Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

First World Technology in a Third World Country

I’ve always been interested in technology (computers and anything related to it) and use this to the best of my ability, especially when I’m working in my office. As I’m away from my office fairly often, my cell phone has now become a handy device to check my email (and to do Facebook updates!) But as a missionary in rural Swaziland, where most houses do not even have electricity and not a single house has running water, modern technology has little use.
Last week I was visiting a lady in her primitive house together with one of the caregivers of Shiselweni Home-Based Care. She is in constant pain, has swollen legs and sores forming on her skin. The caregiver had enquired before whether the client was HIV+, but she seemed reluctant to speak about this. When I visited her, the client took out her “clinic record” card – a document each patient receives when going to a clinic for the first time on which diagnosis and medication are indicated and handed it to me. It’s not the first time it’s happened. I don’t know why they do it, but it might be because I’m white and that they think I am a medical doctor. I had a look at the card, but the diagnosis gave me no indication of what was wrong with the woman. Neither did I have any idea what the prescribed medicine was for.
And then I thought of a possibility. The Swaziland cell phone service does not allow me to go onto the internet with my cell phone. But then I realized that the area in which this woman’s house is located, is fairly close to the Swaziland / South Africa border. I changed the network on my cell phone and found that I could connect to the South African service provider through which I could go onto the internet. I Googled the name of the medication and immediately found that this was indeed anti-retroviral medication (ARV). It was the weirdest feeling, sitting in this primitive homestead, with someone who has absolutely no idea what a computer is, let alone the internet or Google and finding answers which will enable us to raise the standard of our care for this individual. One thing we will do, is to ensure that she takes her medication regularly as prescribed and also to ensure that she has enough nutritious food to eat.
I couldn’t help wondering where this could lead to in the future. We’ve already had situations where clients had severe wounds. The caregivers could take photos of the wounds with their cell phones and we then showed the photos to a pharmacist who helped us to decide on the best medication and method of helping each client. For people in Western countries, this may sound fairly primitive. In our situation, where doctors are scarce, public transport is expensive and where people are so sick that it is very difficult to transport them, this technology might, in the words of Neil Armstrong, be a small step for man, but a giant leap – if not for mankind – at least for the people in rural Swaziland.

Monday, June 14, 2010 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Culture Shock, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Swaziland, Theology | 16 Comments

My name is Nqobile

This is a testimony which was given by a learner in my wife’s maths class before the whole school, this past Monday. The girl gave me permission to publish it on my blog.
Good morning fellow teachers and pupils.
There are no hopeless situations. There are only people who have grown hopeless about them and in every storm there’s a story. We all go through storms in life, whether it’s a mental, spiritual or physical storm. There was a girl who like most girls had a happy family, a mother, a father and an adorable baby sister, but at the age of fifteen she was all on her own. ‘How?’ you may ask. When she was seven, her baby sister passed away. At age ten, her mother passed away due to a crack in her skull which resulted from a car accident they’d been in earlier. And just when she thought she couldn’t lose anyone else, her father passed away at age fifteen, due to colon cancer.
At that moment this girl started doubting there was a God, the worst part of it being she was alone in her house and in the world with no one to take care of her. She had family, but when she needed them the most, they were nowhere to be found. Then of course she sought help at social services but came back feeling worse than she had before, after hearing that the only help they could give her was to put her in an orphanage. When they told her this, she cried and one of the social workers told her not to cry because it wasn’t their fault she was an orphan. She was fifteen years old. She had a number of bad options: drugs, alcohol, suicide. But she chose none of the above.
Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
This girl had a name and it meant ‘Conqueror’. Many people may not understand its true meaning. This name means: Overcome, Defeater, To triumph over.
Its at this time where she had no one to talk to and no one to ask help from that she made a prayer asking God why He had taken everything away from her. She thought of all those children around her who often complained about their parents and how they were never satisfied. It was during this storm in her life where she gave her life to God and met Jesus and had a shoulder to cry on, realizing that God had never left her, for in Jeremiah 29:11 it says: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” She is turning eighteen this year and is strong and truly believes in God.
By the way, my name is Nqobile, but I’m better known as “Q”. My name means ‘Conqueror’, ‘To triumph over’.
Looking back from where I come and everything I’ve been through, I’m standing in front of you today proclaiming that from the impossible it is possible. No matter what you’re going through and how life seems at this moment, God has not left you. He is a mighty God who never fails us, a God of peace and a God of restoration. That was the storm in which I found my story.
Thank you.

