The intensity of this current season of disruption will be brief in comparison to the long view of history. The consequences of the decisions we make at this time are are quite a different matter. Wisdom and discernment are called for. All our choices now have consequences later.
As I write this, our Covid-19 lockdown in South Africa has reached 118 days--nearly four months. Beside the obvious health crisis, the two major issues facing South Africa's impoverished communities are food security and unemployment.
While many businesses have been allowed to open fully or partially, crèches (early childhood centers) like Berakah have only in the last two weeks been permitted to open, but with such serious restrictions that township crèches don't have the resources, financially and staff-wise, to cope. Berakah's founder and principal, Nomthandazo (Sophie), has decided to wait until at least September, in hopes that perhaps with time Berakah will be able to make at least its Grade R (kindergarten) classrooms compliant.
What does an education ministry do when we can't run a school? Chandra and Nomthandazo have been hard at work serving Berakah's staff and families during this brief but intense season.
The third monthly food voucher recently went out to Berakah's families, allowing parents to purchase groceries according to their family's needs at a neighborhood grocery store. Thanks to all of our friends and churches who helped make this amazing ministry a reality.
In addition, Hatfield Christian Church (our local partner church) has provided food parcels for twenty-four families. A former Berakah staff member helped Chandra locate needy families who were not connected to Berakah and who had not received any other assistance. Making these deliveries, Chandra witnessed hardship beyond any we've yet seen in South Africa. The Covid-19 season has been truly difficult for South Africa's impoverished communities.
Three young adults who are friends of ours teamed up to make a couple of thousand masks (currently required in South Africa) to donate to community ministries and hospitals. Berakah received seven hundred of these masks, and was able to distribute them to our families and to other needy families in the community.
With our crèche still unable to open and no children coming, and no income since March, Berakah had to sadly lay off all of its employees. It was very difficult, but necessary: without a letter of termination, none of Berakah's staff would be able to collect unemployment benefits. We remain hopeful that when spring arrives in late September, the warmer temperatures will slow down South Africa's surging Covid-19 cases, government restrictions will ease, and people will no longer be afraid to send their children to crèche. Only then can we hope to hire as many of our staff back as we can.
In the meantime, we invited a local business, Nena, to empower Berakah's unemployed staff with a tremendous opportunity. Nena is the only South African company that manufactures women's sanitary pads, making their product far more affordable than the typical imported product found in stores.
We have asked Nena to train Berakah's staff as independent sales agents. They'll learn to manage inventory and sell their product, making a bit of extra income to add to their unemployment benefits.
We're grateful and excited for this opportunity for our staff! The first meeting was today.
Significant decisions to come
We need significant prayer during this season. In the long view of history, it will be a blip, but decisions made during this short interruption can have lasting consequences!
From our couch, we're checking in on Berakah's staff and families, updating databases, and writing devotionals for Hatfield's Young Adults. Chandra also facilitated a meeting between various parties who hope to provide quick, low-cost temporary sterile structures for area hospitals to handle the possibility of increased ICU requirements during the COVID-19 crisis.
Unsure Times, Sure and Strong God
We are still called, even though we are temporarily stalled. Your support is invaluable as we prepare to fearlessly proclaim the love of God to a watching world once the lockdown is lifted. Thank you for staying committed to your giving even in uncertain times. We know you won’t regret your trust in our generous and faithful God. We celebrate people like you who stay compassionate, resilient, and consistent in caring for others in the midst of a very severe trial.
Much love and honor,
Mike & Chandra
Skills Training and Discipleship
Unemployment in South Africa has recently topped 29%, with young adults with degrees unemployed at 31%. We recently partnered with PING Academy in a holistic Skills Development Seminar targeting these young, qualified, unemployed individuals
The young adults, including a parent from Berakah and her sister, were empowered in their relationship with God as well as critical career skills like interviewing and resume writing. We heard from students who "arrived empty and left full" and were determined to not just find a job but to glorify God in their careers
Development at Berakah
Tucked into a dark corner of Mamelodi, up against the mountain, where service delivery is low and employment is lower, Berakah stands as an example of hope and excellence with the resources available
And more exciting things are on the horizon! A missions team from Texas is considering raising funds for a more secure fence, then coming over to build it. A new startup interior design company has donated a site development plan for Berakah that calls for replacing improperly constructed buildings, laying the property out to maximize growth opportunities. Please pray with us for God's guidance and provision for these big things that could lie ahead!
Refugee crisis in Pretoria
Four miles from our house, near Pretoria's prestigious Brooklyn Mall, hundreds of refugees are camping on the sidewalks and in parking lots around the UN High Commission on Refugees, demanding the UN repatriate them amid xenophobia outbreaks. Please pray for these hundreds of lost ones. Jesus knows what it's like to flee from violence.
Just over a week ago I landed in Johannesburg after fifteen weeks in Texas. Thank you to everyone we got to spend time with during our fund raising season. It was wonderful to reconnect.
It's great to be back at work doing what we love to do! Chandra has begun a ladies' Bible study for the community surrounding Berakah, and we're looking at starting a men's study with Mike in the near future. Pray for great fruit to come from these times of intimate discipleship!
Thanks to everyone who makes our work possible, and especially to those of you who are new to our sending team! You are a powerful team of givers making a powerful difference in South Africa. We love what we get to do, and you are here with us, every step.
New equipment, health, and safer play
Watch this space :-)
We've just had our first meeting with The Bigger Picture, the newly founded ministry birthed out of our recent trips to other nations. We are planning to revisit the church networks in the DRC, Angola, and Mozambique with deeper training for pastors and leaders. Starting small and dreaming big!
We are trusting God for great things in 2018! Here's how you can pray with us in the new year.
