Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Lot or a Little?

I remember my first job at twelve years old.

Shocked, I couldn’t believe that this seemingly professional, sane woman would hire me to watch her two darling boys – two and five years old – by myself!

I was still ordering off the kids menu at restaurants, for crying out loud, could I really be trusted with other people’s KIDS – THEIR VERY LIVES?

When she returned home that afternoon and the two boys didn’t appear to need major reconstructive surgery and still possessed their original eight limbs, I took my $6 and thought - “Huh…I guess we’re all still alive. This work stuff isn’t so bad.”

My parents were both teachers and although able to spend invaluable time with us, didn’t have piles of money lying around the house. They taught me that you can have almost anything in life – if you worked hard.

When I made the cheerleading squad, I worked to pay the annual fees. I believe the first payment was around $200. Looking back, I think the fees were high due to all the extra material needed for our skirts – we barely looked like cheerleaders in our Amish length, Christian school, so-called cheerleading skirts. We’d secretly roll them up at the waste during competitions to try to appear like we were from the twentieth century and accustomed to running water and electricity.

To pay for cheerleading, I got a job at Burger King for the current 1989 minimum wage of $3.35 an hour. Horrified at actual customers, I ran behind the French fry machine whenever someone I knew came in. Somehow the BK polo shirt and visor cap just wasn’t my best look. To make matters worse, after taxes I had to work about 75 hours to make that $200. Let me just say, $200 was a LOT of Welcome-to-Burger-King-how-may-I-help-you’s.

For college, I went to a local state school in our home town. I lived at home, worked part-time and paid for half of my tuition. I think my books that first year were around $200. Although shocked books didn’t “come with” the tuition – it was a painful but doable amount of money.

When we got married my parents gave us the money they had set aside for the wedding, and we paid for the rest. The best part of our reception was the five tiered cake – around $200. After a few bites, it didn’t seem like so much money.

Our sweet little Jensen came along and we didn’t bat an eye at spending $200 on her pink polka-dot Land of Nod bedding (I was overdosing on pink at the time and am still a recovering pink-aholic). We received many wonderful gifts and skimped on other things – but good bedding was a show-stopper for me. She still talks about her "pink bed in America." I didn’t even feel that $200.

Sometimes $200 is a whole lot of money…and sometimes it’s not.

Here in South Africa – the average income for a colored South African is about $200 a month. That might seem like a great wage living in some African jungle – but here in Cape Town the cost of living is similar to our home town in Nebraska. Groceries are about the same, housing is slightly less, and vehicles are twice as much.

Of course living in a township you can get by with a very little.

A government subsidized flat is $50 a month, you may have one nice meal a week (maybe on Sunday, if you are lucky) and in a good month you can pay for your publics school fees and diapers.

Public school is not free here and there are no “food stamps.” Single moms do get about $33 a month per child and public health care is at a very small fee (if you can bare the extremely long lines and chance of catching TB while you’re there).

The women I am working with in Ocean View want a chance. One woman told me last week she would like to start her own candy business.
She found a candy-wholesaler and wants to sell the “sweet treats” to people in Ocean View. Perhaps in time, with her own business, and hard work - she could get a Wendy house, diapers (the ones her ex-boyfriend has promised, as his sole contribution to fatherhood, but never seem to appear) and pay her children’s school fees. Size of the average micro-loan? $200 – the price of a Big Dream in a South African township.

Is that a lot or a little?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Clomp, Clomp, Clomp

Shoes definitely make my “top 5 things in life" list (besides the obvious God, family and friends).

That list, in no particular order…

1. A good appetizer
2. An interesting conversation that leaves both parties feeling hilarious and heard
3. Checking it off my list (completion is like air to me)
4. Dishwashers and clothes driers (the two best things about the average American household)
5. Shoes

I love, love, love shoes!

Since I’ve come to Africa, my high-heels have been on hold and I am existing on a footwear diet of flip-flops and flats.

I miss my BOOTS – little did I know people actually wear boots here - now that it’s a freezing 13 degrees (13 degrees Celsius, that is – which is about 55 degrees Fahrenheit) – or I would have brought mine with me.

At the moment, I mostly wear my dress flats – and people say they know it’s me coming – with my notorious “clomp, clomp, clomp” (I can’t help this brisk walk-like-I-have-a-million-things-to-do clomp – I know it’s a bit freaky and out of place in this slower-paced ocean town – but I feel compelled to GET SOMETHING DONE and walking fast is the first step to getting there, I say).

