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The Skinny on Dinner Ministry

 

FullSizeRender_4By Sean Lem

Over the past month and a half, we have been trying out a new ministry we like to call, “Sean’s Dinner Party!” Nope, I did not narcissistically place my own name in the title. However, it was conceived through a general consensus throughout our little group that my name had to be there because it made it more personal. Also partially because I’m not the admin of the WhatsApp group there is not much I can do to change the name even if I wanted to.

Simply put, prior to Tuesday (Our day of service) a family is chosen by my friend Zukisani. It is explained to the family that a chef will come and serve them dinner as long as they abide by two rules. The first being that only people on the attendance list collected prior to Tuesday night are allowed to participate, and secondly that there is a no alcohol policy. The location, number of people, names, age, time of service, dietary restrictions, and other significant information is passed along to myself, and I then decide upon the menu.

Monday I buy and prepare the dinner, which is a 2 course meal. The food is prepared for a French service dinning experience. This means that the food is mostly prepared in the kitchen, and then finished off table side. Tuesday comes and we arrive at the family’s home at the scheduled time. Always before we start we ask once more if it is ok if we are able to commence with the ministry. Once given the okay to continue we set up. This entails the placement of a table, chairs, table cloth, plates, cups, and cutlery. I quickly explain who I am, why I like to cook, and why we are doing this for them. Dinner is served, and while they eat I prepare the dessert before the table as the translators encourage conversation among the family members. We end the night with a few last words, and a picture. Clean up and debrief happen once we are all at home.

I’ll have to admit this ministry was not conceived through my own thoughts, but propositioned to me by my friend Jung who has been helping me along with my walk in South Africa. He has taken a great interest in me and my well being, drawing me closer to Christ. The concept was brought to life after I explained to him my theory on cooking, and what made being a cook worth while. I personally believe that the reason why I cook is because it brings people together. It sets up an atmosphere where people from all walks of life, young or old, rich or poor, people you love or hate, can come together and enjoy the show, which is presented through the art of culinary. You can go anywhere in the world, enjoy a meal with someone, and get to know them a little better.

Thus saying even though the ministry displays a nice show with decent food, we want to show people who are hurting or angry what it’s like to be free. Free for them to be who they really are, with out the baggage that comes with life in the township. I’m not saying that culturally they are eating dinner wrong, and that there is one way better then another. I’m simply saying that what we do paints a window for the family to see, “this is what our family is like when we are free to laugh, and enjoy each other.” Placing behind all the burdens, annoyances and hatred. It allows them to dream, and see a picture of what Christ really intended when He puts together a family.

Lastly we only visit the families once, and after that night we don’t revisit them. Understand, this is a cultural barrier we have had to over come. We would love to see the families again; However, without the shock value the families will start praising the gift rather then the good gift giver which is Christ. If we continue to come back, they will associate the window of family and happiness with us being the source rather then understanding that within the family already there is that potential. There is a lot of corporations that come to the townships, and hand out goods. The people have come accustom to just taking the free stuff and not thinking past that. We wanted to do something a little different, something to get the families to cherish what’s already within their own home.

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If you hadn’t left…

DSC_0064By Jung Lee

This picture of Lonwabo was taken in early 2013 when he was 12. Three years later he is one of 8 boys who stabbed a man for a laptop, and gang raped a women in her late twenties. When we went to visit him at his pre-trial holding cell in Kraaifontein, memories of him started coming back.

We spent two years with our first youth group, and we were able to build good relationships with the most of them. Naturally, the younger ones outside the group started asking when they could join the youth group. We still keep a close relationship with some of the youth kids which includes Papama (my daughter), Lolo, Anathi, Sam, and Sionoyolo (who is in OLIA). However, it wasn’t time for us to expand the ministry, and we were getting busy with the ‘I’m Precious to Jesus’ campaign.

We were at a juncture. Spending the past three years in Zola had given us a good foundation, and enabled us to go further to understand a very important question, ‘Why the things are the way they are.’ However after two of the youth kids got raped within the first 6 months and witnessing toddlers getting raped almost every month, it wasn’t just an opportunity for a deeper understanding, but it was more of our moral obligation to help as someone who claims to understand Jesus’ love for them.

So we left Zola. God provided a good team, and we have spent subsequent three years going around the country and spending much effort in other areas such as Khayelitsha. We have developed children’s march further, planted Righteous Men Assembly, expanded the campaign into the rural areas (Transkei), and started Vukhukhanye, which is a community group practicing practical and indigenous Christianity. God has guided us and given us a glimpse of people’s hearts, struggles, hurts, and most importantly His heart for people.

