Daves Update

Well its been the toughest few weeks so far and we’ve both really struggled and missed you guys. On reflection we both agreed we are trying to achieve far too much and putting ourselves under a lot of pressure to change the world before we go home – never a good idea! Living, working, relaxing, studying, etc. in one room has its down points after a while and I think we’ve found it hard to switch off from the work. The lines between work, church, hanging out with folk, got pretty blurred, so this week we are trying to find God’s rhythm and pace, enjoy life and stop being major stress monkeys. That said, its not always the easiest place to relax. Last week our pastor’s wife was held up in an armed robbery in our local shops. (It didn’t even make the papers because stuff like that is pretty common-place.) Yesterday I was sat on our bed and a hand just came in through the window to see what was lying around! There are also frequent power cuts which makes driving at night interesting too.

OK – enough moaning. Since we last wrote we’ve had the usual ecclectic mix of football, Youth on Tuesday nights, Pathfinders, training the Youth Executive and church socials – this month was the ‘Fructe Fest’ or fruit festival which involved the young people raising the roof with some beautiful gospel singing, some funny compering, elderly gentlemen telling jokes in Afrikaans and of course fruit! Never has so much water melon been consumed by so few. The funeral of a much respected elderly gentlemen, bru Petersen, gave us an interesting insight into South African funerals. By all accounts he was a long-suffering, joyful, faithful man, so the parts of the service I understood were pretty inspiring. What I was not prepared for was ‘the showing’ in which you must walk past the body, face showing (and do what?) and greet a long line of his family (and say what?!) So we were the bumbling brits – not for the first time! And after – well there’s nothing like a funeral to whet the appetite. I have never seen so many people munch so much curry and eat surely a tonne of cake – most amusing.

Added to this we decided to try and stir up some interesting cultural learning opportunities and kick-start a social action project. None of the coloured kids in the church really mix with white or black kids, except a little in school. One 14 year old told me the reason black people live in shacks is because ‘they spend all their money on cars’. You take my point. So we got in touch with a manager of social services in Khayelitsha, a v. poor black township on the edge of the city. The idea is to encourage coloured kids throughout the Rhenish church congregations to volunteer once a month in a children’s project in Khayelitsha. The manager of social services, who – handily(!) is also a pastor in the Rhenish church, was up for it, so its early days, but we’re hopeful. We’re looking at them working in a community garden, playing with the kids, etc.

Other work happenings include.. starting a rugby team (we are being nagged, but have no clue about the rules – sorry dad!), writing a booklet based on young people and parents opinions, stories and questions, planning a Youth camp, second attempt to climb Table Mountain, visiting a street kids project (a huge proportion of them come from our community) finishing the youth lounge (see photo), meeting with other youth leaders from elsies river, and waving red hot pokers at adults in the church to try and motivate them to get involved in the youth work. This is probably our biggest challenge. We said when we came that we didn’t want to start a bunch of stuff and then just leave. So the key word for the moment is ‘sustainability’ and that means getting adults involved. We invited 15 likely suspects to a meeting to talk about what was involved in supporting young people to try and generate some interest and motivation. Of those 15, 8 turned up, but – alleluia! we now have 5 people who are committed to helping out with the youth camp and – I hope- will also get involved each week in the group.Thanks to everyone who prayed about this.

I have just read that list back and remembered that all my old school reports say ‘over ambitious’. No comment. Amongst the work we’ve also had some legendary weekends off. Hi-lights included a 10 course fish bar-be-cue on the beach, and visiting the beautiful Cape Point nature reserve on Sunday. A huge tortoise, 5 metre long whale bones, birds and my first siting of a wild otter made you just jump about and say thanks very much God! Later in the afternoon we were swimming in the aqua blue sea only to be rudely interrupted by a cheeky baboon. The little blighter ran across the beach and started going through my clothes and opening our bags. I ran out of the sea, yelling (rather rudely I confess) and lobbing handfuls of sand at it. The baboon ducked and put its hands over its face, but continuing with my sandy onslaught the fella finally gave up. I was glad about this because he then grabbed some other poor chap’s bag who had to give chase. It was like some scene out of a cave man film watching some guy in his speedos with a long stick disappearing after a troop of baboons over the sand dunes!

Well guys I will wrap up for now. For all you praying types, please can you send one (or two) up for the following….
– thanks that we’re safe, in one piece, still learning a lot, and feel God is right with us
– thanks for the adults who are starting to get involved in the youth group
– the youth camp – could be a really key time and Dave and I are leading the programme. Please pray for wisdom for session content and for the holy spirit to come.
– for the social action project in Khayelitsha – that it takes off and takes shape and young people catch the vision for it
– for more adults who will commit to spending regular time with the young people – we’re still looking for people to help with football, rugby and Pathfinders. No-one committed so far.
– for us. Both a bit frazzled and needing some encouragement. Also starting to think about coming home (April 29th) and what’s next.

THANKS PEOPLE! To everyone whose taken the time to read these ramblings, e-mail us, or pray, thanks so very much. It means a lot. God bless you.
Love Isla and Dave
xPolice Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach divx

Update from Dave and Isla in SA

Do you ever find yourself wondering ‘how on earth did I end up here in this situation, in this place, at this time?’ We have found ourselves thinking this often since arriving in South Africa three months ago but for me (Dave) never more so than on Saturday morning just gone. Before I had even had a chance to feel reasonably awake I found myself with the responsibility of refereeing our new football team’s first ever proper match. Yes, the team with surely the longest name ever (Elsies United Rhenish Church AKA One Love) played a friendly against the Church Council. Those of you who are even vaguely familiar with me will know that I have let my knowledge of the beautiful game slip to an embarrasing degree since I stopped collecting Panini football stickers in 1986. I was always bound to make a bad referee, but add to my ignorance a serious lack of linesmen (none) and, indeed, an equal lack of lines, and there was a recipe for disaster. My decisions generally went with the team who was shouting at me the most and seemed the most likely to turn on me or bare a long term grudge. The final score was 5-0 to Elsies United, to the delight of our coach, Jeremy (one of the young people) and I only had to give one yellow card! You can see a photo of both teams, attached.

