Impact South Africa

Many of you know that I spent almost all of 2008 in South Africa. During this time I was an intern for the ministry Thrive Africa. It was an incredible year. If you want to see what I did there and the impact it had on my life you can check out my blog from that year at: http://mattinsouthafrica.blogspot.com/

Since I left in December 2008, Thrive Africa has experienced some unbelievably difficult pressures on their ability to operate their ministry. The most obvious is the economic downturn that hit the states. Thrive Africa relies almost solely on generous donations from and partnerships with people and churches in North America. If the donations stop, Thrive will shut down. It’s that simple. And lately the money has been drying up. They have started a capital campaign to raise $80,000 by this summer. You can get all the lowdown at: http://www.impactsouthafrica.com/

Let me be very clear. I believe in Thrive. I believe in its vision, its mission, its leadership and what it is doing and it is without a doubt effective. These guys aren’t out there helping poor people to make themselves feel better. They are attempting to change the face of a nation and thereby a continent with life changing spiritual and leadership education. And to my knowledge they are the only long-term organization doing this in a township area of roughly 2 million people. You can find out more information about thrive at: wwwthriveafrica.com

This is bigger than just keeping a few North Americans in Africa. Thrive employs over 50 nationals on a full-time basis. In a country with an unemployment rate of nearly 25% this is a big deal. They teach thousands of students every year in local schools about important and taboo topics such as leadership, purpose, sex and AIDS. I personally visited an orphanage on a weekly basis when I was there. I was able to watch kids grow and learn as we spent time, played, taught and loved them.

If the money stops, if this capital campaign fails, all that is over.

I am a competitive person. When I am part of something it becomes my team. I want to see it succeed and do well (you could even say “thrive.” I’m sorry I couldn’t contain myself.) This was true when I was doing high school sports, collegiate sports, with ESI now, and of course with Thrive. Four of my fellow interns are long term staff with them now. I want them to be able to fufill their calling from God with Thrive.

What can you do? Pray and Give. The websites above indicate how. I know many of you don’t have the personal experience I have had at Thrive so you have to trust me on this but please. Give. It will truly make all the difference. Can you imagine what it must feel like having a vision to change a country and the only obstacle is money? The soil is fertile, the workers are there and continuing to come. All that is needed is the senders. To help with this campaign Thrive has recently set up an online store where you can buy, amongst other things, African-grown fair-trade coffee. Proceeds go to Thrive. You may not care about South Africa. You may not KNOW about South Africa. But I bet someone in your life likes good coffee. Check out http://www.thriveafricastore.com/

This is important. And you can help. Give to Thrive Africa today.

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Home from Hungary

I returned back to Sokolov from my spring break tonight. My legs are sore from oppressively long bus rides but I wanted to write about it while it was still fresh in my mind.

First some background. My organization, TeachOverseas (ESI), has teachers in a few different regions around the world. My region is Central Europe. The countries teachers are currently in include the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. I live and teach in the far western region of the Czech Republic named West Bohemia (or as we like to call it, “West Bo”). This spring break saw me return where I visited in October, to Budapest, but also farther afield to the small town of Sarospatak. This town lies in the extreme northeast of Hungary and is a four-hour train journey from Budapest. It represents the other side of the ESI-universe over here. We have two teachers there this year and I thought it it would be good to visit them for a few days (they didn’t have the past week off like us in the Czech Republic.) And it was.

An extremely brief recap of my trip. I got even more experience on Prague public transport en route to Hungary. I then proceeded to educate myself a bit better on the geography and transportation options of Budapest. I saw teacher friends and enjoyed some of the best hospitality I have ever experienced on two consecutive nights. I went to an awesome church service singing Hungarian songs in English and Czech. I survived a train ride across a country where I knew nothing of the language. Little old Hungarian ladies helped me. Note to Hungary railways: invest in signs at your stations. Thanks.

I delved deeper into the history of Hungary during the week. A short summary: First imagine America, big, strong, won most wars, proud to a fault and deeply patriotic. Now imagine a country that used to be big but has never won a war and directly related to this fact now has around 33% of its ethnic population outside its borders. Welcome to Hungary.

I saw a really cool castle and spent some great time hanging out and reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen since Thanksgiving time. No doubt this was a holiday. I slept a lot and relaxed even more. But it was also a time of fellowship and I think I benefited greatly from it. To be honest, I’m not terribly excited about school on Monday. But I will be ready and rested after this deeply fulfilling, all too-brief week.

Worship

I’m in Hungary this week for my spring break. Traveling in Europe has been cool. Partly because you get to see new and cool things but mostly because you get to meet up and, however briefly, reconnect with fellow teachers who I trained with and got to know very well back in August in Pasadena. It is really good to check out how different teachers are experiencing their year and how they do things in their country, town, or city. It is also cool if you get to go to church with them because it is a very different thing depending where you are over here.

The church that most ESI teachers in Budpest generally go to is a Calvary Chapel right in the middle of the city. While it is attended by and  most of it leadership is Hungarian, the head pastor and a few others are American. So what you end up getting in the service is a lot of Hungarian/English combined. The songs are mostly sung in Hungarian, with English translations below. It was pretty neat.

We started singing a song and I realized we sang it at my Czech church all the time, except in Czech. Up to this point I had only been able to translate one line from the Czech : “Ja verim, Ja verim” (I believe, I believe). So the song was being sung in Hungarian but now I could see the English words below and realize exactly what the song is about. So I started following along and singing the English words best I could. When I got to the “I believe” part though, a funny thing happened. I just felt like singing in Czech. It just felt like the good, right,cool thing to do. So I did. While a song was being sung in Hungarian and being translated into English, I sang the one line that I could in Czech.

A small thing to be sure but it was also a powerful thing. It was a reminder of how blessed I am to be over here. And a reminder that God and Christianity is truly big enough for every culture, every country, every nation and indeed every language.

Thoughts on ples…

I attended my school’s last ples on Friday night and thought I would offer some closing thoughts about them.

1) I love the egalitarian nature of a ples. Anyone and everyone comes. Grandparents, parents, friends, younger siblings. The only requirement it seems is you should know someone at the school. Dancing happens throughout the night and it is almost exclusively the pleasant, romantic type of a happy couple or the fast paced excitement of people who actually know how to dance. The grinding that is so popular (and explicit) in the states is nowhere to be seen. As a teacher told me on Friday though, of course this isn’t the whole picture. The main hall was the room for the “mummies and daddies” as he put it. Downstairs a disco type area was set up for students. I never went in but what went on there might be a bit different from what I generally saw.

2) Czech’s love of alcohol was in full effect. Beer is truly a part of the culture here. Many towns have their own local brewery and many people drink copious amounts. At restaurants you generally get more beer for the same price or even cheaper than a bottle of water. IDs are never checked anywhere. As a Czech explained to me “It’s illegal to buy alcohol if your under 18, so why would you try?” Plus I imagine the desire to make money trumps the desire to check someone’s ID and refuse a sale. I saw this first hand when in the middle of a ples a student asked me to dance. She seemed nice enough but as soon as we got to the dance floor I realized she was absurdly drunk. Needless to say it was an awkward few minutes.Getting Czechs to not drink would take away one of the things that is deeply rooted in their culture. At the same time I think it is good to be here as a younger than average teacher who stays sober for an entire evening even after the champagne toast with the students.

3) Midnight surprises are delightful, entertaining and so entirely over-the-top that they would NEVER happen in the states.

In closing, living in a foreign country can be kinda neat…