Notes & News

11-15-04   South Africa: There and Back Again

To report all the interesting things about my trip to South Africa (9/30-10/10) would take more time than I have to type, and definitely more time than you probably have to read, so I'll have to hit a few main points. Some of it may be fuzzy on the factual details, and forgive me if I've included more background info than necessary. I've still left out so much, including the really good stuff…like the short game of "tag" with the baboon that Amanda was wise enough to concede, though she did keep her hat (yes, Amanda, they can be a lot like men in many ways)…the laughs we all had, and only a few at other team members' expense (our team LEADER, on the other hand…)…the language barriers between us and the locals--including the English-speaking ones!  And of course the small moments that were too "had to be there" or too personal to share. But here's my best shot. I didn't take my camera (too bulky) but there are links to other team members' pictures at the end of this page.

This was a mission trip involving a team of 25 people from Brentwood Baptist Church and one from Florida (Lauren, the 15-yr.-old granddaughter of one of the BBC team members; her luggage took an extra tour of the world before arriving). BBC has partnered with Fish Hoek Baptist Church (a.k.a. King of Kings Baptist Centre), in Cape Town, South Africa, to help meet the needs of their community and beyond. This is the basis for Living Hope Community Centre, which has several "bases of operation" in the area. The website is    African Leadership, based in Franklin, TN, was also our partner in this trip.

Departed Nashville early a.m.
Route: Nashville, Atlanta, Sal Island (off West Africa, to refuel), Cape Town
FRIDAY, 10/1
Arrived in Cape Town late a.m. (7 hours ahead of Nashville time)
Toured parts of Cape Town, visited ministry locations
Worked at Capri
Continued touring & visiting sites, prepared for worship and children's clubs
SUNDAY, 10/3
Attended a.m. church services at King of Kings Baptist Centre and Masiphumelele Baptist Church
Attended p.m. service at King of Kings, sang backup for Jason on one song
MONDAY, 10/4
Worked at Capri, Children's Club at Masiphumelele BC
Worked at Ocean View, Children's Club at Masiphumelele BC
Dinner at home of Pastor John Thomas
Worked at Capri, Children's Club at Masiphumelele BC
Worked at Capri, sang solo for Teen Club (also at Capri)
Appreciation Dinner for Living Hope staff
FRIDAY, 10/8
Visited homeless shelter and radio station at Living Hope, Muizenberg
Led songs during morning devotion at shelter
Typed up info on songwriting for upcoming seminar to be held by station
Toured Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela and others were held)
Departed with 2 other team members (others already gone to game park)
Route: Cape Town, Johannesburg, Sal Island, Atlanta, Nashville
SUNDAY, 10/10
Arrived home late a.m., approx. 30 hours after leaving house in Cape Town

On first appearance, the pastor, John Thomas, seems the quintessential meek gentleman, with proper British manners and the accent to match (we're Told they prefer to be seen as South African rather than British, but the roots are impossible to ignore). But it doesn't take long to see the passion and the humor and the deep love that fuels his efforts to serve God by serving people. His willingness to see the needs and do what it takes to see them met, and his gift of marshalling the necessary help and resources has led to some amazing and innovative works. Plus, he had us in stitches telling about how he was detained and searched at a NYC airport shortly after 9-11 due to an identity mix-up ("So there I am, surrounded by men in uniform, in my underpants...!").

We stayed at a big house very close to the beach, with lots of rooms and bathrooms and great views. The band Jars of Clay had stayed there a month or so before when they did a few dates in South Africa, also in partnership with Living Hope and African Leadership. Our first evening there we stood on the patio and watched the sun disappear into the Atlantic ocean. Gorgeous.

We were well taken care of by the Johnson family, a young family of volunteers from Atlanta. Along with the house staff, they answered our millions of questions, kept us fed, got us to where we needed to go, and kept our spirits up with laughter and ice cream. Transportation was mostly VW minivans, en masse. We had to get used to going to the left side to get in, since of course they drive on the left side of the road there. One of the Johnson kids is a guitar player and a budding songwriter, so we had a jam session one evening during which I tried to encourage him by passing along what little I know on both subjects (didn't take long).

