On condemning broken things

Lately the story in John 8 of the woman caught in adultery has been coming up in conversation. So I decided to revisit it, and I was surprised to find this isn’t really a story about the woman caught in adultery. This is a story about the Pharisees. It’s a story about drawing lines in the sand, about condemning people. It’s not a story about the terrible sinner, it’s a story about me, the religious good girl. And it even has something to say about hospitality.

condemnJesus is teaching people at the Temple Mount, and the Pharisees are angry because so many people are listening to him. It’s just been the feast of Tabernacles, and Jesus has been in Jerusalem, basically announcing he’s the Messiah. The Pharisees even send the temple police to arrest Jesus, but they come back empty handed, saying, “We’ve never heard anyone talk like him before!”

The Pharisees are irate, “None of the leaders believe in him—just all the rabble. It’s only the crowd, ignorant of God’s Law that’s taken in by him—and damned.”

Not only do the Pharisees hate Jesus, they also are confident they know the law. They follow tight moral codes. They know right from wrong.

So they bring Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery. They drag her in before the crowds listening to Jesus and say, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. The Law of Moses says that such a person should be stoned. What do you say?”

The Law says this—but what do you say? Can you hear it? They’re trying to pit Jesus against the Law so that they can catch him out.

The woman is standing before everyone, trembling. The crowd stares at her.

If Jesus demands she be stoned, the Pharisees win—Jesus will lose the crowd. If he says she should go free, he’s contradicting the Law of Moses, and the Pharisees can nab him as a false teacher. Either way, they win. They don’t care about the woman at all. She isn’t a person, this is all just a trap to assert their power.

So Jesus says nothing, and instead bends over and starts writing in the dirt with his finger. The Pharisees keep badgering Jesus to say something.

He stands up.

“The sinless one among you, go first. Throw the stone.”

Then he bends down and keeps drawing in the dirt.

Crouched low, out of the picture, woman and the Pharisees are left standing at the front. The eyes of the whole crowd are on them.

It is silent.

The stones become heavy in the hands of the Pharisees.

Their faces flush as they think over their own past sins. Slowly, one by one, starting with the oldest, the Pharisees turn, drop their stones, and push their way through the crowd and slip away out the back.

The woman is left alone. It’s just her and Jesus.

Jesus stands up and says to her, “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”

She shakes her head. “No one, master,” she says softly.

And this is the part I never noticed before. Jesus is left with her. Jesus is the only sinless one in the group. Jesus said the sinless one should cast the first stone. The sinless one is the one with the right to cast the first stone. But he does not cast it. Instead….

“Then I do not condemn you either.” Jesus says.

He doesn’t draw a line in the sand and tell her she’s on the wrong side.

“Go on your way,” he says.

“And from now on,” he adds, “don’t sin.”

restore

What does this story have to do with hospitality? With welcoming strangers?  A couple of things, actually. Here’s what I learned from Jesus:

People are always people to Jesus. The Pharisees use the woman as a tool to make their point. They don’t care about her (or even, oddly enough, that much about her sin). They care about making a point. People are just things they can use to push their agenda. Even the disciples fall into this trap—seeing people’s suffering as a reason to debate theology, rather than someone worthy of consideration. How often do I fall into this trap? How often do I think in terms of institutions, or systems, or irritations, or interruptions, or being right rather than thinking about people? This is all about people. It’s people who need to be welcomed, people who need to be invited in, not abstract theological lessons.

 In this story, Jesus, the only one with the right to condemn does not condemn. I don’t think the point of this story was the woman’s sin. Of course she was a sinner. Of course Jesus does not want her to continue in sin. But I think the point of the story is that the Pharisees were sinners just as much as the adulterer. Jesus is the only sinless one, the only one with the right to condemn people and yet he doesn’t. “Who is this Jesus person??!” I find myself asking.

Where do I put myself in this story? Well, I’m not Jesus. So I guess that puts me in the Pharisee camp, holding stones. And Jesus has just pointed out I don’t have a right to throw them.

