Wednesday, January 28, 2015

School in South Africa...

School runs late January-early December in South Africa.  We now have a 4th grader in "preperatory school" and a 3rd grader in "junior primary".  From what I gather, the social and academic jump from junior primary to prep school is akin to our jump from elementary to middle school.

The week before school, the surrounding towns are in hustle and bustle mode buying "stationary" (school supplies).  Unlike the US, every pencil, every crayon, every coloring pencil, every marker, EVERY ITEM has to be labeled with your child's name.  Also unlike the US, the school supply list is extremely strict, down to the exact type of pencil case expected.  Cross off two days of your summer vacation solely to find the correct stationary and label it :)

School runs 7:30-2 with 2 days of mandatory sport for Sawyer (swimming, cricket, field hockey, soccer).  Grade 4 sport takes place after school, so Elaina is out at 3:15.

Grade 4 course of study includes English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Geography, Natural Science, Maths, History, Culture Club, P.E. and Sport.  Wow.  The homework load takes several hours each day and there is a strict code of adherence for how homework is to be completed.  Proper lines must be drawn under the date and any messy work must be erased and re-written.  Once grade 4 students have individually proven themselves to write neatly, they gain a "Pen License" where they graduate from pencils to pens.

The grading system is one we are having to get used to, so I'll write as objectively as I can.  Our school produced two seniors in the top 1% of the country last year.  Their grades were in the 80% range.  Achieving a 70% is considered our high B range and an 80% is quite highly regarded.  Scoring within the 90's is quite rare.  The line between rigor and impossible on assessments here is something that I may someday understand, but not yet.  Likewise, material that is assessed and assessment methods are something we will have to learn to adapt to.

There is a strict code of conduct and overall student presentation.  No make up or jewelry is permitted in any grade (other than stud earrings).  Hair must never fall below the collar, therefore must be tied up for girls.  Boys wear knee socks, which, if sagging, may earn a demerit.  That becomes interesting with the only low quality socks that are available.  Students may earn a demerit if they forget their sun hat during break time and they may get a detention for chewing gum, wearing the wrong sport clothes, or arriving late to school.

You get the drift of where the American rebel in me may rear its ugly head. HOWEVER, the old school American in me has fallen in love with the following things:

1.  Every student, no matter how young or old, will drop everything they are doing when an adult walks by, look them in the eye, and say "Good morning, Ma'am/Sir".  Every student.  Even when school hours are over.

2.  Student responsibility is huge here.  How a child can be punished for being brought late to school may be beyond me but I see fruit in other amazing areas.  Independence in homework, personal study time, ownership of work and neatness, ownership of behavior, awareness of personal impact on community, and good stewardship of belongings are all traits that have greatly increased in the last 7 months.

3.  World Language is taken seriously down to the elementary level.  My 4th grader is learning Afrikaans AND Zulu.  How forward-thinking is that?!  How hard we fought to have World Language offered at least in junior high in Cedar Falls.  Rather, Iowan students well beyond their optimal language learning years are forced to play catch up with the rest of the world.

4.  Snakes, monkeys, and tropical flora invade campus.  I mean, c'mon, that's cool.

We are so very grateful to the Lord for this educational opportunity and for the life lessons it pushes us through.  Now, bring on 3rd and 4th grade!

Organizing stationary for 4th grade.
Afrikaans dictionary, English dictionary, exam pad, notebooks, and folders.
Every item labeled.
Elaina and friend study before their playdate.
Day 1 Afrikaans homework.  "Here is me" collage. 

Chores before school at the Danforth Zoo.

Off to school
Homework help with Uncle Stephen. 
Sawyer told me he found lucky beans at school yesterday.
I found these in his lunchbox after he went to bed :)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sam Sam the Handyman and Crossfit...

Sam Sam the Handyman has been busy at the Genesis Youth Centre!  The gates of Genesis continue to be flooded by a myriad of youth who use the Youth Centre's gym and music academy.  This continues to be an awesome platform for building a stronger, more skilled, more equipped, and more spiritually fine-tuned generation of at-risk youngsters and teens along the south coast.  Thanks to the foresight of the Youth Centre's director and a substantial donor from the US, Crossfit has found it's way to Genesis.  Doors open in February and already, phones are ringing off the hook from a community desiring a healthier lifestyle and positive outlet.  Sam has been busy building efficient spaces, including a women's locker room and a childcare room for parents who will be working out. Join us in prayer that the Lord will use this as yet another super duper cool venue at Genesis to engage the community as a means to share His Word!  

