Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Working together with Home-Based Caregivers

I’m sitting at our annual synod meeting in Manzini at the moment. I’m the general secretary of the Swaziland Reformed Church and for the past week I’ve been rushing around, getting things ready for this meeting, the reason why I haven’t been able to blog lately. In between I have also been involved with a team from OM (Operation Mobilisation) which had been doing their rural outreach training in Swaziland. Instead of using them for building projects, I use these teams mainly to work with our home-based caregivers. Every morning, after breakfast, they meet the caregivers and start walking with them from homestead to homestead, caring for the patients, often walking down to a stream or river to fetch water and doing whatever is necessary to practically demonstrate the love of Christ to these people.
On Tuesday evening, the day before the group returned to their training base in South Africa, I asked them to come together at our church building at Dwalenito share what they had experienced in the two weeks that they had been in Swaziland. This was a time that I wanted to use to hear from them what had happened, but it was also a time of debriefing for the group, as many of them had really experienced culture shock. One of the young people said: “I had been stretched over my limit while I was there, but it was a good thing. God opened my eyes for the real need of the people in Swaziland.
What really amazed me was to hear how virtually everyone of them said to me that the time had been a challenge to them, having to walk long distances in the day, not having the convenience of a shower, having to fetch their own water, but then hearing every single one thanking us for allowing them to be part of this work. This isn’t what I would consider as a normal reaction. Normally people would be thankful if they had been living in comfortable rooms with comfortable beds and all other things which they would find at home.
But I also realised why they reacted in this way. They had been exposed to some of the worst situations that many of them had seen, things like extreme hunger (at one house they had helped to clean the house and did not find a crumb of food in the house) and also a girl of twelve years who is suffering from a sexually transmitted disease because some family member (probable the father or uncle) had continually raped and abused her. (Through their intervention the matter has now been reported to the police.) But then they also saw how the caregivers gave themselves to help these people. They saw one caregiver who had no food in her own home, going back to her house to fetch a bar of soap, just to be able to share something with someone else. And it was seeing this attitude that made it worthwhile for them to be here. Yes, they were stretched, but they were changed for the good and I believe that not one of them will ever quite be the same again.
Under normal circumstances I have too much other work to be able to visit the clients regularly. But every once in a while I join up with one or two of the caregivers and visit a few homes with them. And every time I do this I am strengthened and enriched merely by observing what these people are doing. But obviously, when I visit a home with them, I cannot leave without praying. These people still believe that there is some special power in a minister’s prayer!
Bill Hybels mentioned that every person should expose him or herself to a place of pain in order to grow spiritually and to have God speak to their hearts. I cannot agree with him more.

Friday, September 5, 2008 Posted by | AIDS, Bill Hybels, Building relations, Church, Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture Shock, HIV, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Partnership, Poverty, Prayer, Short-term outreaches, Swaziland, Theology | Leave a comment