I think sometimes as Christians, we look around at the world going to chaos around us, where people don’t seem to think twice about a moral code, and think it’s our job to condemn people. The culture is telling people that sin is just fine, and so we think it is our job to tell them that their moral choices are wrong. We can interact with “these people” but if we don’t constantly mention we disagree with their choices in our every encounter with them, we’re supporting them with our silence and we’re complicit in their sin. Did you hear that? Complicit. We want to condemn others because we’re worried their sin will rub off on us, and we don’t want to be guilty by association.

Except this story points out that it’s not my job to condemn. It’s Jesus’ job to condemn. It’s my job to show people Jesus, whoever they are—whether self-righteous law keepers, or people with their moral code in shambles. 

That’s what welcoming the stranger is– it’s inviting people in, so that healing and restoration can begin, not shutting people out.

And when people encounter Jesus, with all his terrifying beauty and goodness and love, I think they will have a sense that he is the only sinless one, and they are in need of grace. Because that’s how I feel around Jesus.


What do you all think of this idea? Obviously there is a place to point out sin– I mean that’s all the prophets spent their time doing! But I’m interested that Jesus says his own purpose in coming was not to condemn the world but to save it, and that it is the job of the Spirit to convict people of sin. What should that look like for us? 

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? 

How Did Jesus Laugh?

The stoic Jesus is preferred.

The stoic Jesus is preferred.

When David and I were “just friends” but liked each other, we would have interesting email conversations about articles we were reading. One of the links David wanted my opinion on was a review of “The Shack”. The reviewer’s main distaste for the book was that Jesus was too full of chuckles. He “laughed, chortled and chuckled” his way through the book, to the point that the reviewer felt the author of The Shack equated holiness with laughter, and that was not okay. Apparently the early church fathers saw laughter as demonic and exhibiting a lack of sobriety, and not as evidence of a loving God (as Young does) and maybe that was better. The reviewer pointed out

“We learn about God’s love for the world and are able to love him in return by grasping the fact that the incarnation of His Son had serious consequences for Jesus as well as for us. He assumed our flesh so we could be restored to our own good selves, but in taking into his divine person our human nature and sharing it with his own, he became a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. For us, restoration entailed reconciliation with God; but for Jesus it entailed death on a Roman gibbet.”

What compels us towards Jesus his his ability to share our suffering. We read of Jesus weeping in the Bible, but we never read of him laughing. If Jesus the Son of God could feel the full depth of the pain of all of the people he came into contact with, if his heart was torn by Mary and Martha’s mourning, and if he suffered through the full weight of sin, if Jesus knew how good the world could be and came face to face with how horrible it was, if even his closest friends, his disciples, didn’t seem to get it– the picture of a laughing Jesus seems not only irreverent, but frankly highly unlikely.

Or maybe I think that because that’s how I feel sometimes. If I get overwhelmed and heart broken at the world falling to bits around me all the time: empty people caring about themselves and not others, people stuck in their own narrow little world, children suffering abuse right down the road, friends walking through family conflict and struggles, not to mention the way people are just so set on killing each other all over the world… and I am just one small person with a finite ability to feel the pain of others… what would it have been like to be Jesus?

I think this reviewer (and a lot of self-absorbed hipster-types that I ran into in college who were trying to get away from Mr. Happy-clappy Jesus who gives trite answers and is full of cheesy *joy*, and wanted to bring more “authenticity” to the picture of Jesus we carry in our minds…which despite my mocking tone I do think is very good) like to hold up this picture of Jesus weeping in the garden as the picture of Jesus. They say “How could Jesus laugh?” but it’s a rhetorical question. It’s a challenge. “If I’m in so much suffering, if the world is in so much suffering, how could Jesus have ever laughed?”

The Bible doesn’t tell us if Jesus laughed. And maybe God knew for a lot of people, it would be more important for them to know Jesus cried. But I think Jesus laughed. And my question isn’t rhetorical. I want to know– How did Jesus laugh? How did he? If he was walking through the pain of the world, if he was lonely, if he was misunderstood even by those closest to him- how did he laugh? What was his secret? 

