Masiphumelele Fire update | December 2015

We’ve been a little quiet on reporting about the recent fire in Masi where 4000 people lost their homes and possessions. For those outside of the local area, Please be in contact if you would like to contribute financially, pray more consistently, or find out more information.

This is the informal section of Masi that is built out onto the wetlands and floods regularly in the winter. Unlike the area known as ‘Masi proper’ which in our 5 years here has had a considerable upgrade through brick houses, reliable electricity and roads, the wetlands has no infrastructure and it built up with corrugate iron small shacks one after the other. Fires are a common occurrence in the area and are normally devastating as the fire moves quickly between wooden framed shacks filled with clothes (often 4+ people living in one room), the corrugate metal creates intense heat and without roads no fire engines can reach them and they must be put out though throwing buckets of water.

The All Nations Church Family that Rachel and I help to lead co-ordinated with other local churches and NGO’s and centralised a response through a ministry called Living Hope which has a specialised disaster relief team. Local communities have donated so many clothes that they have asked for no more. Many of our team members and church family joined in sorting the resources.

Here is an update from their leader John Thomas;

I haven’t been able to update you all on the Masiphumelele fire victims and relief effort for a couple of days as a result of a lack of time, so here goes with the latest as at Friday evening at 8pm.

Let me update you on the site area of the fire and then on the goods and clothing and donated stuff.

Late this afternoon the first home kits arrived from the City of Cape Town. This is enough to build a 3 metre by 3 metre home which has walls, a door, a window and obviously a roof. This comes complete with nails and locks and is given out free of charge to the 1163 claimants of having owned a shack in the area although only 899 families were formally registered as having had a shack in the area.

It is a mammoth task just bringing in around 1200 home kits – this alone will take 3 days and so this will probably thus be completed by Monday some time. I have attached a couple of close up photos of the home kits.

However the site itself, being in the wetlands has become fairly water logged with the compaction effect of the trucks and bulldozers working on site for the last 6 days. This heavy machinary has had a sponge effect and has brought all the water up to the surface which now means more fill material has had to be brought in so that there can be ground to build on which is sort of dry! This water rising to the surface was unforseen and has delayed the process. However the dry part where kits are being handed out, has water just below the surface as you will see from one of the photos where a hole has been dug for an electric pole to be placed there.

I have attached a number of photos of the clearing of the site, the fleet of trucks involved in clearing the fire debris, the bulldozers at work and the levelled site with filled sand. You will also see areas that still need fill where if a shack were to be built today they would be building in a pool of water.

R5.6m which is about US $400,000 is being sought so that every one of these homes can be painted with a fire retardent paint. That together with the fire lanes which are being created will hopefully significantly reduce the likelihood of another large fire in this part of Masiphumelele. Nothing is foolproof in this type of overcrowding and poverty, but these measures are helpful and significantly will reduce the risk. The real answer, however, is not rebuilding the shacks but finding available serviced land where proper homes can be built. That will cost Millions and of course human nature says – ‘Not In My Back Yard’ both of which severly complicate the likelihood of finding suitable land and funding for this to be done. However despite the multitude of very significant problems with building proper homes, we have to push ahead and advocate until a solution is found where people can have the dignity of their own safe and secure home. I believe that with God all things are possible.

Now to the overwelming outpouring of donations from poor and rich individuals, families, organizations both secular and Christian, churches, non-profits, businesses, City of Cape Town and government. The deluge of giving has been a striking expression of generosity and extravagance. Our Chapel at Living Hope was been completely inundated with truck loads of new and 2nd hand goods. There is no form of compassion fatigue here at all! I am left stunned by overwelming generosity. You will see the various photos of the Chapel being filled up to 2 metres high with goods. This has all been sorted and packed in hundreds of boxes and bags. The Chapel has undergone various phases of sorting processes this past week and the last part of the process is creating food buckets. You will see some photos of this in Green Checkers bags and loads of buckets. Four hundred and twenty ‘baby buckets’ were created for Moms with children under the age of 2. Several hundred ‘basic necessities’ buckets were created with basic home goods like crockery, cutlery, hygiene products, towell etc. Another Christian organization is preparing a thousand similar buckets for delivery. My guess is that the buckets of goods created at Living Hope easily will exceed two thousand buckets. And then there has been the one thousand mattresses donated and loads of bedding and blankets. Truck loads of food, sweets and cold drinks has arrived from various companies as a result of radio stations, individuals drives, church collections and social media drives.

