On Corporate Confession: A Prayer for Black History Month

Over Christmas break, I was drinking coffee with two of my favorite people in the world (who actually had never met each other). We only had an hour, so there was zero small talk and we went straight to the good stuff like the role of women in the church and diversity and reconciliation and these pressing issues that keep us up at night. At one point we were talking about reconciliation in the church, and black lives matter, and why our white churches can’t/aren’t doing anything on this issue. And at one point I said something like,

“The white church’s problem is we see everything as individualistic, and so we think if we’re individually nice to the black people we know then we’re loving our neighbours and everything is fine. (Like this study pointed out). But if the problems are bigger than that—if they’re structural, if racism is more about a system—it’s harder for people to grasp that.”

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Subverting the empire with prayer and other whispers of hope


These past few months, I’ve been spending less time in Sweetwaters/Mpumuza and more time in the comfy suburb of Hilton… and it’s been making me quite bitter. For some reason, it’s easier for me to hang on to hope in Sweetwaters. There’s poverty, there’s suffering, there are things that make me want to cry, but you can see the Kingdom pushing through. The fieldworkers are there every day loving those kids, there are stories of changes, and even when it’s two steps forward one step back, there’s this feeling that you’re going somewhere. A feeling that God is here and things will change.

But I’ve been hanging out more in the world of Hilton (due to scaling back my hours at iThemba to work on my masters), which is just as sick and just as in need of redemption, but here it’s been hard to hang on to hope. It wasn’t bad at first. I was all fired up, ready to be a part of building bridges, ready to intercede, ready to see God change… well… everything.

And then it was the lead up to the elections, and whitefear was choking people’s conversations, and everyone was still thinking about how to protect their own interests, moaning about the government and longing for the good-old-days, and tightening the bubble closer around themselves.

And the stuff I was reading for my masters showed story after story of how verbally white South Africa has said yes to democracy and unity and reconciliation, but actually is still trapped by fear and prejudice and is even passing that along to their children. I went on holiday to the coast and the very kind Christian people who were letting us stay in their self-catering accommodation made racist comments. Then I read a report that proved that over 1/3rd of the time, black South Africans will be refused holiday accommodation on the KZN  coast, simply because they are black. And then all my readings were full of people throwing around big words like ‘transformation’ and ‘hegemony’ but after a while, they started to sound like they were just that—words—being used to publish papers, not to actually change anything.

And even the Christian community was stifling me with how dedicated it was to same-ness. How dedicated it was to being stuck in a rut, and being okay with that. How blind it is to how someone from another income bracket, another culture, another race, another family type, another sexual orientation might feel in their group. And I realized how entrenched all these things are, how stubborn, how deeply, deeply rooted. In Sweetwaters, I don’t have to have awkward conversations where someone assumes I agree with their view about how badly the blacks are running the country (usually veiled in nicer language than that, of course). What do you do in that moment? Sometimes I say nothing because I’m scared to rock the boat and I don’t want to offend them. But sometimes I say nothing because I literally do not know what to say—how can you let comments like that slide, but how can you address it when this poor person clearly just wanted to make small talk, and deconstructing the racism actually embedded in their comment will probably get nowhere. (And then sometimes I do say something, but come off holier-than-thou and alienate people even more, which is just completely the wrong way to engage people and I just make everything worse).

And so slowly paralysis set in. And prayers trickled off.

It wasn’t prayers for revival anymore. It wasn’t prayers that this insulated, inward-looking community would become a radical out-ward focusing light to their neighbours. It was just the occasional, “Oh Lord, help!” (And often in the form of  a sarcastic muttering under the breath after something I heard or experienced). I was Elijah saying, “Enough of this, God. Just take my life and get it over with. That would be much easier than this. I’ve been working my heart out for you, and your people don’t give a rip and now they’re even trying to kill me.” (Okay, okay, it wasn’t that bad. But it feels like it sometimes).

But God quietly whispers to Elijah in the midst of his anger and bitterness, he whispers gently that he’s not alone (in fact, there are 7000 others who love God, too), and there is still work to do.

And I’ve heard God’s whispers lately (when I’ve stopped ranting enough to hear them).


I heard him whisper in the all-Hilton church prayer meeting before the elections, where the body of Christ came together and prayed not for ourselves, and for our lives to be comfortable, but for justice, and widows and orphans, and hungry people, and servant-leadership.

I heard him whisper in our church small group, as we’ve been discussing Generous Justice, by Tim Keller, and how our small group and church and our individual lives can express the generous grace and justice of God.

I heard him in a woman who came up to me after church one day and said, “When you sing, I can see that you really are worshipping. Thank you. It moves me to worship him, too.”

I heard him when our small group pitched in to sponsor a child for iThemba kids camp.

I heard him in the burn ward of the hospital.

