29 September 2007

leaders in need

One of the most common questions we get is "How can I help?"

And we're usually left scratching our heads. Money is useful here. The kids at the squatter camp are always (ALWAYS) hungry. And money can buy more food. But somehow, night falls and the morning comes and the kids are hungry again. It doesn't make feeding them a bad investment, only a difficult thing to ask for help with. There is no satisfaction there.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

The church is pretty poor, too. Our Sunday collections usually fall between $200 and $300 dollars. That is supposed to run the place for a week, even though it couldn’t pay a western church's staff for an hour. But God works in beautiful ways and the bills always get paid and the staff always has money for food.

So we sit and wonder. What can we let people help us with? And how can we put that money to a sustainable use, something that will last much longer than a meal or a soccer ball or even a salary?

Then, slowly, we saw the light.

Every Wednesday night, Stef and I each teach a class to the local church members. Stef teaches a music class, teaching folks music theory, how to read music, and the book The Heart of the Artist, all in hopes that they would be able to turn their passion for music into a real, usable skill - useful for personal worship or simple self-esteem. It is a wonderful thing to watch these Africans learn, especially from a teacher as good as Stef and in a subject that they care so deeply about.

I teach 5 young men in a spiritual leadership class. Partly due to political circumstances (apartheid), partly due to cultural circumstances (Africans are very different from westerners), and partly due to a lack of education, there is a HUGE leadership vacuum here. So Pastor Willie hand-picked five of his brightest young men to study with me and hopefully grow enough that they could stand strong as the leaders of the next generation. Currently, we are working through Spiritual Leadership by J.O. Sanders with Bill Hybels' Courageous Leadership to follow. And let me tell you, these guys are so excited. They are eating up the books, coming in with new insights and great questions and an incredible zeal to learn more. Having never had the money to buy themselves study materials, they are discovering the beauty of learning at 24 years old.
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On top of all of that, we are taking them all to the Global Leadership Summit in October, where they will get to hear speakers like Jimmy Carter, John Ortberg, Collin Powell, Bill Hybels, and Marcus Buckingham among others.

All of this to say: We need your help. Books are expensive, sometimes double and triple the cost of books in the US. And this leadership conference will cost us as well. Grace Point already generously helped with some of the costs of the leadership conference. We still need another $300 to cover the leadership conference costs (8 of us are going in all) and the books. We've already paid for these things, knowing how important it is for these guys and knowing that God will provide all we need.

All the while, Stef's class of 15 works on one book. We're talking to the author to try to get some donated or discounted, but we will need help in securing them and getting them here. There is always a need...

We feel like this is the best investment we can make in the people here. We are giving them resources that will long outlast us and will satisfy much longer than any meal. We feel like we are equipping and empowering people. If you could only see the light in their eyes as they learn...

If you've been wondering how you can help, we'd like to suggest that this is the way.

You can go to this link Give Online with Grace Point and click on "Other" when given the option, specifying "Kyle & Stef Leadership". They'll know how to get it to us. Or you can send a check to Grace Point Church, 9750 Huebner Road, San Antonio TX 78240 with "Kyle & Stef Leadership" on the memo line.

They send us money direct, with no wire fees and no administration costs. Every cent you give for this comes straight to us to be put to use. Anything over the $300 we are looking for will be used for additional resources... We'll certainly let you know where it goes.

We are praying that this is received well, hopeful that you know how much we value all of you. We are asking for this only because it is so often asked of us. Please give only as you feel led and know that we are sure that God will provide.

Kyle and Stef - None Beyond Redemption, Darkness into Light

27 September 2007

the return of the rains

The rains finally came.

Mark it down. It was Wednesday evening, the 26th of September. And the rains finally came.

Thunder cracked and lightning lit up the ominous African sky as the first rains of the spring fell heavily from the sky.

For a moment, I considered the poetic implications of the rains, how maybe God was reminding me that He refreshes in His time.

Then it hit me. The sky darkened in the late afternoon. The air then cooled and the rains came only a few hours later. Andre passed away in the late afternoon. Only then, as a cool wind blew through the room where Andre breathed his last, did the merciful skies open up and release their bounty.

I had been so consumed with my own “dry season” that I had failed to recognize that Andre was walking through quite his own desert. Only upon that recognition did I finally open up to the perspective that God had for me. The real dry season was not mine and the suffering and difficulty that I had was nothing compared to that of my friend. And I could not see that at his bedside as he was writhing in pain. I could only see that in the way that the puddles formed, in the simple sounds that came with the changing atmosphere.

I don’t really believe that the rain fell for Andre, although I do find the association to be quite beautiful. Bedridden for weeks, I can only assume that he is as refreshed as the parched earth in the presence of his Creator. I don’t think the rain was the tears of God falling with the tears of those of us who loved him. But I do find the timing comforting.

Wednesday night, lying in bed, listening to the rain fall melodically on the tin roof, I could only think that Andre had finally been delivered from his season of misery and confusion. Left in his place was a simple reminder that we all have dry seasons. And that, in the hands of the Almighty, there is always an appointed time for the rains to return.

26 September 2007

andre's story

We’ve lost our friend Andre. He died Wednesday afternoon and, honestly, this is the most painful loss yet.

Pastor Willie felt a need to visit Andre on Wednesday morning, so Stef and I went along to see our friend. It was the third time we’d been to see him since his cancer had struck back in such a way that he could no longer get out of bed.

We stared at his enormous body, rendered almost skeletal by the disease that had spent the last 3 years consuming him from the inside out. He struggled to speak, almost unable to force words out of his dry, cracked lips. The pain was too great. He managed to sit up for a moment, long enough to meet our eyes and produce one of the greatest, most heartfelt smiles I have ever been given access to.

As he eased himself back into the bed, wincing at the pain from the dozens of tumors residing in his lungs and liver, he closed his eyes slowly. I thought, for just a moment, that he was leaving us, leaving the pain. He opened them again after a second and gave us another feeble smile. Andre always smiled, even in the greatest pain. He had a reason to.

