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.

The Wayward Son

This is such a famous chapter in the Bible. The first two stories deal with an animal and an object, whereas the last one focuses on the loss of a person.

Jesus talks about great rejoicing when the sheep and coin are located. It reminds me of a book I’ve just started reading about the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, and her parents’ absolute determination to get to the bottom of what happened to her. You see a parent’s love and you think how they would rejoice the day their daughter was found. Although it’s eleven years on now, we can still pray for that outcome.

The story of the lost (or prodigal) son is rather different. He hasn’t disappeared; he’s left of his own volition, but he’s still lost to the father and to the family. We’re not told how long the son was away; only that he wasted all his money in wild living (Luke 15:13). Later when he returns, the older son tells the father: “All these years I’ve slaved for you”, which might give us a clue. The older son would have received a double portion of the inheritance on his father’s death, so the younger would have owned one-third of the estate, which could have taken several years to spend.

At around the time his money runs out, there’s a famine and the starving son is hired by a local farmer, but no one gives him anything to eat. He thinks of the hired servants at home with enough food and some to spare, so he makes his way back. He’s forfeited his rights as a son, but maybe his father will take him on as a servant.

The father clearly hadn’t lost hope, if he saw him coming from a long way off. Perhaps he was out looking for him. Perhaps he’d been scouring the neighbourhood weekly or daily since his son left, and now here he is. The father runs to meet him and organises a lavish celebration, but this son isn’t an only child; his brother’s involved too.

I must admit I do sympathise with the older son in the story. His brother’s wilfully taken their father’s money, which in that culture would have been akin to wishing him dead. He’s made no effort to contact them until the money’s all gone … Now suddenly he’s back in the fold and their father’s beside himself with joy! It doesn’t seem right, but the heart of the older son can be seen in that phrase I quoted earlier: “All these years I’ve slaved for you” (Luke 15:29). He’s slaved. He’s served resentfully, not with joy. In a sense, perhaps he’s been as wayward as his brother, inwardly if not on the outside. The father wants both sons restored to him.

In so many sermons, we’re told the older son represents the religious leaders, while the younger represents the sinner who’s dependent on God’s mercy, but I think the older son could be me sometimes. I love the thought of people coming to God and living their lives for Him, but people who call themselves Christians and wilfully go against Him? I really struggle with that. I’d like to think when someone turned and came back to God, my response would be one of happiness and joy, but what about when their past mistakes have caused hurt and mistrust? Can I risk trusting them again? Can I believe they’re genuine?

What God ultimately wants is the same as the father in that story – for everyone to be restored into relationship with Him, so I need to look at my attitude as well. I know there are times I’ve resented God for things He hasn’t done, and I’ve felt more like a slave than the daughter of a King. Perhaps it’s time to admit we’ve all been wayward in our own ways, and we’re all dependent on the mercy of God. Because of His love for us, that mercy is ours for the taking.

November News

I like Emily Freeman’s idea of highlighting things we’ve discovered during the month, so these are some of mine for November.

Song: I’ve always loved “Joseph’s Song” by Michael Card, but haven’t found a similar one from Mary’s point-of-view that grabbed me emotionally … until this year. On a Christmas radio-station, I heard Francesca Battistelli’s “You’re Here”, and the words are lovely. If I took part in a musical nativity, I’d love to sing that.

Books: I’ve been getting into Song of Solomon lately – a book in the Bible about King Solomon’s marriage to a peasant woman, which makes me think of the church – the bride of King Jesus. Two books about the song have really helped my understanding of it. I heard about Dee Brestin’s “He Calls you Beautiful” in a Bible Gateway Email and knew straightaway I wanted to read it. It looks at the bride and takes her love in stages: The euphoric first-love; the wedding; the honeymoon … It’s excellent and well worth the money. In the book, Dee talks about James Hudson-Taylor – a man I had heard of at church, who founded a missionary organisation in China in the 1800s. She said Hudson-Taylor had only written one book – and yes, it’s a book on the Song of Solomon. “Intimacy with Jesus” is only short, with six sections and a study guide at the back, but it’s very good. I’ve read a section per day.

Podcast: This month one of my favourite authors, Annie Downs, interviewed Mark Lee – the guitarist from Third Day. You might remember I reviewed his book here awhile back. From reading the book I was impressed with his personality, and he came across just as well talking to Annie. This could also come under ‘Books’ because they discussed several. I’ve never read anything by Madeleine L’Engle, but their conversation made me want to read some of her memoirs, particularly the Genesis Trilogy, where she intersperses her own life-experiences with stories from the book of Genesis.

Films: You get Internet radio-stations now that play Christmas music all year round. I wish there was a TV-channel that did the same with Christmas movies, because I love them. I know; they’re very predictable. As someone said on Facebook, you get a love twist, some sort of misunderstanding and a happy ending, but they make me smile. My favourite of the modern films is still “The Twelve Trees of Christmas”, which from the title doesn’t sound at all like the kind of film I would enjoy, but it’s amazing. “Christmas in the City” is another sweet one I like to watch.

