26 February 2012
The First Sunday in Lent
The Genesis reading lifts up a genius idea – covenant. We’re told that living in covenant is a way to bear fruit, to bring goodness to the world. Covenant implies relationship, connection, a mutual giving of gifts to one another.
Seekers lives the covenant with each other and with lots of people around the world through our giving and our association. This morning Jean and I want to lift up one of these associations – our relationship with the Othandweni Guest House and Day Care. Othandweni is right beside the Bokamoso Youth Centre in Winterveldt, South Africa and is where Roy Barber and his students stay when they visit.
Jean will start out by giving a visual picture of Othandweni and share what keeps her connected and excited about living the covenant with the people there. I’ll follow with the story of how this relationship developed and then finish with sharing the gifts that are there to be received by our connection with the Team there.
Jean pointed out various photographs that she had placed around the room as she spoke:
In 2004 I had the great good fortune to accompany Roy, another St. Andrew’s teacher and 18 students for a visit to South Africa: when we got to Winterveldt, we visited Bokamoso and the students who had been with us back home. We stayed in the Guest House (now called the Othandweni Guest House and Day Care.)
As I looked forward to the trip I found it was disquieting to have no knowledge of what the township of Winterveldt looked like, let alone the area around Bokamoso and the Guest House. Since most Seekers hearing the sermon today probably are like I was, without much of an idea of what this area was like, I will call your attention to some pictures that can be of help. These fine photographs of the area and of the people are provided by Dave McMakin, and St. Andrews’ parent, Joe Phelan.
The township of Winterveldt has a population of around one million people, mostly poor. During apartheid many of them were required to leave homes elsewhere in their country and were relegated to this traditionally black township. There are also some
immigrants from nearby countries in the township . You can see in two of the photos here the very small dwellings almost across from Othandweni and Bokamoso. These were built with whatever materials the families could afford or could scrounge. In 2004 there was no electricity in homes, nor running water.
The poverty in the area was what struck me first. The land was flat, often covered with high grasses, and here and there were some trees. Roads were dirt, as you can see, with deep ditches. I saw no gardens for food around the small, poor houses. I recalled that jobs were almost impossible to get unless one could ride the bus to Pretoria or Johannesburg and seek one, so there was a desperateness and some crime.
A story might be helpful here: On our bus trip from Johannesburg to Winterveldt the driver, a white South African, muttered about how he did not want to drive into Winterveldt; it was a “dangerous place”. (I sat directly behind him). We lurched off the highway and onto a dirt road to enter the township. Not far along, our bus, which had a plume of dust behind it, had to stop. There was a washout in the road. The driver announced with poorly disguised pleasure, that he would open the baggage area so we could claim our luggage and we’d have to walk the rest of the way. As he removed our luggage, loud yelps were heard. Bokamoso youths were expecting us, had seen the dust plume stop and realizing our plight, came bounding through the high grasses towards us. Our driver appeared terrified. We were delighted, as our friends embraced us, swooped up our luggage and led us to the Guest House.
We were greeted warmly by the Guest House staff, put our bags in our bedrooms and came to the dining room for some refreshment. They proudly showed us the rest of the facility…modern kitchen (they did have electricity), bathrooms(they did have running water), a little chapel room. So when I see these happy photos of the Othandweni Day Care pre-schoolers I know about the clean and safe Guest House, the caring staff, and the vegetables grown by Jacob, and good meals prepared by Regina. And I am glad to have a chance to help support this program.
Now the story of how we got involved. Paul Holmes was the first Seeker to visit Winterveldt. In 1988, 34 years ago, he met Steve and Mary Ann Carpenter, Anglo South Africans, who were living there and setting up several projects named Tumelong, “place of faith”, sponsored by the Anglican Diocese of Pretoria. One day neighborhood young people broke into their house and held them up by gunpoint. The upshot? Mary Ann started the youth centre, Bokamoso. Roy Barber then visited Bokamoso, was captivated by the energy of the students, and started writing plays with them and trained them in performance. Kathy Tobias also visited and with her small business expertise worked with one of the small business projects.
Then in 2002, through Roy’s introduction, Dave and I visited to help launch a guest house which Mary Ann envisioned could welcome the many visitors she expected to come to see and work in the various projects. While there, Dave oversaw the construction of the guest house including the electrical system and kitchen design and I trained the team of women to run it. These women Mary Ann had selected from the People Against Abuse project. All were recovering from abuse. The guest house would be their business, a way to earn money and also to serve the community. Mary Ann would attract the guests.
