Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The stories continue

Click the pic to see the current missions blog for Brentwood Baptist Church, including more adventures in South Africa

Friday, October 03, 2008

It's a Wrap

Hard to believe this is the last night in the team house. Part of the team will leave for home tomorrow, some will stay a few days longer, and the rest will be going onto a whale watching and shark diving adventure.

Today concluded all the projects we had begun earlier in the week. All the VBS teams finished their studies, and the other construction , and landscaping people finished as well. The retreat team had concluded their work yesterday.

We were able to play tourist this afternoon as we visited Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point.
The ride back to the team house provided great wild life viewing. We saw a zebra, eland, camels, baboons, and ostrich . Being the tourist we are of course we made plenty of photos.

Each team had great stories tonight in our share time. Many were touched by either locals they had met or by other team members. It's always great to see how a random group of people that really don't know each other can bond as a team and even a family before the end of the trip.

Tomorrow we will say goodbye and go in many different directions, yet we will always share the love and memories from this trip.

Thank you again for reading our updates and for all your support!!!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Kitchen Duty

We have had an incredible week in VBS (or Holiday Club as they call it here) at Ocean View township. The numbers in all of the VBS locations have steadily increased. Monday we had about 180 children in Ocean View and today, Thursday, an enthusiastic 215 children! The children come to us everyday--eager and ready for the day to begin. Many are waiting for our van as we arrive, some with no jacket or shoes and most in the same outfit they've worn all week. How precious are the faces that come...they love to be in close proximity with any of us. The children want to hold our hands, sit in our laps, and touch our hair constantly.
Our day begins with a Call-Out, which consists of many of us walking through the township with a bullhorn, calling the children to come to the "Multi" where VBS is held. Those sweet faces greet us on the streets or look out from windows, wondering what the commotion is all about. Several join our group on our walk through the streets. These streets may be dirty or desolate, but the children's eyes tell another story-one of joy and hope in the direst of circumstances. Some children cannot come on a rainy day simply because they will be punished if their one outfit becomes wet or dirty. Their sparse concrete buildings are laced together with clotheslines...reminding us to never complain about doing laundry again.
Is it because we have so much that we think they have so little??? Do they realize how little they have? Do they know?
The day is filled with fun activities, music, and Bible Study. The children have learned Bible memory verses, participated in biblical dramas, and we wish we had recordings of their sweet voices singing praises to our God! Our friends will find this humorous...but Debo and Ellie have been referred to as "The Dance Team". We laughed out loud, as we are sure you will as well!
Every day in VBS, our children are fed a hot meal, usually rice and chicken necks. After literally licking their styrofoam bowls clean, they neatly stack them on the table along with their plastic cups. Today, we had kitchen duty and had one of the most humbling experiences of the week. The children had been fed and had left for the day, and we asked the cooks to show us what to do to help them clean up. We began to wash the styrofoam bowls in dirty sink water and drying them with a towel that had seen better days. One staff member commented that we didn't need to wash the bowls for tomorrow since the kids would be having hot dogs--they wouldn't need a bowl. Then a kitchen staff member commented, "The thing about that is, if it can be used, we cannot throw it away". We continued to wash away, marveling at the appropriateness of her words. So many times, we discard things in our lives as "trash", not realizing they can be used. Aren't we all thankful that God has the same outlook as our sweet kitchen helper? How easy would it be for Him to give up on us because we are dirty and unclean? Instead, in His mercy, he gives us another chance, washes us clean, and helps prepare us for use. May we all be so blessed as the children we have worked with this week. It's truly amazing to come to this foreign land hoping to bless others, and instead, have these children of our mighty God bless us.

Debo Morris and Ellie Axford

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Nightly Team Meetings

We just finished our nightly team share time. We come together each night and share from the day's events. Various people have been asked to also share a devotion. Today the VBS teams had the opportunity to present the plan of salvation to each of their groups. Some teams reported planting seeds, others saw more immediate results from spontaneous worship through song, and comments and questions. It's encouraging to listen to how each person has been affected and seen God move that particular day. Amazing just how God can take something average or mundane and use that to create opportunities to share or discover.

