July 9, 2008

Week 3 with team

In our sermon at church this Sunday we were asked a question. “Are you a human BEING or a human DOING?” The preacher went on to say, “The everyday love you show to people is what truly matters. This is the heart of Christ. The love of Christ you have received isn’t just for you, it is meant for you to give it away to others.” This summarizes perfectly what I have seen in the lives of Kristen and Ruth in the last three weeks.

Yesterday we took them to the airport to return home. We have really enjoyed our ministry with them and feel that together we were able to contribute to existing outreaches and to come alongside community leaders and pastors to help them have a deeper impact for Christ. Praise God!

Our Vaalwater ministry this last week was shorter and a little different than we had originally dreamed about doing, but God was definitely in it. We worked with the Africa Community Outreach ministry of Hamish and Terri Rodgers last Monday – Wednesday in a rural area that the locals call “the bush”.

In urban ministry, we have seen a lot of heartbreaking situations and have cried with many people here as they have shared their life stories with us. However, as we were working with the Rodgers in the bush, I found my heart breaking when I heard the stories of almost everyone that they introduced us to. Their ministry is an emergency response to the need they see all around them. They give out food parcels, they build homes for people, they give out baby formula, they purchase school uniforms so children can get an education, they do a feeding ministry which on an average week gives out 1200 meals, and they also work with farm schools to distribute food and supplies to the children.

The biggest need in this community is WATER. One reservoir is cracked and doesn’t hold any water, the other one has an open top to catch rain water which works, but it also catches rats and makes the water filled with disease from the decomposing critters. They have running water in some of the homes for one hour every second day. For the homes without running water, they share the 3 community taps with the other 10,000 people in their area. Can you imagine how much different your life would be without accessible water? No gardens for food, bathing is a luxury, everything is unsanitary since you don’t always have water to wash dishes or clothes, and you have to cook for several days on the days you do have water. While staying in their community, I thanked God every time I had running water.

I’ll share just one story with you: The patriarch of this family I met doesn’t have any legs and is in a wheelchair. Obviously it is impossible for him to find work. His 2 daughters 12 grandchildren live with him in a two room house pictured here (that Hamish and Terri built for them) and have one single bed – most sleep on the dirt floor. Terri told me that when she first met this family, the two smallest children were literally starving to death since they didn’t have any money for food. She pulled the little guys into her arms and said “these two are alive because of me.”

On Monday Dan and Ruth taught a first aid class to a group of 15 people. Most are either community leaders or are in ministry. They were so thankful for the training and said they learned a lot! You can see the first aid kits that were given to them in the picture.

On Tuesday we did a presentation at a farm school. Farm schools are a lot like what you would picture in America 100 years ago. It is a small one or two room building where grades 0-6 are taught at once by one teacher and grades 7-12 are all taught together in the other room. These classrooms are built on the farm property to educate the children of the workers.

Kristen shared her testimony and Ruth did a short hygiene presentation which brought tons of giggles as she used red paint to demonstrate how germs are spread. J We handed out sandwiches and boiled eggs and juice and then gave each of the kids a small toy. Since the children were on school break, they are not likely to get enough food at home so the sandwiches were a welcomed gift. (Kristen with some of the girls from the school)

Wednesday was “soup kitchen” day. We made hundreds of sandwiches to give away at 3 different locations throughout the day. The first one had around 200 kids, the second around 100, the 3rd around 300-400. There was a short gospel message, lots of singing and then food distribution time. I can’t tell you how much joy it gave us to know that at least the kids will go to bed with a satisfied belly that night. (Ruth is handing out milk)

Terri’s mother experienced a decline in her health while we were staying with them so they returned to Johannesburg to be with her and our ministry days with them were cut a little short. However, as several of us were recovering from flu bugs, a few more days of rest were just what we needed. Please continue to pray for “Mum” that she will experience God’s peace and that they will be able to meet her health needs in the coming days.

We have a few days to catch up on sleep and finalize some planning before our next team arrives on the 19th of July. Two guys are coming from North America to join a group of seven South Africans to do a work project in Swaziland. We are excited to be 1/3 of the way through our short term teams!
Miesha is a good little traveler and had a fan club everywhere we took her.

(pics coming soon!)

Week 2 with team

Hello Everyone,
We have had a really great week! Thank you for praying for us.

Early this week Monday through Wednesday we were in a township called Finetown working at a preschool. Finetown is not a very “fine town”. It is full of shacks and run down residences. People there are struggling to find employment and sustainable incomes to support their families. When we asked Pastor Wessie what we could do to help that would last after we leave the community – he said the teachers at this local crèche (preschool) could really use some training. I recruited our teammates Heather Witherow who was a teacher in the states for 20 years and Jenny Teichert who has taught Sunday School for 10 years. The two of them did a fabulous job and in usual African style, things were a little different than what we expected.