Soon afterwards, Anglican support for Tumelong dried up. Only Bokamoso, the abused women program, and the Guest House survived. Over the years, we kept in touch as best we could with the Guest House Team and worried with them about how to make ends meet.
Then, in 2005 on their own, they had a brilliant idea: take care of some of the many kids in the area left parentless from HIV-AIDS. Through sheer grit, they got a day care operation going and still kept rooms free to entertain guests who came. The Team became increasingly skilled in caring for the kids, but found it difficult to do the paper work required by government. Finally, last summer, they asked Dave and me if we would return to help them meet some of these government requirements , to help with the “paperwork.”
When we arrived for our three week visit last August, we were thrilled at how much they had accomplished. About 30 kiddies were getting great care. Jacob, the handy man and gardener, had planted 8 garden plots. The kids were getting fresh food regularly. Regina, the anchor in the kitchen, served up 80 meals a day without batting an eyelash. A lot was working well. And, the Guest House part of the operation continued to accommodate Roy and his team each time they visited and would always got high marks for a well-kept facility and delicious meals.
During our visit, a great deal happened:
*A new constitution and Business Plan were written.
*A financial system was set up
*Leadership skills were practiced and strengthened.
Since our first visit in 2002 Seekers has given steady support:
*Financial assistance – Last year $5,000.
*Counsel – Several Seekers have been part of a group we organized to give support and counsel. It’s called Friends of Othandweni. Marj Bankson, Jean Adams, Kate Cudlipp (before she died), Roy Barber, Elese Sizemore, April Sizemore-Barber, and Kathy Tobias are part of this together with St. Andrews people. Last year Friends of Othandweni urged us all to work on a sustainability plan for the work, so that it would be supported by South Africans without U. S. hope. The
*Business Plan and Constitution are part of this larger plan.
*Visits – Kate Cudlipp, Jean Adams, the Barbers, the Holmes, Kathy , and Linda Nunes-Schrag have visited.
Living the covenant is a two-way street. We give gifts. We receive gifts. Now let’s turn to the gifts all of us can receive from our partnership with Othandweni.
First, the power of partnership. A modern description of covenant is partnership. Together we can do more than we can do alone. So with Othandweni, we don’t simply give material assistance, we do more. We rejoice in their successes, show concern for their struggles, walk with them as they are faithful to God’s invitation to “bring the little children to me.” The Team’s part in the covenant is to embody this call very seriously. As the primary caretakers of the kids during the day, the Team brings them up as part of God’s family. The power of our partnership with Othandweni has enabled both them and us to do and be more than we thought we could. They know they have friends in the States who care for them and want the best for them, and we know that we are helping the Othandweni Team make a much better life for truly needy kids in a very poor area.
Another gift we can receive from our partnership is inspiration in the power of reinvention. The Othandweni Team, realizing that the Guest House would not bring in enough money, went into an entirely different line of work and made a go of it. So we, when we encounter broken promises, things not working the way we had expected, can reinvent a way of organizing our lives and our work.
Third, another gift is the power of continuous learning. Picture the women, after an exhausting day looking after the kids, in one of the guest rooms huddled around workbooks working on English literacy skills, tutored by a Bokamoso youth. We at Seekers have always been in a continuous learning mode. The ramifications of that are huge. If we are stymied over anything, we can ask, “What is it that I have to learn in order to get over this hurdle?”
Fourth, is the power of fun. Picture the Team, worried about basics like feeding their families and paying school fees for their kids, ready to set those aside to sing together, kid each other, joke around, and play with the kids. The power of fun and song is a constant in their lives. To demonstrate some of the fun things we’ve learned from them, we included a few in the service today. Let’s never forget, that no matter how many worries we may have, fun casts out fear.
This morning Jean and I invite all of us in Seekers to renew our partnership with the Othandweni Team for another year.
How can we do this? Here are some things to consider.
*Pray for the Team. They pray for us. Let’s be united in mutual prayer.
*Support giving the Othandweni Team financial help for another year.
*Join the Friends of Othandweni. Offer your best thinking on helping Othandweni move ahead. Let us know if you’d like to do this and we will keep you posted.
*Explore with us the possibility of making it possible for a young person, American or South African, to give a year of service at Othandweni particularly lending support to administrative tasks.
We do none of these things alone. The Scripture reminds us – God established the covenant. God remembers the covenant. God is with us as we live in covenant together.