Secrets of a Missionary

Mission work is supposed to be about the people we are serving.  However, as a lifelong missionary, let me let you in on a secret:  most missions’ work being done in the world is more about the missionary than the mission field.   After most short-term mission trips, our greatest hope is that the individual missionary is changed and has a shift in perspective that helps him or her to know that life is not about creature comforts, but about a life in service to others.  Sometimes that happens and we rejoice; other times that doesn’t happen and we mourn.  Ironically, hundreds of people go to the field to help the poor and needy, and the leaders of those groups silently hope for the same thing:  Lord, let the poor and the needy help these people!

It is not easy to attenuate the thinking that we have so much to offer in order to see what we are actually gaining by the grace of the people we are serving.  It is even more difficult at times for us to figure out how to serve them.  At best, missionaries can give too much, leading the people to develop a sense of entitlement.  It is easy to become welfare for an entire community, and then become frustrated when they come to us with their every need and desire.  We can serve in such a way where we become just a resource for meeting a need.  At worst, missionaries can start to treat the people we’re supposed to serve like they are the servants and begin to patronize them.  We can act like we are better than they are, and that we know the will of God for them even when we are not so sure of God’s will for ourselves.  We can act upon a false confidence and treat people like we are not all beloved children of God.

Mission work is about building individuals, families, churches and communities.  We encourage individuals to have an authentic, mature relationship with Jesus as a foundation for life and family.  Families that are now centered on Christ can come together to establish churches that are stable and focused on the faith and encouraging one another.  These churches can develop and influence communities that celebrate Christ and live by Biblical values and principles.  We, then, have a system whereby the missionary can effect change and build the nation one community and individual at a time.  I have learned that by having this type of personal interaction, we can know exactly when to give and how to give so that it does more good than harm in the end.  We have discovered how to help community members look to the Lord and each other as “first responders” to their needs, and not to us as the “wealthy foreigners”.

Missionaries should also allow people the opportunity to give!  This is the place missionaries fail most often.  When we treat people as if they have nothing to give; they give nothing.  Then, it becomes the habit of people to think that what they have to give is not worth having.  Nothing could be further from the truth, and oh, how people love you when you are grateful for what they give you.  It is the story of the widow’s mite.  The Lord blesses and esteems their giving.  As missionaries, we should too!  People who are poor still have much to give – to each other, to us, and to the church.  Let them.  Honor them by receiving with a grateful heart.  Because the real secret is  we are just as needy and poor as they are!


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?


God Loves South Africa

I love South Africa – the people, the topography, the various cultures, the animals and yes, even the odors.  I love it all! It greets me like a faithful friend as soon as I step off the plane, and welcomes me like a local.  As a local, I like nothing more than to have my American family, friends and colleagues visit and catch the same love for South Africa as I have.  This is the first year in the past 15 years that I have not stepped foot in South Africa.   I miss it.  I ache for it, and I believe it misses me.  However, this year has been a rebuilding and transition year for both the ministry and me.  Adapting to a new way of doing things is never easy for anyone involved, but what has eased the ache of transition, are the missionaries who have come to support the work.

First, our longtime friend and ministry partner, Michelle Smith returned to South Africa in January for six months to minister in various local and continental churches and work with our students.  Michelle is like a local herself and is always welcomed with open arms by the people.  She and Michael navigated the students in the first few months of the year. Together, they settled them into school, lead weekly home cell meetings, and ensured that the program moved forward seamlessly.

Next, Marshall Grant, whose entire family moved to South Africa, arrived to scout out the land, begin leadership training sessions for local pastors, and supported Michael in continuing the program and working with the students to further ensure their success.  I believe that Marshall’s transition to South Africa was complete when his family arrived in June.  As a team, they are able to serve the people of South Africa both by helping us and developing programs and initiatives of their own.

