"Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father." Matthew 5:16
The joy of the Lord (fueled by your prayers) was our strength in the wake of jet lag and new surroundings. This past August of 2015, sent by Redeemer church of New York City, we served with our brothers and sisters in Christ at Common Ground and Jubilee churches in Cape Town, South Africa.
Cape Town is home to Robben Island, the island prison on which Nelson Mandela was held captive in the years before the ending of apartheid. So it represents a unique city in a country straining to move forward in unity and the church has a unique opportunity to be a catalyst for unity. With the joy of the Lord. In fact, the Sunday our team was introduced in its worship service, Common Ground Church began a sermon series entitled “One Cape Town.”
As a short-term, spiritual expeditionary force from a country with its own internal strife, we are quite humble about our ability to make a visible impact on our own for the Kingdom. Which is one reason we partner with local churches, and take their direction as to how we can help (without hurting) their long-term ministry in Cape Town. Here’s a glimpse of how we served:
Zanokhanyo serves the unemployed with a faith-based life training, and works with two large retailers in Cape Town to provide service personnel. We facilitated two sessions with their training staff, demonstrating how Bible stories can be used to inform work-place scenarios like serving an unfair boss (David serving King Saul), dealing with racism (Queen Esther), finding identity and confidence in the Lord (Moses being used after fleeing the palace of Pharoah) or simply forgiveness (Joseph and his brothers in Egypt).
Khayelitsha is a township reported to have over a million residents and to be one of the poorest areas of Cape Town. We held an informal Vacation Bible School for smiling kids begging for some hugs. The hero of the afternoons was Moses: the baby thrown in the river Nile; the fugitive from Pharoah; the man God selected to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land through 40 years in the wilderness.
While we were making new friends in Cape Town, God brought along long-time friend, Ken Sande, who spoke at Jubilee Sunday evening on relationship wisdom. It’s been almost 30 years since Ken and Wally Sr. crossed paths through the Christian Legal Society board and Peacemaker Ministries.
In the heat of the 'Valley of the Sun’ afternoon, 8 wonderful volunteers from First Southern Baptist Church braved 110 to serve the families at the Salvation Army shelter in Phoenix. What a blessing for 18 children and 4 moms to listen and learn from the book of Daniel: Daniel refusing to eat the king’s food and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refusing to bow to the king’s idol while God protected them in the fiery furnace.
A unique treat emphasized the story as the children reenacted the story in costumes the volunteers provided as ‘active learning’ experience.
Crafts included string art at one table, chalkboard drawing, dragonfly clip and a ‘bug keeper’. Very popular the ‘bug keeper’!!
While the children glued, colored, manipulated clothespins for the various crafts, Margaret Warden hosted a ‘mom’ table with sharing God’s love and encouraging them in their relationship with their Savior. Each mom left with a silk rose with Isaiah 30:18 “the LORD longs to be gracious to you”.
Decorating cookies with yummy frosting topped off the afternoon as the kids walked out with smiles and frosting on their faces.
“…with God all things are possible…” was the theme for Joni and Friends Family Retreat this year. My family and I volunteered the first week of July with families who are affected by disabilities.
For these families, everyday brings challenges:
getting a full night’s sleep,
dressing a paralyzed adult,
feeding lips unable to move,
lifting in and out bed or wheelchair or car
listening to a voice garbled by throat restrictions
“with God all things are possible”
Being matched with my camper, Heather (my camper, not her real name) was enlightening. Heather is a 24 year old young woman in a wheel chair who has limited use of her hands. Being with her for the week at camp, I caught a glimpse of Heather’s life.
From 7:30am to 8:30pm over the span of the week, we experienced camp together. Eating meals together, I experienced the struggle to reach the cafeteria counters, the challenge of balancing the food tray, the frustration of not being able to take the stairs…and that was just breakfast.
Each day, we studied Bible lessons together, did crafts, sang praise songs and navigated her wheelchair over the grass for the outdoor chicken BBQ -- these normal camp activities took on whole new meaning when I experienced them with Heather.
Nothing deterred Heather…not the cafeteria counters, steep sloping driveways, grassy knolls around the BBQ, nor the room entrance steps. Nothing deterred her.
Her love of the outdoors and for wheeling around camp, demonstrated her desire to use her God-given abilities to their full potential. Committed to not allow her disability hold her back, during the year, she co-teaches a second grade class and started a candy business to local stores in her hometown.
“…with God all things are possible…”
The last night of camp, the campers participated in a talent show. Heather chose to sing the song “I am a promise, I am a possibility.” Seeing Heather sing this song from her wheelchair truly confirmed that “with God all things possible.”
That is a truth we can claim, knowing God has the victory over whatever disability or brokenness we are experiencing in our life.
