Monday, July 9, 2012

Sunday Service Comparison

On Sunday morning in Houston we got up early had a cup of coffee drove to church and sat in comfortable chair in an air conditioned hall singing praise and worship songs and listening to great teaching.  In Romania the only difference is that it is a small church and no airconditioning.  Another difference is that in general we dress a little less formally in Houston (unless you are the Pastor's son :-) ).  The other obvious difference is that the songs, prayers and the preaching is in Romanian.  That is except for when the team from Houston either do the music or preach with an interpreter.  For me I always wanted to try singing in Romanian but I am sure if they actually recorded me and played it back I would probably sound like a Romanian speaking gibberish.  I also found that because I had an interpreter I tried to keep the words I used fairly simple but I also found that I started to speak in stilted English.  I am sure that if you recorded my sermon and cut out the interpretation it would sound as though I was a novice in speaking English.

I was excited to see that VBS was now underway.  I always looked forward to seeing the faces that have been there year after year.  In general they are so excited to be there and are great at joining in the activities.  What is even more exciting is to see some of the kids grow older and start to attend church voluntarily and hopefully to stay strong in their faith in a society that frowns upon everyone outside of the orthodox church.

The VBS days are long but every day you are more excited to be there.  The only problem with VBS starting is that it means you are that much closer to coming home (sorry to bring that up for the team out in Romania).

I am waiting to hear about how many kids Don nails with his blow dart gun.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Catching Up - Romania 2012 (from Houston)

After a 4th of July break (which is obviously a big occasion for an English person) and then a short business trip I am getting back in the saddle for writing a complementary blog for the Romanian Missions trip.  I was able to read the blogs over the last few days and it was amazing to have flashbacks of memories from my visits over the last 3 years.


There is something about Romanian hotels.  In general they are acceptable but there always seems to be some kind of quirk that you have to get used to.  We have had rooms where the shower was a hand held shower that squirted everywhere and no shower curtain, no AC in hot temperatures, dodgy lights, mosquitos galore (which also allowed me to create a new design on the walls), keys that opened everything including all of the other rooms, doors that didn't lock, small beds, tiny pillows.  The list goes on.  It seems as though this year is no difference and now we can add doors that wouldn't unlock. 


Every year we have had some kind of construction project but last year it was a little weak with Don and Russ managing to hammer up one board to the roof.  This year Russ has taken it to a new low as he now is just acting as a ladder.

Street Evangelism:

Romanians are not always predictable when it comes to their reaction to street evangelism.  Sometimes they just look on bemused with what is happening. Other times they hustle away not wanting to get trapped by any "repenters" as evangelical christians are called.  This year the street evangelism seemed to take on new look with guitar playing.  I hate to burst the bubble for Daniel and the other newbies to Romania but getting 15 leu may not be everything it seemed to be.  The main reason I say this is you have to compare what other entertainment they have in Romania.  The local TV consists of two kinds of shows.  First there is the music shows where a few men in extremely baggy trousers dance around and sing songs supposedly in tune.  Second there are a slew of soap operas where the acting is so bad that General Hospital over here would be classified as Oscar winning performances from all the cast.  My guess is that the 15 leu was from a couple of people who were on the way to pay their TV licenses and decided that our team was more entertaining and gave the money to them.

On a serious note it is probably one of the most frustrating things to not be able to speak Romanian and just rattle of the Way of the Master but somehow God works through those situations to reach the hearts of the lost.

I am eager to hear how the youth retreat went as usually it is a great time and creates some great bonds between the youth.  Our prayers are with you all.  (BTW - my AC is working fine over here).

Monday, July 2, 2012

I Stand Corrected

Well I guess the blog from Romania finally hit. Obviously another late night in Romania. Mind you it is a long way for the blog to travel. I wasn't going to blog but when I read about shorting out the whole room I was pretty impressed. Most times it only results in the piece of equipment being destroyed. I think first time we lost a fan. I am sure one year Damien broke his plasma screen TV and blue ray disc player (BTW - for those that don't know that is a joke especially as Damien is the only person I know who go on a Missions trip with everything packed in a backpack and without a carry-on). Well another typical day in Romania.

Romania 2012 - Day One No Blog

 I am not sure how many people who follow the official Romania blog will also read this one but today there was no blog from Romania.  This may be for a few reasons.

First, the internet access in Romania can be patchy at best.  There were many a day I was sitting in the street at midnight or walking through a town with my computer on trying to find an open wifi.  It can be done but can be a frustrating proposition.

Second, after a hard day and dinner, there is the time you want to spend with the team to unwind and then writing a blog may be just too much to do.  Every so often I would fall asleep writing the blog or posting it.  There were a couple of days where I really just had to post a blog saying we were all still alive because I was too tired.  Most nights I was completing the blog at about 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. especially when trying to upload photos as well.