I heard him most loudly in this statement, made by the leader at the all church prayer meeting:

Prayer is a subversive activity. By gathering to pray, we’re making a statement. We’re saying we believe we have a God who can change things. We’re not okay with the way things are, and we’re subverting the empire by coming before the true King and saying, “Your will be done.”

And the Holy Spirit slapped me upside the head and said,

You don’t believe this anymore. You whiney Elijah, thinking you’re the only one left. You think this all depends on you. You think I’m sitting back and doing nothing. You think I don’t have power to change anything. You’re wrong. Join me, Steph. Get praying real prayers again, prayers that believe you’re talking to the one with ultimate power. Stop whining and subvert the empire with me.

This is MY people,

this is MY church,

and the gates of Hell

(and materialism, and self-centeredness, and prejudice and fear)

will NOT prevail against it. 


So, what do you all do to rekindle your hope? What encourages you when hope runs dry?



Tie-dye, beach camps and mangers

So, in the midst of this week of mourning the passing of Tata Nelson Mandela, we at iThemba packed up and headed down to the beach for three days for iThemba teens camp. Which I think Madiba would have liked.

We spend weeks and weeks preparing for camp. We spend time praying. We cut, and stick, and make decorations, and google fun games, and pack, and pray, and hope all the teens get sponsored, and go shopping for tons of supplies, and pray, and then… we show up and hope that God shows up, too. 

And God did show up this camp. (Well, I mean, he’s always with us, but sometimes we can’t see it or feel it and camp is one of those times where you really want everyone to know he’s there). And he was. He was present in the big things and the small things– like tie-dye shirts. 


It was my idea, and I’d done it a few times before. With a KIT that had easy pre-mixed dyes and step-by-step instructions that made, like, one shirt. But Google told me it is very easy to tie-dye and I was a sucker and believed it, and thought it would be the perfect idea for a teen craft. Then we get to camp and I read the dye packets we bought, and they told me that we need 7 liters of boiling water per item of clothing and each packet could only dye one shirt (and  being the maths genius that I am I realized we only had 10 packets and 50 teens and so I started to freak out a little. Okay a lot. Internally. )

But we mixed up the dye, the teens dyed them and we let them sit overnight. None of the teens had ever tie-dyed before. Which was great because they didn’t know how it was supposed to end up, but  horrible because if their first and only tie-dye experience was an epic fail their whole concept of tie-dying would be forever ruined. You think I’m making a mountain out of a mole-hill, but when I explained to the teens we’d put the shirts in bags overnight, then rinse them out and take them home in the morning, one teen looked up from where he was dipping his shirt in some dye. “What? You mean we get to take these home?” I nodded. “Oh THANK YOU Auntie Steph!! Wow!! This is so great!!”  (see what I mean? Pressure, people. I don’t want to be responsible for crushing this poor teen’s joy when all the dye just rinses out of his shirt).

The moment of truth came the next morning. The teens scattered across the campsite to find taps to rinse out their shirts. Here’s how they looked:

three tie


It worked! I was SO happy! And relieved! And it was just MAGICAL seeing the teens unwrap the rubber bands and open their shirts, then exclaim excitedly at how they looked. The teens were laughing and comparing patterns and colors, so, so proud of what they’d made. (One teen said hers looked like it came straight from a Mr Price clothing store).  Standing there in the sunshine (after two rainy days of camp) seeing the teens in their bright, happy, hippie shirts, hi-fiving each other and complimenting their work, and just having fun being teens (knowing that some of their lives are really, really hard at home) made me sniffle a little and send up a quick, “Thank you God!” prayer.

sizwegroup And if I can start sniffling over the fact that the tie-dye shirt craft worked out, don’t even get me started on 50 teens belting out worship songs, or having the opportunity to pray with teens whose hearts needed God’s healing love, or the small groups leaders who gave 110% to their groups, or the teen who wants to meet with Thulani today so he can understand more about how Shembe* is different to Jesus, or the fact that on this camp we had teens we’ve worked with for years finally open up about the trauma, abuse, and difficult home lives they have… and it was just three days.

It’s Advent. The time we sit in waiting, thinking about the day when Christ will come. And it’s been a great but sometimes a long year for us at iThemba. Other people handle it better than I do (and I’m not even working directly with these kids!) but sometimes the corruption and rottenness in the economic and social system, the spiritual darkness, the horrible pain and suffering that these kids and teens experience really just weighs us down. We know God is with us, that he’s always present, but sometimes we just want him to really show up and make all things new right now

This camp I was reminded of the privilege I have of serving a God who is real, and listens to our prayers and groans, and shows up where we least expect it (but have secretly been longing for)–in tie-dye shirts and beach camps and mangers.

group tie


*Shembe is a Zulu cult with a strong presence in Sweetwaters. They belive a man named Isaiah Shembe was the Zulu Jesus.