No, I don’t want to fiddle while Rome burns, I don’t want to build up walls and block myself from the real world, stay safe in my bubble where I don’t have to think about things, or enjoy shallow diversions so I can block out the sounds of the world’s pain. We do that too often.

My question is, Jesus, how can you walk through the broken world showing genuine generous kindness? How can you find anything funny when thousands of people are dying every second? How can you enjoy Peter’s bumbling antics rather than beating your head against a wall and giving up? How do you walk in a world of misery filled with good humor, noticing the points of light, the funny quirks? How do you enjoy things while knowing that there is horrible suffering, too?

And maybe there’s a reason we know that Jesus wept. Maybe in this life, before the King comes back, there will be more tears than there will be laughter. And we can take a wide-angle view and say one day this will all be put right. One day all will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well. Maybe we say “We’re pressed on every side by troubles… but these momentary light afflictions are producing in us an eternal weight of glory that far outlasts this all.” And maybe that’s enough for some–that one day it will all be put right.

But I want to know what about today?

(I’m still pondering it. I’m curious to know what you think. But here’s what I think, what I’m hanging on to):

This is my Father’s world. We are not abandoned. We’re not just here fighting the good fight on our own, waiting for the day when Jesus will swoop in and sort it all out. God is here right now. It’s still his world. He is still present. And he is good. And we need to choose to celebrate the good. In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis describes all the evil things as insubstantial shadows, and the good as heavy, solid, and more substantial, more real than the evil. It’s the good that will last. That’s the eternal weight of glory. Maybe that’s why it sometimes feels flippant or insubstantial now, and maybe in comparison with the loud wails of sin and darkness it seems small, and flickering, and transient. But it’s really the thing that will last. And so it’s okay to hold on to it. And to celebrate it, and cherish it, and let it’s incandescent sparkle light up our view of the world.

imagesI think Jesus had eyes to see it. I think when the beggars leaped up with straightened legs, babbling with incoherent joy, I think Jesus chuckled with delight. Because that was a real thing that would last. I think Jesus went to that wedding at Cana and laughed at the groom’s awkward dancing and wanted to keep the party going so he made more wine. Because that was a real thing that would last. I think when Peter caught a fish and pulled out a coin to pay the temple tax, and his eyes almost popped out of his head, Jesus tried to hold it in, but couldn’t suppress his laughter for very long. That was something that would last.

Jesus saw how God took care of the birds and the flowers, and he knew God would take care of us. If we enjoy a good sunset, or beautiful mountains, or a seeing a baby take their first steps, how much more delight and joy must constantly be filling God, who can see those moments happening all over the world? (Divine Conspiracy, people, just read it).

Maybe we’re overly familiar and want to make God over in our own image. Maybe there are more of us who need a God who cries than a God who laughs. But maybe we think it’s cool to cling to cynicism, maybe we just like self-pity, and maybe it’s not the holy ones who are filled with a seriousness and sobriety.

Maybe the holiest ones among us are the ones that know how to have a good laugh. 

Healed beggars and other delightfully compelling acts of God that people can’t ignore.

HEALED BEGGARSI’m still thinking about that shriveled, old, beggar. That moment when Peter stretched out his hand, helped the man to his feet, and the thin, crooked legs became strong and the twisted angles straightened, and even though the man was still as thin as a rail, he gasped with astonishment and slowly, shakily at first took a few steps, then laughed, and took a few more steps, then gave a little hop, then laughed some more.

And a crowd started to gather. And murmurs rushed through them, like the rustling of leaves, “Is that him? Isn’t that the beggar? Can he really walk? Is that him?” And the beggar shouts, “Yes, it’s me!” And he runs, and laughs again, still so astonished that it’s really his own legs holding him up. “I’m healed!” he calls out, and then he repeats himself, jumping on each word for emphasis. “I! (Jump) Am! (Jump) Healed!” (Jump, jump, jump!) And then he sees Peter and John over by Solomon’s colonnade, and rushes over to them, now eye level (now no longer looking up at them) and he gives them a huge sweaty, smelly hug, and starts blubbering with joy and won’t let go.

 

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At the beautiful gate

 

Getting balloon animals ready! Also, funny hats. The normal kids ward has a great play area we could use.

