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 | 14 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

The faith part of Faith-based Organizations

I’m probably biased when I say that missionaries seem to experience God’s providence in more practical ways than Christians who are not involved in spiritual work of that nature. Or possibly it’s not only missionaries, but anyone part of faith-based organizations where they have to rely on the goodwill of people for the daily running of their organization.
I recently had an experience that still gives me gooseflesh when I tell others about it. We have a client in Swaziland who hurt his leg in 1993. What started as a small sore on his leg, developed into a massive sore which just became progressively worse over time. In 2008 we had a volunteer, Tim Deller, from Milwaukee, who worked with us. Through one of our caregivers, Tim met up with this man. You can read about Tim’s first gruesome encounter with John and his leg by going to http://swazilandexperience.wordpress.com/2008/03/07/7-march-2008/ and then scrolling down to: “My New Friend Johane.” By the time Tim left, the size of the sore had drastically reduced and it seemed that it was merely a matter of time before the leg would be fully healed. But then, when Tim returned to Swaziland for a visit in 2009, he found that the sore had become much larger. His report on this visit can be read at http://swazilandexperience.wordpress.com/2009/08/03/3-august-2009/
At the moment we are fortunate that we have a young pharmacist who is working as a volunteer with us in Swaziland and I asked her to make John’s leg a priority. By the time she leaves Swaziland at the end of the year, I want John’s leg to be healed fully. We arranged with a nearby pharmacy to give her the medication she needed and she has now visited him a number of times to clean and dress the wound. There is one problem however: the dressing is extremely expensive. It is costing us around R75 ($10) for a single dressing (and one dressing is too small for the wound at this stage) which needs to be changed twice a week.
While I was recently in Fresno, California, we had a reunion of a team from Fresno that had visited Swaziland in July 2009. One of the team members arrived with two bags which she left in a room with the request that I check the contents and take whatever I needed. One of the other team members works at a pharmacy in Fresno and I asked her whether their pharmacy by any chance sold the product we use for John’s leg. I was hoping that we might be able to get the product in the USA at a more affordable price. I had the name of the company manufacturing the product as well as the precise item name, but because it was produced by a British company, it is not commonly distributed in the USA and she could not help us, save for trying to get the name of an equivalent product produced in the USA. (A bit of a disappointment!)
After the visitors had left, I opened the bags that had been left there. The larger part of the contents was too sophisticated for our caregivers to use, but I then opened the other bag and – you’ve guessed it – I found a bunch of the dressings that we use in Swaziland, the exact British company name and the exact item. It honestly didn’t even cross my mind to pray about this. God had provided in our needs even before we thought about praying about this.
Sceptics  may say it’s coincidence. I know it’s not coincidence. Statistically it would be hard to convince anyone that this had been merely coincidence. A product that’s not manufactured in the USA and not distributed in pharmacies in the USA, dropped at the exact location where I’m staying at exactly the time when we were trying (unsuccessfully) to source the product in the USA (and the person who had dropped the bags had NO idea that we needed that specific product. But furthermore, the fact that this is not the first time that we’ve experienced this type of thing happening, shows us that God really cares about the work we are doing amongst the people with serious health conditions, including HIV and AIDS, in Swaziland.
In more affluent societies people spread the word of their needs and others respond. Working within poverty-stricken areas, people tend to be more focused on God’s provision. I am not a man of “great faith”. Often I feel like the father of the boy possessed by evil spirits of whom me read in Mark 9:17-27 who said to Jesus:  “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” But each time something like this happens, then it helps me a bit further on the road of overcoming my unbelief.

Monday, February 8, 2010 Posted by | AIDS, Cross-cultural experiences, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Poverty, Prayer, Swaziland, Theology | 8 Comments

’Twas the day before Christmas

We live in a very small town, but today it is almost impossible to move around in the business area. Everybody seems to be doing their last-minute Christmas shopping. Those planning to spend Christmas with their relatives, are stocking up on food to ensure that there will be enough to eat. People are coming out of liquor stores after they’ve ensured that there will be enough to drink over the weekend. Those with money have bought the latest gadgets to be handed out as Christmas gifts. The main road leading from Johannesburg to the North Coast (with some of the best fishing areas in South Africa) passes straight through our town and huge 4 x 4 vehicles towing even larger fishing boats or trailers are moving non-stop through the town. Many of the trailers have an off-road quad-bike latched onto it – quite often two or even three so that there will be no need for people to take turns in riding the quad-bikes over the sand dunes.
How did we move from the story in the Bible of a mother and father who had to stay over in a stable, from a mother who gave birth to a Son who later declared that He did not even have a pillow to sleep on, to where we are today? I’m certain that we’re missing the real message of Christmas.
And I can’t help wondering what the millions of people living in extreme poverty will be doing on Christmas this year. In Swaziland I know that the majority of the people have nothing extra to give to their children for Christmas. No presents. Nothing special to prepare for dinner. Those relatives coming home, although welcome, will more often than not stretch the budget even further. Tomorrow, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, at least 6500 families will be gathered around the deathbed of a relative who had died of AIDS of which at least 4500 will be found in sub-Sahara Africa.
The purpose of this post is not to attack those with money. But I do have a feeling, as I observe what is going on around me, that Christ will not be found in the stores and in the exotic vacation venues on this Christmas day. If I had to search for Him tomorrow, I would rather start my search in a humble hut or in a mud house, where there are no flickering lights or a special Christmas dinner, but where He is being honored as the King of kings and the Prince of peace – the way in which He was honored just after He was born.

