Hey, Baby!

Hey, Baby!

“Africa is for babies.”

That’s what our Mennonite Church Canada colleagues in South Africa, Andrew and Karen Suderman, assured us before we first left for Botswana. Their experiences with their own children, highlighted by their interaction last year with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, spoke well to that. So, we thought, why not give it a go?

Back in Botswana for our second term of service, our two-month old son Malakai is settling in well, and is already being doted on by many surrogate cousins, as well as grandmothers, who greet him with a high-pitched, “Ma-LACKEY-LACKEY-LACKEY!” It’s taking him a little while to get used to the loud exclamations of the preachers at church services, but he really seems to enjoy the exuberance of the dancing during worship.

Having gained some experience during our first term, as we now begin to try to discern which areas of our work here in Gaborone that we should pursue this term, one biblical analogy has taken on new meaning for the two of us. The mercurial apostle Peter, himself having grown in wisdom and maturity in the decades following Jesus’ ascension, writes, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” A concept which I believed previously, the craving of a baby for milk and the blink-and-you-miss-it growth which follows, is now a lot more visceral thanks to Malakai and his needs (as one of his outfits reads: “Afterparty. My crib. 2am.”; that’s about right).

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This next term of service with which we have been blessed presents us with the opportunity, as with our very relationship with God itself, to grow up in our salvation, here in this African context. If we understand salvation, at least narrowly, to mean that we have been released from the captivity of our own brokenness and so have been granted freedom from striving after the meaningless, then we are liberated to simply be. That is, to be who God made us to be, to reach our full potential in him.

With Malakai, as we are apparently not the first parents to learn, his craving for milk, met with his express desire but without a concerted effort on his part, results in healthy growth (and the expulsion of a lot that is not necessary; yes, I’m talking about poop). Our own craving for “pure spiritual milk”, which is our seeking after Jesus, brings us into the results that God is enacting.

So, what does that mean for our second term in Botswana? It means that we’re realizing the need to simply seek after Jesus, not our successes, and the rest will follow.

We feel called to follow Jesus back into the prison with which we have been developing deep relationships these past few years. We have experienced him in studying the Bible with our youth, and while we don’t know the exact shape that this should now take, we’re going to follow him into that work. And we’ve experienced the goodness of God in many of the relationships which we’ve been cultivating, and we’re going to see where that leads as well. As for the different projects with sports and churches, we’re hoping that we’ll get a sense of direction as we move forward, craving Jesus, like babies.

In the meantime, we’ll keep a close eye on Malakai to see how it’s done.

Finding God on Death Row

Finding God on Death Row

On the outskirts of town, at the end of the Gaborone neighborhood known as The Village, past a large sign reading ‘YOU ARE ENTERING A SECURITY CONTROLLED AREA – PHOTOGRAPHY IS PROHIBITED’, a sandbag gun nest with a semi-automatic rifle armed guard, and a security gate, a red-brick building sits lowly outside of the looming white walls of First Offenders Prison. The building is not as fortified as the nearby prison itself, though the prison guards and officers striding up and down the halls between their offices lend an air of security.

In a crowded room within, the windows crisscrossed with the simple burglar bars found in every house across the city, a group of twenty prison inmates, a number of them former inhabitants of death row*, recently gathered. They focused on the teaching coming from the front, as part of a reconciliation program beginning the process of seeking healing for the victims of their crimes, as far reaching as those might be.

Had they not been watched by their current keepers they still had no intention of going anywhere. Some stared intently at the desk in front of them, or vacantly, if introspectively, above the heads of the others. The rest focused on the speaker at the front, absorbing his words.

“Your healing has started,” Pastor Dintsi reminded the group, “because crime harms the offender as well.”

He spoke of a well-known occurrence among inmates anticipating their release:

With decades of imprisonment before him, Thabo clings tightly to the hope provided by his scheduled release date. Though the system has trouble sticking to schedules and such dates are generally a rough guideline whose target may be missed by weeks or even months, it still provides a much needed point of focus and direction amidst the weariness of an imposed existence. After time, Thabo will regularly comment with relief that he is left with a mere five years on his sentence. And at the one year mark, it’s like the night before Christmas for Thabo.

Within the ballpark of the scheduled Christmas morning, Thabo’s every moment is lived with the anticipation of his impending liberation. No longer fully present in the prison, he is already occupying mental space beyond the towering brick walls. Finally, an officer seeks out the expectant Thabo and gives the news he has been waiting for: tomorrow is your day.