Thursday, May 6, 2010 Posted by | Africa, Death, Disappointments, Hope, Mission, Prayer, Theology | 11 Comments

Enveloped by love

For the past few weeks I’ve been under extreme pressure, not sleeping nearly enough, working towards deadlines and eventually feeling more tired than I think I’ve ever been in my life. Last week we trained a group of 43 new caregivers for our HIV/AIDS home-based caregiving project ( www.shbcare.org ). I usually only attend the last day, when we have a celebration function at which time we welcome the newly-trained caregivers into our group and commission them to go out and serve their neighbors. This is usually a very touching ceremony, but on Friday morning, when I had to leave to join the new caregivers, I was so exhausted that I could not imagine how I would get through the day.
I arrived at the community in the Mantambe area and greeted the trainers who were waiting outside for my arrival. I then entered the community hall where the newly trained volunteers were singing in their typical Swazi fashion. But even that couldn’t do much to lift my spirits – I was just too tired to care. But I put on my smile and as the crowd was singing I started greeting them all with a handshake – the first one, then the second one, the third, the fourth and then the fifth one. And then, as I shook the hands of the sixth person, she let go of my hand, put her arms around me and hugged me. And then the next one did the same. And the next one. And the rest of the 43 new volunteers all did the same. This is not Swazi custom. Swazi’s are normally very reserved in the way they greet and even more so when greeting someone of the opposite sex. But as each one hugged me, I could feel my energy returning and the rest of the ceremony was a huge celebration.
That afternoon, after returning home, I tried to tell my wife what had happened. Failing to be able to share the emotion I had felt, I summarized it by saying that I had never in my life experienced so much love concentrated in one place. Nobody else had known how I had felt that morning, but as each one hugged me, it honestly felt as if it was God Himself putting His arms around me.
Feeling fairly revived on Saturday, I thought back to what had happened the previous day and realized that, as one starts serving others, this action in itself leads to advantages for oneself. This was probably an unique experience and I can’t expect to feel the same when next we train a group, but I will always cherish in my mind what had happened on this past Friday.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Celebration, Cross-cultural experiences, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Support teams, Swaziland, Theology | 1 Comment