So when will all this be distrubuted is the question? Well obviously not until people have their homes in which they can place these goods. That seems to be likely in about 3 days time. We could possibly distribute as people get their houses up but the community leaders feel that this may cause complications and jealousy. We will be guided by the leaders of the Masiphumelele community on the timing of the distribution. In the meantime because of the length of time without clothes etc an interim distribution of clothing has been done in Masiphumelele.

Having sorted and boxed all the clothing, blankets, bedding, household and personal effects, it has been stored in one of our very large vacant vegetable greenhouses and this will be emptied as people come and collect their goods once their homes are ready.

SO WE DO NOT NEED ANY MORE CLOTHES AND PERSONAL EFFECTS. The generosity of people has been so exceptional that I am confident all will be able to be clothed and that sorting process is now completed. All that is still needed is dry foodstuffs, small packs of salt and sugar and stationary supplies for school. This can be dropped off at Living Hope, Kommetjie Road, Capri.

In the middle of all of this we have our annual Living Hope Carol service on Sunday evening at 6pm, led this year by Jennifer Eaves, together with the switching on of the Christmas tree lights of hope. There is still time to purchase and donate a ‘globe of hope’ at R50! You can do this on Sunday evening. But a brand new special event this year is our “Journey to Bethlehem” which is a walking tour of 7 stations of the Journey of Jesus’s life. You will love this and the kids havent seen anything like this before. All are invited to join us from 6pm (6th December) when groups of people will leave every 5 minutes on this tour of stations! The last group will leave at 7pm and then the Carols start at 7.30pm with the Christmas tree lights being turned on at 8.20pm. Bring a picnic basket and enjoy this time together.

On Monday we will begin the distribution process of goods and clothing. Volunteers are needed Saturday to pack buckets, move goods and help reorientate Living Hope to something of what it looked liked before the fire goods started to arrive. I have been very aware that the very first Christmas also had a story of overcrowding and homelessness and the need for compassion. Living Hope has hardly got anymore room and that was certainly the case at the very first Christmas. It adds a great dimension to Sunday’s Carol service!

Finally many people have given financially to the Masiphumelele fire victims by going to and following the prompts. You can still do this wherever you are.

From all involved in helping to break the despair that this tragic fire has brought and to each one of you who has sort to bring hope into people’s lives – thank-you ever so much. I am a proud South African – we are an amazing nation.

We are still looking for a clear way to receive funds for non-direct ministry costs like this1, but if you are unable to give through the living hope link above, please contact us directly.

  1. The way our finances are processed precludes us from acting as a channel for non-direct living/ministry costs like this unfortunately. 

Proclaim the Kingdom of God | Heal the Sick | Easter 2015

In the last month we have planted a new church in Masiphumelele, we have appointed local leaders as the elders and are attending it as our primary church family. We are so excited as we see many of the leaders we have poured into over the last 5 years, step up and lead a new community of faith with spiritual maturity and discernment.

On easter sunday we went out in the community to share the gospel and offer prayer for the sick. Masi is a very religious or spiritual community, people are often engaged in attending some form of church service and worshipping their ancestors (sometimes in the same place!), and so anyone who was not in church on eater sunday is truly someone who has lost any hope for themselves or that God is interested in them.

We met one man, who was astounded and delighted that we were addressing him in Xhosa, as I told him my own story of searching for belonging in lots of the wrong places and that Jesus had made a way to return to the place of belonging the Father has always intended (His family), he was encouraged.

His wife arrived (they were both a little drunk – on sunday morning!), she said her name in Xhosa meant “Not a boy yet” because her parents were really wanting to have a boy. Immediately I felt the Spirit of God prompt me to say that God has always intended them to have a daughter, and he was not at all disappointed that she had be born. She immediately teared up and I considered what simple words those were, but how through the Spirit of God they had the power to set someone free from an identity crisis that had been in place from her birth. These are the ‘words of life’ that the Father is longing for his lost children to hear.

