When relationships are centered around Christ, it’s easy for those relationships to grow real deep, real fast. All of my closest friends have one thing in common: a shared passion for the Lord. I really think the love of Christ in us helps us to bond with each other in wild ways, and these past two weeks were no exception. The kind, gracious folks of Winterveld showed me the type of love it takes to have those deep friendships, and it was incredible.
Winterveld is a quieter village than the last place I stayed, and the community was closely-knit and welcomed me warmly. There’s a whole cast of characters who helped make my stay awesome, so let me lay them out for you. Firstly, there’s Pastor George, the head Pastor of Born Again (also called Faith Restoration.) Next, there’s Mdu, who I stayed with. Mdu lives with his family: Mama, Tshepo, and Mpumi. When Mdu wasn’t around, I spent the days with Pastor Steve #1. Now, there’s two Steves at Born Again Church; Steve #1 is who I spent the most time with, he’s a junior pastor and has 5 daughters and is on his 30th year of marriage, to a kind woman named Mildred. Steve #2 is also a junior pastor at the church, and he teaches at a local high school. Both Steves are incredible men who I grew close with, but I spent more time with Steve #1.
We went on some wild adventures during my time in Winterveld. On the very first day, we went out and finished demolishing an altar to the enemy on Pastor George’s family farm. I knew I was in for a powerful two weeks when that was the first thing we did!
A few nights, we pitched a huge tent in an empty field and threw a “revival” where the community came together to worship, and pastors came to share the gospel. I witnessed both Steves give powerful messages on the Good News, and over 20 people start relationships with Christ in just a few days.
I realized something just before I came out to Winterveld. I realized that sometimes I’m afraid of deep relationships with people from different cultures. I worry that I’ll offend them, or that we won’t be able to grow closer because our lives are just so different. But those fears are lies, Jesus has given us the ability to love one another regardless of where we come from or what language we speak. And once I started to grasp that, I started to dig in and buckle-up, I knew that the Lord would help me have deep relationships without holding back. Mdu was the first person I grew close with in Winterveld.
I spent a lot of my time with Mdu, who’s 28 and a strong leader with a firm faith. The second day I was in Winterveld, Mdu took me on a 5-hour walking tour of the town, with pit stops at multiple friends’ houses, a phone-battery store, a raging river, and a police station. You see, Mdu is the head of the community’s volunteer police force, so he’s well-respected by the employed policemen of the area. Mdu also holds a job at a Pick-n-Pay grocery store, a South African chain, but unfortunately the taxi ride is two hours long and pretty expensive. Mdu is a pretty serious guy, but as we grew closer I got to see some humor peek through. Almost every morning we had a devotion together, we prayed for each other, we shared impactful scripture. That’s when we grew closest, when we were vulnerable with each other about our fears and weaknesses and talked about our God who was greater than those things. I think it always takes vulnerability to have a deep relationship, vulnerability and a shared faith.
Mdu and I had a conversation that went like this after I’d been there a few days. Mdu turned, stared me down, and said to me, “Sam, you know what I don’t like about you?” “No, Mdu, please tell me what you don’t like about me,” I said. “Whenever I offer you something, you say you’re fine,” he replied. And he was right. As an American, I feel like my first instinct whenever someone offers me something is to say, “No thanks, I’m fine!” If someone offers me a drink and I’m completely parched, I might still say I’m just fine. I think we do this to be “polite.” It’s “polite” not to accept something readily in the States. But also, it’s a pride thing. Because when I admit I need something, I’m admitting that I cannot do life on my own, and that hurts my fragile pride. So I said to Mdu, “Yeah, you’re right man, let’s talk about that,” and we talked for awhile.
The next day, I went over to Steve #1’s place. Pastor George met us over there, and those two guys are full of wisdom and stories of faith. So I told them about my conversation with Mdu, and they helped me realize the problem. I was conditioned to respond in this American “politeness,” but in African culture, I was being straight-up rude. I mean, seriously, this American refusal of stuff to be polite is so backwards, and I was frustrated with myself over it. When someone sincerely offers you something kind, even when it costs them something greatly, why shouldn’t I accept it? And then it hit me. I do this with the Lord all the time. Jesus is offering this free gift of grace, and whenever I sin and mess up, usually my first reaction is to feel guilty and think, “Well, next time I’ll try harder.” No! It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I’ll always fail without the Lord. Just like I think I don’t need other peoples gifts to make it in life, I tell God I don’t need his grace to make it. We can’t let our pride be too big to accept God’s help, and for that matter, we all need to stop refusing stuff to be “polite.”
I’m thankful for the wisdom and grace of Steve #1 for wrestling over this issue with me. Steve and his wife were so caring and generous towards me, and one of the most impactful things that happened over my trip was when he told me the Spirit had really put it on his heart to spend time in prayer for my Dad and his cancer. So he and I sat down together in his living room and poured our hearts out to our sweet Creator, knowing that He’s got everything in control. When we looked up, all of Steve’s incredible family had also gathered into the room and were praying with us. I looked over and gave Mildred a big smile, and I got a little choked up at how sincerely caring she is.
I can’t emphasize enough how incredible the people of Winterveld are. They are all so full of faith and strength. Mildred and Steve have been married for over 30 years, and they have five daughters. Their middle child has sever epilepsy and is now on medication, but they told me stories of the hardships they faced in raising her. They understood the difficulties of dealing with sickness in someone they loved, and were constantly willing to surrender everything to the Lord. We talked about James 5:15-16, which says,
And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well, the Lord will raise him up…the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
If you guys aren’t aware, the past few week have been tough for my Dad, and my family’s been hurting some. He’s had some hard news and his pain is increasing, things are not looking so good. Recently, he wrote in a post that:
Many times we have thought: “I think we’ve learned enough through this trial, God. We are ready for you to take it away.” Maybe we have and maybe we haven’t learned enough, but the perspective needs to be: if our great God and Creator be glorified through this, then let Him continue to be lifted up! Oh, what a very hard concept to commit to!
It is definitely a tough concept, and being out in Winterveld these past few weeks I wrestled with this even more. But I think that we’ve just gotta surrender everything to God, we’ve gotta admit that we can’t do any of this on our own. We have to accept the free gifts and grace God is giving us, and know that God’s gonna take care of us no matter what.
There’s many more stories and lessons from these past few weeks that still need to be told, but I think this is enough for one blog post. I hope you’ll be encouraged by these people who are willing to lay their lives down for each other regardless of their circumstances, and I hope you take to heart the idea of accepting God’s grace without letting our pride get in the way. Thanks for reading this update!
I’ll leave you with a few last photos from this awesome village.
There’s definitely a common theme of pastors napping in these villages…
We basically each had a 2 liter of Coke every day. Thumbs down for health.
Every day, meals get passed out to about 50 kids at the church after school, whether they regularly attend or not. Just another way of showing tangible love to the community.
Mildred almost never misses a day at the feeding program.
Here’s Steve #2, preaching at his high school before he teaches class.
Pastor George preaching.
Steve #1 and I.
Goofiness at the creche.
Mdu and I on the last day, in my favorite last-day outfit. Love this guy.
Ps. there are no outstanding birds to be mentioned in this post. I just thought the name was really funny.