Heather wrote a wonderful summary so I’ll include it here for you to read:

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” Philippians 4:13

Janell sent me a sms right before our time at Zenzele Daycare/Preschool in Finetown was to start saying, “Just a head’s up. Wessie has invited more teachers to the training next week.”

Have you ever been “all ready to go” with something, and then come to find out that you have more work to do at the last minute? That note caused me to fly into high gear and get more teacher packets and materials put together by Monday.

It was worth it.

Last month, Janell and Dan asked Jenny and me if we would be willing to help with their short-term team the last week of June. They only had two STEP people (short-term mission of two weeks) coming this year and needed us to help put together a hands-on workshop on how to teach, structure a preschool day, and provide materials. Their STEP people weren’t teachers, but would help us in any way we needed.

So, on Monday we set out for Finetown not knowing exactly what to expect. We put together a theme of “God Made Me” and modeled how to teach it to all the teachers with the children from Zenzele Preschool/Daycare/HIV/AIDS outreach. We were told to expect 120 children (ages 2-6). However, because the school holidays began this week, we had 40-50 children each day. In addition to them, at 1 pm or so, older children from the community come to the Zenzele facility to get a meal. Once there, they hang out. Throughout the course of the time there, we not only had preschoolers to manage, but the older kids too.

With the help of the other teachers who came to observe and learn, we had more hands to assist us and native Sotho speakers to help when we needed translation.

The little children had never done the things we presented. Playing with play dough, finger painting, coloring with a crayon, making a mask from a paper plate were all new experiences. So, we had to help them by hand in nearly every case. To say we were busy, is an understatement.

The teachers were so thankful to receive the packets and materials we put together for them. Gratitude radiated from them. But also need.

When Jenny asked them what their biggest need was, they all said, “food” in unison. Imagine that. Food is their greatest school supply need as a teacher. They feed their students two meals a day. Not only to teaching, the majority of the teachers prepare food for their children every day.

I put together a questionnaire for the teachers at the end of our time asking how they would like us to follow-up with them. Every teacher had a list, with food at the top of the list. Next were tables, chairs, carpets, toys, school supplies, and teaching materials. All of them asked for teaching on child development and more ideas on how to teach concepts and develop themes. Most of the teachers have never been trained in any way. Running a preschool/crèche provides income for their family.

We had twelve+ teachers participate in our training who represented nine different preschools/crèches in the Finetown Community. Each preschool/crèche has between 40-120 children in attendance.

It was a great week. If you would like to see more pictures and a little 10 second video of our time in Finetown, then please check out my blog…


Thank you for your prayers for me this week and in the future as we contemplate how to follow-up in Finetown.

Thank you for your continued prayers for Zimbabwe too.

With love,

We loved our 3 days working with the children and pray that the investment we made there will last far into the future. One quick thing to add – while Heather was teaching indoors, Dan was outside working on the play equipment. He quickly became everyone’s favorite because he fixed all the swing sets, slides, and jungle gyms. There was a lot more laughter on the playground once Dan finished welding! J

Wednesday night we left Johannesburg to go up to Kruger National Park and while we were driving I got a phone call that left a huge knot in my stomach. It was from Hamish Rogers, our ministry partner for the second half of this trip. He said that his mother in law had a massive stroke. They did surgery to remove an abscess on her brain and she lapsed into a coma like state for 2 days. They weren’t sure if “Mum” would last the weekend. They weren’t sure they would be able to be a part of the ministry plan we had put into place for next week. Wow. Talk about a change of plans. We weren’t sure what we were going to do. These ministry weeks take quite a bit of planning and I wasn’t sure we could come up with a comparable plan B in time. We did a lot of praying and asking the Lord for wisdom!

Praise God, we heard from Hamish on Saturday night that Mum was awake and sitting up and responding to people around her. This is a huge answer to prayer. We are also thankful to God that Hamish and Terri are still able to do ministry with us Monday – Wednesday this week. We will be working in an impoverished community called Leseding to provide some first aid and sanitation training as well as some youth programs and a feeding program. We hope to contribute towards and further the work they are already doing in their community.

We had a wonderful 2 days in Kruger Park and saw tons of beautiful wild animals in creation. It is always a fantastic experience!!

For this coming week – please pray for:
- our health! Dan, Janell and Kristen are sick with head colds. Please pray that Miesha and Ruth won’t catch it and that we will recover quickly!
- For continued healing for Terri’s mother
- For open doors as we minister in the community of Leseding.
- For Ruth and Kristen to experience all God wants for them here in Africa
- Safety as we travel
- FOR ZIMBABWE. Our brothers and sisters up there are really struggling as this was the week of the run-off elections. Please pray for God’s protection and provision. I am forwarding another email to you with Zim details for prayer.

We are so grateful for your partnership!

