What’s Your Name, What’s Your Number?

What’s Your Name, What’s Your Number?

It’s another year in the books, and we continue to consider ourselves blessed to be able to participate in life together with our community here in Botswana. We have a number of stories which we hope to share, but in the meantime we wanted to give a small visual of some of the things which are currently going on in Botswana through the support of Mennonite Church Canada, Mennonite Mission Network, and Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission. We appreciate all of the support that goes into making this possible! Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and God’s blessings to you all! Here is a numerical breakdown of a few of the things going on over here, thanks to your ongoing support:

46 – Prison inmates at First Offenders Prison, Gaborone, who completed a certificate program offered by Mennonite Ministries in Botswana

18 – Graduates from the Inter-Church Ministries Botswana 3-year Bible study program (this program was initiated by Mennonites in partnership with local church leaders in the 1990s, and has been running without outside help for about 15 years, using materials written by Mennonite workers in both English and Setswana; so, the support which was given by Mennonite congregations in Canada and the United States in the 1980s and 1990s has provided for the graduation this year)

15 – Students who have already signed up for the next Inter-Church Ministries Botswana 3-year Bible study program, starting in 2017

1 – NGOs founded in Botswana and run by local Batswana with the help of Mennonite ministries, for the purpose of the social, educational, and physical development of children and youth in underdeveloped areas

12 – Approximate number of partnerships which the NGO, Pula Sports Development Association (pulasports.com) has made this year with local development organizations (such as Tebelopele, an after-school tutoring program run by a local church) and international development organizations (such as UNICEF) which will benefit from the work which Pula Sports is facilitating

25 – Approximate number of church members from various local congregations who served with Mennonite Ministries in prison over the course of the year, many of whom serve in prison every single Saturday

1 – Houses in Botswana owned by Mennonites which are being used free of charge by local Batswana Christian leaders to run Bible study programs, start a Christian resource library, and house a local church leader and his family in order to facilitate this work

20,000 – Canadian Dollar value of donations by Mennonite Church Canada for community development work in Botswana over the past three years

120,000 – Canadian Dollar value of money which large businesses and banks in Botswana, inspired by the work being done with the Mennonite Church Canada funds, subsequently donated to community development work in Botswana this year

500 – Approximate number of prison inmates being fed a Christmas dinner of nutritious food not usually available to them (including rice, fresh coleslaw, and fruit) through a combination of donations from Mennonite Church Canada, and local ministry partners

2 – Bio-toilets installed by in a public-access space in Gaborone to model water conservation and waste reduction

71 – Average liters of water used in a normal flush toilet per person per day

1 – Liters of water used daily in the public bio-toilets

7 – Recipients of certificates from Mennonite ministries who completed at least 3 modules of Bible study coursework from modules entitled ‘Christian Life and Discipleship’; ‘Beibele Ke Eng?’(What is the Bible?); ‘Paseka Ke Eng?’ (What is Easter?); ‘Kereke Ke Eng?’ (What is the Church?); ‘Introduction to Theology’

96 – Trees and shrubs planted so far this year in an underdeveloped area through a project initiated by Mennonite ministries

25,000 – Liters of rainwater collected by the halfway point of the rainy season for use in an underdeveloped community in Gaborone

7 – Number of prison inmates who will be starting a Masters-level distance learning course in the new year

These are just some of the things which are happening in our community here in Botswana. And as you can see, though they all have all had involvement from Mennonites, most of these initiatives are continuing to be run locally. In the case of Inter-Church Ministries Botswana, for almost two decades!

If you’re interested in supporting these ministries financially, please visit https://donate.mennonitechurch.ca/project/where-most-needed and follow the instructions there. If the things we’ve mentioned in this post are not your cup of eggnog, you can check out the amazing work being done by other Mennonite volunteers around the world, and send your support through the same page, earmarked for their ministries instead! For example, check out the incredible peace building work of Dann and Joji Pantoja in the Philippines.

By the way, we’d also like to thank everyone for all of the wonderful comments and encouragement. We receive them gratefully, and even though we don’t always get a chance to write back individually, we are so thankful.