One of the popular rooms in the house was the computer room, where we had 3 computers and a near-constant line of people waiting to use them. Several of us posted notes on our experiences on a blog site:

The weather was mostly warm, since it was the beginning of Spring there, though we had a cool spell for a few days, and the wind was always blowing. During one of our touristy ventures at a flea market on one of the warm days, I and a staff member ducked into McDonald's for relief from the heat--very refreshing!

One area of ministry for the church has been dealing with the ongoing racial tensions of a nation still in recovery from the apartheid era, which has required courageous effort for individuals in all the racial groups involved. Actually, being from the South, the phrase that kept coming to my mind
was "just like in the U.S." FYI, in South Africa terminology, the largest groups are blacks, whites (FHBC/KofKBC has a predominantly white membership), and coloreds (not in that order); the latter refers to mostly mixed-race and Indian people, and does not have the same connotation as in America.

We got to know a young Rastafarian who falls into the latter category; his name is Jason and he is a talented artist and a multi-skilled worker for the ministry, especially at the hospitality house. He was a vital help to us, especially as we worked in his neighborhood-not the safest place for white folks from the U.S. to wander alone. He shared some fascinating and hilarious stories about baboons who break into a local bakery on a regular basis. One baboon was actually found carrying a gun-which as any con will tell you is not a good idea on a burglary job-and ended up accidentally wounding himself (gun control advocates would have a field day). He somehow recovered and continued dominating the local baboon gang. Such is life for the outlaw wildlife in South Africa.

In spite of Jason's friendly, laid-back nature, of course many of his beliefs are a point of loving contention between him and the ministry personnel; one of our team members had some rather intense conversations with him, which I'm sure was mutually beneficial.

Through Living Hope, the church is helping the sick and the poor and the homeless, including of course those suffering with AIDS and those who suffer indirectly from it. A staggering percentage of South Africans have tested positive for AIDS, and it has affected every area of life, including the economy, childcare, education, and more. What makes it even tougher for victims and families is that it has a greater stigma attached to it there, even though in many cases it is contracted from husband (who may have been unfaithful during long periods of working out of town) to wife, and from mother to child. So the church has been helping provide healthcare to those who would otherwise not get it, including home nursing visits and AIDS testing. Emotional and spiritual support are just as high a priority, and we heard many stories of how lives are being changed in a real way. Several of these stories are on the Living Hope website.

One of the most impressive results of the willingness of the church to step out and help has been the construction of a hospice; a place where dying people can receive full-time healthcare in a modern medical facility, for as long as they need it. The cultural preference is to die at home, but that is not always an option, and even if a patient eventually does go home, the hospice can offer a lot in the meantime. One of our team members, Rhonda, is a hospice nurse and is planning on volunteering a year of service there, supported financially by BBC. I'm afraid once the locals get a look at her, they may have a lot of suddenly "sick" people on their hands!

Pastor Thomas gave us a full tour of the one-story facility, which was officially finished while we were there, though beds and equipment still had to be installed. He was so excited to tell us some of the remarkable stories of how the place came to be, and how the government has offered support, and how the contractor essentially worked at cost, and other ways in which needs have been met as the project progressed. He seemed to be still humbled and amazed at the process, especially given his self-confessed previous ignorance of many of the issues involved. Fortunately, they have had the wisdom of a retired nurse on staff, who worked with the architect on the design. Toward the end of the tour, we stopped in the intersection of two hallways and a doorway, and prayed as a group for the work to be done there and the people to be cared for. I noticed we had formed a cross as we stood there (as seen from above). I don't think it helped us get more of God's attention or anything, but I thought the "visual" spoke volumes.