Rethinking Marriage on the eve of World AIDS Day

On the day before World AIDS day, it is appropriate to blog about something related to this topic. UNAIDS recently published their latest epidemiology report on the global HIV/AIDS pandemic. You can download the full report here.
While, for most of the readers of this blog, this report contains statistics, for every person personally involved in the fight against the AIDS pandemic, these numbers and percentages represent people. There are some positive things included in the report. It is clear that ART (anti-retroviral therapy) is helping many people to live longer. According to the report the number of new infections are coming down slightly. But in a country like Swaziland with a population of less than 1 million and with the highest infection rate in the world (according to the report Swaziland had an estimated adult HIV prevalence of 26% in 2007, but antenatal surveillance found an increase in HIV prevalence, from 39.2% in 2006 to 42% in 2008, among female clinic attendees), I wonder if it isn’t a matter of “too little too late.”
In a newspaper in South Africa it was reported that the Dutch Reformed Church (N G Kerk) which is also the church that sent me as missionary to Swaziland in 1985, might be rethinking it’s attitude towards cohabitation as an alternative for marriage. The irony was that the immediate following report told of the alarming increase in HIV infections amongst the white, the rich and students in South Africa (three groups that form a large part of the membership of the Dutch Reformed Church.) In the report it says that the South African Blood Transfusion Service had to reject 25% of blood donated by students at a specific university, due to it being HIV-positive.
One of the reasons, I believe, why Swaziland has such a high rate of HIV infections, is because marriage has to be postponed. Swaziland has a lobola system, where a man who wants to get married, has to discuss a form of bride’s price which needs to be paid before they can get married. One of our church members was involved in such a discussion over the weekend and eventually it was determined that the young man had to give his future father-in-law fourteen head of cattle! Keep in mind that this man and the girl are deeply in love. They are emotionally and physically ready to get married. But they can’t, not unless the man can find a way to pay at least part of the lobola. It is no wonder that very few Swazi girls (or men, for that matter) enter into marriage as virgins.
In 2005 I was in the Netherlands at a meeting of the Reformed Ecumenical Council and was chairperson of a committee that had to write a document on the church’s response to HIV and AIDS. I am extremely proud of the product that we presented to the meeting. (You are welcome to download a copy of this document with the title Towards a Theology of Hope in a Time of HIV/AIDS.) As we worked on the document, thinking and rethinking through every sentence, I was challenged by a young woman from the Netherlands. She asked me whether I wanted the document to be accepted by the Reformed churches all over the world, or only in Swaziland? I had felt for a more conservative approach, but was eventually convinced that this would lead to the document never being acceptable in churches in Europe, where sex before marriage and homosexuality are issues which are totally acceptable in most churches. (Once we had agreed on our approach and reformulated one or two sentences, I came under strong attack, especially from churches in Nigeria, when I had to defend the document.)
But I then wanted to know from some of the people in the Netherlands, why cohabitation was so acceptable to them. The answer I got from some church members, was that people had to wait until they were older before they could get married. Typically, they would wait until they were around thirty before they got married, regardless of when they started dating. And when I asked why they waited so long, the answer was that they had to collect money first before they could get married.
And this is where the link with the lobola system in Swaziland comes in. In South Africa people also tend to get married at an older age. The arguments I hear is that they have to buy a house and furnish the house before they can get married. In other words, the problem in Swaziland and the problem in South Africa (and Europe) boils down to the same thing: a materialistic approach towards life. And this is where I feel that the church is failing it’s young members. Instead of giving the go-ahead for cohabitation, shouldn’t the church rather address the problems that are causing young people to opt for cohabitation instead of getting married? Shouldn’t the church rather speak out against the ridiculous extravagance of wedding ceremonies? (I recently heard of someone we know planning to get married, who’s invitation cards costs more than my son’s entire wedding had cost!) Shouldn’t the church say to young couples that it’s fine to rent a cheap apartment with only the most basic things to survive (which they need in any case, even if they live together). Shouldn’t the church say to young people that it’s really not necessary to buy a five carat diamond ring in order to get engaged?
I remember a story which was once told to me of a town high up in a mountain with an extremely dangerous road leading up to the town which frequently led to accidents and severe injuries. As the authorities debated a solution for the problem, they eventually decided to build a new hospital in the town in order to treat the victims of the accidents.
Is this perhaps what the church is doing?

Monday, November 30, 2009 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Church, Culture, HIV, HIV & AIDS, HIV/AIDS Documents, Swaziland, Theology | 8 Comments