You see, Andre Vogel lived an incredible life. Andre found himself, in his early twenties living life as a narcissistic health-nut, a teetotaler who wouldn’t even drink caffeine between his six weekly workouts. Somewhere along the away, he got mixed up with a woman who he sincerely calls a witch. Within days of meeting her, he was addicted to cocaine and “deeply involved” with the criminal underworld. He began using his considerable size by working as a bouncer at a nightclub. He also began running drugs through the place, working for a syndicate (like the South African version of the mafia) and using his newfound wealth to pay off the top police officials in the area.

Becoming increasingly involved in the drug world, he found himself taking increasingly large amounts of drugs only to find his depression increasing in equal measure. Eventually, the syndicate trusted him with even more important duties, among them several contract murders. He carried out with cold-blooded precision, simultaneously reaching his spiritual and emotional low-point.

He went into hiding from the cops who weren’t on his payroll and from the syndicate, as he considered leaving the whole lifestyle. Under the influence of “ridiculous amounts of ecstasy”, he stumbled into a church one night. He doesn’t remember hearing much, until after the service an elderly woman he’d never met came and spoke a little bit of love and encouragement into his life. The basic message was that he was alive for a reason and that God had a purpose for him. She never knew what those words meant.

Andre prayed that night that drugs would release their hold on him. Waking up the next day, he was miraculously free of years of drug addiction. His next step was even bolder. He walked into a police station and confessed every crime he could remember.

Eventually, he was sentenced to a lengthy prison term for a murder he committed. Once in prison, he began sharing his conversion and God’s love. He escaped over half a dozen assassination attempts in prison, which he presumed were a case of the syndicate trying to wipe out a former member whose loyalties had changed to radically for anyone’s comfort.

He became a valuable member of the World Hope Prison Ministry, working from the inside to help a ministry that has reached over 10,000 with discipleship materials and spiritual rehabilitation.

Almost three years ago, he was diagnosed with cancer. Still in prison, he went through a grueling battery of surgeries and treatments. The cancer fought back harder than the treatments and faster than the surgeries and eventually doctors told him that there was no use fighting the disease anymore.

Andre was released early this year into the care of his mother on medical parole, a move of mercy from the Department of Corrections, usually ignited by a doctors opinion that prisoner was dying soon and needn’t die in prison. Not long after he got out, he recovered amazingly, working in the church with Pastor Willie and leading a small group from another church. He repeatedly disproved doctors who told him he had days or weeks to live. Over and over, he outlived projections, causing one doctor to nickname him “dead man walking.” He smiled so broadly every time he came back from a doctor’s visit, laughing at the latest forecasts of his demise.

Now in his early thirties, Andre prayed quietly one night, telling God that he longed for the things that free men take for granted. He asked God for a place to live (outside of his mother’s apartment) and a car to allow him to experience the freedom of the open road. That week, two people from his small group took him aside. One told Andre that he felt the need to give him a large house in Joburg’s western suburbs. The other told him that he wanted to buy Andre a car...now-and they left to go to the auto lot.

We met Andre when we met in July. (I had known him only through emails in 2004). He was always smiling, telling people how great life was and how incredible his God was. He would occasionally miss days at work as the pain began to grow. Still he would arrive again, smiling... always smiling.

The last day we saw him, we walked onto his property, past his gifted car and into his gifted house. There he lay, deteriorating. Yet when he opened his eyes, they were bursting with life, as alert as a child’s. And he continued to smile, telling us that God would take him when He was good and ready. He told us that he would be ready whenever that day came. We cried as we prayed with him, our hands on his scarred and tumor-infested body. We cried as we wondered if his day would be coming soon. For him and his suffering, it could not come soon enough. We dried up our tears as best we could and before we left, I snuggled up close to my friend Andre. I don’t have much experience with last words...so I spoke my heart.

“Andre, God has given you an incredible story and I promise that I will tell as many people as I give for His glory. Your life will live on long after you go. Keep trusting. I love you so much and I hope I get to visit you again soon.”

Andre smiled so nicely, his eyes trying to tell mine that my tears were appreciated. I think they were trying to tell me that he loved me too.

I never got to visit Andre again. I praise God for him, though.

Above all things, Andre would want you to know that God is faithful. And that God, and God alone, saved him. He would tell you that no one is beyond God’s reach and that no one is beyond redemption. Then, in case you didn’t believe him, he would invite you to sit and he would tell you his story. I’m sure he would smile the whole way through. I’d like to think that, today, free from pain, his smile has never been brighter.

Please pass this along to someone. Help me keep my promise to Andre.

i chose you (new podcast)

Today, Stef and I are sharing another song with you.

I wrote it last night and then rested on Stef to help clean it up and keep me from breaking too many musical laws. :)

I tried to post a chart, but I don't quite know how to do that. If we figure it out, I'll put it up there - if not I can email one to anyone who might want it...

Our Podcast - I Chose You

I Chose You

by Kyle and Stefani Burkholder

(Capo 7th - Gno3, Cadd9, Em7, D throughout)

You are
Who I AM
And i am
Perfectly yours

For what can i say
What did i do
I hear you so clearly
I chose you

I chose you

You make
No mistakes
And You make
The wheat and the tares

For who can resist
Who can undo
I hear You so clearly
I chose you

I chose you

Hold me
I love You
Scold me
I love You
I love You
I hear You
I love You

I chose You

Thank You

25 September 2007

one life, one lifetime

For today's post, we wanted to share one of our favorite blogs.

Our Pastor in San Antonio, Jeff Harris, has a blog that we find ourselves checking every chance we get. It's called "One Life, One Lifetime"...

Here's the link: One Life, One Lifetime - Jeff Harris' Blog

It's usually short so it's a quick read. But it's also usually something that sticks in your mind for the day - something that makes you think.

We hope you'll enjoy it as much as we do.

23 September 2007

a gift from god

Walking home from lunch on Sunday, we ran into a guy we help from time to time. He hangs around the shopping center near the house and is never shy about asking for small change.

