Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Lately I've read more books that have made me yawn more than made me think.  I think I mentioned that I joined a Christian Book Club just because my friend, Saskia, raved about it.  She loved the ladies in it, and since I wanted to spend more time with her, I accepted her invitation to join.   I ended up falling in love with the fellowship -- ten women who are thinking, articulate and voracious readers.  I also admit that the anonymity of being in a room with 8 people not from my church was refreshing... I was just Janet.

What I wasn't expecting was the dip in the quality of what I was used to reading for pleasure...Christian fiction seems silly and sometimes contrived.

This month's book review is a testament to the books in the club worth reading.  I Dared to Call Him Father: The Miraculous Story of a Muslim Woman's Encounter with God by Bilquis Sheikh is both well written and exciting.  It is the true story of Sheikh's conversion to Christianity in Pakistan in the 1960's.  Originally published in 1978, I picked up the 25th anniversary edition at book club.

Bilquis Sheikh begins her story by introducing herself: a wealthy and prominent woman in Wah, a Pakistani town, surrounded by servants and a large visible garden.  People in her family and in the village view her as a woman of influence and culture, despite her divorced status.  Her joy in life is raising her grandchild while her daughter works full-time in a neighboring town, and on him she spills all her love and affection.  It isn't until a series of dreams that Sheikh has, that she starts to read the Bible.  Even the acquisition of the book makes her suspect in the community, so we can see that the secretive way she gets puts her at risk of being cut off from everyone in her community and family.  Nevertheless, she begins to read it in addition to her beloved Koran.  In its pages she finds joy, love and life; in the Koran she only finds law and order.  It is here that the battle in her begins.

The greatest part of the story is the absolute way that God captured her heart and showed her the way to Jesus, the Saviour not just a prophet (as Islam proclaims).  Through Him, the first time ever, she sees a gateway to God- the God who would become the close and tender Father that Sheikh had longed for her whole life.  By this simple revelation, Biquis herself says her life "was turned upside down".

Living in His presence, her story of baptism, and later the change of her community's perception of her are communicated so well that I felt I knew her personally when I finished.  The tragic reality of choosing between God and family are heartbreaking- and still so real in the Muslim world.  For anyone who thinks loftily of Islam (or believes it is a great religion) the perspective of a privileged woman in Pakistan can change your mind.

In the end there is an after-word by the Christian missionary that influenced Sheikh's story in Pakistan.  It also tells how she finally died, and a touching follow-up of her grandson. The story inspires me and I really came away wondering why I had never heard of this book before.  I am better after reading it: more thankful for what I take for granted.

Monday, August 30, 2010


For everyday I am alive I imagine myself sowing seeds.

Every action I make will have a consequence -- if I am friendly I will most likely get friends; if I am angry, I most likely will make others around me so; if I am gentle and kind, I create an atmosphere of warmth and trust.

It's an image that I learned when I was young, being taught that what I sow, I will reap.  When I first heard it, I thought it was a good story and a good way of looking at things, since I knew that all seeds grow and no matter what happens I should sow more good seeds than bad.

Then I would go out to play.

As I get older, the same images of sowing and reaping mean something more.  Seeds, or actions, are not equal in their fruit.  An apple seed begets a tree; a thistle seed can spring up and ruin a whole field; the small dandelion can travel miles before sinking into soft soil, only to start the whole process over again.  Seeds are everywhere, and are born from the happy event of a flower.  It all seems so harmless and easy, but after awhile, you understand the good seeds you've sown are not always good, but rather dangerous and can have consequences that beget other consequences, and so on and so on...  If you do contemplate awhile, you hope and pray that your reap will not be what you deserve.

I have recently come across a field of seeds that have sprung up from past actions. In sowing, I never meant to hurt anyone, but I admit I sowed selfishly.  As I look back, the whole thing was avoidable, but I know I can learn from all of this.   I begin the work of getting all of the seed out of the ground, and in realize I can't.  In a million years, I could never remove everything I have sown.

It's then that I remember that I have become  "yoked" with Christ.  His work is my work; we are teamed side-by-side.  The yoke I wear is not fair: I deserve to be far away from a righteous and forgiving Saviour.  His yoke is for the elect; the children who are lovely and lovable...and today that's not me.  I'm the hunchback  ugly selfish conceited loudmouth who humiliates herself and the cause of the Kingdom.  Still, I wear the yoke, and walk beside the good and perfect Jesus, whose yoke is easy because of His love and His genuine affection for me.  It is this love that transforms me.