In September, we were blessed to have a mother of our church, Mother Claire Carter fulfill a longtime dream by coming to work and serve in South Africa.  She was welcomed into the community with all of the respect and honor due to her as a mother in the faith.  While in South Africa, she served the women in the township, preached at the local church, taught our students, and did a daily prayer walk through the town!  South Africa captured her heart as much as it captured mine, and she is determined to return to once again serve and pray for the people.

Finally, we were blessed to have my pastors and godparents, Bishop Garland and Eileen Hunt, come to South Africa!  Although only there for a short time, they ministered at four churches, came to our ministry in South Africa and travelled throughout the Western and Eastern Cape evangelizing and ministering to people who were hungry for a Word from the Lord.

So, although I was gone for the entire year, the work and ministry to the people of South Africa continued and flourished.  God sent others to hold up the people, to minister to those in need, and to represent His vast care for them.  I may have been missed, but the Lord made sure that there was never any lack felt amongst them.  Although our ministry is still in the midst of transition, the Lord continues to show Himself faithful and to retain all the glory which is due His greatness!  Amen!


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.


Kindness and Community

When I first arrived in South Africa, I initially worked in a large children’s afterschool program called Kids Explosion.  Every Friday afternoon, the rest of the staff and I would feed and teach the Bible to about 500 children from ages 5 to 16.  I remember standing in front of the room, boys at my right-hand and girls at my left, quizzing them on everything from memory scriptures to Bible stories.  As a reward, I had a bag of lollipops to give to those blessed enough to answer my questions correctly.  Sadly, I did not give away many lollipops.   I never really thought much about it.  Then, one afternoon, I hung around outside and saw one little boy place his well-earned lollipop on the ground, crush it, and give out all of the tiny pieces to at least 15 children hovering around him.

I was floored.  I knew how hard it was for him to earn that lollipop, and to give out the pieces showed a kindness and generosity of spirit that I rarely see in Americans even today.  I think about that scene often, and I ask myself am I giving away my most prized possessions to those around me?  Am I thinking more of myself and my own needs or the needs of others?  Then, I wonder if you can “teach” that type of attitude?  I see it over and over again in this impoverished community.  I have seen children wear shoes on alternating days so that they can share them with others who don’t have any.  I’ve purchased clothes for one child only to see parts of that outfit (shirt, pants, socks, coat, shoes) on four different children.  I want to be frustrated, but inside, I just smile.

In America, I am challenged convincing a child to deny themselves any form of pleasure to give to someone else in obvious need.  Sometimes, even adults choke on the words, “thank you”, and recently, even common politeness is done away with because of differing opinions.  We as a society are not only selfish with our resources; we are becoming mean-spirited with our words.   Somehow, it is easier for us to eviscerate others than to love them.  Yet, ironically, in a community rife with a variety of issues large and small, they express graciousness and generosity.  Somehow, they have figured out how to see each other and desire to help each other in the spirit of true community.  These lessons are not just willed into being when they become adults; they are nurtured and practiced while they’re children.  In America, we have every resource, but struggle to teach and train our children not be entitled and self-consumed.  We are not sure how to train our children to see others in the face of their own needs.  I know that I have many lessons that I want to teach the people and children of South Africa, but this is one lesson that I would love for them to teach us.


Watching Them Grow

I have worked in Africa for over 15 years.  When I think about what I have accomplished, I feel like I just arrived yesterday.  When I reflect on the lessons that I have learned, it seems as if I have been in Africa for a lifetime. My life is peppered with the struggles, mistakes, and grace that living in a culture different from your own can bring.  However, I am never reminded so much of my age as when I meet with and see my former students.  When I first arrived in South Africa in 2001, I was confident and ready to take over the world!  I figured I could make my impression on South Africa in a few years, then move on to bigger and better adventures.  I did not understand then that South Africa had a lifetime of lessons still to teach me and more gifts to give than I could carry with both hands.  I’m glad that I stayed around to learn those lessons and to receive those gifts.  I doubt that I could have learned them any other way.

