Monday, May 19, 2008

Final Thoughts....

We're back!!! We had an incredible time with Koos and his team in Mozambique. We camped out in the village of Macacaza near the village school, which was deserted and appeared to be out of commission. We spent our days visiting various clusters of huts. My (this is Kate speaking) idea of an African village was a fire pit with a gathering of huts around it, with all of the villagers living close to each other. That was not the case in this village. Each family had its own collection of huts, and each group of huts was a 5 or 10 minute hike from the next one. We did a lot of walking.

Koos has been working with villages in this area for about 4 years. There are several believers in Macacaza, but no pastor or church (in the way we think of a church). Our visit was an encouragement to our brothers and sisters there. One woman named Rosa had a glow that could light a room (which was good, because we did not have electricity). She thanked Koos for coming to teach the villagers about God. From a Western perspective, it might seem that what Koos was doing (teaching a basic Bible lesson) was not that ground-breaking, but for believers who do not have a shepherd living among them and leading them, what Koos is doing is revolutionary and life saving. This week reminded us how much we take for granted as well-resourced, "plugged-in" Christians. We have sermons at our fingertips and books on every shelf, yet often we lack that personal touch of Christ that was this woman's foundation.

We also worked with the children who lived in the local village. We played tag, gave hugs, sang songs, shared stories and passed out school supplies. What a humbling experience to love on these children who long to be loved unconditionally. What a true blessing.

As we finished our time in Africa, we had much to reflect upon. So many thoughts filled our head and we were asked so many questions that may never be answered. And yet, we still have many to answer as we come back to the States.-"How was Africa?" was among the first to be asked. And how do you answer that with all that was learned? We literally saw the poorest of the poor, the effect of AIDS, the importance of relationships and still saw the goodness of God. We are still trying to convey to our friends and family exactly what we are feeling and so excited to share!

Thank you. Thank you for your prayers and for your consistent love. They are coveted.

Enjoy the pictures from Mozambique and please continue ask us how we are feeling. We love sharing our hearts.

Peace, love and Africa,
Rachelle and Kate

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Heading to Mozambique

Our time at Sparrow ended well. The Lord blessed us with sweet moments of goodbye with the kids, and the other volunteers. We look forward to sharing our experience with all of you in depth when we return.

We have reached Mokopane, South Africa., where we are staying with Koos and Jeni Basson. We are excited about our trek into Mozambique with Koos and his team tomorrow. Our role will be to conduct the children's ministry. We think most of the children's ministry will be centered around the village school. From what Koos has told us of the school, they lack the most basic items (pencils, paper, scissors, etc). We are going today to purchase school supplies and hope that will be a blessing to both the children and the teachers.

The area we are going to does not have a strong church or local faith leaders, so much of the work Koos will be doing is to build up those he has met on previous visits and further establish a presence in the area. Please pray for our interpreter and for clarity of understanding. This is one of Koos' "young" missions, and we are excited about what is in store!

We will return on Monday....then head back to Jo-Burg Tuesday, and fly back to the States on Wednesday and arrive on Thursday!

What a journey!

What an adventure!

Peace, love and Africa-
Rachelle and Kate

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Showtime at Sparrow

This weekend was a busy one. On Friday morning, we hosted 15 teenage girls at the guesthouse for a beauty party. They had a blast painting their nails, putting on make-up, and dancing around to the sounds of High School Musical 2. Though it has taken almost two months to build a relationship with these girls, the time and energy was well spent. As we spent time beautifying outward appearances, our conversations revealed the beauty inside each girl. Our friendships with these girls have given them confidence in their identities as daughters of the King. They no longer resist our hugs or make funny faces when we tell them we love them. Our prayer as we prepare to depart is that they would realize that the love we show them is not our love, but Christ’s love in us. That is our prayer not just for the teenage girls, but for every child, caregiver, and adult we have met during our stay.

Saturday night, Sparrow’s talent kids debuted in “Spotlight on Sparrow.” The kids worked on their performances for two weeks, and the result was a wide array of singing and dancing that delighted the house mothers and the other kids. Again, all that was required on our part was to affirm within these kids that they are special, and the kids rose up with confidence, beaming as they took the stage. The following afternoon, the kids did an abbreviated performance in the hospice for the patients. This time, it was not about building up the kids, but about showering the patients with love. As we were setting up for the talent show, one of the patients asked what was happening. We told her the kids were going to be singing and dancing, to which she replied, “Oh, what a nice surprise.” As she watched the kids perform, her glowing face said it all: people rarely take time to think about my pleasure. We are not nurses or doctors by trade, but we can help people to enjoy the life that they are able to live.

With only five days left at Sparrow, we are making the most of our last moments here with the people we have grown to care about. We feel a sense of urgency to say our last thoughts, but also realize that for everything there is a season.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Different Views

Tuesday was one of the longest days we have had since arriving at Sparrow. We went from two funerals to laser tag, a tough transition for even the most seasoned minister. The day’s event brought before us the humanity of Sparrow, but we each saw that humanity in different ways. Here is an account from each of us.

