My tour of duty in South Africa for this time soon draws to a close. It has been an absolutely wonderful three months, but oh how fast it has gone. I am sure you can understand that, however, since together with Bishop Louis Mphahlele and many dedicated co-workers we have had a scheduled daily program for almost a week at a time in thirteen different congregations.
While in those communities we have also worked extensively in schools, clinics, a prison, kindergartens, hospitals, a center for handicapped children, homes for the aged, a meeting of mine workers and prayer in many many private homes as well as holding Bible studies and Sunday services with Holy Communion. Below I would like to share with you some special glimpses of the last weeks. I have tried to enclose as many interesting pictures as possible and otherwise to bring you with me into these experiences. Hang on when the lightening makes a direct strike!! And as usual I am happy to hear from you, too.
I'll be back in Finland on November 29, God willing.
With love in God's wondrous peace!
In the life of a missionary many things are real blessings and positive highlights, but not all. Take the night I stayed in Elias's little tin shack out in the village of Wittranjies. Actually I stayed there eight nights in all as I worked in the village but one night I will never forget. Shacks like his are quite incredible. They are made of rusted sheets of corrugated metal fastened together in a rather haphazard fashion on crude poles...sometimes painted, sometimes not. The sheets for the roof are held down with big rocks. You would definitely not approve of the way the wires to the radio and single light bulb hanging from the ceiling are connected to the only outlet.
And then came the storm - a violent thunderstorm that hit with rain and hail thrashing the ceilings and walls with an ear-splitting din and at one point that awful thud which sent the heart-stopping message that the whole shack had shifted in the wind and then at the height of the storm the single lightbulb suddenly exploded in a direct hit of lightening and we were plunged into darkness. Darkness punctuated by eery flashes of light through the two small windows and many cracks in the walls. The next day, still trembling, I tried to gain consolation from the locals. "Oh that was nothing, you should be here when it gets BAD!" Thanks but no thanks.
A dear friend of mine Uriah Hilman, a cousin's son from South Carolina, had a better way of putting it when he heard my story: "Even this declares the glory and majesty of God amen. God continues to work during the storm. Some days that's all I feel like; God pulling us through the storm. We and our little tin sheds weathering out the worst nature can throw at us but knowing the power of Christ residing within us holding everything together. He is my gravity. When I think there is no way He provides, sustains, and exists. By the Grace of God I grow." And to that I can only say "Amen!"
CHILDREN OF THE HEAVENLY FATHER
It was one of those usual mornings in the mission, if there are such things. I had been invited to the Korekile Center in the township of Simunye where we have a congregation. I was only told that I would be asked to pray for some handicapped children. In the very first room I walked into something over my head.....maybe 30 or 40 children in an exercise room - all with various stages of cerebral palsy. Some were sitting or lying on mats around the walls but many came to meet us making odd outbursts of strange sounds, pressing in with unfamiliar jerking movements, grabbing our hands and staring right into our eyes with distant unconnecting gazes. Loving caregivers moved easily among them making me more painfully aware of how really uncomfortable the situation was making me. Summoning all the strength I could muster and deeply moved in my soul I pronounced a short prayer over the children and the caregivers....and for myself as my heart pleaded with my Lord, "Why, why. why?!"
And that was just the first of five rooms!!! This center serves the whole province. Different ages and different severities. In each room a heartrending prayer that God would lift and strengthen these special children. And in each room I saw more of little Komlanvi and Komi, the children I have worked so hard to help in Togo, who obviously are cerebral palsied children. I just thought somehow they were so preciously unique, but HERE - 120 cp children being cared for in one place!! It was truly overwhelming.....and then we got to the last room where there were older children - up to 18. They were all gathered around a table and when they heard that I was a pastor who had come to pray for them they all broke out in a spontaneous gospel song in English. It was their own version of course, but I think it was the most beautiful spiritual rendition I've ever heard! God has not forgotten these precious children. Someday He will explain "why?"
(P.S: Today, one month after I first wrote this, we visited the center again, this time with a youth singing group from one of our local congregations. How the children loved the music! It was like God opened my eyes to a new world where I was comfortable this time as we sang and prayed with them. It helped me very much with the "why" part of it!)