Women's locker rom

Childcare room
Inside the childcare room
Hauling tools to the Youth Centre

I helped Sam for a day...until he said I was creating a nail graveyard. 

The Lord provided a local donor for all this flooring!
Sam Sam the Handyman

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Believe this...

If you believe anything this new year, believe this.  Believe that your empty life cannot be filled by the pursuit of this world or by the might of your hand.  Believe that the emptiness you feel is real.  Very real.  Believe that when you wonder, "Is there more to life than this?" you are asking the right question that will lead to a life-altering, life-filled answer.

If you believe anything this new year, my friends, believe this:

John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

Revelation 19:11 and 13 "I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True...He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God."

John 1:4 "In him was LIFE and that life was the light of men."

John 5:26 "For as the Father has LIFE in himself, so he has granted the Son to have LIFE in himself."

John 1:14 "The Word became flesh and made a dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

John 1:17 "For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

John 14:6 "Jesus answered, 'I am the way, the truth, and the LIFE.  No one comes to the Father except through me."

John 11:25 and 26b "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the LIFE.  He who believes in me will LIVE even though he dies....Do you believe this?'"

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The cost of one's own substance...

She wakes up early and works tirelessly with little ones whose mamas cannot care for them during the day.  They are so young, they don't even know how to thank her.  She is a ready hug with beautiful crows feet from a face well smiled.  She is the face that matches none of her sisters at work but whose tongue speaks Zulu like a champ because love compels her.  She is alone and she is tired


love compels her.

He is another story.  If you google his name, there will be many so pages, it would take days to filter through them.  He comes from a most extraordinary background and has become a most extraordinary citizen.  He's a coveted speaker nationwide.  He could go anywhere and do anything.  But he'll sit and have tea with you, a nobody, because he's not easily impressed by credentials and engagements.  He'll tell you, "Never forget the little people.  Never forget to invest in the ones who can add nothing to your life."  Isn't that what Jesus Christ did for us?  And you know this man hasn't forgotten the little people all along this coast because children who are now grown still call him "Uncle" and tell stories of how he came to their school with his guitar.  Just to sing praises with them.  And somehow each one of them felt loved in that sea of children


love compels him.

She has a story of her own.  Perseverance, endurance, and faithfulness are this woman.  Piles of papers and legal documents cover her desk and demand her time.  But her eyes are on the underdogs, the forgotten ones, the abandoned ones.  They moments from eternity and just need a clean bed upon which breathe their last breath.  She'll complete the pile of papers with excellence because love compels her to maintain an excellent facility for these forgotten ones.  But love compels her also to leave her desk in this moment, sit by a patient's bedside, hold his pale, trembling hand, hear his story, and whisper the hope of a Savior into his ear.  Exhaustion knocks at her door but she plods on


love compels her.

These are some of the saints we work with.  They are not saints because of their own effort or any perfection on their part.  They are saints in the flesh because Christ has loved them, transformed them, and lavished His grace upon them.  They have savored Christ who now compels them to be salt and love to their neighbor.  With the dawn of Advent near, these saints remind me of Alfred Delp's depiction of Advent candles as a symbol of the Christian journey:

"This is a peaceful, reticent, but constant shining.  This is giving light at the cost of one's own substance, so that one is consumed in the process.  Anyone who wants to comprehend Christ's message of light...must comprehend this one thing: the mission, the duty to shine, to draw others, to seek, to heal, to do good at the cost of one's own substance." (David Timms, Sacred Waiting)

Friday, October 10, 2014

"If you could do anything"...

"If you could do anything with your life, what would it be?"

My friend paused and closed her eyes.

"I love to help people.  I love to share love, joy, and hope.  I want to share those things at a job.  I have always wanted to be a home-based care giver."

She has worked as a house-cleaner for the last 10 years.  She is intelligent, sweet, inquisitive, and determined.  One of her first weeks in our home, I asked if she wanted to have coffee and do devotions with me before we both started work.  It became an anticipated weekly tradition.

My heart just about lurched out of my chest as she shared her dream with me.  A home-based care giver?  Lord, this is all making sense now!  The Lord is infinitely wise and sovereign.  Her dream wasn't outlandish.

It just so happens that the Genesis hospice runs a 6 week home-based care training course to meet the increasing demand for care-givers in response to the local HIV and AIDS epidemic.  Trainees spend four weeks in a classroom setting learning about sanitation and care-giving and then two weeks in a practical at the hospice.  Upon completion, they receive a certificate and can seek employment through local hospitals or individual care.  On a deeper level, trainees are invested in by a staff who loves Christ.

