Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Pray'n for Rain

The latest update from Soul Action South Africa:

Pray'n For Rain

The thought of praying for rain feels a bit of an anomaly to me – but ‘needs’ must.

South Africa’s Dolphin Coast – which is where we live – is experiencing its worst water shortage on record. It is autumn / winter here, which is traditionally dry, but we didn’t have much rain last Spring / Summer and it isn’t expected to rain again until September – some reports say January! We currently have no water from 09h00 - 16h00 and have been informed that the taps will run dry by August. Our reservoir is down to 30%, which is effectively 15%, since half of what is left is mud and therefore cannot be purified.

Apart from the odd hosepipe ban or two in the occasional Summer months, being from the UK means rain is not something I can ever remember being short of. Which is probably why I’m finding it more than a little odd to be praying for rain. Then there is the theology to get your head around – does God decide who does/n’t get rain? Is God involved in a struggle with the spiritual forces of evil over water (Eph 6:12) and does prayer open the heavens?

I may not fully understand it, but I am praying nevertheless, and would ask you to do the same.

Of course we’re also acting; trying to reduce our consumption wherever we can. We’re washing dishes once a day and flushing toilets with our used bath water. It is actually been quite shocking to see how much we normally flush down the loo without a thought. The local water authority has informed us that we need to reduce our usual monthly consumption of 10,000 litres by half. This weekend we each took turns sharing one shallow bath, used the same water to wash our clothes and then again in the toilets – five uses instead of the usual one! Fifty litres per person per day, which amounts to 4,500 litres pcm for our family, is what the UN believes is necessary to avoid diseases and retain efficiency. What is challenging us is that the UN also estimates most African’s live off 20 litres per day.
A few years ago Rachel and I co-authored The Whole Wide World, a book of 42 interactive devotions that provide everyday ways to connect with poverty and injustice for families with children aged 4-11. Zac was about five at the time. One of the first devotions involves reflecting on how scarce water is in some poorer communities by monitoring and saving water. It is strange how that has now become our reality.

Please pray that we'll have rain in July and August.

Developing Teaching Skills

During this term the Grade 3 teachers we’re working alongside have continued to develop skills to teach children how to read, write and communicate effectively in English. Each teacher has received 3 support visits in the last few weeks. The photos show the progress teachers and children are making:

The majority of Grade 3 teachers I’m supporting have made amazing progress in developing the ability to facilitate activities in order for children to develop reading and writing skills. But, this term I’ve had to consider additional ways to support teachers as the workshops and mentoring provided was not enabling one teacher to develop the necessary skills. So through a series of discussions with the appropriate people it was decided to organise a learning opportunity in which a teacher could:

observe a colleague teach a phonics lesson
share and discuss what she noticed her colleague do well
immediately try and apply this to her own teaching
With these measures in place the teacher was able to identify how her colleague dealt with situations she was finding a challenge. This teacher is now applying what she learnt to her own teaching. It was a simple process and, in this instance, very effective.
Next term, all Grade 3 teachers will be introduced to peer mentoring. Peer mentoring tends to involve two people of the same level or status who work together to support one another. The key feature of peer mentoring is that everyone involved works together to learn from and support each other (Ehrich 2013).

My hope is that, just like the one teacher learnt important skills from her colleague, that through peer mentoring all the teachers will learn from a colleague and further develop their teaching skills; that they will be able to highlight what their colleagues are doing well, thus encouraging them, and also learn from this.

Prayer points  
Thank God for the progress that the teachers are making

In July we will be facilitating two workshops – please pray that the teachers respond positively

An area that the teachers struggle with is the pronunciation of vowels – please pray for me as I focus on this during one of the workshops

Equip Training

This year we’re gathering 40 leaders connected to the Soul Action Network that work with children and youth. In February we focussed on creativity. At the last session on May 27th we looked at planning & preparation in a way that encourages creativity. From experience we have found that the children we work with are often expected to sit for long periods listening to an adult. Furthermore children are seldom given opportunities to practice or apply what they are learning. This is why the teaching element of May’s Equip highlighted how children’s attention span is limited when purely listening, and that active learning methods are vital in helping children to pay attention and learn. Leaders recognised that learning must be active, imaginative and creative and for this to happen thorough planning is absolutely crucial! As the key aim of the session was for people to develop skills in planning multi-sensory lessons a template was introduced which included:

Way In - an opening game or activity that links in to the theme of the session

Teaching - on the subject

Work it out – activities to help the children understand the teaching


In small groups leaders had the opportunity to work together to plan a session on a theme which included all of the above. They were encouraged to think creatively and to consider how to cater for different learning styles.

