Northern Ireland

My trip is nearly over. On Monday I begin my journey home, stopping in New York, completing my trip on Tuesday morning. There is still a lot to be processed and reflected on, but my stay here in the UK has provided a lot of time for that. Yesterday I returned from Northern Ireland. This part of the trip was supposed to be for rest, vacation really, and it turned out to be much more than I was expecting.

As we descended into Ireland I was in awe of the rolling green hills, patches being illuminated by the sun peaking through heavy clouds, while most of the land was being washed with a gentle rain. The air was cool, yet refreshing, as we walked out of the plane. A sense of peace came over me as we drove through the magnificent countryside. The rain continued to fall in spots, while the sun tried to push through the clouds. After driving a while we came to a quaint little town called Dundrum, where we would be staying for a few days. We crossed over a stone bridge at one point, leaving the town and entering onto Murlough Nature Reserve, which is where our house was located. We drove down a narrow road through trees taking on their fall colors, green pastures filled with rabbits and grazing cows, and finally we passed through a small white gate that led to Murlough House. I was stunned by the size and elegance of the house we came to that morning.

It was now raining, but the rain added to the experience. For most of the afternoon I explored the rooms of the house, going from the top floor all the way to the basement. Once the rain let up a bit I went outside to take in the Irish countryside. As I walked through the forests of green I had a ridiculous grin on my face and I even found myself running with joy at points (possibly even skipping), eventually ending up on a beach next to the Irish Sea. From there I noticed a mountain to my right. I backtracked a bit and found a trail that went through the pasture, the mountain standing majestically before me the whole way. The clouds began to lift, revealing more rolling green hills, sheep and cattle scattered throughout the land, a sky bluer than I have ever witnessed.

At this point I found myself waltzing through a grassy pasture inhabited by hundreds of rabbits. As I approached them they would scatter, rushing to their burrows, which covered the paths. I kept walking, feeling refreshed and renewed. At one point I came over a hill and noticed a castle in the distance. I really desired to walk to it, but decided to leave it for another day. This first day would be just the beginning of my exploration.

The next morning I left the house before the sunrise and as I walked the sky was painted with the most vibrant colors I have ever seen. Pinks and purples colored the sky, while the pasture came into view. As I passed over the stone bridge the water reflected the sky above, bringing out even more of the color. An otter came up out of the water and watched me pass. I waved for some reason and he popped back under the water. I set my eyes on the castle and continued my quest. I walked through the town, amazed by the old buildings, especially the churches, and I followed the signs that led to Dundrum Castle.

As I made my final ascent to the castle the grass was greener than ever before, the sky now golden. When I reached my final destination I looked around and studied the ancient walls of the castle. Before making my way home again I gazed out over the sea and the countryside. Never have I experienced something so tranquil and beautiful.

Each morning I set out before the sun, experiencing a new beauty each day. I ventured through the forests, hiked in rain and sun, walked along the beaches, explored the town, returned to the castle, and even found myself walking among the sheep and cattle at one point. My final day in Dundrum I spent my first three hours awake walking and reflecting. My mind was cleared. It was here that I discovered grace. It was here that my entire being was restored.

My adventures through the Irish countryside were only a small portion of my transformative experience in Northern Ireland. The greatest moments came during my conversations with a true man of faith. John and Jo Moxen were our hosts for the week. The first day when we arrived Jo picked us up from the airport. At the house I met John, a small man, 5’4”, with a great smile. We sat down at the end of the hall near a fireplace, and John began to ask me questions. These were not your typical “get-to-know-you” questions, but questions with depth and purpose. We sat and talked for over an hour, John sharing his story and challenging me with every word. I left that conversation excited and motivated. He told me that I should read his story, which I did in two sittings. I highly recommend checking it out it is called, He Who Gets the Vision, Gets the Job.

The next day Courtney and I spent the morning at RIOT Youth Centre (or Center for my American friends), discussing spiritual formation with a few people there. It was a small meeting of only 6 people: me, Courtney, Richie (the leader), Miriam (from the states, who actually went on a semester abroad trip with my roommate from Bethel, which was absolutely crazy!), Thomas, and Kyle (two young men from Dundrum). We had a wonderful time talking, and eating lunch together. It is always great meeting people my age who have a similar passion to serve.  When I returned from this meeting I discovered a note that said “For Michael, From John” at the end of the hall near the fireplace. Underneath I discovered a CD, a discipleship booklet, and a book, which John gifted to me to help me grow in my faith. This meant so much to me.

The following day John made a special visit to the house to meet with me. He came bearing more materials for me to study. We talked about my future, my goals, and he continued to bless me with his wisdom and humor. Later that day he gave me yet another book! I never imagined I would have such powerful meetings on this part of the trip, but I am so grateful for all that John poured into me over a few days. This meant so much to me, and these times with John will be added to my highlights from this journey.

After my long walk on the last day in Northern Ireland I headed back to RIOT for a Bible study. The Bible study turned into a time of playing games and just hanging out. After we grew tired of pool and ping-pong (I lost miserably) we sat down and began to talk. A couple of the guys had some tough questions about Christianity for Miriam and me. We did our best to answer them, and they continued to ask more and more. We were thinking about going for a hike somewhere but this time of discussion went on longer than anticipated, and it was worth every second. When Richie arrived the conversation continued, and the questions continued to come. It was great. Another unexpected blessing.

My time in Northern Ireland ended up being much different than I expected, but all that happened there has added significantly to my journey. I am so grateful for my time spent in conversation and my times of reflection as I wandered aimlessly through the countryside. Now I feel prepared to return home, to whatever lies ahead of me. I’m guessing there will be more of the unexpected, both good and bad, but I now feel prepared to take them on. As my trip comes to a close I must thank you all again for helping me to come on this three-month journey. All that I have learned and experienced goes far beyond anything that I imagined. Before leaving on this journey I kept saying to myself that I would return a changed person not really making much of it. Now I genuinely believe it. There is still much to be learned and a lot of room to grow, it is a life-long process, but I have definitely made some significant strides forward. Thank you again for your support and encouragement. I imagine that this will be my final post from this trip, but who knows, a lot can happen in the next two days before I make it home. Indiana, I will see you soon. And to my new friends in Africa and the UK, I hope to see you again, and soon.  Stay in touch. I have a feeling this is not my last journey through unfamiliar lands. This was only the beginning.

Peace.

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The End of the Journey

My time in Africa has come to an end. I am currently in Kent, England, and I will be here until the 26th of October.  On the 26th I fly to New York, and I should arrive home on the 27th.  It is hard to believe that my journey through Africa has concluded.  The last two months have been transformative and educational.  It will be months before I am able to process everything that went on there.  There are two things I do know: 1) I am leaving a changed person, 2) I will return to Africa.  As I return home it is important for me to keep on writing and reflecting on all that has happened.  It will be just as vital that I begin to share my stories as soon as I return.

It was hard to leave Africa this past Monday. I will miss its beauty and the many people that I met there.  It is difficult leaving knowing all of the troubles and challenges as well.  This is why I want to return.  During my travels I met so many incredible people, and I heard many fascinating stories. I hope to deepen these relationships over many years to come.  It is hard to say what this will look like, but I know that we will stay in touch.  Please pray for me as I consider the many opportunities that have been presented to me to serve in Africa.