This particular instance, we took a minute to stop and talk with him. His name is Gift. He is a pretty nice fellow, just doesn’t have much, you know?

I asked him where he stayed and he pointed over to a pretty nice white house down the road. Why, if he stays there does he come and beg me for small change every day, I wondered… He must have seen the puzzled look in my eyes, so he explained.

“There is a little space behind that white house, a little bit of grass between the fence and the alley. A lot of us sleep there.”

Oh. Humbled.

He said, “Don’t you have anything for me today, boss?”

I told him that I didn’t have anything today. He told me that he understood. He asked if maybe next time I walk by if I wouldn’t mind dropping off some used clothes for him, maybe a shirt. His shirt did look worn out.

Then he really caught me…

“You know, boss, I know that when you have something you give it to me. And I know that when the time is right you’ll have a shirt for me or maybe some coins. You always do.”

What a picture of what God must yearn to hear from us.

Gift almost dances for joy when I give him a couple of dollars. Gift smiles even on the days when I have nothing to give him – which means that he really has nothing. And, I believe, that when he lays his head on the beaten down grass behind the white house next to the alley, he is hopeful that tomorrow might bring favor to him.

Gift is like a walking Psalm. I can hear him as the Psalmist now:

“Even when you withhold your favor, I will wait in anticipation for the day when Your blessings rain down on me again. Even when my cup is empty, I will praise You for You are fullness enough for me. And when the day comes when You again choose to let Your grace fall on me, I will dance with joy for I will have seen the face of God.”

I never thought much of giving to Gift. But through Him, God has shown me a beautiful picture of what a cheerful receiver looks like. I have seen a beautiful heart, expectant of God’s goodness and joyful even in lack. I have seen the heart of a man that I hope I can learn to be more like.

22 September 2007


Hey People!!

It's a rare weekend appearence for us.

I thought I'd use this opportunity to tell you fine folks what we've been up to...

UNO - ya, the card game.

Remember that we can't go anywhere at night, being that we're afraid of being on the receiving end of one of the many gunshots we hear throughout the night. (And, as an aside, they are becoming more regular as the weather warms up - surely someone will send me an article about violence and weather interrelativity...Google it people.)

So, we've been playing UNO one on one and trying to teach a few Africans how to play. Pretty exciting, huh? Ya, it is.

So, enjoy your evenings in the lovely autumn weather - but as you settle in for dinner on a patio or a nice walk in the park, think of us. And fear the day that we get together and Stef and I break out UNO. We are honing our skills and holding the WILD DRAW 4 card close to the vest.

21 September 2007


Stef and I watched The Shawshank Redemption the other night (actually over a
series of nights, but anyway). It is beautiful in a way that I can't quite explain.

It was Stef's first time seeing it. And you know how if someone you
love watches a movie you love for the first time, it's always a little
more exciting. Like you hope that they'll be moved by the same scene
you are and that they'll be as inspired (changed?) when the credits roll.

"Hope - maybe the best of things."

Love ya, WP.

20 September 2007

we're back - two posts today!!

Sorry that we've been out of the loop for a few days. We are still struggling with the intricacies of African internet. We're happy to be back. As a thanks for waiting on us, we've got two for you today, the second of which is a poem I wrote almost 2 years ago which has become current to me again....

learning to live in a season of dryness

We heard some thunder Tuesday afternoon, looked out the window to see dark clouds, and we waited for life-giving rain. And there was none.

The ground still lays dusty, the plants are still thirsty, and we are still waiting for some sign that the days will change.

There was a strange excitement that came with the thunder. We decided to take a walk, ignoring the lightening and the potential that we would get soaked. The anticipation of being part of something bigger than ourselves, something refreshing and new, compelled us into the street.

Maybe that’s how it is with all new things in our lives. Seasons change and we grow excited, only to lament that the next season won’t come soon enough. We anticipate the leaves falling during the heat of summer and then long for the warm rays of a spring sun during the gray winter.

Wherever we are, we are always looking to what’s next, what’s new, and what will wake us up again. We are learning here to rest in the season we’re in, no matter how promising the coming season appears.

So, today, we continue to wait for the rain. And we’ll try to appreciate the warm sunshine that precedes it.

you are

i hear you
so clearly
and you make no mistakes
i chose you

so what did I do?

if you are who i know you are
if you are who I AM
then when you chose me
when you called me
i had no choice

so when do i choose?

you are the harvester
you alone gather the tares
you are the vinedresser

and the fire
all consuming
glory for your name

do you hold the strings of our existence
do you choose to hold me even when i resist you
is your will be done
done regardless

17 September 2007

sometimes a simple picture is enough

Today is your lucky day!! Two posts!?!?!

This is us, in the church. Click to enlarge.

what is polony, anyway?

Ever had a polony-finger sandwich?

Neither had we until last week.

A kind-hearted soul made Stef and I polony-finger sandwiches. We poked at them and laughed at them, and then started making Fear Factor and Survivor jokes.

Eventually, we realized that unless we wanted to be really rude, we were going to have to eat them. (The old missionary credo followed: "Where you lead me, I will follow - What you feed me, I will swallow")

So, we laughed until we cried, mostly at the faces that the other made as we choked down the sandwiches. We still don't know what the "juice" was that was spread on the bread, nor do we ever want to. And we will hopefully never have to figure out what exactly constitutes "polony".

And, all things considered, it really isn't that bad. You see, we just got our latest donation of expired foods from the grocery store. So, it could have been 4-day expired, warm cole slaw or 3-day expired, warm (yellowing) sushi. Mmm...

Just another day in the glamorous world of turning darkness into light.

14 September 2007

podcast is up

Stef sings. I play.

Go to Our Podcast - enjoy.


If my link fails, sorry - I'm learning.

indiscriminate rambling

Have you got a minute?

I think we bought Halaal toothbrushes this week. The only word that wasn’t written in Arabic was Colgate. Come to think of it, I don’t think a toothbrush can be Halaal, but that won’t change the fact that I can’t read a word of the packaging.