“…with God all things are possible…”
Would you consider joining us in July 2016 to volunteer with Joni and Friends Family Retreat Camp? If you might be interested, pray about being part of what God's doing in the midst of the brokenness of the world, specifically by engaging with people with disabilities.
Are you willing to believe ‘with God all things are possible?”
Please consider believing ‘with God all things are possible’ and join us as we respond to His call to be willing to serve the families at Joni and Friends Family Retreat Camp 2016.
Esther Larson, 2015
“I must have flowers, always, and always.”
― Claude Monet
Peggy Klitzke, Master Gardner, presented a flower experience for the ladies at the Salvation Army recently. Prepared tables had mounds of potting soil, pebbles and sunny yellow and apple red flowers for planting. [Peggy emphasized importance pebbles for good drainage].
“Getting Dirty-Plant Something” was a fun time learning about flowers and planting while also hearing the name meaning of some flowers such as:
Aster-contentment: Philippians 4;11 “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content”,
Calla Lily-beauty, purity . “The lilies of the field, even Solomon in all his glory was not as beautiful as one of these.” Matthew 6:28,29
Gardenia-purity, sweetness [conveying joy] “whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.” Philippians 4:8
Christmas angels from North Phoenix Baptist Church
God’s magnificent and indescribable gift, Jesus, was visualized and demonstrated at Christmas through the lives of the women’s ministry team from North Phoenix Baptist Church.
Amidst hectic shopping, busy entertaining and family involvements, these ‘Christmas Angels’ hosted a precious afternoon of Christmas carols, Christmas cheer ‘sparkling cider’ ,delicious homemade sweet treats[calorie free?] and personal testimony of Jesus’ gift of identity.
The Salvation Army ladies were given the gifts of love and time
Join Charles Dickens: Honour Christmas in your heart, try to keep it all the year.”
So we’re at this camp. I’m wearing a t-shirt. I’m eating Gushers for lunch. In other words, I’ve found myself in a world apart from Manhattan. Where us greedy, selfish, ambitious able-bodied New Yorkers rarely think about people who can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t tweet, can’t swallow on their own.
Here in Pennsylvania I’ve received an education and a half about disabilities, about compassion, and about how much we’re given that we never even stop to think about.
“Just because I can’t speak doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to say” – Michael’s wearing that t-shirt here at Joni’s week-long summer camp for families with disabilities (He can’t say anything to me but Michael definitely has something to say.
What he has to say is what Lady Gaga sings, “God makes no mistakes.” Indeed, these children with cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, and traumatic brain injuries are not mistakes.
But it would be naive to think their lives don’t come with challenges. 80% of marriages end in divorce when a disabled child arrives. Siblings can quickly feel neglected when their disabled counterparts require so much time and attention. Parents grieve in knowing their child will never make it to high school, never make it down the aisle, never establish a Twitter account on which to mock the world.
Which is why we’re here this week. The volunteers here will give massages to the fathers, manicures to the mothers, lattes to the siblings, and outdoor activities (fishing, swimming) to our campers. We’re from all across the East coast – truck drivers, writers, lawyers, and Mennonites united in love for a community that’s often ignored and maligned.
Honestly, I’m scared to death.
Mostly because I’m surrounded by people who aren’t scared at all. Filled with inexplicable joy, these volunteers face what looks like an end and see instead a face. A personality. People who can’t speak but have plenty to say.
Before camp started, my mom & I drove to “Popcorn Buddha” for some snacks and got a lecture from some guy with a beard about how he makes “compassionate and contemplative popcorn.” Saving the world. One bag of white cheddar popcorn at a time: )
But his use of the term “compassion” got me thinking about the people here this week. Because there’s no performance review for compassion. No one gets a bonus for changing a disabled person’s diaper or engaging in a conversation with someone with Alzheimers.
But by being the literal hands & feet for the disabled this week I’m reminded that there is hope. A hope that remains the same whether we’re in a wheelchair, in the midst of struggle, or can’t speak.
Because we all have something to say and that something is this – God makes no mistakes. He’s created us in his image. And He loves us no matter how able bodied or disabled we may be.
Danielle taught me that.
It started with a 16 hour plane ride from JFK to Johannesburg and a braai (BBQ) with local church staff here at Common Ground church. It ends with a fuller grasp of the Gospel speaking into the racial brokenness & radical poverty in both our hometowns and with a plea for our God to accomplish what our arms are too short to do.
We live in a world that is looking out for #1. Looking to get what we “deserve.”
Looking out for #1 means we constantly need the world to tell us we’re the best, we’re the smartest, we’re okay. And to be okay, to hack it in this Darwinian environment, we deserve more money, a bigger house, more Twitter followers – to demonstrate we matter. To maintain our “position” in the world’s hierarchy.