The main reason for this post is to thank all of you for your encouragement and support.  Thank you for allowing me to pursue this life changing opportunity, something I have dreamed about for a long time.  Thank you for helping me to go on a journey of transformation and growth. I am returning renewed and refreshed, and I am excited to share my stories with you.  Thank you for encouraging me in hard times, times when I missed home, times when I felt lonely, times when I just needed a simple word to keep me going.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn more about who I am, and who I am becoming.  This trip has taught me a lot, things I never would have been able to discover if I had not gone to Africa.  Thank you for sending me on an educational journey, learning about the African culture, history, and people, and also about what it means to be a true disciple of Christ.  Thank you for pushing me to go beyond the social norms and live a more fulfilling life.  This journey truly has been magnificent.  I look forward to sharing my stories and experiences with you when I return.

Thanks again for all that you have done for me over the past few months.  Please stay in touch as I travel these next two weeks. I would love to hear from you.  Also, if you have any questions feel free to ask! You can either leave a comment below or email me at: michael.du.baughman@gmail.com.  This will most likely be my final post of the trip, however, don’t be surprised if I write a couple more before I finally make it home.  Thank you. Have a blessed day.

Peace.

The Road to Transformation

Try to imagine living in a culture that practices polygamy, families make sacrifices to their ancestors, youth cannot easily approach elders, young men have to pay a dowry to receive their wives, woman are treated as less than men, fathers tend not to be present or engaged in family life, and AIDs affects close to 25% of the population. Now imagine trying to live as a young Christian in such an environment, where so much goes against Scripture, but the elders promote cultural practices and traditions. Add in pressure from peers and from society to become a certain type of man or woman. These are the challenges that the youth face today in KwaZulu-Natal Province in South Africa.

The Zulu culture is filled with ancient traditions passed down from many generations, some which are beautiful and matchless, others that are causing great distress and even death. There are people dying because they were trying to fulfill the cultural standards of what it means to be a man or a woman. The cause of this suffering is escapable, but the habits and traditions of old are deeply engrained in the minds of the people. Resistance is not easy.

Boys try to prove they are men by seeing how many women they can be with, and each time they sleep with a girl they are putting their lives in danger. All it takes is one night and you could be on your deathbed. Despite the risk, the boys continue to seduce girls into this possibly deadly act. Some girls feel they must have children in order to become women, so the young girls allow for the boys to sleep with them, both trying to prove their worth. In the process many lives are lost.

In the Zulu culture men have to pay a dowry to their future fathers-in-law, which once consisted of 11 cows, and has sense turned into iPhones and Mercedes Benz. The fathers of the girls want more, and even some of the uncles try to receive something from the marriage. The young men cannot afford to pay such ridiculous prices so many just refuse to ever marry. Instead they sleep around with multiple women ultimately leading to HIV or orphaned children. Children are born to infected mothers, some of whom die not long after giving birth. The sickness passes down into the blood of the baby, who then suffers from something that easily could have been avoided. There is a great need for transformation in order to reduce these deaths, and bring a people back to life. The young generation needs to take a stand, choosing to be different, if they wish to overcome such obstacles. This will not be easy.

How do you overcome a problem that is passed down from generations and you cannot even approach your elders on such issues? Boys and girls serve their fathers like slaves, facing abuse and no real sense of love. Father asks for food and you must deliver it on a tray, kneeling before him, bowing your head so as not to look him in the eye. Conversations are not light and fun; there isn’t much laughing with a father like that. It is through the mother that most communicating with the father takes place. This is the safest way.

Fathers want their boys to become tough men, and force them through different rights of passage. A young boy is given a knife, told to slaughter the bull that is tied to the nearby tree. The father walks him over, shows him where to place the knife in the bulls neck, and how to jab the blade in by hitting it hard on the handle. The boy tears up. He raises the knife to the neck, quivering; he loves this animal, and doesn’t want to go through with the sacrifice. Those nearby begin to chant and pressure him to proceed. He smacks the knife at the right point, but it isn’t enough. He tries multiple times but just cannot complete the task. Father comes over and finishes the job. Sacrifices are made to please the ancestors in order to avoid curses that may come over the family.

Other boys are out in the field tending to their cattle. One of the boy’s bulls begins to fight with another’s. This means that they, too, must fight. They brutally beat one another with their staffs until one of the bulls is victorious. The fights can be vicious, and they are only over once one bull submits to the other. Whichever boys’ bull wins determines the victor. Here is another step in becoming a real man.

The young Christ followers of this generation have a lot to rise above, and it will take time and commitment, working together in the process. Every culture has its own challenges and practices that must be reformed. It is not only the Zulu people that have issues to sort out. Even the American culture has a number of practices and traditions that are carried out by Christians that aren’t imitating the life of Christ. For example, just look at the American dream and how many people pursue an individual lifestyle. It is a life designated to pleasing the self above anyone else. I would be interested to find out how many selfies have been taken in this year alone. I’m sure the statistic is outrageous. These things are not necessarily bad, but are often used for personal glory, leading to a life that forgets about the struggles and needs of other people. Some people just need someone to walk alongside them for a while, showing genuine compassion, a present person who actually listens, but many times we don’t even notice. This is where we need to ask the question, “how would Jesus live your life if he were you?”

What I am trying to say with all of this is not that we are all wicked and evil people, but that we need to take time to study our cultures and see where we need to make changes. We should be reflective beings who think critically and deeply about how we are living each day. Instead of settling for what we think we know we should be lifelong learners, assessing our lives daily, seeking out new and creative ways to overcome challenges that we may face. We are not called to be idle people, but people who are constantly seeking to grow. Ultimately this is what it takes to be a successful person in any area of life.

Again, this post is not meant to condemn or degrade, but to encourage. I hope that you will journey with me, pursuing a life of learning and self-assessment, going beyond the norms of society and seeking a more fulfilling existence. Some of the examples I have shared above come from the stories of people I have met on my journey, and these issues were addressed this past weekend at a youth conference that Courtney led. The young adults were all greatly challenged, yet motivated, to go and make a difference in their towns. Courtney has also been working closely with a few young men from the township who all have decided to fully commit their lives to following Jesus. It has been incredible listening to them discuss the ways that they are going to try and bring change to their homes. It will be a tough task, but I know that they have some dedicated leaders that will push the others to persevere when times get tough.

This past week has been slow for me. We have not been going into schools because the kids are on break, and I have had a lot of time alone as Courtney has been in private meetings with some of the young men. In this time I continue to learn and grow. In the evenings I eat with my hosts and they share incredible stories about growing up during apartheid and the many complex situations that they faced throughout their lives. There is an older Zulu lady also staying on the property and she has been sharing some amazing stories each night of what it was like living on the other side of things during apartheid. These times have been educational and refreshing. In my downtime I continue to read and write. I have recently started working my way through Les Miserables, and so far it has been incredible. I also have been reflecting a lot on the past two months. This journey through Africa has revealed so much to me, and I have only just begun to process all that has been happening. It is nice to have time to do this while I am still here so that I am not completely overwhelmed when I return home.

We leave on Monday for the UK where we will be until the 26th of October. From there I head to New York, and then I should arrive home on the 27th. It is hard to believe that my time here in Africa will come to a close in about five days. The journey has been magnificent and unforgettable. I have met so many wonderful people and have enough experiences to write a book. I look forward to sharing stories with you when I return, but for now there are still some stories to be made. Thank you again for all of your support over these last few months, both financially and through prayers and encouragement.

