Hey everybody, it’s Will, Zach, Sophia, and Kiesha here! We are 11 days out and are super stoked!!!
To explain our name, Ubuntu, is a Nguni Bantu term from the Southern African region translating to “human kindness.” Its cultural connotation more specifically translates to “I am what I am because of who we all are.” We find this very fitting with the work we will be doing within the prison community.
What do Restorative Justice and climbing Table Mountain have in common? At first it might seem like a silly question, but in reality we must realize that neither would exist if it weren’t for the love and grace of our creator. Two things that we have been continuously amazed by ever since we have come to South Africa have been the redemption that God does in prison and the incredible beauty that he has made in this most wonderful of countries. Indeed Table Mountain and Resorative Justice have quite a bit in common, both leaving us humble and simple men in awe of the greatness of God.
One of the reasons I am quick to mention Restorative Justice is because we have been eating, breathing and thinking about Restorative Justice for the past two weeks. Just last week we ran a Restorative Justice course at Hawequa prison, a course that was based around the idea of restoring the relationships that were broken through crime, alongside with taking the responsibility for your actions. In order to prepare our minds and focus our prayers we underwent a prison fast the week prior, eating as prisoners do, when prisoners do (which for those of you who are wondering means: 2 scoops of porridge at 6:30, 6 pieces of bread at 11:30 and some form of boiled meal at 2:30 with a little bit of protein). In all honesty it was quite difficult to stay focused on anything besides food during that week, but we praise God that He honors sacrifice, no matter how small. We broke our fast with the prisoners on the first day of the course; it was a symbolic meal that represented our equal standing with the prisoners. We had a wonderful time during the course, and saw some incredible change in the men that we were with, men leaving prison gangsterism, admiting to crimes that nobody knew about but them, and seriously hoping to restore the relationships that they had broken through their crimes. These men were challenged to make serious sacrifices for their faith, risking either more years in prison, verbal abuse, and in some cases even death, and the Lord was there the whole time. Our theme was Psalm 51 and God used that to minister to all of us and remind us of our own brokenness and how it is that brokenness that forces us to our knees to beg for a clean heart. Prison is an incredible place for the gospel because it is real and visible, and this last week we were able to sit in the presence of Jesus, whether or not it always felt like it. The week-long course came to a conclusion with the families of the men traveling great distances to be with their loved ones. Each mother, brother, father, or other relative had the chance to openly confront their loved ones and ask questions that they may never have had the opportunity to ask. It was a day to remember, with tears of sadness often countered in tears of joy.
While what God had done in Restorative Justice was enough to sing his praises for years, for some reason He saw it fit that we should see one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Indeed in our 20ish years of life, I don’t think that any of us have seen many things that rival the beauty of Table Mountain. God wrote us a love song in the asymmetrical and rough edges of the mountain and it is one of the most beautiful to be heard. To remember that God thinks that we are more beautiful and glorious than such an awe-inspiring creation is humbling and incredible, it truly is a mystery. We were able to hang our feet off the edge of the 1 km drop at the top and in doing so see the most stellar view of Cape Town.