Getting balloon animals ready! Also, funny hats. The normal kids ward has a great play area we could use.

Honestly, the first time we went, I thought, “Oh Lord, anywhere but the burn ward.” I do not enjoy even mild descriptions of anything related to my body. I like that it keeps working. In fact, I loved all the abstract theory of things in biology class. But please don’t go into any details about things like bones and blood and tissue or show me how things work with an actual body.

So when our church Bible study decided to visit government hospitals with Zanini Bantwana on Sundays, I was quite glad that we’d be playing games and telling stories to the more active “social cases” who are stuck in hospital for a long time because their home situation might not be conducive for their full recovery.

But when you arrive at a government hospital, you cross a threshold into a world where you don’t have much control. It’s a world where a child might come in to hospital for a procedure, and end up staying for months (or a year!) because of complications, or because their family can’t help them convalesce. It’s a world where major public holidays like Christmas mean staff probably won’t show up—so if you’re sick, too bad, stay home until holidays are over. It’s a world where you might be completely separated from your family—because they live an hour away, and to visit you daily costs too much (and they can’t afford to miss work).

Hospitals are already scary places at the best of times. Aside from the anxiety around the fact that your body isn’t working right, there’s alien metal things, and shiny tile floors that are decidedly un-home-like, and then doctors who probably don’t speak your language (and if they do, you don’t understand their medical jargon anyway) and fluids and needles and things are stuck into you… and at the worst of times, you’re going through this all alone. And then, if you start feeling even a little bit better, it’s impossibly boring. There are no toys, no games, sometimes a TV set on WWE wrestling for the adults to watch. Not a fun place.

That’s why what Zanini Bantwana does is so cool. Their staff team visits children in the hospitals every day, bringing games and toys, just sitting and holding the hands of children who are too weak or in too much pain to play, praying for the kids, and as their name means in isiZulu, (come children), welcoming children towards Jesus. The Jesus who will be with them when life is unpredictable, when their family is far away, or when they feel alone.

Some of the awesome ZB staff who visit on a daily basis

So, when we entered the unpredictable world of the hospital, we found out there weren’t any social cases, so we’d go to the next ward with the most children, and that day, it was the burn ward. And I didn’t realize how joy and life and fun there could be in the burn ward, how balloon animals and a chance to strum a guitar for themselves could bring so many smiles (note: balloons+whitepeople hair= static electricity and major laughs). Sure, there were some funny hospitally smells coming from the bandaged hands and feet and in some cases whole bodies. There were children under tents, with just their faces sticking out. Last week there was a girl who was badly burned all over her body just crying because of pain, and her mom who was visiting her that day had to walk away, because she felt so bad there was nothing she could do. But that same girl  was also so brave that she got out of bed and made her way down to the end of the ward where children were gathering for songs and a Bible story (her feet were the only part of her body not burned). Sometimes there were missing limbs. Sometimes you would meet the mother, and see that her whole body was also completely scarred from massive burns. Mostly burns that happen because we live in a country where some people don’t have adequate electricity, and depend on gas heaters, paraffin stoves, unsteady portable gas burners, or candles and fires for light, heat, and cooking, and it’s much more likely for accidents to happen. And now that it is winter, there will be more and more burn cases.

See the kind of weirdos I have to go to Bible study with? (One of these people is wearing a wig. Which one?!) :)

See the kind of weirdos I have to go to Bible study with? (One of these people is wearing a wig. Which one?!) 🙂

But there was also hope. The comforting (and heartbreaking thing) is that these kids are just that—kids. I had a twenty minute game of peek-a-boo with a two year old confined to her bed with burns the other day. And we were both in hysterics the whole time. (I love it when people think I’m funny!). We flew paper airplanes and made puzzles. We blew bubbles and bounced balloons around the ward. David paced up and down playing guitar, or trombone, and letting the kids play, too. (Another one of my memories from a previous week, when we were not in the burn unit, but the general pediatric ward, was a pencil thin child who wanted to strm the guitar. And when I brought it over, he wasn’t satisfied to strum, but sat up so I could put the strap over his shoulder and he could hold it himself. He concentrated on strumming, and when his consentration was interrupted by a balloon popping at the other end of the ward, he looked at me, rolled his huge eyes, gave me a knowing look and shook his head “Kids these days. What’s with them? Can’t get a moments peace in this ward,” his face said. So much spunk!)