Being in the world without being from the world

I’m busy working through the book of Revelation (again!). Contrary to most people I speak to about this book, I find this to be one of the most comforting books in the Bible. I recently purchased a new commentary on this book and although I don’t agree with everything the author says – one point being that he disagrees with the fairly general viewpoint that the Christians in the time when Revelation was written was confronted with great opposition from the Roman empire and that martyrdom was a reality with which they were confronted – I thoroughly enjoy reading through this book.
In the letter to the church in Pergamum, the author notes a few interesting issues. This church is commended for the way in which they took a stand against the worshipping of the emperor – something which was common in those days. Revelation was probably written in around 95 AD, in the time when Domitianus was emperor of Rome. He commanded that the people refer to him as deus et dominus – our lord and our god. However, although they took such a strong stand against this ungodly practice, within the church itself there were serious problems. Apparently there was a group of Christians (church members) who did not consider it inappropriate to take part in heathen festivities. These festivities were usually characterised by various forms of immorality. In this letter to the church in Pergamum, it is said that Jesus holds it against the congregation that there were people within the congregation who took part in these festivities, with the implication that the church did nothing to change their viewpoint.
This brought to mind two questions: Does the church have anything to say about the personal life of church members and does God have anything to say about the way in which I conduct my personal life – or, to put it in other words, is it possible to be in the world without being from the world? When I was much younger, the church in South Africa that we belonged to, had endless rules and regulations about what members could do and could not do, what was sin and what was not sin. These rules didn’t help much, because people still tended to do whatever they wanted – they just ensured that the church leaders didn’t catch them doing this.
In Swaziland, as I suspect in most non-Western countries, this is still true to a great extent. A former colleague of mine used to be a missionary in Zambia and he shared a story with us of how one of their male church members wanted to get married. His only means of transport was a bicycle and he picked up his future wife at her homestead and travelled with her through the forest (a fairly long distance) until they reached the church where they wanted to get married. Once at the church, the local church members decided that he couldn’t get married before being put under church discipline for some time, because nobody knew what had happened while the two were travelling by bicycle through the forest! The amazing part of this story is that the couple accepted their “punishment” and put off their wedding until the church discipline had run its course.
In most churches in Swaziland there are certain things which are absolutely considered as taboo. Smoking and drinking are non-negotiable. I’ve found the same in the church in Russia. I suspect that it would be true for many countries in Africa. These churches come from a background where people would drink until they fall down. When people accept Christ, they have to follow a totally different lifestyle to distinguish them from those who are not Christians. And this is the reason why things like smoking and drinking are such huge issues for them. In their eyes, people smoking and drinking cannot be Christians. Compare this with Indonesia, where I attended church and then, as soon as the service is over, people start lighting up their cigarettes, even while still in the church building. Granted: their buildings are totally different due to the extreme heat, which is more like an open space covered by a roof, but still…
The problem of breaking totally from your old lifestyle is that it becomes increasingly difficult to have an influence on non-Christians. And this brings me back to the main question: How to be in the world without being from the world? The answer is not easy. Few people are capable of doing this, without eventually making important sacrifices. This is apparently what had happened to some Christians in Pergamum.
What are your feelings about this?

Monday, September 7, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Alternative Society, Church, Culture, Humour, Indigenous church, Mission, Russia, Swaziland, Theology | 23 Comments

Could the local church be the hope of the world?