After we asked if we could pray for them, as we prayed a blessing over them the woman said, ‘I’m healed!’. We were surprised as she had never mentioned anything about being sick, and she started explaining in Xhosa (too fast for us to follow) and stamping on the ground with one of her feet! Our Xhosa friend then explained she had a pain in her hip which meant she was limping (which she excited imitated) and then immediately began jumping on one leg (the one which used to have pain) and almost dancing!

We were overjoyed that on Easter Sunday, Christ new creation life had overflowed from us into a lady who felt far off from the Kingdom.

and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. – Luke 9:2

As I mentioned in a previous post, I don’t want to present this as a king of ‘daily occurance’ for us here. I do believe much of holiness is to be found in what we call the ‘mundane’, and we often pray for the sick and there is no healing (or at least the claim of healing seems a little suspect), but on Easter Sunday, we preached the kingdom of God and healed a sick person (by accident) in the Name of our risen Lord! He is worthy to be praised or as Ps. 145:3 says in the Message;

God is magnificent; he can never be praised enough. There are no boundaries to his greatness.

Image: John Schinker

Our Mundane life in God

Well its almost a new year…We were recently back in the UK, and as ever, people enthusiatically ask about our last year. I guess this is a regular enough occurance, but it’s particularly asked of people who have been away.

Recently I was in a small church which is an newer church plant from the slightly larger church that I came to faith in. Everyone was wonderfully welcoming, and as I was brought to the front of the service I was asked 3 great questions by the Pastor, one of which was;

what were some of our highlights of the year?

I went on to tell of how we were excited about how our church family in South Africa was growing and changing, how we had the priviledge of being 2kms from the Syrian border during some of the height of that crisis, and the incredible and supernatural ways in which God was working.

I am still in awe of what God is doing there, and it was genuinely life changing for us, but as I sat down from my seat, I felt a small nudge from Holy Spirit that although I had shared things that genuinely bring glory to God, they also have a strange way of making people feel disqualified from the Christian life.

I knew that hadn’t been my intention, I experienced these things and remember them enough to know that I was very little more than a sepctator to incredible things God is doing. I really mean that, I know it seems like the stock false-humility statement, but it felt very much like the person getting up early and catching a beautiful sunrise. The right place and time, but nothing to do with the viewer himself.

Fortunately, I was asked to lead some corporate prayer time later in the service and I was able to share another story. This year I have learnt more and more about the presence of Jesus in the mundane.

Its hard to write a newsletter about the mundane days, the 99 in 100, but I believe it gets at the heart of what the Christian life is about. Allowing Jesus in the everyday not just the sensational. The Church at large desperately needs a theology, a sense of purpose in the midst of the tasks we do everyday.

Unfortunately, good and encouraging stories of what is happening in the inbreaking kingdom of God sometimes give rise to a frantic sense that we are somehow not ‘doing enough’, not ‘radical enough’, not ‘acheiving enough’. Now, there is a time to do, to be radical and to acheive, but my main take-away from this year is actually that we need to be present to God Himself as our chief aim.

To be present to God’s presence in us;
– that still small voice,
– that sense of belonging,
– sense of adventure and yet security.

All these things in the midst of loving others well, strangers and family, cleaning the dishes and the diapers (nappies in the UK, Napkins in South Africa), when we are tired and when we are energetic, being present.

For a while in my christian life, I thought the presence of God was fleeting, like a shy bird, one wrong move and BOOM, you are in a dark room, alone and abandoned. Instead now, I am beginning to see God’s promised presence is far more faithful and dependent than that. I have the opposite problem, my presence to the presence of God;

– When life gets to busy to notice the details, God’s winks at me, if you like.
– When I get too fixated on a task to see the people around it that God is teaching me to love well.

Jesus had his fair share of exceptional stories, but there is also 30 odd years where he was a carpenter, a brother, a son, a synagogue-attender, a learner, a friend. Of course, we don’t have much of that story to lean into in scripture. Maybe papyrus was expensive 😉

But be assured Jesus lived that life, and he didn’t think of it as somehow less holy than his death. He wasn’t waiting around to die, sorry to be brash about that, but I think that is what we fall into thinking; That Jesus’ life means nothing, only his death.