Early this year, we have decided to refocus our effort onto Zola to centralize our ministries before we expand our ministry into the rural area. That was last April. Henceforth, spurring the first and the most recent case we heard from the newly formed Vukukhanye members was the rape case of the 8 boys including Lonwabo.

Lonwabo, was one of the kids who was going to be in the second youth group. We had an initial meeting; however, we then had to leave Zola. Sitting in a visiting room with him gave me an eerie feeling. He didn’t seem to have changed much, except his eyes now appeared to be a little blurd. After a few questions about the incident, his mom said, “If you hadn’t left Zola, it wouldn’t have happened to him.” I turned to him and asked him if this was true. He timidly gave me a skeptical nod and said, “I still have the Bible you gave me.” He is turning 16 in July.

According to a recent study by Optimus Study, ‘a total of 351 214 cases of sexual abuse has occurred among 15- to 17-year-olds in the past year alone.’ Lonwabo had joined the other side. We don’t have an explanation for the victims at this moment, but our work with him begins now. There are many things that needs to be sorted out before we commence further, but we will be working with Vukukhanye members to get his life in order and reintegrate him back into the community.

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Vuk`ukhanye Ministry

By Zukisani Nzala

Within Zola we have created our first Vuk’ukhanye group.  This group is comprised of seven individuals, and it’s just right for us to maintain a safe environment.  Everyone feels safe sharing and discussing challenges in the community.  We teach them to respond with love and care for each other.  However, Zola presents its own sets of challenges such as robbery, rape, and peer to peer trust issues.  Our meetings happen every Sunday evening.

There was one Sunday where everyone was busy, and could not come to the meeting except for one lady.  We sat down with her and we had a nice conversation.  As we were about to leave I asked her, “Uziva njani? (How are you feeling?)  She paused for a moment, and started sharing about how things were back home.  Her mother had left her with her grandparents, and she had never met her father.  She could see that her grandparents were struggling, and with no support from her mother, she couldn’t stay and watch her grandparents continual struggle. She made the very difficult decision to leave her 5 years old child with them, and came to Cape Town to look for a job.  The grandparents were frustrated, angry, and they voiced their displeasure in her leaving.  Unfortunately, they said bad things to her, like cursing her aImage 2016-06-22 at 12.53 AM (3)nd not wishing her well.  However, she came to Cape Town anyways and a friend took her in.  She got a job, and every week she sends money to them, but the grandparents still won’t talk to her. Now she feels all alone and frustrated because she doesn’t know what to do.  She has never shared this with anyone because she thought no one would care.  No one had ever asked her before about anything that is happening in her life; not even the friend that took her in, and because of that she has never trusted anyone.  I am glad though that God brought us to her, and I believe that He is working through us to reach out to people like her.

It has been a couple of weeks since Vuk`ukhanye ministry started in Zola, and I am there almost every day trying to get more people to come to the meetings.   I personally would like to see more people from the community to be involved.  The other day I visited one of the ministry members, and I was told about a boy who has been behaving terribly to his parents as well as his friends.  The boy’s name is, Siyamthanda (meaning we love him), but unfortunately he is not getting that kind of love.  His mother sells sheep feet for some extra money, and his stepfather is a construction worker who has a tendency to be violent.  The boy had to watch his stepfather beat his mother, and he would also get beaten by both of them.  Furthermore, when he plays with his friends he always hits them when he wants something, swears at his mother, and kicks her.  People in the community see him as a mentally disturbed child, the boy has been abused his entire life, so when we saw him sitting alone with an angry face, I quickly remembered what I heard about him.  I then told Mr. Jung, he asked Siyamthanda if he was upset and he said yes.  “Who are you angry at?” Jung asked.  He said hIMG_0581e is angry at his mother and father because they beat him.  I was so hurt to hear him say that, I could see that he was really sad, but after we spoke to him he was so calm.  Since then I’ve kept on visiting him during the week after school, and I spend some time with him helping him do his homework.   Vuk`ukhanye members adopted him and started to pay attention.  We also talk about what he likes and does not like.  He said when his father beats his mom, and when they both beat him and shout at him he does not like it.  He also doesn’t like to go to school because his teacher beats him, and other kids make fun of him because when there is a school outing he is the only kid in his class that does not go to those outings.  So I decided to visit his class teacher with Sinoyolo, she’s also part of the Vuk`ukhanye community group.  When we got to the school we were told his teacher is no longer teaching at that school anymore, so we met with his new teacher.  We were able to speak to her about his situation at home, how the community has been treating him, and what we trying to do with him.  She said she noticed that he was struggling with the school work.  When she gave them some work in class she would have to stand next to him till he finishes, so we asked her nicely to pay more attention to him.