A lot of things around here are certified Halaal (which is to Islam as Kosher is to Judaism). I mentioned that we live in a heavily saturated area, with Muslims all over the place. So, restaurants all have to show that their food is Halaal, meaning the animals were butchered in a certain way, etc…

More from the Muslim world: It’s Ramadan!! You can Google that if you’re curious.

Finally, do you know what Shari’ah law is? No? Head back to Google (or the Wikipedia) and find out. Then, marvel with me that the local ABSA Bank is now offering “Shari’ah banking solutions for Muslims.” Imagine a US bank offering “Christian banking solutions.” Automatic tithe withdrawals, etc… That would be interesting.

Let’s move on…

I mentioned the Rugby World Cup is going on. Stef and I actually watched about 5 minutes of it the other night, as the USA was playing Togo (or some other tiny island nation). We don’t know what happened really. We just enjoyed hearing “USA” over and over again. By the way, I think Togo beat the Americans. U-S-A!! U-S-A!!

Also happening right now (and here in Joburg) is the Cricket Twenty20 World Cup, which is apparently some big deal and some new adaptation of cricket. It would be like shortening a baseball game to 4 innings and only letting each pitcher go one inning. Or maybe it’s nothing like that, but you won’t know the difference so let’s leave it at that.

The point of me telling you about these two sports events is this: We have 4 channels on the television. SABC1, SABC2, SABC3, and eTV. Rugby is on SABC2 all of the time. Cricket is on SABC3 all of the time. This means that we are left with SABC1, which is all African-language programming and eTV, which mostly shows Jean Claude Van Damme movies and Walker Texas Ranger reruns. Good times.

The Economist might be the greatest magazine in the history of the world. Thought you should know.

Is it possible to eat too much peanut butter? Seriously, if anyone runs across a New England Journal of Medicine study showing peanut butter being linked to some horrifying disease, please send me and Stef a copy.

I’ve been preaching every Sunday here. That is weird, huh? Hopefully, I do a lot less “preaching” than teaching. Still…

Michael Popp sent me an interesting email. Apparently, if you Google “fountain drink infrastructure south africa” our blog is fourth on the list. Even better, if you Google “stef aria sunglasses” we come in with the top spot. Life doesn’t get much sweeter. The cotton doesn’t get much taller. We should get commemorative t-shirts. Someone look into that.

It was about 150 degrees here yesterday. It’s never supposed to get hot in Joburg. Of course, the absence of rain for the last decade might have something to do with it. Still, it doesn’t matter how hot it gets, we will not miss the South African winter.

Since South Africa is hosting the 2010 Soccer World Cup, their national team automatically makes the tournament. This could be more disastrous than a bus-load of drunk German tourists ending up in the wrong Joburg neighborhood after dark. Just know that the South Africans lost to Zambia 3-1 this week. That's Zambia, where the average annual wage is $490 dollars. And, I might be crazy, but I Zambia had 4 or 5 guys on the field who may or may not be sponsored World Vision children. African soccer!! Catch the excitement!!

Has anyone noticed that Stef can sing? Just wanted to make sure you knew that.

Just a question: Why do UN troops bother to wear camouflage under their powder blue helmets and flak jackets? I mean, seriously… They could wear bright orange “Hammer-pants” and Seinfeldian puffy shirts under those things. There is not a way on earth that they could be more noticeable.

Finally, we braved the terrors of downtown Joburg (really, it’s not that bad – just dirty and crowded and smelly and murderous) twice this week to go about getting an extension on our Temporary Residence Visas. It’s exhilarating actually, but I don’t like for Stef to be somewhere that is so seedy. Still, to be in the center of 1 million people all shouting and running and scratching away an existence…it’s neat. Anyway, for about $130 (cheaper than I expected) we are both allowed to be here for another 3 months. We have to go back in two weeks to pick up the updated permits. I’ll snap some photos to give you an idea of what it’s like. (Or someone will steal our camera and beat me up. Start taking bets now - And have a good weekend.)

13 September 2007

the dry season

So, we're a few days into our third month here. And, while I don't think you care, I am compelled to tell you that it hasn't rained here once.

In Africa, they still call seasons "the wet season" and "the dry season". Well, apparently we're in "the dry season". Like I said, I don't really think you care, I just had to tell someone.

And I could go off about the metaphorical reasons why this being the dry season is so appropriate. But I'll let you write that blog yourself. :)

12 September 2007

meet aria

Stef has a new best friend.

Everyday, little Aria comes to work with her mom (and our friend), Beauty. She then spends the better part of her day with Stef, pestering and hugging and talking and learning.

Aria only knows Tswana, her native African language, so Stef is slowly teaching her English. She sometimes points to her eyes and says "lips" or vice versa but she is making progress. The whole thing makes communication difficult, but Stef has learned some phrases in Tswana to help with discipline and Aria has learned some English phrases that get her applause.

She also has an adorable fascination with Stef's stuff, especially her hair and her sunglasses. She'll wear Stef's sunglasses (usually upside down) for hours and then will spend an hour just rubbing Stef's hair. White people's hair is a very interesting thing for her and not something she sees much of.

Among all of it, we have also learned maybe a sliver of what it looks like to be parents, albeit parents of a child who speaks a different language. We do our best to love her even when she has naughty days and we really see the beauty of God in her little eyes.

Stef has a new best friend. We have another blessing here.

11 September 2007

11th of september

So, today is September 11th…

Six years ago, Stef was in Canyon, TX and apparently was the last person to know
about the events taking place in New York. Like most of us, after she found out, she found herself huddled around a TV with an immense sadness for people she’d never met.

I was in Austin when my sister Amy came into my room to tell me “something is happening in New York”. We sat on my bed for a good chunk of the morning and, like most of you, didn’t know exactly how to feel.

Surely, I am not alone in this, but that day formed a bond between my sister and me that cannot be replicated. I am sure that most people remember who it was that was with them at that time. I am sure that sharing something of that magnitude has not yet left you completely. Amidst the sadness, such things are beautiful.