Bringing Keen Minds and Passionate Hearts together

During the recent Courageous Leadership Award ceremony, Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek, spoke off the cuff when asked to announce the winner of the award. Gathered in the room for the celebration dinner were senior members of the Willow Creek staff, members of World Vision, the three finalists and then quite a number of business people. He said some very inspiring things, challenging each and every person in the room to make a commitment to visit at least one “place of pain” (as he calls it) within the next twelve months. It is true that one has to be confronted with the real need of the world before one can really become inspired to make a difference.
But then he said something which really stuck. I can’t remember the exact wording, but it went something like this: “If someone with a keen mind (from a resource church) could link up with someone with a passionate heart (usually in a frontline church), amazing things could start happening.” As I listened to these words, I realised that this may well have been one of the “a-ha!” moments in my life. It made so much sense to me when he put it like that.
People with keen minds are usually focussed on finding solutions. They see a problem, analyse the immediate need, find a solution and very often even supply the solution. Unfortunately, however, this may not be a long-term solution. Very often the solutions involve not only a huge amount of money but also a lot of maintenance. I remember how a group of well intentioned people once visited Swaziland, found that someone they had grown to love had to wash each night in a zinc tub, then built him a shower, complete with petrol pump to transfer water from a container on the ground into another container on the roof of the house, so that he could shower. When I saw this, I just shook my head, knowing that this would only work until the petrol is finished. Or until the pump breaks.
I have often had people coming to visit us with great ideas how the people could start some kind of small business through which they could generate money. But the moment I ask the question to whom they will be selling their products, the answer comes: “To their neighbours!” Well, the only problem with that is that the neighbours are usually as poor as they are. And in the end all that is happening is that the little money within the community is being circulated amongst them. This is not a solution.
The people on the frontline with the passionate hearts are also looking for solutions but are mostly hindered due to a lack of resources. But I find also that we are hindered by a lack of ability to look objectively at a problem. We are so closely linked to the needs of the people on the ground, that it takes great effort to stand back for a moment or two to view the problem objectively and to possibly find a new or better solution. But what would happen if the people with the keen minds could come together with those with the passionate hearts, where both groups interact to find the best long-term and sustainable solutions for the people in need?
Finding ways in which the people could effectively and economically grow their own vegetables, makes sense. But this is a long-term project in which a lot of time will have to be invested if it should work. But people with keen minds may be able to do this effectively. Teaching people basic skills to build and maintain their own homes so that they do not need to pay professional people to do the work, makes a lot of sense. But people with keen minds need to get involved with this. Even setting up a small business makes sense, as long as plans are also in place to sell the goods produced outside the community so that money can come into the community.
Perhaps we need to start praying for more people with keen minds to get involved in finding solutions, not on their own, but together with us who have the passion for the people in need.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008 Posted by | Cross-cultural experiences, Dependency, Giving, Mission, Poverty, Prayer, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Vision | 3 Comments

Returning home after a mission trip

I’ve been following some of the news of the team members who had recently had their short-term outreach to Swaziland from Florida, USA. Most of them are on Facebook. Personally I’m not very fond of Facebook but I must admit that it does give me the opportunity to have closer contact with this team as a whole. But more than anything else I think, I’m intrigued to see how these students adapt to their “normal” lives after their visit to Swaziland.
On their arrival back in the states, they immediately set up a group on Facebook where they could post their photos and video clips and send messages to each other. The first messages were: “I feel so lost without seeing you guys today!!!!” and “I miss you all & Love you all so much!! Hope your summers are swell! Keep in touch, and POST PICTURES! Love you all!” Then the posts concentrated on asking the team members to post their video clips. But now, two weeks later, there is hardly any mention anymore about their trip to Swaziland.
Looking at the individuals’ profiles, it is clear, after two weeks of leaving Swaziland, that life is “back to normal” for most of them, with only one or two still mentioning constantly that they wish they could be back in Swaziland. Oh, and it was interesting to see, just after their return from Swaziland, that all of them had changed their profile photos to one taken in Swaziland. A few have already changed their photos again showing something which they had done during the past few days.
OK, two questions: If I had told the group, just before they left Swaziland that for most of them Swaziland will be a far-off memory in a few weeks time, would they have believed me? Probably not. Is this abnormal? Probably not. I think different people react differently to short-term outreaches. I myself get much more emotionally attached to people than many of my friends. For the past eight years I’ve been going to Samara in Russia for two weeks. For the first week or two after my return, I really struggle to focus on my normal duties. All I can think of is my visit to Russia. I’m not a great tennis fan, but after returning from Russia my wife (she loves tennis) calls me to come and watch each time that Maria Sharapova plays, not because she’s blonde or beautiful or an excellent tennis player, but because she’s Russian! My wife has been to Russia with me, so she understands my withdrawal symptoms after arriving back at home.
How do I handle my return from a short-term missionary outreach? First of all I believe that God had sent me on that trip for a purpose and the purpose is not primarily so that I could enjoy myself. God wanted to teach me something and He wants me to share what I have learnt with other people. And so I try and arrange a time, usually in church on a Sunday, to give a short presentation on what I had experienced. Then I put up reminders (photos or some other gift I may have received) to help me to remember to pray for these people. You can pray for people you do not know. But it becomes much easier and more enjoyable to pray for people whom you do know and whose circumstances, home, family, etc you are familiar with.
But for myself the greatest help is my commitment to the people in Samara. The first year I prayed whether I should go. The second year I prayed that I would be able to go. From then on I prayed that God should show me if He didn’t want me to go! This keeps me focussed on the country and the people I’ve come to know. They know that I’ve made a long-term investment in them and I believe they do appreciate it.
When you arrive in the foreign country, you go through varying degrees of culture shock. When you return home the same thing happens. We have to learn how to handle these emotions and how to apply it in a positive way so that the people that we had visited will benefit from it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 Posted by | Building relations, Comfort Zone, Cross-cultural experiences, Culture Shock, Mission, Prayer, Russia, Short-term outreaches, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | 3 Comments

