Wednesday, August 16, 2017

God Blessed The Rains Down In Africa

Day 1: Sunday, August 6

You know that sinking feeling you get when you feel a nudge from God and you later realize you missed it - you didn’t move when he said to - and now that moment is gone? 

We woke up to our first day in Johannesburg, South Africa eager to church it up. On the edge of Zandspruit township’s “squatter camp” (government provided land where refugees live in shacks built of whatever scraps they can cobble together – no plumbing, electricity or running water) stands ZCC Community Church, a 3-sided lean-to constructed of a steel skeleton and aluminum siding. Before the service we met Pastor Siphlo - a humble, gracious man with the kind of Godliness you hope will rub off on you - who asked us for prayer, shared a little of his vision and then prayed it up for us before we all took seats in the church. Pastor Siphlo urged that we would get more out of it if we spread out, which is exactly what we did.

Wait. Didn’t he ask us to pray for him?

Church was just cranking up in this shot. That's Pastor Siphlo on the drums, while he let another pastor turn up the power with song and dance.

What a fierce power erupted out of that service! Unashamed praise, joyful music, and lots of dancing! My goodness, a congo line erupted in front of the stage! Ever been to church and seen a congo line form up? And for a brief moment I felt the urge to jump in and boogie with ‘em………but I didn’t. I told myself it might not have been appropriate. What a shame. Since when was I concerned about being appropriate?! I had missed the moment and not just that, it was God’s nudge that I had not acted on.

The afternoon was dedicated to training with the Impact Africa team. Tomorrow we would be in the squatter camps going door to door ministering for Christ. And they have a 3-step system that works: Approach (small talk, make friends), Assist (help with any chores), and Advance (share the Gospel). We were pumped and ready to lace up our boots for the coming week.

That night after dinner we reflected on the day and everyone on the team had felt the same nudge to dance in church. We all missed it. And we all had heard pastor asking us for prayer and we missed that to. We wanted a second chance…….(we’d get one too, so stay with me)

Day 2: Monday, August 7

Our first day ministering in the squatter camps! We broke into small groups and fanned out into the camp at Msawawa township. To describe how filthy the camp was with only words is not enough to do it justice. Shacks are built out of whatever scrap can be found – signage, trash, plastic sheeting - with bare ground for flooring and the occasional ragged, soiled rug to provide no more than the slightest suggestion of a barrier between skin and dirt. Children play barefooted among trash and flowing rivers of sewage down the maze of alleys within the camp. Rats move freely through the homes and alleyways, the only camp residents that seem to have all their needs met.

Kids sift through trash for anything of value in the center of Msawawa camp. Note the two story hut with the white garage door that stands out as relatively luxurious compared to others. The owner is sangoma, a witch doctor, and makes money off of the misfortune of other residents.

Raw sewage had eroded this alley so much that sheets of metal and siding had to be laid down to make it traversable.

A dilapidated camper makes for a usable addition to a shack while gray water runs freely down the alley.

I was teamed up with a pair of Bethany’s (one from Impact Africa and one from our Opendoor team) and Simon Peter, a dapper charismatic pastor from Malawi who is a rock star for Christ. He had a way of rolling off a “hallelujah” so smooth you couldn’t help but repeat it after him.

Our ministry team! Me, Bethany from Impact Africa, Bethany from Opendoor, and Pastor Simon Peter.

My first thought when we started walking the alleys among the residents was, “Why are all the men drunk?” It was only 10 am. And why is that kid playing with that sharp disk you’re left with when you open a can of food? 

Our first encounter was with a woman named Sandra who was washing clothes in a plastic bin. We all helped her wash as we learned about each other and talked about the Gospel, followed by a prayer for her and her family. We shared the Word with a shy Patricia and her friend, Blessing. I wondered how much second-hand smoke was I ingesting from all the guys smoking weed while somewhere else in the camp God was saving a drunk man through Jarod’s prayer and, just a few alleys away, a man was making an offer of one cow in exchange for Haley’s hand in marriage (clearly a rip-off intended to take advantage of us ignorant mulungus – she’s worth at least seven). 

Amanda laying down servitude for God's chosen!

It may not last as long, but there is also salvation in ice cream, no?

Only once did I feel unsafe when a fight broke out just as we had begun chatting with two nice ladies. Five drunk guys had leapt upon one, the first blow coming from a plastic crate slammed into his head. I sifted through thoughts of protecting our team, making a quick exit, or getting involved (whose side would I take?). We opted for the quick exit.

Felicia is a sucker for kids!

Day 3: Tuesday, August 8

This was our second and final day in Msawawa camp. We shared the message of salvation through Jesus with Precious and Evidence, two women that had journeyed to Johannesburg from Zimbabwe in search of a better life for their families. I met a devout Christian who’s only prayer request was to one day be able to make a trip to Israel. A boy in a “My Cape is in the Wash” shirt played peek-a-boo with me – his smile showing not a worry in the world though he and his family had so little, reminding me that it doesn’t require much to have a happy heart and winning smile. It’s when we think it does that we realize we’ve missed it.

