From England to the Western Cape (Part Two)

There are eleven official languages in South Africa. Our guide for the half-day township tour spoke Xhosa, and explained that Cape Town’s centre was designated for the whites. All other ethnicities (coloureds, blacks, Indians) were moved to separate areas around the city. There was a bench at the museum for ‘Europeans only’ and during apartheid, he said, Africans viewed white people as the boss of them. I tried to think whether I’d ever heard Nicky say my name, and suddenly it seemed vital. I didn’t consider myself anyone’s boss.

There are five black townships and seven coloured. Nicky lives in one of the coloured townships called Mitchells Plain, in an area known as the Cape Flats. We were shown around Langa, and the school was disappointing. We watched the children sing and dance, but soon afterwards, our guide was urging us to leave. He didn’t translate for us, and one child appeared resentful when someone took his picture. Any presents we brought had to be given to a teacher, which makes me question whether the children actually received them.

We were allowed to join in some African drumming, but the most interesting place was definitely the pub! The ladies would prepare the fire and the African beer (called Umqombothi) in its five-litre container. Only the men were allowed in to drink it. The same container would be passed around throughout the night, as each man blew the froth off and tasted the beer.

Our discussion moved on to husbands and wives. Our guide told us: “You can marry as many times as you want in South Africa. You pay for your wife, and if you can keep her, you can marry her.” He said a man’s family sent negotiators in to the woman’s family to agree the payment. This seemed so foreign to me that I asked Nicky about it when we met. She called it Labola and said it was mainly within the black cultures. After a lot of searching online, I came across this short programme about how it can involve paying up to six times a man’s monthly salary. Sadly, fifty-five per cent of South African divorces are caused by financial pressure.

Lastly, our guide took us to what he called a ‘Traditional doctor’ – a witchdoctor, in other words. I waited outside. I didn’t want to hear about his practices and Traveleyes were fine with that.

The following day, after we’d hugged and laughed and just enjoyed finally being in the same room, I asked Nicky about witchdoctors. Was that something her church prayed against? Having also heard about Labola, I wondered if her church would have vastly different prayer-needs to the ones we have here. I was surprised to hear their main concerns are unemployment and drugs.

On Sunday, I went to Nicky’s church and back to her house for lunch. Her mum told me that during apartheid, white people called the Africans Kaffir – an extremely insulting word meaning ‘No belief in God’. It was a real shock to her that in the UK, some people are proud to say they’re atheists.

Nicky has a little niece called Mackenzie, so I discovered “Baby Shark” (which had totally passed me by, but it’s popular worldwide). Nicky’s mum started to tell Mackenzie: “Sarah’s here today” when she changed it to: “Auntie Sarah’s here today.”

I came away feeling I had a family out there where I belonged, and wondering how I spent so long having known so little. You can’t truly appreciate a country until you’ve experienced it, and I hope to travel more in the future.

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From England to the Western Cape (Part One)

January was an exciting month for me. I was quite apprehensive to begin with. I hadn’t flown since pre-9/11 and all the extra security measures. Now here I was flying into Cape Town, mainly to meet a friend. When Compassion had a website for sponsors, I connected with Nicky. We both sponsored girls in the Philippines and started talking about them, but eventually exchanged Email addresses. After 10 years, we still hadn’t met face-to-face and it was time to change that.

I went with a company called Traveleyes. I’ve written about them here before, but for anyone who doesn’t know, they take blind people on holiday and those who can see get it cheaper because they’re the ones guiding us around. It’s a great idea, and well-organised enough to make it worth the money. I arrived at Heathrow by train and met with the rest of the group. I don’t know whether they had the same luxury in the gents’, but in the ladies’, we were treated to S Club 7’s song about reaching for the stars and dreams coming true. I did wonder about the way back, but the loos in Arrivals are music-free!