So what else have we been up to since our last update? We have just come to the end of our summer programme of activities. This included some great day trips to various beaches, beauty spots and ice-rinks! (Our attempt to scale Table Mountain was unfortunately hampered due to bad weather.) These trips provided useful opportunities to get to know the young people well in a short space of time, which has been essential. From these relationships we have been able to develop the football team, which has really taken off and is a great opportunity for the young people involved to develop physically and socially. Jeremy has really risen to the challenge of being coach and is slowly developing in self-confidence through this role. We have also been working together on creating a youth lounge in one of the church rooms. This has involved brainstorming what kind of atmosphere we want to create and what we want to use the room for (including providing space for friends to come and chill and make links with the church). Since agreeing on these issues we have been busy painting and making banners and the room is coming together very nicely.

We had a fantastic break with our good friends the Wiles’ who came to spend Christmas in Elsies River. The Turkey finally arrived at sometime after 5:00pm on Christmas day because Dave Wiles forgot to turn the oven on! Nevertheless, we had tongue, tripe and trotter to keep us going (apparently traditional South African Christmas day food) and even some edible things too like ham, roast pumpkin, seafood curry and Christmas pudding. It was an interesting mix of South African and British traditions and the afternoon was spent swimming in the pool and opening presents sent from our families. It was certainly an unusual Christmas day but the good company of friends from home and new friends (the pastor and his family spent the day with us) lestened the homesickness.

We enjoyed being tourists with Dave and Donna and the family, finally making it up Table Mountain on the cable car, which was spectacular. (Attached is a photo of us at the top looking out over the northern suburbs, we are staying somewhere in all that!) We also visited Robben Island, the Cape of Good Hope and various other beautiful places. Dave Wiles and his son Dan decided all this wasn’t enough excitement and jumped out of a plane. When Dave reached the bottom he looked even whiter than the day he arrived at the airport!

It was hard saying goodbye to friends from home and settling back into life and work in Elsies. However, we are back in the flow of things now and have some exciting plans for our remaining time here. We plan on spending a large portion of our time and energy on training the youth exec and on recruiting adults from the church to invest their time in young people. We will also be doing some training with youth leaders from other churches in Elsies River, helping them explore issues for local young people and how they might respond. We have been asked to present a council of 40 local church leaders with a proposal for the employment of a Youth and Community Worker for Elsies River. The possibilities here are very exciting.

Other opportunities we are exploring are a cultural/educational exchange. Two or three people from the Rhenish Church in Elsies with an interest in youth work will hopefully come and spend a week or two sharing their stories in schools in the UK and visiting youth projects. A couple of young youth workers from the UK will then come and visit Elsies in 2007 and explore issues of justice, equality etc with the young people and youth workers here.

One of the most exciting possibilities we are exploring is a social action project of some sort in one of the black townships (‘Khayelitsha’). Our hope is that a group of young people will be given the opportunity to volunteer with a children’s project. Historically there is some tension and prejudice between the coloured and black communities and the hope is that these volunteers will return to coloured churches and tell the stories of the people and children they meet through the project. We are just starting to discuss this idea, so it’s early days, but it could be great.

The blessed mourners

Some of the young people I work with have recently lost a good friend in a tragic accident. As youth workers we are confronting the issue of how we respond to this. We want to offer hope, comfort and space to reflect on, and deal with, the situation. We don’t want, in any way, to abuse or manipulate the situation (sadly something which I believe could easily happen in some faith based youth work contexts). Whilst praying and thinking about the situation my thoughts inevitably found their way to Jesus’ sermon on the mount. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” What does that mean? How is it really experienced in a way that makes any lived and felt difference to these lads lives? I realised I don’t have a clue what the answers are to these questions. I also realised that this is the answer to my earlier question about how we should respond. How can you be manipulating someone if you are in a position in which you have the questions and they may just have the answers? They are the ones who are mourning (I am very sad about this young life cut short, but I didn’t actually know him). They are the ones who may just be experiencing this ‘comfort’ that Jesus talked about. These lads are often seen and labelled as anti-social, criminal, in need of learning and changing. In at least this situation though, it is me who needs to learn from them. I think I’ll go and ask them what on earth Jesus was talking about.

My worship’s better than your worship

Hi, new contributor signing in. Look at my profile if you want to find out who the hell I am! Thought I’d dive straight in to the shallow end and comment on the worship thread. I also struggle with much of what’s described as ‘worship’ in church, for some of the same reasons Richard mentioned (narrow understanding of worship, few of the songs express my understanding of God/Jesus/Good News/Kingdom etc).
I attended an ‘alternative worship’ event last week, run by a bunch of people who have been doing this stuff in Cardiff for years and are really creative and interesting. The evening was engaging, reflective and made a lot of sense to me where I’m currently at, and involved no singing at all. However, the feel was very much each person, in their own space, with their own thoughts. Surely if there is any strength in singing a bunch of songs together in a group it’s that, for once, we are at least (literally) singing from the same song sheet. How do we retain and promote this sense of ‘corporateness’ and lose some of the trash that’s become attached? Historically singing songs together has been an important way in which people experience community and share their common stories and experiences. Is there still a place for music/communal singing in the church community? What is it?