One Year

Mbubu mountain (also called Swartkop). This is the hill that is in the painting I use for my banner. :) It is the hill that overlooks all of Sweetwaters/Mpumuza

Mbubu mountain (also called Swartkop). This is the hill that is in the painting I use for my banner. 🙂 It is the hill that overlooks all of Sweetwaters/Mpumuza

I can’t believe that David and I have been here for one year already! It’s been a wonderful, exciting year–sometimes difficult, but always good. Here are some moments I have loved about being in South Africa and working with iThemba:

  • The moment when kids stopped excitedly waving and shouting “Mlungu, mlungu” (white person) when I drive through Sweetwaters, and instead shout, “Steph! Steph!
  • Also, that one time when I was at kids club and a new child said something about “her mlungu” (meaning me) and this other four-year old very primly said, “No, that’s not your mlungu, that’s Steph.”
  • Speaking of my name, I always enjoy people calling me “Steve” because they can’t pronounce Steph. And when iThemba staff call me Thandi, my Xhosa name, that makes me smile, too.
  • Every day that I get to drive in these beautiful rolling hills— whether they are green in summer or brown in winter, they are just amazing.
  • Finishing a project: Whether it’s the new volunteers manual and prezi, or writing a really good thank you note to a funder, or updating the iThemba blog…I love that feeling when I’m done with something and can be proud of what I made.
  • The first fifteen minutes of every day when people are all arriving at the office, laughing and chatting and finding out how everyone’s husbands, wives and babies are doing.
  • Any time I get to work with my buddies Thulani and Sizwe— they really are like the big brothers I always wanted, and they always are so encouraging and make me laugh. Their commitment to their work and to the kids is so inspiring. And also Wendy, Gugu, and Mashinini and…basically, all the iThemba staff are amazing!!
  • Worship on kids camp. Hearing all those kids singing is just…wow.
  • Hearing from “iThemba team alumni” who are now doing cool things with their lives, or hearing how working in South Africa with iThemba has changed them.
  • Seeing God working. Seeing hope planted. Seeing slow changes in people’s lives.
  • Seeing how God has provided every step of the way…I had 4 months of mono, David had 4 months with out a job, we had car-break downs… and yet it when we were going through it all, it didn’t seem to be a big deal. It’s more like looking back I’m astounded at how peacefully and joyfully we came through those challenges– and I know that is only because I was surrounded with the love and prayers from people like you all!
  • I love getting to tell people about iThemba, and just how cool what they are doing is. That is one of my favorite things.
  • I love that I can just be me. I often feel like I don’t quite “fit”– I didn’t feel like I “fit” in college, and sometimes now with my Hilton friends, I don’t feel like I “fit”– but when I’m hanging out with iThemba staff, playing with kids in Sweetwaters, getting to totally embarass myself doing silly dances, getting to sing with people who actually sing louder than I do– I just feel so comfy and so happy and so content.
  • I love that I can be a part of a group of people that I am so, so proud of. I love that I can go to work and KNOW that I am going to do something that will help bring Jesus love and hope to the kids in Sweetwaters, and kids lives really are being changed. I love that iThemba is not perfect, but is committed to growing better at doing community development right.

Lastly, I just want to thank everyone, once again, who has given, or is still giving, so that I can be out here and help iThemba. I don’t even know some of you personally, yet you have donated your money so that I can continue to assist iThemba in this work. Thank you for “running with me”.

This list does not include the wonderful times that we’ve had with family (both US family, and family here) the fun that David and I have had in our first year of marriage, our great small group and church, getting to eat avocados….it’s been fantastic! 

I love this picture of me and Nompilo. It was taken on the day she was helping me at Running Club. I blogged about it here: https://bridginghope.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/farther-together/

I love this picture of me and Nompilo. It was taken on the day she was helping me at Running Club. I blogged about it here: https://bridginghope.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/farther-together/

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.

Pancakes, cars, and Xhosa Weddings

Pancakes for breakfast! The balloon on the table is a welcome balloon from a friend.

David and I are so happy to be settling into our flat. I have Monday’s off, and right now David does too. It is fun to have a “lazy day” every once in a while and do something fun…like make pancakes with chocolate bits inside. We are still figuring out how to do the dishes with one sink and not much counter space–but really, if that is our biggest worry, we are doing quite fine, thank you!

We also are praising God that we have access to a car now! Someone donated funds to iThemba so that we have a car to use while we are here! Even though the people selling the car needed it for another month, my boss is lending them their second car so we can have this one now. Driving is getting easier every day, (and it also helps it hasn’t been as misty these past few days!)

This weekend David went with my Mom to the Eastern Cape to the area where I was born for a wedding. It was his first experience of a Xhosa wedding, and he now agrees, our wedding was definitely on the short side. It was fun for him to meet Auntie Khumsa, the one who named me “Thandi”, and to see my “homeland.”

