Where Is Your Worship?

The last few weeks have been trying—to say the least.   A young man from my church whom I have known since he was a little boy suddenly passed away.  Finances continue to be strained as more money has to go out than what is coming in.  Our ministry stands at a crossroads as we continue to ask God which  new direction He would have us to move.  These are the ordeals that make up life and they can lead to depression, anxiety, and hopelessness.  But then God spoke to me and asked a very simple question similar to the one He asked Adam in Eden.  The question was, “Where Is Your Worship?”

As people, and yes as Christians, we often shift our gaze off of God because of our failures or distractions, or the circumstances of life.  We not only lose our focus, but sometimes, as Adam did, we even run away from God.  As the Genesis 3 account goes, the all-knowing God called to Adam and asked, “Where are you?”  God didn’t need to learn where Adam was, but He needed Adam to locate himself and realize his separation from God.

Similarly God asked me the question, “Where Is Your Worship?” because as I sat depressed over the loss of a beloved person in my life or over my current life circumstances, the evidence was clear that I was not focused on Him.  There are a ton of scriptures throughout the Bible that express how God cares for us.  Whether in John 3:16 where He sent His Son to die for us, or Jeremiah 29:11 where he holds our hope and future, or where he knows the very number of hair strands that remain on this slightly balding head of mine as per Matthew 10:30.  So we know God loves us and is concerned for us.  But do we hold that same concern for Him.  Does He hold our attention the way that we hold His?


Fees Must Fall

There is a lot of talk in the world right now concerning free college education.  In the United States, politicians like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have declared from their political pulpits that college education should be free for most, if not all, of those living in America.  In South Africa, the call does not seem very different.  Students across the nation are protesting on college campuses and at government sites declaring the now familiar mantra “Fees Must Fall.”    Putting aside the merits and/or detriments of such demands, it does highlight a common sentiment that young people from different corners of the globe share.  They all are looking for what they feel is the easiest way to secure their futures.

It is easy to get caught up in an outcome.  The Western world conditions us for it.  The fact is that the South African educational system has lowered its standards so that more students can gain access to college.  The “Fees Must Fall” movement tries to manipulate the tuition structure despite the economic reality of the country.  The economy of the country remains such that few jobs are available even with a degree, and the cost of that degree continues to rise due to inflation and other economic factors.  As the number of trade schools remains low and a broad-based investment in youth development is still lacking, the country seems fixed on producing a particular outcome that is unrelated to each student’s individual need.

We started Goshen International in response to a call from God to simply provide students with opportunities.  In the fourteen years that I have served in South Africa, I have learned that it is a fine line between providing opportunities for students and ensuring a certain outcome for them.  We too had a pretty narrow approach to what success looked like for our kids.  But over time the Lord showed us that He has a unique plan for every person’s life.  That seems like a pretty obvious statement, but in practice, it is difficult to fully grasp.

The truth is that He is the great prize!  He is the only outcome that measures success.  The Lord prepares us and equips us to do whatever He has called us to do as we draw closer to Him.  We don’t have to worry about college or careers or the future if He is the focus.   The familiar scripture rings true today as it has at every other time in history—“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”  At Goshen, we know that our educational program is just a tool or platform to disciple, engage, and strengthen students in their walk with the Lord.  We have learned that there is no “outcome” that each student must possess other than a strong relationship with their Creator.  When that happens, tuition fees and college admissions are taken care of if a degree is necessary to fulfill His purpose.   Obstacles are removed if we are on the path that glorifies Him.  So whether the future involves college, a trade, family life, or missions, the one truth remains that if He is the center, it will be a life worth living.


Botswana

Earlier this year, I had the awesome opportunity to visit the country of Botswana.  It was a big deal for me because I have spent the last 14 years as a missionary in South Africa, having never traveled to another African country.  To go “up in Africa,” as the South Africans call every other African country, was a journey into the heartland of the continent and a unique contrast to what I had become accustomed.

I visited the large town of Maun, which is called the gateway to the Okavango Delta.  Nestled in the Kalahari Desert, the landscape is flat, sandy, and dry.  Since I arrived at the end of the dry season, we were still awaiting the arrival of the waters that typically flood the delta region.  When I stepped into the airport, I immediately entered the 1940s, something reminiscent of Casablanca or the early Tarzan movies.  It was literally the oldest and smallest airport I had ever seen.   Yet, the true mark of the town of Maun that I will always remember is the uncountable number of donkeys that loiter along the roadsides.

I went as a guest of Love Botswana ministries, which is both a vibrant community church and a community-based organization in Maun.  The church and leaders there have made a strong connection with the local people and  have a huge influence in the community at large. The leaders are from Texas, but Botswana has been their home for over 30 years.

