April 26, 2015
The Fourth Sunday of Easter
May our eyes see one another.
May our ears hear one another.
May our hearts touch one another’s.
And may our souls hold one another.
I chose this of all the Sundays offered to me because the 23rd Psalm just as much as John 10 is very endearing. For me it is a personal promise and fulfilment of blessed assurance, of needs met, hope and gratitude, characteristics of love and well-being.
Today’s readings bring new light and consciousness to roles we choose or take on as one’s call shows us the way. This is the way I understood the readings We have God who is represented by the shepherd – the good shepherd, as John puts it, then there is Jesus represented by a shepherd who has been teaching the apostles (“again and again”) and us in turn, and then there is Jesus being shepherded by the Father as he listens and obeys his will to the extent of laying down his life.
Can you see yourselves in any one or more of these roles? As David reminded us, stewards and SLT are our shepherds, and then there are those who are untitled shepherds. I don’t mean only the shepherd role, but the sheep/goats and the hireling who has been given the poorest reputation. I have asked myself, why pick on the hireling? He might have taken on the job because nothing else was available, and he had to feed, clothe and shelter himself/herself and possibly the family. After all, he does not own the sheep, I don’t think he is paid more than a wage and I wonder if he even gets any benefits? He might be used only as a substitute and as such he neither has the commitment nor the call for this job (jackass of the boss). Yet he is chided for not willing to risk his life for the sheep. Where is the virtue of compassion?
In the Othandweni community the roles of shepherd, sheep and traces of hireling behavior are part and parcel of life just as in my life. While I hope they could have some of Seekers’ traits, even though they are a much smaller group, their limited education and past experience of national and personal abuse impedes their progress and the realization of being at one-ment with God, or our popular understanding that we are in this together” is rarely experienced. Yet at the same time they are God-believing-fearing-loving people with faith as strong as a mustard seed and a yearning to do better for themselves and their community. In spite of their financial struggle they are willing to share their food with the after school youth, some of whom might have had just breakfast. In their South African Christian churches, they spend at least 3 hours at a Sunday service without coffee hour.
Back to the Psalm: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; really? I can list lot of wants. I have wanted to travel, have a degree, own a small bright home with a holly tree and a fireplace, and I could go on, “my cup overflows” I got all of that and more including a spring garden and enough $$$ to pay the mortgage. In Koinonia we have a practice of asking God’s intervention for persons or causes. Our service includes a time for asking, so can we honestly say “I shall not want?” Maybe it really means, wants can be realized thru trusting and listening to God’s shepherding. So in the case of Othandweni, known as a Place of Love, how can we build on their wants to form a continuously caring functional community? I hope that it will happen in my time, while I still have the energy to shepherd the sheep and while you all continue to believe in supporting the journey of this cause, for it is a journey. New ideas need time to absorb and repeated practice to function well.
For those of you who have not been there physically, Winterveldt, South Africa, north of Johannesburg and Pretoria, is a semi-arid flat piece of land declared by the then apartheid government to be good enough for blacks but not for whites. I have stayed there twice, in different seasons, been to the shopping center different days, the only white person I saw was Jim Cawley of the Bokamoso Foundation and my mentor, and this year Bill. Having said that, I must declare that this project under the name of Tumelong, was started by a white South African woman through her Anglican Church, but she has moved away since. No representation, no vote, this is what can happen to projects. But see what happens, to quote John, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” With their departure, and through Paul Holmes, came the McMakin’s – Dave and Jackie; and after they left in come Bill and Linda. Note that with every departure of a shepherd, another appears and it is a church (group of shepherds) taking on the role of the faithful good shepherd who in doing the will of the Father is watching over them.
He maketh me lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me besides still waters. Remember it is semi-arid land, so that scene is like a luxury; and what about the still waters. The only still waters that I saw were puddles that concerned me because of malaria and the consequence to the foundation of the building. As we drove into the area I watched the goats and/or sheep, they looked sad as they chewed and chewed of what little sustenance they could find. And here in the midst of this is the beautiful sky lit with stars and moon and the Othandweni and Bokamoso projects – they are like an oasis, for they nurture the body, mind and spirit of infants and youth and people from other countries. The staff of 6 + shepherd the sheep and shepherd each other. Your financial support covers a portion of their earnings. There are times when they go without any pay or they are paid a minimum. The single parents struggle to feed the young ones especially the teenage children whose needs have grown, and those who do more than one job feel unappreciated and exploited, yet they are there regularly because they have a commitment to the organization and to the children they love dearly. Your support of me again and Bill this year has enabled us to shepherd them.