Thursday, December 24, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture, Disparity, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Swaziland, Theology | 4 Comments

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

Mission and Prayer

No, I didn’t stop blogging. I’ve just been through an exceptionally rough time and when I did get a chance to relax, blogging was fairly low down on my priority list. But now that I’ve reached most of the deadlines that were stretched out before me, I should be able to do a few things that I neglected over the past 6 – 8 weeks, including blogging.
One topic that has been on my mind quite a lot lately, is the influence of prayer on mission. A lot has been written about prayer and I hardly consider myself as an expert on the topic. In fact, I’m usually the first one to admit that I have no idea how prayer works. That’s not the same as to doubt whether prayer works. It’s just that I have no special formula that I can use to guarantee that things will happen in the way we want them to if you keep to certain rules. I do also know the truth of what Søren Kierkegaard once wrote: “A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realised that prayer is listening.”
What I do realize, the longer that I’m involved with mission, is the essential role of prayer in this work. Just looking at our own ministry in Swaziland, Shiselweni Reformed Home-Based Care, and the way in which God has provided in our needs after people prayed about something, has made me realize that, statistically, it would be virtually impossible to say that it was purely by chance that things had happened, sometimes within an hour after praying about a matter. It could happen once. It could happen twice. But when you have ten, twenty and more stories to tell of how people prayed about a certain matter and an answer came, then you have to admit that something supernatural is happening.
We have a large number of prayer supporters all over the world. Not nearly enough though! But those who are praying for us, form an essential partnership in our ministry. Some pray daily. Some pray on a specific day in the week for Swaziland. But without prayer support, we, who are working on the inside, know that our attempts to do what we do will never rise above mere humanitarian assistance.
We can do lots of good things for God, but to rise up to a higher level, every mission ministry needs consistent prayer support. Perhaps Acts 1:8 could be our guide for prayer for mission: Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the ends of the earth. If every Christian could start praying consistently for four mission ministries – one close by, one a bit further away, one even more further away and one really far away – who knows what we might see happening in the world.

Saturday, November 21, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, HIV, Home-based Caring, Partnership, Prayer, Swaziland | 5 Comments

A Christian viewpoint on poverty

One of my dear cyber-friends yesterday wrote on Facebook: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Timothy 6:10 (NIV) Isn’t the last phrase interesting? “Pierced THEMSELVES.” This initiated a lively debate on the issue of money and poverty and the love of money and materialism and many other issues. After commenting back and forth (eventually the discussion took place between three people) I felt that the topic is important enough to blog about and perhaps get some more response.
One of the important remarks made was that it is not money as such that is a root of all evil, but rather the love of money. Which of course is true. And an equally important comment stated that the love of money is not restricted only to rich people, but that poor people often, in spite of their lack of money, also have an unhealthy love for money.
I myself have used these arguments often. But I cannot help wondering if I’m not using these arguments mainly to justify my relative wealth (and even using the term “relative wealth” is a way of justifying what I have while all around me people are literally dying of hunger.) And if you think you’re not rich, have a quick look at the Global Rich List and determine your position when your income is compared with the rest of the world’s population. You’re in for a shock.
The simple fact is that millions of people are living in extreme poverty through no choice of their own. Some were unfortunate enough to be born to parents who cannot care for them. Some were born in a country in war. Some were born in a country which has not had sufficient rain for many years. Obviously there are people who are extremely poor because they chose to squander their money on gambling or drugs or alcohol. But most of the people whom I know in Swaziland who live in extreme poverty (and approximately 60% of the population live on 45 US cents per day or less), had no choice in the matter. And the question which I have to answer, if I am seriously seeking the will of God, is what my responsibility is towards those who are less fortunate than I am. Is it all right with God if I continue with my life, making more money, collecting more material possessions, going on more expensive vacations, while all around me people are dying.
I was having a chat with a Black nurse yesterday about this very topic, and she made the remark that it sometimes seems that the poorer the people are, the more willing they are to share with others. Of course, this is not universally true, but I do have the same impression. I am busy collecting personal data of the 663 caregivers who are part of Shiselweni Home-Based Care, a ministry of our church consisting solely of volunteers, who are giving their time and energy to help people with HIV and AIDS. One of the questions I ask them, is how many orphans they are taking care of. With almost 15% of Swaziland’s population made up of orphans with very few official orphanages, it is usually the extended family that needs to take care of the orphans. However, if there is no extended family, then other community members will take over that task. One of our caregivers has four children of her own, ranging from 8 – 16, and then she is also taking care of 16 other children! Another one has five of her own children, ranging in age from 15 – 23. She is also caring for 15 other children. Sometimes it’s one or two, sometimes four or five orphans, but these people who are living in extreme poverty, without running water and usually without electricity, are doing things that the rich will most probably not even consider doing.
(We have now started with a project to assist these caregivers in Swaziland with food and medicine to enable them to do their work more efficiently. We call it: “Adopt-a-Caregiver”. If you are interested in helping these selfless people to have an even larger impact on Swaziland, you are welcome to contact me on wyngaard@lando.co.za )
We will have to start rethinking our attitude towards money and material possessions. I am convinced that God is not happy with the way in which the majority of rich Christians think about money.

Thursday, October 8, 2009 Posted by | AIDS, Death, Disparity, Giving, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Partnership, Poverty, Social issues, Support teams, Swaziland, Tithing | 5 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

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

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