Tonight Ryan and Dora shared a song with us to conclude our share time, very appropriate.
These two have wonderful talent and it's refreshing to see such talent used to glorify and share for the Lord.

The construction team and landscaping team that are assigned to Muizenberg have had the opportunity twice to join in the devotion with the homeless that show up for spiritual and nutrional food. This morning I noticed all the songs requested were all praise and worship; such as "Majesty", and "Open The Eyes of My Heart". It still baffles me that the same songs are sung all over the world. I observed that several of our team members set with homeless guys and ladies instead of our own memebers. Some seemed to accept this easy and others a little sensitive to their territory. The devotion this morning was given by a lady that used to work in the Living Grace office at Muzienberg. She spole on the parable of The Prodigal Son, she called it the parable of The Lost Son. I had never considered that term before, however that is very accurrate of his condition. She went on to say that God is waiting for us to return even if we have messed up by doignthings not appropriate , many of these people are drug users, former users, all sorts of backgrounds. She was speaking on their level, in terms they could relate to.

The main take away I realized this morning was that this is exactly how "church" looks and feels!
Think about it, someone has obvious needs, and are almost out of hope and just can't make it on their own anymore. Another person comes by and shares with them the greatest news of all time and gives them hope. They point out that God is in control and not only has the answers, but IS the answer!

I think we get so caught up in programs and routines, that we forget that the early church did not meet at the First Baptist Church of The Holy Land, instead they met in small groups throughout the community taking the message of God's love to the people. It's difficult to ever reach a lost person if we never are around any nor interact with them. Sometimes this means going on their turf, no matter how uncomfortable that may be to us. Honestly a homeless shelter is not my idea of the perfect place to hang out, yet God has used that to show me a very real example of the church in action.

I'll leave you on this note: How quickly do we judge or dismiss someone just because of how they look, act, dress, or even smell? So many times we disgard them and their contribution to society. Just like the prodigal son or a homeless person sleeping on the street .........God accepts us no matter where we've been, how we look, dress, smell, or what we've done. If God was willing to welcome us with open arms , even though we were covered in the filth of the world and smelled of sin, should we not offer the same acceptance to those we meet????

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Good Morning Sunshine

We awoke this morning to beautiful sunshine, no wind, and much warmer temperatures. We were thrilled!! Everyone was much more relaxed , knowing more of what to expect from our day. The best part of the morning , HOT showers!! WoooHoooooo!!!! This was the first day some of the team members had the joy of having hot water for their showers. Finally, the hot water issue seemed to be resolved.

I have no reports yet from the other teams, so I'll share about our time today at Living Grace, located at Muizenberg. We entered the shelter this morning just as Peter was preparing to begin the morning devotion for the homeless that had stopped by the shelter. After a brief opening devotional story, the men and women were able to pick out their favorite worship songs and hymns to sing. I realized that every song we sang dealt with second chances, over coming difficult times, or just being loved for who you are.

The first song we sang was "Amazing Grace" . Peter stopped us at the second verse and commented he always read this first, due to the importance of the message of the words.
"Through many dangers toils and snares , I have already come.
Twas grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home".
As we sang the final verse, I thought about how the previous verse so aptly fit the lives of the homeless we were sitting with. I thought about the dangers and fears they face each day, especially at night when they are sleeping on the streets. We have been told , that sadly, they are safer on the street than in some of the night shelters. A lady lead in a devotional about God is all about relationship and that our relationship with Him is what makes the difference in our lives each day. The main thought from the opening and closing statements was that if today was not a GREAT Tuesday, it was because we chose for it not to be great.

Two other things stood out to me as well this afternoon. As we were working on the renovations of the kitchen, the staff would stop by to look in on our progress. They would get all giddy and laugh as they looked and would comment on how great things looked. Ironically these comments were made as we were just beginning to put cabinets and pantries together. We told them we had not done anything yet, and they would laugh and say "Oh but it will be friendly when you are finished" (You must say that with a South African accent, which sounds very much like a British accent). That makes you remember just why you are working on these projects and just how much people appreciate acts of love and kindness.