The ministry also oversees a school where I spent most of my time.  The Botswana students were very intriguing.  They welcomed me openly and I was able to observe several classes.  Before I knew it, I was teaching Bible and English classes, as well as leading small groups, which of course felt natural.  I  happily fielded not only questions about America, but also about the Bible and life issues from a Biblical perspective.  Of course, it made me long for the school we want to birth in South Africa, but I made a lot of connections with young people that I will always cherish.

I could go on and on about the many experiences I had from making friends in the deaf community to tasting cuisine from around the continent to ministering at the local prison (oh to hear those prisoners sing again!), but I can’t go any further without talking about Botswana’s wildlife.  In South Africa, I have been on many safaris and have had my fair share of run-ins with animals—including staring down a monkey trying to enter our house.  However, I was not prepared to share a highway with an elephant—correction, several elephants.  I know that you have to be alert as a driver, but I never thought that I would have a road rage challenge with a pair of zebra.  To be in a boat and have an elephant literally emerge from the water a few feet in front of me was a thrill!  However, sitting in an open vehicle with a large, male lion staring me down from five feet away was both a thrill and a horror.  Add to that the opportunity for brief visits to the neighboring countries of Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe culminating with a trip to the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls—bucket list checked!—then it would be hard to fathom how incredible of a time I had.

My time in Botswana was remarkable.  It is always a delight to enjoy a different culture and language and people.  Botswana is the northern neighbor of South Africa, and many similarities exist between them.  Yet, the richness of the culture, the allure of the wildlife, and the kindness of several of the people that I met, created a unique and valuable experience for me.  Overall, this was a life event that I will always treasure.


Leslie Ann’s Story – My Ticket Out!

Carli & Leslie Ann

This year, we have asked out students to write their stories.  We are going to periodically post them for you to hear from them in their own voice. They want to be heard!  For some, we have changed their names to offer them some degree of anonymity.  Thus, we have noted these stories with an asterisk (*).   For others, they do not mind you knowing who they are and the struggles they have endured in becoming who God has ordained them to be.  You will hear from students in various phases of our program.   The grade levels are evident in their writing, but we did not want to take away from the authenticity of  them explaining themselves in their own words.  This is Leslie Ann’s story.

As I walk the streets of Kurland Village where I grew up, I see many disturbing things which have become commonplace there. I see groups of young men standing on street corners smoking weed. I see young people walking around drunk and unconcerned with what adults have to say. I see children as young as seven disrespecting their parents and skipping school. The list of disturbing things in my community could go on and on. Yet out of all of these things, one picture stays with me and keeps me thinking.

I once saw a fifteen year old girl that I have known since she was a toddler sitting outside of a shabeen (house were they sell alcohol). The thing that shocked me was that she, now a young mother, sat there with her small child between her legs while she poured a glass of jabula (African home brewed beer) for her mother and herself. Right there sitting at that shabeen were three generations stuck in a circle of poverty and alcohol abuse. I thought to myself what is going to keep that little child sitting between her mother’s legs from falling into the same addiction as her mother and grandmother?

I think about my own life and wonder what the difference is between this fifteen year old girl that I practically grew up with and me. I ask myself why I was not the one sitting there with a child between my legs serving my mother a glass of jabula. As I thought about my past, I now see where the change occurred in my situation. I have been given opportunities that have changed the course of my life. I know that God sent Nicole and Michael from America to show that there was a way out of the circle of shenanigans in which lots of people in Kurland village are trapped. Over the years these people have been helping me to steer my life in the right direction, always reminding me about the love of God and that He has a plan for my life. Even though I sometimes give them a hard time when they correct me when I’m wrong, God has blessed them with the patience not to give up on me. My journey is not over yet. I still have a long way to go. In the mean time, I reflect on all of the people here and abroad that have helped to make a difference in my life. For that, I will always be grateful!


Turning 40

Michael 40

Turning 40 years old is a milestone in any person’s life. Having recently accomplished this feat, I did the typical soul searching and contemplated the last four decades of my life. There are so many goals that I have yet to achieve—career, home ownership, financial independence.   However, I have come to realize that these are just natural things. Yes, they are noble and worthy aspirations which I still strongly desire. But in the end, these are the things that will one day burn. They won’t mean much in eternity.

The work that I am doing in South Africa is lasting. I came to this country when I was 26 years old, and I haven’t really left. I didn’t know when I was 26 that I would turn 40 in a foreign land. Back then, my whole life was ahead of me. I was young, and in my youthful naivete, I thought I would just spend a year or two serving and then move on to the next thing. The next thing was probably marriage or home ownership in my mind. Little did I know that this nation and these children would capture my heart in a way that would consume my service and commitment for 14 years. It has been the defining chapter of my life.