Smiles and styles! Well, one wasn't quite feeling it anyway! Ha!

I think this guy has it pretty much all together.

Kerri and Haley sharing a Gospel of John moment. She gave her life to Christ that day!

Assist! Jared taps into his housekeeping skills, which may have landed him further chores at home now that they are exposed.

Felicia helps make pap, a South African maize porridge that's a staple in their culture.

The Impact Africa intern residence. We enjoyed a break from daily PB and J sandwiches for some heavenly meat and cheese on our bread for lunch!

So how do you bring up being saved to a complete stranger? Once a little small talk has been made and some trust established, a simple question like, “So, do you go to a church?” is enough to get it started. If so, what church? What do they talk about at your church? Ancestral worship? God? Do they say anything about Jesus? Can I tell you about Him? Most are genuinely interested and the more conversations you have like that the more natural it becomes.

Sydney and Chandler sharing the love with South Africa's future!

A word about the names of the Zulu people of South Africa. They all have a Zulu name but are also given an English name at birth. Many of them take names from what their mother felt upon seeing their new born – Precious, Evidence, Blessing, Joy……a boy even introduced himself to us as Problem. I’m guessing his mom wasn’t exactly thrilled at his arrival. Having children is a very important part of their culture, and the one occasion where I couldn’t avoid the question of how many my wife and I had I reluctantly shared that we had none. It was clear that this was not normal to them.

That night we had a bonfire back at the compound. We invited a group of African folks that were there learning about starting their own youth camp, and God led them to the fire just as we were playing charades of all things. The cultural gap made itself apparent when one of us acted out cranking a lawn mower and the Africans all yelled out, “Generator!” We were all in agreement, though, that Bethany deserved the win for her creative impression of “bookworm” involving doing the worm in the dirt by the light of the fire.

But that night something amazing happened. Games morphed into worship, and the African team led us with song………….and dance! We had been given a second chance at praising Him with dance after missing the call at church on Sunday. I can’t quite explain how moving that evening was by the fire, but the Holy Spirit was in and all around us for sure. It was a God moment and He showed off His power in bringing us all together. 

God lit a fire under us that night! 

Team Opendoor and the group of Africans we worshiped with after the bonfire. I'm amazed by the power God put in this moment and that His love won't just spread from us Americans, but will also reach Namibia, Zaire, and the other countries this group represented.

Day 4: Wednesday, August 9

This was our first of two days of ministry in the squatter camp of Diepsloot, which is Afrikaans for “deep ditch” and frankly that’s a pretty good name for it. Smack dab in the center of Johannesburg it is home to over 140,000 mixed Africans. Alcohol abuse, AIDS, violence, drugs, rape – they all have deep roots in the deep ditch. Our team of the two Bethany’s and myself were joined by a translator named Dennis, who was a welcome addition as he just had this cool athletic demeanor about him. I bought a Kaiser Chiefs soccer jersey on the trip just because he looked so cool in his, and I don't know anything about them! From Diepsloot himself and still a resident there, the kids knew him from school and it was obvious he was well respected. He had himself been a drug and gun runner when he came across a team much like ours from Impact Africa and was saved. So, he knew the hardships of those we talked with and wasn’t afraid to call anyone out that tried to make the same excuses he had used before his life was turned around. 

Pastor Simon Peter joins Chandler, Haley, Stephen, and Justin's group as they begin ministry in the camp of Diepsloot. 

Dennis and I! I very much look forward to seeing him again, regardless of how the Chiefs do in soccer.

Bethany reads a Bible verse to a resident of Diepsloot. Later we would witness this lady pouring over the Gospel of John she was given while huddled in a corner. A seed planted......and watered.

Chandler (middle), a sophomore at DH Conley HS, ministers with IA's intern Steven. The young man on the right heard the Word of God through them and chose Jesus as his Savior on the spot.

Any mulungu woman that can clean a chicken is worth far more than one cow. C'mon!!!

Just a bit about Zulu language and culture. I had studied a few phrases prior to the trip but when put on the spot it’s not so easy to spout them out. I didn’t venture too far from the simplest of greetings: 

Sawubona                       Hello
Sanibonani Hello (to several people)
Ngubani igama lakho? What’s your name?
Igama lami ngu Bruce. My name’s Bruce.
Unjani How are you?
Unkulunkulu uya kutanda. God loves you. But I preferred using Ujesu (Jesus) cuz it seemed a little weird to use a word for God that sounds like “oompaloompa.”

But nothing was more fun than sticking your thumb out and saying to a child, “Sharp, sharp (pronounced ‘shop shop’)!” They say it right back and press their thumb against yours with a little flicking motion. It’s kinda like saying, “Wassuppppp?!”

Impact Africa has an anonymous baby drop off station. Women are raped, pregnant, with no way to provide for a baby, and sometimes they opt for the unthinkable. This service is a far better alternative than the demise of God's children.