Blessings,

Nate, Taryn and Malakai

 
Administrating Justice

Administrating Justice

I was recently walking between the tables of Setswana food, CDs of local music, and traditional crafts of the outdoor marketplace at the Main Mall in Gaborone. Hearing my name I turned to see my friend, Kagiso (“Peace”), waving me down. We both suspended our errands and headed to a local meat pie shop to catch up over lunch.

Kagiso has been deeply involved in local church leadership for years, and we came around to the topic of financial support for churches. Because we’re exciting conversationalists like that. Over our feast of chicken peri-peri lunch pies he mentioned that it’s been interesting to see financial support for churches declining in recent years (except for in the local ‘prosperity gospel’ churches who preach that tithing is actually a financial investment with guaranteed exponential returns; that’s a different topic, though). We both agreed that it’s understandably difficult to want to tithe money into an organization where a lot of the costs are related to administration, which is less than thrilling. At the same time, the work being done by many churches that we had both been involved in were having very significant positive impacts on their communities, as well as communities around the world. It’s just not always easy to see the direct line from the financial support of individuals, to the results which they are supporting through the church structures.

Before meeting up with Kagiso I had been waiting to hear from a contact of mine, and when my phone rang I excused myself to let him know that I would be on my way shortly. However, when I picked up it was an unexpected caller.

Dumela Nathan, this is Walter* from First Offenders Prison. I’ve been released.”

This wasn’t iterated in the menacing tone accompanying such calls as seen on television. Walter was someone we had known for the past three years, who had faithfully joined us for our weekly fellowship sessions in prison. He had taken a quiet role in helping to lead the group from inside, and had been a pleasure to get to know over the years. Selfishly, for Taryn and I whenever someone like Walter was released there was a part of ourselves that was sorry to see them go.

“I just wanted to call to say thank you. Do you remember the work that Taryn did for me for my case?”

A few weeks prior, Walter had walked across the prison yard with a sheaf of handwritten papers. He had first been taken into custody in northern Botswana, and his court proceedings had been conducted in Sekgalagadi, a language with which he was not familiar. Everything was related to him through a translator, and as things progressed he found himself sentenced to prison, despite the fact that he had not yet been given a judgment. For over a year he was in prison, not understanding all of what had been said in court, questioning whether the translations had been accurate, and trying to figure out how long he would be locked up, having simply been sentenced without explanation. For a few years he had been trying to sort out the legal mess surrounding his case.

As Walter had handed over the sheaf of papers, he had asked that we try to type them out, and format them in a way which made them legally admissible to the courts. As the administrator for our office work, Taryn had taken them and spent time doing just that. She typed them, arranged the documentation in a way which corresponded with other such paperwork she had seen, and had them back to him within the week. It’s been a regular occurrence in our time in Botswana, and has become a part of Taryn’s office routine during certain weeks.

Walter continued, “The paperwork that Taryn did for me finally helped the courts to see the mistakes that had been made. Please thank Taryn for me, and let her know that I’m free, I’m now starting to serve in my community, and I’m doing well.”

As it turned out that he had not be found guilty for all of the elements of the crime, Walter had served longer than he was supposed to have for his sentence. While not usually particularly glamorous, the administrative work that’s done in church and mission organizations is meaningful and important, building God’s kingdom at home and abroad. In Walter’s case, it was the difference between an unjust sentence and freedom.

The moral of the story is: avoid obligations in favor of meat pies.

 

*Not his real name

 
Being Mildly Amusing to Heads of State

Being Mildly Amusing to Heads of State

So, the Minister of Infrastructure, Science and Technology, and the Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture are busy planting a baobab tree. Leaning over to the President I say, “Is there a correlation between how hard your Cabinet members work on volunteer projects, and how hard they work in their governmental positions?”

The President replies, “Well, it all depends on who’s in charge.”

“Who is in charge?” I ask.

“You are.”

“Then I guess we’re all in trouble,” I finish with comedic panache.

No, this wasn’t a weird hallucinatory dream involving strangely specific local politicians (although later that night Malakai, Taryn and I would all come down with a fairly unpleasant 24-hour bug which would definitely create some feverish nightmares). Rather, this past Friday, His Excellency Lieutenant General Sereste Khama Ian Khama, President of the Republic of Botswana, visited our construction site at the Bontleng Futsal Park to support the pilot project of our Botswana-based nonprofit organization (NPO) along with the Ministers of his Cabinet and a number of other local dignitaries and politicians.