We’ve been a bit remiss in our blogging so I will apologize now for length…
First off— Team South Africa Durban is not quite an accurate name. We’re in a Zulu tribal area in the central Drakensburg Mountains called the AmangweValley. It is about two hours drive north west of Durban which is a large port city right on the coast. Since we’re in the mountains and it is winter here we get very chilly nights, but we make good use of our hot water bottles and have lots of fuzzy blankets. Then during the day the sun is out and it feels like a typical summer day in Seattle. It’s a very rural area—rolling hills of dry grass filled with every shape and size of cow imaginable. Houses are mostly mud or cement block with thatched roof or corrugated metal. There is electricity but no running water, and roads are abysmal. Getting around is actually really easy. You just stand by the side of the road and hold up your finger, then 15 passenger vans which people call “taxis” drive around taking people to town or other parts of the valley. We’ve had some adventures just getting accustomed to village life—lesson number, one wear a wedding ring to deter proposals, lesson two, always check waterbottle for bugs or you may swallow an earwig, and lesson three, be flexible about toilets or lack there of…
We’ve been spending the last six weeks volunteering for Thembalethu Care Organization, a Christian hospice and palliative care non-profit. It was co-founded by Betsy Meyer a UPC missionary, and it works with women from the AmangweValley to provide home based care to the very sick as well as running two soup kitchens for kids in the area who aren’t receiving proper meals at home. The valley has one of the highest HIV rates in the world with 37-47% of adults testing positive. Many of the patients Thembalethu serves are battling HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, or cancer. The work is such a true and pure example of God’s kingdom coming to earth as these women go around their communities seeking out and serving the most vulnerable and sick. Hannah and I have had a chance to go on home visits with the nurse, where we sit while she checks in on their health and well being. Then we share some scripture and pray for the patient. We’ve also spent time helping with organizational things for Thembalethu, teaching English lessons to adults, and running holiday camps for high school and primary school aged kids. This last week will be spent painting a mural and running a few training days for local pre-school teachers.
Our schedule is very flexible, but I’ll give you a run down of what a typical day has looked like: We wake up around 7 or 7:30 (timing depends on whether we’re going to bucket bathe) then drink your first cup of rooibos tea with breakfast. Walk the twenty minutes from our host family’s house and get to the Thembalethu center around 9. Pray together for the day and drink cup of tea number two while we wait for people to show up. Then do whatever is going on that day with a nice long lunch break and likely time to just sit and read. Around 3 or 4 walk home or up the hill to admire the view for a bit. At home you put on layers of warm clothes to prepare for evening chill, read or play some bananagrams and have cup of tea number three. We eat dinner with our family every night and then after dinner sit under a warm Zulu blanket and watch the news and a couple South African soap operas with the family— we were really surprised that the family had a TV at first, but it actually really helps us learn names, and it comes in handy in conversations with people since soap operas are really popular. We’re definitely functioning on “Africa time” here. If you arrange to meet at a certain time you can count on people to consistently be thirty to sixty minutes later than that. It is a world away from the frantic pace of college life. We’ve both felt very blessed by the freedom from stress and rush, settling happily into a spacious “routine”. I know that realistically things will be busier again upon returning home but we’re both hoping to bring home this wider perspective of how artificial time constraints are.
The warmth with which people have welcomed us here is breath taking. If people know only a little English, it is generally “Hi”, “How are you”, and “I love you”. Hannah and I literally doubled the white population here in Mandabeni upon our arrival, so, needless to say, we stick out A LOT. It’s a bizarre experience to have strangers want to take a picture with you. The stares can get tiring, but often enough they are accompanied by a warm smile that it feels worth it. As I’ve learned more of South African history and current state it blows me away that these people, with every right to hold a grudge, welcome us with above and beyond any hospitality I’ve ever experienced. In spite of clear continued inequality in the country they seem to love the fact that two clueless white girls form America are wandering around their community, riding taxis, going to churches, and just admiring the beauty in this place. It’s truly one of the clearest examples of grace I’ve ever experienced. We’ve done absolutely nothing to deserve love from these people. It’s humbling to see that. I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps a piece of why God brought us here is to give these people a chance to feel seen and admired as we just accept their hospitality with open hearts and gratitude, accept it as the grace that it is.
With such lovely people and the natural beauty we’re surrounded by, it’s easy to see this place as a peaceful rural haven (if perhaps a little rustic), but then you ask ANYONE about their family and there will be close family members lost to disease or accidents. And we’ve learned that over 80% of the valley’s income comes from welfare grants from the government to children and the elderly. Sitting in the room with a sobbing HIV positive 14 year old girl right after re-reading the beatitudes, I think that what had before been a mental understanding of this scripture became a much deeper understanding in my heart. There is a vulnerability and desperation which my privileged life prevents me from ever fully knowing. The hole meant to be filled by God has been partially patched by worldly comforts and illusions of self-sufficiency. These people on the other hand are wide open in their relation to God. Our prayers for them always include at their core a hope that these tremendously sad circumstances be used to bring them closer to God’s love, that they allow them to more fully understand his power and their need for him.
