The South Africa Essay: Part 1
Is it a mission trip or a missions trip? Regardless, it was a long day of travel. The plane from Atlanta to Johannesburg was crammed packed. All types of people going everywhere. I had these big ideas that I would read and write, but I may have written a paragraph and I read a page or two. I watched half of two movies and all of one, which was about a guy who got trapped while rock climbing and literally had to cut off his own arm to survive. It was amazing, but gruesome. The entire group is tired, but we are glad to be in Africa. From the plane, Africa looks brown. I slept a little, but not much. The Delta flight attendants said that the fifteen hours we were in the air is the longest direct Delta flight in the world. I feel like we are about the start a great adventure. I pray for a paradigm shift- like I am moving out of the dessert and into the second half. It feels good. This is probably the biggest adventure I have been on since I traveled Europe in law school.
The South African airplane is new. We are seated across the aisle from two nuns, which is always good. They almost look like twins. The African women on the plane are very pretty; they are thin and have great skin and symmetrical features. The coffee I had at the airport was incredible –double cappuccino with a sugar that was rough cut, but white. As a group we are still trying to feel each other out. I don’t know everyone’s name yet. My friend Don is leading the trip. He and I talked about having everyone share their story the first night. I will look forward to hearing why everyone decided to come on this particular mission trip –or is it missions?
I sat next to Angie on the short ride from Johannesburg to Durbin. She is one of our team members and lost her husband to a brain aneurism six years ago. Psalms 146 was laid on her heart then and in response she came to Africa. It reads like this:
Hallelujah! O my soul, praise God!
All my life long I'll praise God,
singing songs to my God as long as I live.
Don't put your life in the hands of experts
who know nothing of life, of salvation life.
Mere humans don't have what it takes;
when they die, their projects die with them.
Instead, get help from the God of Jacob,
put your hope in God and know real blessing!
God made sky and soil,
sea and all the fish in it.
He always does what he says—
he defends the wronged,
he feeds the hungry.
God frees prisoners—
he gives sight to the blind,
he lifts up the fallen.
God loves good people, protects strangers,
takes the side of orphans and widows,
but makes short work of the wicked.
God's in charge—always.
Zion's God is God for good!
I felt great when we woke up this morning. While everything was really quiet, it sounded like Africa. Not safari Africa but more like jungle Africa. This part of the city is very lush. We are in a compound of sorts that is about three or four acres I would guess. The bread and breakfast is on a hillside outside of town. A place called Hilton. When I saw that word in the address when I was completing my immigration card, I left it out because I thought we were just staying at the American hotel chain. It is not. It has a little bit of an English cottage feeling. There is no air conditioning, but today there is a breeze. It is cool in the shade. This morning we made instant coffee- actually used some Starbucks stuff my wife bought. It was not bad. Everything is subtlety different, but not so much so that the adjustment is difficult.
I am sitting under a Coca-Cola umbrella on a tile deck off the main house were we had breakfast. I can see the white buildings with green metal roofs in which we are staying. The rooms are small, but functional. They have two double beds and a smallish kitchen. The bathroom feels like it is more of a closet. The girls have nicer places.
The main house is white and has darkly stained windows and trim work with a red Spanish style roof. There is a small pool down a set of steps on the same level as the little cottages shared by the guys. The girls place in on the next lower terrace. There was a little white girl swimming naked. She may have been a little younger than my daughter, Emma, who just turned six. The other guests of the hotel were playing with a Rugby ball. Right now, cricket is on the TV behind me. I think I would be good at cricket. The grounds are well kept. There is an avocado tree –or avo as they call it here, behind the main house. Supposedly there are monkeys on the grounds, but I have not seen one, but I will be looking.
Our breakfast was cereal and breads with guava juice and some type of orange drink. There was also some deli meat. The juice was a little watered down and had an aspirin flavor to it. It was not good. In the city, everything is in bloom. There are a bunch of trees that look like live oaks that are dressed in purple. They are called a Jackaranda tree.
We are going around town in a small Mercedes. Apparently we got a free upgrade because the rental company was out of economy cars. They drive on the left side of the road in South Africa, just like in the United Kingdom. The city if very modern, but there are many people walking, and you go through pockets that look more like what you would expect Africa to be. You can tell this morning as we drove to church that many people were traveling on foot dressed in their Sunday best. Some were in high heels. Some of the African women were holding brightly colored umbrellas.
This morning we went to the NFC church- which is a multi-site church a bit on the charismatic side. The fellowship spilled out into a courtyard. People were drinking coffee and juice and eating cake. When you walked into the modernish building that looks like it used to be something else, there was a wall of mirrors and an array of hanging lights in various groupings. Everyone meandered in and out – a very festive, community atmosphere. A girl immediately noticed that I was new and struck up a conversation. She was very welcoming and called me out as an American straight away. It’s funny how people immediately notice that we are from somewhere else.
