Hello from Pretoria! Your usual blog author is hard at work studying, or whatever you do when you take school “online,” so I’m guest-authoring a blog post for him.
Whether your church is two miles from your home or, for us, 10,332 miles, praise God if you spent your Sunday in worship! Would it surprise you if I told you we went literally halfway around the world and didn’t go to church this morning? It’s only because in Pretoria they go to church in the afternoon. This morning, after a blessedly restful night, we visited Safari’s home—Safari is a math professor at UNISA (the biggest distance learning facility in South Africa) and an elder-in-training at Living Hope Church. He’s from the Congo, and he has a small building out in the back yard. We might call it a log cabin or a backhouse, but they call it a Wendy. I was not able to order a spicy chicken sandwich there, but as a consolation we were served an authentic Congolese meal by Safari’s family.
The Wendy in the back yard is our main weekly project. It’s in an almost-finished state, but it needs electricity, drywall, landscape work, and other amenities. Basically, it needs as much work as we can do to it in three or four days, with our goal to be that Living Hope church uses it as a Biblical Counseling Center. Property ownership is a challenge here—Living Hope Church rents a facility for their service and for some of their children and adult ministries. (Matthew’s post yesterday was about a training program held at a facility the church rented for a day. Also that kid I was holding hands with yesterday, he’s never said a word to me.) They don’t have a permanent building to hold classes, to serve as a library, or to do Biblical counseling, unless they just use the pastor’s home or an elder’s home.
The need for a venue for Biblical counseling is pressing in a way we might not have understood before coming here. Some of the men and women who need counseling here live in what we would consider abject poverty—shacks with barely a roof cramped together in communities where people live five or six (or more) to a room. But even the South Africans who can rent apartments (they call them flats) don’t always rent the entire unit. Instead, they’ll rent one bedroom and three or four people will live in that bedroom, and then they’ll divide up the living room (and not like “Hey Brian don’t use my stuff,” they’ll use curtains to section it off) and sometimes people will live there, in the living room. So, the end result is that if someone from Living Hope wants to do in-home counseling with a church member, that counseling might be held two feet away from the bed of a stranger. Or, awkwardly, a church member might need advice or counsel about a challenging relationship (such as when I need counseling dealing with Brian Zuniga) and that person might live behind an adjacent curtain.
So that’s where we’ll spend the bulk of the week doing manual labor. I keep reflecting on how this team took the wrong Bishop with them, my dad being the most gifted jack-of-all-trades carpenter I know. Fortunately there are many gifted hands here, perhaps they’ll cover for my physical ineptitude.
I mentioned church today, and it was wonderful. The songs were a mix of familiar and unfamiliar (Alex Valencia take note: they did a stirring rendition of Lion of Judah—I’ll need to hear the Grace version ASAP), but the overall tone and tenor of the worship would have been familiar to any of you who attend Grace every week. Joshua Mack preached on Colossians, the worship team led us in praise and the reading of the Bible, and Andre de Wit (our host patriarch) discussed church announcements. It was warm and welcoming and fun, and would have been just like home except if all of you who go to Grace were South African and your currency was a bit weaker and had Nelson Mandela on it.
The most stirring thing about church for me personally was seeing South Africans of all races sitting together and worshipping God together. Our worship team of Cambria, Natasha, Patricia, Rudi, Hamilton, McKenna, and Julia represent South Africa in the perfect way: one is from Zambia, one is from Durban, SA (the second-largest Indian population trailing only India), three originally from America, and two from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Can you guess the races just from the names? (I won’t give you the answers because it doesn’t matter, but if you guessed McKenna sounded awfully like a white girl’s name, you’re right.)
I’d like to say “that’s South Africa in a nutshell,” but that would be too idealistic. That togetherness and unity is what life with Christ should be like, and it’s certainly what some people wish South Africa were like, but in fact South Africa is a country still suffering terribly from the aftereffects of apartheid. I can’t provide a description a good enough description of the legacy or effects of the separateness between whites and the rest of South Africa, but suffice it to say that race relations here are still depressingly ordered along racial lines. The juxtaposition between wealth and poverty is so, so striking, I can hardly describe it. On a ten minute walk to the grocery store with Andre, I saw a truck with seven men riding the back, two or three young men selling various and sundry items for what appeared to be basically their daily income, and a beggar or two. Most of the poor here, and everybody I just described, are black. Usually, when you see a white person here in Pretoria, they’re driving a nice car, spending money at the stores (which are all very nice), and generally keeping to themselves. But poverty alone isn’t the biggest issue. As Andre described one of the effects of apartheid to me:
A big problem is this: that I’m 31 years old. If I see a 50 year old black South African, he’ll greet me by saying “hey boss.” I’m not his boss. I don’t deserve that respect. I should respect him. But that happens in our culture, and it’s sad.
As Andre described it, they want Living Hope to be a small taste of what togetherness and unity in Christ looks like. Pray for that, please. It may take generations, but finding dignity through Christ is so important here, because this is not a culture that emphasizes self-worth to black South Africans.
(Also, since my entire knowledge of South Africa is based essentially on a couple days of looking around, I obviously really don’t know very much. Take my observations with a giant grain of pink Himalayan salt, and dig in to a Wikipedia article for a potentially accurate discussion of the political and economic problems here.)
Our evening was spent at a communion service at the Clarks’ home. I mostly spent the fellowship time kicking a soccer ball awkwardly with several exceedingly talented local guys who, charitably, did not comment on how foolish I was. I quickly grabbed the volleyball and regained a measure of dignity. There’s a volleyball tournament coming up on Thursday. If Matthew and I don’t lead our team to victory, perhaps don’t let us come home?
Thanks for reading! Matthew will be back tomorrow, I assume, so if this blog post was just a little too filled with references to Brian Zuniga for you, don’t worry—it’s just a guest post. It’s 11:00 AM where you are and 8:00 pm for me. Goodnight!