School Visits and other Events

The past few days have been full, especially for Courtney, as he has been meeting with young men each evening for one-on-one sessions. In the mornings we have been traveling to schools to share with some classes about setting and achieving goals. We have mainly been speaking to middle school students, but yesterday we also met with some high schoolers. The sessions that we have been leading are interactive, keeping the students very attentive. We have been asking them what their dreams are for their lives and what steps they must take in order to get there. Surprisingly the kids were responsive, almost all raising their hands to participate. They dreamed of becoming doctors, pilots, actors, singers, artists, social workers, and engineers. Then they went on to give many wise answers of the steps they must take in order to get to where they want to be in the future. It was encouraging to hear that the kids had so many goals and dreams for their lives. Each session I tried to encourage the children to stick with it no matter what may come along. Anybody can accomplish great things, it is just a matter of working hard and not giving up when failure or difficult times come.

At the end of each session we had the children sing for us in Zulu. I have already mentioned how the Zulu people are some of the most naturally gifted singers I have ever encountered. Every time they sang I was amazed. One of the days I even had tears in my eyes because of the power and passion with which they sang. Yesterday was especially moving as nearly 60-70 kids (maybe more) sang enthusiastically with clapping and stomps that shook the foundation of the building. The other day one of the boys mentioned how he wanted to be a professional singer so we had him lead the class in a song. Normally the women lead songs so this was a little uncomfortable for him at first, but once he started to sing his confidence returned, and I couldn’t believe the glorious sound that came from that young man’s lips. These times will be with me the rest of my life, there’s no doubt about that.

Courtney decided to teach the kids a Jamaican song each time as well to return the favor.  We sang “one love, one heart, let’s get together and feel alright,” by Bob Marley. The kids loved it and we held hands and belted out the song of unity together. Many times after leaving the classes we could still hear the kids singing those lyrics over and over.

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoon Courtney led a small group discussion with young leaders at Seed of Hope. Seed of Hope has a program called LOL (Live Out Loud), which is made up of young leaders that come from the schools within the township. There are two levels to this program, one for the early teens and the higher for the older teens. Each day the discussion was laid back and filled with many great insights and talking points. Tonight and tomorrow Courtney will be leading a larger conference for young adults speaking on some of the same topics. Tomorrow after the morning session we are planning to feast together as well, playing games and just spending time with the young leaders.

Along with our ministry there have been many other great times this week as well. I mentioned the other day how there are monkeys everywhere. Up until a couple days ago I haven’t seen any monkeys where we are staying, but only out by the road. Each day I have been waking up between 5:30-6 am because the sun comes up at that time and the roosters are also up. Usually I will stay in my bed for a while until I actually start preparing for the day. Just the other morning, however, I heard a strange noise up in the trees above my cabin, which is at the top of the hill on the property where we are staying. I quickly jumped from my bed to see what was going on. The tree branches rustled, some up the hill, others right above my head. There were monkeys scattered all throughout the trees, leaping from branch to branch down the hillside. As I watched this spectacle I slowly walked down from my cabin to get a better view.

Every so often a monkey would stop and turn, looking curiously at me, peaking from behind a branch or some leaves to see what I might do. As they were concerned about me I was also concerned about them. We stood there motionless looking into each other’s eyes, then without warning the monkey would rapidly turn and jump to the next tree. There must have been nearly 40-50 monkeys that morning. Young and old traveled in a large group that was spread out over a number of trees. This surreal experience lasted for about 30 minutes before they had finally all passed. It was absolutely amazing, and slightly terrifying.

The next day more monkeys came to the property. The last few days there have been scattered storms. The thunder and lightning have been harsh, yet the rains have been gentle. The other night I watched the lightning race across the sky, illuminating the valley below. The thunder consistently startled me as it echoed throughout the hills. All of the creatures around were frightened. Dogs ran wild through the streets crying and barking at each crash of thunder. Birds took cover in the dense vegetation of the hills. The monkeys made horrific noises as if they were being killed. It was complete chaos. As the storms moved on the hillside became calm. The birds returned to singing their beautiful chorus, the monkeys went back to searching for food, and the dogs found their way home. In that peaceful moment I finally was able to sleep.

The last two nights while Courtney has been away with his mentees, I have been spending time with our hosts. We have had some excellent conversations over dinner, and I have greatly enjoyed their company. There is an older Zulu lady staying on the property as well. She is in her 70s but I never would have guessed. She has been entertaining us with stories of old, as my hosts have also shared in the storytelling. It has been fascinating, something I look forward to each night. Just the other evening five young Dutch girls joined us for dinner as our host has been helping them get around, touring the area. It was interesting to learn about yet another culture, and also to listen to the work that each of them has been doing here. Each of the girls (nearly the same age as me) paid for their own way to come here and serve in different communities, working with orphans, AIDs clinics, and a variety of others. This night Buli from Seed of Hope cooked us a traditional Zulu dinner and it was delicious. I also had an interesting chat with the girls about different types of cheese, as cheese is a big thing in Holland, and they said I have to visit so I can go around and try all of the specialties in the area. Maybe one day I will reach the country of cheese, but for now it will remain a dream.

As you can tell this week has been wonderful. It is hard to believe that I only have about 10 days left in Africa. This next week will not be quite as busy so I am hoping to see some sights before we head up to the UK on the 12th. As my time here comes to a close I have started to reflect on all of my experiences, trying to comprehend all that has happened over these past few months. This process will take some time. I must thank everyone again for helping to make all of these experiences possible. Without you I never would have made it here, fulfilling some of my childhood dreams. I appreciate all of your prayers and messages of encouragement. I look forward to sharing stories in person isoon, but for now I’m going to enjoy the remainder of my time here on this beautiful continent. Peace.

Amanzimtoti: Our Final Stop in Africa

On Friday night we arrived in Amanzimtoti, South Africa, which is on the eastern coast, near to the city of Durban. As we were coming in to land I could tell that this side of the country is much different than the western coast. This became even more evident as we exited the plane into the comfortable, tropical air outside. When we arrived at our home for the next two weeks we were welcomed by monkeys, geckos, beautiful flowers, and more red dirt.

Where we are currently staying is built into the side of a hill. There are multiple layers and paths, which lead to different buildings. There are different cabins to sleep in, bathrooms, a kitchen, and lounge area. It is a property unlike anything I have ever seen. It is a bit rustic, but I love it. Our hosts are very hospitable and their two dogs are just as friendly. The two dogs have become good companions, and they seem to follow me wherever I go, and try to sneak into places they shouldn’t be. This is a great place to end my time in Africa, and I will certainly not forget it.

Over the past three days there have been many incredible experiences. The three young men that came to Cape Town have been spending a lot of time with us, and some of their friends have joined in as well. I have enjoyed getting to know them over food and conversations. On Sunday we attended Oasis Church, which is a multiracial church in Amanzimtoti. At the service we sang in Zulu, English, and Afrikaans, and the message was encouraging as well. The people were so loving and welcoming to us. It will be great to serve with them over the next two weeks. I have been connecting with many people, developing relationships that I know will last a long time.

Last night was one of my highlights of the entire trip so far. After the evening service we got Dominos Pizza (just arrived in South Africa this year) and 11 young men from the church gathered together to hear the stories of Buhle and Ntokozo (who were in Cape Town with me and Courtney last week). It was so moving to hear these young men share their stories with their friends, holding nothing back and challenging them to pursue a more meaningful life as Christ followers. After they shared Courtney had each person share a take-away with the group. Each young man shared something unique, which showed us just how attentive and eager to learn they were. It was amazing! There was so much passion and desire for transformation; all of which derived from the stories of two young men and some pizza. There is a lot to be learned from this experience. Who knew that some food and conversation could be so transformative? I was encouraged by this, and told the young men to keep on practicing this type of gathering, and also mentioned how excited I was to see the eagerness to learn and change.

Today was no less exciting. Courtney and I spent the morning at Seed of Hope, which is a community transformation center that works in the township of Bhekulwandle, right next to Amanzimtoti. The organization focuses on helping children, teens, and even families as they work through life. There are health programs, life skills training sessions, workshops on efficient farming, school programs, and much more. This morning Courtney spoke to the staff about being effective leaders with high emotional intelligence. After this I spent some time with Carl Waldron who is one of the leaders at Seed of Hope. It was inspiring to hear what the ministry is seeking to do and how they are working. I was encouraged by this conversation and I am looking forward to spending more time with Carl and the rest of the staff.

In the afternoon we were able to travel to a school with Musa (the school coordinator form Seed of Hope) to spend an hour with some 7th grade students. We were not expecting to share with anyone today, but you have to be flexible in ministry because you never know when an opportunity may arise. We went into the class and began by having the students tell us their names. The names were difficult for us to pronounce, filled with clicks and sounds that are familiar to us from the west. This brought a lot of laughter as we struggled to repeat the names of the children. From here we moved into a discussion about dreams and goal. I asked the kids to name some of their dreams in life, and then we went on to talk about what to do and not do in order to achieve those goals. The answers surprised me. The kids were attentive and gave wise answers. It was another very encouraging experience. There seems to be a strong desire to learn in this country, in all of the countries we have visited. At the end of this discussion we had the kid share a Zulu song with us. If you don’t know anything about Zulu singing I highly recommend you check it out. The Zulu people are some of the most naturally gifted singers I have ever heard. The harmonies and style are unlike anything else I have heard. (If you are interested in listening to some Zulu singing check out Ladysmith Black Mambazo, or Paul Simon’s Graceland, especially the track titled “Homeless”). The kids sang and we couldn’t help but smile. Then Courtney taught the kids a Bob Marley song and they loved it. As we were leaving the school we could hear the kids shouting, “Let’s get together and feel alright!” Another unforgettable time.

This evening was another highlight for me. We went to a meeting of church planters who are being mentored the pastors from Oasis Church. Courtney led a discussion about mentoring, and the leaders were open and engaging, asking tough questions and dialoguing about how to overcome different challenges. The conversation was deep and a lot was being uncovered. This time revealed a lot to me and I, too, learned so much. Pastor Gareth and Pastor Robert (the two pastors of Oasis Chruch) are leading this group of church planters, mentoring them and guiding them over the next three years so that those being mentored may do the same in the future. This type of ministry is so powerful and necessary in our churches and communities.

There is much more to come over the next two weeks. I am looking forward to spending more time with the young men and also the leaders of Seed of Hope and Oasis Church. These two weeks in Amanzimtoti are bound to teach me a lot as they already have, and the time here has just started. Thanks for your support! I apologize for the lack of detail in this report. There is just too much to share so you will just have to ask me about it when I return in a month. Please continue to send your comments, messages of encouragement, and questions. Thanks!

Ladysmith Black Mambazo:

Exploring Cape Town

Over the last few days I have experienced some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life. Along with these experiences I have also had many great times of solitude, and in community with my spiritual brothers from South Africa. This combination of events has made this week one of the most memorable of this trip so far. A lot has occurred over the past few days that will not be forgotten. Tomorrow we depart from Cape Town to fly over to Durban area on the eastern coast of South Africa. It is hard to believe that this magnificent city has been my home for the last month. One day I will return.

This past Tuesday was Courtney’s birthday. The celebration began right away with his three spiritual sons from Durban singing happy birthday to him in Zulu at midnight. This was just the start of an incredible day. The morning was cold and quiet. Each day I have been waking up early so that I can go out and enjoy the beauty of the ocean that is a short walk from my house. This particular morning I decided to run instead of my usual walk. It is extremely difficult to run through the sand, straight into the wind. This was probably not the best place to start running again. Within minutes my legs were tired and I was breathing heavily. I did not stop. The air was cold, my ears grew numb, my throat aching. The run lasted about 25 minutes and then I decided to walk back. Even though my body was worn out I felt refreshed by the physical challenge.

Following this we ate another wonderful breakfast (The cooking here is just as delightful as it has been everywhere else. This is the main reason I decided to run). Soon after eating we discussed Matthew 6:19-24, a portion of the Sermon on the Mount that many Christians have trouble with today, especially in the US. It was a powerful time together, exactly what we needed to start our day. We talked about how whatever we focus our minds on is what we will talk about, do, and love. I thought about this most of the day as we went from place to place.

Our first stop was Cape Point. The drive was wonderful, filled with laughter, beautiful landscapes, and singing along to some Bethel College Chapel Band CDs that Courtney had given to our host Jeremy Biegnaar. As we reached our destination we all were excited for what we were about to see. We walked along the Cape, looking over steep cliffs down to the rough waters of the Atlantic. The wind was cool, but refreshing. Never have I been to such a place as Cape Point. I could have spent hours there, but we had to keep moving because there was a special dinner planned for the birthday boy.

We continued along the coast for most of the trip. We stopped at a place called Boulder beach where we saw a colony of South African penguins, not found anywhere else in the world. They were hilarious. We watched their antics for a while then we continued to Simon’s Town where we walked around the docks taking in the fresh ocean air. The stops were quick but it was nice to take in a lot of Cape Town in a few hours. In the mid afternoon we headed back to Steenburg to celebrate the 58th birthday of Courtney Richards (Pops/Dad/Pastor/Brother/etc).

When we arrived at our recent home we discovered a long table set for the feast, chicken sizzling on the grill, and lots of familiar faces. The guests included Pastor Clive, Pastor Alistair, Chris, Eugene, Jeremy, and, the biggest surprise, Sinebhongo from Vodocom. Seeing Sinebhongo at the party especially surprised Courtney. I cannot express the joy and laughter that took place at the Biegnaar home that afternoon. Our sides ached, tears in our eyes, throats sore. Courtney and Clive had us rolling as they picked on each other, especially when Buhle got involved. It was wonderful to see father, son, and friends joking with each other as if they had known each other all of their lives. This is the power of mentoring and discipling others.  We sang the birthday song in four languages, ate some cake, and just spent time with one another until it was time to head back to our new home. The friendships that have been developed over these past weeks will last a long time, and will continue to grow over the years to come.

Yesterday was another day of exploration. I had another brilliant morning at the beach. The sunrise was stunning, the most beautiful I had witnessed yet. I stood high on a rock near the water and read some Sabbath poems by Wendell Berry. What a great way to begin every morning.

Our first stop of the day was Table Mountain. We took a cable car up to the top of the mountain and spent some time walking around, seeing the surrounding landscapes on every side of the mountain. We saw the city, Robben Island, the eastern mountains of Stellenbosch, Cape Point, and the vast Atlantic Ocean. Our time was short again, and we headed back down to eat a quick lunch and then head to Kirstenbosch gardens. This was the third time that we went there, but each time it was more beautiful.

This time at the garden the flowers were brighter and more plentiful. The colors were unbelievable. If you recall, a few weeks ago I found myself climbing up the mountain in a rush to reach the top, but in the end was not successful. When I arrived this time I was set on taking on the mountain again. I went off on my own to accomplish this task. I had to make it up Skeleton Gorge. The path was steep and rugged. The steps, which were made of rocks and wood, were high, some over two feet tall. I climbed up ladders, and even part of the gorge, stumbling over rocks and roots. I was sweating profusely, my hat and back drenched. Green was everywhere, in the trees, on the rocks, scattered all along the ground. The water rushing down the mountainside was cool and fresh. My muscles were straining as I marched up the side of the mountain.

At one point the trees began to thin out and I found myself walking in the open air. The rocky ground turned to sand, similar to being on a dune or beach. This confused me at first, but then a sensation of excitement took over. I began to run through the sand with a ridiculous smile on my face. It is possible that I even skipped a little, but who’s to say. The reason I was so overjoyed was because I knew that this sandy path must be leading to some sort of body of water. Sure enough, after rushing through the trees and sand I came upon a lake. The mountain rose up on either side and I was blinded by the reflection of the sun on the still water. I walked to the edge of the lake taking in deep breaths. I stretched out my arms and took it all in. It all felt like a strange dream. There was no one else around as I stood on this beach up in the mountains. I could have explored for hours, but again I found that I had run out of time and had to run down the mountain to meet up with my friends.

I ran down, sometimes slipping on rocks, even falling a few times. My legs were tired but my run from the other day made the descent slightly easier than the first time. I reached the garden much faster than I anticipated so I eased up my pace and enjoyed the glorious flowers. As I strolled people stared. I had forgotten that I was drenched in sweat; face red, scruffy face, dirt-covered feet. I just smiled and continued on my way. There were not many young lovers on this day, but elderly ones. And no, I did not discover any fair maidens, and I’m quite sure they would have pushed me aside because of my stench and appearance. Finally I reached the group and they were excited to see me. I forgot to tell them where I was going so they wanted to hear my story.  They commented on my wearied form and we laughed as I told them what I had just done.

These past few days have been so astonishing. Friendships have grown and much has been learned. Today is our last day at the Team House, and we will spend much of our time in reflection and conversation. I’m not sure what my next living situation looks like so I’m not too sure how often I will be able to upload pictures and post to the blog. I will do my best to stay in touch.  Thank you again for all you have done to allow me to travel around Africa, and all that you are still doing to encourage me as I move from place to place. I greatly appreciate each of you. Feel welcome to write questions or comments as you wish. I pray that you all have a blessed day.

Robben Island and Other Exciting Events

The past few days Courtney and I have been living in a place called Team House, which is on the other side of the mountain from where we were staying the past four weeks. The house is located in a beautiful place next to the beach with mountains on every side. From the balcony we can watch the waves of the Atlantic crash into the coast and the beautiful sunrise over the mountains behind us. This week three of Courtney’s spiritual sons (Buhle, Ntokozo, and Thulanie) from the Eastern part of South Africa have been living with us so that they can experience Cape Town and also have times of learning through a variety of sessions with Courtney. I have greatly enjoyed getting to know my brothers from South Africa, and I know that the friendships that we are developing will be deep and lasting.

This week has been dedicated to helping the three young men (19-21) deal with some issues in their lives as well as to learn how to live as a follower of Christ. The sessions have been challenging for all of us. I don’t attend all of them but have been able to share with the guys many times over the last few days. On the first full day I actually was greatly affected by our morning discussion because what had occurred earlier that morning.

On Friday night I was unable to sleep. I thought it might have been the new house or the cold, but it was something much deeper. My mind was restless as I thought about if I can keep up this life of faith for the remainder of my life. It is not an easy life, and has a great cost. Tossing and turning in my bed, the thoughts persisted. This went on for hours. Close to 3 in the morning a sense of peace came to me, and I just knew that I could rest because transformation would come at dawn. Soon after this I drifted off into a deep sleep.

I awoke at 6 and decided to go down to the beach to explore. We had arrived at night so I must say that I had no idea of the beauty that I would soon witness. After reading and journaling a bit I finally went outside and was stunned by the vast landscape and beauty that was coming into the light. Walking down to the beach I did not say a word. The sky was clear, the air crisp. The wind was strong, blowing sand across the immense beach and into my face. As my weary body approached the Atlantic a sense of joy and refreshment came rushing in. The sand was golden, the waves blue and white, the sides of the mountains covered in green vegetation and orange rocks. Transformation was coming. Once I reached the water I noticed some large rocks to my right so I went over to them to sit for a while in reflection. There was not much sitting, however, because the joy I was feeling was immeasurable. I stood firm and tall on the rock, a huge smile on my face, words of gratitude on my lips, a feeling of warmth deep inside. At one point I even belted out the doxology, which if you know me is very unusual. It was at this moment that all of my fear and worry from the night before was released. A simple reminder that the Kingdom of God is here. I was transformed.

When I returned to the house I was so excited. This excitement would continue during our fist session. Courtney shared about Psalm 22,23,and 24, and the process of lamenting, being reminded of God’s comfort, and living in the presence of God. This was exactly what I went through the night before, what I have been wrestling with the past two months. It was exactly what I needed to keep me going for the rest of this journey in Africa. I basically lived out those three verse from Friday night until the next morning at the ocean.

This first day brought more adventure in the evening. After dinner we all went down to the beach to see the sunset. Father and sons sang, laughed, and had a wonderful time together. In the middle of all of the fun Buhle dropped his phone. We were back at the house, now dark, and he realized it was missing. Me and Ntokozo decided to go with him to help find it. The stars were bright and covered nearly the entire night sky. It was unreal.  The searching brought about distress. At one point we all stopped talking and just went off one by one looking for the phone. After wandering around in circles for a long time we decided to go back. As we walked back Buhle discovered his phone where we did not expect it to be. He was overjoyed!  And the best part about it was that he had the dimmest light and was the last in line. This experience was also good for Courtney and Thulanie as they worked through some tough stuff as we walked around the beach. It also provided a time for the rest of us to bond on a deeper level. What an incredible first day!

Yesterday we took a trip to Robben Island, which is where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner. The boat ride over was exciting at first as none of us (except Courtney) had really been on a boat like this. On the journey we saw a whale, dolphins, penguins, sea lions, and many birds. As we moved out into the open water the air became cool, the wind powerful. We were standing at the front of the boat enjoying every minute despite the conditions. In front of us we could see the island, behind was Table Mountain and Cape Town. Rain was falling in the distance, surrounding the island causing an eerie image. The closer we were to the island the quieter the boat became. Once we arrived there was silence.

We started our tour of the island by going through the prison where Mandela was held. It was difficult to walk through knowing the suffering that went on there. We saw where Mandela had a garden, where he kept his manuscript, where men would send messages to one another by tossing a tennis ball with notes inside over the wall, and read stories of men struggling to survive. The most moving spot, however, was Mandela’s cell. It was tiny and nearly empty. There was a mat on the ground, a bucket, blanket, table, and tin cup. He spent 18 years in that cell facing the cold of winter, sleeping on a concrete floor, eating bread and sugar. You would think a person would begin to lose hope in such a terrible place, but Mandela did not. What a powerful story.

The rest of the tour of the prison and island I kept thinking back to the cell, which eventually led me to think of the cruelty of slavery and racism that overtook the west. My thoughts went back to the time that Africans were packed on top of each other in the bottoms of ships to be taken to the west. I thought about the beatings from slave masters who even read Scripture to their slaves. The Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. came to mind. Then my thoughts transitioned to today. There is still a lot of injustice in this world, especially economic. Racism and discrimination can be found everywhere, even among people who profess to be Christians. Western life promotes the individual and the self. It is all about making money, buying things for us, and meeting our wants and desires. We go to church and that’s it. We have forgotten what it truly means to follow Christ, or perhaps we never knew.

This trip has challenged me to go beyond the norms of the typical American lifestyle. A life that focuses on relying on the self, living for the self, and helping out every once and a while. This trip has caused me to think about what it means to live a life of faith, true faith, denying myself daily to follow Christ. It has pushed me to study the teachings and life of Jesus in depth so that I may imitate him, rather than just know him. Now a passion for making disciples the way Christ did is welling up within me. Each day I learn and grow, and I get excited to put into practice all that I have been discovering. Difficult questions arise, emotions are all over, my mind is not at ease. This is a costly life, a life that many decide not to follow. Just look at the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). Restlessness will continue to come and go as I pursue this life. Now that I know about it I can’t imagine living any other way. And it is this that scares me. It is this that brings me great joy through grace in the presence of God.

As I move on from these experiences I must ask myself how I am going to live when I return home. I must think about how I can contribute to reconciliation, how I can make disciples, how I can live a life daily denying myself. I must keep moving forward, resisting the temptations and lies that only want to hold me back. I pray that you will take these things into consideration and develop some questions for yourself. How will we bring about community transformation? How will we work together with people that are different than us, developing friendships with them? How will we make a difference in our homes, towns, cities, country, or even the world? How will we bring about racial reconciliation and economic justice? How will we help to empower the poor? How will we use ours lives to serve? What type of person are you becoming?

It all starts by going to where people are at, developing genuine friendships, and walking through life together. It starts with a name, then a story, and a life lived in community. It starts with denying the self, and to give and serve those around us. It starts with a change of heart and mind. It starts by living in the present, receiving grace in abundance. It starts with joy and an attitude of humility. It starts by imitating Christ. It all starts at the cross.

Be challenged today. And be transformed.

Thank you all for your prayers, support, and messages of encouragement. It has been great hearing from so many of you the past few days! This post is a little different than what I usually write, but I felt it was necessary to share some of what has been on my mind lately. I hope that you are feeling just as challenged as I am, and that you, too, will start to take steps towards better serving your neighbor. Peace.

Coram Deo

Final Week in Steenburg

Today we depart from Steenburg to head to our next location. These past four weeks have been filled with many unforgettable experiences, conversations, and times of solitude. It will be hard to say goodbye to the friends we have made here, and I know that our friendships will continue to grow even though we may be in different parts of the world. This past week was wonderful yet again, filled with times of rest and ministry.

On Sunday we went to a church in Manenburg, Cape Town, and Courtney spoke about the power of blessing people. It was a powerful message, and the people were very receptive. At the end of the service Courtney blessed all of those who were 35 and younger, and we finished out our time in communion. It was a special time for everyone.

Sunday was another beautiful day so we decided not to waste it by sitting inside so we traveled over to visit the Burgstahlers again. We traveled with them to the stunning town of Stellenbosch, and explored the city. Stellenbosch is a university town, and is filled with a number of great little places for students to go study or spend time with friends. The University of Stellenbosch is one of the highest rated universities in Africa, and it was incredible to learn about how much cheaper it is to attend than schools in the US. I may have to look into the Masters programs offered, especially since the school is becoming an international institution. When we returned from Stellenbosch we went over to Pastor Eugene’s home (a friend of the Burgstahlers) and had tea and pie. The hospitality is marvelous. I can’t say that enough.

On Monday and Tuesday we continued our ministry in Manenburg with Pastor Alistair. Courtney spoke about spiritual fathering and mothering, and how this is the way communities are transformed. The sessions were challenging, but also fun, filled with laughter and joy. I have greatly enjoyed getting to know Pastor Alistair, and we have had many wonderful conversations. It will be great to stay in touch with him.

During the session on Monday I shared a little bit about my story. I didn’t speak long, but the congregation appreciated what I had to say to them. Even though I seem to become nervous any time I speak in front of people I usually end up enjoying it and feeling very relaxed. Each time I speak the more confident I become. The nerves will probably always come before I begin, but thankfully they don’t stick around long.

The ministry in Manenburg went well, as did our last session with Pastor Clive at Living Faith Community Church last night. Again, the session was laid back and filled with laughter and smiles as Courtney and Clive joked with one another. At the end of the time they blessed us with gifts (Rugby Jerseys) and we said our goodbyes. It was very difficult to leave them.

Yesterday morning we joined Alistair at the Cape Net, which is a monthly meeting between pastors of different denominations. At the meetings they pray, take communion, share their visions, and partake in a meal. It was a wonderful time and encouraging to see pastors from all different denominations working together to transform their communities. Courtney shared a little with the pastors, and the response was so great that many of them were trying to get him to come and preach at their churches. Perhaps he can when he returns sometime in the near future.

I had a lot of time to rest again this week, spending time in solitude and reflection, writing and reading (I must mention that I finished reading Don Quixote this week and highly recommend it, however, you must be committed because it is nearly 1,000 pages long!) These times have been very educational for me. I don’t think I could have achieved this back home unless I was to leave everything behind. Not having a phone or Internet helped me to focus, guiding me into deeper times of reflection, which ultimately led me into discovering a lot about myself that I did not know. Again, I highly recommend you find some time to do this, even if it is only one day.

It is time to transition again, moving to a new place, meeting new people. We will still be in Cape Town for the next week, but we will be staying in a different area. Courtney’s spiritual sons from Durban fly over today, and they are overjoyed. It will be wonderful to meet them and spend the next week getting to know them. Our time will be spilt between times of touring and spiritual formation. It should be another wonderful week.

I am so thankful for all of the people who have been taking care of us this past month, and I hope I will get to see them again. The hospitality has been magnificent, and has taught me a lot about how I should live. Everyone is so genuinely welcoming and friendly, making it easy to feel at home. I’m glad that I will be able to stay in communication with them and have a feeling that I will see them again someday. Thank you for making this trip possible, and for your continuous support through prayer and messages of encouragement. I should have better Internet access the remainder of the trip so hopefully I can write and post pictures more frequently, but I never know what to expect. Thanks again, and have a blessed day.

Week of Ministry

It has been about a week since I last wrote. A lot has happened the last few days so I will do my best to briefly tell about each event. I have divided this post into sections so that it is simple to follow, and if you need to take a break you can easily find where you left off.

Bride of Christ Church (Monday-Tuesday Night):

The last two days at the Bride of Christ Church went very well. Courtney spoke about the need for Christ followers to not just be churchgoers, but to go out and make disciples of the people in their communities. The people responded well to this challenge with shouts and tears. It was powerful. The last night was especially moving. Courtney finished up his speaking and began to bless the people. More tears fell. This time transitioned into singing and dancing, smiles and laughter. One by one the people came up to us and thanked us for being with them. It was a glorious time.

On the second night, Pastor Gordon asked me to share a little bit with the congregation. I wasn’t sure what exactly to say, but felt calm. I went up relaxed and challenged the people to not only hear and write, but to go and do what they have been learning. I mentioned that this is a daily choice we must make, and then I awkwardly handed over the mic to the next speaker. Even though the way I spoke was very relaxed and mellow the people responded with amens and shouts. One young man, the drummer and pastor’s son, called me Pastor Mike after the service that night. I loved spending time with the small group at Bride of Christ and hope to stay in touch with the connections that I made there.

Sinebhongo:

On Tuesday during the day we met with Sinebhongo, the young man from the phone company that Courtney had been speaking to the last few weeks. We had lunch with him and asked some questions about what he wants to do with his life, and even spoke to him about his faith. Sinebhongo is very engaging so we had a great time talking with him. He mentioned that he is interested in going to college to study business management. He then went on to tell about some of his long term goals and dreams. We were able to encourage him, and Courtney is planning to help him more with the steps he must take to accomplish these goals.

