I always thought it would be cool to go to Africa, but I didn’t think I would ever actually do it. But I’ve been here in Durban for eight weeks now, with six more to go. It’s been an incredible experience – one that I don’t want to come to an end.
When I first heard about the projects going on here, I was most interested in the Bible Education Centre. I spend one afternoon per week at the Durban BEC, and two mornings at the mobile BEC in the Clermont township. Each day we set up the mobile BEC, we have about 10-15 people sign up for the God’s Master Plan correspondence course. This is where I get to practice my Zulu with adults (the vocabulary for the creche kids is entirely different). I’ve learned the Zulu equivalent of “Would you like a free Bible course?” The word “mahala,” which means “free,” is an important part of the picture. Not only is extreme poverty rampant in the townships, but religion is not without its price. One day a man came to us and explained how he had given away chicken after chicken to his church for a sacrifice, and was still poor and out of work. We couldn’t offer him immediate answers, but instead the guarantee that the gospel is a free gift.
The BEC storefront in downtown Durban is filled with study and great conversations around God’s word, regardless of whether it’s busy with visitors or just with discussions among the brethren who work and volunteer there. Bro. Siphwe and Bro. Maxwell are two amazing local brothers who have come in through outreach efforts, and are the primary workers at the BEC on the day that I’m there, along with Matt, another volunteer. One of them can always be counted on to bring up an interesting Bible passage for discussion during the breaks between visitors. Much of their days are spent sitting at a table speaking in Zulu with someone who has signed up for the correspondence course.
Another project I’m involved with is a weekly discussion-style class with the teenage girls in the Lamontville township, most of whom go to Sunday school at the Good News Centre there, but whose parents are not part of the ecclesia. They are dealing with very difficult situations – HIV, teen pregnancy, rape, and other violence are very common in the townships. The first week was spent just chatting and getting to know them, and they said they wanted to talk about relationships; so the next week I asked them straightforward questions about the issues they’re facing. We talked about what the Bible says about sexual immorality, and then about ways to avoid it. We discussed the biblical account of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, to introduce the term and concept of “fleeing” immorality vs. dancing with it. Most of these girls speak English very well, but there are many words they don’t know. When I asked what it meant to “flee,” one confidently proclaimed, “to fly away,” and then realized her mistake with an embarrassed giggle. It was close enough for our purposes.
I had a difficult moment at the end of this discussion, when we were listing the consequences of sexual immorality. They were all aware, academically, of the effects – particularly teenage pregnancy – but it hit a little close to home when I asked, “Do you know people who have made this mistake and then repented?” Two of the girls said, “Our mothers.” I had to backtrack a little to talk about how God uses less-than-ideal situations for his glory and to fulfill his purpose, and that God has a plan for them. Then I told them honestly that they are at even higher risk for teenage pregnancy and they need to be even more on-guard against it.
These girls are smart, kind, and studious, and have endless potential. If Christ doesn’t return before, I have hopes that many of them – through the grace of God, the support of the brethren, and their own initiative – will break the cycle of poverty and also become contributing members of the Body of Christ.
One last project I really enjoy is teaching phonics lessons at the Lamontville and Mariannhill creches (preschools held in the ecclesial buildings). Sis. Rose, who helps run the Lamontville creche, mentioned one day that the parent of one of the children said that they need to know phonics when they start school. The teachers didn’t know how to teach phonics. I immediately volunteered, because it’s something I have experience teaching and I enjoy the systematic nature of it. The children who speak and read English well have such a huge advantage, and the younger they start the better.
The next week I sat in a circle with the children, the two teachers, and a deck of index cards on which I had written all the letters. First I tested the children to see if they recognized any letters or knew any sounds. They didn’t. The teachers also struggled with the sounds. For the next 30 minutes we went over all the letters, sang songs about their sounds, and I had each child (about 25 total) come up and point to either A or B, from the selection of cards I held up.
I was amazed at the enthusiasm of the teachers. They took notes and asked me to write down the words to the songs, and were so excited each time a child got the answer to a question correct. After I was finished, having gone through every letter and its sound and then focusing intensively on A and B for a few minutes, the teachers continued – going through the whole song again and looking at me for each sound, to ensure they were doing it correctly. The ultimate goal is to teach them how simple it is to teach phonics, so that they can sustain the program after I’ve left.
In the short time I’ve been here I’ve witnessed such joy and enthusiasm, both from the field workers and the people in the townships. Believers are coming together to spread the Good News, both in word and deed. It hasn’t all been easy. I’ve seen cultural issues that remind me of the things the Apostle Paul dealt with – serious problems with no easy answers. But it’s been absolutely beautiful to see the brethren work together to sort through issues, genuinely seeking a biblical answer with a spirit of (mostly) humility. I’m looking forward to my next six weeks, and hoping it will go by very, very slowly.
I have a frequently-updated blog about my experiences, at http://www.nextcomesafrica.wordpress.com.