It’s About Time…

Brothers and sisters, it’s about time…

When I titled the blog post for today I was intending for it to mean “it’s about time” that I write another post, seeing as how it’s been over a year now since my last one. However, just that phrase… “it’s about time” can be applied to so much more in my life right now.

“It’s about time” that I woke up, really WOKE UP. Not in the sense that I’ve literally been asleep for the last year or so, but in the sense that I’m desperate for a new awakening in my soul. Since arriving back in the United States from South Africa last June, the Lord has been doing some major surgery in my heart. Especially last summer. Transitioning back home was perhaps one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever had to do in my life. While in South Africa I encountered God in a way that I’ve never encountered him before – at least not in such a powerful way.

To give a brief description of things, I was struggling a lot with feelings of failure, defeat, and worthlessness. I struggled because as I looked around, I saw people who were thriving, who knew who they were, who seemed to be so rooted in some elusive rock-solid identity. And here I was, realizing that my entire life had been spent striving to be someone that I wasn’t, and someone that I didn’t even want to be. I got a groaning in my spirit to just be who God created me to be…to know my true identity in Christ and begin to walk in it. But at the time I felt wholly inadequate, lost, and broken.

And it was in that hard time that several of my amazing friends from South Africa came around me and held me as the snot and tears rolled down. Even though I could barely speak because so much was going on in my head and heart, they desired to be with me. In my silence and in my pain, they took me in. And at the moment I felt least deserving of anyone’s care…they loved me. I experienced one of the most powerful demonstrations of God’s love and grace perhaps I’ve ever encountered. Because I realized that all along I’d been trying to earn their love and when I truly had nothing of value to offer and they loved me anyways, I got a glimpse of the Father’s heart.

I don’t know if you’ve ever glimpsed the Father’s heart, but it’s beautiful. It’s the sweetest thing you’ll ever taste and the most glorious thing you’ll ever set your eyes upon. There’s nothing that compares. It pours out a love that never changes and never fails, that can’t be earned, bought, or deserved. And I realized that much of my life has been spent seeking the love, approval, and acceptance of others, not realizing that I am already loved, approved, and accepted exactly as I am.

And it’s in the wondering of “how can this be? how can they still love me, still want to be with me, still give of their lives for me?” that I realized that love doesn’t make sense. Grace doesn’t make sense, at least in this world. When someone gives me something or does something for me, I always feel as though I need to give or do something in return. God’s love isn’t like that. He’s already loved me supremely and anything I do or say in response just delights the Father’s heart. Because when I’m receiving from the abundance of his heart and living and giving from that abundance rather than my own, He is glorified.

Long story short, I learned about the importance of community – the importance of the body functioning as it meant to function and the Church loving as Christ intended it to love. Why do you think he said, “Love your neighbor”? Because it re-presents HIS LOVE on earth. A love that is other worldly becomes manifest and people are able to encounter God through us. And that’s God’s heart. He wants to partner with us in the ushering in of His Kingdom! Wow, what a privilege! Seriously! Love your neighbor – why? Because it’s the nice thing to do? Because we want to be good people? No. Because it’s literally God’s chosen vehicle for expelling the darkness in this world and letting His Kingdom come, His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

So right now, even though the Lord has been teaching me all of these things, I still feel like I haven’t committed all the way. If I’m being real, I think the reason my spirit is groaning the way it is, is because I have been exposed to these TRUTHS, these realities of heaven and yet still act, speak, and operate in the realities of this world. Like a bird in a cage sitting on a perch. Inside the cage it has everything it needs to survive…air, water, and food. But the door is open. The birds are soaring high in the sky just outside and I’m too afraid to leave the comfort of my lifeless home, behind the bars where I’ve lived my whole life.

All I know is that I can’t stay in the cage. Someone once told me that sometimes you have to get more scared of staying where you are than going where you’re afraid to go – into the uncertainty, the fear, the wide expanse where our security is cut away. But let me tell you that I’d much rather live out there than in here the rest of my life.