But that’s when something interesting happens. The moment that has been imagined and strived for during the most difficult of circumstances for an unimaginable period has finally arrived. The jubilation of the one-year-remaining mark is incomparable to what Thabo is feeling right now. Because what he experiences now is a deep sense of dread, anxiety, and uncertainty.

The last time that Thabo lived in his community he was removed for having caused it destruction and pain. His memories of this place sustained him for years as he dwelt on his most wonderful, comforting, and joy-filled moments. He has been preparing to leave his place of misery and reclaim the best of what has been put on hold. But on the night before his release, the reality that invades Thabo’s thoughts is that the lasting memory of his community is of him at his worst. How will he now be received? Often, this last night becomes one of the darkest he will have spent in prison.

“Do you love yourself?” Pastor Dintsi asked the group.

Pastor Dintsi taught that the uncertainties of release back into society will always remain uncertainties. But, he said, as we seek forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, and love we need not find our self-worth in the uncertain perceptions of others. Rather, we may live in the certainty of our own inherent value, and love ourselves accordingly. A changed person, seeking to bring love and healing rather than pain and discord, who has served their prescribed time should be free, in body as well as mind.

One of the letters by the Hebrew writer John suggests to us how such freedom is possible. It states, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”**

Pastor Dintsi quoted from an even older writing to explain from where this fearless, perfect love comes: “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is in the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.”***

Relying on other people to help shape self-perception and self-love is putting trust in the wrong place. But looking to the one who knows us more intimately than we know ourselves, who understands where we have been and what we have done, we no longer have to fear. As the letter continues, “We love because he first loved us.”

As Thabo is released, equipped with the knowledge that he is fully loved, it is up to him to accept this love and be liberated to love himself as well. And this can allow him to come back into his community and, regardless of how he is perceived, express that same accepting, healing, and transforming love within the place that he harmed.

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We are eyewitnesses to God’s creative, redemptive majesty: thieves, rapists, and murderers are repentant and looking to bring healing and love, even as they are accepting the truth that they are loved. God is not waiting for perfection to express this. If we are open to him, God will show this to us right where we are, no matter where that is.

As one inmate stated from experience amid knowing nods, “Death row is where you can really find God.”


*In Botswana, where capital punishment is still in effect, death sentences are occasionally commuted into life sentences, or long-term sentences.

**1 John 4:18-19

***Psalm 146:3-5

What's in Your Hand?

What's in Your Hand?

Bags of sugar, tins of fish, bottles of juice, and boxes of matches line the shelves in the slightly-sunken below ground-level room. Various other household and kitchen necessities and food products fill the spaces in between. Treats like magwinya (fatcakes) and chicken feet sit ready by the barred window, waiting for hungry patrons. The local pedestrian traffic moves in a steady stream past the waist-high fence dividing the yard from the nearby street. A small fire, guarded from the wind by a few small sheets of tin, burns slowly beneath a black cast-iron pot. Standing proudly underneath the awning outside of the orange-painted plaster of the sunken room, festooned as it is with a sign emblazoned ‘Tuck Shop’, Baamuchili smiles at the camera and says softly, “Please send this picture to Tom.”

Beneath the shade of the familiar faded green army tent, the white walls of the prison practically glowing in the noon-hour sunlight, a transaction is taking place before another camera. A newcomer to Botswana is standing humbly before a group of 60 prison inmates, a handful of guards, some local prison ministry leaders, and two prison officers, all equally locked within the confines of First Offenders Prison for the moment. Tyrone*, in his orange prison garb, smiles bashfully and produces a large rectangle of thick paper, etched entirely with a pencil drawing of his own making. The entire gathering claps loudly in appreciation of the beautiful rendering of a familiar northern-Botswana scene; a bull elephant wandering through tall, bushveld grass. Tom Roes of Mennonite Church Canada accepts the gift with thanks, and to amusement of the crowd says that his daughter had requested that he bring home an elephant from Africa; now she won’t be disappointed.

A few weeks earlier, Baamuchili and about 25 other Batswana from around Gaborone had gathered every night for a week in a hall at a local mainline church, on plastic patio chairs surrounding metal folding tables, focused on the teaching at the front. There Tom had expounded on starting a small business, from the Jesus-ethics involved in doing so, to the basics of getting started, to the minutiae of marketing and financial planning.

Each person came to take part in the MC Canada-funded study directly from their daily routines of schooling, childcare, and work, attentive and writing notes in the margins of the workbooks provided by Tom. As the week progressed, Tom and the group were afforded the opportunity to hear from each of the other participants as to the type of business which they hoped to eventually begin.