Dan, Janell, Miesha (and Ruth Richardson and Kristen Lakjer this month!)

Week 1 of ministry with team (June 16-22)

You are so important to what we are doing here!

Let me start by apologizing for not getting a letter out last weekend. It has been SO busy and each night sleep ended up taking priority. As we look back the past two weeks and at what is ahead in the next 14 days, we are thrilled at what we see God doing and are excited about what is ahead!

First off, last week Monday through Friday Dan worked long hours each day to frame in a building for a project called the Themba (hope) Orphan Homes. There are two buildings for orphan homes and another building for kitchen, living room, and offices. Dan framed in the kitchen/office and it was approximately 25ft by 50ft. He was recruited about a month ago to be the lead framer because most structures in this area are made out of bricks and they needed someone with expertise in wood framing to help. It was a delight for him to serve them in this way. In usual Dan style, he grabbed his tools and worked hard until his part was finished. He has no idea how many children will be living there or what the mission statement is for the ministry…he was just happy to help! J

Some other big news, Miesha has a new cousin! Dan’s older brother Jon and his wife Elena welcomed Natasha Gabriella Hartley into their family on June 9th. Congratulations Jon and Elena!

Our first ministry “team” consisting of two ladies from North America arrived on my birthday this last Monday. We have had an amazing 5 days with Ruth and Kristen. They rested and had birthday cake with me on Monday, we visited the Lion Park and had orientation with them on Tuesday, they did ministry preparation with us and met our Life Group Wednesday, on Thursday Ruth and Dan taught a first aid class for 40 home based care givers who call themselves the Angels of Africa. On Friday Ruth taught a class on processing grief to 9 lead caregivers from some local hospice centers. It was beautiful to hear them cry and open up and begin to process some of the loss they have experienced in their lives and to teach them how to help others process also.

We also got to deliver some baby clothes to a lady named Bebe who was going to abort her baby, but was convinced by a Christian lady named Linda to let the baby live. She told Linda that once she had the baby she was going to give it to her. Baby boy Ciyabonga (meaning “we thank you”) was born a week ago. Bebe agreed to nurse him for two weeks before giving him to Linda. Being a new mom myself I couldn’t imagine giving my baby away, but after meeting Bebe I have more compassion for her choice. She is a desperate lady. Her boyfriend is in jail, she has no way of making money and she is currently living in her sister’s two room shack made out of corrugated metal. She has two other children already and no way of providing for them. Although Linda already cares for 28 other orphan children in a house on the property where we have been ministering, she is happy to take in baby Ciyabonga as #29 and to deal with the interrupted sleep and weariness that comes with caring for an infant. Linda is my new hero.

Today (Saturday) we went to visit some patients at the Village of Hope - an AIDS hospice center. We decided that rather than going to sing and preach to them (since they get that quite a bit already), we would go in to pamper them and give them a special party. Approximately 15 ladies from the local church we are partnering with also joined us and we had a wonderful time being the hands of Jesus to love these people who are dying. We soaked their feet and rubbed wonderful smelling lotions over their frail legs. We cut their toe nails and painted the ladies’ finger nails. We did makeovers, we gave them chocolates and coke and brightened up their living room with lots of balloons. Some guys from the worship team went room to room singing worship songs to them. We took their pictures, then printed them and gave them back to them to keep or to give to their families.

God opened up opportunities for us to talk to some of these people and to say “Jesus loves you” in a way that could be received. One lady named Jostina told me that she was angry with God about being sick and lonely and I was able to tell her that this party today and the gift of being loved and cared for by us was evidence that God sees her and still loves her. She cried and gave me a hug. It was an amazing day! The ladies from the church were so excited about how well the party went and committed to return every two months to do special days like this.

Since I know many of you are curious, Miesha does accompany us while we are doing ministry. However, in cases like this where she would be exposed to sick people, she stays in the car and Dan and I take turns staying with her.

Thank you for your prayers for us. They really do make a difference!!

In the coming week on Monday-Wednesday we will be working in a local crèche (pre-school) and our missionary teammate Heather Witherow will be teaching 10 local crèche teachers some techniques for stimulating learning for these kids. The teachers haven’t had any formal training to be a teacher and a few haven’t even graduated from high school. When we asked what we could do to help that would last after we leave, they requested some teacher training…so that is what we are doing! There are 50 kids per teacher and they squeeze into their classroom which is a converted 40ft container! Currently they just sit and sing all day, so hopefully we can give them some tools to make it more fun.

On Thursday through Saturday we will be in Kruger Park doing some game viewing, then transitioning to a new town for ministry next Sunday.

Please pray that we will continue to have rest, good health, that Miesha will continue to be flexible and a good little traveler, and that the Lord will continue to use us to bring hope, joy, and compassion to those we meet. Thank you for being on this journey with us. We couldn’t do it without you!

(I'll insert pics soon!)