The yoke, to the outside world, looks like slavery.  It looks like torture and constriction. Instead, it is what keeps me walking when I am overcome by the amount of work that needs to be done; especially in me.

Looks are deceiving.  Thistles have flowers that are gorgeous.  Yokes are made of wood and look uncomfortable.   In the end, the star of a thistle is a poison dart; and the yoke is where I find my rest.

 "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light". Matthew 11:30

Friday, August 27, 2010


A few months ago I got it into my brain that I would like to do the 94.7 cycling challenge that is hosted in our neck of the woods: North Johannesburg.

The event is a huge party that commandeers the roads in Joburg in the early hours of the event: a  Sunday morning in late November.  It's name derives from its distance: 94.7 kilometers (58.84 miles).

Since I am (relatively) fit, I picked up my training and started cycling classes at the gym.  Different from the normal spin class, these classes are filled with the fittest of fit training after work...and I soon realized I was out of  my comfort zone.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a gym regular, and after three years I can greet most of the staff by name.  I know every machine, all the free weights, my trainer and I have a love-hate relationship...and so on.

There are the superfit there, though, who I have nothing in common with.  The giant body-builders who wear a leather belt and grimace under bars loaded with weight as they squat and press upward; the sinewy distance runners who wear out the indoor track until they are dripping with sweat; and now the cyclists who haunt the corner spin room from 5 to 6:30 in the evening.

I work out in the morning, so until recently, I had never seen them.  They all wear two pair of shoes- one that they walk around in and one they change into once they're there - the kind that snap into the pedals of the bikes.  They're clothed in cycling pants with a padded seat and tight fitting shirts that are usually from one of their many races they've done.

I came to my first class in a tee shirt and normal gym pants.  My shoes are the unpretentious, but durable running shoes I've had for two years.

I am, to use the vernacular, "built for comfort, not for speed" despite my four to five day training week.  My father's heritage (Irish) and my mother's heritage (Mexican) give me the ability to survive and endure... and love to eat carbs.  The normal cyclists that trains competitively will allow only the natural to enter their body.  They also bulk up with protein shakes when they become too thin -- Oh Lord in heaven, smite me with that curse!!!

So, after a few classes my trainer suggested I actually get on a bike and ride.  I borrowed my friend, Terry's mountain bike and and started to ride on the roads around my house.  This is when I discovered two things:  Bikes have gears; and I struggle with balance.

As a young girl, my sister Patty had a bike.  When she would ride it I would watch, waiting for my promised turn.  I got on after she had ridden around and wobbled around our court, finally getting used to it and picking up speed.  Satisfied I could do it, I'd dismount and hand the bike back to my sister, who was usually telling me how uncoordinated I was.  I finally got my own bike and road it around with my friends, who all had ten speeds.  We basically rode recreationally, on flat roads.

At 47, wobbling on a bicycle on sandy hills is another matter.  No matter how hard I've trained, my balance has never really improved.  My cousin, Jody, a professional skater, suggested I practice standing on one foot with my big toe down against the floor and  look straight ahead.  I finally mastered that, but have a problem with a bike under me as I try to pedal and make my bike and body ascend a hill that is littered with pebbles and water troughs cutting through it.

I asked my friend, Colleen (who completed the 94.7 last year) to show me around a place that is designed to be a recreational retreat for area cyclists: Northern Farm.  Meeting me on a Saturday, Colleen showed up in her gear looking every bit the cyclist, and removed her bike from the back of her car, deftly snapping it together.  Mine had been shoved into the back of Mario's pickup.  She strapped on a helmet and asked where mine was.  I didn't have one.

We rode anyway.

As we rode, she coached me in changing gears (OH!! I see!!) and told me what it was like for her learning how to ride (She's kind of athletic, but normal looking).  She cycled back and forth to University classes in Cape Town, got proficient as an adult and later cycled with friends.  Last year, after being sick for a week before the race, Collen started the 94.7 and finished.  Later, she came to church determined to sit and relax, but the night was a standing and dancing worship session.  Sore and exhausted, Colleen stayed and praised.

Colleen's stories lifted me up.  She had to learn, like me.  She had falling stories, brake stories, trying-to-keep-up-with-friends stories... and she still loved the feel of cycling out in the open like what we were doing, the sun  and a breeze on our faces.  We've since gone out twice more, then I got sick.