We’ve been working on the Bontleng Futsal Park as the pilot project of our Botswana-based NPO, Pula Sports Development Association, or PSDA (pula is a Setswana word referring to rain, or blessing). PSDA is run by a team made up of young Batswana (Swift Mpoloka, Melissa Mpoloka, Sobukwe Mothobi, Mathshidiso  Kimwaga, Wame Chiepe, and Malebo Raditladi) as well as Taryn and myself. The idea has been that this project will launch PSDA into a nationwide effort to initiate much-needed sporting, environmental, and educational infrastructure in underdeveloped areas. While Botswana has amazing infrastructure in most regards, this kind of grassroots development has been lacking, leaving children and young adults at risk to alcoholism, vandalism, drug abuse, and other negative social behaviors. Without feeling like they have options, it’s understandable that kids and youth turn to what’s available around them.

The Bontleng Futsal Park, located beside some popular bars in a rough part of Gaborone known as Kofifi, is set up with a futsal court (5-a-side football) which can also be used for basketball and netball. The 670-square meter surface will experience an average of over 400,000 liters of annual rainfall, which drains off into a 50,000 liter underground cistern. This water will be used for traditional gardens on site, as well as for introducing newer gardening methods such as aquaponics (fresh fish, fresh vegetables, minimal waste or overhead cost). The site is also landscaped using permacultural methods to contain rainwater, prevent erosion, and allow for maximized soil fertility. Because of this we’ve started to plant dozens of new indigenous trees on site, which will eventually result in a microclimate within the park, an area which is cooler than the surrounding region. We are also in the process of building a recycling center which is itself built out of recycled materials, such as pallets, cans and bottles (lots to be had due to the proximity to the bars), as well as medical waste aggregate in the concrete (sanitized and shredded waste materials from local medical facilities; perfectly clean, and helps the concrete to retain less heat and cold); a local marketplace full of stalls for local artisans; bio-toilets and solar panels so that the site is completely self-sufficient without need for connection to sewage, electrical, or water lines (the latter due to the rainwater storage). An outdoor fitness park/gym is in the works, as is an eco-cafe for selling local foods and for use by after-school tutoring programs. Finally, we’re almost finished building a playground, which is taking longer than we expected because we’ve been adding some fun touches to it (two big slides off of a single stilt-house; stuff I dreamt about as a kid/still dream about now).

Halfway through construction, this pilot project was blessed to have gained the attention of the Office of the President, which takes part in a monthly volunteer day. After a month of planning with reps from his office the President came to the site, built some chairs alongside Wame (you may remember him from the ‘Futsal Dreams’ video which was posted about two years ago) who then gave one of the chairs to the President as a gift, who then helped to finish the cobbler’s stall for our friend Rra Rraselebogo as well as gifting him with a new wheelchair, worked with some local elementary school children to paint a mural which they had designed, and checked out the construction of the recycling center being done by my old grade 7 classmate and current rock climbing buddy, Guy.

As an added bonus, during the proceedings Taryn greeted the President with the traditional Setswana greeting, “Dumela Tautona,” basically, “Greetings Big Lion”. This redeemed her experience from a few years ago in which she had met him at a function related to our prison ministry intending to do the same and had instead simply blushed and given a perfect, if silent, traditional handshake and bow.

It’s hard to measure the success of this event in regards to the long term efforts on the Bontleng Futsal Park, and of Pula Sports Development Association as a whole. We were able to meet a number of individuals who are influential in Botswana, to encourage the community of Bontleng with a visibility which they are not often afforded and be featured in the national newspapers and on the evening Botswana Television news. We hope that the visibility and new connections will help as the PSDA team continues to work hard in order that we may see the project finished before August, and that we may lay the foundations for the ongoing work of our NPO.