Quote: In my previous post, I mentioned a friend’s dad. Sadly, he had another setback with his health and is no longer on this earth. Jeff’s special and will be very much-missed. I’m glad for him that he’s with Jesus. I don’t understand why he had to go so soon, but a tweet from Lysa TerKeurst this last week has stuck with me. It said this: “We don’t have to have all the answers; we just have to stay connected to the One who does.”

As Advent and Christmas approach, let’s keep making that connection with Jesus, whose birth we’re remembering; who came into the world to show us what love looked like, and to give us hope of a future with Him.

“Bible Trivia, Jokes, and Fun Facts for Kids” Book-Review

I might have called this “The Bible Joke and Quiz Book”. In places it’s not clear whether the author’s in joke or fact mode, and I’m not sure what age-group it’s aimed at. For instance, the most memorable joke – Why did Moses have a hard time as a baby? He was in de-nial – wouldn’t be easily understood by a 5-year-old. There are certain words the author explains, such as ‘Lame’, but then he’ll use ‘Prophet’ or ‘Apostle’ with no explanation. The reference to NFL teams is also a mystery to anyone living outside of the US.

On the positive side, it’s a very good concept to have questions parents can ask their children. I’m reviewing the eBook, and I don’t think it works in this format. It would work well as a hard copy so that someone could cover up the answers.

Considering the book as a whole, there were parts I liked, particularly the section on Jesus’ disciples, but there were also some discrepancies, E.G. Troy Schmidt says King Nebuchadnezzar saw an angel in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; however, many Christians believe this 4th figure was not an angel, but Jesus. Schmidt also claims Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm in the Bible with 150 verses; it actually has 176.

Bethany House were kind enough to give me a complementary copy in exchange for my honest review. While I wouldn’t recommend this book in its entirety, it may hold some useful ideas for parents; they might just want to have a Bible handy to check the facts.

Everlasting Father

My dad’s a Scrabble champion. He makes the best apple crumble in the world. He talks to me and takes an interest in my life; I hope I do the same to him. I’m very grateful to still have him around, but I realise some children don’t have a close relationship with their fathers. Sometimes I don’t know what to pray for people who’ve lost their dads, except I know from the Bible that God is a Father to the fatherless, so I ask Him to be a Father to them – to somehow make up for all they’re missing out on. A friend once told me about a woman whose husband died, and in all the practical ways her husband would have provided for her, God met her needs. He’s a good Husband and Father.

If you’re a Christian and a parent, you can model God’s character to your children by loving them; by being there for them when they’re in a mess; by being generous with your time and resources; by being people of integrity.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

A Time of Remembering

This weekend is special to me. I can stand with other Christians as the Bible is read in the open-air, as we remember Jesus and His journey to the cross, but even more important, I can remember that I’m His. It’s personal. When Jesus asks us to be ‘In remembrance of Him’, I believe He would want our hearts to dwell on His presence – the tremendous privilege of being able to spend time with Him.

Isn’t that why He did it? So that impure, unclean people like me, so unworthy and unfit to be seen by a pure and holy God, could come to Him and find our rest? Come to Him as we are and breathe a sigh of relief, knowing He took the punishment for our unloveliness so we wouldn’t have to?

Because Jesus took that punishment, God can look at us. We don’t have to cower away, but can linger in the presence of the heavenly King – our Father the King! Once, Jesus couldn’t rely on His friends to stay with Him for even one hour; now His true worshippers can sing about resting in His presence, not rushing away.

Jesus went to the cross despite Peter, James and John failing to stay with Him. He didn’t need heavy-eyed humans in order to do God’s will, but we need Him – always, and His work on the cross has made a way, the only way, for us to get to know God. We could resist; sadly many do, or we could lean in to what He has for us. Saying yes to Jesus, trusting Him fully with our lives – it takes a simple, childlike faith to do that.

And when we have the faith to say yes, Lord, You died on my behalf, then we have something to look forward to! Like the child of a millionaire, you or I become an heir: An inheritor of God’s promises and a co-heir with Jesus, who’s unashamedly our Brother. We belong! We have a place in God’s family, but that’s not the end; not the happy ever-after. Instead, it’s a new beginning! It’s not just a metaphor when Christians talk about being baptised into Christ’s death, and being buried with Him when we go underwater. Asking God’s forgiveness and undergoing baptism is a burial of the old self, and the start of life as a new creation. Now every day, we can count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God.

I heard a story of when King George was still on the throne. Some children stood expectantly with a man and his dog. The man barked a command; it was always the same. “Rex? Die for the king!” The dog threw himself to the ground. However much the children poked and prodded, there was no sign of life. But as soon as the owner clicked his fingers, Rex sprang to his feet! We can count ourselves dead to sin. We can die for our King! And when He snaps His fingers, when He calls on us, we can be ready for complete obedience.