As for Goshen, we are moving along well. We continue to educate and disciple disadvantaged youth, and though it comes with ups and downs, I am proud of the impact we have been able to have over these many years. I recently learned that all of the elementary students that attend our Learning Center program literally form the top tier in their regular classes. Our older students are also flourishing. While some of our high school seniors have been accepted to premier South African universities, our senior college students are preparing to graduate with degrees in Pharmacy, Law, and Education making them all the exceptional pride of their communities. Spiritually, we are teaching the kids to “shift their gaze” from the distractions and circumstances of this world to focus on the Lord and hear His voice. We constantly reinforce that education and achievement mean nothing outside of the will of God, so it is important to always live to please Him!

Living to please Him in the light of these accomplishments has been the highlight of my adult life. My path, whether by choice or design, did not end up the way I thought or the way that most of my friends’ paths have directed. However, I am grateful to have educated these students in a way which has added just a few more opportunities and choices in their lives. I am grateful for the young men and women that I have had the privilege of mentoring—to shape and mold their choices. I am grateful that my life, though not perfect, has been an example in some ways to show others how theirs can be just a bit better. Finally, I am grateful for a Savior, who gave His life for mine, and how His Father’s plan for this life has pushed me beyond my comfort zone to do something amazing and lasting for His glory. I used to dread getting older, but now I realize 40 looks good on me!

 


War of the Worldviews

township laundryOne of our former Learning Center students recently told me that he is applying to the Royal Marines in Great Britain. As one of our favorite personalities from past classes, it was reassuring to hear that he wanted to dedicate at least this portion of his life to defending democracy and justice. Regardless of whether or not he’ll be accepted as a part of England’s naval forces, his choice prompted a conversation concerning the desire to travel so far to serve as a soldier. The conclusion was simple: South Africa does not have any real enemies. He would probably never have to fight in a war here.

As I pondered this probability, I thought about how false the statement actually was. South Africa is in a war and has a very real need for soldiers in this hour. Although there are no guns pointing at South Africa, its people still live in fear. Crime statistics in certain cities in the country make Chicago, one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S., seem safe. Although the economy fares better than many other African nations, one in four South Africans live on a dollar a day. Education is also a major issue. Last year it was reported that only half of the students that started school 12 years ago actually made it to graduation, and only a percentage of that number passed the national exam in order to graduate. Further, recent assessments have found that a majority of the students in the country cannot read or count. There are certainly many more issues that South Africans have to deal with on a daily basis, and there are no real solutions in sight.

The war that South Africans are fighting has to do with, in my opinion, the roots of the problems outlined above. They include corruption and ignorance. National leaders steal money and look out for themselves while having no clue as to how to address the ills of the nation. Businesses pay extraordinary taxes which limit the number of jobs they can create. Some individuals feel that their poverty permits them to rob and kill as the police force looks the other way; others sit idle, unskilled, uneducated, and unprepared to take control of their lives.

South Africa is locked in a war within itself. If corruption and ignorance are the main enemies, they can only be defeated by truth and knowledge. Hearts must change. Souls must be converted. The will of the nation must shift from demanding entitlements to working to build a nation that cares for itself. Corrupt leaders must be replaced with noble men and women who will stand on principle with courage. Students must be given access to quality education so that they can possess the promises of tomorrow. The very way that people think has to be altered. Worldviews must change. This is the goal of Goshen International. This is what we are doing…one child at a time.


Conflicts of Worship

Face painting - boyA while ago, I was invited to an imbeleko, a traditional Xhosa ceremony honoring the birth of a child (only in this instance the child was 17 years old). This was indeed a unique experience for me. While I would like to say that the highlight of the event was eating a slaughtered goat that was skinned and cut up before my eyes, something else from that day has been lingering in my mind.

You see an imbeleko is a ceremony that announces to the ancestors that a child has been born into a particular family, and therefore make them aware of the child’s existence. The blood spilled from the animal is the channel through which the message is delivered. Although I didn’t participate in the ceremony, I struggled over eating meat that had been dedicated to the ancestors. However, it was important for me to gain a deeper understanding of traditional ceremonies since I mentor young people who are raised in this culture. I was also intent on telling someone there just how ludicrous this whole ancestral worship really is.

Enter the old man. I became conversationally engaged with a very talkative, elderly gentleman who was eager to find out more about this American in his homeland. However, he was also quite passionate and informative in relation to Xhosa customs, including the one in which we found ourselves immersed. While he talked about the need for family identity and the ability of the ancestors to protect them from sickness, I was eagerly waiting to pounce on his ideals until the strangest thing happened. The old man seamlessly transitioned the discussion into his faith in Christ.