What is most surprising is that although time seems to stand still for me personally, I see its passage most in the development of our former students.  I can hardly contain my pride as I watch them become teachers, lawyers, mothers, fathers, pharmacists, carpenters, and the list goes on.  When I come across them around town and they tell me of their own adventures and the ways that they are going to take over the world, I cannot help but bristle with pride.  Pride, not because of any particular mark that I made in their lives, but in knowing that the Lord could bring a rather unremarkable girl to a small village in the middle of nowhere to witness what only He can do in the lives of those who seek Him.

I still stand in awe of Him.  I see the Lord in the faces of these new adults as they talk to me about how differently they are bringing up their own children.  I hear His voice when they speak about how they still love and serve Him.  I’m humbled by His grace when they confess their wrong thoughts and actions as if we are still teacher and student and reference a Bible lesson I once taught them so long ago.  Yet, all in all, I know that they are the ones who are going to change this country.  Perhaps not in the one great revival I had hoped for, but certainly in the incremental changes that comes with being a witness in their own right.  They are defeating the demons of alcoholism, racism, and sexual immorality that plagued their parents.  The battle to create a Kingdom culture in their communities is a difficult one filled with bumps, pitfalls, and pain alongside success and victory, but it is a fight that they are still waging.  I am honored to have served them.  I am privileged to see what they have become.  I am grateful that the Lord allowed me to walk beside them in their journey.  To God be the glory!


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!


Religious Revelations

home cell 1

Okay! I don’t think that I have ever admitted this in my life.  In my defense, I don’t think I really knew it, but here goes.  I love religion.  I do.  I love the rules.  I love the simplicity.  I love the “this is right and that is wrong” of it.  I love the absolute “this is good” and horrific “this is bad.”  It takes the guess work out of life, puts rails on it, and tells you if you go this way everything is going to work out, but if you go that way then doom, death, destruction.  Simple!  Easy! To the point!

For most of my life, I have lived and breathed religion.  As a child, that was great.  I didn’t have to deal with issues that were too complex for my mind to grapple with.  I just really needed to know what to do to make my parents and God happy with me.  As an adult, this simple love relationship I have with religion began to fall apart.  My own confused half-humanistic  and half-Biblical theist viewpoint caused contradictory behaviors and ideas that wrestled against the religion of my youth.  I began to ask the logical question:  “Why?” along with the bigger questions of “What is life about?” and “What am I supposed to be doing here?”

Fortunately, I grappled with these challenges in college when everyone else was also in some version of confusion.  However, as an adult who is guiding the next generation of South African leaders, I force them to face the comforts of religion and push back at questions of why and what is the point?  Last week, at our weekly meeting with our high school students, I asked them why did Jesus die?  I smiled as they all responded like the well-trained children they are: For my sins!  “Really?” I said, “What’s the problem with sin? Why is that such a big deal?”  My smile widened as the usually loud room was blanketed in silence.  No one knew.  Although I love the fact that they had the “right” answer; religion stole from them the reason why.

Unfortunately, the real problem with religion is that it gives you pat answers without forcing you to engage with the problem.  You have a ready-made answer without your brain ever having to fully ask a question.  Why can’t we have sex before marriage?  What’s wrong with drinking alcohol and doing drugs if it relieves my pain? Why can’t I steal if my family really needs something? Don’t I have the right to do whatever I have to do to take care of my family?  These are the questions that my students ask because they never fully got an answer to the ultimate question:  What is the big deal with sin, anyway?