Today, far from all of you, we remember.

We have comfort knowing that nothing comes to us without first passing through God’s hands. So, somewhere and somehow, that day had a purpose and glory came to His name.

So, as we listen to the “call to prayer” booming from the loudspeakers in the minaret at the neighborhood mosque, in a place where the events of six years ago were cheered in the streets, we know that everything is going to be alright, that His will is greater than ours, and that only love can conquer hate.

The very words of God say:

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD**."

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:17-21 (NASB)

**Kyle’s note: In context, burning coals on a man’s head is a good thing, a blessing...

We pray that, today, peace becomes personal as we all remember.

10 September 2007

photo essay of our day off...

Here we are at the Mission House getting ready to go to the mall for a day out on our day off... (Click on the pictures to see them larger.)

Careful not to step on the box of Rodenticide as you leave the house!! Not that we have a rat or mouse problem...

At Mugg & Bean, Stef enjoys a freshly squeezed glass of OJ. Mmm!!

Here I am lamenting the quick demise of my glass of mango juice. Sigh... You just don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.

Stef digs into breakfast. I wisely chose to have a huge cappuccino instead of breakfast. Stef stopped eating shortly after this photo was taken and I got breakfast after all - surprise...

After breakfast, we ventured outside of the mall to see the wildlife. Watch out Stef!! (Honestly, this really lame setup of fake animals is the closest we've been to wildlife - unless you count the unfortunate victims of our rodenticide.)

Here we are about to go into see Hairspray. What?!?! How did this happen? I got Jedi-mind-tricked into this one. I wanted to see The Bourne Ultimatum.

After Hairspray... Not too bad. I am a sucker for racial justice.

And that's that. Life here isn't all grit and grime. Occasionally, we invest in some much-needed leisure. Hope you enjoyed it even a sliver as much as we did.

09 September 2007

podcasts are coming

You read right.

We are working on getting our podcast started up.

For the uninitiated, this is basically a way for you to hear us...we've been recording things in the last few days, songs Stef sings and sermons I preached and that sort of stuff.

Eventually, we hope to have couple of interesting stories up there to give you a flavor of the place. You will be able to hear about (in addition to reading about) our experiences here.

So, keep an eye out. html://www.theburkholders.podbean.com

07 September 2007

friday and rugby and why we don't care

It's Friday!!

That means, well, nothing. But we're excited anyway.

We took Pastor Willie to the airport at 6am this morning to go to an outreach in Cape Town. Must be tough, ministering in paradise.

While at the airport, we saw lots of white people wearing green and gold heading into the international terminal. That can only mean one thing. The Rugby World Cup starts today in France and South Africa, among the world heavyweights in rugby, will have plenty of rich white fans in attendance.

The US Rugby team? Well, they're in the World Cup as well, actually in the same group as South Africa so they'll play each other soon. Here's a quick preview: Some guy will break his collarbone in the first five minutes. Another guy will run with a white ball and smash a couple of other guys in the face and then they'll tackle him, breaking his collarbone. This will go on for about 2 hours and then one team will win, celebrating by looking like they're in slightly less pain than the losing team. Now you know.

06 September 2007

feed the children

I think we’ve mentioned before how we get to feed the kids of the local squatter camp a couple of times a week.

For such a mundane thing – simply handing out food to children – it has yet to lose its attraction. I don’t know that it ever will.

The children never get tired of it either. Throngs of dirty, little, half-clothed munchkins line up faithfully. They take their bowls of food and scurry off to start the glorious act of filling their empty bellies.

As they squat on the ground or sit on the curb, they scoop up the rice or the pap or the chicken or the porridge with their little hands and manage to get most of it into their mouths. After only a few minutes, the bowl has been cleaned out and the now satisfied, energized child brings it back to us. Usually, he runs off to chase a soccer ball strewn together with garbage. Usually, she skips away giggling with her friends.

Then, the whole thing sort of ends. We look at each other as the children wander off, as the empty bowls pile up, and as the children disappear. We don’t really smile. We just sort of make this deep eye contact. We remember that, amongst all of the things we are here to do, this simple thing can never be fully appreciated. It can’t even really be communicated, although I try.

The future for most of these children is bleak. They grow up in conditions that promote violence and selfishness, in a place that is crawling with alcoholism, drug-abuse, sexual-abuse, and disease. We have seen a few of these children go from childhood to adolescence and we have watched their innocence disappear. They quickly go from sweet, loving babies to bullying, stealing, lying teens. And one can’t blame them, the tougher you are the more you eat. If you can lie or cheat or steal your way into more food or someone else’s sweater, then you’re ahead.

Despite that, we love them for who they are and who they will inevitably become.

05 September 2007

the weight of death

Death has an eerie weight.

Today is Wednesday and we are having our third funeral in as many days, which doesn’t count Ellen’s which was held in the homelands over the weekend.

The first funeral was for a 37 year-old mother of two small children, killed in a traffic accident.

Tuesday’s funeral was for a 52 year-old husband, father, and grandfather who was taken by cancer.

Today, we will help in the funeral of a 51 year-old man, from a very poor family…so poor that we have saved the wilting flowers from the first two funerals to use in his. So poor that we are going to make a donation so we can prepare bologna sandwiches for the family in place of the traditional meal that they would provide.

I have never been stung by death intimately. I have cried through some of Stef’s losses, but never lost a life-long friend, relative, or loved-one.

It seems to me that the casket must be heavy. I wonder if the weight shifts around, if the job of carrying that weight isn’t as difficult physically as it is emotionally. It seems heavy. It seems that it is the perfect representation of the hearts of those who carry that weight.

I will sit back today and watch another family grieve. I will try not to think too much about it all.