Othandweni has 3 projects: the Day Care which includes children – ages 1 month to 6 years who are taught at two levels in English and Tshwane. The older ones are prepared for first grade. This service provides mothers the opportunity to earn some livelihood and be able to pay the Day Care fees. The teachers have basic education and are presently receiving Early Education Development training. It is a challenge for them because their level of English is not adequate, but they get support and shepherding from the two staff with higher education.
The second project is the Guest House – hospitality. This is income generating but not regular. When guests come from the U. S. A. at least once a year at different times they are so indebted to them that they will go out of their way to host them. They are like Koinonia in some way, they like to feed people and be in fellowship with them. They give them a 7-star treatment with care and nurture in a rustic environment- no radio, TV or telephone in the rooms, but the rooms are clean and comfortable. Here is where the Bokamoso Foundation members and St Andrew’s school join us in shepherding process.
They prepare a table with ample healthy food amidst their poverty.
Poverty is an enemy here in a way that is hard to understand unless you have been there for a reasonable stay and not as a tourist. The concept of budget is almost alien to their culture; they live on a cash income basis. Their bank charges them a fee for each deposit and each withdrawal as well as a monthly fee. In spite of this, they are best at coping. Their commercial fridge which was on its way out finally conked out after we left, just about the time when the St. Andrew’s students and staff were due to arrive. They did not have the 9,000 rand or $850 to buy a new one. The cost of buying one on an installment basis would be far too expensive. So they borrowed one. Have you ever heard of the idea of borrowing a fridge? In Tswana there is no difference between lending and borrowing. It may or may not have monetary implications, but it is temporary loan. Before we arrived in February, the manager bought new towels, a bed cover, (maybe the old ones were worn out) and a vase with flowers for our room. And yet the staff was not paid in January as a result of them receiving a bonus at the end of December. Partial payments were made in February. I told them that while I am with them we are not earning and that if it were not for Seekers church we would not be there. Thereupon the manager suggested that we not pay for lunches. How could we accept their offer when we knew that they were not paid their regular stipend? Much as I love them, I would not lay down my life as would the good shepherd for his sheep, but we were willing to risk not saving any dollars that month and the cost of replacing a furnace and roof repairs. Believing that when one responds and takes seriously one’s call, the good shepherd will meet our needs – I shall not want.
The 3rd project is the After school program for middle schoolers. There is no place for the youth after school and some parents worried that their children might be at risk. Other parents preferred that their children cook and clean up and neither parents had the money pay for this service. The kids were too young to attend at Bokamoso, hence this became the birth of the After Care program. The staff saw a need and responded. Was this their call? About 25 youth attend, and when white people come, many more and up to 45 will participate. They and their instructor arrive hungry and usually get a snack when food is available. The instructor volunteers his time and skills and walks about 2 hours to arrive at the Center. The youth are offered space to do their homework and are helped as needed. He teaches them music, song and dance and they have developed powerful voices. Such a shepherd is hard to find and we were touched by his enthusiasm and devotion to the youth. I showed him a book on how he could facilitate and use other tools. He asked me if he could mark the book. He was happily surprised that I gave it to him. He returned the following day very energized and asked me if I could demonstrate what mental math is as well as some of the games, and to teach them focusing and meditation using art and quiet music, which I did. The youth were so eager to learn and participate in all the activities. They meditated for the first time and some produced beautiful poetry in that short time. These sheep trusted me and I enjoyed shepherding them because not once did I have to repeat an instruction except to translate into Tswana for the younger ones. I’d like to end with Bill reading the birthday greeting from a 12 year old girl to the coordinator of this program on the occasion of her birthday and which I read to the Othandweni Board to give them an additional reason to be committed shepherds to the staff. Message read by Bill exactly as written by