Saturday, January 25, 2014

19 Jan 2014

Another week has flown by leaving in its wake an everlasting trail of memories, some of which bring tears of joy & jubilation and others tears of sorrow and mourning.

First let us share what happened in the life of one of our workshop students, Nandipa, that will always bring us joyful memories as we reflect on her story. We were first introduced to her five plus months ago during a workshop we did in one of the townships near Port Elizabeth. What made her stand out amongst the other class members was her sincere desire and determination to become a nurse. She was encouraged to pursue her dream, do her research to locate a school, get the registration and financial enrollment details etc.

At the close of the workshop, we gave her additional encouragement to reach beyond the confines of her cultural boundaries and grasp that which was beckoning to her. We hoped that she, along with the rest, would in-fact over come the fear of failure, of insecurity and fading self-confidence that is an obstacle to the majority of these people.

Then one day, the phone rang and Nandipa asked if we would help her get a loan so that she could go to school to become a nurse. Joy and optimism was in the air at her willingness to take the bold step even though she was 7 months pregnant.

The financial figures, school dates and forms, and signatures were assembled to make application for the school loan. The loan process is meticulous, time consuming and, at times frustrating, involving many lengthy forms to fill out which require various signatures and legal stamps. Although the application process is tedious, even for one who is not pregnant, she got all the required material together in plenty of time to work its way through the bureaucratic chain to determine approval or rejection which is advertised to take three to four weeks. A telephone number is provided when the application is submitted with the encouragement to call the number periodically to check on the status of loan application.

  Weeks stretched into months and each call rendered the same “application still being processed, please check back” recording. Fear of being rejected began to creep into Nandipa and us – the process was taking much too long. Then in late December, Nandipa called to remind us that her registration day was just a couple weeks away and she needed the loan in order to register. Again calls were made yielding the same results. Finally, the decision was to go around the standard system and find someone that could determine what the hold up was. A secretary in the loan office was finally reached; her response was one that only stimulated aggravation – “it’s the holidays and no one will be available until January 6th.” The problem was, January 6th was the day of registration. The decision makers, contacted by their gatekeeper (the receptionist), suggested that it was no big deal and the applicant would just have to apply again next year.

 There was no apparent alternative than to call Nandipa with the discouraging news. The news was received by her with disappointment but, even more sadly, with no surprise as if it was just one more normal day in the life of the downtrodden – it should be expected. The feeling they have is, don’t let your hopes get up as they will only be crushed and cause you hurt.

At that point, calls and emails were immediately sent out to the very top echelon demanding to know why, just because it was the holiday season, there was no one paying attention to details that impacted peoples lives in such a manner as this. Literally, within minutes, phone calls and emails were received apologizing for this unfortunate situation. Assurances were given that they would pay personal attention to the matter and get the loan approved and that letters reflecting that decision would be sent to the school administration personnel. They requested that we call Nandipa and let her know her loan was approved (outside of the traditional system and without the aid of the normal loan personnel) and that she could register on schedule. When the call was made, the phone vibrated as Nandipa expressed her delight as she received the news. There were expressions of jubilation, of unbelief, exhilaration and emotion as the unexpected news soaked through to the core of her brain.

We helped her go from place to place on her registration day and still she was giddy with excitement – her dream and hopes were coming true – her prayers had been answered. A week after her school started, she again called to express her gratitude for the help she received to help make her dream come true. Our emotions come close to the surface as we are able to see despair and darkness suddenly be replaced with hope, joy and brightness as the noonday sun.  So, you can understand why this experience gives us a memory of great joy and satisfaction.  

Another set of happenings this week in the lives of individuals close to us, did not bring the same rejoicing as those of Nandipa. An uncle of Angie’s, Harold Buen, and additionally, the son of a close acquaintance of ours in Florida died this week. We all understand that death is inevitable in all our lives and is lurking somewhere around the corner. However, it seems to always send a shock to our system when it grabs someone we know. Expressions of surprise, of wonderment, and questions encompass the responses of those who know the deceased.

In the case of the individual in Florida, the man, who died of a heart attack, was only in his early fifties. He had a wife and children; his parents are still alive. A parent is always expecting that they will escape the sorrow of seeing one of their children buried – that they, the parent, will die before one of their children. But, the reality of death is that we are not privy to anyone’s timetable. A man once said, “There is nothing we can do to extend our allotted time here on earth, the only thing we can do is shorten it due to our stupidity.”  