“Visiting these kids is not about investing in the future leaders of South Africa,” Alan said the first time he chatted to our group. “It’s not work that’s going to have any huge impact on the world as we know it. It won’t change the course of South African history. It’s not anything big, or glamorous. But by being with those children, by loving them, by visiting them, you’re making a profound theological statement. You are affirming the image of God in them. You are saying they are special, and that God loves them. “

The sermon this Sunday was about the lame man at the Beautiful Gate. What a funny contrast: the lame beggar, dirty and disheveled—noticed, but not acknowledged—laying at the Beautiful Gate. And everyone’s rushing in to pray, and the irritating call of “alms! alms!” is so normal that no one hears it anymore. But here is the Kingdom: Peter and John stop. (The disciples of Jesus have learned a thing or two after spending three years with him). “Look at us,” Peter says, and the beggar stops his hum-drum whining and eagerly looks up, expecting a few pennies.

“I don’t have silver or gold,” Peter says. The beggar’s face drops.

“But what I do have, I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” And he stretched out his hand (Jesus did that a lot, too. Touching beggars, the people nobody else would think of touching), and helped the man up. And his ankles straightened, and his legs grew strong, and he was healed!

And I think sometimes that I am like Peter and John, that I’ve hung around Jesus enough that I actually  notice someone that society isn’t acknowledging, and somehow Jesus Christ of Nazareth lets me be a part of some exciting, upside-down, better than you ever could have imagined Kingdom work.

But then sometimes, (and this, I think, is how it really is) I’m the beggar sitting outside beautiful gate, doing what I do every day, not expecting much.

And then I meet Jesus in disguise

in the burn ward of the hospital,

and I get something unexpectedly better than anything I could have imagined.

If you want to learn more about Zanini Bantwana, and the amazing work they do, they have a website/blog and a Facebook page. If you want to learn about an initiative to help improve burn care in South Africa, visit here.

Bringing Gogo to Jesus

Kids at Camp

Kids at Camp

“Thulani, we need to take Gogo to Jesus!” the 5 year old triumphantly announced during story time at the NEW Jabulani Kids Club last Saturday. Jabulani Kids Club is a Saturday club where kids gather to play games, sing songs, have LOADS of fun, and learn about Jesus. It also gives them a safe, fun place to hang out on the weekends. For over seven years JKC has been running at a school in one part of Sweetwaters, and just this term, we’ve added a second club in a different part of Sweetwaters, to reach the kids there.

Thulani is in charge of the 0-6 year old group for story time, and they had just heard the story of the paralyzed man who was lowered through the roof of his house by his friends, so that he could be healed by Jesus.

“Why do we need to take your Gogo (Grandmother) to Jesus?” Thulani asked.

“Well, she also can’t walk. And so she’s very angry all the time, because she asks us to bring her things, and if we take a long time to get her water, or get her food, or whatever she asks for, then she shouts at us.” The girl explained. “So, I think we should be like those friends and take her to Jesus so she stops being so angry all the time.” 

I love it.

This little 5-year old got it. She understood that where Jesus is, there’s healing. Where Jesus is, things change– angry, grumpy Gogos are filled with joy. She understood that she could play a part– just like the friends in the story. When Jesus healed the paralyzed man, the Bible says, “See their (the friends) faith” he healed the man. It was the action of the friends, their courageous faith that would rip through a roof that made it possible for the paralyzed man to be healed. 

Sure, this 5-year old has a bit of a ways to go, in understanding that today we can’t literally carry her grandmother to Jesus in the flesh where he can tell her to “take up her mat and walk”– but she understands a lot about who Jesus is…and that he changes things.

And that’s really what the fieldworkers are doing every day. Through the classes they teach, through the hugs and the hi-fives, and the silly games, through the hours and hours spent listening to the kids– they are trying to bring kids to Jesus. Trying to let them see for themselves the joy and hope that Jesus can bring. Trying to let the kids see that Jesus is the one who has the answers.

