First of all, I must apologize for what became a rant on my last post. I don't want to let the fact that British Airways continues to set a new standard for poor customer service obscure the reality of a great trip.
So very briefly, we got to Johannesburg with no luggage. That is, I had no luggage. Jim was wise enough to bring a few changes of clothes in a carry-on. I had committed the cardinal sin of checking everything except my shoulder bag, which had a baggie with some travel size toiletries, 2 books, my camera, and the notes from which I would teach. We spent Friday in Jo'burg, hosted by Karl and Jenny. Karl is the leader of the OC (One Challenge) Africa team, with whom we partner.
A brief word of explanation: our church's role in Africa is to equip and resource national (indigenous) movements that multiply holistic churches--churches that tend not only to the souls, but to the minds and bodies of people as well. There are so many great organizations that provide food, meds, and other resources to communities in need. But sooner or later, all those NGOs pack up and leave.
But we have seen, both in Africa, India and other places, that a holistic church in that community can literally be the difference between life and death. Our original intent for this trip was to go to Zimbabwe, and work again with Zimnet, a national, African-led movement that has planted over 10,000 churches, across denominational, tribal, and political lines, for the betterment of Zimbabweans.
(Note: I will be guarded in this blog about commenting on the current crisis in Zimbabwe for reasons you must understand. I desire to return when possible, and many people have been forbidden to enter because of their commentary on the current administration.)
After we'd bought tickets, we discovered the Zimbabwean elections were scheduled, and our hosts there thought it best to reschedule the pastor's training and we moved just south of the border, to Limpopo province in northeastern South Africa. Two Zim pastors, P.F. and Emmanuel came down to work with us.
Back in Jo'burg, Karl took me to a local mall, where I got several changes of underwear, then we went to Craig's home. Craig led our trip to Zimbabwe last year, and of all the guys on the team, is closest to my size. I borrowed two pairs of chinos and a few shirts, and was good to go. We enjoyed the evening with the Teicherts and Dan and Janelle, the newest members of the team.
Early the next morning we hit the road for Limpopo. Ground travel is the best way to see Africa, air travel distorts the size of the continent. Limpopo is roughly the size of Colorado, and like Colorado, offers a great variety of terrain and vegetation. On the way to the town of Gyani, we passed through some beautiful citrus orchards, and a lot of cultivated farmland.
The weather was pleasant--at the end of the hot, wet summer, moving into fall. High temps in the 80s F. After another long, cold winter in Colorado, it was welcome.
Thomas and Anna Mapophe live just outside Gyani in a former Afrikaaner neighborhood called Kremetart, which is Afrikaans for "the frosting on the cake." During apartheid, this area was off limits to blacks, but is now a middle class community of about 80 % black, 20% everyone else.
Thomas is a miracle in action. Born the son of two practioners of traditional African worship/medicine (the term "witch doctors" is widely used and accepted), at the age of 20 or so he had a dream. In that dream, a man appeared to him and his father, and began to teach about a different way of spirituality and how to encounter the one, true God. Thomas awoke and asked his father about it. His father was shaken when he found out they had had the same dream, but refused to discuss it. Two years later, Thomas met the first Christians he'd ever encountered, and as they began to talk about Jesus, he realized that they man they were discussing was the same man who had come to him in a dream a few years later. Some time passed, wild oats were sown, but Thomas then became a follower of Jesus, and has had a tremendous impact on his community ever since. While there, we met with the mayor, the chief of police, and several other community leaders, all of whom are Christ-followers through Thomas' mentoring.
Thomas and Anna have planted about 80 churches in the Limpopo province, and those churches are all created with the DNA of multiplication. These are not large, American-style megachurches, but usually small groups of 20-50 who meet wherever space is available (See pictures on my facebook). For the next five days, we spoke in these congregations. Monday through Thursday during the day, we hosted two two-day training events for pastors, one in a township in Gyani, the other about two hours away in the township of Namakgale (naw-mah-holly) outside of Phalaborowa. The topics included marriage and family, counseling, conflict resolution, leadership development, preaching, and self-care for leaders (my passion). The days were packed solid. Then on Sunday and in the evenings, we visited small churches in the rural villages and spoke.
The biggest takeaway for me during these days was my annual reminder that when you get behind ethnicity, socio-economics, pyschographics, and all the stuff, people are just people wherever you go. Pastors struggle with the same issues everywhere. Families struggle with raising their kids, marriages face similar challenges. Sure there are cultural issues, but even when the cultural issues are different, there's a common biblical corrective to all our interpersonal, spiritual, and communal needs.
When you go to a place where people can't hide behind all the comforts that wealth can bring; when you go to a place where human rights are routinely ignored, when you encounter people who have next to nothing, that's where you really discover faith. American faith is...I don't know, something else. But we routinely heard and saw some incredible examples of people living in utter dependence on God, and sacrificially living so that others might be served.
Mother Theresa became the global example of the power of servanthood, but there are thousands like her that will never make it on the world's stage. More next time on some of these beautiful people we met and the evidence of God around us!