It ultimately boils down to this every time:  “Why can’t I just live as I want and apologize later?”  The answer is clear.  Sin separates us from God.  Jesus had to die for our sins not so that we could go to heaven (nice side benefit!), but so that we could re-engage in relationship with God.  We are not dissatisfied because we are not wealthy enough, pretty enough, smart enough, or powerful enough.  We think that if we can just get a bit more then we are going to reach a point of satisfaction.  That never happens.  The truth is we were created to worship our Creator.  Nothing satisfies us more than that, and nothing ever can.  We search for fulfillment by committing sins; yet, it is that very thing that steals satisfaction and joy from us.  Sin causes separation from God, and being close to Him is really what life is all about.  Religion answers this question by saying simply don’t sin because God does not like it.  That is great for a season, but it cannot sustain young people who must face questions of sin every day.  Religion alone confuses things.  It leads us into right doing, but not necessarily into right being.  Religion still turns the focus on us, but the focus should always be on the King.  Nothing is more important than He is.

My kids and I are still working on seeking out the more complicated answers behind religious questions and that is going to take time to decompress.  However, I think they walked away from our rip roaring discussion with this: We have to truly worship God if we want to have any hope of true happiness.  I’ll take it.


South Africa’s Quest for Mediocrity – Part 2

class dismissed

This is part 2 of Listie Anne Kamm’s commentary on education in South Africa.  Listie Anne Kamm is one of our first students in the Kurland Learning Center.  A graduate with honors from Stellenbosh University, she is deeply concerned with the political, education and social future of her country.  Like her fellow South Africans, she prays for a better healthier country for her children to grow up in.

The problem with education in South Africa does not begin in high school.  It begins well before a student enters his high school years.  This problem impacts not only high school students, but primary school students who cannot read, write or add. It then infests first year university students who do not have a clue as to how to write a paper. I will never forget my tenth grade year at Wittedrift High School, which is the best school in my area and happens to be a predominantly white school. I came from a township school, where I was one of the top students in the entire school. My first week at WHS was probably the worst in my entire school career. I went from being the top student at The Crags Primary to one that had to struggle to get and maintain good grades. I had no clue what the word “algebra” meant. I had never heard of a periodic table. I’d never felt dumber in my whole life. I was failed abysmally by my teachers and government. As if that was not enough, the department of education  dumbed the system down even more when the government implemented Outcomes-Based Education (OBE).  In my opinion, OBE is just a dumbed-down egalitarian scheme that stifles individual potential for excellence and achievement by holding the entire class to the level of learning attainable by every child. This sytem of education discourages competition and according to the Phyllis Schlafly report, fast learners are not allowed to progress, but are given busy work called “horizontal enrichment”or told to do “peer tutoring” to help the slower kids , who are recycled through the material until the pre-determined behaviour is exhibited. Basically, a student’s current performance is compared to their own prior performance rather than their performance relative to their peers. So, in a nutshell, it is impossible for a student to fail.

Matriculants today who don’t even achieve 50% in the Senior Certificate (matric) results are being told that they can proceed, and not only that, but that they are entitled to a higher education. What message are we sending our youth? That black and Coloured students are somehow less capable and therefore need these pathetic results to access higher education?

Who is responsible for this culture of mediocrity that we are steadily moving towards? We need to ask ourselves what role we are playing as broader society in ensuring that our education improves. As a society we need to model the behaviours that we want from our learners. That means we need to be models of excellence. We need to inspire our young people. We need to demystify qualitative disciplines such that they raise their aspirations. There are too many kids these days that when you ask them what they want to become, they say dancers, singers, rappers, etc. What happened to aspiring to become doctors, teachers, journalists, presidents? I know too many kids who go to school with no concept of what they can get out of it. These kids go to school because they have to. They go there because there they derive some meaning, whatever it may be, for their otherwise uninspired lives. Thus, we must take on the challenge of being role models. They may not be our kid, but they will become our nemesis should their options remain limited. Our leaders will continue failing dismally at it. Steadily, but surely we march towards mediocrity. We have a choice to make, to be mediocre or extraordinary. What we do with our young people will determine the course we take. We need to teach our youth that they need to try to achieve more than what is expected of them and that good enough is not good enough anymore. Just “okay” is not okay anymore.