Addressing Community Problems

My eldest son followed in his dad’s footsteps and is presently in his final year as a theological student. In our church (Dutch Reformed Church) it is compulsory, in the final year, to have a “probation sermon” which means, on a certain Sunday, you arrange with one the professors as well as a number of other specified people to attend a normal church service, after which the student and the invited guests meet under the chairmanship of the professor to evaluate the entire service and obviously, the sermon in particular. This can be quite stressful, as you can imagine.
Yesterday was D-day for my son. We attended the service and I also attended the discussion afterwards. Last week my son blogged about his plans for the sermon, which you can read here.
South Africa does have an extremely high crime rate and the area where my son is staying (and where he is also involved as youth pastor at a church) has been going through a time of an abnormally high crime incidence. Although we have heard from him about certain initiatives being taken by the church to get involved in the fight against crime, I was extremely impressed when I saw the things happening at the church yesterday. They’ve been able to find a balance between merely playing a spiritual role (comforting and counselling traumatised people) and fighting the war against crime. This area is mostly rural where most of the people live on small plots. The distance between neighbours may therefore be 100 metres (300 feet) or more, which means that it is not easy for neighbours to hear when problems occur. Most of the plots are on dirt roads and in cases of emergency the police and health services have problems in locating the house where they were called to. The church, working together with other organisations, are now helping the community to acquire reflective boards with their plot numbers clearly indicated on it. Church members with knowledge on security are giving training sessions to help residents to make their properties safer. Meetings are regularly held (at the church) where security forces and other organisations meet with church members to establish ways to combat the crime in the area. And obviously, the church has a specialised counselling service for those traumatised by crime.
I get uncomfortable when Christians who had been involved in crime make plans on how they intend to go out and kill the criminals. This isn’t the role of the church. But I also feel uncomfortable when the church does nothing more than praying (even though I believe that this needs to be done much more than is presently taking place.) I had the impression that this church is taking the problems in the community seriously and is honestly looking for ways to address the problems in a way that even those who are not church members or Christians will feel that the church is serious in making a difference in the community.
Afterwards, when the professor who had led the discussion and myself were speaking outside, I said to him: Swaziland’s biggest problem is AIDS. This is where God has called us to make a difference in the community. This church is situated in a community where the biggest problem at present is excessive and violent crime. This is where God is calling them at this stage to make a difference within the community.

Monday, June 2, 2008 Posted by | Church, HIV & AIDS, Hope, Mission, Prayer, Social issues, Swaziland, Theology | 2 Comments