I've finally managed (not mastered) to ride around my neighborhood, a rough land with terrible hills and dirt roads that are rarely maintained.  I can do a 3 kilometer loop of hills and stop to rest only once to catch my breath.

My trainer, Natalie, isn't impressed.  "You're going to have to do a lot more if you want to do the race," she says.

I agree, but it is a process.  The whole thing is a process, and a learning process that I've only just started.  It is what life is- a constant challenge.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Sunrise from our back porch

In the inky blackness of a wintry night in Johannesburg North, I can hear the buzzing of my refrigerator, the hum of my computer, the keys of the keyboard echoing as I type.

Silence in the city is golden.

Johannesburg is one of the largest cities in Africa; the largest city in the world not situated on a coastline or port. It hums constantly and rattles with activity that rivals New York City.  The economic capital of South Africa, the city itself reminds me of Los Angeles -- sprawling, desperate, wealthy and poor at the same time.

We live on a small parcel of land that doesn't belong in Joburg - a place that is in the center of an equestrian estate called Northriding.  We are so near to Northgate, a mall that crowns Northern Joburg, that it takes us 5 minutes to get there. Even so, when you turn into the gated estates on a dirt road, you feel like you are entering another place.  A rugged, quiet and purposefully unpaved neighborhood that is meant to be what it is: a retreat.

When we first came to Johannesburg, our friend Hennie introduced us to Stewart and Gill Patterson, our landlords, who had a vacant cottage on their property.  They are on the international team of NCMI and understand our vision, our desire to follow God and the sacrifice that it takes to live here.  They have provided us with this sanctuary and it has really been a blessing.

Stewart keeps fowl of all kinds, especially competitive pigeons, and their home has a large lake in the backyard that attracts water foul that are spectacular.  The national bird, the Blue Crane now and then gives us a treat by stopping and fishing there; plovers and geese are regular inhabitants.

From our back porch we can see the skyline of the Northern City, but we can't hear it.  We can have a country experience from the top of the city, feeling removed from th3,888,180 people that supposedly populate the city.  

We are grateful for the peace; grateful for the cottage; grateful as anything that we are appointed to live here for a time.  

Tonight I sign off, listening to geese squawking as if they have no idea what time it is.  The nerve of them....

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I really didn't mean to go into the hospital.  I really just meant to get some meds from my doctor and come back home.

Monday, however, had another plan for me.  I went to see my normal Doctor for some antibiotics to help my system battle with what felt like bronchitis...and also get vaccinations for our upcoming trip to Mongolia and the States.  We were having a relaxed morning at the Rodriguez house, save for the fact that I had again had another sleepless night.  The bronchial passage in my body is normally stressed by allergens, dryness and mucus...all of which were present for the last three days and keeping me from a restful night.  I told Mario I would go to Dr. Venter to get a diagnosis for what I suspected had turned from viral to bacterial.

When I arrived at my doctor's the office was packed with other people, most of them sick and coughing, and I shielded myself from them by sitting in a remote corner, all the while determined not to look sick myself.  I saw Venter's associate (eventually) a new woman Dr. who looked as bright as anything and proved to be, judging from her quick synopsis of things.

While listening to my lungs, she told me she heard fluid, and wanted to make sure I didn't have pneumonia, considering my past and my asthmatic tendencies.  She suggested I go straight to the hospital for tests and a chest x-ray, which I did.  They admitted me and began a whole blood panel and x-ray regime.

I submitted to the hospital staff, all busy and pretty new to nursing, judging from their green attitudes and questions.  It wasn't long before they brought up the subject of intravenous antibiotics.

While they were talking, I interrupted and suggested they bring in the guy who did my blood draw, from the lab.  They assured me that it was okay, and that they would do it themselves.  I tried to explain about my small veins, my desperate struggle for air lately (shrinking them) and my aversion to bumbling nurses.  In vain.

The first nurse was a beautiful, gentle and sweet girl named Elizabeth.  She tried twice to get a vein, the first time missing and the second time hitting a nerve I felt in the back of my skull.  As I screamed, I looked down and saw a gushing geyser in my wrist, something Elizabeth was trying to back out of.  She apologized, after mopping up a puddle of blood and brought in another nurse: a pregnant and tired looking Beatrice.