Sometimes I wonder if I have the faith of a five-year old. Do I really believe that it is enough just to take people to Jesus? 

Plug for Kids Camp 2014:

One of the ways we try to help “take kids to Jesus” is through kids camp every year. We take kids to the beach for 3 days, give them a chance to have the undivided attention of their group leader, play silly games, and feel safe and loved. We pray that God will use these camps to bring children one step closer to himself. If you want to be a part of making camp happen this year by sponsoring a child (you’ll get a picture of “your” kid, and updates from them after camp) then email same@ithembaprojects.org.za. Camp costs R900 or $100. There are still 29 kids left who need sponsors. 🙂

 

What do you say when it’s Friday all around?

Sometimes I wonder what to say and what to be silent about. I don’t often tell the sad stories. Not because there is not sadness, but because a sad story is a real story, about a real person. And I don’t want to make light of someone’s suffering by sharing it to make a sensation. I don’t want someone’s real pain to be something we can just sit back and consume along with our morning coffee. But there’s sadness in the world, and sometimes the sad stories need telling, too. 

Sometime’s it’s Friday all around.

There’s a teen on crutches, struggling to walk to school because he was stabbed at his high school. And there’s a boy who did the stabbing, and social workers say his home is not a safe place. And there’s a big brother breaking up a fight on his way to work, who’s now lying dead from a stab-wound. And there’s a little brother running up to a fieldworker, arms outstretched, tears streaming down his face,

“Uncle, Uncle, did they tell you? Do you know they stabbed my brother?” 

And the world spins back to that other one with arms outstretched crying out,“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

There’s sadness and darkness and the world rings with the hollow emptiness of death, and the question hangs in the air: Why? Why have you forsaken me? 

What do you say when it’s Friday all around? 

dancing

picture: Jabulani Kids Club Christmas Party 2012

When our eyes are still cloudy with tears, we cling to the fact that he is risen. When we feel alone we listen. We listen hard. He’s standing right next to us, saying our name. They haven’t taken him away. He’s here. He’s alive.

We grab on to this truth and don’t let go. We squeeze it until our knuckles are white and cramped. He IS alive. Death IS overthrown. And he IS here. And he IS making all things new. He is.

Quietly, bit by bit. All the dark bits will be rooted out. He hasn’t gone away to some cloudy place we must follow—he’s alive. The plan is not to scrap this world but to redeem it.  He’s risen, he’s risen indeed, that’s why we’re working,  joining him in the restoration of all things.

Until that final day when all the sad things will come untrue, and every tear is wiped, and his glory covers the world as the water covers the sea, we work and work and cry at the pain, and battle against the darkness, and stake out little corners where the light can shine brighter. We bandage the wounded and stand our ground, swearing our allegiance to the risen king who is coming back one day to reclaim his own. Even if we’re raggedy looking. Even if we don’t always know what to say. Even if our light flickers, it doesn’t go out.

This is a battle. On Fridays it looks like everything is over. But we cling to the hope that Sunday comes. 

And sometimes you’ve just got to say “Shut up devil, we’re going to dance anyway.”

 

The Kingdom of God is Like…

So, I read about this activity on Kathy Escobar’s blog, in her post “The Kingdom of God is Like…” You should go check it out. 

Jesus often talks about what the Kingdom of God is like. He’s trying to explain things using everyday, ordinary examples (yeast working through dough, finding a coin, gardening, buried treasure). And in all of these “ordinary” life events, we see pictures of the surprising,

grace-filled,

upside-down,

unexpected,

mysterious yet ordinary Kingdom of God.

So the challenge that Kathy put out to people was to share a story, or a moment, from their own lives, that was a picture of the Kingdom of God. I was on staff devotions at iThemba today…so that’s what we did! And, in contrast to my rather gloomy previous post, this one is FULL of joy!

Here’s some of the examples that the iThemba team gave. These are real stories of things that have happened in the past, which we feel illustrate to us something about what the Kingdom of God is like.

