Hello again from South Africa! Your regular blogger Matthew has worked himself sick — literally. He needs your prayers to get back on his feet, but I gave him Tylenol Cold & Sinus and some cough drops. It’s 9:00 pm and we’re all as tired as we’ve been at any time on the trip so far — including our jet lagged arrival — because we put in our first full day’s worth of manual labor at Safari’s home. We have another day (or more) of work to do at the house, but here’s the non-fast-food Wendy update:
- We took a giant brush pile from the back yard to the local dump.
- We dug up a back yard full of rocks.
- We planted fifteen or so plants in the back yard and lined the beds with the rocks we dug up.
- We dug a trench between the house and the Wendy (remember, the Wendy is the back house that will become the Biblical Counseling Center) to lay an electrical conduit.
- We cut down part of a tree and sawed the resulting logs into firewood.
- We did a fair amount of raking.
- We dug up a clothes line and sawed the metal pole holding it into the ground.
And it was all totally worth it! Except now Matthew is sick. Our team has been remarkably together on this trip, so I can’t pick out a “heart and soul” out of fairness to all the personalities on the trip you’ve read about through Matthew’s blogging. But, even if we can’t pick out a “heart” or a “soul,” we can certainly pick out a muscle.
You know the expression “many hands make light work?” I guess that’s true in a big group project, but it’s also true that when there are nine or twelve or fifteen guys all working in a back yard, not every single guy has to give 100% all the time. You look around the yard, and everybody’s hard at work, and sometimes you just take a breath and think “I could use five minutes off right now.” (If my team is reading this, DON’T LIE YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN! It isn’t just me … right guys? Right? Whatever.) We’re working out of love for the glory of God, and nobody judges anybody’s energy level, and it’s fine… except Matthew never, ever takes a break. Dig a trench? Matthew is swinging the pickaxe. Tear up a driveway? Matthew is wheeling the bricks. Plant a garden? Matthew is digging the holes. I don’t think he’s taken a true moment “for himself” at anyone’s expense for the entire trip.
Here’s the ultimate Matthew story, for me. On Monday we went to the baby home and dug some holes to install a carport in the back yard. Most of the team went in the house, but Matthew and I, as the resident “youngest guys” on the trip, I guess, stayed outside to dig holes. So, I started working on one of the six holes we needed, struggling my way through some roots and bricks, and got it about halfway as deep as it needed to be. Meanwhile Matthew digs three holes. After a few moments, he comes over to my hole to see how I’m doing, and very genuinely says “oh man, that’s tough. There’s roots everywhere.”
“I know, right?” I take a short break.
A few grunts later, my hole is finished and Matthew is swinging away like John Henry on Hole 5. What a guy.
Matthew is a man of many talents. His devotional this morning led us in a discussion of faith and the meaning of faith, with respect to the discussion about faith in Hebrews 11. Does Matthew, like it says in Hebrews 11:6, believe that God rewards those who earnestly seek him? Judging by his work ethic, I’d say so. And, with guitar at the ready and a singing voice honed by the Ma Academy of Arts, Matthew is quick to lead our team in worship and to solicit and pray the favorite songs of the people we meet and serve.
I got another rather humbling sense of Matthew’s charm at dinner tonight. Matthew went to bed early, and suddenly in the Clark’s home I was surrounded by all the Mack, Clark, and de Wit kids at once! What on earth, I thought? Why the sudden burst of popularity?
Ohhhh… it’s because Matthew’s not here. One of the Mack girls explained that Levi (the youngest) loves me “this much.” (It was about an inch.) Then she widened her hands to show me how much Levi loved Matthew! What a guy. (It was a lot more.) Also one of them ran up and gave me some type of homemade creation out of beads–it was very pretty–but it was for Matthew. (Shoutout to Bayley though who made me a J out of beads. I liked it.)
In other GCO in SA news, we were actually separated by gender today as the women on our team went back to the baby home for cleaning projects. I only heard bits and pieces of how that went, because none of the women on our trip really want to talk to me, but I think they finished a ton of work early in the day and spent a lot of quality time with the babies, which they enjoyed.
After the labor, we went to a local university in Pretoria and basically approached bystanders on the campus to ask if we could talk to them about God, Jesus, church, or really any spiritual subject they were willing to broach. (Or, in Christian jargon, we “did some campus outreach.”) I was exceedingly uncomfortable with the concept–I know how little I like to be bothered by strangers, and I know how disconcerting and sometimes insulting it can be to be basically accosted by strangers about the deep questions of life. I did not look forward to it at all, and it was probably one of the most challenging, uncomfortable experiences of my spiritual life, ever. But it turned out to be surprisingly easy, mostly because “being American” (and also being loud, silly, and quick to make a joke) is unique in Pretoria. I don’t know how I would fare on an American college campus, but once I had a reason to make conversation with the local students here, I found great freedom in just asking them personal questions about God and sharing what I believed with them. I have four first names of students on my phone — four new people to pray for! No on-the-spot conversions to report, but God’s timing is perfect and incomprehensible, so mine is not to question why.
Our outreach wasn’t done alone. We paired up with a local believer and member of Living Hope Church. Fortunately I’ve made fast friends with Antony, the only South African who loves basketball, and we walked the campus together. Antony is from Malawi and we’ve peppered each other with questions about what life is like in the countries we come from. He’s also a good example of the togetherness of Living Hope Church. All week, every day we’ve been here, different church members keep popping up to help. At any given moment at the baby home, the Safari’s, or the Clarks, any number of people show up to help us. Tonight, before we went to the campus and after we sang Amazing Grace, Safari prayed:
Thank you God for encouraging us. Sometimes we get discouraged. Thank you O Lord God for sending these believers from all around the world to us to show us that you are alive in this world.
What a moment. How do you respond to something like that? One of my secret fears on this trip is that the money spent on getting me here could have been converted into Rand and spent on insulation, drywall, baby formula, or a table saw — something that the church could just put to work in a tangible way. But I suppose God is using my friendship with Antony, my service with Safari, and my presence in South Africa to his glory.
I say “I” but of course I mean all of us. Among Matthew’s many talents is a blogging inclusiveness that highlights more than just “what John was thinking as he did some stuff today.” If you’ve missed that, pray for Matthew’s speedy recovery! Actually pray for that right away, either way.
Tomorrow we go back for another round of hard work at the Safari’s. Pray for the recovery of our bodies and for the renewing of our approach to hard work. You could also pray for Ben, Charity, and Nakiwe at the University of Pretoria. See you tomorrow!