The other thing that really struck me was the cold hard facts of what the homeless face. Many of these men and women stop by looking for day work. Most are there for food and shelter for the days. They are allowed to leave their belongings in a locker. I looked at a few of these and noticed how little was there. All the possessions of these individuals were in a tiny locker and yet we constantly complain about not having enough closet or storage space. Then as we were wrapping up work for the day, a gentleman came in looking for food. There was no more soup left, although he spotted a pot of something close to the stove. I looked a little closer at the scene and overheard the lady holding the pot say that was food for the dog. It was scraps and everything left over from the day. The guy indicated he didn't care and would eat it anyway. She said no she could not, that it might harm him. She did however find him some bread, so he would have something to eat.

How many times do we complain about our food? We talk about the bad taste or the fact it is not prepared just right. Here was a man willing to eat what was basically dog food, he only wanted food....no matter what it was , tasted , or smelled like.

The humbling fact is that many of us are just one paycheck, or lenghty sickness away from being in the same state as this guy. Did anyone else think of the scripture ".....for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink......" This was a true example of when Jesus said, "whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me".

Monday, September 29, 2008

Who Needs Electricity, Anyway?!?!

It's been a rainy day in Cape Town. We woke up to a fierce wind and immediately wondered what our day was going to hold because of the weather changes we weren't expecting. It was also the first day of Vacation Bible School... I am leading the music in Red Hill, a small township that has about 800 families and 3 camps: upper, middle and lower. We gather the kids by walking in their unsafe communities about a half hour before VBS would start and tell them to bring their friends. In our township we were expecting about 80 by the end of the week, so we assumed, rain and all, that today we'd only have about 45. We had 70 kids at VBS Red Hill today! PRAISE THE LORD!!! However, we learned that when we got to the facility, which is basically at tin box, we had NO electricity! How were we going to hold VBS in a tin box with no electricity while it's pouring down rain and we are wondering if the building will blow away due to the wind? Guess what?!? We did and it was WONDERFUL!!!

The beauty of these people is that they don't expect much. Although it's in my nature to give them much and specifically the BEST I can offer, because I've learned to never bring anything but the best before the Lord. We played games, sang "Outrigger Island" and "God is Real" acapella, taught God's biblical truth, memorized bible verses and simply PRAISED the Almighty God!!! There is a joy and a hope in these children's eyes that amazes me. One child pointed to a seashell and asked, "what is this?" We told them it was a seashell and then they continued to ask, "where did you get it from?" "The ocean," we said. The child asked, "where is that?" Red Hill is located about 2 miles off the coast of the Atlantic ocean and this child has NEVER even seen it. These children don't have much of anything but they have faith in the knowledge that God is real and that He loves them. So I ask you... Isn't that enough? It is for Red Hill.

The rain continued to pour over Cape Town the majority of the day, but along with the rain came blessings. Blessings of hope, love, faith and strength. A hope, I fear I could never have the way these children have it. A love that is given to all of us from the Father, who sent His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins. A faith in the knowledge of the Almighty God and a strength, that I'm still learning to accept so that I face these children tomorrow and be a light to them, in their lives and communities.

If the Lord wills, tomorrow is a new day in Cape Town. This trip has been a humbling experience so far and I am incredibly eager to see what the Lord will continue to do in Red Hill and Cape Town. Lives are going to continue to be changed and mine is one of them...

Dora Pop

Dora Pop

The Work Begins

Today we were able to actually get down to work. The various teams left the team house bright and early around 7:30am . Sunday's beautiful weather was replaced by a cold , windy, rainy day. We were not going to let the weather get in our way.

The Four VBS teams reported a total of just over 400 kids attending despite the weather. Many kids will not participate when it rains due to the fact they only have one set of clothes and don't want to get those clothes wet. It seems each group had a great start. There will be more stories from various locations later on.

The construction team broke up into two separate teams , both might have been better classified DE-Construction teams. Shane was a one man wrecking crew with his local helper doing some repairs. The other team gutted a kitchen at the homeless shelter in Muizenburg and worked on rewiring power supplies for computers in the offices there.

