Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009


‘Tis the Seasons, right?
I mean, this is the time when everyone is supposed to feel all holiday and sentimental. Where generosity is supposed to trump greed. Where being full is supposed to be accompanied by being fulfilled.

But I would argue that for many, this season reveals our lack. That even in the display of multi-covered Christmas light shows (and there are many on the Eastside, ranging from sublime to spectacle) we sense a longing. That even finishing our Christmas shopping list early leaves us yearning. Many of us feel our pain slightly more around Christmas…I’m talking about relational pain, emotional pain, spiritual pain. I’m speaking of the pain that centers around dreams unmet in a fallen world, not the pain of dropping a frozen turkey on your foot (although if you google this, you’ll find that there are many suffering with that pain as well).

Here, recognizing the limits of yuletide cheer, is where I believe Christmas becomes magic.

When we invite Jesus to be born, even here. When we prepare Him room, even here. In the midst of our pain. In the center of our lack. In the hole of our yearning. We invite the Lord Jesus to be born here in the mess, in our brokenness, in the fallen-ness of our world. Jesus, be born in us. We have prepared room for you.

This is Joy. This is joy to the world, to our world.
In the darkest time of year, light.
In the stillness of the night, praise.
In the stink of the stable, glory.

I don’t know what trials you face, what darkness, what you wrestle with in circumstances or in personality, internally or externally, but I do know this: the magic of Christmas is for you. And it’s for me. It’s for everyone.

It’s Immanuel, God with us.
And what it brings is JOY.

Four Hamburgers

This blog is written by my wife Jodie, from Durban, South Africa, while she was leading a Mission Team there...for more of her work, click here

At first glance, the Zulu children we met on the bus en route to Ithemba Lethu’s leadership camp were just like any other seventh graders we had ever met. They boarded the bus with tremendous enthusiasm. They were full of life and noise and a certain pre-teen angst. They were excited to be with their friends, armed with bits of junk food, slightly insecure and were chatting about celebrities and rappers. If one didn’t already know that the children were from one of Durban’s poorest townships, that most lived in tin shacks, or that many were being raised by siblings just a few years older than them, it wouldn’t have been immediately obvious that these kids differed from suburban American youth.

As the weekend progressed, we began learning more details about their lives. One child’s parents had just died. Her mother died of AIDS and her father was murdered by human hands. She was now living with an aunt who didn’t want her. Several of the children were being physically abused on a regular basis. School was not a safe place for the kids because teachers hit them with pipes.

As we sat down together for meals, I began to notice that the kids were consuming food in massive quantities. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were provided at the camp and to our American team, it was typical camp food. Palatable but, far from gourmet. I ate enough to sustain me but wasn’t interested in going back for seconds. As I pushed food around my plate, the kids were inhaling every morsel of food on their plates. They went back for seconds, thirds, and fourths. They had an astounding affinity for ketchup. A 65 pound boy sitting next to me consumed four hamburgers in a row.

We were keeping the kids incredibly busy with soccer games, jump rope, swimming, late nights, and obstacle courses. “They have really worked up an appetite,” I rationalized. “They are almost teenagers, after all.”

As the weekend continued so did the pace of the eating and I began to wonder how children could possibly consume so much food without becoming ill. I mentioned the spectacle of food consumption to one of the youth workers and she replied, “When they get home, they will only have pap and sweet water. They’re eating as much as they can here because there’s little food at home.”

Her words felt like a sucker punch to the gut. The food I was turning my nose up at was an incredible, luxurious, excessive feast for the children. They were eating like mad because they didn’t know when they would get to eat again.

I’m still not sure what to do with this or about it. It’s an injustice I feel overwhelmed by and powerless to correct. All I know is that God called me to this place at this time to interact with these children. So, I interacted and I encouraged. I prayed for them and tried to love them.

In the midst of their dire circumstances, thanks to the efforts of the Ithemba Lethu team, the kids are learning to become leaders, learning to make different choices than their parents. I cannot for one second label these children as victims. The term connotates powerlessness.

And these children are not powerless. They are survivors and heroes.

I can't wrap this post up in neat bow. I have no clue how to end a post like this. Sometimes we need to live in the tension....


Today's Blog is provided by a guest blogger: the lovely Jodie Howerton. She recently returned from leading a Team to South Africa...here are her thoughts:

I'm spending the first half of December in Durban, South Africa, leading a team of incredibly wonderful people from our church on a missions trip. I was here last December, with another amazing team. After a flight cancellation, three airplanes, layovers across the globe, and 4 solid days of ministry with school age Zulu children, I'm finally sitting down to reflect, process and, well, blog.

Our mission here is to support a local organization called Ithemba Lethu. Ithemba Lethu means "I have a Destiny" in Zulu. In truth, the wonderful staff of IL could survive without our help. We are not here to save the day in typical American, independent cowboy fashion. Quite simply, after seeing the incredibly way they are changing the world, we begged them to let us participate, to literally ride their coattails. We wanted to get in on what they're already doing and thankfully, they said they could use us.

Ithemba Lethu works in the public schools in the townships, educating school children (beginning in grade 5) about the risks of HIV/AIDS and about each child's immeasurable value to God. They believe you can't do one without the other. The kids have grown up in poverty with little to eat and little to hope for. They do not actually know their infinite worth to God when they start the program.

42% of pregnant mothers in Cato Manor are HIV positive. Forty-two percent. This means that 42% of infants are at risk of contracting the virus in -utero or during birth. If the children living in Cato Manor do not contract the disease in infancy, there is a very large chance they will contract it later in life. The townships in South Africa have one of the highest rates of child rape in the world. These children are in danger every day, all the time, of contracting the disease that has spread like wildfire in their midst. The children know all about HIV/AIDS. They see it everyday, lurking in the shacks of their makeshift community. They have lost parents, aunts,uncles, friends to the disease.

We went away to camp with 140 school age leaders from the local township schools and the incredible Ithemba Lethu staff youth workers. The kids spoke Zulu and a little English and the Americans spoke English and absolutely no Zulu. The goal of the weekend was to hang out with the kids, teach them that they matter, and introduce them to the love of Jesus. We had all kinds of plans. Crafts, beads, balls, jump ropes.... But, when it came down to it, we ended up sitting around a lot, trying to break through the language barrier. We sat with them during meal times, we sat with them during activities. We sat at the piano, teaching them basic notes. We sat and smiled. We had a few significant conversations and we cheered like insane fans during their outside competitions. We walked with them on the beach and showed them how to make bracelets. Then, we sat with them some more. By nature, I'm a task master. I like having to-do lists and outlines. I began to wonder what we were accomplishing. Admittedly, I'm not very good at sitting, resting or just being present.

It just seems terribly inefficient.

Turns out, the sitting around was the best possible gift we could have given these kids. Our very presence, our unrelenting efforts to sit next to them and turn jump ropes for them communicated the very thing we had hoped. That they matter, that they are worth the time of a few crazy Americans. And that God loves them. We gave them the gift of presence. We showed up and stayed. Much like God shows up and stays with all of us. Presence is not something one can quantify or measure. You cannot represent it through statistics or pie charts.

We'd appreciate your prayers as we head off to another camp today.

I can't wait to spend some quality time just sitting around.