It’s been about a week now since all this has happened, and Siyamthanda has not been beaten because he behaves better.  He is calm and happy like any other child should be, and I gave him a haircut to look the part as well.

In the following Vuku’khanye meeting we discussed about him, and they said they noticed a change in him.  Now when they see him on the street and call him he does not run away from them, but now he comes to greet us.  Before he would just run away because in his mind you want to beat him, and that’s why he would not go to the person who called him.

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Sean’s Dinner Party with Thobani’s Family

By Jung Lee

When I first got close to Sean he was in a place of devastation.  The dreams he had to serve in South Africa as a missionary had been utterly shattered within months of his arrival.  Marked with scars of his pain and loneliness we got to know each other little by little.  However, since then we have worked together to restore his life as a Christian, and surrounded him with a loving community.

For the past few months God has been faithful.  Currently, he has a great community that respects and loves him, and has numerous small scale yet meaningful ministries to fill up his schedule.  One top of that he has been working as an intern at one of the top 5 restaurants in South Africa to keep up with his culinary skills.

When his anger and resentment from the initial experience of being a missionary subsided God gave us an idea.  Hence we began the ministry, “Sean’s Dinner Party.”  So how it all works is that by weekly we randomly chose a house in a new area.  Then we asked the family if we can cook and serve a dinner for the entire family with only two rules in mind.  They are as follows if anyone who is not on the list joins us on the day we don’t proceed, and if anyone is drunk or drinking we don’t proceed.  We don’t promote or share what we believe.  We do however try to guide the dinner conversation so that it includes the whole family; no arguing or rebuking.  Everyone has a place at the table from the youngest to the oldest, so that no one is left out.

It was our second week when we visited Thobani’s house.  On the menu was spaghetti bolognaise and a cheese cake dessert.  We brought with us a table and chairs which initially didn’t quite fit, so we had to remove a sofa to make a room for the dining table.  Nine chairs were set up and the table cloth was spread.  The initial interview said there would be three males, three females and three children, but there were only two females and four male adults when we arrived.  I almost had to put a stop to it because the list didn’t match up.  However, I soon realized Thobani who was twenty-four years old was a mentally handicapped and was counted as a female person.  He wasn’t even considered as a man.

Settling in the sixty-year-old mother started to share about the family.  She mentioned that she was the sole bread winner of the house with her job as a HIV counsellor.  The four men and the woman aged in their thirties and forties haven’t held a steady job in a long time.  The mother shared it bitterly and tyrannically at the same time.  They were a typical township family full of anger, resentments towards eaIMG_0511 copych other, and not much to hope for.  On top of all of that Thobani’s disability, and his 48-year-old fathers (mother’s brother) erratic behavior piled onto the existing stresses of township life.

Sean introduced himself and the dinner plan serving generous amounts of food on each plate.  The family enjoyed the meal and started to make pleasant conversation.  Everyone was included from the youngest to the oldest, enjoying each other’s company and sharing each other’s laughter.  Thobani got into such a good mood he started to hug me and kept on saying “Where are you going? Where are you going?” in Xhosa.  It didn’t make sense at all, but the family started to laugh with him in joy.  I could see that he was happy.  He even started to eat all the leftovers that was put away into a Tupperware bowl.  The family was enjoying the awkward and silly actions of Thobani who was not accepted as a man in the family.

Then it hit me.  What God was doing through the Sean’s Dinner Party was giving people trapped in pain and anger a chance to be free.  Since we came to them by random no one in the family could take credit for what was transpiring and no one in the family felt inferior (or superior) to one another.  They were equal without anger or resentment towards each other.  The mother said that usually when dinner is served, each of them take their plates and disappear, no conversation, no thanks.  Just silence.  It was giving them the freedom to be who they could be.  A window into what the family could potentially be if they had no problems or issues.  How they could enjoy each other without feeling burdened or weighted.

As the night came to a close Thobani was still eating the last bits of the Spaghetti Bolognaise and family was still smiling at him.  Once finished, he went to Sean and hugged him tapping his chest as if he wanted to hug Sean chest to chest.

Next week, another family.

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I want to be a good father.

By Jung Lee

Zukisani was grim-faced all the way home. His ex-wife allowed him see his children for 15 minutes for the first time in 4 months. It would be more accurate to say that he had a devastating look on his face. It all started when he decided to quit his job that supported his family and partially his parents. January last year, he told me that he quit his job to work full time on the campaign. He knew that OLIA didn’t have enough funding to support him, but he was adamant. Maybe it was the only selfish decision he ever made… dedicating his life to Christ.

