficult than we realised; it seems there is a lot of variety in how a passover feast is celebrated. Hopefully, though, we got the gist of the thing right, and loved participating in some of the rich symbolism involved in the Jewish celebration. It is so awesome to see again how so much in the Old Testament is a “shadow of things to come” and points to the Risen Saviour.

Mostly, we focused on the four (or is that five? again, a bit of a pesky confusion) cups of wine which are drunk over the meal. They all have a very specific meaning attached to them. Flower Girl enjoyed running to check if Elijah was at the front door, before we drank the last cup, able to rejoice that our King is come, and we don’t need to wait for him any longer.

I was particularly moved by the cup which reflected on “God’s Wrath”. That might sound a bit morbid, but it was amazing to think of Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, praying “Abba,Father,…everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Is he referring here to the cup of God’s wrath? What a terrible, terrifying prospect to drink willingly from that cup, and yet he did, for my sake, and the sake of the rest of the world.

As we reflect on the enormous sacrifice made for us by God’s son at this time, may we also be impressed by the urgency of the task in sharing this Hope with those who don’t know Him.

Horrified!

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I am shocked to see how long it has been since I last posted. I am deeply, deeply ashamed (hanging head and blushing). There has a been a lot happening these last few weeks too – HIV trainings, schools, prayers answered, many opportunities for ministry. Oh well – I will just have to save all those things for our next newsletter (due out, hopefully, on the next few days).

We will be heading to Zambia for a youth workers’ training on Tuesday, which will be exciting. Three days drive up, a few days working with the youth leaders, and then three days drive back again. I anticipate some interesting stories to relate to you then….

Please pray that we would be effective in ministry, sensitive to the Holy Spirit, safe on the roads, and unbothered by mosquitoes….

Witness

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We have begun again working at the schools, teaching the CrossRoads character development program. Last week, we taught at VukaUzenzele and a new school, Bajabulile (means “we are happy”), and today we added a third school to this list, Jakaranda. It is amazing to see how the classes affect the children, and what they learn during the year. The year-long courses focus on good decision-making, self-confidence and values, and towards the end of the year (when everyone is feeling very comfortable with each other) start addressing issues like HIV/AIDS and sexuality. What is really awesome, though, is the way in which we are able to witness for Christ in these tough schools.

Last year, we were watching the Jesus film at one of the schools. Although officially you are not allowed to “proselytize” in South African schools, we are allowed to show the Jesus film, and explain why Jesus was a model of “good character” (also, many of the teachers get on board and turn a blind eye to when we talk about things like salvation and God’s love for us!). Halfway through the film, the computer kept freezing and making it really difficult to play the film properly. In the end, none of us could make the film play. It seemed like a good opportunity for an incidental lesson, though, so we left the film frozen, and came and stood at the front of the kids.

“Do you guys realise that God has an enemy, called the devil,” we asked.

Many of the kids nodded. African people are very much in touch with the “spirit world”, and even if they don’t know God personally, they know about him.

“The devil is not happy that we are watching this movie today. He is trying to make things difficult for us. But, God is more powerful than the devil, so let’s ask him to help us see this movie”

We led a short prayer, and all the kids said amen. And, all by itself, the movie started to play again.

The kids’ eyes opened wide.

What an amazing testimony about the power of God and his ability to take control in our lives. Please pray with us for more opportunities to be able to demonstrate who God is, and the place he wants to play in people’s lives to these kids.

“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Matthew 5:16

Prayer

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It’s really awesome to be consistently in a position where you are able to see the way that God answers your prayers. In the work here in South Africa, so often we are lacking in finances, people, resources, skills. We see huge needs, and have no idea of what to offer to meet these needs. The only thing we can do is pray. And whilst I am usually just a failing student in the school of prayer, I have been amazed over and over again when God opens the curtains between the worlds of the visible and the invisible, and allows us again see how he is working in the spiritual realm.