Tom’s emphasis throughout the course had been surrounding the question, “What’s in your hand?” Taken from the book of Exodus, as an uncertain Moses tries to deflect God’s instructions to lead his people by suggesting his own lack of capability and personal resources for the task in question, God says to Moses, “What is that in your hand?” He then proceeds to perform a pair of miraculous signs using nothing but the shepherd’s staff Moses is carrying, and then Moses’ own hand itself, showing him that not only can God do more than is expected, but that what he has already given, which has perhaps been overlooked, is a resource to be used.

Given the time to consider this during the evening sessions, the members of the group around the metal tables cited their business venture ideas according to what they felt that God already gifted them with. And these were varied: a nail salon; a driving school; a daycare centre; a computer store. Baamuchili knew that the sunken room at his house beside the road would work well as a shop, and that his younger brother would be able to man such a shop while Baamuchili was at work. That people would happily pay for his mother’s homemade magwinyas, and that his father could bring home cheap chicken feet from his work with a nearby chicken farm.

While his evenings were spent at the Anglican church, Tom’s mornings were spent in the conference room of the officers at First Offenders Prison. There, a group of 20 inmates gathered around a massive wooden table in a room so cramped that to come in and sit down meant staying there until there until those closer to the door left the room. Tom brought the same teaching structure, slightly modified for context, to these inmates. Employment is hard to come by in southern Africa these days, especially when a prospective employer hears about time served, and desperation often lends to old, punishable habits. So, Tom worked to equip the men so as to help them start their own small businesses upon their release. Many were skilled at welding, carpentry, sewing, and other abilities honed while incarcerated. All listened carefully, and worked on their own business plans throughout the week.

Tyrone, always keen, tightened up his business plan, and Tom was able to look at it specifically before he left. And a few months after gifting Tom with his wonderful drawing on the last day of class, Tyrone was released, and immediately took the first steps with his newly founded company, using his artwork to beautify his community and to make a living to provide for his family.

Within a few days of the end of Tom’s class, armed with his creative ideas, understanding of his own neighbourhood, his newly sharpened business acumen, and the knowledge of what was already in his hand, Baamuchili opened his tuck shop. It has grown, with his well-stocked shelves reflecting the inventory necessary to meet the specific needs of the community in Old Naledi, while Baamuchili and his family continue to both make a profit, and to bless their community through their honest, well-run, and neighborly business.

As we relax with his family one evening, we take the photo of Baamuchili in front of his shop.

“We’ll get this picture to Tom,” we assure him.

*Not his viagracanadapharmacybest.com real name

The Number Games

The Number Games

It’s difficult to quantify ministry, and not necessarily a very good idea to do so. But what we thought, what the heck, why not give it a try, eh? Here are some of the things which went down in 2014 in Botswana, by the numbers:

38 – Prison inmates who completed the year long “Bible Timeline Series” and received certificates of completion

5 – Youth from Mennonite Ministries Bible studies who were ordained as preachers at Spiritual Healing Church

19,932 – Dollars which were raised by the efforts of Mennonite Church Canada congregants during the ‘Ride for Refuge’, to be used for the Bontleng Futsal Court Project

4 – Active Bible studies in which we had the privilege of taking part in Gaborone: Wednesday night ‘Christian Life and Discipleship’ at Spiritual Healing Church; alternating Friday night in-depth study of Luke with youth; alternating Friday night topical Biblical discussion; Saturday morning prison Bible study group

600.16 – The surface area, in square meters, of the futsal pitch in Bontleng, Gaborone which was excavated and leveled in anticipation of its completion in 2015. The pitch will be angled at a slight 0.75% grade down to one corner, where an underground storage tank will collect the water runoff during rainy season. This will be used to water the trees which will be planted on the sight, and will hopefully feed and sustain a small aquaponics tank and hydroponic garden run by the community

55 – Bibles gifted to serious students of scripture known to us personally who had no Bible of their own, made possible by support from Mennonite Church Canada

28 – Largest number of youth which attended a Bible study night in the Mennonite Ministries house at 5120 Loruo Rd., Extension 10

6,000+ – Number of chocolate chip cookies baked by Taryn for Bible studies (not including numerous batches of muffins, apple turnovers, brownies, etc.)