One especially intriguing and touching aspects of the AIDS counseling Living Hope staff offers is to women who have AIDS and who have very young children. Since these women know they will not live long enough to tell their story to their child, they make body maps; they lie on a large sheet of paper on the floor and someone traces their figure (like you might have done in kindergarten). Then they draw and color a self-portrait, and include notes to the child to explain who they were, what AIDS did to their bodies, and what their dreams for themselves and the child might have been. This is not only a way for the mother to pass on a portion of a legacy to the child (pictures and video are not as accessible, given the poverty of most of the participants), but it is for the child to have a sense of his/her own history and heritage. I kept thinking of a song called "Come To Jesus," by Mindy Smith, who is a local favorite and becoming nationally known. The song is poignant enough in itself, but it took on new meaning for me while looking at these body maps. I think no one will mind my quoting her song:

   "…Oh, my baby, when you're dying
   Believe the healing of His hand
   Here in Heaven we will wait for your arrival
   Here in Heaven you will finally understand
   Worry not my daughters,
   Worry not my sons
   Child, when life don't seem worth livin'
   Come to Jesus and let Him hold you in His arms."

Mindy Smith, Vanguard Records

The hospice shares property with the Living Hope offices, referred to as the Capri Centre. Our work at this location was basic light construction (the term may not apply to moving the big rocks in clearing the parking area; that was obviously handled by someone other than me). We planted some cuttings in a bank around two sides of the hospice building to reduce erosion (where's the kudzu when you need it?). The soil is very sandy and the wind is constant, so keeping the soil where it belongs is a challenge (needless to say I didn't wear my contacts much while working!). We dug some flowerbeds around several sides of the building, which involving mostly-burying thin concrete slabs vertically for the edges, and filling them with compost. Yes, with a pitchfork and wheelbarrow. Given the extra sun on the back of my neck, all I needed was the overalls and it would have been "Hee Haw goes to South Africa." My shoes will never be the same. Good exercise, though...which is to say, I got exercise.

Our team did some various other things there, such as picking peas from the garden, repairing and painting, etc. We managed to avoid getting stung or bitten by a scorpion and a large spider we discovered in the process, so we felt good about our work there. Lauren taught a class on crafts, and the ladies in the class caught on very quickly and made some very simple but elegant jewelry. The purpose of this was to help locals develop skills they could use to help support themselves, as well as boosting their self-esteem.

Capri was also where we helped lead a teen Bible study meeting. Aaron, a youth minister for BBC shared some thoughts with the twenty or so teenagers who came, and I did a song for them. They sang for us and really had the place rockin' (glad I didn't have to follow!). I improvised some conga beats with their music on a big wooden podium; I was thinking we Baptists could use more of THAT kind of pulpit-pounding here at home.

I really enjoyed helping with the children's programs at the church in Masiphumelele (rolls off the tongue beautifully, once you learn all the syllables!). Masiphumelele is a large, mostly-black neighborhood, where poverty and boredom provide a breeding ground for all sorts of problems. It is another place where the efforts of FHBC/KofKBC members have had a chance to put feet to their faith, and where there is evidence of interracial healing taking place daily. They have a program for children 3 days a week at the church, and our Children's Team put together some activities for all 3 days. It was pretty much like any Vacation Bible School or afterschool program I've been a part of with crayons, crafts, games music, etc., except for the skin color and the language of the participants.

One of the many official languages of S.A. is Xhosa. Most English Speakers pronounce it "kosa", but technically the "x" represents a clicking sound, which takes practice. I apparently impressed a couple of locals with my attempts to click, so I felt good about that. It was fun to sit in on the story time led by a local black teacher in Xhosa, and guess what she was teaching; like I said, very familiar though different. One day she spoke enough English in the lesson so it was clear that it was on abstinence. It was sad to realize how short these children's time of innocence can be. It's true for our kids in the U.S., as well, though.

I didn't learn any songs or phrases in S.A. languages, but fortunately people at the church are into Andrae Crouch and traditional church songs and spirituals. One day I led the kids in "Jesus Loves Me" (in English) and they continued in Xhosa. Very cool moment. "Amen" went over well, also; no language barrier there, and you can't forget the words!