Buried and Broken (Rachelle):
As I try to put my thoughts into words, all I can think about is Siyabongo. He is 7 years old. He is now an orphan. His face cannot be put from my mind. Tuesday, he buried his mother, who died at a young age from this heartless disease we call AIDS. They both lived here at Sparrow. This was one of two people we buried Tuesday. The other was a man who was taken in off the streets, who had no one at the funeral but a couple of friends-no family. I cried for Siyabongo; for these loved ones we lost; I just cried.

I had the honor of sitting next to Siyabongo in the car on the way to the burial. We were silent. I was silent the entire service. As I sat by Siyabongo, I thought about how he felt. Although we don’t speak the same language, we did that day; I felt his pain-the pain of losing a mother. It has been almost three years since she has been gone, but it was a fresh feeling that day. How I wanted to hold Siyabongo and tell him it would be okay; that Jesus would heal his little heart. I put my arm around him and I silently prayed for him. It would be a long road ahead. A road that he knew nothing of.

He cried as they buried her. He threw flower pedals into her grave and songs of praises and mourning were sung by all who were there. Vusi preached and prayed. It was a day of grieving for everyone present.

A different perspective was given to me that day, a perspective I had yet to see. I saw death in the face of AIDS. All I felt like doing was being alone.

Where is your heart today? Where do you need healing? What perspective is God asking you to look from today?

Healing Touch (Kate):
“And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.” --Lk. 6:19

On the drive home from playing laser tag with the teenage girls, I felt something tickle my shoulder. I glanced down just in time to see a head sink into my shoulder as one of the girls napped on the seat next to me. The bakkie jerked its way through rush hour traffic, but I stayed as still as possible, hoping to prolong this tender moment. Looking down at her, I was struck by the healing I sensed in this simple posture.

From the hugs Rachelle gives to every kid she sees to the way Caroline cradles the babies, from the way siblings hold hands as they frolic across the playground to the way mothers carry their children on their backs, everywhere I see this healing touch. Perhaps I am romanticizing what some consider a basic fact of life, but I think not. An American missionary we met a few weeks ago at the Baptist Training Center told me about a study in which babies were changed regularly and given food and water. Some babies, however, were never touched, apart from that required to change their diapers and clothes. The babies that were not touched quickly sunk into a state of despair that bordered on death while those who were touched thrived.

Although I am not sure about the ethics of this experiment, the point is striking: without touch, we die. That an act as simple as rocking a child to sleep is as powerful in the fight to keep him or her alive as the medicine the doctors prescribe seems too incredible to believe. It is difficult to understand how powerful and healing a touch can be, until you consider those moments when you have been broken, and the Lord has reached out, touched you, and healed your brokenness.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Lessons Learned

One of the first questions most South African's ask us is, "How do you like South Africa?" We reply, "The landscape is nice, but it is the people we love." We have been overwhelmed by the hospitality of strangers we are now blessed to call friends. Here are some lessons we have learned from people we have met. We hope these reflections encourage you to think about the meaningful people in your lives and take time to express your appreciation to them.

From the kids...Everyone wants to be loved and to know they are loved. On a walk to the corner store, one of the teenagers asked Rachelle why we love them. She did not ask if we loved them, but why. This was a great reminder that sometimes living your faith and sharing God's love through your actions is not enough: we need to express in words why we believe what we do and why we do what we do.

From the caregivers who truly care...Jo-burg has been experiencing random blackouts for the past few months as the government has enforced electricity load-shedding. Most of the blackouts happen at night, so we do not notice. Lately, however, Sparrow's electricity has gone out just before dinner. We do not have generators, so this loss of power creates a bit of chaos. From feeding 250 kids to ensuring that oxygen-dependent patients continue to receive their life-sustaining flow of air, the caregivers at Sparrow have amazed us. Without skipping a beat, they drop what they are doing, light candles, and give all their attention to the patients. Selflessly, they work together to keep the situation as normal as it can be. We have witnessed several caregivers turn around as they were departing the building at the end of their 12-hour shift to help out during a blackout. The love these men and women show for the babies, children, and adults is a challenge to anyone who really sees them. Their actions push us beyond our limitations.

Vusi...With a 9mm on his hip and a bulletproof vest on his shoulders, Vusi is not the most likely visitor to the baby room of the hospice. Every night, however, Sparrow's night guard pays a visit to the youngest residents. He calls each child by name as they hold up their fists in anticipation of their nightly fist pound. Those who cannot make a fist get a thumbs up. And some get both. His enthusiasim and consistency let the kids know they are cherished and significant and important. We all need a little more Vusi in our lives!

These descriptions do not do justice to the souls we are meeting here, but we hope this glimpse of who they are to us ministers to you.

Peace, love and Africa.
Rachelle and Kate

Pictures in order of appearance:

Kate with the kids in the Hospice
Rachelle with one of the babies in Hospice
The kids sitting outside of church
One of the kids with their faces painted with white chocolate from an Easter Egg
Showing off her decorated egg!
One word describes this child: precious
Here are our guys getting more firewood for our bonfire: um, a tree?
Kate and I enjoying our bonfire with our friends!