Hospitality: Giving more than spare change

Meet Greg Jewell, our first guest poster in the hospitality series! My husband and I got to know Greg and Roxanne Jewell while we were in South Africa. Their South-African-American marriage and dramas with visas were things that connected us, along with their love for children. Greg has graciously agreed to share about the work he does with the children who live on the street in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. For those of you who are not from the area, these are children and teens who sleep on the streets, and are often begging for change at robots (traffic lights). Most of us either roll our eyes and roll up our windows when we get to the robot, or we guiltily give them some money. Greg and the YFC team, however, are giving something more: they’re making friends with these kids by making space in their lives and hearts for them. I love that Greg’s focus is on how true hospitality is not about us–what will make us feel better, what we are comfortable with–but about the other person.

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I work in the Khayalethu Project of Youth for Christ in KwaZulu-Natal. More specifically, I work on the Outreach Team. Our team focuses on helping youth who live on the streets. Many of the youth who choose this lifestyle do so because they enjoy having no authority figure over them. It’s not an easy lifestyle but they can do as they please with what little they have. Now how would you go about getting a child like this off the streets? It’s not an easy proposition at all.

Our main activity is simple: we get to know the kids. We go to where they are which is never a nice, clean place. We sit and chat with them. If we can, we play card games or soccer in an effort gain their trust. Essentially, we treat them like the human beings that they are.

When most people see the kids we work with, they see a random face that makes them feel guilty. Sometimes this guilt will cause them to give money or food but then the traffic light turns green and life moves on. The kid gets to eat or get high but there is no other change in behavior. Similarly, the person who gave gets to feel good about giving but doesn’t realize that they’ve enabled that child to continue living on the streets.

Salving one’s own personal guilt is not the way to help these children. They need so many things that they can’t get on the streets and one of the most important is a positive adult role model who cares for them. At YFC, we’re able to spend the time and effort to build relationships with these kids in the hopes that they will one day trust us enough to take our offer of help. After all, who would listen to a complete stranger who is offering advice? We want to come alongside these kids so that they will see that there’s a better way to live.

Just like all kids, these kids deserve a chance to make something of themselves. If you ask them, they would all tell you what they want to be when they grow up and none of them want to be homeless adults. We want to come alongside them and help them to see that they can do so much more than beg for spare change and society’s guilt.

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I’ve asked my guest posters to share practical things that people can do to show hospitality. This is the part where we stop scrolling, and start doing. 🙂  

If you live in Pietermaritzburg, rather than giving money to street children, would you consider supporting the work of YFC/KZN? You could also commit to making sandwiches for their outreach, or volunteering your time. Take a look at at their website (Click here) to see if these, any other opportunities  fit your abilities. However, as Greg says, “Christ has given us all the ability to pray and we greatly value your prayers”.


gregAbout Greg Jewell:  I was born and raised in Midwestern USA but I now live in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. A lot of people here think I’m an atypical American as I love soccer, hate coffee and use sunscreen religiously. I’m married to an amazing South African woman who loves Jesus and working with kids as much as, if not more than, I do. We’re undergoing the long and grueling process of adoption because we know that God has called us to this.

PS. If you liked this post, you might like this one on how we can help without hurting, or this one on caring for all kids, not just those in our immediate family.

Those aren’t my kids

Nothing like some tickle-tackle time at Life Group with iThemba mentor Mashinini

Nothing like some tickle-tackle time at Life Group with iThemba mentor Mashinini

“Your idea will never work,” the head of Child Protection Services said to David Anderson, “You will never be able to get people to voluntarily open their homes to kids on a temporary basis until they can get back with their families. It just won’t work.”

When David asked why, the CPS official explained, “Children are not valuable in our society.” 

That seems weird, right? In the West, it seems that it’s the children and youth that are idolized and the elderly who are forgotten. You can hardly get a small-group Bible study going, because parents are spending all their time shuttling their children between ballet class and soccer club and karate and extra math. In the US, parents will move to a different neighborhood to get into a different school district so their children can get into a better school. Children are encouraged to share their ideas, and the whole “be seen and not heard” thing died out in the Victorian era. How is it that children are not valuable in our society?

The CPS officer went on. “Our OWN children are valuable. We’ll do anything for them. We’d die for them. But children that are not our own– nope. That’s why adoption is so much more appealing to people– we’d rather take individual adoptable children and make them part of our tribe, make them our own. Then we’ll sacrifice and pour love and attention on them. But someone else’s kids? Someone else who is probably battling drug or alcohol addiction and that’s why their kids were removed by the State? No one wants those kids.”

David Anderson is the head of a movement called, ‘Safe Families‘. It’s got branches in the USA and in the UK. The goal of Safe Families is to give hope to parents and children in crisis. Rather than waiting until abuse or addiction forces the State to intervene and terminate parental rights, plunging their children into a dysfunctional foster-care system, Safe Families steps in before things get really bad. Volunteers take in kids until parents can get counseling and find their feet, and then reunite them with their parents. You should check it out.

But this idea that children are not valuable in our society is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. The director of iThemba Projects brought it up a while ago as well, this time from a Christian perspective.