Two years ago we began to work at a school called
VukaUzenzele“, teaching the crossroads course. Since then, there have been many opportunities to help out at the school practically, passing on funds to provide uniforms for needy kids, providing sporting supplies, helping run a year 7 camp, and repairing vandalized buildings. A few months ago, a lady in OM who had been working elsewhere became the chaplain at the school, and has been able to do counseling with vulnerable children, and do religious education. It would be so easy to think – “wow, how good are we, that we have been able to accomplish all of this.” But then I found a newsletter that was written 2 whole years ago, asking prayer partners to join with us in petitioning the Lord for money for school uniforms, a chaplain for the students, and more opportunities to serve. It had all seemed to come about so naturally; it is now that we realise that it was because the Lord did the work.

About 6 months after I first arrived in South Africa, I met a little girl called Allyssa in town called Hammaanskraal. She was visibly affected by AIDS, and I was shattered to see a child suffer in this way. To me, she looked just days, weeks away from death. I didn’t know what else to do but share her story with many of you, and ask you to pray… A few months ago, I found a website on the Internet of an American missionary couple who had adopted a little girl with AIDS called Allyssa from Hammaanskraal, who was doing so well on her medication, and loved being a part of a family. He didn’t have to, but God opened to curtains again to show that our prayers had accomplished something beautiful – that HE had done something beautiful.

About a year and a half ago, the AIDS HOPE team began to pray for a place where we could do ministry amongst the people. Our location right now is not ideal – it is in the “suburbs”, whilst the people we minister amongst are in the “townships”. God showed us that we would be more effective if the people could come to us, instead of always going to the people.

And then, again, the miraculous has happened. Whilst I was away in Australia, AIDS HOPE was approached by another ministry, and asked if we wouldn’t like to take over their property in Mamelodi, a nearby township. The buildings are perfect – small apartments for team members to live, offices to work from, room to expand into HIV testing, ministry to children and feeding schemes. It is the building of our dreams – no, the building of our prayers. There are a lot of issues now to work through (permissions from the municipality, property valuations, finding finances to fund the project) but we trust that the Lord can make a way if this is from Him.

Why do I share this? First, as a testimony to how God has used your prayers over the last few years to do some beautiful things. And then to ask that you pray with us for these buildings in Mamelodi, that if they are from the Lord, he would make them available to us, for His glory. This is such an exciting new development for the ministry of AIDS HOPE, and I wanted to share this with you, who work alongside me in Africa.

“If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”
Matthew 7:11

Perspectives

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This is an article a friend of my found in “Time” magazine, that I thought you might find interesting.

As an Atheist, I truly believe that Africa needs God

Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa’s biggest problem – the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset.

December 27, 2008

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But traveling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn’t fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world – a directness in their dealings with others – that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.

At 24, traveling by land across the continent reinforced this impression. From Algiers to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, then right through the Congo to Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya, four student friends and I drove our old Land Rover to Nairobi.

We slept under the stars, so it was important as we reached the more populated and lawless parts of the sub-Sahara that every day we find somewhere safe by nightfall. Often near a mission.

Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away. They had not become more deferential towards strangers – in some ways less so – but more open.

This time in Malawi it was the same. I met no missionaries. You do not encounter missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels discussing development strategy documents, as you do with the big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (largely from Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians. “Privately” because the charity is entirely secular and I never heard any of its team so much as mention religion while working in the villages. But I picked up the Christian references in our conversations. One, I saw, was studying a devotional textbook in the car. One, on Sunday, went off to church at dawn for a two-hour service.

It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was, in turn, influenced by a conception of man’s place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.
There’s long been a fashion among Western academic sociologists for placing tribal value systems within a ring fence, beyond critiques founded in our own culture: “theirs” and therefore best for “them”; authentic and of intrinsically equal worth to ours.

I don’t follow this. I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the “big man” and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the (literal) inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition.
Anxiety – fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things – strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won’t take the initiative, won’t take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.

How can I, as someone with a foot in both camps, explain? When the philosophical tourist moves from one world view to another he finds – at the very moment of passing into the new – that he loses the language to describe the landscape to the old. But let me try an example: the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to the question: Why climb the mountain? “Because it’s there,” he said.

To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It’s… well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary’s further explanation – that nobody else had climbed it – would stand as a second reason for passivity.

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and insubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosophical/spiritual framework I’ve just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.

And I’m afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.