On our first full day in Cape Town, we ventured up Table Mountain. It’s sometimes closed due to weather-conditions, so our tour-guide was prepared to reschedule, but we got up there straightaway. It had been a dream for years and I had such a sense of excitement as the cable car jerked into action. Although we exceeded 3,000 feet, the air wasn’t noticeably thinner. The top of the mountain felt so flat, walking seemed easy compared with my local hills at home, but it wasn’t a let-down; far from it. As little furry rock hyraxes warmed themselves in the sun, we learnt there were more plant species on Table Mountain than in the entire UK.

There were other highlights too, like the last day when I stroked a cheetah. The Cheetah Outreach we went to protects them by having dogs guard their enclosure. The non-confrontational cheetahs won’t approach a dog, so it stops them going after farm animals, which means the farmers don’t shoot them. I’m not normally into animals, but a friend’s daughter loves cheetahs, so I forced myself to do the encounter and get a photo for her. I’m glad I did, because it wasn’t what I expected. The cheetah didn’t feel like a cat, but more like a horse’s mane would feel. I’ve been on horses before and I’m used to the feel of them, so I was actually quite comfortable! The cheetah was called Kibwe, meaning ‘Blessed’ in Swahili, and I do feel blessed to have stroked him. I’m only sorry we didn’t hear him purr.

Overall, my biggest surprise was the amount of new information I came back with. One day I paid extra to go on a tour of Langa (one of the black townships in the city), and that combined with our subsequent trip to Robben Island gave me a great introduction to black Africans and their culture. Too much to cram into one post, so stay tuned for Part Two.

Learning from Naomi

Naomi’s family lived in Moab for roughly a decade. During a famine, they left Israel in favour of a place where there was food. Her husband died, but she watched her sons settle down and marry. Then they also died, leaving Naomi with just her daughters-in-law.

When Naomi decided to return to Israel, she was distraught about her life-choices. First, her family had put filling their stomachs above living in the land God promised to them. Secondly, her sons had married women from Moab instead of Israelites, which was contrary to what God wanted (Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Naomi obviously felt guilty about this because she told her daughters-in-law: “My life is much too sad for you to share, because the LORD has been against me” (Ruth 1:13). Not only had she lost her family, she’d lost her security in God.

Do you want to know what impresses me about Naomi? You can read more at Worship Unlimited Ministries, home of the Worship Unlimited radio-show, and why not sign Alex’s guestbook while you’re there? I’m sure she’d be pleased to see you.

Good Reads in 2018

While we’re still in 2018, I thought I’d do a book-related post. I had to revise my challenge on Goodreads when I realised I wouldn’t achieve 30 books this year, but I did get to 26.

So, here are my top 5, in no particular order:

“The Girl’s Still Got It: Take a Walk with Ruth and the God who Rocked her World” by Liz Curtis Higgs. This woman’s like me; she really loves her Bible. You could tell she put her heart and soul into this; it’s so well-researched. I was surprised at the amount of material just on these 4 chapters in the Bible, and Liz brings it together for us in her unique style. If you enjoy this book, her Word by Word podcast is also worth a listen.

“Mark: The Gospel of Passion” by Michael Card. These books on the gospels are expensive at their normal price, but you can sometimes find them on offer. Chapters are broken down into sections of roughly 20 verses each. The Bible-verses are written out first (so you don’t need a Bible with you in order to read it), and each part is studied in-depth. Having previously read his book on Luke, I preferred this one, and it made me look forward to the others in the series.

“Madeleine: Our Daughter’s Disappearance and the Continuing Search for Her” by Kate McCann. I chose to read this because I remembered the case being on the news when Madeleine went missing. I think it’s stayed with me because I felt for her parents, and it’s a reminder to keep praying for them. Just this year, there was talk that Madeleine may still be alive. My only criticism of the book would be that perhaps it needed a better editor. When the author’s so emotionally involved, I imagine it’s easy to include a little too much detail.

“Dance, Stand, Run: The God-Inspired Moves of a Woman on Holy Ground” by Jess Connolly. I’ll never understand why these books have such long titles! “Dance, Stand, Run” would have been fine. It’s a book about knowing God is pleased with us, living for Him, and showing that life to the world around us. Chapter 4 was particularly good. As I said in my Goodreads review, I wish this book had been around when I was first figuring out what it meant to live for God.