Muizenberg is an area of Cape Town where Living Hope has a well-established presence. There is CCFM, a very professional community radio station that was launched by the church and is managed by Avril Thomas, wife of the pastor. They play music by American Christian artists, but their schedule includes 40% local music, as per their charter. This demand has given them the impetus to help develop the local music scene as much as possible, one goal being to improve and expand their own choices for airplay. So the station is holding workshops once a month. It so happened that the upcoming meeting was going to be a songwriting workshop. Since Nashville is a mecca for the Christian music industry as well as country, and given my experience through the Nashville Songwriters Assn. Int'nat'l, the manager was very eager to get any sort of help from us. I spent part of one day at the station typing up a list of songwriting resources; I was so glad to be able to not only visit the station (my degree was in broadcasting) but also offer some useful practical help. After I returned home I put together a quick guide to song analysis for them to use in the workshop (examining a song to see how to improve technique), and they posted it on the station website. As you can imagine, it was very gratifying to see them put my "loaves and fishes" to use (though I couldn't help wishing I'd polished it more!).

As a response to the problem of homelessness outside the doors of the station, the church has established a homeless shelter. They were able to buy a bank building very cheaply right across the street from the station. Since so many whites were afraid of what would happen after the regime change, they were leaving the country and some real estate became instant bargains. This building is now a place where people can come and find rest, acceptance and encouragement. They can help themselves as well, by making and selling craft items. I spent only one morning there, and led a couple of songs for their morning devotional, but others from our team helped serve meals, teach crafts, and counsel at this center all week.

Part of the "mission" in a trip like this is to absorb as much as possible of the local culture (not just in terms of buying stuff, though that did happen a lot with our group), so we are more closely knit together with the people there. This expands our vision of the world around us and informs our prayers for that world, and for ourselves. So we toured Robben Island, the site just off Cape Town where criminals, lepers and (most recently) political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela were sent.

On arrival, we were led in groups to buses where local guides described what we were seeing as we made our way around the small island. We saw the housing built for prison staff, and the lime quarry where the prisoners worked, and a bombed-out gun left from W.W.II. It was kind of comical and kind of embarrassing that in the midst of our guide's serious comments, our group couldn't help being distracted by sights of the wildlife that roams the island, such as the springbok (similar to an elk), rabbits and penguins. When one of them crossed the road in front of us, we made for a very tough audience!

We then did a walking tour of the prison compound, led by a former prisoner. He was very professorial; he was not old, but he reminded me of John Houseman in "The Paper Chase." One black couple had two small children with them, and the little girl, who was about 1 or 2 years old, just couldn't stop humming to herself. Our guide lost the sympathies of some of his audience when he was fairly strict in requesting that the mother keep her quiet. I saw it as the little girl's own little freedom song; she never was completely silent.

I had started Nelson Mandela's autobiography before the trip. As I finished it after arriving home, I was glad to be able to visualize better the places he wrote about.

The next day most of the group flew to Johannesburg to go to a game park for a few days. I and a couple other team members who had opted to skip the game park had a later flight out. Though I would like to have seen the rhinos and elephants, I was glad to have a chance to sleep in! Plus, I was ready to get back to my privacy and independence, despite the quality of my company!

The final trip home was not unpleasant, but it took even longer than the trip there, since we had another stop, Johannesburg, with a layover. It took about 30 hours from the time we left the house in Cape Town to the time I arrived home. A couple of onboard movies helped pass the time ("The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" was excellent, and especially appropriate given my groggy state of mind while traveling) , as well as a conversation with one lady who, as I found out a the end of our conversation, was willing to tell me about opportunities in network marketing. Made me wonder if that was the reason she was so eager to talk. I kindly let her know I was not interested. Nice lady, though. I didn't regret not sitting next to her after Johannesburg, however.

I am thankful for how the trip strengthened my faith (via "osmosis" as much as anything else) and further increased my appreciation for what I have-and for what I don't need. I hope to return to South Africa, Lord willing, assuming there is more I can offer that is valuable enough to be worth the expense and time. It all seems like a drop in the bucket, given the enormity of the needs there, but then a drop can make some very large circles under the right circumstances.


See these sites for team member pictures:

Amanda Bradley:

Kim Cox:


Living Hope:

CCFM radio:

African Leadership

Team blog:

Cape Town:

South Africa:

Brentwood Baptist Church: