Look what the Lord has done
Berakah has two "classroom blocks". The older one, built with bricks and containing two classrooms and two bathrooms, recently underwent a phenomenal transformation thanks to God's generous provision through churches and donors in South Africa and in Texas. Aren't these classrooms gorgeous! We are so thankful!
Back to school!
On 16 September, after six months of Corona-induced forced closure, Berakah welcomed 4-year-old and 5-year-old learners back to campus. The sound of children learning, playing, and singing is music to our ears!
Mike was invited to help facilitate Hatfield Christian Church's "worship and music track" for its Year of Your Life program. The students dug deep into what worship as a lifestyle means, dimensions of revelation and expression, and even wrote collaborated songs in small groups. A wonderful and productive time that we trust bears long-term fruit in their lives.
Running hard and getting real
The James 1:27 Trust recently partnered with Jesus4Real, a ministry that rescues trafficked young women and begins the long, painful process of rehabilitation in a safe house in town.
The house Jesus4Real has been occupying is up for sale (it had been "rented" to them for free), and they are raising funds, using the Trust's giving platform and a page Mike built, to purchase it as a "forever home" for the ministry and for the women they journey with.
Two Saturdays ago, the fundraising drive was launched with a 127km weekend run by two friends of the Trust. To build awareness, others were encouraged to run, cycle, or hike 5km or more and post on social media. Our family hiked 5km, and Mike ran an additional 10km.
On the weekend, we able to raise about R25,000. A great start! We'll keep you posted on Jesus4Real's journey to home ownership.
Transformation in a new season
Much like the trees and fields are coming to life as spring arrives in Pretoria, and Berakah's classrooms have come to life once again, we trust that God's transforming life will awaken new vision for you in the "post-Corona" season that is coming.
What the new season means for us
Here are some ways you can pray with us for the new season ahead!
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!
Confined in a filthy prison cell in Rome, Paul encouraged the church and wrote some of the greatest instructions on the believer's family and community life that we have. What an inspiration for us as we try to minister to our Pretoria area community during strict lockdown!
Over the last month of quarantine, we've been able to find a few creative ways to carry on. Mike has taught worship classes via Zoom from our living room. We recorded video devotions for Hatfield Young Adults that appeared on social media last week Monday through Wednesday.
Chandra has reached out to various teachers and parents via phone and text message, checking in. Berakah has also connected parents in Mamelodi with nearby government food relief services so they can get food parcels.
Food Security Challenges
Berakah's community is struggling for food due to the increased joblessness, difficulty with travel, and fewer available resources created by the Covid-19 lockdown. We are trying to come up with solutions, but we're running into roadblocks. Please pray for Berakah to have a strategic, responsible, legal solution to feed the families in our area. Specifically, we need 1) a certificate from government giving us express permission to operate as a food security provider; 2) resources for food parcels for 125 families, which will cost on average $3000 a month for the next three months.
With Berakah forced to close for lockdown and as such no income, we found ourselves unable to pay our staff's salaries. About two weeks ago, Chandra applied to South Africa's Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) on behalf of Berakah. We just received payment from UIF for more than the entire salary requirement for payday--which is four days from now. Hallelujah! We are so grateful to be able to care for our staff and their families!
Here are the "lockdown devotions" we prepared for Hatfield Young Adults. 😎
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
In this day, as in every day, it is true of you and me: the Spirit of God is upon us, because he has anointed us. In this season, as in every season, our hearts burn for the kingdom of God to break out among us, bringing hope, freedom, and justice everywhere it goes!
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.