Obeying God wouldn’t be possible without getting to know Him, and the way to get to know Him was opened for us that dark day when Jesus laid down His life on a cross.

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Thanks to Bonnie Gray, whose 7 OneWordLent prompts inspired this post, and to Rex the dog of course.

Joy in the Midst

Today is December 17th. 10 years ago, my church-family had just eaten a Christmas dinner. I came back home, but that light-and-fluffy Christmas feeling was the last thing on my mind. I was thinking about Christmas 2004 – a special one because my uncle and his family came for lunch. 6 months later, after a battle with cancer, my uncle was gone. 17 December was exactly 6 months after he died, and I sat there wondering what comfort I could offer his family. That was the day I wrote this song:
Last thing at night, Christmas Eve;
Excited children unable to sleep,
But she is rememb’ring Christmas last year,
Spent with an uncle no longer here:
She’s filled with love and compassion,
As she thinks of a card with a missing name –
A boy fatherless, a new widow,
And what can she find to give them?
The words of her pastor ring in her ears, spoken in these last weeks,
About joy in the midst of unhappiness; that’s what she wants them to know:
A joy that comes from peace with God, and peace with God only because
In the small town of Bethlehem, a Saviour was born to us.

Peace on earth, peace on earth!
Goodwill to men, on whom His favour rests:
Peace on earth, peace on earth!
Hope to the weary, bereaved, and distressed

You may be sat, listening,
Wond’ring why someone would write such a song,
But someday you may be in the same place,
Pond’ring a loved one you cannot embrace:
I hope – with love and compassion –
That even though things can’t be the same,
The truth of Christmas – the baby in the manger –
Will take on a sweeter meaning:
The words of the Bible will ring in your ears; tell you afresh of God’s love,
Healer of hearts and the Bread of Life; that’s who I want you to know:
The One who brings us peace with God, and peace with God only because
In the small town of Bethlehem, a Saviour was born to us.

Peace on earth, peace on earth!
Goodwill to men, on whom His favour rests:
Peace on earth, peace on earth!
Hope to the weary, bereaved, and distressed

Jesus is the Saviour,
And I would encourage you – while you have time –
To meet Him, love Him, cling to Him;
Don’t be robbed of your joy.

* * *

Bonnie’s OneWordAdvent focus for this week is joy, and that’s what I want to pass on to you: That you can be going through the most awful of circumstances, you can be in the most unhappy place, but you can still have the joy of knowing you’re right with God – of knowing that this Jesus, whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Day, came into the world to bridge the gap between you and a holy God, so that you could know Him personally. That’s something to be joyful about (whether it’s a loud celebratory kind of joy or a quieter, more reflective one), so I wish you a joyful, Christ-filled Christmas.

“Atlas Girl” Sequel: “Making it Home” Book-Review

Emily offered her Facebook-friends a free copy of “Making it Home” in exchange for an online review. Having reviewed “Atlas Girl” for Revell last year, I was interested to read the next instalment.

Sadly, I didn’t enjoy the sequel nearly as much. The parts I most enjoyed were those that were others-focused. Since the days of watching “Home and Away” as a child, I’ve been interested in foster care, so I loved reading about Emily and Trent’s fostering experience, and I liked the ‘Daughter’ theme that ran through the book, but the spotlight was frequently on insecurities I felt she already covered in the prequel. It’s a great shame more wasn’t made of how The Lulu Tree came into being. As a founder, Emily could probably tell the story better than most, and it seems deserving of more than just the end of this book.

I’d recommend Emily’s memoirs if you’re a reflective sort of person, and she puts in enough backstory that you can read “Making it Home” as a standalone book, without having read “Atlas Girl”.

31 Jesus-Benefits: Meeting Every Need

“Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well” (Matthew 6:33).

Day 28 and originally, I thought of financial provision, but I’ll widen it instead to give thanks for:

The way God provides for His people.

Because it’s not limited to financial provision: God wants to meet every need – to set the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6); be a Husband to the widow (Isaiah 54:4-5); a Father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5), and yes, also to provide finances (Malachi 3:10). We can’t look exclusively to one person to meet our needs. They won’t always be able to. We saw earlier in the month that only God is forever and never disappoints. How does that make you feel?

“My God will use His wonderful riches in Christ Jesus to give you everything you need” (Philippians 4:19).

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As a thank-you for being a reader who’s supported Write31Days, you could enter the giveaway to win a $500 shopping spree on their website. It’s open till the end of the month.

31 Jesus-Benefits: A Perfect Father

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

Day 18 and I appreciate having:

A perfect Father, who delights in my wellbeing. As Melanie wrote in her post earlier this week, He’s for us. He’s got our best interests at-heart, and He knows better than we do what those are. It’s awesome to think that if something’s within His good plan for my life, nothing will hold Him back from accomplishing it.

“What are mere mortals that You should think about them, human beings that You should care for them? Yet You made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honour” (Psalm 8:4-5).

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