Life with Pastor Silas

Life’s different in the townships here. Because fully-developed and under-resourced areas are so close together, you can drive twenty minutes down any highway and you’re in a different world. The atmosphere shifts when you’re out in the villages of South Africa; the pace of life slows down, and a sense of community becomes stronger. Everyone knows each other in the townships, and everyone is looking out for one another. It may be that electricity isn’t standard, running water is a rarity, and violence is more of an issue; but still community thrives, and churches play a major role in bringing that community together and pointing them in the right direction.

I spent the past week and a half with Pastor Silas of Rock of Ages Living Church in Mmotla, a township located about 30 minutes outside of Pretoria. I stayed with his family; Maria, the Pastor’s wife, who spends her days taking care of children at their daycare, and their two kids, Botlhale, who’s 17 and working his way through high school, and Bontle, who’s 21. They graciously let me stay in their house, and they continuously showed me kindness in the form of delicious home-cooked meals and lots of laughter together.

Pastor Silas and I embarked on a wide range of adventures during my stay; we went on a handful of taxi rides, we ventured through a wild blackmarket, we took half of the engine out of his car for repairs, we went to see a family for a memorial service, and Silas let me share at his church service and their Bible study. We also got into a good bit of trouble together, like forgetting to bring money to buy a coldrink (soda) and getting partially lost in a taxi in a different village. Silas and I grew close, and I was able to experience a totally different side of South Africa because I didn’t have a team of Americans with me at all times. At first I was a little scared and uncomfortable to be on my own, but it proved a joyful experience that taught me a few things about this country, about the Lord, about Silas, and about myself.

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Here’s a picture of Pastor Silas after we spent a while working on his car engine the first time with friend and secret-mechanic, Louis. Shortly after I took this picture, we all ate ice cream together and told stories, laughing a lot.

I found a really meaningful routine every day through watering a huge garden behind Silas’s church. Each morning we’d walk across the street together around 7:00, and I’d get the hose out and spend the next hour or two watering the plants and listening to worship music. Normally Pastor Silas waters the garden in the mornings, but I helped him out with the task while I was there.

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I think God starting teaching me things through that garden. It was really satisfying to see the plants grow more and more throughout the week, and I started to realize how similar that garden is to community as a whole. In order to build a strong and fruitful community, you have to pour into it daily, like watering thirsty plants. A few days out of the week, I would go around and pick up the trash that had blown into the garden over night. Like community, and like our own souls, we can’t leave our trash and sin lying around haphazardly. We have to learn to get better and to clean up.

After I finished watering the greenery, I found a cool, shady spot against the church and spent time reading the Word and writing. Then most days I’d help Silas and Maria at their daycare, which is called a creche here. The creche meets at their church, and usually they have about 75 kids between the ages of 2 and 6 years old. Silas and Maria both strive to teach kids thoroughly in different areas of learning while keeping the activities fun. Pastor Silas taught the children about the seasons one day (it’s Spring here) and they colored pictures of birds. Silas had them practice English and Tswana (the local language) while they showed each other their pictures, working on skills like speaking and social interactions, as well as basic art skills and knowledge of colors.

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When the kids weren’t learning from Silas and Maria, they would play, eat, or just make strange loud noises. They were all very interested in me also, and it took me a few days to get them to stop calling me lekgoa, which is a derogatory term for white person. They’re all so sweet though, and it’s great for them to be in a loving and warm environment like the creche, because the same can’t always be said about their home environments. I spent a good amount of time playing with kids, but they mostly were interested in feeling my leg hair, which is totally foreign to them.

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Here’s Maria, teaching kids about Spring and the flowers that are starting to bloom around the area.

We spent a few hot afternoons working on Pastor Silas’s car. Well, I didn’t really work on it, it was mostly Louis. But I was always there when we’d take breaks and eat ice cream- for moral support, of course.

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At the end of the day, Silas and I would usually sit outside his house and enjoy the temperature dropping and the wind picking up. It’s here that we would have deep, heart-felt conversations about life and the Lord, and our struggles. We’d talk while we looked out over a tree that stood alone in his yard, and we would watch the powerful red African sun disappear in the distance. Then, the sky would change in hue from blues to oranges to pinks and violets and then finally fade into darkness. The stars would start to peek into view, like someone was poking holes through a sprawling colorful blanket. Eventually darkness would fall completely, and there’d be no more holes to poke in the night. In these special moments, Pastor Silas shared his heart with me, and we talked about things like his preaching and his family, and spiritual warfare that he’s fighting in his community. I would tell him about struggling to be away from home and keeping my heart present in South Africa, and he’d share wisdom. Those evenings sitting under the sky were some of my favorite times of out of the whole week.

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My experiences with Silas offered me a glimpse of life that I had never seen before. I was able to see how dedicated he is to his church and his community and the children at the creche, and hear stories of intense spiritual warfare, the likes of which I had never heard firsthand before. Pastor Silas and I spent a lot of time speaking about the Spirit, and Silas talked about how the Spirit is a “He” and not an “It,” and how the Spirit looks in daily life. Silas also has an incredible amount of joy, even when he’s in the face of hardship, like someone smashing all of the windows in his church. He showed me that joy is not circumstantial, but it’s a state of the heart that relies solely on the Lord’s goodness.

This just being my first week spent in a township, I’m stoked to get to spend more time with Silas and other pastors, and learn more about the Lord and life in these villages. At this point, I’ve also spent more time in the townships than I have in the first-world city, which is a cool accomplishment. In the next few weeks, I’ll be working on a few photography and graphic design projects, visiting a few different townships on day trips. Then, hopefully in early October, I’ll spend another two weeks or so with a different pastor and his family. More updates will follow soon, and thanks for keeping up with the ministry going on here!