The man spoke about the resurrection and the Holy Spirit. He quoted scripture to support our need for a savior. He spoke with as much passion about his Redeemer as he did about the ancestors. I couldn’t believe it. On the heels of celebrating Resurrection Sunday, this man was acknowledging the atoning grace bought with the blood of the living Christ, while at the same time holding on to the need to spill the blood of animals in order to secure the protection of those long dead. It was in that moment that I realized that there was a serious disconnect. While we have been fairly successful in helping some of our students come out from under the bondage of these cultural realities, there is a host of others who are not just lost, but very confused!

Then I thought about myself.   I thought about many Christians I know. I thought about how many Bible-believing Christians embrace all of the tenets, ideals, and blessings locked up in Christianity, but at the same time, hold on to things that can be quite antithetical to our Christian ideals. Whether it is money, television, Beyonce, or our pastors, idolatry runs amuck in most of our lives.  While I’m not necessarily equating sin to ancestral worship, I do recognize the hypocrisy in both situations. The point is that while I will continue to emphasize the need to let go of ancestral worship here in South Africa, I must also challenge myself and all of my brethren in Christ to streamline the faith, return to the simplicity of the Gospel, and live a holy, single-minded life before the Lord!

 

 


One Proud Moment

Sadie Suleiman Shanice

Recently, I attended the annual awards ceremony at the boarding high school where we send students who successfully complete our Learning Center program. If you are familiar with Goshen International’s mission, then you are aware that the students we help come from South African townships and are disadvantaged in many ways. Living under the effects of Apartheid, these students are not dissimilar to poor inner city youths in America, but in most cases, their poverty, family dysfunction, and hopelessness is more extreme. This is why when I see these students excel, the sight fills me with hope and pride.

Earlier in the week, I doled out my usual share of accolades and scoldings after receiving report cards and meeting with teachers. Some students were still coping with the transition to the new school, and others were not working as hard as they should. Yet, three students in particular did very well, and the school recognized that effort at the awards ceremony. I would like to share a little about each of them.

Shanice Davids, an 11th grader, strives to be a hard-working young lady. From her early days in the Learning Center, her efforts placed her at the top of the class consistently; a distinction which followed her to high school. She is one of the students who causes teachers from the school to stop me in the store and say, “Thank you for sending us that child!” Shanice and her three sisters were mostly raised by a single mother. They are poor, and one sister frequently gets into trouble. On top of that, we only discovered a couple of years ago that Shanice had a very bad hearing problem. She had been working hard in school and achieving all of these years despite the fact that she could barely hear what was going on in class; and because she is so shy, she never spoke up about it. Fortunately, she now has an ear device which has greatly improved her hearing. With almost straight A’s in her subjects, she was rightfully recognized at the ceremony. She does especially well in math, and she may even pursue a career in the subject.

Sadie Roman seems like a fixture in our lives because she comes from a family of Learning Center students, and we have known her since she was in the 5th grade. Now a senior in high school, she also enjoys the praise of her teachers and holds leadership positions in the school. Being athletically gifted as well, she represented her school and won in the provincial (state-wide) netball competitions. However, Sadie comes from a poor background and lives in a house with at least 12 other people. Her parents, grandmother, aunts, cousins all live together in one small home. I was very proud at the awards ceremony when Sadie not only received recognition for her academic and sport accomplishments, but also received the Fish Eagle award. It is a highly-coveted prize which takes years to earn. To get it, you have to excel in your studies, prove your physical fitness–especially along a multiple-mile hike, and exhibit concern through community service work over your entire high school career.

I saved Suleiman Kriga for last. Suleiman is not marked by high grades like the other students. His grades were actually poor at the beginning of the year. However, when I looked at his recent report card, I immediately noticed the vast improvement that he made. In fact, his teachers consistently echoed the mantra, “Suleiman works so hard,” and you can see the sincerity in their eyes. This translates to sports as well. Although he is short, he plays rugby, runs track and everything else. In all of this, he tries hard and does well. Suleiman has the most broken background of all in many ways. He only met his father when he was 13, and they do not have a strong relationship. His mother is a drunk and a social pariah. Because she was very poor and refused to take care of him properly, he shifted from place to place before finally settling down with an aunt. Yet in the midst of all of the instability, Suleiman has developed a pure love for God. You can look at him and see his passion in the pursuit of the Lord, and you can see how it affects the rest of his life. His personality is infectious, and he is adored throughout his school. This is how he became the center of the awards ceremony. While going on stage to receive a sports award, a teacher handed him a bag. The moderator asked him to open it there on stage. He did this and pulled out a laptop computer! The crowd was amazed. It was the first time anything like that had been given to a student. It was a gift of encouragement meant to acknowledge the effort that Suleiman gives in school. He may not have been the best in all of the award areas, but the school staff sent a message that evening of how much they believed in him!