So, we present:

kingdom of god

The kingdom of God is like 32 boxes of Easter eggs. Boxes donated by Sunday School kids at Christ Church for the kids in Sweetwaters. Easter eggs that they earned themselves by doing chores, but instead of keeping them for themselves, they generously gave them away.

DSCF3187The Kingdom of God is like eating a delicious meal without any disturbance. A feast. A place of perfect peace.

The Kingdom of God is like a smile on a child’s face. I see the Kingdom of God every time I walk into one of the creches (preschools) in Sweetwaters.

The Kingdom of God is like a smile on a child's face...

The Kingdom of God is like a smile on a child’s face…

The Kingdom of God is like someone who decides to give away everything they get for their birthday so that others can have a better life.

 

 

The Kingdom of God is like a home visit in Sweetwaters. The unexpected joy that lights up the kids faces when they see that you’ve really come to visit them. The sitting and listening to a Gogo’s long story, or just being with a child who has been through abuse. It’s hope showing up in tangible form.

-The Kingdom of God is like the joyful expectation of children waiting in long lines outside the gate for Jabulani Kids Club on a Saturday– they’ve been waiting long before we arrive.

 

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The Kingdom of God is like the big tree in-between Mashaka Highschool and Nobanda Primary. When I have to climb that steep, steep hill to get between Life Skills classes and Devotions at Assembly, I’m able to stop and take a rest under it’s shade. It’s big enough for everyone that’s with me to sit underneath and rest and refresh ourselves.

*(No picture, but imagine a hill that’s a 90 degree cliff, and you’re probably close to what that hill of terror is like!). 

The Kingdom of God is like Sizwe’s Life Group last week, where there were  Zulu teenage boys and their parents, Californian college students and English South Africans, all playing and laughing and learning together.

 

Sizwe's Life Group

 

The Kingdom of God is like a room full of South African businessmen who found the iThemba Kids Camp video online, bawled their eyes out while watching it, then were moved to donate some much needed equipment to iThemba.

 

 

The Kingdom of God is like the light in the children’s faces when I go to teach Life Skills, and I know that these kids who didn’t have anyone to talk to about what’s bothering them at home now have someone.

 

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The Kingdom of God is like a child who doesn’t have a Father, finding a father-figure in Sizwe, Thulani, Nathi and Syv. 

iThemba-8331

 

What about you? Can you think of a moment or a story that “is like” the Kingdom of God from your own life?

“To Never Lose Hope”

Nathi M is greeted by a hug when he arrives at Life Group.

Nathi M is greeted by a hug when he arrives at Life Group.

Recently my co-worker Sizwe went around and visited the different iThemba Life Groups to find out how things were going. Life Groups are the home groups of about 20 – 40 kids who come each week to play games, sing songs, learn about Jesus and discuss life. They support each other in making wise choices, and the discipleship fieldworkers (iThemba staff) build long-term relationships with them, reinforced by home visits. 

Here are some things that the children shared with him:

“I have learned to trust.”

“People in this area didn’t know about God, but now they will start loving his words.”

“My family lets me come to Life Group and do my chores later.”  (that’s great!!)

But this is the one that stood out to me:

“I’ve learned to never lose hope.” 

The boy who said that went on to explain to Sizwe that the way he learned this was from the story of Blind Bartimaeus that they heard. For those of you who don’t know the story, it takes place during Jesus life.

There was a blind man who sat at the city gate day after day, begging for a living. He was probably poor. He had been blind for as long as he could remember. It probably felt like his life would be dark, poor, and lonely forever. It will always be this way,” the dark voices whisper. “Nothing will ever change. You’ll always be poor, blind Bartimeaus.”  It would have been easy to despair. But one day as he’s sitting at the city gate calling out “Alms, alms for the poor! Alms!” he hears that a man called Jesus is coming. Jesus is a teacher, he teaches like no one people have ever heard, and he can even heal people. Heal people? All of a sudden there is a glimpse of light for Bartimaeus, a possibility that things could change. Bartimaeus has hope.

