I was told that I hadn’t spoken about my new service “work” that started perhaps in late February/early March. I thought I did talk about it at the beginning, but it’s been about a month, so perhaps not. In late January I was trying to encourage my life group to do some service work. The reason, as Shane Claiborne says, is that theology and ideology is not very sustaining. This was confirmed when I asked my life group “How many of you changed your life majorly after any of our Bible studies or discussions last year?” No one said anything. I believe in the power of service to change people and teach lessons (orthopraxy informing orthodoxy; though Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament Bible, might say orthodoxy informs orthopraxy; it just doesn’t seem to happen that way much). Often my life group would get stuck on theological issues and we could never get to the application part of the study (at least when I was leading). So I wanted them to live out what they were “learning.” I wanted us to spend 50+% of our time on others because I saw us as pretty selfish, though others I the group would disagree.
I planned for us to meet one Wednesday, serve the next Wednesday, meet the next, serve the next and continue alternating like that continuously. But I wanted the group to take ownership and feel it was there idea. By throwing out a bunch of ideas (including service) I was able to get them to suggest doing more service and then for them to suggest a frequency of once a month. So I had to actually initiate the specific idea of every other week. The group took it up, and so it seemed like it wasn’t me at all which is what I wanted.
Now the problem was what service. The two most popular areas of service among our group were spending time with sick (terminally ill preferred) children in hospitals and homeless shelter work. Tim, one of the leaders, and I were ok with just choosing an option and sticking to it, but many wanted to service shop. Well, most people didn’t do their research assignments of getting a service opportunity for the group in a particular area (hospital area, homeless shelter, community clean-up, for instance).
So I found our first service which was non-relational; in other words, we would not work with people but we would be packaging food and making baskets to be delivered to homeless families and individuals. The non-profit agency is called the Warehouse and they are located near my house. Because it’s difficult to get life groups, in general, to do something (even if service) outside the normal life group meeting (unless food is involved) I wanted them to use our life group Wednesday time to do the service. This is why we were alternating Wednesdays, so there was no extra time commitment. And, to me, doing service is part of what life groups should be concerned. It’s part of what a life group is. However, trying to do service on Wednesday nights is difficult because the opportunities don’t necessarily abound. The Warehouse, for instance, allows you to participate in deliveries interacting with the homeless people (and their many other programs) only during weekday daytimes and on Saturdays. That was out for us. So we, instead, were to do non-relational food packaging on Wednesday night.
The day for our first service came, and the woman who runs the volunteer program called me to tell me she had double booked, so she could not have us that evening. I had to find a replacement and fast. So I did research and found a list of homeless shelters for children (combining the desires to work with sick children and homeless shelters). And it’s relational! Guess what? As is usually the case with volunteering, it’s hard to actually do it. People always say they need people but then they won’t take you. I called place after place. They required us to come in for orientations, to do weeks of training, to turn in resumes, etc. There was no place that would let us just come. The other problem is that the person to talk to was not in.
I was near the bottom of the list and I called a place called Percy Bartley, founded in 1951 in Woodstock, a tough part of Cape Town. The woman greeted me nicely and I explained why I was calling. She miraculously said that they had been looking for someone to come in and lead a Bible study with the boys and help them with homework. I asked when we could start. She said anytime. I hesitantly prodded “Today?” She said, “Sure.” And that was that. No overhead, no administration, nothing. We arrived that day, and as is the “problem” with relational work we were attached!
This was all done last minute on the day of our life group meeting, so I had to organize everything on my own. I planned a Bible study lesson which was just an ice breaker, followed by breaking up into small groups to read a passage and answer some discussion questions, followed by a drama (I used some of my life group members for it) and a talk interspersed in the drama. It was about identity, and I used the story of Cinderella. I’ve since decided to make it a chapter in a piece I’m working on.
It was a hit. After the meeting as we were leaving, most boys asked us when we were returning. Many of us said “In two weeks,” after which we immediately thought “Oh wait, I need to check with my life group first because I don’t know if we’re coming back.” But since everyone had similar experiences and everyone fell in love with the boys (it’s a boys home), we all agreed the following week to stay with it. So we never service-shopped!
It’s been great. We’ve met with them three times already and this week was to be our fourth meeting, but we had yet to do anything social with them. On top of that, it was Easter Vacation week for them (being in school) and us studying at the university. So one of the members of my life group, Jade, a 1st year teacher, decided to organize a week’s worth of social activities.
On Monday morning we did a hike up a popular mountain called Lion’s Head. Monday evening was a movie night. We watched Drum Line. They loved it. Tuesday morning they made collages/posters of themselves with their names at the top and cutting pictures and words from magazines. Tuesday afternoon into late evening was spent at the museum, doing a walk through city gardens, and experiencing two shows at the planetarium. Wednesday afternoon was spent at the aquarium, and Wednesday evening was a games night at the church that we organized. Thursday morning and early afternoon were beach days, and Thursday evening was a movie night again (Madagascar II). We’re tired, but it was exciting and worth it.
I even got in trouble. A church staff worker and friend saw me on Thursday at church before a choir rehearsal and said that they (she and the children’s pastor) were upset with me about this kid’s program. I said “what did we do wrongly?” She said she couldn’t talk about it because she would sin (I interpreted this to mean she was so angry about it, but I was told this could mean she considered gossiping sinful; who knows). She would let the Children’s pastor talk to me about it. So I pre-empted the talk and apologized for the fact that one of the kids broke a light covering (the light still works) in the room we used and for using sports equipment without asking and borrowing tape and 3 sheets of paper. I didn’t know what else they were upset about, but I thought it was about that. But now, as I wait for this “talk” I realize they might be upset that we were doing work with kids who don’t go to this church (my church is very strict and uptight about such things due to liability and responsibility and behavior; but they do it to the point of putting such issues before people or sometimes they express these things to kids (without parents at the church) in a poor tone). It just occurred to me last night that perhaps this is what I’ve done wrong that has angered them against me. This is new to me. I’m usually in the good books with the children’s ministry, but I’m learning to let it go even before they let me have it, for whatever it is.
That and the fact that the church was not nice in giving Jade access to the van (not a clear answer, not a timely answer to allow her to plan, etc. So I had to intervene and talk to the operations manager at the church to get the van and still it wasn’t given to us for the full times we needed though it wasn’t used the entire time) were down points. But even those things cannot quench the joy and bonding that occurred this week. The highlight for me was the beach. If you didn’t know it, in Cape Town we get a circulating ocean current that comes up from Antarctica. The water is icy sitting in the 9-12 degrees Celsius range. It’s difficult to swim, and most people go to the beach to play on the sand or sunbathe. Many people go to the Indian Ocean parts of South Africa to get slightly warmer waters. The farther east you go from the Cape of Good Hope the warmer it becomes. If you’re really close it’s not that much warmer. But to South Africans used to freezing water, they can tell the difference and it feels significantly warmer to them. Well, some of the boys had never been to the beach, and the novelty of it was amazing to them. They LOVED it! So they would jump in the water and freeze; they didn’t care. It was about the freedom and coolness of the beach and the waves and the water and the sun. It was grand.
The boys, by the way go from age 5 all the way to 18/19. There are about 15 or so of them (it changes all the time). And they are either South African or Zimbabwean, all black and coloured boys. Most boys are in the 11-16 range.