Monday, I saw the husband of the deceased weeping with his children. I would be broken too. Tuesday, I watched a son cry as his father was eulogized. I dread that day as well. Today, I will make eye contact with someone mourning the loss of their friend, their father, their brother, their lover. I will try to avoid thinking about it, but I will consider myself in that place one day. And like Monday and Tuesday, I will cry at the funeral of someone I hardly knew. And I will miss my family a little more. I will connect with my wife a little deeper. I will grow older with a little more caution and a lot more appreciation for those that I am thankful not to have lost just yet.

Mostly, though I am not sure why, I will think of my Dad. Love you, Dad. I can’t wait to hug you again. I can’t wait to tell you how much I appreciate you, how much I love you.

04 September 2007

"i walk by here everyday"

Gotta tell you a story from the revival last week…

Like I mentioned earlier, we had 5 church services in 4 days, aimed at reviving the local church. For a church as small as Mayfair, it was a bit of a struggle.

We sometimes only have 40 people in a service, so to hope that we could find enough people to fill the seats for 5 straight days was a bit of a concern. And not that numbers matter, but we wanted the Canadian ministers to feel as if their time was wisely used.

Anyway, we had a couple of services at the beginning with large crowds, but they thinned out considerably on the weeknights.

Then, on Wednesday, God reminded us that He will draw in who He desires.

Stef and I were hanging out with David E White, our new favorite Canadian and a very talented singer/songwriter. He had finished giving me another little guitar lesson and Stef asked him to just play with her for awhile. So she sat and played piano while he played his guitar. They sang together and just enjoyed having time to be artists in God’s presence.

What was very simply a neat moment, a restorative moment of praise for Stef’s heart, quickly became much more.

We noticed a man sitting in the back row of the church, just listening. Eventually, he came to the front of the church and asked if David was the pastor. No, just a Canadian... The man looked for the words to speak what his heart was feeling.

Then he said it: “I was walking home. I walk by here everyday and I've never thought to stop. And today, I heard the most beautiful noise coming from this place. I asked someone inside where the voice was coming from. They pointed me in here. And I just had to hear this voice and this guitar…they’re beautiful.”

Stef and David explained that they would be playing more that night as part of the revival. They invited him. He looked excited, and told them that he would first have to run home to shower. He said he had to be presentable. Then he said that he had two friends that he had to go see – he said that they needed to come to the service as well.

He left. Stef and David simply smiled at each other. Wow.

Later that night the man, Schubert, came back with one of his friends.

We may never know exactly why he was drawn to sit in church that night. But we will never forget how he came to sit there.

God continues to amaze us.

02 September 2007

diamonds are forever

I am a pretty positive person. I look at the glass half full. I am an idealist.

Maybe that’s why when I get down, I tend to really get down. Among my many character flaws, I tend to be inconsolable. Stef, bless her heart, is a compassionate wife. She is nurturing in a really neat way, actually. She rubs on my back and tells me that it’s all gonna be OK. She is amazing.

But, I have to imagine that it is frustrating consoling the inconsolable. I stew in my sorrow. I dwell on my despair. And no matter how sweet Stef is, I sort of have to allow myself to work through it.

This last week has been emotionally draining. We’ve been working long days dealing with the typical South African issues. For instance, our friend Ellen was buried this weekend and we are busy Monday and Tuesday with two more funerals for people in the church who have left us. On top of that we are watching our friend Andre die, waiting for the call to come from his mother. So, life can be heavy.

Still, all of that doesn’t really get me down. You know, death is sort of a certainty. So, I get that. But maybe that laid the foundation for what I saw on Saturday morning.

So there we were on Saturday, on the way to spending the day at the Groenpunt Maximum Security prison. About 10 minutes into our 2 hour drive to the prison, we passed an inconspicuous yet heavily fortified office complex. A very unassuming sign said, “Corporate Headquarters, De Beers Corporation - A Diamond is Forever.”

The De Beers world headquarters!! This is the company that controls about 60% of the world’s diamonds and for years had a complete monopoly. They have massive vaults where they keep the stones, only allowing so many out a year so they can keep the prices artificially high. (There are some great books out on the company, which is really fascinating. My favorite book on the topic is called Blood Diamonds. It would be worth your time.)

Not two minutes later, now on the highway, we passed the exit for Soweto, one of the largest, most impoverished, crime-ridden, AIDS-infested slums in the world. They live in squalor, in the shadow of one of the most secretive and most wealthy corporations on the planet.

And I was grieved. Deeply.

Why should some suffer as others so haughtily go about their way? And the picture of the diamond company having starving neighbors was nothing short of abhorrent in my heart.

Then I thought, “What if Christians began selling their diamonds? What if Christians simply replaced their stones with simple bands? What if Christians decided that the inequality was too much for them to stomach?"

Just imagine. A church with a 100 women that each had a diamond on their finger worth $1000 (a conservative estimate) could raise $100,000 just by selling off those diamonds. On a global scale, that $100,000 doesn’t go very far. It is a mere drop in the bucket. But you can be sure that it would radically transform at least a few communities.

Take the next step. Imagine a church with 500 women that each had a $2000 diamond on their finger (plus a few matching earrings or bracelets in their jewelry boxes). Those women would raise $1 million dollars. That could change the world in a much more noticeable way.

Now imagine an entire city catches the movement. We would be talking about tens of millions of dollars, if not more. (This occurs even as the local market for diamonds becomes saturated and prices begin to fall...just so you know I did think of such market forces.)

Now, hear me. I’m not trying to guilt anyone with diamonds into anything. If the idea to sell them in order to redistribute that wealth resonates and the Holy Spirit works, that’s your heart and your decision. We all have things that are unnecessary and we could all find another dollar for someone who needs it.

I was just struck by the proximity of the global diamond seller (who has manipulated and tricked their way into the hearts and pocketbooks of hundreds of millions of customers) to the ghetto with millions of unwashed, disease-infested people struggling to survive, or to find the will to survive at that.

Maybe someone more influential or powerful or persuasive than me will see what I saw and their heart will interpret the vision in another way. Maybe they will find a way to tell the story better. Maybe then we can escape the treadmill of want and experience a sliver of the joy that comes with sacrifice and selflessness. (Just to avoid sounding preachy, know that I am not there yet either, but I am learning to enjoy the fullness of giving...)

