On April 4, my sweet Meri died. I started this post a couple weeks ago, but it’s been hard to write; I think that writing it for the interwebs makes it a bit too real.
I am struggling with a bit guilt over this; she wanted breakfast at 2:00 am, and since there is no universe in which that was going to happen, I put her outside. She never came back. I found her nearby while on my way to chapel that morning, and spent the service trying to alternately hold back and wipe away tears. The current theory is that she found poison that had been put out for the feral dogs, and I can’t help but wonder whether if I’d fed her this could have been averted.
The Dennisons, from whom I inherited Meri, have been incredibly gracious and have absolved me of any guilt. They pointed out that Meri had likely far exceeded her nine lives even before she came to stay with me. Let’s remember that this is the kitty who would play with monkeys. Sigh.
I am missing my Guardian of the Galaxy (or at least the Honors College). I miss seeing her sitting on the final set of steps as I climb to my flat. I miss seeing her on the verandah. I miss hearing the girls next door greet her as they come and go. I miss having someone to talk to, even if she woke me at horrific hours.
Ugandans tend to be very pragmatic about death, especially about animals, as they tend to be more house workers rather than pets. But a few students have by and asked have where Meri was, and when I told them she was with Jesus, they were very sad. Their sympathy and empathy touched me deeply.
Meri was therapy for me when the Dennisons left; not only did I have a small reminder of them, having someone to talk to and care for gave me something to focus on. Even though I could never teach her to tell time, she was very bright: I’d tell her “let’s go,” or “time for chapel,” or “time for lectures,” and she’d head for the door. Well, unless she was feeling teenager-ish, and then she’d whine and we’d fight to get out the door.
She was a gift, and I’m grateful for the two years I had with her.
I looked around the playing field with the hundred or so kids running around, screaming, and braiding each other’s hair. I took a deep breath. This was our second kids’ camp and I now knew that while kids’ camp was Disneyland for the children, it was no vacation for the leaders. Suddenly a small body collided into my legs from behind and little arms wrapped around my thighs. “April!” I turned around. It was Addy.
Addy was one of my favorites. I know you aren’t supposed to have favorites, but let’s be honest, people, we all have them. At 9 years old, she is small for her age but she has a personality to make up for her size.
“I am in your small group this week!” she beamed up at me with a snaggle tooth grin.
“Yes, you are,” I responded. “But, girlie, what happened to your tooth?”
Her face fell a smidge. “I fell and it broke in half.”
“Ouch that sounds like it hurt. But I am so glad you are here this week!” She nodded, gave me one more hug, and ran off into the sea of kids.
We had an awesome time that week. Art projects, balloon fights, and lots and lots of crazy praise songs with crazier motions. We culminated our week by meeting in our small groups.
“What was your favorite part of this week,” I asked my group of eight. As we went around the group, the kids saidthe water balloon fight or the monkey dance. But when we got to Addy she paused.
“I broke my tooth and everyone at school has been teasing me. So I almost did not come but my mom said I should still come. I was scared the first day. But no one made fun of me and I had a really good time.”
I had had no idea that this outgoing little girl had felt so self-conscious. But without even trying, we had lived out the unconditional love of God. We loved her as she was.
There is something about Cape Town at this
time of year that fills one with anticipation. It has been a long, dry summer
and the Western Cape water crisis is at its peak. Dam levels are at record
lows…so low that the water literally tastes and smells like pond scum. But
there is the promise of winter rains…good rain has brought an end to the
drought stricken areas in the northern parts of southern Africa. By God’s grace
and mercy, we pray that the rains for this area will be moderate, but sufficient
to stem the tide, as it were.
Politically, the country faces yet another
crossroad. The current situation is being likened to the excesses of the
Apartheid era. Calls for the resignation of the current President are heard
throughout the land from every sector of society, including from within his own
party. People euphemistically speak about this period as a “very interesting
But biblically, drought and political
instability have often served to bring God’s people to their knees and the
situation in southern Africa is no different. This past week, 1.7 million
people gathered on cleared farmland in the Free-State area specifically to pray
for the country. In churches across the land, God’s people are being called to
pray…and God has promised that when His people turn to Him, He will turn to
them, hear their prayers, and heal their land.
So, we are all anticipation on so many
On a personal note, Louise and I are still
trying to sort ourselves out as far as settling in is concerned. We do have our
South African ID booklets and a place of residence, but we are still working on
our driver’s licenses and getting Louise’s mum’s car in her name. Yes, we have
purchased the Queen’s blue chariot. While this is not ideal for long distance
travel, it does get us around the Cape area and will have to suffice until we
can raise more funds.
It seems strange to talk about culture
shock, as South Africa, and Cape Town in particular, is Louise’s home country,
but things change over the course of twenty years and we have found that,
although the country has a 1st world veneer, the reality is a lot
different. In spite of the fact that many modern things are in place, such a
fibre optic cable, it takes a long time for anything to actually work. Life is
also a lot more expensive than we remember and we will really have to budget
carefully as we plot our course forward.