Within a matter of weeks, my friend's dream was being recognized and we were able to connect her with the training program.  She got 6 weeks off work (in hopes of never returning to house cleaning).  Sam and I get to see her on Genesis campus where she is in her 2nd week of training.  For those of you who support the Genesis outreach efforts, her story is one of many.  I will miss our weekly time together but rejoice that the Lord is providing her with something better.  Thank you again for sending us here in support of these efforts!
First day of training!
"Not to us, O lord, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness."

Psalm 115:1

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Where men may flourish...

Yes, please, try to convince me that ballroom dancing for rugby boys has a place in ministry.

The boys who come to the Genesis Vikings Christian Rugby Academy represent a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds, life skills preparation, and educational privilege (or lack thereof).  After a year or two of intense physical training and spiritual discipleship at Genesis, some go on to a much different life than they came from.  

The men who spear-headed the rugby academy have a heart not only to see these boys grow spiritually and physically.  Christ's compassion motivates them to see these boys flourish.

"What if these boys get invited to a wedding someday?  They better know how to dance!", mused Pastor Trevor Downham.

Indeed.  What if their success in rugby launches them into an entirely different world, as it already has with some of our boys?  Won't they need to know how to attend a fancy dinner, balance a check book, and be good stewards of their money?  What life skills can we, as a church, build in these boys to see them FLOURISH?  Doesn't "loving your neighbor as yourself" go beyond the big things and seep into the little things in life?

And so life skills were added to the physical and spiritual training of the Vikings Rugby boys' regimen.  From banking to ballroom dancing.


Monday, September 8, 2014

PAM bags

It was 10am and we were ready.  We had an international skype date set up between 3 of us stay-at-home moms, from the cold mountains of Lesotho's capital city to the sunny coast of South Africa.  We smelled a micro enterprise development in the future for one of our friends and you could FEEL the energy and anticipation in my living room.

By 11:30, skype and facetime still weren't working.  Gak, 1st world problems.  We weren't giving up! We felt led to pray and the Lord provided FB chat as our improvised line of communication.

It all goes back a few months when we still lived in Lesotho.  Remember the soccer boys we worked with?  I learned early one of the boy's moms, 'Me Puseletso, had a sewing machine.  I took her a reversible cloth bag and asked if she could imitate the pattern.  She did a fantastic job using Lesotho's seshoeshoe material and even added her own flair.  I showed the bag to my friend, Carolyn, who then put in an order for a different style of bag, also made of seshoeshoe (pronounced "seshwayshway").  It also turned out beautifully!

'Me Puseletso's bags quickly gained popularity with the international community in Lesotho and she began to fill orders and perfect her patterns and quality.  After moving to South Africa and seeing an even larger pool of potential clientele, I began to pray about what God may have in store for 'Me Puseletso and her sewing machine.  You see, 'Me Puseletso fights against all odds in Lesotho.  She's a single mom and is otherwise unemployed but has an impressive hand in her urban garden and in raising her boy.  Her son faithfully attended my after-school French and homework lessons.  I can tell you there is something to this kid.  I believe God has a plan for him.  She is trying to offer him a better future.  One with hope and continuing education.   

As I prayed for her and her son's future, I began to see how God had plans to be HER Jehovah, her Provider.  He made her a brilliant seamstress.  She had the skills, she had the desire, and she had the work ethic.  She just needed the clientele.  So, Puseletso had the skills, Carolyn had the facebook chat to make our communication possible, and I had the international network that wanted her products.  3 stay-at-home moms.  Micro enterprise.  God's provision.

One digital date and much planning later, 'Me Puseletso is now working on her first stock of 20 bags to send me to be distributed here in South Africa.  She's not sure if they are going to sell.  I'm pretty sure she soon won't be able to keep up with the demand :)  She came up with the product name, "P.A.M.'s Bags".  P.A.M. stands for Puseletso Asteria Mathetse...the woman who started a business by sewing a bag.

'Me Puseletso and Carolyn in Lesotho during our FB chat.
Me in South Africa
Bouncing around ideas
A few final products

Beautiful seshoeshoe material from Lesotho
To find out more, visit the PAM Bag facebook page. PAM products will be available by direct order through 'Me Puseletso in Lesotho and select local shops and hotels in the Ramsgate/Margate area in South Africa.  Private message with any questions.