“Do you think God loves my child more than he loves the children in Sweetwaters?” he asked me. “Then why is it that we pray for God to bless our children, and pour money and energy into them, but never consider the thousands of children just a few kilometers away who don’t have parents?”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pouring money, energy and love into your own children. It makes sense (and I think it’s good and right) to care for your immediate family first. I’ve been around too many bitter missionary kids who feel like their parents would have paid more attention to them if they were an orphan in a township rather than part of their parent’s family to say otherwise.

But on the flip side– I think we idolize the nuclear family too much sometimes. God’s plan of redemption for this broken world will probably include us taking in orphaned and abandoned children into our nuclear families. But I think it also includes us thinking differently about what “family” means, and how far our care should extend. What would it look like to really love someone’s kid, knowing that they would never be “ours”? Could we do it? 

  • Could we put aside money to send a kid from Sweetwaters on camp every time we fork over money to send our own children on camp?
  • Could we put aside money to improve education for kids in Sweetwaters every time we pay our own child’s school fees?
  • Could we even say “no” to a few of the wants of the children in our nuclear family, so that we could say “yes” to some of the needs of children in Sweetwaters? Could we help the children in our nuclear family to understand that decision and be excited about it?
  • Rather than seeing our giving of time or money to kids in Sweetwaters as an “extra and above” whatever our nuclear family needs, could we see the kids in Sweetwaters as part of our family, and factor them into our budget in the way we do for our own children?
  • Could we give our time to children who are not in our nuclear family? Could we volunteer to visit children in hospital, even though they are not our own? And could we do this with commitment, not just dropping in and out when we feel like it, but being a consistent presence in the life of a lonely child?
  • Could we start to see the kids in Sweetwaters as part of our family, even if they’re not part of our nuclear family? Could we defend them, stick up for them, and sacrifice for them?

Jesus has a pretty wobbly definition of family by Western standards anyway. When his nuclear family came to visit, and everyone in the crowds was praising his biological mom, for being such a great mom, he said, “Who are my mother and brothers and sisters?” Then he pointed to the disciples and said, “These are! Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my mother and brother and sisters.”

In the Kingdom, blood ties and nuclear family don’t matter as much. When we’re following Jesus, anyone who ends up in that rag-tag band of followers is family.

I’m interested in hearing what you guys think of this idea– it’s something that has been bouncing around in my head, but isn’t fully formed. How do you care for kids that are not in your nuclear family? 

Let’s Play! The Importance of Early Childhood Education

_MG_4625David and I are reading “The Social Animal” by David Brooks at the moment. The first few chapters of the story (that is filled with social science research) confirms again and again the importance of early childhood stimulation for brain development. Asidlale (“Let’s Play” in isiZulu) is a programme iThemba started in order to equip early childhood care-givers in local creches (daycare/preschool centers) to stimulate and educate the children. Local volunteers from the Hilton community meet weekly with these creche teachers (many of whom have had no ECD training) and mentor them through a curriculum. iThemba recently received funding to conduct an assessment of these teachers. I wrote an article about it for the iThemba blog, which you should read right here! While I am not directly involved with Asidlale, I do often take teams to volunteer in these creches and get to be a part of the classroom fun for a while!

Please pray for these teachers who have such caring hearts. Many teachers take children home to keep looking after them when the creche officially closes for the day. Pray for the families of these children. At one creche there are over 80 children ranging from 1 year to 5 years old. Out of all of those children, just 3 come from two-parent homes. It is very difficult for a single, working parent to devote the time and attention that these young kids need.

 

Rejoice! Grow! It’s Spring!

The sign I painted. The school is surrounded with a barbed wire fence, like most things in South Africa.

It’s Spring! Even though today doesn’t feel like it (it’s really cold!) there are flowers beginning to bloom everywhere. I love getting to wake up and go running and smell the Jasmine flowers that grow all along our road.Let me tell you about some other things that are growing this spring…

JABULANI KIDS CLUB is the name of the Saturday kids club that iThemba runs in Sweetwaters on a Saturday morning. “Jabulani” means “rejoice!” in Zulu. Usually there are 50 to 100 kids, ranging in age from 2 year olds to 12 year olds. We play games, sing songs (and dance! Which I still can’t do!) and then the kids break up into smaller groups for their lessons. Their lessons are taught by teens who have been in iThemba Bible studies for a few years. They do a great job!

Worship at Khula club

Two weeks ago, KHULA CLUB, a Saturday afternoon club for teens began. I got to paint the banner that we hang outside of the high school where we meet. “Khula” means “grow”, which we all thought was a great name…until we realized that the new tavern that has opened in Sweetwaters is also called “Khula Club.” Oops. Different kind of club.

Thulani, the primary iThemba discipleship worker who leads Khula club.

So far we have had about 20-50 teens each time. This past week it was freezing, and we didn’t expect anyone. Some of us (ahem, me) were hoping no one would show so we could go home and warm up. But, God is greater than we are, and even though these teens had to walk for many kilometers on foot, we still had twenty teens show up. We are going through a curriculum that talks about the journey of life and the decisions we make along the way. Small decisions can have big consequences. If these teens can start making the right choices today, it will have a huge impact on their future.

Please pray with us for the teens in Sweetwaters! Pray that they will keep growing closer to the Lord, and have the courage to make wise choices.

  • Praise God that driving gets easier every day!
  • Praise God for the bike that David is borrowing that he can use to get around Hilton now!
  • Please keep praying for a job for David. We are still waiting for his qualifications to be evaluated by the South African board, before he can proceed with his paperwork.