Bill Hybels, pastor at Willowcreek, has a saying: The local church is the hope of the world. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Worldwide it seems as if the local church is becoming smaller and playing a less prominent role. Many people – committed Christians – have left the church, either for nothing or for a small group. These are people who have given up hope for the local church (although many still haven’t given up hope for God.)
Frankly, we (that is, our family) are hyper-critical about the local church. We experience extreme arrogance, a lack of leadership, a total lack of commitment towards those outside the church, an unwillingness to change effectively and a whole range of other issues. I’m not referring to a particular church, but rather to a whole range of churches which I see around us. I have a dear friend who is pastor in a very small local church in the town where we live. This man has vision and dreams which you rarely observe in any pastor. But his congregation doesn’t support him. He’s on his way out – going to retire and live somewhere where he won’t need to worry about things like this anymore. And the church he is leaving behind is going to become even smaller than it already is!
Most local churches are fast declining in numbers. This is often blamed on the changing environment in which we live, the post-modern outlook on life, the old-fashioned way of worship which exist in many churches, the judgmental attitude of many Christians, and the list could go on. But I’m still not convinced that these are the real reasons why people leave the church. I’ve seen a number of people in our town who left very modern-style churches to join the Anglicans (old-fashioned with a strict liturgy). I’ve been in a Presbyterian church in Rotterdam which seem to have nothing flashy in terms of worship teams, sound systems and lights, but this church is growing, in spite of most churches in Europe declining in numbers. I believe a lot has to do with people finding that they are making a difference by being part of the church.
When people step into a relationship with Christ for the first time, they need the church to bring change into their own lives, but in my opinion, as they grow in their relationship with God, their needs (should) change, so that they can become a blessing for others. I don’t often have the chance to attend church as spectator. On most Sundays I have two and sometimes three services where I have to preach. But a few weeks ago I attended church with my family and when I left the church I was overwhelmed with the feeling of: If I have to do this every Sunday and this is all that church is about, I’ll die! And this, I believe, is the reason why churches are dying: because people cannot get the impression that it makes any difference whatsoever whether they are part of the local church or not.
Coming back to what bill Hybels said: The local church can only become the hope of the world if it gets involved in the community and the people where it is situated. People need to experience that the church is offering something that they cannot find elsewhere. Probably the church will not be able to compete in terms of financial resources when real disasters strike, such as 9/11, Katrina or with a pandemic such as AIDS. But I am sure that there are hundreds of survivors of 9/11 or families who had survived Katrina who would be able to tell stories, not of what the government had done for them, but of what churches had done for them. When I was in Chicago last year, I stayed over with a family that had just returned from New Orleans where they had helped people to rebuild their houses. I cannot for one moment think that those people, whether they are Christians or not, will see the church as being irrelevant. In Southern Africa, where the AIDS pandemic is at its worst, governments of all countries are giving out billions of dollars to help control the spreading of the disease and to ensure that people are tested and will receive medication. But the real stories of hope come when people tell how the church has reached out to them. There are wonderful stories of how the church brought hope into people’s lives. And it is when I see this happening, that I know that the time of the church is not over yet. The time for ineffective churches may be over, but the world will always need hope. And nobody can bring more hope than the local church which has, itself, experienced hope through God’s love.

Saturday, August 22, 2009 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Alternative Society, Bill Hybels, Church, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Hope, Indigenous church, Leadership, Mission, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Support teams, Theology, Vision | 7 Comments

How my eschatology influences my life

I am in White River at the moment, (or just outside, actually, not far from the Kruger National Park) at the Africa School of Mission (ASM). They are training mostly young people eager to get involved in mission in some part of the world and the present batch of students come from countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, England and Croatia. I’ve been asked to take the week’s lectures, speaking on eschatology and the book of Revelation.

I can still remember distinctly where and when I had one of the most mind-shattering moments in my life. I was in Ovamboland, in the desert of then South-West-Africa (now Namibia) in a tent, trying to survive the hottest days and the coldest nights I’ve ever experienced, doing compulsory army service in the South African war against Angola. I took some books with me for the four months that I was there that I hoped to read. I was busy with the thesis of one of my favourite South African theologians, Adrio König and was absolutely intrigued by the way in which he discussed eschatology. And then one sentence caught my imagination, something (and I have to quote from my memory) like: “The end times only have meaning as long as we are involved with mission.” That was the moment that I decided to start working on a PhD with the theme of mission and eschatology. (If you’re interested in the topic, you can try and get a copy of the book: The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology: Toward a Christ-Centered Approach )

Later, as I started working on my PhD, David Bosch (I had the privilege to work closely with him, although not under him) referred me to an article he had written in which he said the following: “I wonder whether the real difference between “ecumenicals” and “evangelicals” (and, may I add, between different brands of “evangelicals”), does not lie in the area of eschatology… Until we clarify our convictions on eschatology, we will continue to talk at cross purposes.” Once again I had one of those “a-ha” moments, knowing that my thoughts on this topic was changed forever. (If you have access to an academic library, you can search for this article: Bosch, D J. 1982. How my mind has changed: Mission and the alternative community. Journal of Theology for Southern Africa. 41 (December) pp 6–10)

As I’m getting older (and hopefully more mature in my theological thinking), I still realise the truth of these words. As we are busy with the discussions in the lecture hall at ASM, I can absolutely see how these two topics are linked to each other. I started my lectures by making the remark that many people refuse to read the book of Revelation, because it makes them afraid. Immediately a number of students in the classroom confirmed this. What I’m hoping for is to give them a more balanced viewpoint on eschatology so that, by the end of the week, they will be able to read Revelation, not with fear, but with excitement, in the same way as the first Christians to whom this book was addressed, probably read it.

Yesterday I did a short introduction on eschatology in general and then started with Revelation 1 this morning. When we read Rev 1:7: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen”, I said that, for the early church, the return of Jesus was the ultimate hope they had. They were living in wicked times. Their friends and church leaders were being persecuted and often fed to the lions. They had little hope that a change in government would make things better. And therefore they kept their eyes focussed on the return of Jesus. Yet, these early Christians simultaneously kept their eyes focussed on the world in which they lived, becoming involved in social issues, feeding the poor and caring for the sick, better than the government could do.

And this, it seems to me, is the key of a Biblical eschatology – keeping the balance between a real expectation of the second coming of Christ and being involved in the world in which God has placed us to live. As I spend a week in the lives of these young wannabe-missionaries, I hope that they will be able to keep this balance, wherever they may end up in the years to come.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009 Posted by | Africa, David Bosch, Eschatology, Hope, Mission, Social issues, Theology | Leave a comment

Mission outreaches, again!

I’m not dead and I haven’t been seriously ill. I just did not have the time to blog the past few weeks. Since the beginning of July I’ve first had a single girl who came to join us for a week in Swaziland, to experience what our caregivers are doing in an AIDS-infected community. While she was here, three medical students also arrived for five days, wanting to combine compulsory practical work with a medical outreach to the community. While they were around, my friend Tim Deller (http://swazilandexperience.wordpress.com/) and his dad arrived back in Swaziland, to visit many of his old friends. While they were still around, the two leaders from a team from Fresno, CA, arrived and then a few days later the rest of the team arrived and we spent a great time together in Swaziland. You can read about their experiences on their blog: Summer in Swaziland
Yesterday, as the team was preparing to return to the USA, we had a long time of debriefing, rethinking and evaluating the previous two weeks. Someone asked me a question: “This trip had cost us around $36000 (traveling, food and on the ground expenses). Do you feel that you received $36000 worth of help? Shouldn’t we rather have sent you the money and remained at home?” I had to think a few seconds before I answered: “First of all, twelve people would probably not have been able to raise $36000. Secondly, how do you determine the value of deep relationships – the type of relationships that were formed while they were in Swaziland the past two weeks? How do you determine the value of encouragement given to caregivers, working in fairly hopeless conditions, when someone from affluent USA says that she is willing to get into a taxi with a caregiver (twenty one people in a twelve-seater mini-van), walk along sandy footpaths to reach a homestead in order to apply the most basic care?”
And then the person who had asked the question, added that the spiritual growth that had taken place in the team also had to be taken into account. Probably the greatest moment, as far as I’m concerned, happened yesterday morning when one of the team members, who had never prayed in public before, voluntarily prayed while the whole group was listening. I wonder if I’ve ever been more touched by a prayer. It was an amazing experience for all of us!
I met early this morning with a group of men, some of whom are presently attending group sessions every evening focused on their own spiritual growth. Without wanting to discredit what they are doing at their church, I am absolute convinced that the spiritual growth that had taken place in the lives of most of the members of this outreach team, surpasses what will be obtained by attending lessons about the topic.
Short-term outreaches can lead to serious problems, one of the greatest probably being that the people being visited become dependent upon the outreach teams. There are many horror stories of outreach teams eventually realizing that they had been pumping money into a community, only to find that they had not been assisting the community, but had rather led them on the road of greater dependency. I still find it very difficult to know where one should help and where one should deny help. Or to rephrase: Where one should assist directly (giving something which is needed) and where one should find other means to give assistance such as helping certain forms of development to take place. I’ve made enough mistakes in my own life where I gave help in the wrong way. However, I’ve also seen the results when two groups of people from different cultures come alongside each other, the one rich (according to African standards), the other extremely poor (according to Western standards) and where they work together to address the real needs and not only the perceived needs.
I asked the group a question: “Is it necessarily wrong for people to live in a house built of mud, where they sleep on a thin grass mat on the floor and where they have to go down to a river to fetch water?” Obviously, if you had never had to stay in such circumstances (except possibly when going on some kind of exotic vacation), you would feel that it is wrong. But for those growing up in such conditions, it is fairly acceptable. To move into a community such as this, building a new home for one person (usually someone that the group had become attached to) is probably not going to be a good idea, as the neighbors are bound to wonder what that person did to deserve a new home.
Ten days ago we were part of a community project to help a certain community to get clean water. I have three basic requirements when starting any such project: It should be affordable, sustainable and duplicatable. (These are a sort of rule-of-thumb for myself and there are times when I would ignore one or more of these requirements, but then I need to make a deliberate decision that, within the circumstances, it is acceptable to do so.) The community has a real need for more clean water. The Swaziland government had installed a communal tap, but the water flow is so slow, that it takes ages to fill a container with water. After discussing a plan with the community, they came together to dig a hole in the ground. We supplied a plastic barrel (costing R300 or $40) and the community helped us to bury the barrel in river sand which acts as filter, so that eventually clear water will accumulate in the barrel through fine holes we had drilled into the bottom of the barrel. This is affordable, sustainable and duplicatable. In fact, this is the second similar project we have done.
Did I need a team from the USA to do this work? Of course not. But I’m sure that for some time to come, every team member will think of that community whenever they open a tap and see clear water running into a glass. And the community will remember that the group of people came from the USA, not to give out huge sums of money, but to address a real need that they had been struggling with for some years.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Building relations, Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Dependency, Giving, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Partnership, Poverty, Prayer, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