SO: “It’s about time” that I spread my wings and fly! Even though I may not feel like I know how, I’m going to try. It’s about time for a new awakening because my spirit refuses to sleep while all He has, He’s given to me and all I have is His! There’s NOTHING to lose and EVERYTHING to gain!

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Spring Break in Cape Town!

Here’s a quick glance at my spring break shenanigans! Though I had made plans to go on the Garden Route, I decided to stay in Cape Town to spend more time at my service site and cultivate deeper relationships with the wonderful South Africans who are becoming some of my closest friends!

Our two wonderful skating students!

I went ice-skating with Sarah Cuthbert, an amazing sister in Christ, who I met on the ESC retreat. Who knew they had ice-skating in South Africa?! We went to Grand West, a flashy casino entertainment venue, where we glided, swirled, and tumbled our way to tons of laughs out on the rink. Sarah and I spent a good portion of the evening teaching a couple unsuspecting victims how to skate. By the end of the night, these “wall-clingers” became confident masters of the ice!

Our eighth graders doing an icebreaker

At Masiyile this week we taught the eighth-graders about short stories. To bring the teaching to life, Ore and I showed them a step routine that we prepared. After drawing out the various elements of short stories from our dance including the introduction, build-up/plot development, climax, and conclusion, we challenged the students to come up with their own group dance routine incorporating the four elements. Man can these kids dance!

Sarah, Ore, and I at the Block House

Ore, Sarah, and I hiked up to the “Block House” a shortdistance up themountain from Rhodes Memorial. We packed a picnic lunch and picked Sarah’s brain about English teaching techniques to implement in the classroom. (Sarah is studying to be an English teacher!)

Also, a couple of weeks ago we climbed Table Mountain, which was one of the most difficult and awe-inspiring experiences of my life. We took the Platteklip Gorge trailhead and climbed up what seemed to be a never-ending rock staircase. As we neared the top, angelic voices met our ears with a beautiful old Christian hymn. Inspired to make the final few strides, I reached the mountain’s level crown and was rendered speechless. I understood with glorious clarity what had inspired those voices to burst into worship. Pictures will never do this wonder justice. The sun dancing in brilliant dazzling radiance on the vast outstretched waters…the mighty mountain peaks towering in the windswept distance…the city sprawling in its manmade splendor and unsightly beauty. The soul cannot help but cry out with praise for the One whose hands formed this indescribable grandeur!

Kristen and I at the top of Table Mountain

Speechless...

Saturday night dinner and movie!! There’s nothing better than watching Back to the Future and making minced meat burgers and good ol’ American apple pie with the “dream team!” After successfully burning the first pie crust to a crisp, our second attempt turned out substantially better. Colyn decided it would be appropriate to carve Jesus’ face into the crust in order that it might be saved 😉

Go Ikeys!!

We also attended a rugby game – the UCT Ikey Tigers vs. some other SouthAfrican college team. It was an exciting game to say the least…UCT crushed their opponents 55 to 20. Though I will never completely comprehend the rules of rugby, in my opinion it is much more exciting and intense than American football – pure strength, no pads, and continuous play! And thank goodness there were no vuvuzelas!

Until this week, the wildest animal I’d seen was a chameleon that the gardener found in our front yard…sad. However, over spring break I was blessed with the opportunity to go on a safari! After an elaborate and delectable breakfast in the safari lodge, we climbed into large, tiered, jeep-like vehicles and headed out for three hours of marvelous adventure! We saw four of the “big five” animals: rhinos, elephants, water buffalo, and lions! Other animals we saw included zebras, ostriches, springbok, and giraffes. An amazing display of the Lord’s creativity and power!

A Postcard, a Cheesy Moon, and a Mission Man

Why am I in Cape Town?