“The Christmas Sisters” by Sarah Morgan. Only a matter of days since I read this, but I really enjoyed it. Firstly, my sister and I remind me very much of two of the characters – Hannah and Posy. It’s also a great story. Usually with these Christmas books or films, the ending’s no surprise, but I couldn’t have predicted one of the twists in this one.

Those are my top 5, but what about you? Have you read anything good this year?

The Engagement Ring

In a letter to the early church, Paul says God “set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:22). I loved hearing at church about the ancient Greek word for ‘Deposit’. Apparently it doesn’t mean anything in modern Greek, except they do have one word like it – their word for ‘Engagement ring’.

As I said in my previous post, betrothal (what we think of as engagement nowadays) was a binding agreement. It wasn’t like a couple hoping to get married one day, but more like two people who’d already committed themselves. In that context, can you think of the Holy Spirit as an engagement ring? Once we’re in that covenant/agreement with Jesus, we’re His bride. The engagement ring guarantees our place at the wedding banquet in heaven, where we’ll be to our Bridegroom “one bringing contentment” (Song of Solomon 8:10). What a great guarantee to have in our lives. Isn’t that something to thank God for?

Wake Up, Have Faith – The Story of Joseph

C. S. Lewis once said: “Is there any pleasure greater than a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?” I think Joseph would have been that sort of person – a wise counsellor you always wanted to be around, because he had such a heart for God.

When we meet him, he already has a faith that stands out. Having learnt that Mary (his betrothed) is pregnant, in his kindness, he doesn’t want her getting the punishment that fits the crime. A betrothal is a binding agreement; she’s virtually already his wife, and the Law says adulterers should be stoned to death. Since Joseph doesn’t want her publicly disgraced, he wonders about divorcing her instead.

It’s when he’s considering this possibility that God’s angel meets him in a dream and he learns how Jesus was conceived – by the Holy Spirit. There was no other man in the equation after all, and Joseph’s told not to be afraid to take Mary home as his wife.

When he wakes up, he has some decisions to make.

Read the rest at my friend’s new website, Worship Unlimited Ministries, home of the Worship Unlimited radio-show. Lots of good stuff there, and your song or prayer-requests are always welcome.

Still Single at 38: Thoughts on Faith and Singleness

In church this morning, the preacher talked about loving the past, but loving the future more. This wasn’t the main point of his talk; just an aside really, but he said: “I want to see my daughters married – soon. I want to see grandchildren – not that soon, but I do want it to come.” For a single person, this could bring up a whole range of emotions.

I’ll be 38 this week, and I’m not (and never have been) married, so there is some sadness. Sometimes things are out of your control, particularly when other people are involved, but Isaiah 41:9 gives me great comfort. “I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are My servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.” I’m still single; it doesn’t change that, but it does tell me I’m good enough for God.

I read a book once, “God is a Matchmaker” (written by a Godly man called Derek Prince). It gave some very good advice, E.G. to look at whether your prospective spouse relates Biblically to their parents and others, but the author also said this. “In the area of psychological problems, there are those who are mentally challenged or mentally handicapped. … There are also those who would be categorized medically as schizophrenic or even psychotic. Out of the depths of their struggles, they manifest insight and devotion at times that are worthy of saints. Yet for these and others like them, celebacy often seems to be the Lord’s plan.” This part has stuck in my memory because as a single person, I can sometimes think that of myself – that maybe there’s something wrong with me; that although God welcomes me as a Christian, maybe I’m not quite worthy to be married, but the Bible doesn’t say that. In fact, it calls both marriage and singleness gifts from God. Paul (one of my favourite Bible-characters) was single, and he wrote: “I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:7-9). Singleness is good. You can have a purposeful life as a single person, just as you can as a married person.