When Jesus does come through Jericho, he’s surrounded by crowds of people. Bartimaeus can’t see, but he can hear, and he knows he has to cry loud enough for Jesus to take notice of him. “JESUS! SON OF DAVID! HAVE MERCY ON ME!”

And the crowd tries to shut him up. “Be quiet! Don’t bother him! You’re annoying us! It’s crazy old blind, Bartimaeus again!”

But he doesn’t care. Hope has taken hold of him. It’s so strong, he’s willing to push through any obstacles that come his way. He calls louder, “JESUS! SON OF DAVID! HAVE MERCY ON ME!”

And Jesus stopped. And he said, “Bring him over here.”

So the annoyed crowd helps the blind man up, and guides him to Jesus. I picture him walking with his hands outstretched, searching to touch the face of the one who has heard his cry.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks.

“Rabbi, teacher, I want to see,” he says, speaking the words that have been his secret heart’s desire for so long, but he never dared to believe could ever happen.

“Go. Your faith has healed you.” Jesus said. And immediately– Bartimeaus could see.

For all those years, nothing in Bartimeaus’ life ever changed. But one day, Jesus came in and changed it.

With Jesus, comes hope.

For many of the kids in Sweetwaters, life seems pretty dark. There’s poverty, there’s not a strong education system, there’s high HIV prevalence rates. Everything is the same day after day. Nothing ever changes. “Your mom didn’t finish school?” the dark voices whisper. “You won’t. This is your life. You’ll always be stuck in this.”

But Jesus is coming. He’s here. He’s here in the body of Christ, his church, and he hears the cries of these kids. The very fact that Sizwe (and the other staff) knows these kids and loves them is a sign that Jesus noticed them. Things can be different. Things will be different. The impossible can happen.

With Jesus, there’s hope.

I’m so thankful to be part of a team that’s bringing Jesus hope to the kids in Sweetwaters, helping kids see that there is more to their stories and things can be different!

 

Something that Jesus would do

We recently had a great team from a high school in Denmark come out for a few weeks and help us work on the community center site and build relationships with the kids in that part of Sweetwaters. The team was able to level a soccer field (whohooo!) and the following week, teens from our Saturday teens club in Sweetwaters came to plant grass on it. In a little while kids from the community will be able to start using it. In an area full of beautiful rolling hills, a flat piece of ground to play soccer is a pretty great thing. The team was also able to help run a two-day holiday club for the children who live around the community center. Because of the “hype” of having a huge group of foreigners in the area, a lot of kids and parents came to play games and have fun together and learn about what iThemba is doing. So in other words… this team was awesome!

 

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Teens from Khula teens club helping to plant grass at the community center soccer field

But here’s a story that really made my heart sing and I wanted to share it with you. I heard it second hand, but I’ll take poetic liberty and tell it like I was there. Each evening, the Danish high school students would sit around and share about their day together. Towards the end of the trip, the group leader asked the teens to share a moment that really stood out for them. I love this story, because it shows how when someone lives like Jesus, it changes everyone’s perceptions, it rattle’s everyone’s comfortable boundaries and it invites those on the outside to come in closer. Here is the story that one teen shared: 

“We were going with Nathi to his afternoon Life Group. As we were walking through the streets, this man started following us. He was calling out to Nathi in Zulu, and we couldn’t understand what he was saying. He looked as if he might be a little drunk, and that made me uncomfortable. I just wanted the man to go away and leave us alone. I was hoping that Nathi would just send him away and we would be able to have our Life Group in peace. Instead, Nathi stopped and talked with the man. He told the man that Life Group was for children, but the man could come to the house, watch the games, and listen to the lesson if he didn’t disturb anyone. If he was disruptive, Nathi would have to send him away. The man came with us, and sat quietly through the whole Bible lesson, listening to every word. I realized that what Nathi did is what Jesus would have done. Jesus didn’t send people away, he invited them in. He welcomed the people that everyone else looked down on. Like Jesus, Nathi was throwing open the doors and saying, “Come in! You’re welcome here! There’s a place here for everyone! And who knows, maybe God used a children’s Bible lesson to change that man’s life.” 

 

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Nathi M gives a hi-five to some of the kids at his Life Group