As we begin 2019, we're full of gratitude for a year of amazing opportunities.
Chandra began "Parent talks" weekly Bible studies , seeing women in the township turn to the Word for comfort, guidance, and hope in the midst of challenging situations.
These opportunities, and countless more, are because of our sending team: our friends and family who believe in us enough to send us here with monthly support and prayer. There are not enough ways to say thank you to this amazing group of people. We so love what we get to do, and they make it all possible.
The sun rose over Pretoria West on August 5, and BK arose wearily. He grabbed his backpack and started walking. East, towards the rising sun. Why he was walking, and why east, he didn't know. He was just delaying things.
The Sunday morning traffic was light as he left the Church Street bridge behind. He'd been sleeping there for a while, because the ditch nearby had running water where one can wash his clothes. Work is hard for anybody to find in South Africa, much less for someone with his record.
Two and a half hours later, he was still walking. East, the sun climbing higher and chasing the overnight chill of late winter. He saw the multi-peaked roof of Menlyn Park Shopping Centre. He had walked twelve kilometers. Walking past Menlyn, he remembered his aunt who'd passed away last year. Back when he stayed with her, she attended a church near Menlyn. Near where he was now. Why not? He'd walk a little further east, to his aunt's old church. He would swallow those pills later that night.
Sitting in Hatfield Christian Church, BK was moved by the pastor's message. The warm rays of hope reaching for his heart, he chose to wait at the altar. Hopefully in the busy altar, someone would be able to speak with him. To pray with him. Could he dare to hope again?
He saw Chandra entertaining one of the pastor's children. All the other leaders were busy in the altar. When the children left, he called out to her.
God left glorious, perfect heaven to come to this sin-wrecked planet and live among violent, hateful people, and to die to pay for our sins. Why? To win something back for Himself: you. You. You are worth the very life of God Himself, according to His own actions.
Do you understand how valuable you are to him?
We prayed with BK. He eagerly surrendered his life to Christ. His posture and disposition shifted noticeably. We invited him for lunch at the church's coffee shop and shared more about Christ's life in us. We offered to connect him with a local rehabilitation ministry that provides housing and meals while offering work and skills training. He asked to speak to them immediately. He interviewed over the phone and arranged to meet with them at Hatfield the next morning.
Walking out to our car, BK said to us, "I feel so light!" When I think of his smile, I think of that sunrise he was walking toward that morning. Towards hope.
The next morning, Chandra was waiting at Hatfield Christian Church when BK arrived, having gathered some possessions from nearby the Church Street bridge and walked all the way back: embracing his opportunity with both hands and a lighter soul.
Will you join us in praying for BK? The journey of discipleship requires the same thing as that initial surrender of salvation: complete cooperation with God as He works in us. Pray that he is not sidetracked, distracted, or discouraged. Pray that he stays the course and enters into everything God has for his future.
We celebrate BK's new life in Christ and his discovery of his value to God.
Do you understand how valuable you are to him?
Update: as of October 2018, we've lost touch with BK. While our hearts are sad to not be connected with him, we trust the Lord to continue what He began in BK's heart, and we continue to pray for him.
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!
Then it occurred to me: I'd like to be so unavoidably connected to my Father in heaven, that His name and His reputation follow me around everywhere I go. Do I remind people of Him?
"If my people, who are called by my name," He says. He says it several times in the Old Testament.
Called by His name. May our lives be worthy of it. May His character shine through, and His name be glorified.
He's worth being named after.
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.
Yesterday a team of young people, adults, and children from Hatfield Christian Church converged on Berakah for a unique ministry outing.
They called her the shebeen queen. She made a welcome environment for the people in her community to feed their addictions, drown their sorrows, and pass out stone cold drunk if needed. The people loved her, respected her. A woman of influence. The money she made selling was nothing to sneeze at either.
But God created Sophie for something different. He saw her and choose her before she was even aware. And He was orchestrating an encounter that would change her life forever.
The year was 1995. A fair-skinned, solitary woman was driving through the South African township of Mamelodi, a rare occurrence even in the nascent post-apartheid years.
On the street, amidst the thousands of other people, was a dark-skinned woman carrying her 3-day old baby on her back. Sophie was laden with the packages in her arms and the burdens of her heart.
That’s when Avril saw her. It was the same African woman she had seen in a dream. She stopped her car. She gently offered to carry her bags. Suspiciously, Sophie released her burdens. Avril walked her to her house, and a beautiful, culturally divergent friendship began. This friendship was the bridge for the message of the transforming power of Jesus Christ to come to Sophie. She surrendered her life and future to God and was baptized.
It began to dawn on Sophie that God had a greater purpose for her life. She counted the cost and decided that following Jesus was worth more to her than the thousands of Rand she made selling alcohol and she gave away her license to sell. She wanted to create a place where the struggling in her community could find help, hope and freedom.
The three-page letter pictured here (with names blotted out in the interest of privacy) came from one of the families cared for by the James 1:27 Trust. The family consists of five siblings who live in Stinkwater, a struggling rural community about an hour's drive north of Pretoria.
The children, the oldest of which was eighteen when they were introduced to the Trust through a local school, have lived on their own since their parents passed away from AIDS-related complications. Since then the Trust and a local partner have cared for the young family according to a customized care plan that was developed to address their specific challenges and put them in position to succeed in their future. The care plan addressed nutrition, psycho-social health, educational counselling, skills training, and discipleship.
The James 1:27 Trust is developing software resources to help organizations like our partner in Stinkwater to bring holistic care (care for spirit, soul, and body) to thousands of vulnerable children in South Africa. By partnering with us, you are a big part of the difference being made for children like those who've written this thank you note to us.