Two years ago we organized a group of young men to go into training for important positions of responsibility in different congregations here in South Africa since there is such a crucial lack of active men here who are willing or able to do so. Since then five of these young men have assumed preaching roles in their congregations. The training and guidance of all of these young men continue. A favorite place for them to get away for this training is called Lover's Rock - a beautiful little nature camp by a small river not too far from here with very reasonable accommodations in multiple bed cabins. They cook all their own meals. This year I prayed intensely that God would give me insights to facilitate profound and lasting changes in their life and calling. On the second day He had me give each of them a little green notebook in which they were asked to make a list of their problems, doubts, fears and sins. These notations were not to be read by anyone else, but there was adequate time given.
In the next session I ask them to write down things from the past that influenced the problems of the present. Many of these young men carry a LOT of baggage with them even as they come to these training sessions. Again they were asked to verbalize whatever they wanted to. It was heartrending to hear some of the accounts. Finally they were asked to write down their hopes and fears for the future. In the last session we all gathered round on chairs under a big tree and I told them that it was time to turn over to Jesus what they had written and to do so in their own words - committing their problems, sins, guilt and fears, as well as past baggage and future concerns to Him by tossing their little notebook onto the grass in the center of the circle. There was no rush, no pressure but in the end each of us had made such verbal confession and commitment and had dropped our notebook onto the grass. Immediately I went around the circle, laid my hands on each bowed head and
assured them in no uncertain terms that Jesus had heard them and they could believe in His wondrous name and the power of His blood that He had taken all upon His cross and now we could leave it in the sea of grace. On inspiration the Bishop then leaned down and artfully arranged all of the notebooks into the form of a cross. But what to do with those little notebooks? Somebody suggested we tear out the pages that we had written on and burn them. Each one of us did that. It was very symbolic and comforting.
And so we left Lover's Rock rejoicing, with Jesus the Lover of our souls and the Rock of our salvation!
When Birgitta left us she left behind a great many beautiful personal things. Like her clothes. She had such good taste. When Maria, Dana, Sonja and I had the difficult task of deciding what to do with her things we chose to pack up all of her best clothes and send them to her friends in South Africa. The ladies here waited until I came to open the box. They did so with a touching little ceremony. Each member of the Women's League who was present held a moving little talk in memory of "Mother Birgitta". All remembered how lovingly she had spoken to them as the key speaker at their annual conference just two years ago this month - also held at Lover's Rock. They remembered how she had thoughtfully brought a little something for each one of them. Naturally it was not really easy for me and one lady truly brought tears to my eyes as she spoke of Birgitta's life as a beautiful flower that had fallen to earth in an untimely fashion and was now blooming in the gardens of heaven. Then as we opened the box it was as if her generous spirit was really with us once more as each woman chose lovely garments that they would keep and cherish always. Nothing could have been more fitting than the spiritual songs of joy these needy women sang as they clung to the pretty things they had chosen from the box. "Did e'er such joy and sorrow meet?" The legacy of love lives on.
LEONA AND AMANDA
On the 3rd of November my cousin's daughters Leona and Amanda Matson from Canada arrived in Johannesburg from Thailand, via Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates and Cape Town. This is the fourteenth month of this particular world mission tour for them. Among their many gifts, they have truly marvellous contact with children - of all languages and cultures. As soon as they see a child they pull out pieces of colored paper which they fold artfully into little frogs that jump and wiggle to squeals of joy and laughter... and soon all of the children are in their arms experiencing the love of Jesus and His admonition to "suffer the children to come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the kingdom of heaven!" We will leave South Africa together on November 28 - I for Finland and they for Ghana and an extended tour of Africa.
Connecting with children and their mothers - race, culture and language are no barriers
Leona and Amanda with Chris and his brothers and sisters. The frogs again and their unmistakable connecting touch.
Newly erected church structure in Maskiet, South Africa, with it's congregational committee and the Bishop.
A feeding and care program for orphans and vulnerable children coordinated by members of our Bethlehem congregation.