Hello! An awful lot has changed in the world since our last update in February. A few epidemiologists may have had an inkling about what was around the corner, but most of us were caught quite by surprise at the devastating havoc that Covid-19 has begun to wreak across the globe. We are thankful for the hope and security offered by Christ in every season of life. Though our daily routines have been altered significantly, our work has continued in new ways. We hope this newsletter will encourage you in this strange season we all find ourselves in.
SCRIPTURE UNION NEWS
In early March, Scripture Union SA hosted the annual conference for Southern African Scripture Union organizations. SU National Directors and Chairs from Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Namibia, Lesotho, and Eswatini were able to come to Johannesburg for the conference, and it was encouraging to all who attended. The conference also happened to coincide with South Africa's first confirmed case of Covid-19. A few days after returning from that conference, Tim went to the UK for the Atlantic SU Community meeting held in Scotland. By this time, the UK was beginning to experience an exponential growth in Covid-19 cases, which kept a few National Directors from attending the event. Tim found it to be a very rich and meaningful time, but he was forced to cut his trip short due to border closures and travel restrictions.
Once back in Cape Town, Tim had to self-quarantine for two weeks. During that time South Africa imposed a very strict 3 week lockdown--which has been extended an additional 2 weeks, so now all work is being conducted remotely and through 'virtual' meetings. The SU staff around the country has been putting together a significant number of excellent online resources for both youth leaders and young people. These are available for all to access at www.su.org.za. The SU National team has been having daily online meetings and prayer times and so far seem to be coping with the new reality.
There are tough decisions which will need to be made, as it seems unlikely that things like school camps and holiday clubs will be able to happen in their normal format at all this year. Please pray for wisdom as the leadership team seeks to find new, creative ways to reach children and as they look for ways to keep staff engaged and employed.
HAPPENINGS AT MOKONE PRIMARY
The first term at Mokone Primary was amazing. The year seemed to be getting off to a fantastic start before everything got turned upside down.
We were seeing progress with Friday Numeracy, and a solid group of volunteers was involved. About 30 children were regularly attending Indlela Bible Club, and were showing spiritual growth. We had two Super Saturday events, with over 200 children attending the first one! Leslie and a few volunteers assisted about 25 Grade 7 children with their online high school applications. Once the online applications were completed, and each child applied to a minimum of 3 high schools, hard copies of the applications and supporting documents were delivered to the various schools. This was a massive undertaking, and was completed the day before the last day of the term.
Schools were scheduled to be closed for a one week term break, but with the lockdown schools closed two days early on March 18 and will remain closed until at least May 4. It's not known at this point how the lost time will be recovered, but a shortened winter break (normally 3 weeks in June/July) has been proposed along with Saturday classes. Some of the private schools are continuing with online classes, but that is not possible for the vast majority of students in the country. Very few people have access to the internet at home, and while many do have smart phones, data is very expensive, so this really isn't a viable option. Through the help of a friend at church, Leslie has been able to assist some of the Grade 7 learners at Mokone with math by sending problems sets to their phones. So far the children are enjoying the challenge and stimulation.
Chronic hunger is one of the biggest issues facing children who are now not in school. Approximately 10 million children around the country receive hot lunches at school during school terms. Those children are now at home and many do not have adequate nutrition. Last week our province was able to start offering meals twice per week to children in need and Mokone has been able to feed over 150 children twice per week in this manner. They are following strict hygiene and social distancing protocols and so far it is going very smoothly.
Once schools are allowed to resume teaching, we will have a better idea of which activities we will be able to resume. At this point, it seems very unlikely that the annual holiday club will take place, but it's possible that we will be able to include some spiritual material in holiday lesson programs. We are thankful to have a long-standing and good relationship with the school, and we look forward to assisting in any way possible.
With the sudden impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and looming border closures, Sam and Emily Copeland made the decision to move back to the U.S. with baby Ella earlier than originally planned. This meant hastily packing up, selling off, and saying all of their farewells while social distancing. They flew out the same day that Tim got back from the UK, so he was able to self-quarantine in their apartment, which was a real blessing. Until the lockdown started Leslie was able to take him food and other supplies, and once the quarantine period was over, Tim came back home.
A week before the Copelands left, the Langa Common Ground congregation (of which they were an integral part) baptized four young men in a local community pool. This was an amazing testimony of God's activity in Langa through the faithful service of a handful of dedicated leaders, including Sam and Emily. We praise God for calling young men to himself and we pray that these men would grow to be pillars in their community.
As soon as the lockdown was announced, we began planning how our congregation (Bosch PM) could help support those in need in the Langa congregation as well as the families of children from Mokone Primary, particularly those who attend the Langa church. The lead pastor, Ziba, identified the families and Mokone provided a list of children. We then put out a Call to Action to the BPM church community. We quickly purchased 20 gift cards from the local supermarket and then a key leader in the Langa church distributed the cards to the identified families. She used this as an opportunity to share Christ with the parents of some of the children who attend the church on their own, and many said they plan to come to church once services can be held again. We have been overwhelmed by the response to the Call to Action, and now will work to determine the best way to continue supporting these and other families.
We have been in regular contact with Pastor Julius to make sure that he and the children are managing during this time. So far, everyone is healthy and they are coping.
Just before non-essential surgeries were cancelled, Tim was able to have arthroscopic surgery to "clean up" a torn meniscus in his right knee. This is the perfect time to recover from surgery, since our lockdown prohibits even going for walks in the neighborhood. He is recovering well, and is thankful to have the surgery over with.
Since March 22 all of our church services have been online. It was strange celebrating Easter this way, but no less meaningful. We have also had several online prayer meetings which have been quite encouraging. This coming week, Common Ground will launch the Alpha course online. This is normally a big event in the church calendar and, even though we are in lockdown, this year is no different. We are praying that many people will participate and find truth and hope in these uncertain times.
There are a number of reasons that the Covid-19 pandemic is particularly dangerous in a country like South Africa. We have a large proportion of the population living in poverty, a pre-pandemic unemployment rate of 30%, more people living with HIV than any other country, the second largest number of people infected with tuberculosis, and a huge number of families living in over-crowded conditions in shacks without running water and toilets. Those people need to walk to communal taps and use filthy communal toilets every day. "Sheltering-in-place" is simply not possible for them. On top of these challenges, the public hospital system in the country was overwhelmed long before Covid-19 hit. The government is trying to get these facilities better-equipped before they are flooded with cases, and that is the purpose of our extended, strict lockdown. However, real wisdom is needed to know when to know when people can return to work. Food insecurity has the potential to lead to major societal upheaval. Please join us in praying for our leaders to have the compassion, wisdom and courage they need to bring the country through this. We are thankful that the president called for a national day of prayer at the beginning of the lockdown. In his youth, he was active in student Christian groups and Scripture Union, and he knows that God will bring us through this crisis.
One of the hardest parts of this season for us is that our parents, siblings and James and Mackenzie are so far away, without any way to reach them in an emergency. We are thankful for the technology that allows us to keep in touch and we are very grateful that everyone is healthy and coping. We are trusting that this season will come to an end within the next few months and are praying to emerge from it with a renewed appreciation for life and relationships.
The theme of this newsletter has been prayer. Colossians 4:2 says, "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving." Thank you for praying with us; we will be watching to see how the Lord moves. Thank you for your love and support, and we pray that you will stay physically healthy, emotionally strong, and spiritually rejuvenated in the coming weeks. Please let us know how we can pray for you.