Part 2: Reflections on the First Three Months

In Part 1, I mentioned some things I’ve been learning about/experiencing within churches, namely Change, Preaching, Songs Prayers and Names for God, and Liturgy.  Here in Part 2 I will discuss some of the experiences with Christians and Christian organizations outside of church buildings and services.  How is the message of the Gospel moving people to act in this society and to care for their neighbor?  How are they caring for their neighbor and sharing the Gospel message in new, exciting, thinking-out-of-the-box ways?

As I mentioned in the post 10,000 a month – and counting…, it is estimated there are 10,000 new orphans every month in South Africa.  Yes, that’s a one with four zeroes after it.  It is a huge issue in this country, and will continue to have repercussions for the future.  In that post I talked about Lily of the Valley and LIV Village, two places that are helping with this.  But I never got around to posting about Indawo yeThemba, the third group foster home (which is probably the term we would use for these in the States, rather than “orphanage”).

Indawo yeThemba is a group foster home complex started by Bob and Joanna Graham.  Bob and Joanna came to South Africa from Florida.  We went to their house on the way to Pietermaritzberg for a braai (barbecue) to hear all about what they are doing in South Africa.  They came on multiple week mission trips to South Africa a few times in the 90s, but felt that they wanted to do something with more of a lasting impact on the children’s lives.

Bob talked about how he wrote a dissertation on how children become resilient – in the instance of his research, how poor orphans in the US make it to college.  He talked with many people who fit all these categories – orphans, attending college, and poor.  He wondered what got these people to college when so many others who are poor and orphans do not make it there.  From all his interviews, it turned out that someone – at least one person – cared for those children.  They had someone to fall back on – and this created resiliency in them.  A friend, an aunt, a grandparent, a counselor – it did not matter who – it just mattered that there was someone who cared.  He thought about his time in South Africa with poor orphans, thought about their future, and wondered if they had someone to care for them, would they thrive as well?  So he decided to bring that idea to Africa.  He met with the local leaders and hashed out the plan, shifting it to fit the area.

The foundation currently has four houses, and they will be expanding to six soon – but no more after that.  Six children are in each household, and cared for by a gogo (Zulu for grandmother).  These gogos receive their small pension from the government, but they do not get paid by Indawo (but it does pay for their food, housing, etc).  The gogos are the legal guardians of their six children (this is entirely different from Lily or LIV).  These gogos do not get time off like the house mothers do at Lily or LIV.  During holidays, the gogos take their six children back to their family home.  They have truly become these orphans’ mothers.  They have become that one person who cares for these children, who will help make them resilient in the face of change and adversity.

Indawo yeThemba’s funding comes partially from the government, and partially from grants Bob solicits from corporations abroad.  It costs less than LIV, because they are not building a whole village but using the infrastructure from the existing one (school, church, health services).  And it costs immensely less than some of the state-run places – some 90-95% less.

This is a new way to think about orphan care.  These gogos have left their homes and come and live on the Indawo yeThemba property.  They have taken on caring for and raising six children who are not their own, from the time the children come to the center to the time they are adults (and I am sure, will still be family after that).  These children for the most part do not start out as siblings – but the gogos knit them together into a family.  And you should see the smiles on these ladies’ faces.  Oh my word!  A toddler started crying while we were in one house – and without a hesitation went to the gogo.  And she was so happy to love this child – her child.

I asked Bob what his vision for this place was – to have more houses, to start another place like this in another location, etc.  And he said that his hope is that these kids grow up strong, have strong families, and have strong and cared for and resilient kids of their own.  He said some people have remarked to him, “you’re only serving 24/36 kids – I know a guy in Indonesia who is reaching thousands and tens of thousands” with preaching or teaching.  Bob’s reply is that he is not just preaching and leaving the kids, but caring for and preparing them – and that in two or three generations, he will reach thousands of kids.   The kids are raised going to church and hearing Bible stories.  And this is all done because of Bob and Joanna’s faith.

I’m not entirely sure were to start with this next part.  There is so much going on.  So, this may seem disjointed.  Bear with me, please.

Keith and Ang McLaren are another example of out-of-the-box ways of doing ministry because of the Gospel.  They live north of Durban, in Monzi, KZN (between Mtubatuba and St. Lucia).  This area was the epicenter of the AIDS/HIV epidemic.  Keith grew up in the community in which they now live – Keith’s father was, and now Keith is, a sugarcane farmer.

Keith grew up playing with the Zulu boys, and learned the language from a very young age.  He moved away for a time, but he and Ang moved there more than 17 years ago (I don’t recall the exact number, but do know they’ve been working at the church for 17 years).  They live in the white area, along with the other sugarcane farmers.  Black men guard the gate to the small community.  Seventeen years ago, Keith and Ang started Edwaleni Church in a shed on a white farmer’s property.  After a while, though, the farmer was pressured (by other white farmers) to evict them from worshiping in the shed, which was otherwise unused, because the whites were afraid of blacks gathering.  After they vacated, they found their current venue, which was once a trading post/general store for the area.  The store was unused, and had R200,000 debt owed to the bank.  The older couple who owned it said the church could have it if they just paid off the debt to the bank.  But they decided to pay more than the asking price – they paid the money to the bank, and then paid the couple as well out of goodwill and a desire to care for their neighbor.  And it is that attitude that pervades the church, and Keith and Ang (who lead it).