Prayer points:  

Thank God for the willingness of the leaders to apply what they are learning

Pray for the facilitators as we start to plan the next session which focuses on behaviour management

Financial Literacy

In March Rachel & I met Romie, a debt counsellor with experience and the expertise to assess individuals financial position and restore their financial wellbeing. After hearing what she had to say about providing financial advice, being aware of the kind of financial problems hamstringing the communities our Network members serve and recalling the impact charities like Christians Against Poverty (CAP) have had in the UK, we decided to host a small gathering focused on financial literacy.

Following a short presentation by Romie, we encouraged small group discussion by asking how what we’d heard applies to each Network member’s context. Feedback revealed that training on how to help communities to budget is one of the key issues that needs addressing next – we plan to gather again.

Personal Finances

We’ve had to do a bit of re-budgeting ourselves this month, with the final bill for work on Zac’s mouth rising to over £3500. Thanks to the generosity of a UK church, friends and family members, we’ve been able to raise just under half and arranged to pay the rest in instalments. Drs’ removed five teeth and saved the rogue canine that we feared Zac might lose. Zac is recovering better than expected, but the process of manipulating his teeth is likely to take 15-18 months. 

Next Steps in our Journey?

Rachel and I are both feeling challenged after reading Bring your Eyes and See, a gift from Steve and Marie Goode – an amazing couple we were privileged to meet at May’s Call2CJ conference. I suppose its only natural to reflect on the degree of one’s own effectiveness whilst reading the Goode’s 40 year Journey into Justice, Compassion & Action in Afghanistan, Africa, India, Switzerland and Thailand. Halfway through the book – knowing the affect it had already had on Rachel – I asked whether the rest might include strategies or tactics that would enable us to have the kind of impact the Goode’s have.

That night I happened to read Chapter 11, that starts "A PATTERN WAS emerging. While we simply obeyed God in whatever He showed us to do, He then showed us the next steps to take" (Goode 2015:129).

How stupid I’d been. After everything we’ve learnt about how God works, I still can’t help looking for prepacked ready-made solutions; knowing full well that Soul Action began and continues as next steps emerge out of ongoing obedience to God. It reminded me of Bishop Graham Cray’s warning:

"We must be careful not to think we can simply take models of church and mission off the shelf. Rather than cloning, we ought to be listening to and following the Holy Spirit." This "Invitation to Improvise" is open to everyone.

God said, "What if NPO’s / charities aren’t the only answer to SA’s problems…"
This was the first God-thought in my head as we met to pray as a team at the turn of the year in January. Odd, considering we’ve spent 8 years focusing almost entirely on Christian non-profit organisations.
God continued, "…what if Christians are?"
Although God commands every follower to love Him and others; as they love themselves (Matt 22), the numbers directly involved in the non-profit sector in South Africa represents only a proportion of the 40+ million Christians. It made me think about how the rest engage and what could Rachel and I do about it?

"Just take the next step"
Although we don’t exactly know how, Rachel and I are sensing that as well as charities, we should be gathering Christians whose ‘day jobs’ present opportunities for them to begin to address some of the inequalities in our country. After speaking to the Assemblies of God GB / SA, our board, the team and UK church partners, we felt God’s next step was to meet local Pastors – after which God would no doubt show us His next steps. Three meetings in and we’ve already been offered resources and a potential space to begin to gather local Christians on a weekly basis!

Reflecting on their life towards the end of the book, Steve and Marie beautifully sum up our tentative aspirations in such a simple and yet powerful way:
"We are just ordinary people who have tried to listen to God and to love and obey Him by doing the next thing He asks us to do" (Goode 2015:237).

Please pray for discernment, as Rachel and I begin to meet and map the community in which we live.


Tuesday, 2 June 2015

News from Soul Action South Africa

Blessed Are The Peacemakers

Phil shared recently how positive it was that 7000 people, many of them Christian, had come together to march against the recent xenophobic attacks. Thanks to a sport-loving Bishop, Phil is wondering how peace-full demonstrations really are.

Why the change of heart? As a result of the global conference co-hosted with Call2All, Tearfund and YWAM (more later) , we had the privilege of hosting Bishop Efraim Tendero (Ef to his friends), the Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance. Following Bishop Ef’s comprehensive overview of baseball in response to my piecemeal attempt at explaining cricket using the table mats and condiments at hand, I was left further enlightened by his refreshing approach to peace making. To put our conversation in context, Bishop Ef was influential in brokering peace between the Filipino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MLF), ending a bloody conflict dating back to the 60’s that’s cost an estimated 120,000 lives.