At the same time it raises a lot of questions—how could an all powerful all loving God will this to happen to some of his children. Then you look a single valley over and it’s full of green irrigated fields and luxury resorts. South Africa is defined by the word contrast. It’s hard to see such clear inequality with no simple solution.
As we come into our last week we would love your prayers for a smooth transition and wisdom and love as we say good bye to people. Please join your prayers with ours as we pray for the patients of Thembalethu and for the home based care workers themselves. Also pray for Betsy, Eugene and their son Joshua—they just adopted a two month old girl named Khanya into the family!
Thanks for all your love and support from home! It has meant a lot to us and we look forward to getting to share more with you all in person soon.
Brianna and Hannah
Goeie Dag! Greetings from Wellington!
South Africa has proven to be one of the most beautiful places on this planet, both with regards to the scenery and the people. As we have been entering prisons for quite some time now, it is fair to mention a few things we might not have expected:
1. We are essentially running Sunday school for people with knives. Since many of these men grew up very fast without much family to speak of we have pretty much been spending our time in prison doing childish things and singing childish songs (like Father Abraham, throwback anyone?), with men who need to learn what it truly is to be children.
2. The average believing prisoner probably knows more about the bible than you do. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that prison is a terribly boring place and books such as the bible provide not only the keys to the door of life, but a way to entertain themselves. So often our bible knowledge has been trumped by that of prisoners. It’s a good thing that God sent us there to love and teach through example rather than through words.
3. We are incredibly safe. While many may have at some point been frightened for our safety, we have found that many of us feel safer on the inside than we do on the outside, a testament to the power of a person bringing hope to a hopeless place.
4. Jesus really loves prisoners, a lot. We have learned so much about the redeeming power of the cross in prisons. God is in the business of turning things around, and in prison, business is good. It is here that we truly see hope in the hopeless and recognize how that is God’s pattern. We remember that the prodigal son realized his need to come home when he was wallowing in the mud of a pig pen, the prostitute was the one who sat weeping at Jesus feet and it is only the prisoner who Jesus sent home to minister instead of taking him along the way. Prison is fertile ground for the gospel because it provides hope to the hopeless and rest to the restless.
Some of the trips highlights so far include hiking up Lion’s head, going to a Stormers game (rugby), playing soccer with kids from a neighborhood in the cape flats known as “Lavender Hill” and the many South African dishes that we have been exposed to. Something that we always look forward to during the week is a restorative justice follow up at Drankenstein Prison (the prison where Nelson Mandela was held prior to his release), where we talk about how we can be better leaders both on the inside and on the outside.
Life in Wellington has been relaxed. Since it is winter here, most of what we do to fill our free time during the week is limited to the inside. So we’ve done anything from watching movies to playing board games, from learning Afrikaans to napping. We’ve been able to go to a few vineyards for tours and tastings to experience what Wellington is most known for, it’s wine (don’t worry we haven’t experienced TOO much, if you know what I’m saying). Many of our weekends are spent around Cape Town exploring the beauty of the city and while we have yet to climb Table Mountain, we have been assured that it will happen.
We thank you all for the prayers that you are sending our way, they are being heard I can assure you of that. God is doing a mighty work in our midst and we are honored to be His partners.
Team South Africa Cape Town (John, Eli, Aaron, Peter)
As I’m writing this Hannah has already left her house for the airport and I will be leaving in a few short hours! It’s crazy how quickly this quarter flew by, and now it is time to go. I’m someone who tends to focus on one thing at a time, so it wasn’t until I finished my last final that I started to freak out a little bit about embarking on this adventure. During the first three weeks Hannah and I will be planning and then running a vbs style kids camp. We don’t know exactly how many kids there will be, what ages precisely, or how much English they will speak… so it hasn’t been easy to prepare from home where we have access to a big craft store and the internet. Hannah had a much clearer perspective than me saying, “Well it’s their holiday break, so if they aren’t with us they just sit around at home!” This was a reassuring thought, but I was still a little anxious.