Much to my disappointment, we did not get
to train the team up in Mozambique…yet…the training has been postponed for
various reasons and we are waiting on the Bishop there to give us a new date.
Please pray that this all falls into place sooner rather than later as the
folks on the ground really want to get this discipleship program up and
Louise and I have moved into our new office
as well. The GtC Director, Trevor and our fellow team member, Wayne have worked
tirelessly in making this a beautiful and very functional environment for us.
In many ways they have all spoiled us rotten! They are very gentle in allowing
us to find our place in the team slowly but surely. We also have our official
GtC email addresses thanks to Michael and Rae…and they are:
Note that these are not personal, but
official emails, so please continue to use Vanderbijl@gmail.com
for all other correspondence.
Our new snail mail (for letters and small,
flat articles only) address is:
201 The Chelsea
Cape Town, South Africa
For care packages or any other larger
deliveries, please use:
1 Braehead Road
Cape Town, South Africa
Our South African Telephone number is: +27
Please do let us hear from you soon! We
love you and want to stay connected.
Many blessings and hugs.
Johann and Louise
A few weeks ago we packed the Subaru to the gills and pointed our rusty, I mean TRUSTY, steed south to the warm embrace of The Diocese of South Carolina. We had a number of appointments set up with youth leaders, rectors, and missions minded folks around Charleston, and enjoyed our time there immensely. Except for the fire ants. Lesson learned: don’t place a sandaled foot or bare hand within their reach. Lesson number two: Camp St. Christopher is a beautiful place and the people there are amazing hosts. We made some great new friends/contacts, were prayed for and ministered to in needed ways, and left encouraged and buoyed in our call to launch Agape Year. Now we are prepping for May recruiting trips that will see us in Texas and California. Being on the road with a 3 year old and a 5 month old has its challenges, and a side-of-the-road temper tantrum has a way of stretching my patience.
There are times in my life when I really need an Ebenezer, a reminder of God’s faithfulness. As Erika and I dive headlong into starting Agape Year, building a program, recruiting students, and raising our financial support there a times of great doubt that we are on the right track. But God has given me an incredible reminder of His faithfulness: my health.
Most of you know that I have Crohn’s Disease, and many of you know how debilitating it has been at various times over the past 20 years. And a few of you have seen me hospitalized or bed-bound for months on end. But just a few. Most people don’t know my story of healing (its a miracle and I’d love to talk to you about it!) so when I talk about running a half marathon, the miracle of that is lost on them.
By the grace of God I’ll run the Pittsburgh Half Marathon on May 7th. We are raising donations here with all of the money going to Erika and my financial support. Getting up early to train on Pittsburgh’s city streets, or running in the dark on unfamiliar South Carolina roads, I am reminded of God’s faithfulness with every step. Thanks for coming along side of Erika and me on the road and on the run!
Since yesterday afternoon, I have been serenaded by the happy sounds of heavy machinery beeping as it backs up, and motors grinding as the machines work. Yesterday, we begin to tarmac [pave] the campus, and it was a glorious day. Of course, students writing their exams may not have liked the noise, but it was music to my ears.
Our beautiful campus still has marram [dirt] roads, which aside from being dusty, are slippery when very dry, and are also slippery when wet. The hill going down to the Bishop Tucker building is on a steep incline, and that hill and I are not friends (in either direction, but especially down). Walking at night is always an adventure, as marram roads are always uneven, but their landscape changes daily, particularly in the rainy season (such as we are in now).
But now, the initial phase of tarmacking the campus has begun, and since this involves the roads I use most frequently, I am ecstatic. In addition to increased safety and reducing the dust that floats into the main library each day (and hurts the books), I’m hoping that this facelift will give UCU a much-needed aesthetic boost among potential students. As one friend commented, no one wants to enter the main gate then feel like they’re back in the village on marram roads.
Of course, we commissioned the work before it began, with the Vice Chancellor even firing up the grading vehicle and driving it a few inches. Quite a crowd gathered to commission and pray for this work that we are all terribly excited to see come to fruition.
As a Church of Uganda university, we receive no funds from the Ugandan government, and must fund this work ourselves. Would you be willing to prayerfully consider contributing to this effort? It is not easy to raise funds for capital projects, yet they are sorely needed. This project will cost about 800,000,000 (yes, eight hundred million) Ugandan shillings, or about $222,000 USD. In addition to beautifying the campus, you’ll be helping to make it safer to traverse, for which your favorite missionary in the Bishop Tucker School of Divinity and Theology would be most grateful.
The wonderful people at Uganda Partners will receive money for this and other projects for UCU, and they ensure that the money arrives here safely. If you would like to donate online, click the Donate link, choose the Multiplying Talents Fund (general fund), and in the Additional Comments field, note that the donation is for the tarmac/paving project. But please do take a look around the site; UCU most assuredly could not function as it does without the fundraising that Uganda Partners does.
God bless you.