Keeping Mission Supporters informed

When I arrived in Swaziland in 1985, we were four missionaries working for the same mission organisation ( www.swazimission.co.za ) and one of the tasks which I was instructed to do was to write a newsletter once every four months to keep our supporters and others interested in the work informed about things happening. The other missionaries wrote during the other three months. 1985 was BC (Before Computers) which meant that we had to type a newsletter on an old typewriter (my kids don’t even know what a typewriter is!) and then this document had to be posted to an office in Pretoria in South Africa where it was retyped, duplicated, put into envelopes and posted to a few hundred people.
With time the system changed. Of the four missionaries I was the first to buy a computer in 1986 and we then started doing the newsletter on computer, in those early years using a program known as Wordstar and later progressing to other wordprocessors which enabled us to make the newsletter slightly more attractive. As my fellow missionaries left Swaziland, either to work in other areas or to retire, I eventually ended up having to write a newsletter every month. Getting the newsletter duplicated was not too difficult, but it became a family affair once a month to fold hundreds of newsletters and to get them into envelopes.
And then the next big step came when I started sending these newsletters via email. At present I have less than twenty people still receiving their newsletters via snail mail. What an improvement! But up to today I am glad that I was forced, in those early years, to discipline myself to send out newsletters to our supporters. As I receive and read newsletters from a selected group of missionaries that I am involved in, I realise the importance of these newsletters. All people supporting a ministry, be it morally, financially or through prayer, need (and have the right) to know that their support is making a difference. As missionaries we depend upon those people and therefore every missionary has to discipline him / herself to keep those supporters informed about the work.
As I went on my first short-term missionary outreach to Russia in 2001, a great number of people prayed for me. (Frankly, I suspect that many of them did not think that I would return home.) Stories of the persecution of Christians in Communist countries were still fresh in our minds. As I kept these people informed almost on a daily base as I prepared to go to Russia, I made a decision that, once in Russia, I would try my best to send out regular emails to all of these supporters. I was mostly thinking of sending out prayer requests but this became much more a personal diary (my first “blog” even before anyone else knew about blogs 😉
Mission is teamwork. One missionary needs a large group of people giving all kinds of support. The missionary has the responsibility to ensure that all these people are well informed of the “successes” as well as the needs. For many missionaries this may feel like a waste of precious time, but it is time well invested in the kingdom of God.

Thursday, May 22, 2008 Posted by | Mission, Partnership, Prayer, Russia, Short-term outreaches, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Swaziland Newsletters | 1 Comment

Prayer and Mission

I’m almost through with Philip Yancey’s book: Prayer: Does it make any difference? As I read the stories of great missionaries, the one thing which stands out is, first of all, their personal dedication to prayer and secondly the prayer support given to them by other people. I have learnt to be very humble when it comes to prayer, mainly because I have found no foolproof recipe that works every time. In fact, I maintain that, if I should find such a foolproof recipe, I would probably be able to convert virtually the whole world, because which person would reject a foolproof offer to change whatever they want to change, merely by praying about it? Unfortunately (or rather, fortunately), prayer doesn’t work in this way. Yet I have often found that in strange ways, things that we pray about, often seem to work out in ways unforseen.
Through the years I have found that I cannot cope with the work in Swaziland without proper prayer support. As I go around, telling people about our work, mainly at present concentrated on those living with HIV and AIDS, the one thing I ask for, time and again, is prayer supporters. And as more people get involved in this task, so we find that the work becomes manageable and we also experience positive things happening.
Prayer support can be given in many ways. On the negative side, many missionaries experience people saying very easily: “You’re doing great work. I’ll pray for you,” without really realising what the work entails. My feeling at these times are that the people are actually saying: “I don’t want to get too deeply involved with your work and the quickest way to get rid of you is to tell you that I’ll pray for you.” The message I want to get across is that we have to be sincere when we say to someone that we will pray for them. Missionaries rely on people praying for them and their ministry. I’m trying to get myself in the habit, when someone asks for my prayers, to immediately pray for whatever they asked for, merely because I tend to forget afterwards. When a friend sends me an email asking for prayer support, I often write my prayer on a return email.
I have about 300 people receiving monthly updates from me via email in which I also highlight two or three matters for which there can be prayed. Many of those receiving the newsletter immediately pray for these matters. Many of them will only pray once, but in some way which I still cannot understand, they have contributed to the work being done in Swaziland.
And then I have a number of people who have made it their task to pray for our work on a daily base. These are the people that I contact whenever a crisis occurs. These are the people who start the day, praying for the various aspects of our work (and usually for other missionaries as well), the people contacting me on a regular base to find out whether there are any special prayer requests.
But then, obviously, our own church members are also motivated to pray for the work on a regular base, bringing special needs to God, bringing people with specific needs to God, praying for special projects.
How it works I cannot explain. But I know, without prayer support we would not have been where we are today. And although it is impossible to prove, I think that, with more prayer support, we may have been further than we are today.
By the way, should you want to receive our monthly newsletters via email, you can subscribe to the newsletter by clicking on the link at the end of this sentence and then choosing whether you want to receive it in Afrikaans or in English: SUBSCRIBE TO SWAZILAND NEWSLETTER