Beatrice found a vein right away, but went too far and hit tissue.  I winced, but stayed still, all the while enduring the painful current that went from my arm to the inside of my brain -- and seemed to go on forever.  She struggled to attach the plastic tube and further irritated the puncture.  I cried tears of great size and told her, "Something's wrong."

"Don't worry, my dear," she said.  "It's in and it's over." She looked down at her handiwork, a bloody and swollen mess that was already back-spilling blood into the clear plastic tube.  She flushed it back with a syringe, sending more shooting pain into my arm (and my teeth).

As she left, I whimpered, crying in real pain and knowing that I was unheard.  If the IV was going to drip, it would be a miracle.

Two hours later I was begging for them to remove the IV and to let me go home.  My swollen arm had gone up to my shoulder and they seemed to dismiss my sobs as normal patient moaning.  I finally threatened to rip it out myself, and Mario, next to me, was on pins and needles... waiting for them to hurry up and remove it.

As they took out the needle, purple discolored blood spewed out of the opening (that seemed unusually large). I gasped and cried more...sincerely in pain.  The apologetic nurse (a new one named Gift) pushed a cotton ball against it and taped it down.  He explained that I would have to have it replaced and he was coming back with his supervisor.

A new nurse came in, an Afrikaans woman with a short hairdo.  She charged into my curtained space with such force that it startled both of us.  "Hello Miss," she said.  "I hear you don't want an IV.  It's doctor's orders and we MUST put it back in."  She looked so sure of herself and confident that I knew I would have to agree; and I did.

In one simple prick, the bold nurse got the vein that would deliver the drip for good.  She un-gloved her hands in triumph and looked down at me, and nodded.  She left as quickly as she came, with the saline and antibiotics peacefully delivering healing into my bloodstream.

By the time my doctor came, she saw my cottoned arms and teary eyes and anounced she was giving me something "to calm your nerves".  I gladly accepted. In the meantime, she told me that the bacteria was not pneumonia but a strong and resistant bronchitis that would respond to a good night of dripped antibiotics and drugged sleep.

Mario said goodbye to me as I drifted off to sleep, my antibiotics dripping successfully at last;  my eyes dried for the first time that day.

Today is Thursday.  I was discharged the following day with my doctor's blessing and some oral antibiotics that I am scheduled to finish tomorrow.  Since then I have had a good amount of healing and a lot of checking up from friends who are half-way chiding me for not letting me know I was in hospital.

How was I to know?  I just went in for a doctor's visit....

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Gift and Thabo at a special Hlanganani Event

There are some things I like talking about when people ask us what we do here.  Most of the things we do here seem extraordinary when you juxtaposition them against our privileged middle-class American upbringing. Our work now is mainly among the very poor in Diepsloot, although we do a lot of church wrk in the wealthier neighborhoods in Joburg.

At the end of each day, as I pray and reflect, thank God I can usually whisper, "Thank you, Lord."  The danger of work like this is that I can become quite pleased with myself, seeing myself as fearless and the voice for widows and orphans and the sister of so many with much less than most poor in the world.   Thank God I am am Janet, though, so prone to messing up -- it keeps me humble, and totally reliant on the grace of God.

I wince when I remember some of my days.  Last Sunday was a re-letter day for me blowing it here.

After moving into our new building, we (our church) had to become very mindful of the amount of children and their play on the grounds.  Still an unfinished work site, there are places kids are given as play areas, but as kids are, they want to explore everything, and can venture into some areas with potential danger.

Because we taxi in many people from Diepsloot , we had to make a decision that we would allow no unsupervised children to come on the site...for the protection for everyone.  The traditions of the township (kids play and eat together without parents, or with each others' parents, or whoever is around),make our policy foreign in action and concept.  The solution to handle this most effectively meant that someone who had knowledge of (and relationship with) the Diepsloot kids that come to the service had to meet the taxis - large white vans meant to carry 18 passengers, but many times stuffed over capacity to as many as 25.

I was appointed for the task that was both necessary and ominous.

Meeting each taxi I made sure that the kids that were on the taxi without parents or a legal guardian got back to Diepsloot on the same taxi with our apology and a reminder that they should be coming with their parents, or a supervising adult.  In my haste, I sent an orphan, Thabo (13) back home when I shouldn't have.  The waythat supervision of our beloved "Hlanganani Orphans" goes, each is supervised by a care-worker who is a regular attendee of church.  Thabo's care-worker did not come on the same taxi as he was on, so he appeaared to be unsupervised, or unclaimed.  In reality, his care worker was already in church.