Growing up my brother always walked about 20 yards behind me and now my husband walks about 10 yards behind me. I don’t get this – it’s a consistent 10 yards – which means he’s walking at the exact same pace as I am– but when I wait for him to catch up so we can walk together (clearly to reflect our perfectly united marriage), we end up walking SO SLOWLY. I know in some cultures wives are supposed to walk a few yards behind their husbands and I can honestly say I don’t think that would have worked out well for me.

So back to shoes - Jensen is fascinated that some people don’t wear shoes in restaurants, malls, and most stores. She will often say in the grocery store, “Look at THAT girl, mom! She doesn’t have on any SHOES! WHY not? Can I take mine off too?” (the germaphobia in me insists on shoes in the traditional “no shirt, no shoes, no service” establishments – of which there are no such signs or corresponding regulations).

Even Emme, tired of her fabulous toys, takes great delight in her “shoe box” and carefully examines each shoe daily.

And on this topic – the one teacher who attended our adventure camp only brought one pair of dress shoes with him (incidentally, no one seems to know what “dress shoes” are – they call them “formal shoes” – I guess dresses are for girls?).

He ran the entire INSANELY long and grueling obstacle course in his imported leather formal shoes. I was impressed and felt guilty I would not have sacrificed my leather boots for team building!

Which brings me to my thought today…

One of my friends in Ocean View life has been CHANGED by God. She stopped doing crystal meth (called “tik” here) cold turkey about a year ago – which is nearly impossible without rehab. Every day I’m inspired with how her life reflects God in such a dark, depressing place like Ocean View.

Yesterday she told me that her daughter’s 2 year old birthday was that day and how she almost sold her body for money to buy birthday cake a few minutes ago. For cake?! A few minutes ago?

She was smack dab in the middle of this temptation when she realized “Oh - I need to get to Bible study to meet Julie.” So she left the shady character (aka Pimp Daddy Cake Provider) and came to our Bible study. Thank God!

I told her we’d love to bring her some birthday cake and that Jensen would insist on a present. When I asked her what her daughter would like she said “Really? Can I say what I want? Please no toys – just a pair of shoes for her.”

Did someone say shoes?!

Today we brought her some birthday cake…and two pairs of shoes.

I see clearly that there is a battle in Ocean View – a serious battle for the very minds, hearts and lives of these precious daughters of the Living God.

How do we fight this battle?

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. (Ephesians 6:14, 15)

Those are the shoes I want to wear every day…every second…every moment…bringing the gospel of peace.

Gospel literally means “good news” and it is GOOD NEWS that there is a peace that the darkness cannot prevail against…even in the crack flats of a South African township.

Clomp, clomp, clomp!

Here is the "Happy Birthday to Charlize" video:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fun Design Projects in Africa

In another season of life before we came to Africa, I spent 10 years working for a web design company in Nebraska. I started out as the company's first "designer" in the owner's basement (God bless him for not firing me the first day - I knew NOTHING). The last 5 years I wisely stepped away from design and oversaw the operations of the company.

All that to say - I do love creativity and have had fun here in Africa with a few little projects.

Here are some samples to give you a "visual idea" of what we've been up to.

Invite to Emme's 2nd Birthday Party (see full invite at

Invite for Baby Shower (our "house" threw a baby shower for the property manager's wife)

Tags attached to candy bars
(we gave these to Ocean View High School teachers to encourage them)

Logo for our after school club at Ocean View High (The Amazing African Film Society). We are bringing in successful African women from Cape Town and teaching the girls how to interview them with the FLIP video camera and make a movie using iMovie.

Logo for the Leadership Adventure Camp
we are doing this weekend with the Ocean View High School student council members

Logo for the Discovery House - This is my VERY new idea that is still in the research process (we are praying about developing a house for single moms and their children - a one year discipleship program that involves Discovery Bible Study, teaching life skills and cultivating job skills).

Saturday, May 8, 2010

My Secret Plan to Quit

A few weeks ago our group set out to climb Chapman’s Peak.

To say I “climbed” would be a gross exaggeration. To say I “hiked” is pushing it. It’s kind of like I walked – but with MANY breaks to “view the scenery” (aka try to tell myself I wasn’t going to DIE from severe heart failure at that very moment).

our hiking party (before we got to the trail)

Seriously – it was sad.

There were 10 of us in our hiking party and literally 3 minutes into it I thought, “There is absolutely NO way I am ever going to make it to the top of this ridiculously large rock at this mind-blowing pace.” (which I’m sure was just normal walking for the average person). Nonchalantly I moved from the middle of our group to the back.