Landscaping was also working in Muizenburg, their big project is preparing to pour a 20x20 concrete patio. I think Melanie, Wayne, and Tom were actually making mud pies instead of preparing the ground ;-)

The IT team, wasa busy at several sites and finished the day with training of office staff on FTP .
Hopefully we'll have some more detailed stories after we have our team briefing tonight.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Praise in any language

Today the team worshiped at King of Kings Church and the Masi church. The message at King of Kings was delivered by John Thomas. This was a message on baptism, which is part of the discipleship series that they are going through. Some interesting points and good reminders of some basics. The service at the Masi church was more music oriented . The choir was away this week, so members of the congregation would lead in a song and some would offer testimony as well.
We had a very spirit filled service and we were all very enriched from the experience.

After the service the team members in our KomBi (van) were discussing the mornings' service.
All of us were impressed that even though we understood very little of the languauge spoken or sung we were able to worship just the same. We were reminded that when the spirit leads we can all take part.

I was thinking during the service that we have no idea of what is being said, yet we are getting just as much from the service. Also, it hit me that God understands everything we were saying at the same time understanding what we were also hearing in another language.

We had lunch at the home of Avril and John Thomas. We were whale watching just prior to going inside for our meal. A very fascinating location. John and Avril updated us on some of the operations and projects of Living Hope and the other ministries.

After some shopping and dinner we have returned back to the team house. We will be meeting and then resting for tomorrow's work to begin.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Day Two

Saturday went by really fast, we were very busy all day. The day was mostly spent with each sub team checking out their job sites and meeting with various people that will be helping in each area.
After lunch we spent the day playing tourist, visiting Table Mountain and WaterFront.
We discussed tonight how we have seen God move today.
The most obvious was in the beauty of Table Mountain. The view is breathtaking. After viewing the mountains and ocean from an elevation of 1078 meters you will have no doubt there has to be an intelligent designer. God spent a little extra time in creating the area around Cape Town.

Another example was with some of the people we kept seeing everywhere we went today. After a few conversations we learned they were part of another missions group, this one from Miami. They are also here to work mainly with children. Talking with two of the guys we learned they are very dedicated and committed to reaching these kids.

A running theme during this trip will be "How did you see God work today?"
Tomorrow will be a day of worship , visiting with John Thomas, and a little recreation time.
I'm sure we will be filling this blog this week with many examples of how God is working in South Africa and through team members.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Eagle Has Landed

The team arrived in Cape Town only a few minutes behind schedule. We just finished a team meeting and are going to eat dinner, unpack supplies and probably get some rest! We have a busy schedule beginning tomorrow morning. We'll get some team updates as soon as things get rolling :-)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Last Minute Pep Talk

John Thomas met with our team Sunday evening as we finished packing our supplies. He gave us an update on the political changes now happening in South Africa . He also warned us that Global Warming has forgotten Cape Town as they have been experiencing the coldest winter he remembers. This week begins the season of Spring in South Africa, so as we are enjoying highs in the 80's they are enduring highs in the 50's and 60's.

Later that same evening Mr Thomas spoke during a dinner designed to address the work of Fish Hoek Baptist Church and Living Hope. He also mentioned that on his last trip to The White House he informed President George Bush of the wonderful support he has from the partnership with Brentwood Baptist Church.

Anyone that has ever listened to John Thomas speak or have heard the story behind the beginnings of Living Hope can only be amazed. This one man, along with a tiny church saw a vision and dared to believe God was capable of anything. Almost ten years later John Thomas and Living Hope have become world leaders in the global fight against HIV-AIDS.

T - Minus 2 Days

As I type this entry it is only 40 hours until our departure for Cape Town South Africa. We spent Sunday evening packing supplies for the VBS portion of the trip. Along with VBS , sub-teams will also be involved in leading a retreat for wellness center workers, various construction projects at the 5 locations of Living Hope/Way/Grace properties, an IT team, and also landscaping.

We will provide updates each day of the trip, and hope to summarize each day how various teams have seen God at work. We'll try to post an entry upon our safe arrival (depending on internet connection) and then the first reports will begin Friday or Saturday Nashville time.

The team asks for your prayers as we continue to prepare and pack for departure, our safe flight to New York and Cape Town, good health, and that we will be used in the ways that God intends and that He will lead each step of our journey.

Thank you for your prayers, support, and encouragement. Please feel free to leave comments and they will be passed along to the team.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Snapshots from South Africa

They say a picture is worth a thousand words...

A sign in Masiphumelele (Masi for short), one of the black townships

Amber reading a letter from one of her prayer partners
The first year, Scott shelled one pea, this year Lee Ann painted one wall of trim (and okay, she did some gardening today too)
Girls in the Hood- L to R, Rachel, Amber, & Amanda

A beautiful rainbow from Noordhoek beach, near the team house
Larry & Rachel praying together on the porch at Capri

Our entire team at the Cape of Good Hope

Rachel and Amy's Nighttime Experience

Rachel and I jumped at the chance to work 7PM to 7AM Tuesday and Wednesday at the Hospice turned Healthcare Center. We had six female and five male patients all with HIV/AIDS and /or TB. The first night all but one woman was very resistant to us being there. The men were much more receiptive (go figure). There was one man in particular who took an interest in us and shared his story. As you can imagine, this was a humbling experience for us for a stranger to "spill his guts" so openly and without reservation. This gentleman was diagnosed with HIV three years ago is physically what we back in the states would imagine as the typical progression of AIDS. The difference is what we saw in how his diagnosis affected his heart. He insists the day he was diagnosed was the first day his life truly started. He told us the last three years have been the best in his life. The common theme he kept coming back to was "no pain, no gain". He explained that when he is without pain, he neglects his time with the Lord. When he is in pain, is the time he is closest to the Lord and remembers to be with Him. He prefers the pain over not.

Our second night proved to be more fruitful in that the women seemed to receive us as soon as we came thru the door. It is as if the first night they were watching us to discern our motivation for being there and could feel free to accept us. We decided to pamper them with hand cleansing and massages. Before we could finish with the first patient, a couple of other women were calling out "me next!". As I reflect back on the experience I remember seeing my two strong, soft white hands clasping one frail, thin, rough black hand between them and wanting to cry. I wish I could capture that moment on film to take home with me because I know my memories of this week will fade and I will forget the details. I pray the Lord will help me to remember these small details as they were so important at the time. We then proceeded to the men who even enjoyed a hand massage themselves.

Although different languages were spoken and we needed a translator for one patient, I felt the compassion in our voice outweighed any language barrier there might have been. The language of love and compassion is a universal language.

We completed our two night "assignment" tearfully and realized bonds had been formed in that short time. As Rachel and I reflect on our time together, we agreed that although we had both treated terminally ill patients in the past, walking into a ward full of people who will probably all have died by the next time we return was a different type of experience.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


Tuesday and Wednesday was the retreat for the workers at the hospice. After the fun games, we finally got down to business. We had many things planned for them, including self-help sessions, worshipping, games, and just having a good ole time.


The first session was about self esteem (Leader- Tom Dooley). In that session, we made picture frames for the girls to put a picture (we also took their picture) in and so that we could post it up on their new bulletin board that our construction team put up at the hospice. The next session was about team building (Leader- Melanie Wilson Hammer). For that session, we had the girls decorate a canvas square with things that they cared about. Each girl got up to share their square, and then they were able to form a quilt by joining them together.


The session started off super early, the girls just had finished breakfast along with only 2 hours of sleep. (they must of had a good time in their bunks) The first session was on boundaries (Leader- Melanie) but we started off with Tod Sandberg leading worship (and let me tell you, these women can sing). After we sang which felt like an hour because they just love to sing, and they also blessed us with singing their own praise songs in Xhousa (pronounced as Cosa). Then we had them do an icebreaker that I (Amber) led. This activity got them to break up into groups and discuss what makes them unique and special. The next session was on stress ( Leader- Patty Taylor) and she went over the different types of hugs and how they have such a positive effect on people. Which, we also got to practice and the women seemed to really enjoy that! The last session of the day was used for a time of encouragement (Leader- Jennifer Beasley). We used that time to break into small prayer groups so that we could pray over the girls and learned what their needs and concerns are. This proved to be a wonderful bonding time for both the leaders and the women. We handed out bracelets that Jennifer had found that had both American flag and South African flag colors. We gave this to them as a reminder that whenever they look at that we are praying for them and we love them.

All in all the retreat was a blessing, to us! We ended the day with hugs and smiles and them knowing that they now have an American Family.

Construction Junction

Thursday, day 4 of working, and we are all finishing up our projects. You can't imagine the span Living Hope has across Cape Town- currently they have a Christian radio station started by John Thomas' wife Avril, they have centers at Muizenberg, Capri, Masiphumelele, Ocean View, Red Hill, & Capricorn, along with having the Health Care Centre. Their focus is primarily home based health care, and education about the prevention of HIV/AIDS.

Our construction team has been at the Capri center all week, adding a wall to a loft area to close in the upstairs, and repainting the whole interior of the building- no small task with concrete walls and vaulted ceilings! Living Hope used to use the Capri center as their central hub where the admin offices were. Having outgrown this building now, admin has moved next door, and Capri is more of multi-purpose building. Sewing classes are held upstairs and various support groups meet here during the week, and the Living Hope staff have their weekly Monday morning devotional time here as well, which we were blessed to be a part of on Monday. After a short devotional, each staff member went around the room and told what projects they would be working on during the week. We then spent a good amount of time in prayer and spontaneous song & worship. It was a privilege to be able to get a glimpse of what a typical day at Living Hope looks like.

After that, it was down to business, moving furniture out of the way, and prepping to paint. As you can see in the picture above, Bill Bedi, Christina, Rachel, & Tami helped to demolish the old reception desk (as Pat Ball, the Volunteer Co-ordinater for Living Hope, put it- to send the desk where all good desks go when they die!). Christina, Rachel and I tackled the top floor painting, while Leslie, Tami, and Amy started on the bottom floor. Construction seemed to be going well. I batted my eyelashes at Des, the Living Hope maintenance man and convinced him that we really did need some primer to cover the dark green paint. (Ask Bill Bedi to tell you the story if you know him- he embellishes it way more than I do!) Bill spent a lot of time supervising & talking to Des, and he did spend an entire day hanging the door. Tom Blough worked hard & quietly from atop the scaffolding, until his infectious laugh rang out through the rafters! We lost a few people to other projects during the week, and also picked up a few along the way. Christina became known as the Queen Bee. Larry, our friend from Alabama was shortened to Bama, and I was known as Kentucky.

We shared lots of laughs and did a lot of hard work- way more than my sedentary lifestyle is used to! I would say the construction team had a very different experience from most of the team because we were so secluded at Capri, having almost no interaction with any of the South Africans. God continued to remind me each day that whatever I do, to do it for God's glory- through all the menial tasks- whether that means scraping paint off the floor, trimming base boards, vacuuming, or building, that it is all for God's ultimate glory.

Our team repeatedly refer to our personality types in joking throughout the week to explain or justify certain behaviors according to the PLACE class DISC method. Well I am an I, a people person, so I was questioning why God would put me on the construction team when I have little skill in this area (although it turns out I am a pretty good painter), and away from the possibilities to form relationships with the people of Cape Town. I got my answer in some unexpected ways. I formed bonds with my fellow construction team mates, and we had a ball whatever we were doing. Secondly, we all got a surprise today when Marius, one of the health care center patients came by to give us a thank you card he had made and signed, along with other staff & patients signatures, to express their gratitude for our work at Capri. Here I was thinking all week that while I understood the importance of the work we were doing in the grand scheme of things for Living Hope, I couldn't see how it was impacting people on a personal level. Marius blessed us in this way, and as many of you know, you will go on a mission trip to try and bless others, and you end up being blessed yourself. Meeting Marius and hearing his story, and having him thank us for the work we did was just the little bit of relational bonding that I had been missing all week and God provided that for me!

I will close now by saying that almost never are your own expectations met when you go on a mission trip like this- things change and you almost never end up doing things exactly as planned. The only expectation that can be counted on is that if your hearts are prepared, then God will show up and work in you and through you, and He certainly has done that with our team.