A simple question. And perhaps one that I could have answered rather easily at the beginning of this journey, but it’s becoming much more complex as I realize that I’m not here just to do service. I’m not here just to learn. I’m not here just to experience a new culture. That much is clear. There’s a bigger plan – a plan that was set in motion before the beginning of time, a plan that I am now being swept into by the Lord’s glorious grace!

Sometimes it’s easy to doubt whether there is a greater purpose to this thing we call life. There have been days when I look around and ask myself, “Is this really it? Is this all there is to life?” But, we can rest assured. There is a bigger picture. And though we can’t see it right now, it exists. It’s a beautiful masterpiece that is slowly being unveiled. However, we often want to see it all at once. And when we don’t, we frantically try to slop on the paint. Then there comes the time when we step back and realize that what we’ve created is anything but a masterpiece.

For years, I’ve been trying to create a masterpiece. And have failed miserably. I’d like to say that I trust the true artist and believe that “God has a plan for my life,” but doubt and uncertainty have always lingered in the back of my mind. It’s especially difficult when people ask me the dreaded question, “What are you majoring in?” I reply, “Sociology and religion.” And the inevitable question ensues, “What are you going to do with that?” To which I half-heartedly reply, “I’ll let God figure that out…” But, now, I can say with ecstatic confidence that God truly does have a plan, no matter how obscure it first appeared! His guiding presence is undeniable. It began with a handmade postcard that one of my dear friends sent me.

Handmade postcard from a dear friend

On the top were the words, “You said, ‘Your glory will fill the earth, like water in the sea.’ You said, ‘Lift up your eyes, the harvest is here, your kingdom is near.” At the time, the words seemed really powerful and beautiful…and strangely familiar, but I didn’t think they had any significant meaning. Also on the front was a picture of a rocky ocean shore with mountains in the distance.

The following day I arrived at Rocklands Christian Retreat Center in Simons Town for a weekend long retreat with the “Student Y,” the Christian organization on campus. The theme of the weekend was “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” We went through the book of Philippians together throughout the weekend – Bible studies, messages, and worship focused on becoming radical disciples! After settling in and sharing in a wonderful time of food and fellowship, I wandered outside and was immediately mesmerized by the greatness and brilliance of the orange moon that shone in the night sky…I thought to myself, “Huh, looks like a harvest moon” (or as a friend of mine Wade likes to call it – a “cheesy moon”).

And I remembered the postcard. “Lift up your eyes, the harvest is here. The kingdom is near”!! As my eyes were lifted up to the sky, gazing at the harvest moon, I reflected upon the meaning of the correlating verse in Scripture: “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest?’ Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” (John 4:35) I realized that the Lord was reassuring me that He has prepared the way and set forth a harvest to be reaped for His Kingdom here in Cape Town!

View of the ocean from Rocklands (similar to postcard!)The following morning as I looked out upon the ocean, I realized that the picture that my friend had put on the front of the postcard was the same image that I was beholding before me!! And as I reflected upon the second line: “You said, ‘Your glory will fill the earth, like water in the sea,’” it was as if the Lord was saying that the mighty ocean in all its dazzling vastness reveals the glorious extent of the awe-some magnificence that is to come – one day every nation, tribe, and tongue will praise Him! His glory will be made known to all, and as I live this life, I am to partner with God in this very purpose!

On Sunday, I met a man named David Bliss, or “Papa Dave.” Though he is probably in his seventies, there is an unmistakable light in his eyes that screams of a compelling eternal hope. When I sat down with him, I was immediately captivated by his passion for the Lord and compassion for people. Though he’s originally from the United States, he has spent the past twenty-five years in South Africa working in prison ministry and missions. While speaking with him, particularly about mission work, I felt a burning in my heart. Although it’s always been in the back of my mind, I am realizing that perhaps the Lord is calling me to the mission field! (Your prayers for guidance in this area are greatly appreciated.)