I am reminded of Ecclesiastes 4:

"Again, I observed all the oppression that takes place under the sun. I saw the tears of the oppressed, with no one to comfort them. The oppressors have great power, and their victims are helpless. So I concluded that the dead are better off than the living. But most fortunate of all are those who are not yet born. For they have not seen all the evil that is done under the sun.

Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind."

I may not shake the sight from Saturday for awhile. But I am starting to feel better about it. I am starting to see the glass half-full again. Maybe we will make a difference. I pray that you hear my heart. We can make a change. It can start with the smallest thing. It can start with something as simple as selling a stone.

01 September 2007

breaking news!!! our new roomie

OK people, breaking news.

We spent Saturday in prison, trying to be Jesus' love to the murderers and rapists of the Groenpunt Maximum Security prison. I think we'll talk more about that soon.

Anyway, when we got home, we met our new roomate. I think she said her name was Sister Sledge or something. She is pretty nice, but, well...

She is like 93 years old. Seriously. She is 4' 3", 26 lbs, and 93 years old. And I am only slightly exaggerating.

Here's the really great part: To really give her a warm welcome, Stef decided to walk in on Sister Sledge IN THE BATHROOM no less than 30 minutes after meeting her. Umm, awkward!! Stef blames Sister Sledge for not locking the door or having the light on. Only Stef...

The good news is, this new arrangement opens up all sorts of new pranks around the house. I'm thinking of picking up Sister Sledge in the middle of the night and putting her into our bed between Stef and I...imagine Stef's surprise in the morning! Or maybe we'll let her hide in Michael's closet all night dressed in glam-rock clothes and wearing KISS make-up and when he goes to get dressed in the morning - bam!! Got him. Should be fun.

Aren't you glad you know us?

(Disclaimer: Stef claims no responsibility for this post. I, Kyle, take full responisbility and want to make known that without Stef walking in on this kind, sweet and otherwise innocent woman in the bathroom, I would never have mentioned anything.)

we're back!!

- Sawubona We’re back from the technological grave. Brace yourselves, as we have had a long week that has left us a little bit delirious. We’ve collected a few of the random thoughts from the past week here. Good luck. And check back often. We’re ready to reconnect.

- The 2010 Soccer World Cup is going to be in South Africa. Beyond all of the worries about crime and transport infrastructure and hotel availability and other such things that go along with hosting the biggest sporting event in the world, there is another concern. Stadiums. In Cape Town, they’re still arguing over the site and the cost and here in Johannesburg, they’ve got nine cranes (and construction crews) working around the clock to completely remodel a local stadium so it will seat 100,000 people and have all of the amenities necessary for the most-watched television programs in the world. When the World Cup rolls around, don’t be surprised if there are MAJOR issues. I warned you.

- People often ask us what we miss the most from home. A veritable cornucopia of things comes to mind, but they all seem trivial so we won’t waste your time listing them out.

There is, however, one thing we didn’t realize that we missed until I noticed it recently. Freshly carbonated beverages. You know, like fountain drinks. Maybe it’s expensive to keep CO2 on hand all the time or maybe the fountain drink infrastructure (you didn’t even know there was a fountain drink infrastructure - Google it) just hasn’t reached the third world yet. I don’t know. But no matter where you go, you are given Coke here in a can or a bottle. No cup of overflowing, bubbling goodness, refillable on demand. You get a can of Coke, whether you’re at the corner store or the nicest steakhouse in town. Well, there is one exception. McDonalds, in their egalitarian mission to humbly supply the world with nutritious meals at fair prices (I’m delirious), has imported their own miniature fountain drink infrastructure and proudly serves freshly carbonated beverages at all of their fabulous establishments.

One morning, we snuck over to McDonalds for breakfast ($2 for the Sausage McMuffin with Egg combo meal) and, gasp, the fountain drink dispenser was broken. I would tell you more about but, well, the pain is just too recent.

Anyway, I bet you didn’t realize how much you like fountain drinks, freshly carbonated and fizzy wonderful. Imagine going to Pei Wei or Longhorn Cafe or Martha’s or Outback or Chicken Express or Burger King or Las Palapas or Freebirds or Taco Cabana or (insert your favorite place to consume freshly carbonated beverages here)... Imagine going there and ordering a Pepsi or a Sprite or a Coke or a Big Red or a Diet Dr Pepper and being handed a can. A can!! Three hundred and fifty milliliters (12 ounces) of joy, no doubt. But, how much greater the meal as your nose tingles when you take the first sip of your freshly carbonated beverage and the bubbles tickle your nose, nay, your heart.

So, people, please. Next time you thoughtlessly grab your Coke from the hardworking, clean-shaven, proper-English-speaking drive-thru attendant, think of us and the millions like us. Appreciate that fresh carbonation. Appreciate it and then drink in deeply.

- Spring has sprung in South Africa. Well, it’s trying anyway. Cherry blossom trees are blooming and roses are opening up to warmer days. The nights are still holding a nasty chill, but the days are much friendlier to us. Soon enough, it’ll be summer and we’ll be tanning it up while you Northies (that’s a derogatory word I just made up for people from the Northern Hemisphere) freeze through a nasty winter. Enjoy that.

- Speaking of summer, what are you doing for Christmas? We’re trying to organize a trip to Durban (yep, Google it), unofficially known as South Africa’s playground. We’re hoping to take a bus (like a Greyhound or something) with a few friends and spend Christmas together on the beach.

We laughed really hard when we were talking to our friend Michael about Christmas. We were asking him what people around here do and he was trying to explain it to us. I kept asking him about Santa Claus, trying to figure out if he wore swim trunks in South Africa or something. He said he’d never heard of Santa Claus. He said he’d never heard of Saint Nick. I explained Santa’s red coat, his bushy beard, his big belly... “Oh,” said Michael, “You mean Father Christmas!!!”