Having no kids of my own, I sat in that auditorium with a pride and joy as if I were applauding my own children. I guess that is what happens when you walk alongside young people for so long. Resisting the urge to stand up and say, “That’s my kid,” I sat with a cheesy smile and took pictures like any proud parent. I’m proud of all of our kids and the way that they make a statement against their circumstances with effort and work in order to take advantage of the opportunity our donors help us to give them. I’m also very thankful to God that I can be here in this place and this time and do my little part to help these students achieve their goals. It is an honor that I know both Nicole and I would not easily trade.


Saving Dolphins

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The Dolphin Circle is a famous landmark in Plettenberg Bay.  Actually, it is a traffic circle that is punctuated in the center with a statue of two dolphins intertwined in a downward dive. Most pedestrians and motorists in this small town will pass or encircle the statue at least once a day, which makes it a popular and unforgettable fixture in our town. As I drove past that point on Saturday morning, I noticed that the landmark was marred. The sight of orange cones signaled caution for an impediment that was nonetheless unavoidable: a police truck had crashed into the dolphin circle. Poor dolphins!

As any rational person, I thought of how horrible an incident this was, and then quickly began wondering and reasoning what could have happened. Unfortunately, Plett history guided my first conclusion to assume a couple of police officers, following a familiar Friday night pattern, were driving the vehicle under the influence of alcohol.  After talking with some friends who had heard numerous stories, we all came to the same conclusion – the officers were drunk.

Sadly, a long history of police corruption and inebriation exists in this town and in the country. In fact, the accident immediately reminded me of another incident involving a fellow missionary and a local police officer. As she was driving one evening, the cop ran into the side of her car. He emerged from his vehicle in a state–slurring words and behaving aggressively.

Of course, these specific incidents are rare, but they highlight a disturbing fact about the local culture. Under the legacy of Apartheid, Blacks and Coloureds were permitted to pursue only a few professional careers: teaching, nursing, and policing. We still see evidence of this today in the young students who come into the Learning Center. During our interview process, we often ask the children what they would like to be when they grow up. Although we always get a few that say they want to be doctors, the overwhelming majority of girls want to be teachers, and the great abundance of boys want to be policemen. This is because the only “professionals” they see in their community are teachers and policemen. These are their role models. And what terrible role models some of  them are!

People in the U.S. have recently been horrified by the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown of Ferguson, MO, at the hands of law enforcement. Yet, in South Africa, it is commonplace for people not to trust the police. When a policeman shoots a suspect, there are no long investigations or public demonstrations. If convicted murderers here only serve a few years of their long mandated sentences, how much more do police officers get off the hook?  A prison guard recently told me that when inmates step out of line, the guards beat him down, many times to the point of hospitalization, in order to teach a lesson. He was actually a little proud of that fact; there are no repercussions. The police get away with that and much more.

The continent of Africa has long been known as quite possibly the most corrupt region on the planet. However, the children don’t see what goes on behind closed doors in the government, and they are not keenly aware of the economic effects suffered because of bribed politicians or greedy officials who pilfer aid money. What they do experience is the haphazard approach toward education by many of their teachers. They also see policemen in their communities commit the crimes they are supposed to stop, and they hear about the numerous stories of policemen robbing people or sexually assaulting women. And then there’s the traffic circle! What examples are these children supposed to follow?

This is why we are here fighting to not only teach these young people the right way to go, but also to be an example and show them the right way to go. This is the face of the modern missionary.  Churches all around; sometimes, the gospel is preached. What we try to do is live the gospel, and that is extremely rare. These children need to see men and women who walk in purity. They need to see men treat women with respect. They need to see people who don’t lie to or cheat other people. They need to see Christians who aren’t filled with the Holy Spirit on Sunday and filled with box wine and beer on Friday and Saturday. Do we need Americans to come to South Africa and become policemen who are role models? No! But we need people to be the salt and light in a place that is desperately searching for it. Whether you come here yourself to be that example, or support the people who do, we need you in the game. We have to do more to not only lead youth to follow the standards of Jesus, but to defeat a culture of sin and complacency in order to improve the lives of the people in this region. We must do it to protect the children and give them a legacy of hope, and in the process we may even save that precious landmark—the dolphins!