If you don't know the Bible well, you probably have the same reaction as if you do.  Sending an orphan back from church and not listening to his explanation (in broken English) of how he was supposed to be there...sucks.  As I said, I was in a hurry - and maybe on a mission to send a message - and Thabo was put back on the taxi and sent back home.  Not to be discouraged or turned away, Thabo got on the next taxi bound for Junction and saw me again, directing the flow of traffic.

I challenged him, asking why he wasn't listening to me.  As is their custom, Thabo let me finish what I was saying, and tried to explain that his care worker was here already, but as soon as he spoke, tears began to leak from the sides of his eyes.  I felt bad and frustrated at the same time, and decided to take him myself to the registration table for children's ministries .  As I signed him in, he gently picked up his name-tag, and that is when I recognized him.

Thabo, a beautiful boy with a fine mind and caramel skin, had shaved his head the day before, leaving his appearance much altered (he usually has a natural cover of black hair).  As soon as I realized my mistake, I gasped, turning to him apaologizing, explaining why I didn't recognize him.  As I did this, his floodgates opened and he covered his face with his shirt, weeping.

It was at this time that two of my friends saw what was happening, and as I explained to them what had happened, they prayed for him.... and I joined them, feeling very guilty and blaming myself for being such a schmuck.  After a short prayer, Suzanne said "Maybe Thabo should sit with you today!" and winked at me.  I looked into his eyes (still red and teary) and asked him if he wanted to.  I punctuated it by "I would like you to, if you want to."  He nodded, and went to our seats with me.

Since Mario is an elder, we usually sit in the front row, and so there is no "low-profile-seating-when-you've-blown-it" seats available.  Thabo enjoyed the service and afterward went to have a muffin with me in the coffee shop.  As Thabo was inflating slowly to his normal self,  I still felt awful. He drove with me, Portia and her boys to the service in Diepsloot, worshiped and sang with joy... and walked home after the service.

The following Sunday (two days ago) things went much more smoothly.  Less kids were unaccompanied, our team had a clearer vision and more functioning system.  There was one thing noticeable.

No Thabo.

I went to an expert to find out where he was: Gift.  Gift (13) is also a Hlanganani orphan who attends both Sunday services, is a friend to all the kids in our church.  He has a special connection with Thabo, since he is also a Hlanganani orphan.

I asked him where Thabo was.  Taking out his earpieces of his mp3 player, Gift shrugged and said "Maybe he's still upset with you because you sent him home on the taxi last week."  Leave it to a kid to not tart it up in a digestible fashion.  I nodded, and asked if he would take me to where Thabo lived after the first Junction service.  He agreed.

There is a 9:30 service at Junction, then a break and an 11:30 service in Diepsloot every Sunday.  Only a few people attend both - Mario and I being two of them.  Between the services, I loaded Gift into my car and we treked into the Diepsloot extension where Thabo lives.  Thabo lives in a house owned by an older man and woman, who together supervise about 11 orphans.  As I approached the house, I had the whole kit: a gift for the family, a candy bar for Thabo, and Gift to interpret.

When I came into the yard, all the kids gathered around Gift asking why he was bringing a white lady and who was she? Gift said nothing, but smiled at them, feeling like a full-blown translator, I'm sure.  As soon as she saw me, the granny welcomed me in, explaining that the kids were inside.  I recognized her from many Hlanganani gatherings, since she was a woman we honored many times.

I paid my respect to her, gave her a gift, and then told her I was here to see if Thabo was okay.  Peering around the corner, Thabo soon became visible and then looked (in utter shock) from me to Gift and back again.  I'm sure he was wondering what we were doing there.  I explained to the granny that I'd like to take Thabo to the Diepsloot service if he wanted to come (even though it is seen as walking distance).  She agreed, saying that the kids stayed home only because they had overslept.

Thabo also agreed that he would like to go, and asked if he could have a bath first.  I told him it was probably unnecessary, and that he would be okay like he was.  His mannerisms suggested total shock (and perhaps a little happiness) that I had come to his home, and he eagerly changed to go to church with us.

We ended up taking Thabo and two of his siblings to church with us, stopping to buy snacks on the way.  It was a good resolve, as far as I could tell, Thabo making lots of eye contact and smiling a lot.  Today he was more recognized than rejected by me, and I could tell he appreciated my gesture to reclaim him.  