I knew every song that the worship team played. It could have been a service back home. There was a time when everyone prayed out loud for whatever it is that was on their heart. It created a buzz in the room that was not even slightly uncomfortable. I just listened. Our team had begun to drag a little due to the long travel before this point, but now there was a new found energy. The congregation was about half black and half white. There was an older lady that was twirling down front to the music with lyrics that talk about dancing before God.
The message was about our Creator wanting us to have a great name but being humble in our effort to achieve it. The pastor was a gifted teacher who poked fun at America more than once. They started the service with a conversation from a boy who was orphaned who walked to church three hours round trip. The boy, named Touch, talked about God striking down those who come against orphans. The pastor also mentioned Mother Teresa and how she achieved greatness by humbling herself. Jesus turned the path to greatness upside down.
The way up is down.
To receive is to give.
To live is to die.
To be righteous and Holy is to admit that you can’t be.
After church, we went to the mall to eat. It was like any other mall, except there was a real international flare to the patrons and there was added security in the parking lot. Every time we get in the car I feel like I am on a roller coaster- not because Pyron, our driver and my roommate, is necessarily a bad driver, but because I am in what we think of as the driver’s seat without a steering wheel. The roads are narrow and windy. Flowers are blooming on the hillsides. It honestly does not feel like Africa –maybe more like what you would expect of a large city in the islands or something. Maybe I just don’t know what Africa is –or maybe it’s just South Africa.
We went my Tabitha after lunch. This is one of the non-government organizations we will be working with this week. Tabitha does relief work and takes care of children in crisis. The kids and workers were napping. Tabitha is in a more industrial part of town that is run down compared to the rest. There is barbed wire lining the top of the fences. A green gate guards the entrance. There are greenhouses made of plastic in the parking lot and they are growing long leaf spinach in lots of pots. There were about five or six total. They are also growing various vegetables in a small patch of ground between the parking lot and the wall to the complex such as tomatoes, cabbages, potatoes, peppers and others that I could not readily identify. The plants looked healthy and the tilled earth was rich. A big roosters behind a fence guarded free range chickens. They were not exactly guarding the door, but they were definitely near it.
We did not stay long at Tabitha and headed back to our B&B. I am dragging some again, but the weather is so nice and the atmosphere is so festive that it is picking me up. Jet lag is a bitch. People are drinking beer and cokes in bottles. They are also taking shots. It’s only about 3:30 in the afternoon as I type. Everyone is super friendly. I would love a glass of African red wine. They have a huge collection. I decide it is a bad idea, even though South Africans do not consider having wine drinking.
After being tested by the devil in the dessert, Luke 4 describes Jesus’ first public act of ministry:
Jesus returned to Galilee powerful in the Spirit. News that he was back spread through the countryside. He taught in their meeting places to everyone's acclaim and pleasure.
He came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written…
The full passage from the Message of what Jesus read in Isaiah 61 is as follows:
The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me.
He sent me to preach good news to the poor,
heal the heartbroken,
Announce freedom to all captives,
pardon all prisoners.
God sent me to announce the year of his grace—
a celebration of God's destruction of our enemies—
and to comfort all who mourn,
To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion,
give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,
Messages of joy instead of news of doom,
a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.
Rename them "Oaks of Righteousness"
planted by God to display his glory.
They'll rebuild the old ruins,
raise a new city out of the wreckage.
They'll start over on the ruined cities,
take the rubble left behind and make it new.
You'll hire outsiders to herd your flocks
and foreigners to work your fields,
But you'll have the title "Priests of God,"
honored as ministers of our God.
You'll feast on the bounty of nations,
you'll bask in their glory.
Because you got a double dose of trouble
and more than your share of contempt,
Your inheritance in the land will be doubled
and your joy go on forever.
Because I, God, love fair dealing
and hate thievery and crime,
I'll pay your wages on time and in full,
and establish my eternal covenant with you.
Your descendants will become well-known all over.
Your children in foreign countries
Will be recognized at once
as the people I have blessed."
I will sing for joy in God,
explode in praise from deep in my soul!
He dressed me up in a suit of salvation,
he outfitted me in a robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom who puts on a tuxedo
and a bride a jeweled tiara.
For as the earth bursts with spring wildflowers,
and as a garden cascades with blossoms,
So the Master, God, brings righteousness into full bloom
and puts praise on display before the nations.
We are to preach the good news to the poor –he set the captives free, announcing the year of his grace. We are to celebrate God’s destruction of our enemies –comfort those who mourn and give them a bouquet of roses.
By: Craig Robertson