Of course, Father Christmas. (What?) It’s going to be an interesting Christmas.

- Speaking of Christmas (we’re on a roll now), Stef and I just spent Friday night watching Home Alone on our 12” computer screen. We don’t go out (ever) in the dark and shortly after the movie, we were reminded why. Two indistinguishable pops (gunfire) burst out very close to us here. It was close enough that, after the screaming and yelling calmed a little bit, I snuck my head out the door to see if I could spy on the action. I couldn’t see anything, but 15 minutes later, we heard some more gunshots, only this time a little further away.

To make things even more cozy in our little hideaway, out of the corner of my eye I noticed an intruder and leapt over the bed with a kleenex in hand and smashed the deadly/hungry/scary/smallish roach. Stef then claimed for the next 20 minutes or so that she could feel bugs on her skin. Oh, we’re living large!! Look for us on the next episode of MTV’s Cribs.

- Johannesburg is the melting pot of Africa. On top of the thousands of Zimbabwean refugees that illegally stream into South Africa everyday, we have people just in our little church here from Malawi, Angola, Nigeria, and an asylum-seeker from Burundi. Being an “outsider” is difficult. They often live 20 or 30 people to a house and they have virtually no rights as they have no proper identification and no means to get it. They don’t know the local languages any better than I do and they have absolutely no way to establish a legitimate life. It is surely a life I cannot even imagine.

- People sometimes ask what it is we would have them pray for or why we don’t sort of list out prayer and praise like traditional missionaries do. We might just be lazy. Really, I think we trust that those who are so inclined will read the needs and respond to their hearts’ call. So, if you are wondering, we’ll keep asking you to read between the lines and rely on the indwelling. By the way, we are touched that so many people would think of us throughout their day. Our prayer is that this blog (even the nonsense like today) would somehow enrich your life and give you a window into a larger world - maybe even that it would provide a way for people to introduce their friends to Jesus. We aren’t always the most accurate representation and we don’t write to that end, but we pray that His light shines through even our weakest moments.

- We got to spend a little more time with our new friend David E White (you did Google, him, didn’t you?). He came through right when we needed him. He encouraged and inspired and generally hooked us up with more than our share of good conversation and good advice. He is officially the greatest Canadian to ever live.

- Did you people ever see the documentary “Grizzly Man”? It was not as eye-opening as “An Inconvenient Truth” or as bewildering as “Who Killed the Electric Car”. It was not as heartbreaking “When the Levees Broke” or as maddening as “My Best Fiend”. (If you couldn’t tell, those were my recommendations for documentaries you should rent and see before you die...) “Grizzly Man” was simply the most fascinating look at the most fascinating man. Crazy, but fascinating. I think my dad still has nightmares about it. How did I get onto that topic....? Oh, probably thinking about Canada which is near Alaska which is where Grizzly Man was filmed. Go figure.

- Somebody mentioned to me that the Chicago Cubs were in first place. If they win the World Series while I am in Africa, you can officially consider my support of baseball to be over. (They’ve waited almost 100 years...what’s one more so I can see it?)

- Did I mention that we live in the scariest, dirtiest (OK, Nairobi is dirtier, but cut me some slack - we’re going for maximum hyperbole here!!), craziest, busiest, most dangerous city in the world? We hear lots of gunshots. We drink lots of diesel fumes. We ride on crazy taxis. We are really enjoying it all actually, as exhausting as it can be. But, it warrants mentioning that this place is absolutely bonkers.

- Do you remember that Meat Loaf song “Anything for Love”? Ya, umm, me neither. No, you do. If you don’t, spend a dollar on iTunes and then you’ll be in on the fun.

Anyway, when I was working at Starbucks, we used to play this game where one person would sing “I would do anything for love” and then the other person would ask some disgusting question like, “Would you eat a bowl of cow eyeballs covered in toenails?” to which the other person would answer (singing just like Meat Loaf) “No, I won’t do that.” That was always how it went. Basically, the idea was to ask the most horrifying question possible. Now you know.

- I haven’t gotten any “you offended me” emails yet. That either means that our audience doesn’t extend past our mothers or that I haven’t had enough time to ramble. Don’t worry. We’ll get there.

- Our friend Andre is dying of cancer. We sort of share an office with him at the church, although he hasn’t been there in a while. We’ve been to see him a couple of times and he is not doing well at all. Beyond the help of doctors or medicine, he is dying at home in the care of his mother... We’ll talk more about him when it feels right.

- So, remember how I said we like soccer now? Well, that wasn’t a joke. We looked into buying some tickets for the boys who live at the Mission House to an upcoming Kaizer Chiefs game. I am told they cost about R20 each. That’s about $3 per ticket. $3? Seriously?

This gets me thinking. What must the players get paid? I expect that we’ll attend a game and afterwards, they’ll cart a chicken coop onto the field. Then, they’ll open the coop and let a dozen or so chickens out onto the field and the exhausted players will scramble around trying to catch them. Anything you catch, you keep. I think that must be how they pay the players. I'm pretty sure actually. :)

- I’ve been having a really good time the last week or so turning all of the Aggie jokes I know into African jokes. Like this one:

A Tswana, a Sotho, and a Zulu are going to the desert. (Remember that the Zulu represents the Aggie...)

They are sitting around talking about what they are bringing to the desert, you know, to sustain them on the harsh trip.

The Tswana says, “I’m bringing water so we have something to drink when we get thirsty.” The others nod in approval, obviously impressed.

The Sotho says, “I’ll bring food so we can have something to eat when we get hungry.” The others smile and nod, again impressed with their friend.

Finally, the Zulu says, “I’m going to bring a car door.”

Perplexed, his friends ask, “Why would you bring a car door?”

Confident, the Zulu then answers, “So when it gets hot we can roll down the window.”

(Oh, the locals love making fun of the Zulus.)

- We’re glad to have the internet back. I wish you could say you felt the same. Stay tuned this week as we already have posts lined up for every day of the week.

Darkness into Light...