I took a break from packing and celebrating father’s day to go to UPC’s 6:00 service last night and (no surprise) came away feeling much more at peace with the situation. Andy talked about the story of Abram and Sarai and how they are impatient and try to “help” God’s plan along, which needless to say is not helpful at all. She talked about how we all have little “Ishmael’s” in our lives where we have been impatient and tried to control our situation. I will definitely be keeping this in mind as far as our kid’s camp is concerned and through out the next eight weeks. For me this summer is all about giving up control and leaving space for God to show up and work.
Hannah and I would love your prayers as we seek to come alongside the community in eMandabeni. Please pray that we can listen well and notice much. Pray that the kids we work with can better know Christ’s love through their camp experience, and pray that we continually bring our hearts to God for renewal and strength.
And to end a movie review! To send me off my family took me to see “Fanie Fourie’s Lobola” the movie which won best of the Seattle International Film Festival this year. It was set in South Africa and told the story of a Zulu woman and Afrikaans man who fall in love. Amidst all the laughter and emotion of the story I got a little glimpse of the underlying tensions still very present in South Africa, but also a glimpse of a unique and beautiful culture. It made me very excited to learn more! I also picked up Nelson Mandela’s biography The Long Road to Freedom to read on the plane, so perhaps the next post will include a book review! (The picture is Hannah and me before the Inn’s student leadership end of the year party)
Having just wrapped up finals, I have a significant amount to reflect on when I look back at my year. Needless to say, it was a long, arduous journey through my third year at UW. Yet somehow, buried in classes, a job, and other various commitments and responsibilities, I chose to learn more about Deputation. I picked up an application and read through the information with both genuine interest and limited expectations. I chose to make the decision from several different angles. The chance to travel is always an exciting proposition, but that is hardly a decision-making factor. The opportunity to serve others is an actual passion of mine, as I aspire to become a Nurse (I will be beginning UW’s School of Nursing this Autumn). What made Deputation transform from a casual interest into a confident decision had to do with the opportunity to do God’s work in a location and to a population in need. Personally, I do not have a great amount of mission experience to look back on. During my one and only medical mission, in which I helped volunteer with Young Life as well, I did not have the level of responsibility I will have in South Africa.
So what will our team be doing when we venture down to Cape Town? Well, for starters, we won’t be in Cape Town. We will be living in Wellington, a township about an hour drive outside of Cape Town at the Andrew Murray Center. Andrew Murray himself was a 19th century pastor in South Africa, so he’s not around, and the program is currently led by Andrew May, a gentlemen we had the pleasure of Skyping with a couple weeks ago. Our work there will involve traveling to almost a dozen prison sites, doing everything from leading small group discussions to a program called restorative justice, where inmates are reunited with their families in what could only be a stirring sight.
As the other groups know all too well, us Deputees are often confronted with questions regarding readiness, our level of excitement, and how long we will be gone. What I have noticed is that my answer has changed since I found out who, what, when, and where on announcement night in March. As I type this I am becoming more aware of whats on the horizon. Nervous is not the right word; anxious fits a little bit better. To those inquiring about my state of mind, since we are leaving so soon after classes, I likened my situation to a snowboarder at the top of the mountain. Final exams are (or at least were) like strapping in my feet before I begin a breathtaking journey. It was the last loose end to tie up before I feel committed and my emotions come full circle. I can hardly wait–the next 96 hours for my team and I will be an exercise in controlled anxiety. Please pray for a safe journey! We hope to keep everyone stateside informed during our trip!
Peace and Blessings,
John Franco, Eli Chin, Peter Clinkenbeard, Aaron Trask