"I like to come to Berakah because there is a gate and a fence."
Recently Chandra interviewed some of Berakah's children with the question, "What do you like about coming to Berakah?"
There were outtakes, shy grins, and giggles. One little girl said she likes to come because there are white people. Several said they like the playground, games, or activities. One child said she liked ma'am because she is ma'am. We compiled some of the responses into a video on our Facebook page.
We posted the kids' video on our Facebook page. Our friend Meleney, who leads an amazing community upliftment center about 5 miles from Berakah, commented that teenagers "just want to walk from home to school and back without being raped and molested."
I'm reminded of an old Fred Hammond song, "Jesus Be a Fence Around Me". While serving Him doesn't necessarily bring with it a guarantee of physical safety, He does "put a fence" around our hearts and minds, guarding us from predatory fears, prejudices, and other wicked thought patterns.
As we thank the Lord for His protection around our lives today, won't you join us in asking Him to guard the children of Mamelodi?
Last Sunday a beautiful multi-racial congregation were worshiping together in Pretoria, South Africa, when the worship pastor stood to facilitate communion.
Joining the congregation that day were about 50 children from Berakah Education Foundation in Mamelodi, and a few of the parents (see video and photos below). Everyone in attendance was invited to partake in communion. But I wasn’t sure if the parents or staff from Berakah understood what was happening (possible cultural and linguistic barriers). As I explained to them how Jesus paid the price to take our punishment for our sins and how communion helped us to remember this act of love, one of the parents asked an unexpected question.
"Is this free?"
I was taken aback. I couldn’t fathom someone thinking that she had to pay for the communion elements. But then I became disturbed by the trap of false religion that held this beautiful woman back from experiencing the depths of the grace of God – His unmerited favor, unearned and undeserved love.
The question and the look on her face said, "Is this really for me?"
My immediate answer to the asked and unasked questions was a resounding, "Yes! His finished work is for all of us! Yes! You are qualified! Yes, He has paid it all! Yes, it is free!"
The bigger question
Does everyone know? How could it be possible that someone can attend church over and over and not know that Jesus paid it all--that it cost Him everything and us nothing, that we can neither pay for it nor earn it, and so He has given it to us freely? Oh, what a Savior! I wonder how many people are in our own circles of friendship, sitting right beside us, not knowing. Trapped by false religion--whether it's Western performance or Eastern mysticism or African traditionalism--into trying to earn something that is already paid for and given. Free.
Do we live like it ourselves? Do we affirm with our heads what Jesus did on the cross, but live as though we have to earn it? Do we share what He's freely given with those around us?
Is it really for me? Is it really for everyone around me?
Yes, it is!
Berakah kids visit Hatfield Christian Church, sing on stage
Some time in the late 1990s, our friend Sophie Mashego left her work in the shebeen (a bar) so that she could serve her needy community. The work she began in her home developed over about twenty years into what Berakah is today. On 19 August, Berakah celebrated those twenty years as well as some recent exciting milestones, not the least of which is the acquisition of the title deed for Berakah's property.
Berakah's staff and board were joined at Cre-ate Cafe in Pretoria by donors from South Africa and from Texas, as well as service providers and other community individuals who have helped Berakah become what it is today. Chandra hosted the celebration, honoring each individual and group for their contribution.
Attendees were greeted at the entrance by a display featuring photos from different seasons in Berakah's history. We are grateful to Avril Elkington, Annette Swart, Meleney Kriel, and Bryan Hill for providing wonderful photos from years before we came to Pretoria, to Alex Vasquez and Kendall Meyers for the amazing professional photos, and to Olivia Swart for designing the beautiful display.
Special thanks to Duane White, who along with his church The Bridge in Denton, Texas, is a huge friend to Berakah, for serving as the keynote speaker for the evening. Duane brought an inspiring word on being thankful in all seasons. We are thankful for your friendship, Duane!
We were blessed to have the Octone Trio, whose members are all instructors at Hatfield Arts Centre Music Academy, provide smooth jazz during the meal and afterwards as guests were leaving. The music was outstanding! A great atmosphere for a great night of celebrating God's faithfulness.
We are so grateful to serve Berakah and be a part of her journey, and so grateful for the friends that have entered our lives through it. We're believing God for greater things in the years to come!
Sometimes a picture says it best!
So many wonderful things have been happening. The season is rich with opportunity. So much is happening, we thought some photos would be better than a few thousand words! We hope you enjoy the photos. Here is sunset on the Zambesi River, taken on our 20th anniversary.
After arriving, we split into teams of two and three and walked with the teachers to their homes. Each teacher and their family received prayer and encouragement before heading to another Berakah family’s house, who was prayerfully chosen by the Berakah staff a week beforehand. It was exciting to put the ministry in the hands of Berakah's staff, so they can grow in confidence in hearing the Lord's voice and loving their community.
In preparation for the visits, I was particularly stirred by two passages. I was reminded of the story of Zacchaeus, a tax collector hated by his community, but chosen by Jesus. “Come down from that tree, Zacchaeus; I’m coming to your house today.” Also, while praying for the teams, I was reminded of Jesus sending out the disciples two-by-two and the miraculous reports with which they returned. We asked for signs and wonders to follow… and, they did. Sophie shared the following testimonies with us:
It's always exciting when God sovereignly moves! But our hearts are so full, because the leaders who we have been working with were able to see His response to their faith and their obedience. Sophie commented how amazing it was to experience a day that remembers something so negative in South Africa’s history to be redeemed by the people of God carrying the gospel of hope and reconciliation in such an intimate and authentic way.
Thank you so much for sending us to Pretoria and empowering this ministry with your support and your prayers. You all have a significant part in every miracle that we saw last week, and every miracle we'll continue to see.