Welcome Home!

David and I have been here for just 6 days, and it has been a wonderful week. We have been blown away with how God has provided for us through the love of friends and family. Things we are currently praising God for:

  • Only 19% of my funds are left to be raised! THANK YOU to everyone who has pledged to support me! We also have several friends and family who are in the process of donating, so really, we are even closer than 19% to our goal. Praise God!
  • Both our bags arrived with us in Durban. We had some pretty close connections, but both our bags arrived with us, in tact, and on time.
  • Our flat where we are staying is well-stocked and the fireplace has been keeping us warm (remember, it is the end of winter here).
  • David and I have not had to cook once this week, thanks to friends and family inviting us over for meals, or bringing us food.
  • We have already had 2 braais (a South African cook out–see the picture above).
  • It is avocado season….which means I have 6 avocados at home waiting to be eaten from our landlord’s trees. YUM! 🙂
  • My first week at work was so great it needs it’s own blog post.

Please keep joining us in prayer for the following:

  • David has begun the job search for a Maths teaching post. This next week he will be driving around and handing his CV (resume) in person to all the principals in this area. Please pray that God will open doors for him.
  • Justina, the first short-term iThemba partner arrives on Tuesday. Pray that I will do a good job orientating her, and she will connect and get to plug in to iThemba projects quickly.
  • That my remaining funds will come in.
  • Driving…driving here is not like in the US. Roads are twisty, there are people, cows and mist, it’s on the left-hand side of the road, and there is no power steering. We also don’t know where things are yet, so whenever we drive it is pretty stressful. Pray that we will quickly learn where things are, and that we will adapt to this new style of driving.

Mandela Day

Nelson Mandela’s birthday was July 18th. South Africa’s former president is celebrated as a hero for his part in peacefully ending apartheid and ushering in the New South Africa, which strives to be marked by reconciliation, forgiveness, and respect for human rights. Every year on Mandela’s birthday, citizens in South Africa celebrate by trying to do something to make the world a better place.

The overarching objective of Mandela Day is to inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better, and in doing so build a global movement for good. Ultimately it seeks to empower communities everywhere. “Take Action; Inspire Change; Make Every Day a Mandela Day.”Individuals and organisations are free to participate in Mandela Day as they wish. We do however urge everyone to adhere to the ethical framework of “service to one’s fellow human”. (from Mandela Day website)”

This year, iThemba was blessed by the group BitCo, who decided to donate a telephone system to iThemba free of charge. iThemba’s new offices did not have telecommunications installed, and iThemba could not afford to install them or keep them running–but in honor of Mandela Day, BitCo volunteered to donate all that was needed.

Here is the story from the BitCo website. I love it because it is so encouraging to see how God uses everyone to accomplish his purposes. And, if you want to see the video about children going to the beach, click on the link bolded in this story.

“On the 27th of June 2012, an unassuming quote request for iThemba crossed BitCo’s path. Mvelo Ramba, Key accounts manager at BitCo, picked up the request and brought it straight to the directors’ attention. “We had a look at the website and watched a small video where children had been taken to the sea for the first time in their lives” says Michael Colin, Sales Director of BitCo, “Myself and my team were close to tears, four grown men sitting around a computer (another luxury that we take for granted) watching children relish the pleasure of an opportunity they couldn’t have had without iThemba”.

Upon requesting more information from iThemba, BitCo received a request for assistance letter which concluded with, “We have kindly been loaned office space to accommodate us better and one year of ADSL. One of our biggest needs is affordable telecommunications – which were previously loaned to us by another organisation. However, with our move, we will not have this benefit anymore. Unfortunately, we don’t have the budget to purchase the type of system we need or to cover the cost of calls.”

It was with this that Garth van Sittert, BitCo’s Managing Director, proposed a donation of the entire IP PBX solution and the ADSL connection with access to the BitCo network so that the donation can be enjoyed for many years to come. This solution includes 10 telephones, a network cabinet and network switch, 10 network points, ADSL modem, full user training and configuration as well as three telephone numbers. To ensure that iThemba is always has support a silver support contract has also been included.” (from BitCo website).


Here is a picture of iThemba’s old offices. All of the iThemba staff was squished into one little prefabricated building. In the last year, God has really expanded iThemba’s ministry– and it was very difficult to fit all of the staff in this tiny space. So, people like YOU started praying for a new place for iThemba.

Praise God, new office space was donated to iThemba! Here are some pictures of the new offices where I will be working with the iThemba team:

For up to date photos and iThemba news, you can check out their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/iThembaProjects


Here are some pictures of the flat I will be staying in when I get to South Africa in August. It is fully furnished, so the only thing I have to bring with me is my suitcase of clothes. Praise God!