The greatest takeaway for our whole team has been that God is faithful to bring to completion that which he starts (to take Philippians 1:6 out of context), and that it’s not up to us to know God’s timing (to similarly abuse Acts 1:7). As much as it’s been a long effort, and which still has a long way to go, we’ve been fortunate to be given the right encouragements at the times they were needed, and to be constantly reminded to trust in the Lord rather than in our own understanding. We’ve been constantly amazed at the ways that God has provided, which we didn’t plan for and couldn’t have expected. Please keep praying for God’s continued guidance in this work, and that Nathan would have better jokes the next time he meets a President.

 
How to Become a Hip-Hop Promoter

How to Become a Hip-Hop Promoter

How to Become a Hip-Hop Promoter

Two award-winning hip-hop groups; an exclusive New Years concert in a private venue protected by armed security; a Mennonite Church Canada Witness team. How did it come to this? It’s all pretty standard, really…

Step 1: Find out the programs available through Mennonite Church Canada

In 2012, Taryn and I found ourselves heading to Botswana for a three year term serving as Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers. Mennonite Church Canada has numerous opportunities for anyone to serve in local and overseas capacities, both short and long-term (follow this link for the opportunities currently available). If that’s inspirational, but not for you, you can always help to support these programs from your home congregation. In fact, all of the funding comes straight from MC Canada congregations (often through some really cool fundraising ideas, from bike events to canning and selling peach salsa), as does our incredible prayer support.

Step 2: Go!

Once we arrived in Botswana, our local church partners informed us of the needs which they felt were most pressing in their community. These partners have been in relationship with Mennonite volunteers for over 40 years; they know what they’re talking about, and we know that from experience! One of the consistent themes they expressed was the need for young people in the churches to be empowered and motivated as servants of Jesus. Being young (and inexperienced) ourselves, we thought hey, that’s right up our alley.

Step 3: Get creative

We asked God how to proceed (God strikes us as more creative than we are). A number of different opportunities came our way to help empower local Christian youth. One of these was in serving in local prisons. A number of barriers stood in the way, but as we tentatively pushed they all melted away. We followed God’s leading into the prisons, and for the past three years God has blessed us and our youth with the opportunity to serve there. It wasn’t what we expected, but it was the right thing at the right time, and we’ve been blessed to be a part of it, and to see it become sustainable through our local partners.

Step 4: Make the most of the opportunities presented

Lots of things are changing for Mennonite Church Canada (you can see what this has been proposed to look like in the near future through the proposals of the Future Directions Task Force by clicking here), including program funding. In Botswana, we realized that we couldn’t do some of the same things that we’ve done in the past, such as giving Christmas gift bags to everyone serving time in First Offenders Prison on behalf of our local church partners, our prison inmate congregation, and Mennonite Church Canada. However, this created an opportunity to figure out a way to bless the inmates without a reliance on funds.

Step 5: Become a hip-hop promoter

So, obviously, we planned a hip-hop concert. A few of our friends here in Gaborone perform in rap groups. And they’re good. Award-winning, local-radio-dominatingly good. Taryn and I, along with our friends Ame, Nabo, Ransley, Slim, and Kabo, worked out the details with the prison officers, who loved the initiative.

On January 1st, to celebrate the fresh new year, Kabo (who is known for his work with his group Xcalibur; follow the link to check out their music videos on YouTube), freestyle-rapped in front of a full house, under the shade of a massive tree in the middle of the prison yard. He loves Jesus, and his music honored God and inspired the whole 400-strong audience. Then, two different inmates followed up with their own rap performances, to the delight of everyone involved. MMP Family, managed by our good friend, Slim, closed out the show. They chose to play their song, ‘Problem Child’, feeling that it would resonate with the guys in prison. It deals with young people growing up in the shanty neighborhoods and struggling to make the right choices (check it out here). That’s the story of many of the inmates. Fresh off of winning a number of honors the previous week for their latest album, MMP Family entertained the crowd with a full set, as the audience moved to the music.

As the work in prison and among your youth continues, we’re blessed to have an incredible community of friends around us here and such great support from our congregations back in Canada. Both of these communities enable us to take part in creative ways to honor God.

That’s the classic route to becoming a hip-hop promoter, and we highly recommend it.

 
A Little Child Will Lead Them

A Little Child Will Lead Them

Although there have been numerous roadblocks along the way, the futsal park project is springing to life at the hands of children who are following God’s lead.