The Death of a Celebrity

Since last week, after the death of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, a lot has been said about the death of celebrities. Even people who would under normal circumstances not believe in heaven, have made remarks and written on their blogs that they believe that MJ is in heaven, is moon-walking in heaven or has joined the heavenly band. OK, I admit that I’m too old to be able to appreciate his music. A friend of mine mentioned on Facebook that MJ had “one or two good songs” and was heavily criticized for saying this. But to be honest, if I had been on “Who wants to be a millionaire?”, I wouldn’t be able to name a single song that he had sung, without using a help-line – not even one or two!
So, this is not about MJ of FF or whoever. It’s about the emotions that are stirred when a celebrity dies. And perhaps, more importantly, the emotions that are NOT stirred when other people die. We’re confronted daily with death in Swaziland. I recently blogged about The innocent victims of AIDS. After I wrote about the baby who had died, one of a triplet, I heard on Sunday that a second baby had also died. In sub-Sahara Africa, around 6000 people die every day due to HIV and AIDS! Those who are dying leave behind families who need to be cared for. Very often, the people who are dying in these countries, are the breadwinners of their families. When the breadwinner dies, the family is effectively doomed. There is no estate from which the family can be cared for.
I can understand that the death of a celebrity will always wake up strong emotions with the public, but surely something is wrong if the death of one pop-star dominates the news for days on end (and we’re still waiting for the funeral!) while news about the innocent victims of AIDS, slavery, warfare, poverty, malnutrition and so much more, will hardly ever be mentioned in any newspaper, let alone make it to the headlines.
It was ironic, back in 1997, when Lady Diana and Mother Teresa had died within days of each other, how the people almost deified Lady Diana while Mother Teresa’s death, compared to Lady Diana’s, was rather unimportant.
In the Belhar Confession, one of the sentences read: “that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged”. When I see the way that the world, the church as well as individual Christians reacted upon hearing of MJ’s death, that sentence may well have read: “that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the famous, the rich and the celebrity.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009 Posted by | Africa, AIDS, Church, Death, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Poverty, Swaziland, Theology | 3 Comments

And what if revival comes?