But He lived and lives, ever aware of His part in the family and story of God by an unending abiding in the Father by Holy Spirit, and that is his aspiration for us too. Not that we would be franticly looking only for a new ‘word’ or experience, but that we would contentedly bring our attention back to Him being ‘with us’, as our Christmas stories say, and inviting His Kingdom to come whereever we are.

False Choices between head and heart

Christian writers, for centuries and jewish writers for centuries before that, have sought to understand the inner workings of people. Early Christians taking their lead from a trinitarian understanding of God, moved to imagine humans trinitarianly, Body, Soul and Spirit. As with all images, metaphors they break up into the abyss of mystery. Whilst the three categories help us in someways, we are infinitely more complex and altogether more integrated than these 3 parts suggest.

One description of our lives as they engage in the life of God is the dichotomy of head and heart. Again, in many ways, this breakdown is overly simplistic, but it does speak to many peoples experience of life, and particularly their lives lived in and before God.

As we glance through church history there seems to me to be a perpetual pattern of;
1) Move of God amongst his people to renew an area of their lives/witness that has been neglected.
2) Fixation, over-indulgence in that area, to the point of excess, leaving others in the body concerned.
3) A reactive movement seeking to correct which ends up in the ditch on the other side of the road!

Not an inspiring picture, yet we hold on to Jesus’ promise to build his Church, and us as His people moving towards His glorious image. It seems like this reaction and over correction pattern has often moved between a Christianity that has rooted itself in Head OR the heart.

The heart has emphasised the experiential and relational life of God, the imagery, poetry, symbolism and mystery.

The head has tended to attempt to bring an ordered account through theology, to align the church’s witness to the scriptures.

At it’s worst the Church has moved between these poles to seek validation before the world’s intellectual climate, at best, it has sought to stay passionately and faithfully a people for God’s name.

I’m convinced we don’t need a balance, but in fact, the fullness of both. A while back a speaker I heard denounced language of balance, citing scales as a measurement for the world. He argued, In God there is the fullness of all good things, therefore we don’t have to live in half measures of anything. In fact we reach out for the fullest expressions of every good and perfect thing that comes from the Father. I think it makes some sense in the scheme of things.

I’ve recently been reading some books on Discipleship; how we grow up in Christ, and I’ve picked up an even deeper conviction that it is essential we cultivate both of these ways of loving God, the head & the heart.

Leanne Payne in the healing presence writes;
“A sound understanding of the Scriptures therefore evokes true imagery within the heart, just as it grants a sound theology to the mind.” pp.139

I really enjoy theology, I’m aware that makes me weird in certain circles, but it genuinely draws me into worship. Part of the implication of that means that Im inclined towards the head a little more than the heart. I’m becoming fuller (in the sense described before), but the inclination is still there. But I’ve been more and more convinced we need not just a clear understanding in our mind of our faith, but we need a vision of the heart in order to live out our faith well.

Discipleship, our growing up in Christ, relies on our ability, in the power of Holy Spirit to change. Most of our reactions are unconscious, it seems we are made that way. So in order to react in holiness (that is, in line with the Spirit of God, not a reduced moralism that the usage has begun to evoke), a sort of spontaneous holiness if you will, we need to not only be able to think about what we want to do, we need desire that is pre-cognitive (snaps in before we think it through).

How often do you consciously think something clearly through and then act on it? Maybe 10% of your actions? I think even that might be generous. One of the books I’ve been reading spoke about being in a car with a new driver. It’s terrifying, they are thinking about everything, and it doesn’t work very well. It is only through practise that the new driver internalises a sense, a spontaneous reactive ability to drive well.

So what is the equivalent for discipleship? I think (there I go again!) it is worship (when I talk about worship I’m including but not limiting it to singing, communion, liturgy, psalms, corporate prayer etc.)