Tuesday, May 20, 2008 Posted by | Church, HIV & AIDS, Mission, Prayer, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Swaziland Newsletters, What I'm reading | 2 Comments

Without the king

One of my friends who formerly commented regularly on this blog, informed me some months ago about a documentary that had been made about the Swazi monarchy. It is called “Without the king.” In one of the other blogs I read daily I was recently reminded about this movie again and after an extensive search, I was able to find a copy from Amazon in Canada. A short trailer of the movie is also available here.
So, what are my views on the movie? I would describe the movie in two words: Excellent and biassed. We are given a fairly honest look at some parts of Swaziland – the monarchy on the one hand and on the other hand the upcoming generation, many of whom are living on the outskirts of the main towns, Mbabane and Manzini, in the hope of making a better living in the towns but devoid of any means to produce their own food and therefore living in great poverty if they should fail to find some form of occupation.
However there are also other groups of which nothing is shown in the documentary – the business people earning good salaries and living a stable life and the traditionalists in the rural areas, staunch supporters of the monarchy and who are mostly subsistence farmers (the people whom I work with mostly in our church.)
What was the aim of Michael Skolnik in making the documentary? Was he trying to warn the world of a possible revolution in the country? If so, why did he not also speak to the intelligentsia, many of whom are also disillusioned with the monarchy and would probably have been a better choice to influence world leaders rather than having to listen only to aggressive people, many of whom were obviously intoxicated while being interviewed? If his intentions was to give the world a picture of what is going on in Swaziland, (the good and the bad) then it would have been better if people from other backgrounds could also have been included.
A few remarks on some of the more sensational things shown in the documentary: At one point it is said that people are so poor that they have to eat intestines from cows and chicken heads and feet. Although this is not my personal favourite, for many Swazi people this is a delicatessen which they enjoy eating. Frozen chicken pieces are sold in stores in packages which include the head and feet. It is also said that churches are empty because people even fear to pray. That is absolute rubbish! Churches in Swaziland are small and not well attended, even though it is considered to be a Christian country, but this has absolutely nothing to do with fear to pray!
As I watched the movie I thought back to the Apartheid years in South Africa within which I grew up. Being within the privileged minority makes it very difficult to listen to people criticising the system. Many documentaries were made about that time and many books were written, most of which were banned in South Africa until 1994. One example of an excellent movie about the South African Apartheid system is The power of One (which I first heard about on a visit to the USA in 1999). However even this excellent movie, as is the case with Without the king, fails to give a balanced view of what really went on in the country.
To me this movie was upsetting as I realise that people on the ground are really getting upset with certain things happening in Swaziland and that a revolution is not impossible. Let’s just pray that it never happens.