His forgiveness complete and my concious cleansed, we went to the Diepsloot service to worship and celebrate.  The service was awesome, and later I reflected... and remembered the parable that Jesus told about a widow and a lost coin.  If she has ten coins and one is lost, she''ll look for it, and not stop until she finds it.  When she finds it, she calls all her friends and tells them about it.  This is how God is with us... and He made me be the same way on Sunday, looking for Thabo and refusing to accept he was "lost".

And now I tell you... that I am happy, and will look closer from now on.

  In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent. "Or suppose a woman who has ten silver coins loses one of them---what does she do? She lights a lamp, sweeps her house, and looks carefully everywhere until she finds it. When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, and says to them, 'I am so happy I found the coin I lost. Let us celebrate!' In the same way, I tell you, the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents." 
(Luke 15:7-10)

Thursday, August 12, 2010


For a whole year now Mario and I have been a part of an experiment.  We have been the part of the Junction eldership that has begun the work of starting a satellite meeting in the local township, Diepsloot.  If you don't know what a township is, you're probably not from the Republic of South Africa, or RSA.

During the Apartheid era in South Africa (1948-1994) the government (run by a white minority) declared it illegal for people of color to live amongst eachother.  Instead, a formal decree, the Group Areas Act, decided that areas would be portioned off for each separate race ("Apartheid" means separateness) to build and develop as they wanted.

Blacks were evicted from properties that were in areas designated as "white only" and forced to move into "townships". With little resources of their own, the structures they erected were piecemeal, made mainly from corrugated metal, or boxcars.  Forced removal from city to townships has continued in post-apartheid South Africa. The difference is that under apartheid all black people faced forced removals to townships while now it is only the poor living in shack settlements (squatter camps) that face eviction to townships.  

In most townships today, people live very close together in sub-standard living conditions.  Running water and private flushing toilets are a rarity, so most people are forced to bring water inside to their shacks by buckets from an outside spigot.  There are shared (flushing) toilets in strategic locations.  

Even with the seemingly unacceptable environment, the people we know who reside there have a high standard of cleanliness and their places are always clean and well kept.  Their hair and clothes usually look better than mine :)).  Our friends living in Diepsloot love Jesus and are a joy to celebrate and worship with.

To make the township more personal, let me whittle it down to six faces in this picture: Lebongo, Ebiniezer (Ebi), Percival, Sipho, Priscilla and Yondela.  

Lebongo (in front) is learning how to read and write.  His parents, Dumisani and Monica are close friends of ours.  Recently they have moved to Cosmo City, a neighborhood that is quite a step up.  For the first time in their lives, the family has a water tap inside and their own bathroom.  Lebongo's nickname is Xhio (KY-ah).  When I would come to see their family in Diepsloot he would run out to greet me and almost knock me down with a running hug.  Then he would smile like crazy, his deep, brown eyes glittering and dancing with joy.  Since they've moved we notice a great void where they used to be...a community lacking leaders always misses its leaders when they leave.  Lebongo knows almost every worship song and sings beautifully.  

Ebineizer (Ebi) is the second son of one of my best friends, Portia.  Recently widowed (Thembe died three years ago) Portia raises two boys without their father, a great challenge for anyone, even greater in a township.  Because of strong family connection (her brother Pineas is very good and involved in their upbringing), the boys are doing very well.  Everywhere we go Darrel and Ebi shine with what can only be described as the "favor of God".  Ebi's face is perfectly punctuated by deep dimples, making him get almost anything he ever wants from me.  Last week during a visit he wrote "My name is Ebineizer and I love soccer" on a piece of paper.  I almost cried!! It was so wonderful... He loves to sing and dance, and many times is a public clown, making everyone laugh. 

Percival (in the snowboarding top) is the son of Max and Martha, our friends who stay in Diepsloot but are soon moving to Roodeport, too far to connect on Sundays.  Both parents are extremely attentive to the behavior of their kids, so Percy and his siblings are among the most reliable, well-behaved kids in our church. A Venda (the tribe from the area closest to the Zimbabwean border), Percy is a lover of all ball sports, especially soccer.  If I give him a soccer ball, he'll care for it with great diligence, but will always share with his friends. 