In another book I’ve read, “The Chase” (an autobiographical account of two newlyweds), it mentions the bride’s parents – how they prayed for their children and future spouses before the children were even born, which might sound admirable, but I’m really glad my parents didn’t do this. They’ve never put me under huge pressure, or had any expectations for my life that I know of. Maybe I would have achieved more if they had, or maybe I wouldn’t, and always would have felt like I didn’t measure up. Honestly, this morning has made me want to come home and just thank them for loving me as I am.

I know this has been a personal blog, but perhaps someone else in my situation might be helped by something I’ve said.

Your Faith, Your Voice: Thoughts on “A Star is Born”

Have you heard about the film “A Star is Born”? It’s getting good reviews and I saw it at the cinema this week. I really got into the story and its main characters: A famous country artist goes into a bar to find this unheard-of singer performing a song. He hears the voice and sees her potential, but while he’s trying to draw her out of her insecurities, he has his own issues to deal with. It’s about the music industry; addiction; mental health … and it just highlighted a couple of things for me.

He sang a very melancholy song: ‘No one knows what awaits for the dead’. If you don’t believe in eternity – some rising to everlasting life and others to eternal condemnation (John 5:28-29), then not only do you not have an ultimate end to work towards (Philippians 3:10-14), you also don’t have God to help you navigate this earthly life. No wonder it’s a struggle.

My favourite moment of the film was a song one of them had written. “In all the good times I find myself longing for change, and in the bad times I fear myself.” If ever there was a line in a song that really went with a film, it would be that one. But if we believe in Jesus and are following Him, we don’t have to fear ourselves. We’re assured that our eternity with Him is secure. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28).

One last point (and I hope I don’t give too much away here): There were several voices speaking into Jack’s life – words of hope, and words of derision. It’s the same for us, and I know when I’m vulnerable and low in confidence, derisive voices shout the loudest. How can we use our voice to make others’ lives better? Would you like your negative words to be the last ones somebody hears?

On Galatians and Joy

I’m currently reading a book about Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. It explains how the Galatians were being tricked. False teachers wanted them to adopt Jewish customs and find security in their own efforts, rather than enjoying the freedom they had when they first put their faith in Jesus.

To the author, that’s real joy. He says: “I don’t mean being happy all the time – sometimes life is painful. But even in those moments we will find comfort in God.”

That quote was such a help to me. I think Peter pre-empted it when he said: “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Believing in Jesus (whom I can’t physically see) gives me a deep-down assurance that all will end well. It doesn’t lessen life’s challenges or the grief that accompanies them, but Jesus is God-with-us and now that He’s in heaven, His Spirit comes alongside Christians to comfort us in those difficulties. That kind of joy is far better to me than being happy all the time.

For anyone interested, the book I quoted from is Tim Chester’s “Rediscovering Joy: The Dynamic Power of the Reformation in Galatians”.

Lavished

I’m not long back from a week away with the lovely Marilyn Baker and Tracy Williamson. Tracy’s deaf and partially-sighted, and because I’m blind and have recently been fitted with hearing-aids, it’s as if she’s the same as me, but the other way round. More than that, she makes me feel encouraged and I really like being around her. She’s just written a new book, “The Father’s Kiss”, which I’m reading at the moment. In the book, we’re asked to think about the word ‘Lavished’.

In my previous post, I talked about my friends’ daughter. I wrote a song when she was born about God’s great love that kept her safe and brought her into the world. The verse that inspired it (1 John 3:1) says: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God”, so ‘Lavished’ always reminds me of her as a new-born, and the love she was surrounded with. I remember her dad saying: “I keep thinking I’ll go home from work, and she’s gonna be there.” I can also remember how she made me feel. If I was despondent, and my friend came to sit next to me with this baby girl on her lap, just hearing her breathe would make me smile and think how God had blessed me.

If only we, myself included, would live our lives with that same passion. “I’ll go and do this today, and God’s gonna be there!” One interaction with our Lord – all it takes to make us smile.

God’s lavished love on us. Isn’t it good for us to lavish love on Him?