Invariably, when those who have lost a loved one talk about that loss, the Lord is brought into their reminiscing. Along with those utterances, the concept of being reunited with them when they or others of the family pass away is expressed as if it is a given regardless of how they or the deceased have lived their life. It is, in fact, a glorious and comforting concept. However, it is also a fact that, most of the time they are speaking of something they know little about. They speak as if “heaven” and, being together for eternity, is an entitlement – it just happens – that is just the way it is in the hereafter.
 The truth of the matter is that it is not an entitlement nor will it just happen unless we do what the Lord requires of us to do in order to receive those blessings. Blessings from God are gifts given to us in return for our obedience to eternal laws that govern all aspects of life. All of His blessings are available to everyone but they are conditional upon us conforming to His laws. The sad part is, many people will not listen to those desiring to share those determinate messages with them. The world has been duped into thinking all is, and will be, well no matter what we do in life. The Lord has made it very clear that there is order in His kingdom and there are no shortcuts – there is only one way to receive His blessings and that is by obedience to His laws. The laws are easy, we just tend to ignore them.

These comments are not intended to be judgmental but rather simply statements of fact. We hope that the lives of both individuals mentioned above were in harmony with the Lord’s laws. And, that the lives of those family members left behind are such that those eternal blessing they desire will be theirs. 

Funerals here in South Africa are a big deal in more ways than one. The laying to rest of a person here involves family, relatives of any possible connection, neighborhoods, church affiliates, or anyone that may have known someone who may have known the deceased. We have witnessed funeral processions that are literally miles long, made up of cars, busses, mule carts, taxis, walkers etc. When they are assembled around the grave site, it is tough to imagine that they can all hear what is being said.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

January 14, 2013

It is the middle of January here in South Africa as it is in other parts of the world however, being the middle of January has a greater meaning here than elsewhere, at least the parts of the world that I am familiar with. Here, the “holidays” are beginning to reach its terminus and things are beginning, although very slowly, to be restored to “normal.” People once more answer their phone, attend their place of employment and, to some extent, stop using the excuse of nothing is happening because of the “holidays.”  However, one cannot get overly optimistic, as the drummer here never seems to get in rhythm to the pace you feel you want to set. Angie keeps reminding me that one of the many things I have yet to develop in this mortality is patience. I really do not have a problem with developing patience, I just want it done now.

The bright light in this work is when you see someone rise up out of despair and stretch for that which seems to be beyond their reach. Joy and a sense of great satisfaction comes as one is able to be part of that motivational process that causes a person devoid of hope, to believe in themselves, exert that new found confidence and say, yes, I can do it. As I have mentioned before, we teach workshops that are designed to cause people to see, for perhaps the first time in their lives, the skills and talents that they have. They are then taught how they can utilize those talents and skills to climb out of their current state for that which they have felt was beyond their grasp.

Many times, we have found, the people just need to be able to see themselves in a new light, to know that they have value, to have a belief in themselves that they can succeed.  As an example, last week we held a workshop in which a lady in her early fifties attended. In the course of the various tasks that we have them do, we found out that she used to be a manager of a plant nursery and had even achieved an award as an outstanding employee. However, a couple of years ago her husband divorced her and soon thereafter, one of her parents died and then her grandma died. She went into a depressive spiral. She could no longer function in her job and, in her state of sorrow and despair, she quit her job.

After hearing her story and learning of her skills that had become latent, we encouraged her to re-contact her previous employer and inquire about getting  her job back. She practically broke out in a nervous sweat talking about it and expressed doubts about herself. We pressed her to make the call, she said she would but would not commit to when she would do it. We knew that was simply a stall and we had to convince her that she could do it, she had the skills necessary for the job, she was a good reliable person and would make anyone a good employee. So, after destroying a number of her excuses, we got her to commit to make the call.

Today we saw her at church and to our (and her) great joy she told us that she had a job. She attributed her success to the fact that, because of our help and persistence, she was able to see herself in a new light – one that was positive, erasing the negatives that had been holding her back. She was happy, almost giddy with excitement. She was so excited that she stood in church and told her story. She will start work next Monday.

Now, several things about this story are important to understand. The first thing is that the Lord expects us to act; we have to do something before he can, or will, help us. That is what self-reliance is all about, doing something to help ourselves. The second thing is trusting that the Lord will assist us in our efforts. We are not here on earth to fail but to succeed. However, He cannot - will not - rob us of our freedom to choose; we have to be willing to take a step into the unknown before our path begins to become illuminated.