When we worship, we are practising living in a world where God is God, we are not, BUT, we are like God, and we are becoming like God (specifically into the image of Jesus). That is where we get a vision for our heart, where we find Holy Spirit breathing on our new desires. People often talk about worldview as this re-orienting, but I think we need more than a way of seeing the World, we need a new way of being and reacting in the world.

Just like the driver who sees a car swerving in the other lane, and before a conscious thought has passed through her head, steers out of the way. The driver didn’t need to think through the steps of why that was bad, the driver, at a pre-conscious level knows she is in a world where one car hitting another is dangerous.

Worship describes in heart language, a world, that in turn gives us the compass points to a way of being in that world.

So, don’t allow yourself and your journey of discipleship to exist in false dichotomies between head and heart, Word and Spirit, Worship and Word, intercession and prophecy.

Every good and perfect gift comes from our Father, and he intends them to grow us up into little Christs (the derivative, originally derogatory root for the word for Christian), so that His rule and reign, alongside the flourishing shalom of His people may ever increase.

Jesus is Our Sign, but is He the sign we want?

Here’s a forewarning, this is a somewhat apologetic ramble of the highest degree, but I figured that many new testament writers got away with it, so I’d try too!

Throughout the new testament there are two groups of folks presented to us, and although I don’t think new testament cultures always give us direct templates for us to reflect on life today, I think these two grids are pretty reliable.

The jews long for a sign, and the greeks for wisdom. Never are these things presented as undesirable things, and ultimately the responses by the earliest followers of Jesus presented Jesus Himself as the fulfillment of both of these longings. But often, those searching for a sign or wisdom are not looking for as fleshly embodied versions of signs and wisdom, they wanted something more showy, less flesh and blood.

A sign occupies a moment, it is able to be interpretted in many ways, and God had a history with the jewish people of giving signs that they could remember in the dark days. But ultimately God’s acts, his signs of faithfulness to his people, were to reflect Himself. That there might be some sense of ‘Immanuel’ (God with us) for His people, a sense, not that God would stop bad things happening, but that He would be present in the midst of it. And as to the extent they reflected Him in their thought, word and deed, they would set apart from the peoples of the earth.

Set apart as a sign even! Set apart as embodied testimonies. Our signs and stories that relate to God these days seem to be quite dis-embodied. Lots of people have sought to exegete that fact, and I’m pretty convinced that our understanding of the afterlife is the biggest player here. If we think, even on a sub-concious imaginary level, that our Spirits are somehow freed from our bodies and we zoom off to cloud 237, then it’s easy to see how we become dis-interested in our embodied existence and how it might be reflecting something of God Himself.

So signs are not a bad thing, but a sign is sign towards something and that is what the New testament responses are confronting in the jewish people. My good friend perfectly summed this up recently saying “Good things can make Bad Gods”. A Sign for a signs sake. A moment, but only a moment, where God was near. Jesus is the sign, but there is a discernment in the text, that this God Man, God in the Flesh, was a little too present, a little too with-us for those interested folks back in Samaria. And, so this trend continues today, we actually quite like the idea of a Zeus-like God, all powerful, maybe even beneveolent towards us, but not too close, not too like us. Now, of course, God is altogether unlike us, but has chosen, in the Son, to be forever like us. We afterall where created in His image, and then the Son gloriously reclaims the image, and stands as an image bearer in the presence of God, so that we might through Him, be image bearers who are actively involved, and engaging in the life of God, in the Son, by Holy Spirit who is constantly catching us up into the life of Son, and forming us, re-forming us, into the image of this image bearing Son.

Thats a long sentence, and you may have gotten lost, but here’s the headline; Jesus Himself, a person, is our Sign, and we are caught up in His life, with our bodies, with the very material, flesh and blood lives we have today. Said another way, our embodied lives (not just somehow our spiritual – which is a category scripture does not allow us to seperate out as cleanly as we try these days) are the place Holiness (that is a life of love within God) happens (in our neighbourhood, jobs and phone calls).

Ok, that wasn’t shorter..the long and short of it is that YOUR LIFE matters today to the extent to which is being lived like God, all else will indeed be swept away, but your life in God is to be lived in this time, not some perfect imaginary life in the future.

Everlasting life starts now…