After this Courtney began to ask Sinebhongo some questions about Christianity and faith. Courtney mentioned that just because people go to church that doesn’t mean that they are Christians. This was made plain and clear for the young man. I even mentioned how it took me some time to realize what it truly meant to follow Christ even through I grew up as the son of a pastor. In the end he understood that he was not actually following after Christ so Courtney prayed with him. The family continues to grow. I’m excited to stay in touch with Sinebhongo as he moves into a new and exciting stage of life. He has great potential and I know he will do great things. We are hoping to spend some more time with him before we leave Cape Town for Durban later this month.

Living Faith (Wednesday, Thursday Night):

On Wednesday and Thursday night Courtney spoke at Living Faith Community Church, which is just around the corner from where we are staying. Chris and Jeremy’s cousin is the pastor, Pastor Clive, and is the man that was joking with Courtney last weekend at the birthday celebration. The church was very welcoming.

Courtney spoke about leadership and worship the first night, and on the second night he spoke about disciple making. Again the people responded very well. It has been difficult at the last few churches because there really has not been adequate time to cover all of the material for each subject. It has been good, however, and I believe that the leadership in each church will take these ideas and continue to emphasize them. We are planning to go back to Clive’s church next week on Thursday so that Courtney can speak some more about mentoring.

Each session ended with tea and freshly made donuts. They were delicious, and I could have eaten a dozen or more, but I contained myself so that others could also partake. I look forward to consuming a few more of these tasty treats before I depart from Cape Town. Again I must mention just how wonderful the hospitality has been here in Africa. The people treat us so well, feeding us too much. It seems as if someone is always trying to either give us tea or something to munch on wherever we go. I would love to figure out how many gallons of tea I have consumed on this trip. It seems like I have at least two or three cups a day. Our hosts in every country have taken good care of us, and we are grateful every one of them.

Ministry in Capricorn:

This past week I have also been helping Chris with his before/after school program in Capricorn. Capricorn is a poor area also called a township or slum. Chris told me that there is 70% unemployment in Capricorn. The population is between 50-60,000 people, possibly even more, and Capricorn is not a large area. Houses are packed tightly together, sometimes there could be ten or more on a small plot of land. Families squeeze into their homes and just do their best to survive. There are a few shops and businesses within the township, but Chris told me that most of them are actually run by people from other African countries. The people have been corrupted by years of handouts and this way of life will take a lot of work to break away from.

This is why Chris has given up his normal job to make his ministry his main focus. On Monday to Friday, Chris wakes up around 5 in the morning to prepare two huge pots of oatmeal to serve to the children. He serves at a couple locations and nearly 200 people are fed. Chris does not only serve the food but also builds relationships with the people, and is working to empower the young ones to live a different life than is demonstrated by many of the adults in the township. One day we walked home from the ministry and it seemed as everyone we passed knew Chris and greeted him joyfully.

I joined Chris one morning to help serve the kids. It was a wonderful experience. When we left the house the sun was just beginning to rise above the mountains. The colorful sky made even the slums look beautiful. As we pulled up to the church where Chris bases a majority of his ministry, kids began to come from all directions to get some of the hot food. It is amazing to see how joyful the children are even though they basically have nothing. I have been in some poor areas before but nothing like this. The children have hope and I pray that the work that Chris is doing helps to empower the young to transform their community.

On Tuesday and Thursday I also joined Chris for his after school ministry. When we arrived the children were waiting for us and helped us in any way that they could. They set up the tables and chairs, and set the table for mealtime. I played with some of the younger kids before everyone arrived to eat. It was so much fun having the little ones chase me around the room, laughing and smiling the whole time. After we served everyone food we had the teens stick around so I could get to know them. There were about ten teens that stuck around, mainly boys. I introduced myself and shared a little of my story with them. After this I encouraged them by sharing that they are more than just poor people. I mentioned how we are all created in the image of God and we are all his children no matter where we come from. I told them to not let titles such as poor or young hold them back, but to live above these titles and pursue great things. They all have potential it is just a matter of what they decide to do with their lives. After I shared I let them ask questions about anything and we had a fun time together.

On Thursday I returned and was supposed to teach some of the kids how to play the drums. Unfortunately the bass drum pedal was broken. This is key piece of the drum set so it was hard to do anything with it. I tried to use this as a lesson for the kids about teamwork, and even though I was rambling my words eventually made sense. With this I created an activity on the spot to help emphasize some of the points I made. I had each child take a drum and we made a beat together. It was incredible. There was a lot of joy during this activity. I plan to return next week for a day or two to spend a little more time with the teens, possibly doing some drumming or just hanging out with them.

These times have been rewarding, but challenging for me. One day when I was with Chris we heard that a girl that comes to his program had skipped school for the last two weeks. Chris was not pleased with this, especially because the parents could care less. He had taken on the responsibility of the parents to push the kids to go to school and to study. We walked over to the girl’s home, which was crammed in among a number of other shacks. The stench was horrific and it was hard to see the emptiness of the home. Chris spoke sternly and lovingly with the young girl, asking her why she was not going to school. He discovered that it was only because she did not have the pants for her uniform. Chris told her that he would help her out but she had to promise to return to school.

I am grateful that I have been able to observe the life in the townships of South Africa, and this isn’t even one of the worst ones. As difficult as it was to see the living conditions of the people, there is a glimmer of hope that comes from servants like Chris. The biggest problem is that there aren’t many people out there who are willing to make big sacrifices to help those in need, or even to make the small sacrifice of giving up a little time to help people like Chris with their ministries. This is a major problem all around the world, and one of the main points Courtney has been addressing in his teachings. We all need to be challenged by this.

Day with the Burgstahlers:

Yesterday was so refreshing for me. We spent the day with a missionary family from Indiana, who recently moved to Cape Town. The Burgstahlers are a wonderful family, and they were great hosts for the day. We have a few mutual friends back in Indiana, and my parents have spent time with them as well. It was fun telling stories and talking about life back home with them. This was exactly what I needed and has given me a boost of energy that will help me on the second half of this trip.

In the late morning, Steve, Gayle, and Micah Burgstahler came and picked us up from Chris’s home. They took us to the Cape Town waterfront where we visited some shops, ate some fish and chips, and enjoyed the magnificent sights. It was a beautiful day yesterday, hardly a cloud in the sky. It was one of those days that you don’t even think about the weather because the conditions are so perfect.

After exploring the waterfront for a while we headed downtown to a craft market. As we browsed the different shops the owners would quickly come up to us and try to sell us whatever we were looking at. They would begin to go into great detail about their product and the unbeatable price, even though many of the vendors were selling the same items. It was entertaining. We met one man from Senegal who was running a shop, who was around 6’8”. Abdu was very gentle and kind so we did most of our shopping at his stand.

After the market we traveled over to the Burgstahler’s home where we ate dinner and learned some more about their ministry and hopes for the future. We had to eat quickly because Steve wanted us to join him at one of his ministries. The ministry is in a rehab center. Most of the people who came were young men between 20 and 30 years old. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but soon after we began I was deeply moved. Steve began the time with singing. The men danced and sang with great passion, something we have not seen much of here in Africa. Most of the time the people singing and dancing are women. The sound of their voices nearly brought me to tears. After singing a few songs Steve invited Courtney to come share. In this time Courtney shared his story and it was extremely powerful. The young men were very responsive and focused; some were even crying by the end. Many people came up to Courtney after the session and thanked him for sharing his story. It was a perfect ending to a great day.