As we spoke about South Africa, I learned that it was once the primary hub of global missions. Throughout the process of colonialism, however, missionary efforts were extremely destructive and culturally invasive. Despite its negative impact, the faith was widely embraced and over three-quarters of the South African population now identify themselves as Christians. At the end of our conversation, Papa Dave invited us to Wellington to show us the mission training school and the ministry he’s involved with at Pollsmoor Prison! (So we’ve made plans and are leaving later today!!)

One week later as I sat in worship at Jubilee, they began to play a song that brought me to my knees. The song is called, “You Said.” At that moment I realized that the words on the postcard that had seemed strangely familiar were from this song! (I had sung it a few times at the Bible camp I worked at last summer). But here’s the part that caught me off-guard! The verse directly following the two on the postcard is as follows: “You said, ‘Ask and I’ll give the nations to you, Oh Lord, that’s the cry of my heart. Distant shores and the islands will see your light as it rises on us.’”

If that doesn’t scream missions, I don’t know what does! I believe that this is the direction that the Lord may be calling me. But I feel so unequipped! How can I be included in this great vision when I have such limited understanding of the gospel myself? Luckily, the Lord doesn’t always choose the most equipped or skilled people to be His servants. His power is made perfect in weakness!

(Just to make sure I heard Him clearly about this whole mission thing, He also led me to the Jubilee bookstore after the service and I picked up John Piper’s “Let the Nations Be Glad,” a book about missions. When I looked through the first few pages, my eyes fell upon a list of what seemed to be random Bible verses. Among them was Habakkuk 2:14: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”) Enough said.

So…why am I in Cape Town?

Man, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to answer that question in its entirety, but I’m getting glimpses everyday. The Lord is beginning to reveal His purposes. However, I’ve become quite content in realizing that the slow unveiling of the masterpiece is an oh-so-sweet, ravishing process that I’m not meant to behold all at once. There is something about the uncertainty and mystery of it. Something that fuels the burning soul. Something that makes the heart flutter in the wake of unreserved grace. Something that propels me into a consuming love for Him as I recognize His consuming love for me.

Simons Town beach (Saturday afternoon swim!)

Sunrise at Rocklands

The "Dream Team" enjoying worship and a sunrise!

Sunday night worship at the ESC camp

Hectic!

Hectic – the best word to describe everything that’s going on right now…and a common word used by South Africans to describe something exhilarating, crazy, chaotic, busy, or awesome. In my case, “hectic” refers to each and every one of these things!

Dania, Ore, and I have been spending about three hours each day at Masiyile (Monday through Thursday) for the past week or so. We’ve decided to focus in on one particular eighth grade class. The sad reality is that due to a lack of government funding, there is a devastating shortage of teachers. This means that in grades eight and nine alone, over five hundred students sit idle each day while they are supposed to be receiving English instruction.

To address this need, we’ve been taking one eighth grade class to the library each day during their normal English period. Last week we played some fun teambuilding games. One of my favorites was a name game where someone would introduce themselves by saying, “Her name is Brenda, and she’s got the moves!” Brenda would then do a little dance where everyone else clapped and chanted, “Go Brenda, go Brenda, go Brenda!” They loved it! These kids are wired to sing and dance, and I can’t get enough of it!

Today we established a “Classroom Covenant” – the students came up with ten rules that they’ve all agreed to abide by throughout the next few months. Afterwards, they planned and performed skits that portrayed the various rules. Again, I was blown away by how outgoing and talented the students are, especially in the area of creative drama! So we’re thinking about working with the class to put on a play production – they would write the script (to help with English writing skills), memorize the lines, and perform the play (to help with English speaking skills). The goal is to increase English literacy while empowering and inspiring them to realize who they are and what they are capable of!

