Friday, April 18, 2014

Turning to Teens

Winter retreats, spring mission trips, corn-eating contests, small group hang out sessions, and lots and lots of dodge ball consumed a significant amount of our lives while we were working with high school students in Davis. We loved the kids, the leaders, and the activities. We were often as tired as basset hounds at the end of each program. It was (and still is) easy to see how the shaping of one’s Christian faith is critically important during those adolescent years.

While taking a short reprieve in South Africa a few weeks ago, we began to evaluate our ministry here and we noticed a need for people to pour into the high school-aged students, both on the farm and in the community. It may be interesting to note that the biblical knowledge of these kids (even those who are not Christians) is better than the average Christian in America. That being said, their faith may be shallow and riddled with confusing legalistic ideas and infusions from other spiritualistic beliefs. We thought, why not start a youth ministry that meets teens at different stages of faith to share a Christian message that is easy to understand?

These teens play a highly-competitive game of musical chairs.
Recently, Mandi and I, and our colleague, Tiersa, launched Teens For Christ. We had more than 25 high school-aged students come to the first meeting and an equally impressive crowd at the second meeting. It was awesome to see teenagers engage with faith questions and discussions in a way that is both different and inviting. We played games, I gave share a message about Jesus, had some small group discussions, and enjoyed popcorn afterwards.

Teaching about sin.
Lots of laughs, good questions and comments, and a plethora of high fives filled the preschool classroom where it is being held. This accomplishes many objectives of our ministry. It reaches out the community, we get to know the “farm” kids’ friends (like any good parent would want to!) and we form relationships with kids who are in desperate need for attention and affirmation. 

We are currently having Teens for Christ once a month and are looking in the possibility of expanding it to every two weeks. Please pray for this undertaking. Pray especially for relationships to be formed that will allow us to share our faith in a real way. Pray that we would be able to communicate clearly with the teens, and that they would be receptive to what we share. Most of all, pray that kids would come to know Jesus Christ in a personal way.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

When Two Ministries Collide

New Life Children’s Homes is a complex, multifaceted operation that is difficult to explain to people – even if they have spent years prancing around this place. There are many aspects of our work here including caring for orphaned and vulnerable kids, operating a school, running a farm that provides food and income to the kids, employing house mothers whose job is to oversee the “farm,” as well as employing nearly 20 other folks from the community to make everything work. It is a place for training others (from kids to leaders in our country), as well as a place where people do business. It is a busy and sometimes crazy place. This makes it attractive to others – from Swazis who want to see a place that a bunch of crazy Americans are helping run to foreigners who want to meet and support the kids and missionaries. We get quite a few visitors who all have their own angle of interest.

This past week, we hosted the Minister of Agriculture for Swaziland (akin to the Secretary of Ag for the U.S., who is currently Tom Vilsack). Along with Minister Vilakati about 25 other government leaders descended on the farm for a tour of the many agricultural operations. Peter (NLCH founder and director), myself, and Mthi (our farm foreman) each talked about different facets of the farm. Below are some pictures of our time with the minister.

More than anything, this brings an immense amount of pride to each of our farm workers and our kids. They see that important people are visiting because of their effort. It is fun to be a part of a team that works hard to serve our kids and community while producing high-quality products. 

The craziest part of the meeting? As we wrapped up, Minister Vilakati asked where we were from in the U.S. After I told he that I came from California, he mentioned that he was familiar with the state from his college years. He said that he attended school in San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly! After we gave each other half-hugs realizing we were both Mustang alum, he then mentioned he received his masters at UC Davis. Whoa! I did my graduate work in Davis. Though we did not proceed to a full hug, there was a pleasant appreciation for each other’s paths that brought us both to a small farm in Swaziland. What an interesting connection!

Below is a picture of the great team that we have assembled on the farm (from L to R), Harriet Makhubu (leads the chickens and the nursery), Raymond Dlamini (our sales and marketing director), Sipiwe Shongwe (house mother), Winnie Johnston (house mother), Mthi Nhleko (farm foreman), Peter Kopp (founder and director), Winile Khumalo (house mother), Happy Msibi (house mother) and, well, me.

Thank you for your continued prayers and support for this project.