6 – Muskoka chairs built and sold in their first month of business by the young men of ‘GreenSeats Botswana’, a new entrepreneurial start-up business initiated and supported by Mennonite Church Canada in Gaborone. Donations from Mennonite Church Canada congregants in Manitoba have allowed them to buy a jigsaw, palm sander, circular saw, and cordless drill. If the business is successful, it will support not only a few local Batswana, but some refugees from Zimbabwe who hope to use the money to pay for residence permits in Botswana

60 – Length, in meters, of a brand new dynamic rock climbing rope, donated along with 7 other pieces of climbing gear, by Mennonite Church Canada congregants to the Kalahari Mountain Club for the use of local up-and-coming rock climbers in Botswana

5 – Usual length, in hours, of Friday night Bible studies

258 – Christmas gift bags packaged and delivered to First Offenders Prison in Gaborone, enough for every inmate in the prison and every guard on duty. The bags were handed out to the prison at large by the 50 or so inmates who represent the Church in the prison, in partnership with their fellow brothers and sisters from their supporting church, Mennonite Church Canada, who made it financially possible

40 – Length of time, in years, that Mennonites and African Indigenous Churches in Botswana have been partnering together as of 2014

We’re privileged to be able to continue to serve in Botswana on behalf of Mennonite Church Canada, and we’re thankful for all of the support through prayers, financial contributions, and encouragement which we constantly receive from everyone back in Canada. Mennonite Church Canada supports its mission workers in a way which is no longer common, allowing us to be out here without spending time raising funds. There are many people here in Gaborone who are deeply appreciative of the work and support of MC Canada, and your willingness to contribute to their lives is incredible, and incredibly encouraging.

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If you would like to financially support the work in Botswana, or in one of the many global regions directly impacted by Mennonites living long-term, please visit the following link: https://donate.mennonitechurch.ca/

In March we will be coming back to Canada for the first time since 2012, and then will be heading back to Botswana at the end of July, in order to serve a second term. We hope that we will get a chance to visit most of you during our time at home! In the meantime, we are working towards the sustainability of the various areas of ministry here, to make sure that they will continue in our absence. We are also working and praying hard about the futsal project, which still has a lot of red tape in the way of being a functioning reality, but which we hope will be done by the time we head to Canada in two months! Please pray for that. Oh, and we are expecting our first child, due while we’re in Canada, so please pray for that, too!

  • NT
Good Things Come

Good Things Come

Last fall, groups of bikers from Mennonite Church Canada congregations across the country gathered in numerous communities to participate in a ride to raise funds for charity. Specifically, there were 8 teams, and they raised nearly $20,000 to support the construction of a new park in a rough neighborhood in Gaborone, Botswana. Calgary, Langley, Niagara, Saskatoon, Surrey, Waterloo, and Winnipeg were all represented, and all connected themselves to the community of Bontleng (“place of beauty”) through their own beautiful acts of service. So, what’s happening with that park that so many good people risked getting those awkward splash marks up the middles of their backs to support? We’re glad you asked.

Before we begin, however – sometimes the best antidote to reading a boring article is, of course, coloring. I know that I didn’t have to tell you that.

teaching essay writing

Please find a link at the bottom of the page which will allow you to find the drawing which is featured for this article. It was drawn by one of the youth local to Bontleng, to give a visual of how the park is roughly going to be laid out. Our request is this: print off a few copies of the drawing (printed in black and white) and ask your children, or some children from your congregation, to color one in. Then, either scan them and send them to our email address (ntdirks@mennonitechurc.ca), or mail them to us in Botswana (PO Box 33, Gaborone, Botswana), so that we can make use of them and encourage the local team. And if you want to color one in yourself, who are we to judge? Actually, it would be pretty cool.



Swift, Slim, Sbu, Wame, Fox. Not just an awesome collection of names, these 5 young Batswana, along with a number of others, have been working hard behind the scenes here in Gaborone to make this project happen. From messaging politicians and filling out forms, to asking for in-kind donations, to putting together large proposals to major corporations, to hashing out details with architects, to putting together programs for the local sports radio show, to dreaming up plans and then spending lots and lots of hours in combis and taxis and offices to make them happen, our team has been putting together all of the details of this project. The group came together, all of us having been given a similar vision for showing the love of Jesus in our communities by resourcing people who haven’t been blessed with much in the way of facilities, and we’ve all been encouraged to work together. If you haven’t seen it, check out this link to see a short video describing the site, and the shared dreams for its development.

We’ve wanted to create something that is locally produced, locally sustainable, and replicable. So we’ve been knocking on a lot of doors here in Gaborone for support, and have been working on a park that makes the most of what’s available where we live, and addresses the issues specific to our context.

We find that we have sunshine. A lot of sunshine. So solar energy is a natural fit.

As our proposed park is located next to a number of bars, we also have a lot of cans and bottles.

Bontleng is also full of creative people, many of whom are not currently employed, and who have a desire for knowledge.