Bishop Ef sketched this rough diagram (right) to explain how, not unlike our context, the root cause of the Philippine conflict was social injustice – people not being paid fairly and in their case Muslims being marginalised and misunderstood. Bishop Ef, like the majority of his Catholic country, was raised to believe that, "A good Muslim is a dead Muslim." The Bishop has since sat down and formally apologised to the MLF.

Rather than understanding, marching promotes, "I’m right, you’re wrong." With another helpful diagram (below) Bishop Ef urged us to identify the ‘doves’ on both sides of the conflict; men and women of peace across faith, political, sexuality, gender and race divides. Whilst one should avoid ‘hawks’ – those that will always prosper from the conflict – one should build relationships with ‘doves’. Mission, Bishop Ef says, involves, "Harmony with God, self, others and creation" – at Soul Action we call this Integral Mission.

After successfully broking peace in the Philipines, the Bishop is urging the UN to encourage member states to allocate a percentage of their defence budget to dialogue. Why defence rather than any other budget? "…because defence isn’t just about arms and ammunition its about dialogue that promotes understanding and respect." What a blessed man!!!

Compassion and Justice
Phil reflects on our first global conference, which gathered over 160 delegates from Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, as well as a few from Bangladesh, India, Singapore, the UK and the USA.
After an amazing celebration of local dancing, poetry and singing to kick things off, we hit the ground running by tackling one of the big themes that we’ve been talking about in our updates leading up to the conference – equity and equality. Through theological reflection, interviews and workshops we questioned how our assumptions impact how we live and work.
"What makes 'me' think I deserve more?" GE
On Wednesday delegates took advantage of field trips to a variety of organisations connected to Soul Action’s Network, in what would be a real opportunity to:
"Place a megaphone in front of what God is doing through Durban-based ministries and enable others to hear His call, share His vision and be equipped to take action in their settings." DW
Creative prayer rooms provided space for delegates to reflect on the project visits. The intimate moments with God were the highlights of the week for me and the team. Through worship and ministry, God intervened cross-culturally to speak to His frontline activists, who already convinced of the need to act justly and love mercy, were refreshed by hearing the voice of the One under whose direction they are called to walk humbly.
Thank God for His provision in facilitating such a cross-cultural event; may He continue to raise up leaders that gather people to worship in spirit and truth.

Developing Skills to Teach Languages

During the second term of this year we have facilitated two workshops for the teachers we are working alongside from schools in KwaNdengezi.
Facts about KwaNdengezi

Population of approximately 54,000 people

99.4% of the population are Black African

86% of people’s first language is isiZulu

There are six primary schools

The first workshop was for Grade 3 teachers we are supporting to develop the necessary skills to teach children how to read, write and communicate effectively in English. One of the main aims of the workshop was to reflect on how the phonics program worked during the first term [Jan – March]. The teachers were asked to think about the previous terms work and identify the strengths and challenges. They really had to be encouraged to share their thoughts – appearing concerned about how we’d respond. I was so glad we pushed through because the discussions that followed when they shared their challenges were extremely beneficial as it collectively enabled solutions to be sought.

The second workshop was for Grade R and 1 teachers, supporting them in developing multi-sensory teaching techniques to aid the development of language skills. We focussed on activities teachers could facilitate to support the children to play with words / alliteration and develop awareness of syllables in isiZulu. The Grade R & 1 teachers have become more enthusiastic as relationships and levels of trust have increased. Every teacher comes to each workshop with a wealth of knowledge and experience, which is why we like to begin by giving space for them to share their own ideas in relation to the theme with each other. We build on this knowledge and introduce a number of new ideas. As part of this workshop teachers were given time to familiarise themselves with resources provided and practice facilitating new activities.

Prayer points
  • Thank God for the opportunity to work alongside KwaNdegezi teachers in developing language skills.
  • Please pray for one of the teachers who is really struggling to apply what she is learning in the workships to her work in the classroom context.
  • Please pray for all Grade 2 and 3 hildren as they are due to be assessed in June to check progress.
Soul Action/Survivor UK
We had the privilege of welcoming our friends from Soul Action / Survivor UK in May for a week of filming in preparation for their summer festivals. We spent six days visiting different locations and organisations in Soul Action’s Network. We shot footage comparing the life of teenagers in Africa verses the UK (right), exploring violence against women, and an advert for the short term mission to Durban that Soul Survivor UK are planning for 2017.
What Rachel and I hadn’t considered was that at 15 Zac is now Soul Survivor’s target age, and so he was asked to say a line or two. By all accounts it turns out he is somewhat of a natural in front of camera.
Our friend Philile starring in the film comparing teenager's lives

Zac practising his lines at a derelict house and local township

An afterschool club at Lungisani indlela
A choir at World Changers

Roof tops in Madoni
 Children at Cottonlands Primary