God is so present here at Masiyile! Last week, we found out that during their lunch period, students gather in a small classroom for a mini church service! This ministry, the Student Christian Organization, was initiated and is being sustained by students leaders. Incredible. (It’s the only student-led organization at Masiyile). It began with a time of worship followed by a time of testimony. They invited a young preacher in from the township community to give a short sermon and ended with a couple more worship songs. (Nearly all of this was in Xhosa, so although I didn’t understand much of what was being said, I could still feel the overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit!) As the service progressed, students streamed into the classroom until over seventy voices were praising the Lord – a glorious choir of angels!

Blessed Experiences

Some things that have recently blessed and enriched my experience in Cape Town:

Painting at Manenberg

A couple weeks ago the seventeen of us went to Manenberg Primary School to help with a massive painting project. We spent a few hours covering the school (as well as ourselves and the children) in beautiful pastel colors – blue, purple, green, orange, and yellow. The young mischievous students delighted in stealing our paintbrushes as we chased them playfully around the schoolyard. Their huge smiles and strong embraces captured perfectly, the childlike nature that Christ calls us to cultivate!

"Sundowners" at Cliffton

Cliffton beach…the picturesque destination for a sunset! Several of us joined a group from Jubilee Community Church for the “Sundowners” event last Friday. We loaded into a stuffy overcrowded bus and headed down to the coast on windy roads that traversed the beautiful mountain slopes. We frolicked through the sand, splashed through the bitter-cold water, and shared in a wonderful meal together as the sun descended behind the mighty rocks on the horizon.

The Old Biscuit Mill

Old Biscuit Mill – rather than a factory for stale bakery goods, this eclectic market is a bustling hub for the sale of South African specialties. In celebration of Elora’s birthday, we indulged in but a small portion of the strange yet scrumptious delicacies, organic foods, and delectable desserts!

Soccer Fans Blowing Their Vuvuzelas!

On Saturday, we had the privilege of attending a heated soccer match between the Kaizer Chiefs and the Santos at the Athlone Stadium. As we took our seats, the loud and raucous sound of vuvuzelas flooded our ears. (A vuvuzela is a large plastic horn characteristic of enthusiastic South African soccer fans). Supporters from both teams wore bright jerseys, face paint, and homemade hats and horns to impart their emphatic exhilaration and pride!

Opening of the Blomvlei Library

We attended the opening of Blomvlei Library in Hanover Park, an extremely crime-laden community in Cape Town. Equal Education, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the quality of education in disadvantaged communities, was responsible for obtaining all of the books for the library. We were invited to the opening by Themba, an employee at Equal Education who was instrumental in helping Noah establish Masiyile’s library last semester. It was a wonderful ceremony comprised of several speeches, the singing of the national anthem by the school children, a spiritual dance, and a flag raising. It was astonishing to learn that 92% of schools in South Africa do not have libraries, and among those that do, many are ill-resourced and under-utilized. This library now places Blomvlei in the “advantaged” 8%…I am becoming increasingly aware of (and overwhelmed by) the sad realities that plague the African education system.

Yesterday, we went to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and were blessed to see an outdoor concert. As we spread out our blankets on the sloping hill and took out our picnic dinners, the mighty mountain cast a protective shadow upon us. We shared in a wonderful time of music, food, and fellowship!

Concert at Kirstenbosch

I Want Your Eyes to Be My Mirror

Mirror, mirror on the wall,

Who is the fairest of them all?

 

Why is it that when I look upon thee,

It’s with your assessment that I agree?

You amplify the failures and flaws,

I see only stains, repulsive and raw.

 

I long to hear the shattering sound

Of throwing you fiercely to the ground.

And then when into the Lord’s eye I peer,

I realize that it is the one true mirror.

 

The refreshing pool of His glorious gaze

Reflects a love that can lavishly amaze.

He looked upon me and saw my sin,

But also saw beauty within.

 

I don’t know how, I don’t know why,

I deserved it not, that He would die.

How is it that He beckons me close

To His throne with the heavenly hosts?

 

I can find nothing that I have done,

Except spat upon His only Son.

But somehow when He looks upon me

It’s not my flaws, but the cross He sees.