Since then, his wife left him, taking away his children, and his parents kicked him out of the house for not getting a proper job (not bringing any money home). When he returned from the 4 month survey trip in Transkei this January, he didn’t have a place to go. So he moved into our house and he has been staying with us since.

I didn’t know what to say to his devastating look. After a minute or two of sitting in the car, I asked him.

“I see that you had no say in what is going on in your personal life, with your marriage, your children and your parents. I can see how they have been treating you all your life.”

I met him through Righteous Men Assembly and he was one of the most honest and hard working guys I have ever met. Now I can see everyone around him wanted him to go back to work and was trying to force him by leaving him, not letting him see his children and kicking him out of the house.

“I want to know what you want to see happening in your life.” I said and he hesitated to answer, but I insisted. He finally said, “Mr Jung, I want to be a good father, but I don’t know how it will work out when my wife is not letting me see my children.”

We prayed together. Zukisani’s desire to be a good father will not be far off from what God desires for him.

That was two months ago. Today, God did his work on his wife’s heart and Zukisani was allowed to take his son home every other weekend… and the future is wide open.  We brought him on Saturday morning and they spent most of the afternoon lying in bed staring and talking to each other.

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Vuk’ukhanye (Rise n’ shine) Community group

The Kuyasa community is stricken with many problems such as murder, rape, street gang fights and robbery. Also, it has been flooded with NGO’s and missionaries attempting to help the situation, but most (if not all) of their attempts have become failed attempts. With much disappointment from external help, they were even hesitant to be photographed by outsiders. While we were preparing for the children’s March in September, 3 gang related murders, 4 rapes and many other crimes occurred.

The community’s response to such problems were the common ‘kill or cast out’.  We felt our message of love and compassion sank deep into their hearts during the Children’s March and we decided to go further.  We called a small gathering who got touched by the campaign and explained to them our intention.  “If we have a group of people responding to the problems in the community with love and compassion, what would it do?”  Then we challenged them to bring up any problems in the community so we can deal with them together.

Immediately, they pointed to the Albino couple who attended the meeting.  The couple shared how challenging it is to live in the community facing constant mockery and prejudice even from the children.  The father shared, “I grew up like this, but it breaks my heart when I witness my 3 children growing up with it.”  Children throw rocks at their house, and spread rumors that Albinos don’t even die.  While everyone is staring at us to see what we will do, our solution was simple.  We asked the community members to be there for the family and stand up for them, because that is what Jesus would have done.

We all marched to the family’s house together.  While we were inside, kids threw rocks at the house.  Those who were standing near the door angrily rushed out to stop the children from throwing rocks.  I went after them to calm them down.  Some of the kids got scared and they were ready to run away.  I said to them, “It’s okay please come closer.  You guys were there at the march, right?”  I continued, “We were there to protect you and I’d like you to do the same.  Please protect them (pointing at the Albino children).” And I held the 3 year old girl (the youngest one) in my arms and kissed the daylight out of her in front of other children.

The story spread like a wildfire.  We bought a pair of sunglasses for the Sandile, the eldest son of 12 years old, because he was sensitive to sunlight.  When another kid stole the sunglasses, we saw half of the community gather to see what we would do.  The mother of the boy who stole the sunglasses was about to smack the boy in front of the crowd.  Mthandazo went to the boy and gently explained why Sandile needed the pair of sunglasses and asked him to return them.

After a few weeks and dealing with other problems, we asked the group to come up with a name that would describe what we do.  Sandile’s father slowly raised his hand and softly said, “Vuk’ukhanye (Rise n’ shine)”

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“You know you are special to me, right”

20150928_172731I finally caught up with him and sat him next to me to talk. He said, “I made one mistake three years ago (stolen a DVD Player) and people never trusted me again. Also, I don’t know where my life is going. I have tried everything, but nothing worked.”

After 5 years, I got to know pretty much everything about him and his family. How he was abused and the many bad mistakes he had made over the years. He is 19 now and in grade 11, but still has problems speaking English.

I said one thing and it broke my heart as much as it broke his.
“I understand (that people think that you are a troublemaker) but you are very special to me. You know that, right, Anathi?”
He started to cry.

Helen and I are taking a sabbatical year from Liyabona Montessori Preschool (Training Teachers) after 6 years to concentrate on other ministries and people that God has blessed us with such as Anathi in 2016.