We don’t have a lot of water (we’ve had a few years of drought, and our cities’ main water supply, the Gaborone Dam, is empty).

There are a lot of children who play among broken glass and in storm ditches that crisscross the area. As they get older, the bars are the place to be. Neither location is preferable.

So, the plan to maximize our resources and empower the community is simply this: we build a futsal court for 5-a-side soccer, with a slight tilt to it, leading to underground rainwater storage tanks to collect rainwater during the rainy season, to be used during the dry winter months. The field will be used by school phys-ed programs, and for social and competitive leagues, and for training purposes with our soccer development affiliates.

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Bontleng has many people who creatively try to sustain vegetable gardens, despite limited water. So, beside the tanks we will install an urban aquaponics system, fed with the rainwater (aquaponics = fish, whose waste feeds a vegetable garden, whose waste feeds worms and grubs, who are fed to the fish, whose waste feeds a vegetable garden…and so on; MC Canada’s own Hippolyto Tshimanga explains it more interactively here). This system will be taught to a number of our Bontleng park committee volunteers, who will maintain it, and teach others this form of farming.

Beside the aquaponics will be a drip-fed vegetable garden, maximizing the rainwater from our tanks.

This area already attracts a lot of businesspeople from a nearby commerce neighborhood who like to get their delicious traditional foods every lunch hour (that’s right, magwinyas, seswaa, palechi, merogo, semp; you know, the usual). So, beside the futsal court, we will build an eco café, serving traditional foods. The café will be open air, with a large grass-thatched roof. The base will be made from leftover concrete from local construction sites which would otherwise be dumped and left to solidify into mounds on the outskirts of the city. This will be mixed with sanitized and shredded medical waste (no, nothing creepy, just latex gloves and other garbage products from local hospitals), which will make it a bit less heat and cold conductive, and will also allow us to stretch out the amount of concrete. The knee walls and counters will be built using this concrete, as well as used cans and bottles, while the furniture will be built out of recycled skids and other found materials, like tires and scrap metal.

The café will be a wifi hotspot, and the wifi router will be solar powered, attracting students and businesspeople alike.

One of our local partners, currently designing the café, is also skilled in computer technology, and plans on using the finished café as a space for providing free seminars to community members who would like to learn IT skills.

Other recycled material stalls will be built around the site, so that local craftspeople will be able to have space to show off their wares and their talents. One older gentleman in a wheelchair is a cobbler, repairing all types of shoes and sandals at the site under some sheets of tin; we hope to build him a beautiful little stall, and to inspire others to come and join him with their own talents.

The park tends to be a bit of a dangerous area, unfortunately, as people use the dark, open space to hide at night and rob unsuspecting passersby. So, solar powered lights will be installed in order to remove the dark spaces, as well as to illuminate the futsal pitch for late-night activities.

The traditional kgotla, or meeting area, at the corner of the court will allow the older community members to sit and relax, while enjoying the sights and sounds of their community, while a playground will help the local children to expend their crazy amounts of energy, and an outdoor gym playground will allow active adults to do the same!

Our guys have been hard at work to raise the funds for this project, as well as to make sure that it will be done right, so that it can last for decades to come, and can be reproduced by other communities around the city, and around the country.

So, the efforts of our wonderful Ride for Refuge teams have not been in vain, although this is all taking a while. Most of what’s being proposed is new to Botswana, and new things often take time! Other people from our congregations have also contacted Mennonite Church Canada to ask how they can support this project, and have generously donated funds to make it possible (and it’s not just this park; MC Canada has workers all over the world who are involved in incredible projects; check them out at that same link!). Of course, our value of keeping this effort locally produced and sustained would seem to nullify the opportunity to donate. However, Canadian funds will be going directly into the behind the scenes costs which will make the park replicable for others locally.

Once again, we’ve found ourselves thankful for the incredible support and generosity from our churches back home. Our biggest hope is for a lot of prayer, as we trust in God’s provision here from local sponsors, and as we look to His guidance for the ways which we can best serve the amazing people of Bontleng (and as they hopefully inspire other communities to do the same!). Thanks for the continued support! If you want to drop a line to encourage our team, please check out the Facebook page that they’ve set up (they’re working on a website but it’s not up yet) – Pula Sports Development Association. Send some words of support, and ‘like’ the page (I’m not a fan of myself for having just written those words, but it’s done and there’s no going back). We’re also filming the process and hope to eventually be able to provide a picture of how it all went down, and we’ll keep you updated in the meantime.

– NT

Futsal Park Sketch Link – Go ahead and get coloring!