Happy 2021! So far this year bears a lot of resemblance to last year, but we’re hopeful that things will start turning around soon with regard to Covid-19. If not, at least we have a better idea of how to navigate things now than we did 11 months ago.
In December we were able to spend about a week on a lovely farm in a remote area a few hours outside of Cape Town. Tim was utterly exhausted after such a challenging year, and the break was a huge blessing. We swam in rivers and rock pools, read, and relaxed. We came back to Cape Town for Christmas, and then spent a few days at Karoo National Park before things started up again at Scripture Union.
South Africa recently went through its second major wave of the pandemic, which resulted in much larger numbers of people being infected and dying than in the first wave. The country went into tightened restrictions for a month, and the opening of schools was delayed until February 15. We have now passed the peak and restrictions have been eased again. We have not started rolling out vaccines yet, but the government hopes to be able to start vaccinating healthcare workers later this month.
During this time when things have been a little slower, Tim has put a lot of time into praying and thinking through ways to help SU become more sustainable. The donor-centric model just doesn’t seem viable for the future. He has totally re-vamped our Reachafrica website (www.reachafrica.org), and we are now promoting mission trips and internships through the website. People who are interested can apply through the website, and they will then come and serve with SU. Hopefully, developing partnerships that introduce people to the work of SU creates greater sustainability for the movement going forward. Things may continue to be challenging this year due to the pandemic, but there are still plenty of opportunities for ministry.
SCRIPTURE UNION NEWS
The year normally would start with a gathering of Scripture Union South Africa staff from around the country for staff conference at our SU campsite just outside of Johannesburg called Stoney Ridge. This year our conference was held digitally on Zoom, which meant that we were together, but only in a virtual way.
The 2 days went from 9 am-12 noon. Although it sounds like a short time together, we found it a useful way to gather the team and share devotions, share vision for the year, pray, talk about ministering to young people during a pandemic, share stories, and talk about team culture in light of the 'culture survey' that we did at the end of 2020. The survey was interesting, identifying significant ways that we have improved while also highlighting ways we can do better.
Since then, it has been a pretty constant state of activity, even though it would seem like not much could be happening while children are out of school. We just emerged from our third lockdown and are hoping to get into a rhythm that returns us to school ministry fairly quickly. Financial challenges are significant: campsites have been forced to remain empty, meaning that the effect on our cash flow is pretty serious.
Finally, Tim was a guest on the Scripture Union US program called 'Encounter with God' which has a weekly overview of the passages to be studied for the week. You can sign up for the free Daily Study guide here: https://scriptureunion.org/ daily encounter/food-and-leftovers/ and Tim's overview of Mark 6 and 7 here: https://scriptureunion.org/encountertogether/
At church, we had to go back to being fully online, but we are able to live-stream now, which is better than having everything pre-recorded. We all miss being able to experience community in person, but we’re thankful for the technology to be able to stay connected, even if it’s remotely. We are working hard to find ways to keep people engaged and growing in their faith.
Recently Leslie took school stationery and uniforms out to Pastor Julius for the children, and she had a long visit with them. Their buoyancy in spite of their difficult circumstances always serves as a great reminder of what true faith is supposed to look like. In early January a group of four men followed one of their grandsons into the compound of the children’s home and then proceeded to rob them at gunpoint. They took wallets, cellphones and stole the grandson’s car. This was obviously a very traumatic experience, but we are all thankful that no one suffered physical harm. They are having to be careful now to keep the gate locked and keep the children inside the fenced area as much as possible. In spite of everything, the children are happy and well-cared for, and Unakho Children’s Home remains a beacon of light and hope in their community.
We have been reminded of a few key spiritual truths over this pandemic season. One is that though we may be limited in our movements and interactions, the gospel is never restrained and God’s purposes remain constant. No matter the season or circumstances, we are called to love God and love others, bearing fruit with joy and thanksgiving. Paul’s prayer for the Colossians in Colossians 1:9-12 is a wonderful reminder of how we should seek to live. Paul says, “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritances of the saints in light.” We hope and pray that no matter what happens in the year ahead, we may remember these deep truths and walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
Thank you so much for partnering with us. We may be separated by great physical distance at the moment, but our hearts are with you.