Quickly I formulated my escape plan – I would linger toward the end of our single-file line…and when it looked like the person in front of me was the least bit distracted I would say “You know, I think I’ll just head back down and have Karl pick me up.” (Karl was home with the girls so I could go on the hike).

This is about the point where I formulated
my plan to defect from the group
(the smile on my face is because I know I only
have about 2 more minutes of torture)

I tried to find the perfect moment to implement my secret plan to quit – but I didn’t count on the resolve of this group to see us all to the top. Much to my immediate annoyance, they wouldn’t let me quit. I tried from several different angles – but with no luck.

So, we split into 2 groups. The first we-are-super-fast-hikers-and-more-in-shape-than-I-could-hope-to-be-in-a-lifetime group and the second slower group (who pretended to not be in a hurry so I would feel less like a very dilapidated old lady).

I think they had seen too many nature shows – and didn’t want me to get picked off like the weak-link in the animal heard. You know…the zebra with a gash in its leg – lagging behind the group – just waiting to be cheetah chow.

the group that wouldn't let me quit

At any rate – the top seemed impossible, but somehow this team talked me to the peak.

And it was beautiful!

I had a new perspective – on where our township (Ocean View) stood on the landscape, on the beauty of Cape Town, on the fact that I actually didn’t die a slow and painful death right there on the trail in full view of unsuspecting nature-lovers. It really was amazing.

almost to the top

view from the top

As I reflect…here are my “valleys” and “mountain tops” since arriving here in Africa:

Valleys (my 3 low points):

1. CAN I HAVE SOME MONEY? Realizing that a girl from Nebraska, unaccustomed to such disparity between rich and poor, has a lot to learn was a low point. After I gave a woman a few dollars for bread, she later asked me for $50 (for some strange job scheme for her boyfriend). I said “no” to this – thinking the “giving money thing” was done – but then she later asked for more “bread money.”

Determining real need is important. In the end she and I had a heart-to-heart conversation where I said in essence, “You are my friend and when I give you money it turns you into a beggar and me into a Sugar Mama. I will help you in other ways.”

The “Can I have some money” question is very tricky. Sometimes it’s good to give – I have so much and they have so little – but perpetuating a relationship of dependency is not so good. Generosity is one of my core values and I hate saying “no” as it is. I am learning the hard way to give only as the Spirit leads.

2. MICRO-LOAN MISTAKE: I have started small with some pre-micro-loan experiments. We have tried a “cake business” – with buying cakes from a wholesale bakery. Not a bad plan – but when I bought the cakes I quickly realized I have no inherent skills on choosing the “must have cakes of 2010” for the residents of Ocean View.

3. BALANCING: For the first few months, I felt utterly overwhelmed trying to be a good mom to two little girls who just had their world rocked, reasonable wife who was not seconds away from a complete and utter break-down, engaged student in the CPx program, friendly house-mate, involved team member in the community – blah, blah, blah. Many days I was a mediocre mother and crazed wife who was not doing my fair-share of house duties and didn’t yet have a place in the community.

Mountain tops (my 3 high points)…

1. BIBLE STUDY: The Bible study with several Ocean View women has been amazing. I feel a real heart connection with them, and it’s inspiring to see the discovery process of what His Love Letter is saying to us.

2. MAKING CONNECTIONS: Teaching at the high school this week has been a highlight, and I’m looking forward to starting the “Amazing African Women Film Society” after school club this coming Tuesday. I’m also going to be offering a computer class for women in Ocean View to teach them how to create a resume, post it online, and handle email (the first steps in finding a permanent job). Next weekend Karl and I will help with the Adventure Camp for the Ocean View high school student council members. We know we are doing exactly what we were meant to do!

3. ENJOYING MOTHERHOOD: Now that the “teaching” part of CPx is over, I can create a more normal routine for the girls. I really enjoy spending more time with them. Here are their latest statements:

- “Mommy, you’re married to daddy and I’m going to marry Emme. ”
- “Girls wear polish and boys wear beards. ”
- “Watch this!” (it’s always some new way she can twist her arms in the air or a funky kind of skip or twirl).
- Me: “Jensen – I remember when you were a TINY baby – why did you have to get so big?” Jensen: “Mom! I wanted to TALK!” (that’s FOR SURE)

- “Uh oh!” (whenever she drops something she feels we should be excited about picking up for her)
- “Tank Ew” (“Thank you” when Jensen gives her a blanket)
- “Papa!” (she calls for Karl from her bed in the morning)

I've never been a quitter - but that day I came close. Despite the valleys - the mountain tops here in Africa are worth it!

See more photos of the hike: