Jesus in the Motherland
Hello Church Family,
In a letter that we’ll soon be studying together, Jesus’ brother James writes: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (1:27).
On Monday I’ll be making the 10,000 mile journey from Corona to Johannesburg, South Africa, in order to help provide vision and accountability for an organization that rescues children orphaned by the AIDS virus. After I land in JoBurg, I’ll hop in a van (what South Africans call a “kombi”) and head about 115 kilometers north to a little community out in the bush called Hammanskraal, where I serve as a board member to a ministry called Bethesda.
I’ve completed this trip many times, but I’ll never forget my first visit.
When I made my initial foray into this beautiful country of stark contrasts in 2002, I met Shane, a six-year-old boy who’d spent the first five years of his life confined to a hospital bed. At an age when he should have been running, jumping, laughing, and learning how to read, Shane was imprisoned by the bars of a standard-issue crib where he was kept twenty-four hours a day and cautiously fed by nurse via a Dixie cup. Everyone thought he was dying of AIDS. But he wasn’t. Even though his parents had both succumbed to the disease—leaving Shane in the hands of a binge-drinking and angry grandfather who abandoned his grandson next to a garbage bin—Shane had providentially avoided AIDS. God’s power was already at work in his life.
Before Shane reached his seventh birthday (in 2003), a social worker made it possible for him to be extricated by Bethesda, where children of unbelievable backgrounds are placed into loving Christian families, led by a South African mom and dad. When Shane got out of the van to survey his new home, he shuddered for a moment. He had never before felt the wind on his face. So much to see and experience. He didn’t know his last name, his colors or numbers. Couldn’t read. But all that would change over time, as Shane would be introduced to sound teaching, nutritious food, the affection of peers and adults, and, most importantly, the love of his Creator.
Fast forward five years. It’s December of 2008 and something miraculous happened. Here’s the way the report read from a Bethesda staff member:
Just two months ago, 12-year-old Shane’s heart grew very distressed. He had been noticing a pattern, made up of his propensity for sinning on a daily basis. He came face-to-face with the truth of his sin, and knew he was powerless to deal with it on his own. He shared his problem with “Papa Roger,” who reminded Shane of God’s free gift … eternal life with Him, by being declared righteous through the blood of His Son, Jesus, who had died to pay the price for the sins under whose weight Shane was struggling. By God’s grace, Shane received God’s gift through faith in His Son. That day, we thought back to the first time we saw little Shane and look forward to what God will do through his life.
Few things thrill my heart more than reading accounts like this. Few things excite me more than seeing hopeless and helpless children find hope in Christ. This is why I go to Africa every other year (not just to see lions, zebras, and elephants, although that’s fun, too.) This is why the elders of Northpoint have encouraged me to continue with this ministry, for which I am thankful. We are united in this conviction: all children should hear about the love of God in Christ.
And there are plenty of children in South Africa who need love. According to recent reports there are more than 2.5 million children in South Africa orphaned by the AIDS virus. They need food, a home, attention, and they need Jesus. They need to be reconciled to God through faith in His Son.
There are many ministries like Bethesda in South Africa. I am privileged to work with one. And what I have seen is pretty remarkable: kids being discovered in dumpsters; four and five-year-old children being forced to care for themselves, children wasting away from malnutrition … only to be snatched out of the jaws of death by caring men and women. And from there, God often does something even greater: He adopts these orphans into his own family, bringing them to saving faith in Jesus Christ. It’s amazing. And every adoption points to a reality that is the experience of every believer: every adoption is a picture of God’s gracious rescue of us, His children.
As John Mixon, the Director of Bethesda says: “When I see how God brings children into our families, and rescues them from lives of desperation, I appreciate more fully what an incredible provision God has made for his children through our adoption into the family of Christ.”
To that I say: Amen. As I prepare to head out, I would appreciate your prayers. Please pray that God would give me wisdom and clarity in the meetings I’m a part of. I dread all-day meetings. Pray that God would give me sharp focus and insight from above. Also, please pray that God would bless whatever teaching and preaching I may do. Pray for safety. And pray also for Jenine, who will be accompanying me for the very first time.
I look forward to worshiping with all of you again in a couple of weeks.