A number of years ago, one of our dear friends, living in the same town where we stay, made a remark which more or less said the following: “I’m praying that God will bring revival to this town and that at least 2000 people will come to repentance.” To which I replied (to her shock): “I’m going to start praying that it will not happen.” After she recovered from the shock of hearing blasphemy from the mouth of a pastor, I explained to her why I said this. At that time we were just not ready to receive 2000 new believers into any (or all) of the churches in the town. The new believers would be neglected. They would probably starve (spiritually) and eventually many of them will leave the church and return to their old lives.

Even now, when I do evangelism training in churches, I tell the people that they must not even start with an evangelism program, unless if they have everything in place to receive and support the new believers. This is almost like preparing the unborn baby’s room in anticipation for the birth that will take place.

During this past week I realised once again how unprepared most churches are for new believers. And this time it was my own congregation in Swaziland that I had to admit is still not ready for any form of revival. Since we started with our AIDS Home-Based Caring ministry, I believed that people will be affected by the caring attitude coming from the church. Our aim was not to attract new members for our own church, but we did hope that people in the communities where we work will start realising that God actually loves them. From time to time individuals did decide to join our church.

And then, in 2007, I received an invitation from one of Swaziland’s Members of Parliament in an area known as Lavumisa, to start conducting church services in his area. He opened his home to us, invited people to come and things started happening. I myself went there on various Sundays and when Tim Deller was still in Swaziland, he also went there regularly. He mentioned this a few times in his own blog, and I also blogged about it, amongst others in Starting a new church at Lavumisa.

There is, however, one big problem about conducting services at this place, and this is the distance which I have to travel to get there. It is almost 160 km (100 miles) from my home, meaning that, to go there, implies a round trip of more than 300 km. But then I also have other places which I need to visit on Sundays and furthermore I’m also invited at times to preach in other churches. From the start I realised that it would not be possible for me personally to take responsibility for this area. After the people indicated that they wanted our church to continue working in the area, I took the matter to the church council and asked them to discuss ways of helping these people. I sensed a reluctance amongst some of the church council members, but they eventually agreed that they would arrange that people in the vicinity of Lavumisa would help with church services. Unfortunately, it seems as if they did send people there a few times and then stopped going.

Last month we trained a group of caregivers in an area known as Qomintaba, which is about 20 km (12 miles) from one of our existing churches at Matsanjeni. I was totally unprepared for what happened next. On Wednesday I heard that the headman of the area had come to repentance. We didn’t speak to him about Christ. But he was so touched by what he saw the church doing, that he decided that he wanted to accept this Christ we are preaching and now he, and a large number of the caregivers, want to join our church. I know that most people will say “Halleluiah” when they hear this, but this is becoming a logistical nightmare. Once again, we don’t have people in that area that can take responsibility to do the work. But then the church members at Matsanjeni made their own plan. They would drive down to Qomintaba on a Sunday morning, help them with a church service at 9, then drive back to Matsanjeni to have another service at 11.

And then, on Wednesday, I had a long discussion with one of our church elders, and found that he was actually irritated by this. His first remark was that I’m putting him under stress because he feels that it is his responsibility to care for these people. In fact, he told me that we should just forget about them. (Wow! I can now understand how Peter felt when he returned to Jerusalem after Cornelius had accepted Christ in Acts 10.) I could understand his point of view. But I also realised that he was still not ready for God to do big things in the church. He was still feeling that everything is his responsibility. Eventually I (hopefully) convinced him that not I nor anyone else was expecting him to conduct services at Qomintaba on a regular basis. I would love to visit them in the near future. I would love him to visit them as well. But we need to respect the church at Matsanjeni who have taken this responsibility upon their own shoulders, encourage them, supply them with the basic needs and then allow them to do this work. This, I think, is probably fairly close to the New Testament model of the church.

But I couldn’t help wondering what would happen in most churches, my own included, if a real revival starts taking place.

Friday, June 12, 2009 Posted by | Africa, Church, Disappointments, Evangelism, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Leadership, Meetings, Mission, Social issues, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology, Worship | 1 Comment