Keith collects no salary from the church – he earns his living entirely from the sugarcane and a side business he runs.  Not that the church could really afford to pay him – he recalled in the first few months of meeting, he gathered all the money together people brought for offering.  It totaled less than R200 (<$20).  People put in what they could – pennies.  When Keith told the story, I couldn’t help but think of the widow putting in her last two coins.

Keith’s sugarcane operation is small compared to surrounding ones.  In the harvest season, from April to the beginning of December, he employs ten men to harvest the cane.  He hires their wives, as well, and has low turnover in workers as he only employs South Africans from the local area.  He pays them slightly more than the other farmers pay so they can stay in houses in the community.   The surrounding farms often employ Mozambicans and Swazis, who bring with them their wives and children, since they are there for nine months at a time.  They stay in the 1950’s era housing units provided by the farmers, which are very simple, bare, and have rooms built for one person.  They are very, very basic units.  So, the units were built for one person, but now serve two, three, four, or more (depending on how many children the couple has).

The families of the workers:  The farmers don’t want the families there (just the male harvester), and so do not help or encourage the families in any way, such as work, housing, or schooling.  Keith and Ang started three creches in the area because of how many kids there are.  In one place, a tribal chief came to Ang and asked her to start a creche for him in his area.  The chief donated the land for this.  So she did – and they now serve hundreds of children each day at these places.  They are expanding one of the creches as well, and doing improvements on the others.  At the creches the children are taught, fed, and de-wormed on a monthly basis (a real health issue there).  They have organized rides for the kids who do not live near the creches – rides to and from school.

There is an orphanage at the church as well.  Eleven children are housed there, go to school, and do some work a little also.

So, how are the creches, the church, and the orphanage supported supported financially?  Every six weeks the church buys 1000 chicks for R6 each.  They feed and care for them (about R29 each), and sell them six weeks later for R70.  They make R35 profit per chick – or R35,000 every six weeks – an incredible amount.  They also have egg-laying chickens, and sell the eggs to local B&Bs, making R1.50 per egg.  This all happens in back rooms of the church.  If we haven’t said it yet, it is often joked that “chickens are a vegetable” in South Africa – they are everywhere.

Keith wants to teach other pastors how to set up a program like this – to raise chickens for profit and help pay church expenses or pastor salaries.  They have a room they are planning to turn into a small classroom.

The church is starting to raise guinea fowl as well to sell to the B&Bs.  And they have a small sugarcane field onsite, and a small garden, and are planning an aquaponic plant to provide vegetables, fish, and more income.

Race relations have regressed in recent years.  Since the days of Mandela’s presidency, relations have become more strained – whites and blacks do not interact except in working, the whites are afraid their children will “catch” AIDS from playing with the young Zulus, and have become more and more insular.  Ang and Keith are trying to break that in many ways.  The school in the white area closed because there are so few white kids and the white adults would not allow blacks to come to “their” school – against what Ang and Keith suggested.  This Christmas the church will provide each white family with a dressed chicken and a dozen eggs.  Completely a gift for them.  From people who have very, very little in general, but especially compared to the whites, this is an incredible action.

And speaking of being bold – Ang and Keith noticed that many of the young girls (12 or 13 years old) went missing for about nine months.  The Mozambican and Swazi men who came to work and did not bring families with them hired these young girls to clean and cook for them.  But they also got them pregnant (which in South Africa is statutory rape, as the girls were under 16).  So the girls would come back after nine months pregnant, or with a baby – and without the father.  So the couple took this issue to the local police…who didn’t do anything about it.  After much pleading, conversation, and threats of reporting higher up the chain, the police came and arrested five or six of the men who did this.  And the practice has now stopped – the girls are not hired.  But now occasionally coming down the road, the couple does see the occasional person slowly moving their thumb across their neck while staring at Ang and Keith.

So, in short: starting a place to worship, an orphanage, an egg business, a chicken business, opening creches, providing employment for both parents, training other pastors, stopping part of the cycle of teen pregnancy, working another job and pastoring the church for free, and probably some things I’m forgetting.

And while I could understand just a minuscule portion of the service (in Zulu), it didn’t take knowing the language to hear the passion in people’s voices as they sang, feel the attention they listened with to the sermon, the joy at being able to gather in a safe space, and the excitement at being able to read the Scripture in their own language.

It’s just two examples of Christians thinking outside the box in order to better care for their neighbor and share the message (preach) about Jesus.  They are unconventional ways, out-of-the-box ways – but they are fascinating manners in which to preach.

Part 3 will hopefully come the week after Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Will

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One thought on “Part 2: Reflections on the First Three Months

  1. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

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