What’s Next:

Today we are resting, and Courtney will begin his teaching again tomorrow morning. This next week Courtney will be teaching at a church Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, and then we will return to Living Faith on Thursday for another session. I will be with Chris at least one more time this week to help in Capricorn. On Wednesday we are hoping to get together with the Burgstahlers again, and possibly a few others that we met. On Friday Courtney’s mentees from Durban are coming over, and we will be with them for a week until we all head over to Durban on the 25th of September.

I can’t believe that we have been living in Cape Town for 3 weeks now, and that the trip is halfway over. This second half of the journey will be filled with many more opportunities and learning experiences. We really only have about four weeks of ministry left, and then we head up to the UK for two weeks. The days seem to go by so fast now, and our time here will be over before we know it. I am excited to return back to Indiana to reunite with friends and family, but I know I will miss Africa. I have met so many magnificent people and experienced excellent hospitality, all of which will be difficult to leave behind. Thanks for your support and allowing me to go on this 3-month journey across Africa. Keep sending the encouraging messages and feel free to ask questions as well. The Internet is still very limited so I will do my best to stay in touch. I’m hoping that I can post some pictures soon! I heard that the place we are staying in a week has Wi-Fi so it is possible that I will be able to put up some pictures during that time. Thanks again for all of your support and encouragement!

Eventful Weekend

A lot has happened since my last post. There have been a number of wonderful experiences marked with a few discouraging times. Saturday provided another beautiful, cloudless day. Courtney and I spent the afternoon strolling along the beach, watching surfers enjoy the warm, spring air, and the children running along the shore, splashing one another with the cool waters of the Indian Ocean. The sunshine was pleasant and everyone was taking it in. When we returned I found that I actually was a little red and burnt, the first time since being here in Africa. It may finally be time to use the three bottles of sunscreen that I packed.

On Saturday evening our host family was going out to spend time with their extended family, no uncommon thing here in Africa. We thought when we returned from the beach we would be in the house alone for the night, either reading or writing. Sure enough, when we returned, everyone was still at home and they invited us to come along for the festivities. The family was having a braai, which is a barbecue, for the birthday of Chris and Jeremy’s brother Donovan. When we arrived at the party we were welcomed with great enthusiasm by all of the family and friends. It was a loud and lively place filled with laughter and smiles.

The eating began right away once we set foot in the house. Chris and Jeremy’s mother greeted us and showed us to the food. We started off the feast with some cheese, sausages, and veggies. Obviously I loved all the cheeses and ate a lot. Soon after this we were served some Rooibos tea, one of my favorites. After tea came, what we believed was the main course. We were the guests of the house so we always had the first pick of the food. We went to the table and noticed some bread, fish, and salad out on the table. Not knowing that this was yet another appetizer, we grabbed the large plates, which were for the next course, and filled them up. At one point Courtney discovered some potato salad and other dishes in the kitchen and went in to grab some. At this point one of the elderly ladies yelled in that those dishes were for the chicken and main course. We all laughed at the confusion. We consumed this course with delight, and then the main course of chicken, sausage, and the other dishes was served. And of course cake followed soon after this.

We were dinning in the home of Chris and Jeremy’s mother. Her husband passed away not long ago so now she lives in her home with her son Donovan. She is a wonderful, hospitable lady with a big heart and even bigger smile. At the house that night were two of her single friends who live in the same cul-de-sac. The three single ladies were hilarious and brought much joy to the party. One of the ladies was so witty and quick; every word that came from her mouth had us all laughing. When she was leaving she had to say something to each person, each time sounding serious, but layering her speech with comedy.

In the midst of the feasting there was great conversation, both joyous and serious. At one point we all gathered together, family and friends, and sang for Donovan. Then he gave a speech and the joy brought tears to his eyes. It was very moving, and I, too, was beginning to tear up. After this Courtney blessed Donovan, the family, and the feast that would follow. While we ate, the lively Pastor Clive, cousin of Jeremy and Chris, entertained us. Courtney and Clive picked on one another all night, which brought about so much laughter that I’m sure the entire neighborhood could hear. There were times of serious conversation as well.

On the drive over to the house, we noticed a large crowd of people gathered by the side of the main road not far from where we are staying. Chris told us that a man had just been shot and killed, right there in the open. There were no police in sight. He went on to mention how this is a common occurrence in that part of town.

At dinner that night we discussed this and Clive told us of the drastic living conditions of the blacks in Cape Town. Many are staying in small rooms, no privacy or comfort. He mentioned that some rooms will hold up to 20 people, and they have to sleep in shifts because of the lack of space. There is still much work that needs to be done in terms of racial reconciliation here in South Africa. This conversation was painful and saddened me greatly. I had a difficult time sleeping that night thinking about the dead man lying on the side of the road and the many families crammed into a tiny room just trying to survive. It was even more difficult to think about how few people actually cared. Then I began to think about the children and the dangerous paths that they follow. Many have no parents so they seek gangs to take care of them. Drug lords become their fathers, leading them into a life that ultimately ends with a bullet, a small crowd, and thousands of people passing by. Sleeping has been a challenge with so much on my mind.

Yesterday provided some hope and light. In the morning we drove into the mountains to Wellington to visit one of Courtney’s spiritual sons from Jamaica, Templa, who is studying at a leadership school. The school is called ALICT, which stands for the African Leadership Institute for Community Transformation. The school is small and is located up in the mountains at a camp. They enroll students from all around the globe, young leaders seeking to pursue a career in community transformation. Currently there are 20 nations represented among the 24 students. This is so incredible! While we were there we met people from Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, the USA, Romania, Ukraine, St. Lucia, and many other places that I can’t think of right now. The training sounds intense and fulfilling, and may be something I pursue in the future.

We enjoyed our time with Templa, eating breakfast and driving through the mountains. It was wonderful being able to meet another one of Courtney’s spiritual sons, expanding my family even more. He has so many sons and daughters around the world, and still more to come. This week Courtney actually is gong out to lunch with two of the young men we have met in our time in Cape Town. One is from Vodocom (the main phone company) and the other is the waiter we met at the gardens. The family continues to grow.

Last night we had our first session. We drove over in the evening with Jeremy. Again, we had no idea what to expect. As Jeremy guided us he led us into a parking lot with a string of buildings that looked like small shops. I was searching for the church building but didn’t seem to find one. Then I heard singing coming from one of the little shops. It was in fact a church, compact and loud. We walked in as the band was playing and the people were singing joyfully. We were greeted with smiles and hugs. Once the singing finished and introductions were made, Courtney went up to speak. The plan was to do some teaching about mentoring and discipleship, but the teaching rapidly transformed into preaching. The people were receptive and eager to listen. I loved when Courtney would say something profound and challenging, and you would hear someone in the crowd shout, “Oh my God! Yes!” This introductory session was exactly what was needed for the people last night. The teaching will continue Monday and Tuesday night.

Tuesday and Thursday I will be traveling with Chris into one of the poor areas of town to help with his children’s ministry. We will be serving the kids a meal and then do a few activities with them. I will probably share a lesson each day as well. I’m looking forward to this time.

The weekend has been filled with many emotions and sleepless nights, but as the ministry begins again I feel energized. The next week will be full of opportunities to serve and learn. This trip has provided me with so many unique experiences, each one teaching a new lesson. Please continue to pray as we get back into the rhythm of ministry these next few days. As always, thank you for your support and encouragement. We are feeling extremely blessed, and I often find myself thinking about how I even got here. How did a Jamaican who grew up in poverty and illness in the mountains meet up with a young man from a rural town in Indiana, and then end up in Africa serving in multiple countries? This never ceases to amaze me, and I’m grateful each day for the opportunities that I have to serve and learn. Peace.