Saturday, May 3, 2008 Posted by | Church, Cross-cultural experiences, Hope, Mission, Poverty, Prayer, Racism, Swaziland | 4 Comments

Once more about planning, trusting and commitment

I have a group of people from a church in South Africa helping us at Dwaleni. The group consists mostly of highschool children (two boys and two girls with three more boys joining today) and then my youngest son and my daughter also joined them on this outreach. They are accompanied by their youth pastor (female), her parents who are helping with the cooking as well as coordinating the work that needs to be done and the chairperson of their church’s missions committee and his wife. One of the things happening this week which I’m really glad about, is that our church is being plastered. The building is over a hundred years old (it used to be a store) and does not give a good impression, as you can see on this photo:.
But all of this is just the background for some conversations I had yesterday. With the exception of one of the children, none of them had previously had any contact with anyone who is HIV-positive. Yesterday I arranged that some of our home-based caregivers take these children with them to visit people at their homes. For all of them this was an eye-opener. Even my own son, who hears about this work every single day in our house and who sees photos and videos of our work, was amazed when he saw what the home-based caregivers are doing, mentioning afterwards to the youth pastor that even he had never realised the extent of the work that the home-based caregivers are doing.
Over lunch the chairperson of the mission’s committee made the remark that he would really like to see something similar start in their own church in South Africa but that it would not happen this year. I then asked him what would prevent them from starting with such a project this year and received the answer I expected: It had not been planned and budgeted for! I’m all for planning. I’m all for calculating the costs. But I’m not convinced that God only works from financial year to financial year. And even if there is nothing on the budget for such a project in the current financial year, what would prevent us from at least getting people together and starting discussions on the issue? This can be done at no cost.
Which probably all comes back to the issue of commitment which I mentioned a few days ago: “Not planned for” and “Not on this year’s budget” are legitimate excuses for not getting involved and not committing to projects. But I think this is an easy way out. What about: “Not planned for and not budgeted for, but let’s pray about this and if this is what God wants us to do, then let’s do it!”

Saturday, March 29, 2008 Posted by | Culture Shock, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Partnership, Prayer, Short-term outreaches, Social issues, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | 2 Comments

Commitment in missions

I have a friend who says that he has “tickability”. I’m not sure whether non-Africans have experience with ticks. (Perhaps someone can tell me whether ticks are known in the northern hemisphere with its extremely cold winters.) In any case, a tick is a small insect which bites onto an animal (or a human) and sucks out blood and it really takes some effort to get them off the animals, at the risk of breaking of the ticks head and it causing further infections. My friend claims that he has “tickability”. Once he’s committed himself to something, he won’t let go – no matter what!
I’ve just returned from Dwaleni where a group of people from a congregation in South Africa will be busy with a short-term outreach until 3 April. I know the youth pastor of this congregation very well and she has been looking forward to this outreach for many months. What was extremely disappointing to her was, once everything had been finalised and quite a number of school kids had committed themselves to come for the outreach, to find that one by one the children cancelled their plans. Eventually the team turned up today with four young people (three more will be joining them on Friday.)
I won’t say that this lack of commitment does not disappointment me anymore. In fact, it does. I’m probably just getting a bit immune against it, because it happens so often. The problem does not lie with the children. One could probably say that the problem lies with the parents who should tell their children that you should not make a commitment unless if you intend to follow through with it. But the problem lies even deeper than this. Very few churches seem to have the ability to make a commitment towards mission. This is one of the most-heard arguments used when discussing involvement in mission: “We don’t want to commit ourselves towards supporting this project!” Why not? Why can’t we commit ourselves for a mission project? What are we afraid of? Are we afraid that people will become dependent upon us? Or are we afraid that we will become tired of doing good?
I was thinking today that I have had pastors arranging with me to bring a group from their congregation to Swaziland for a short-term outreach and then, as the days come closer and I don’t hear anything from them, I eventually have to call to confirm whether they are still coming, only to find out that the outreach had been cancelled and the pastor did not even take the trouble to pick up a phone to let me know. This, I would describe as a lack of “tickability”.
I’m busy working through the book of Acts together with a group of people and Paul’s commitment, his “tickability”, is probably one of the greatest characteristics in the life of this missionary. I’ve just read today that the number of missionaries in the world has increased significantly over the past few years. This is good news. From my side I hope that these missionaries possess a good douse of “tickability” and that those congregations who have sent them and who have committed to support them, pray for them, visit them also have enough “tickability” to continue with this. Mission and commitment go hand-in-hand. This is true for the missionary as well as those who support and encourage him/her.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008 Posted by | Church, Dependency, Disappointments, Mission, Partnership, Prayer, Short-term outreaches, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology | 7 Comments