Sipho (looking sideways) is also the son of a single mom, our friend Julia-Margaret.  His father left the mother and occasionally comes back to live with her while he's in Johannesburg.  There are few ladies I know who have it harder that Julia-Margaret, who is constantly plagued by bad news after bad news.  Recently she went into the hospital for swollen feet (they cited malnutrition and over-work), and the following day I took her children Priscilla and Sipho to see her.  Both kids never had known anyone who went into the hospital and came out again, so they were thinking I was taking them to see her die.  When they saw her, they broke into the most heart-felt tears that I began to cry as well. She assured them she was coming home -after she was well- the way only a mother can.  The kids understood slowly, then regained their appetites and were ready to be taken back home to their older brother who was cooking dinner. We laughed, visited and went home, and for the first time ever, Sipho smiled at me.  It was an incredible day.

Yondela (biting her tongue in the back) is the Aunt of Lebongo, the sister of Monica, and lives with her and Dumi.  She is a delight to everyone who knows her.  Because she is the "oldest child", she helps take care of the younger ones, Lebongo, Ezzo and Timna.  She can clean and cook and still loves to run around and be crazy.  She has seen a lot of joy and a lot of pain in her twelve years... and she loves Jesus.  Singing with delight and fervor, Yondela is a great example to the smaller kids.

Priscilla (back row left) is the daughter of Thembe, a lady in Diepsloot who has been comin to church for about a year.  She is not used to nice things and many times displays the habit for grabbing everything she can at the church (toys, food, drinks, her turn in line).  She has to be gently coached to believe that we are all equal, all equally loved by our heavenly Father and all will be taken care of.  This is not yet a belief and may never be...one of the side-effects of growing up in desperate poverty.  Still, she loves church and loves coming to sing and celebrate.  Yondela is a good friend to her, and a hopeful influence on her life.  

These are just a few of the faces of the township we work into.  Every Sunday we have a meeting where we celebrate, share time, listen to a good preach and then all of us go home and take a nap!!  Now that habit is universal.  

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Absquatulate means to flee or abscond.  My spell checker says that this word is not recognized but it is today's dictionary.com's word of the day.

Even though the word sounds like a mixture of circuit exercise for both abdominals and quadriceps, it actually means to run away secretly, like to avoid prosecution or the draft.  People who have absquatulated in the past are Jacob, Moses, Sadaam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden, to name a few.  

I love obscure knowledge and delight in learning archaic words.  I also love hidden bits of truth in the language that we have been taught as English.  This particular word, absquatulate, has Latin roots, pieced together, from prefixes and suffixes to create the product desired:  Ab (away from) + squat (a squatting position) + ulate (take).  In other words "taken away from a squatting position".  

My grandmother used to have difficulties speaking my native language at times.  She thought that words would deliberately change their colors and shapes, and become difficult on purpose.  Spanish being her first language, she related well to English until it lost its Latin roots.  Words like "bashful" she mispronounced as "vegetable"; and words like "bullion" she would call "boiling".  Not to be overcome by these dastardly words, she wrote them on index cards and placed them on her window sill, practicing them from time to time.  

When you don't speak the language a mispronunciation can cause a great stir.  Here in South Africa there are 11 official languages.  I manage to butcher all of them.  Afrikaans, one of the funnest-sounding languages I have ever heard has a lot of cute words, but some I am no longer allowed to say.  Once, when entering a friends' house I asked where her little dog was.  At least that's what I thought I was asking -- because I mispronounced "hondijke", pronounced "oh-nd-kee"  (meaning little dog), it sounded to everyone in the room like their word for a little penis ("winky").  Needless to say, the room was a little nervous, except for Lulu, who guffawed uncontrollably at my bumbling mistake.  

In isiZulu, "Unjani?" means "How are you?"  To greet a Zulu person here in their own language is honor to them...unless you mispronounce and then it is funny to them, sending even the most dignified man into giggles.  The first few months here were interesting.

Communicating in any language has its challenges... and in different languages we battle to connect, even though there is no other way except to practice and practice.  When we speak the same language, communication is hard...especially over distances.  Meanings are lost, or hearts are misunderstood.  One poor conversation with strong words can stress an otherwise strong relationship. 

So, while I delight in obscure words, my challenge is to master the ones I know in a way that will communicate to the ones I love (or the ones I will speak to overseas) my heart. 