After lunch, we went back into the camp of Diepsloot and went door to door collecting the children for Jabulani Kids – a gathering for song and dance and some skits that the Impact Africa team had prepared. Think about it though. Going door to door asking if we can take their children somewhere to play with them. For an “advanced” culture such as ours we’ve unfortunately developed trust issues the African people haven’t yet been tainted by.

I was recruited to play Jesus for a skit during Jabulani Kids. Those are not easy sandals to fill.....

The cottage we stayed in at the Youth for Christ campus north of Johannesburg. Girls on the left, guys on the right. There may have been a prank one night involving scratching the girl's window with a branch and scraping at the front door, but that's off the record.

Day 5: Thursday, August 10

In the morning, the Impact Africa team took us to Diepsloot Combined School, a public middle/high school that allows them to insert the Gospel with their students (another unfortunate no-can-do here in the States). We sat in on a class where Genesis (one of the IA interns) and Gerald (aka Mastermind, an IA translator with his own story of being saved in the Diepsloot squatter camp) taught high schoolers about how they could improve their lives by making good choices regardless of their present circumstances. 

After class, we mixed in with the students on the school grounds. The kids were friendly and gracious, sharing their aspirations of becoming tomorrow’s forensic scientists, biomechanical engineers and surgeons. One boy with a vivid imagination claimed to be the grandson of Shaka Zulu. We had so much fun with the kids – the poverty that choked them daily at home lost its grip here on the school grounds where a hope for a better tomorrow seemed attainable. These kids were genuinely joyous and determined to succeed. We all wanted to spend more time with them but we had more ministry to do back in the camp.

Genesis laying down love and discipleship for the students of Diepsloot Combined School.

These kids are not held back by their poverty but are driven by their dreams! The intense one giving you the stare down is the one that claims Shaka Zulu blood. Be afraid.

That afternoon, back in the squatter camp, we sat under a makeshift shelter with a man named Godfrey and his friend. They were both drunk from something that looked like watered-down milk in a plastic container sitting on the ground between them. Godfrey had a sincerity about him though, and knew that the alcohol had a hold of him he needed to break free of. He reminisced about being a body builder in better times and seemed to have a good understanding about his creator but was just lost, and the drink wasn’t helping. I asked what he was drinking and he pointed to a white plastic sealed bucket sitting right next to me. The label said, “The South African People’s Beer” and “Do Not Walk After Drinking Or You Can Get Killed.” Godfrey had been robbed at knife point for one of these buckets before. 

Unfortunately, he wasn’t coherent enough to be born again but we left hoping a seed was planted. Many of the encounters go that way but some embrace the message so willingly you see the transformation right before your eyes. If that happens just once the trip is well worth it.

Felicia, Amanda, Haley and Vanessa from IA, Jeff the translator, and Jared feeling the love in Diepsloot! This photo sponsored by Coca-Cola. :)

That evening we got a second chance to pray for Pastor Siphlo at his church back in Zandspruit township. Haley and Felicia delivered an awesome prayer over him. It was a great way to close our week of ministry.

I want to say a big thanks to the others on Opendoor‘s #TeamAfrica17. This mission was a huge leap for me, and every one of you has made a big impact in my life by sharing this journey. I have no doubt that we all were hand-picked by God and meant to be joined by this experience for life. Thank you, Kerri and Bill, Jared, Felicia, Haley, Amanda, Bethany, Ashlyn, Chandler, and Sydney. And also Pastor Deana for watching over us from home soil.

I also want to thank all of you that contributed to making this mission possible for me to take part in, whether it was in prayer and encouragement or in a donation. When I was first asked if I wanted to join the mission I said there’s no way I could raise the funds. The problem with that thinking is that I thought I was on my own when in fact I was already being led. Thank you to all that heard that same voice telling you to step forward. 

And of course, a big thank you to the team at Impact Africa for their hospitality and sharing their experience with us so we could participate with them in this awesome service they are doing for God and His people. If you’d like to learn more about or donate to Impact Africa you can use this link:

Here are the stats from God’s work for the week:

In front of:
Adults: 200
Children: 158

Adults: 27

Children: 61

Healings: 7

Ministry Moments:
Prayer: 153
Scripture: 103
Discipleship: 98
Gospel of John Handouts: 37

We had a little time in the market on Friday. I got schooled by the salesman but that's okay. Those guys are intense!

We also had time for a safari to see another side of God's wonders, and man He sure delivered!

That night we had a fire side dinner in the wilderness of South Africa. We had come so far, given just a little, but shared so much.

Bill was the glue that held our team together. I don't have any pics of him showering ministry because while he was he had all his heart involved in carrying out God's work, and the camera took a backseat. This pic is from the safari bonfire dinner with one of the guards that was on lion duty. I asked him if that thing could really bring down a lion and he said he didn't know - he'd never shot one. But he was pretty confident that he was a good shot!

At the Lion Park. I want a cheetah. What could be a better running coach than that?