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Religious Freedom? A journey to Transkei

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I saw something wrapped in a piece of nylon around Lelo’s waist.  Just to poke fun at the muti (traditional medicine), I pulled it out in front of his mother.  They consider it jinxed if someone else, especially a foreigner such as me, touches it.  The mother quickly hid it under Lelo’s shirt and said it with a smile, “It is our culture.”

Culture in South Africa is not just culture.  It’s more broad, in terms of common sense and social norms covering a variety of areas from raising children to settling a dispute, and, of course, the religious aspects.  The harmony among people governed by the ‘culture’ takes precedent to anything else, even to laws or morality.  Often, the norms expressed as the culture are illogical or even illegal, but the conformity self-governs anyone who is troubled by it.  That is why it is hard for them to go against the flow and stand up for their beliefs.  So the dualism sets in.  The two hats they wear, one for us, outsiders, and one for their own people.  When they do, they have to sacrifice one hat in order to keep the other one clean, and that causes irrefutable damage to the relationship with one group, usually the outsiders.

We have been working on the rape issues in South Africa through the I’m Precious to Jesus campaign.  We have gathered hundreds of male supporters through it.  However, the majority of the members of the RMA (Righteous Men Assembly: a program to mobilize good men) still have a hard time speaking out about it openly unless the consensus has been made in the particular group of people they are with.  It is almost like coming out of the closet for them to say, “I’m precious to Jesus and we need to change.”  If we had a dollar every time a man told us that “I know we need to change, but black men are evil and they will never change”, we wouldn’t need to fundraise.  -A good example of the distrust among men – To The South African Black Man: You Are Evil. Admit it.-  Therefore, one of the most positive benefits of the RMA has been proving to them that they are not the only good men out there and that many people do not subscribe to some of their social norms.  However, it’s sad to see that they are silenced by the conformity of the culture.

The time has come for us to go further.  We frequently encountered roadblocks on the road to mobilizing good men regarding the issues of the cultural practices and mentality in Transkei (a South African rural area).  Many people don’t migrate, the metropolitan area is where they make money and Transkei is home.  Transkei’s cultural relevance is significant and also unshakable in the minds of the men.  The reason is not what you might think.  It is because not many people understand why things are the way they are.  The cultural heritage, sad to say, has been diminished or lost.  We started the Imbizo Project last year to test the water about bringing the Children’s March and RMA to Transkei.  We witnessed the huge diversity in cultural practices and social norms from village to village and saw that there was no one properly communicating the cultural values with younger generations.  The gap between the generations was causing many problems and distrust among each other.  There is a lack of unified understanding of the cultural practices.  For example, the origin of circumcision (initiation of men) has many versions, some are embarrassing, yet none have been declared as the actual origin.  It probably caused many other undesirable things to be regarded as ‘culture’ just because people do it despite lacking cultural values.

Therefore, we are initiating a three month survey trip to Transkei.  Zukisani, OLIA’s treasurer, has been with the campaign since early 2014 and he left his job to join the campaign full-time early this year.  He will be leaving in a few days to Queenstown and will travel through the towns visiting smaller villages along the way.  The survey questions were designed to understand the struggles of people and the relevance of the culture.  We want to grasp the diversity and hear their thoughts that have been silenced by the conformity of the culture in order for us to formulate better ways to empower them for a better future.  Please contact us for the questionnaire.  It will be a strenuous journey that he has to take on alone.  We ask you to pray for God’s protection and guidance throughout the journey.  So they may have hope in Christ.

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It takes a village to raise a child

Once I had a sleepover at my friend’s house when I was a kid.  My friend had an uncle.  After we were put to bed, he came into the room and started to pray passionately for my friend.  It is one of those childhood memories that you remember vividly.  I believe it’s God’s blessing to have people who truly cares about your child and are willing to be a part of his life.

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Sometimes they are more than a mother.

“Mama, tell me what is your typical working day as a caregiver look like” I didn’t expect to be surprised when I asked.

She is a home visit caregiver for terminally ill in Site B, Khayelitsha. The situations that some of her patients are in are heartbreaking. She said many have HIV, TB and cancer, and most of them are bedridden. Sometimes they live alone and don’t have anything to eat, so she uses her own money to cook and feed them.

I suspected that she was a strong women but not to such extent. She used to run away from the patients but 11058796_1401364676846246_614961271279290980_nnow she enjoys it. “I love helping people”, she said. Her employer is an NGO meaning she doesn’t do it for the financial reward.

When I asked her how she copes with the work-related stress, she didn’t seem interested to answer me.

This is Yanelisa’s mother.

Sometime we think we go into their lives and do good work when they don’t deserve it. Sometimes they make us feel we are not doing enough for these good people. ‪#‎OLIALifestyleECD‬