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.

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