Coming home from one of our assignments Saturday, we stopped at a “lion park” near here. The park was interesting, as they always are, but unfortunately, the lions and tigers were all in enclosures. I hope before we leave Africa that we get to see all these animals in their true environment. At one point in our tour, I was reminded of the scripture in the Bible that states that during the millennium, the calf will lie down with the lion. However, in this case there was a man lying down with the lions. The lions appeared to be snoozing and he was nonchalantly petting them.



The highlight of the tour had to be the giraffes; they are such magnificent animals. They exert an air of being in complete control – totally confident about themselves and what they are doing. It is as if they are saying, “I won’t be pushed around, but I also want to be your friend.” Their countenance is one of gentleness, friendliness and inviting. One stood not three feet from our car chewing his cud while gazing at us devoid of any concern. 


                                           Many animals aren't as beautiful as the giraffes


But the zebras are also beautiful and graceful

Saturday, January 4, 2014

25 Dec. 3013 - 4 Jan. 2014

Well, I trust the fat man did his thing this Christmas for you and all are happy, fatter and, in most cases, poorer. However, on the positive side, if it were not for the holiday pounds that are acquired with so very little effort during this time of the year, most of us would not ever make any New Year’s resolutions – you know those solemn oaths made with the most earnest commitments and never ever to be broken. The common oath is to lose all of those pounds that mysteriously leaped upon you and grabbed on with a death grip (which generally means they are yours, not unlike a civil marriage vow – until death do you part). However, I don’t think I have ever met anyone who has not experienced a severe case of amnesia in more than two days after the sealing blood has sealed the oath. However, each new day as you awake and with great vigor arise from your slumber leaping upon the floor causing the jolly roll around the midriff to flex itself, a faint glimmer of remembrance pecks away at the interior of your brain, like a chick trying to emerge from its shell, trying to resurrect the oath but to no avail. And thus, we are free for another year. 
Christmas Day at Blue Water Bay

 As I explained before, Christmas is pretty low key here in South Africa and for us; it did not seem much like Christmas this year. However, Angie, in her determination to make it a memorable day, decided that since we were without family and friends, we would pack a lunch and go to the beach. I was reluctant because I thought the beaches would be packed and I just have a basic dislike for the beaches. However, off we went with cooler in hand filled with our ham sandwich, potato chips and Christmas pudding – The Christmas pudding was good and did bring to mind a glimmer of the Christmas spirit.

We drove to an area I thought would have a remote section of beach that would not be packed with people and surprisingly it was not. The people, who were there, were frolicking in the waves, digging in the sand and, in general, delighting in letting the sun cook them to a nice even Christmas red. So we spread out our beach cloth, opened the cooler and smacked our little lippys over our gourmet lunch while the ocean waves played for us their repetitious splish-splash lullaby.
Christmas Dinner at Blue Water Bay
The remainder of the Christmas day was spent hosting the local missionaries while they used our Skype to call their family members. They all had prearranged times to Skype their family members and for most, they were able to connect and have a joyful reunion. However, for a couple it did not turn out so well; either the family member(s) forgot or had more pressing matters to attend to which brought moisture to the eyes of the missionaries – sad. Overall, it was a valuable experience, which will be used to greatly refine the process next time.

I was curious about how South Africans would handle New Years Eve. Were they going to have drinking binges to see who could have the worst headache the next morning, crank up the woofers to a level that would require megaphones to hear one another and excite their vocal cords to mimic laughter and gaiety, or let the evening pass with calm and peacefulness? Well, to my knowledge, everyone in our neighborhood chose the latter except for our neighbors located behind us. Unfortunately, these merry wishers live in a different housing complex than we do which also has its own security gate. Hence, there was no way to communicate with them to attempt to encourage a reduction in the decibels of their woofers and vocal cords. In an effort to disconnect from their festivities, we retrieved a movie the previous tenants left here, cranked up the volume and enjoyed a bag of popcorn. Sometime after midnight, the sandman took pity on us and we both drifted off into dreamland.

Now we look forward to the remainder of this 2014 year with excitement for what might be in store for us. There is so much work to do and hopefully we will be successful in helping many people to change their lives for the better. It would be easy to dedicate the rest of our lives to this work and as a result, we are anxious for each new day to begin, knowing that somewhere the Lord has someone for us to assist to become self-reliant both temporally and spiritually.

               Our last Career Workshop for 2013
                  Held at Motherwell, So. Africa