Meeting Jesus over lunch

In a certain sense I am reluctant to share what had happened in 2005 which led to the forming of Shiselweni Reformed Home-Based Care. This was such a deep personal experience that I had with God that it was only recently that I started sharing this story with others. In a previous post which you can access here, I did share part of the story but refrained from sharing the real personal story. Now I feel more ready to tell openly what happened to me.
Since 1989 I have had a deep interest in the problem of HIV and AIDS, specifically in Swaziland. I had done a lot of research on the topic, published an article about this pandemic, with the title: Why are we losing the battle against AIDS? and found myself in 2005 preparing for a number of workshops which were to be held in Utrecht in the Netherlands as part of the general assembly of the Reformed Ecumenical Council, where I was asked to lead the workshops on the task of the church in this time of AIDS. The lectures I delivered in the Netherlands was entitled: Towards a Theology of HIV/AIDS. However, while preparing for these workshops, I had an uncomfortable feeling that God was expecting me to do more than merely presenting a number of lectures.
While attending the assembly in the Netherlands, all the delegates were invited one Sunday morning to attend church in Rotterdam. In spite of the wealth of the majority of the people in Rotterdam, this city, which hosts the busiest harbour in the world, has a large number of people normally regarded as outcasts, people such as drug addicts and prostitutes. The Scots International Church in Rotterdam, the congregation which had invited us to visit them, has the vision to reach out to these outcasts and to serve the poor and the destitute of the city. Although this vision was clearly displayed at the entrance to the church it was only later, in a remarkable experience, that I realised that this church truly lived out their vision.
After the church service, all the delegates were invited to lunch. Most of the delegates were prominent church leaders in their countries: professors, theologians, moderators, general secretaries and people of equal stature. It was while we were busy with lunch that something happened to me that changed my life in a profound way. I noticed a man entering the dining room. This man was obviously mentally challenged. With a slight feeling of discomfort I kept an eye on him, wondering how the local church leaders were going to handle the situation and expecting them to guide this man outside the church, at most with a sandwich in his hand. And then, instead of doing what I expected (and what I perhaps would have done myself in similar conditions), this man was invited to share our lunch! And it was at that moment that I knew that, had Jesus been on earth that day and at that place as a human Person, He would have done exactly the same. While sitting at my table I cried out to God and said that I wanted my own congregation in Swaziland to be like this: The people in Swaziland had to experience Jesus in the way that this man had experienced Him that day in Rotterdam.
While on our way back from Rotterdam to Utrecht in a luxury coach, reflecting on what had happened that day, I realised that I might just have had one of the most important moments in my life and I made a decision not to ignore this. As I was privileged to sit on my own, I had the chance to pray quietly to God and asked Him what He was trying to teach me. I didn’t hear voices! I saw no flashing lights! But in that coach I knew without a doubt that God was laying a vision for our church in my mind: We had to become the hands and the feet of Christ within the communities surrounding our church. Our congregation has several “preaching points” spread throughout the Shiselweni region of Swaziland and with growing excitement I became convinced that each of these communities of faith could become a centre of hope for the sick and the dying within the community where it is situated.
I have often thought about that day. I have discussed it with a few people who were also present that day and up to now nobody else I had spoken to had seen what happened that day. I wrote to the pastor of that church and told him what had happened, but he never answered me. It is as if that experience was meant for me personally. Today I know why I had to travel all the way to the Netherlands so that God could personally touch my life.
Josh and Lindsey Parks recently told a similar type of story and it was while reading this that I decided that the time had come for me to share me story. They actually tell two stories, one positive and one negative. Possibly the negative story touched me even more than the positive story, because it shows us how much harm we can do if we fail to live according to Jesus’ example.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008 Posted by | Church, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Hope, Mission, Prayer, Swaziland, Theology | 1 Comment