Monday, August 9, 2010


Among the most unlikely heroes of mine is a man named Meriwether Lewis.  The leader of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Corps of Discovery, he was instrumental in providing the United States with the knowledge of the bulk of the Louisiana purchase.  An educated and well-positioned man, he was a lover of nature and intrigued by the neighboring tribe of Cherokee as he grew up in Virginia.  Because of this, his languages did not only include English, Greek and Latin, but Cherokee - an unusual skill for a man of wealth and culture.

It turned out that his boldness, education, curiosity and sense of adventure suited him perfectly for the US Army, where he met his best friend, William Clark (who he would later choose as his co-captain of the Corps of Discovery) and charged through  service with ambition meant for politics.

The combination of the ambition, adventurousness, knowledge, and fearless curiosity is what made his friend, Thomas Jefferson choose him to look at the largest land purchase anyone in the whole world had ever done.  Jefferson had a theory that there was a river route to the Pacific Ocean and that Lewis would be the one to navigate it.  He could also see who was there first- and how easy it would be to move through their land, or perhaps overtake it.  Jefferson assigned him another equally important task -- to be the equivalent of Google Earth -- making maps along the way.  He also knew that because of Lewis' curiosity he would also take samples of plant and animal life that would rival Linnaeus or Alexander Wilson.

Lewis knew that no matter who he chose as a team he would need a co-captain, and here chose Clark, the level-headed and self-controlled complement that he would need to complete the journey.  If he hadn't have chosen Clark, they most likely would have failed to reach their "Manifest Destiny" that would later become the USA.  Because of William Clark, the two formed a balanced marriage of leadership: fire and ice; introverted and extroverted; cultured and pragmatic; ideas and action.

The most important work over the time of the Voyage of Discovery (the journey from Independence, Missouri to the Pacific Ocean) is Lewis' journals.  Because the Journey was about three years long and not, in fact, navigable by rivers only, the daily record of the amazing move west is the only proof that it was done and who did it.

It also is written by Lewis, whose voice fluctuates between commanding and fearless leader to insecure man trying to figure out what he's doing in this world.  By the evening of August 18, 1805, Lewis had led the corps forward to the Pacific Ocean and was on his way back.  Along the journey they had encountered Native Tribes ready for war and made peace with most;  picked up a translator and his new bride, a young Shoshone girl named Sacagawea; gathered samples of indigenous species of plants; motivated the troops to celebrate or shoulder into hard work and cope during times of near starvation.  On this day, his 31st birthday, Lewis was introspective and wrote:
"This day I completed my thirty first year, and conceived that I had in all human probability now existed about half the period which I am to remain in this Sublunary world. I reflected that I had as yet done but little, very little indeed, to further the hapiness of the human race, or to advance the information of the succeeding generation. I viewed with regret the many hours I have spent in indolence, and now soarly feel the want of that information which those hours would have given me had they been judiciously expended.    but since they are past and cannot be recalled, I dash from me the gloomy thought and resolved in future, to redouble my exertions and at least indeavour to promote those two primary objects of human existence, by giving them the aid of that portion of talents which nature and fortune have bestoed on me; or in future, to live for mankind, as I have heretofore lived for myself.—"
Most people can't understand why the leader of the journey felt so insecure during the greatest time in his life. To see the pattern of Lewis' thinking, you must also see the absence of his entries.  While others journal regularly, Lewis' journals are filled with gaps, sometimes weeks-long.

In truth, Lewis probably had what we call now manic-depression (or bi-polar disorder); possibly clinical depression.  He was able to succeed, to lead and to persevere through what Jefferson called "fits of melancholy".  Even so, when returning to life in the States as a hero and given an appointment of Governor of the Louisiana Territory, Lewis struggled.  At the age of 35 he shot himself and died.

Regardless of his personal hardships and battles within, I love who he was. His personality is still three feet deep to me...and reading his journals I am enthralled how he makes such a journey sound like "just another day"...and it is remarkable, looking back, what needed to be done; and seeing that he and Clark did it.

Now and then I remember Lewis' journals... especially as I blog.  Especially as I have lapses in my blog, or my journal.  I can relate to Lewis, but I feel I have more hope.  Jesus is who defines me, and His name is a strong tower I run into and am saved.  I have greater forgiveness for myself and for others, I think.  I'm married to a man who gets me and supports me, but isn't afraid to correct me or keep me accountable.

Our human heroes are rarely perfect, but it is what they've done that we remember, not how they blew it, right?