 

I will never understand this radical love,

The ultimate sacrifice to save His dove.

Nothing in this world will ever explain

What happened in the excruciating pain.

 

His blood was spilled, the curtain was rent,

And the fate of man was forever bent.

Condemnation replaced by fullness of grace,

Allows me to rest in His eternal embrace.

 

The new mirror on my wall

Reflects the scandalous beauty of it all:

The suffering Son hung on the tree,

In my stead at Calvary.

I’m Not on Vacation Anymore…

…So you may be wondering what I’ve been doing in South Africa besides being a tourist. Though my first three weeks were filled with exciting excursions and stimulating events, everything has finally begun to settle down with the start of classes. I am thoroughly enjoying all of my core courses, which include Poverty and Development, Social Research Methods, and Xhosa (the most prominent African language of the Western Cape – it has clicks!). Each of these courses is designed to directly inform and enhance our service experience in the townships.

I, along with two others from my program (Ore and Dania), have chosen to work at Masiyile Secondary School in Khayelitsha throughout the semester. We’ve been visiting the site more frequently within the past few days, and I am becoming more and more convinced that this is exactly where the Lord wants me! The first time we were introduced to the classroom environment was…let’s just say…interesting. Mrs. Matyatya brought us to her “Life Orientation” class and, deciding to deviate slightly from her original lesson plan, wrote a word on the board that made the students instantly erupt with awkward yet infectious laughter.

Students Erupting with Laughter During Matyatya's "Talk"

I can safely say that I did not expect to get a sex talk that day, but it was interesting to notice the stark differences between this ad hoc lesson and the education commonly received in the U.S. The primary emphasis was on how HIV/AIDS and unplanned pregnancy can impede students’ ability to escape poverty. In fact, this aim was integrated into the curriculum in one of the math classes I attended as well. While teaching the kids about multiplication, Mrs. Matyatya asked them to close their eyes and imagine how different their lives would look if they had R195,000 (the amount that one could potentially earn per year after graduating from university). With this prosperity in mind, she reminded them repeatedly of the importance of studying hard to one day “achieve their dreams.”

Though I was somewhat disheartened by the idolizing of wealth and material goods, I realized that there was a deeper underlying issue: economic injustice. When asked about her R195,000 fantasy, one young girl confessed that she would like to add an extension to her one-room “house,” which currently accommodates a family of six. This circumstance not only goes unaddressed here in South Africa, but reflects the common reality of millions. Others fantasized about cars and other gadgets, only to be left with disappointment, realizing that the given sum of money would only put a small dent in the cost of the desired item.

The Reality of Life in Khayelitsha

Today we met with our academic coordinator who spoke about our capstone project, which is to be completed by the end of the semester. In addition to the service that we do on a daily basis, we are also to engage in a greater capacity by doing in-depth research or implementing a project that meets a specific identified need. As Ore, Dania, and I spend more time at Masiyile, we are becoming more aware of different areas that could be strengthened within the school.

After talking with Mrs. Matyatya, it was evident that very few students that graduate from Masiyile actually pass their exams and make it to university. She was sad to regret that most students never escape poverty and at best, end up working as store clerks or maids in white neighborhoods. Her own miraculous story is one of unwavering fortitude and fervent determination to break the cycle of poverty that had kept her family in bondage. However, many of the students, Matyatya admitted, are weighed down by the reality around them…it’s binding, it’s hopeless, but it’s all they know. All too often, their true potential remains untapped and God’s purposes for their lives remain unfulfilled.

A Quote From the District Six Museum

So that’s our simple task…to instill hope, infuse purpose, draw out strengths, and empower students to see beyond their reality. Easy, right? Oh man…I’m going to need a lot of guidance and wisdom, so please pray for me as I seek to discern God’s will here at Masiyile. “I can do nothing on my own…I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” – John 5:30

*Pray for a powerful night of worship tomorrow during the Hillsong concert here at the University of Cape Town!

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