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

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