Upon returning to ministry in Botswana after a home leave last August, we took time to re-evaluate what we were doing. We thought and prayed about what was working, what wasn’t, and how best to proceed. One big question mark concerned the development project slowly taking shape in the background of Bible studies and community building – a park for sports, environmental awareness, education, and generally just a communal area in a rough part of town. We had met many obstacles along the way, and though some encouraging developments emerged, especially relationally with our team and the local community, there was not much to show physically for our efforts.

We did not want to pursue something which God was not calling us to, so we prayed for direction and guidance. In response, we felt that God gave us an image of Jericho. Under Joshua’s leadership, the people of Israel made their first strides into the land God promised them. The park, a place known for vandalism, drunkenness, conflict, and crime, was a spiritual stronghold. Like Jericho, it was surrounded by formidable walls. So, like the Israelites, we knew that we had no chance in this place unless God led us through the barrier.

The Israelites followed God’s battle plan and simply walked around the perimeter of Jericho for seven days, so we walked around the perimeter of the park for seven days as well. We did so praying that God’s will would be done in that place, and that God would make clear whether we were to pursue the project or not.

On the second day, we slowly circled the property with our son, Malakai, taking in the familiar sites, relaxing in the evening cool. As we later packed up to go, we got a sense that we should wait a while and read the story of Joshua and Jericho again. After we did so and again prepared to leave, a local child who we did not recognize, a boy about ten years old, walked purposefully towards us. He respectfully greeted us and asked if we were preparing to build the park for the neighborhood kids.

In Botswana, conversations about God and spirituality are not seen as strange, as the spiritual realm is traditionally seen as a fact of life. So we told the boy that we were not yet sure whether the park would be built or not, and that we were asking God to show us what to do. The boy nodded thoughtfully, and stated that it would be beautiful if it were to happen. We agreed, and told him our current method for discernment. He nodded again.

We welcomed our young friend to continue walking around the perimeter, praying that God would bring down any walls holding outsiders at bay. He nodded and said that he would be glad to, and would get started immediately. As he turned to begin the walk, I realized that we had not learned the name of our new friend. Surely it was Thabo, or Kagiso, or Lesego – names common in Gaborone. But rather, it was a name we had never heard in Botswana before or since.

He said, “My name is Joshua.”

Our meeting with young Joshua, as well as other promptings, led us to believe that God was calling us to continue to move forward with the project. Now, a few months later, many of the obstacles have fallen away, opening a clear path forward.

But Joshua isn’t the only child who has made a difference with this project. Last summer as we traveled around to our supporting congregations Canada, we shared the vision of the park project with a few children’s Sunday Schools. In each case, the children took the initiative to raise money and send it to Mennonite Church Canada on our behalf. By the time we returned to Botswana, there was a sizeable amount of money gathered from the donations of all of these kids.

Encouraged by our young friend, Joshua, we decided to make a move. Using the money donated by Mennonite Church Canada kids, we hired a local company to manufacture and install a playground on the site with swings, slides, stilt houses, climbing apparatus, ramps, tunnels, and balance beams. There was even enough money left over to install five-meter-tall metal posts around the 5-a-side soccer court/basketball court. These were relatively minor installations compared to the vision for the whole site, but they were a good investment of money from children back home who wanted to bless their young Batswana counterparts.

Three weeks ago, we held a meeting on the site with a number of politicians, business owners, and local community members. The coach of Botswana’s national soccer team, a former English Premier League player, spoke to the gathering, along with some of our partners from the community including a few children from the nearby primary school. The brand new playground was being installed in the background, literally, while the shiny new poles provided perspective as to the scope of the court which we hoped to install, while we invited those gathered to share their visions for the park. Mennonite Church Canada had already thrown in their efforts, as had Joshua. And with inspiration from these young visionaries, sponsors began to step forward and pledge their support for this piece of land.

There is still a long way to go, but we are working hard to continue to bring it all together, with the hope of launching the site on September 3rd, just before celebrations for Botswana’s 50th year of independence. Please pray for the strongholds in Botswana to continue to fall, and for God’s will to be done in this place.