1) Every second Friday night we are conducting a verse-by-verse study of the book of Luke. It is attended by young adults from Spiritual Healing Church, and we meet in local parks and open spaces. We used to meet at our house, and Taryn’s homemaking for the events was becoming legendary, but we realized that we were creating a dependency, and that though we’d have about 25 young adults at the study, on weeks that we were absent there was no study despite very capable leaders and teachers among our group. So by meeting in communal places we’re able to be out in the community and also show that it’s not about where we meet or who leads, but that God equips us all to share what we have.
2) On the alternate Fridays we have a combined study with youth from St. Michael’s Apostolic Church in Christ, as well as a number from Spiritual Healing Church and a few other local congregations. Our current study is topical, based on issues facing the young adults in Gaborone today, and how to handle them biblically as Christians. So far we’ve tackled the topics (requested by the young adults) of sex, alcohol, drugs, Satanism, and traditional spirituality.
3) On Wednesdays is the Extension 4 Bible Class, a classic time and place for Mennonite Witness workers to be leading Bible studies. It’s after the Wednesday night church service at Spiritual Healing Church Extension 4, with some elders and young adults, a mix of men and women of all ages. We are currently beginning a module on the spiritual disciplines, and are largely using the writings of Richard Foster and Dallas Willard and conducted it as a discussion based study.
The role of our supporting communities in Canada in the Bible Studies: Through your donations to Mennonite Church Canada we’ve been able to distribute dozens of Bibles, buy books for our course material, provide refreshments, and spend a lot of time driving many youth to and from the Bible studies. Your prayers have also helped to battle through complacency, to bring out some people who never thought they would ever want to study the Bible but who are now deeply invested, and to bring about the gifted leaders which we had prayed that God would provide.
After a little over a year of serving at First Offenders Prison in Gaborone, things are going better than ever. Our group of volunteers has grown from about 5 to about 12 on average, and our group of brothers among the inmates has grown from 20 to almost 60.
We are admitted to the prison every Saturday from 10:30am-12:30pm, during which time we worship together outside in a specially cordoned-off area under an army tent/awning. The musical worship is acapella, led by a few of the inmates who are fantastic singers, and the atmosphere is incredibly vibrant. This is followed by a teaching, and then small group discussion among six different groups, during which time we serve some treats and juice, a rarity in the prison. The teaching which we’ve been going through has been the ‘Timeline’ Bible series, which visits the entire story of the Bible, emphasizing recurring themes and important theological concepts in 22 parts from Genesis to Revelation. Once we’re finished in a few weeks we’ll have a graduation ceremony for the 40 or so inmates who will have completed the whole series.
Taryn has also been working at slowly helping them build up something of a library of Christian books, from theological studies to biographies to fiction. And finally, we are looking into setting up a physical workshop at our Futsal Park in Bontleng (see below) so that the rehabilitated inmates who are released, and have learned carpentry and welding skills in prison, can set up a business on the outside, as it’s not only difficult to find jobs these days, but especially so for those with criminal records.
The role of our supporting communities in Canada in Prison Ministry: Your financial contributions to Mennonite Church Canada have bought dozens of Bibles in English and Setswana for inmates, have allowed us to purchase the course materials for a few different modules (some of which we’ve completed already, and some of which we’re still planning), allow us to bring snacks and drinks to our incarcerated community every week, have bought art supplies for some up-and-coming artists within the prison, have bought toiletries for numerous inmates who have no relatives or friends to bring them the things which they need inside, and have allowed Taryn to put together the small library (the books get passed around like crazy, and the guys appreciate them a lot). Your prayers have also been huge: there have been a few attempts by local women to deceive us by pretending that they are from local partnering churches and that they want to volunteer with us, but are simply joining the group because they know someone inside and want to sneak them contraband items like cell phones. But the attempts have been discovered each time and the prison officers, despite the unique privilege that we have in being allowed inside, have never blamed us for the breaches in security. It has almost tangibly been through prayer that these attacks have been thwarted. The worshiping community is thriving (we consider the prison to be our local home church!), and the prayer support is necessary for its continuation and growth.
The Bontleng Futsal Project is moving along steadily, if slowly. This project is an attempt to empower local young adults to be able to take responsibility within their own community, and inspire others to do the same. We have been granted a piece of open land in the middle of a rough part of one of the more impoverished neighborhoods in Gaborone, called Bontleng. The land has been known for muggings and worse, and is located beside some rough bars which are a social focal point on most nights (check out this short video about our park: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6jFsKqCeYg).
And then, check out this video about “A PARK IN BOTSWANA!” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YdG1Hczh2Zg), which isn’t actually about our park but, you know, it’s funny.