Here’s a few more pictures from the past week.

RockOfAges(resized)-7.jpgPastor Silas’s house.

RockOfAges(resized)-15.jpgPure mischief at the creche.

RockOfAges(resized)-22.jpgThe Pastor after preaching, dressed in his Sunday best.

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RockOfAges(resized)-29.jpgSilas getting the fire ready for a Braai, or Barbecue.

RockOfAges(resized)-33.jpgSilas and I on my last day with him.

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Arrived in South Africa!

So, I’m wrapping up my first week here in South Africa, and it’s been absolutely incredible.

My flights last Monday and Tuesday were smooth and easy. I had a layover in the Amsterdam airport, which is basically a giant IKEA, and then when I arrived in South Africa, where my entry was completely problem-free. There’s a lot of paperwork minors have to fill out beforehand to enter the country, and when I reached passport security, the officer didn’t even give those papers a look.

I’ve been really blessed by my host family, John and Myrtle, as they’ve taken great care of me and offered me a gracious amount of space to myself. They live in a safe, spacious home in Pretoria, and I’ll be here a few nights a week or so. They make me feel like I’m part of the family. I have my own car to use, and I’ve quickly adjusted to driving on the left side of the road while sittingon the right side. A ton of the drivers, especially the taxi drivers, are wild here, so I fit right in on the road.

On Friday I ventured out into the townships for the first time since I’ve been here. I went with a kind man named Julian who works for Abba’s Pride, and we delivered food to a few daycares out in the townships. These villages are so different than anything we’re used to in the States. Poverty takes grip of communities like a disease, and violence follows. It’s a vicious, tragic cycle. As we drove along, we passed people selling fish and fruits and vegetables on the side of the road, and we drove by houses made of thin scrap metal. We passed an internet cafe inside of a shipping crate, and a KFC in a tiny brick building in the center of a township. Julian and I talked about the state of the country and the effects of poverty.

The important thing to realize about poverty is that it’s much more than just a lack of material goods. Poverty is an emotional and psychological position of despair and lacking, and a feeling of helplessness and unworthiness. Short-term missions come to places like this often, and sometimes they give the locals clothes or money or food, or they paint a playground or build a well, and they don’t have the locals help any. When outsiders come in and help a community, especially if they weren’t asked for help, a lot of times they just hurt the locals more because the outsider confirms the idea that someone in poverty can’tdo it on their own after all. The feeling of helplessness is confirmed, no matter the good intentions. We spent time studying this dilemma and watching videos on the book When Helping Hurts that covers this topic.

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With that in mind, Abba’s Pride works hard to equip pastors and teachers to lead their communities better themselves in the long run. Lonnie, with his wife Debbie, started Abba’s Pride, and they both work full time for the organization. Their daughter Becca and her husband Josiah are also full-time workers, along with a few others. The ministry takes great care to help townships alongside locals, making sure that the locals have skin in the game in big projects, and making sure that locals can take over projects and do it on their own after a while. I feel really blessed to be part of such an awesome ministry.

Lonnie and I drove out to visit Pastor George in a township called Winterveld. On the Pastor’s family land, we spent time with locals and helped work on a project: putting a high quality water well and tank in place for irrigation of the Pastor’s upcoming farm. Right now, the family land is just huge empty land, but Pastor George has 11 families involved in starting a community farm, with each family taking care of their own section. The land has been in the family since 1982 or so, and some of Pastor George’s aunts and uncles live there now. I spent a lot of time with one family member, named Sully, and we talked for awhile and then went on a walk with his goats.SA17-1.jpgA few generations ago, George’s family had a witchdoctor come to their land, and he and the family built an altar to the devil there. There’s a lot of ancestral worship in South Africa, so at the altar they buried bones and teeth of their ancestors, and the witchdoctor planted a single rose atop the altar. He told the family that every week the rose would need to have a blood sacrifice to stay alive, a sacrifice from a goat, or else evil would come on the family. So they would make a sacrifice weekly, and George told me that the first week his family didn’t do this, one family member actually died. So the land had been cursed for a long time, but Pastor George was the first in his family to become a Christian, and other family members followed suit. Last week, Pastor George called his family together and they decided that the altar must come down. So they prayed and prayed and then dug up and destroyed the altar and all the bones with it. They prayed over the land more afterwards, and he told me that at first he and his family were scared something bad might happen. But nothing happened, and his confidence in the Lord grew. Pastor George told me, “Now, we believe that this family is free, and free forever, even the generations to come.”

 

It was really awesome to go out and see God working here in such tangible ways. I’m really thankful for Pastor George and his story, and he kindly let me film him telling the story. It’s really cool to be a part of something like this that we know will bring the Lord lots of praise, and I’m really excited to put that project together and share more of what the Lord is doing.

1 John 3:16-18 says;

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

This is a really incredible verse, and I’ve been praying that I would keep a selfless, serving attitude, knowing that Christ first laid down his life for me. Here I’m truly getting the opportunity to love with actions, and I’m able to speak truth into people’s lives and share stories through photography. I think all of us get a little too comfortable just loving with words and not actions.

Tomorrow, I’m headed to a village to stay with a pastor, Pastor Silas, for two weeks straight. I’m really stoked to just do life with him, and be totally immersed in a township like that. I’m sure I’ll have stories to tell and pictures to share when I get back to my host home!

So until then, live loved and love well my friends.