Our project is taking the area, cleaning it up, fixing up a playground for local children, a traditional meeting area for adults, and at the centre is a futsal (5-a-side soccer) pitch. We hope to draw young people away from the bars, make the neglected space a place of community focus, and keep it safer for the community as a whole.
We are also looking into certain innovations to maximize the potential of the park. We are going to set up a recycling centre (extremely rare in Botswana) to generate some income for the park, rainwater collection tanks for runoff from the 600 square meter field to sustain the park as well as a community vegetable garden, a café to be run by some local young adults complete with solar-powered wifi (we’re still looking into that one) to attract some of the local businessmen who already frequent the area looking for traditional foods at lunch. Around the perimeter we intend to build some creative spaces (some of them out of recycled materials) for local artisans and craftspeople. For example, there is currently a gentleman in a wheelchair who repairs shoes under a decrepit tin roof. We are going to build fix up his workspace and make it wheelchair friendly, so that he doesn’t have to sit in the dirt, and can hopefully garner a bit more attention for his business. We hope to do this for the few people already setting up shop there (car washers, a barber, some tuckshop tables), and to encourage others to join in with their trades as well. As mentioned above, we hope to build a shop for ex-offenders (many of whom are incredibly adept at carpentry and welding, which they were taught in prison). There are numerous considerations and potential pitfalls, as well as a lot of red tape to fight through, but we hope that this will all be able to come together.
The role of our supporting communities in Canada in the Bontleng Futsal Project: Though there is an incredibly wealthy business sector in Botswana, there is not currently a high value for corporate social responsibility (though that phrase is widely used in the businesses). So, without the financial support from Canada, there is no way that we could complete this project. The Ride for Refuge (http://rideforrefuge.org/partner/mennonitechurchca ) has raised a huge amount (thanks to all of our amazing RfR teams of riders!), and a number of individuals and congregations have made special contributions. One of the biggest things has been the fence which we are about to put in place thanks to your donations which will keep the area protected from the remarkable amount of senseless vandalism which occurs in the park, and will make the area safer for children. Money donated to Mennonite Church Canada also makes it out to the project and has allowed us to keep on moving with the work and feeding our volunteers. Once this first project is done, we believe that it will be replicable throughout the city, and that having seen the finished result there will be more local sponsorships. Your prayers have kept the area protected from even more vandalism (it’s actually starting to decline), have helped a trusting a hardworking community of volunteers to grow, and have helped us to see God’s leading as we work towards blessing the community in Bontleng.
1) We recently taught some of our amazing futsal project volunteers how to build Muskoka chairs out of recycled wood from skids/pallets, as we’ve done in our own yard. They really enjoyed building them, did a great job, and asked if they could start to construct and sell them as their own small business as it’s been difficult for them to find work these days. For the past few weeks, we’ve been working on helping them to establish this business. So, hopefully we’ll have more to share in the next little while, but at the moment ‘GreenSeats Botswana’ is in the process of being registered, and they have already gotten a local hotspot café and plant nursery to feature and sell their chairs.
2) This is still very much in the early prayer and discernment stage (along with feeling things out with the powers that be locally), but one of our young adults who has really taken to rock climbing over the past year is starting to work towards a unique idea in Gaborone: transforming a local abandoned rock quarry, currently just a dumping site, into a beautiful climbing park, complete with open air grass-thatched conference and café areas, in order to not only cater to local underprivileged children and youth, but for it to be financially sustainable by encouraging corporate retreats and team building events at the site. There is more to it, but we hope to continue to prayerfully discern the feasibility of the project. New concepts are incredibly difficult to implement in Botswana, and so we hope to have the wisdom to understand whether we should fight through the inherent systemic roadblocks, or whether God is telling us that this project isn’t for us to pursue. But we’re excited to give it a go and see where it takes us!
The role of our supporting communities in Canada in the entrepreneurship ventures: The financial support from Canada has allowed us to have the means to get a jump start for both of these projects, with supplies and materials, and with making the printouts necessary for the endless paperwork involved in establishing a business venture. Please pray for these projects, and for the 5 key young Batswana adults who are involved. If you have an interest in supporting either of these businesses, or any of the other projects, please contact Mennonite Church Canada (https://donate.
So that’s generally where we’re at! Just like back home it’s a daily struggle to learn to be like Jesus, and to be a part of what God is doing through his Holy Spirit. It’s a complete community effort, and we are constantly humbled by the support which we get in so many ways from back home, without which there is no way we could possibly be involved in any of this. Thanks for making it happen! And for those of you who have bravely made it to the end of all of this, we want to let you know that we will be coming back to Canada for four months next spring, and will then be coming back to Botswana for a second term.