Third, oops they forgot.

The good news is that I did get an email from Don and so we know that at least he is alive.  He was able to confirm that they were taking a lot of "scenic" routes. 

Tomorrow they are heading out to teach a bunch of people English laced with the bible.  I am sure this really means they are going to teach them American but that is okay.  Apparently the phrase they are teaching was provided by Lance "I am a wretched sinner" and from there they move on to "I have been predestined".  I did suggest "I want to live My Best Life Now" but that was shot down.

Hopefully we will get an update tomorrow.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Romania 2012 - The Perspective from Houston

This year the tough decision not to go to Romania had to be made due to other commitments throughout the year.  Yesterday the team left for Romania and have begun the blogging.  As they were in London I received an email asking if I could blog while they were there as well.  Now there is one obvious flaw in this theory.  I am not there and cannot see what is going on and so what I thought I could do is provide the interpretation to the official blog.  Now I might not do this every day but will try to provide color commentary when needed.

Romania - An Ordinary Travel Experience?

As the title would imply there is never an ordinary travel experience when going on Missions.  As a large group all travelling in the same color T-Shirts you always draw attention which is great when you can then talk about Jesus but not so great when you are going through security and something goes wrong.  I was convinced Don was going to try an take his blow dart gun in his carry-on so that he could keep the team in line on the plane.  Actually I thought he would put it in DJ's bag so that he could claim innocence. 

The flight is always long and uncomfortable but Russ going to sleep is a constant as well.  Somehow Russ sleeping and the word peaceful never seem to go together in the same sentence.  Unless it is something like "Everything was peaceful until Russ went to sleep".

It is good to learn lessons early in a trip so that you can avoid them later especially when you may be in a hurry.  So following Gretchen was the first mistake and Gretchen following DJ well ... let's say that's why it's a mistake to follow Gretchen.  I think the perfect storm would be Don driving with Gretchen telling Don the way to go from DJ's directions while in a van race with Stuart Holland being egged on by Michelle Ayoubi and Holly Cannon.  OK - that last bit about Stuart, Michelle and Holly cannot happen this year but you get the picture.

At this point the team will be fast asleep in bed.  Either that or lying in bed wondering why they cannot sleep.  Our prayers are with them as they are a couple of hours away from beginning the Missions trip for real.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

South Africa 2012 - Day Eighteen

Day 18 - The journey home and final thoughts

Besides the first couple of days I had rarely been awake in time to see the sunrise but this morning I awoke and it seemed as though God had organized an amazing sunrise just to punctuate our last morning in Cape Town. As I lay in bed looking out of the open window I could see the growing light of dawn. A layer of orange sky lay sandwiched between a dark blue sky and the silhouette of the Stellenbosch mountains. There was the thin sliver of the Indian Ocean covered in a mist that separated the mountains from the sparkling lights of suburbs of Cape Town. As the sun rose the orange became more vibrant and the mountains became clearer before finally the sun broke over the mountains.

Before long we were all up and packed ready to go. Julian and Guy and their families were already long gone. And Dad had come over to help get us to the airport. One of the other great advantages of our Chevy Spark was that it was tiny with no trunk (boot) space. I think it was designed to only be used to pick up one bag of groceries. I still find it humorous that it actually had 180 km/h on the speedometer. There is absolutely no way that car could do 180 km/h even if you drove it off the edge of a cliff. But I digress ... We got to the airport in plenty of time to return the car, check in and then go through passport control and security. In general the security overseas is much more lax than in the States and so it seemed a breeze to go through. We did check in all of our suitcases and for the first time we didn’t have to move items around to make the weight restrictions. We were close with our large case weighing 22.6 kg with the restriction being 23 kg. We also did have our 4 ft long giraffe which we were told to carry on.

The first flight was our short one only lasting about 2 hours. We were all still a little tired and all tried to sleep. Hunter decided to lay his head down on the table to sleep and then did a massive head twitch throwing his head back. It was so violent he woke up and then told us he was dreaming about doing a back flip. The flight to Johannesburg was fairly short and was followed by a 5 hour layover in Johannesburg. We then boarded the flight to Washington via Dakar, Senegal. As we got on the plane the Bursar refused to let us carry on the giraffe. As much as I pleaded with him and explained that we had been told to carry it on he refused ti budge claiming it was policy. He also said that it would be treated like any other bag and they were not liable for any damage. I told him that this was ridiculous that he was the only person who was claiming it was policy, that he said they wouldn’t pay for any damage and that he wouldn’t give me any other option. The most infuriating part was that about 10 minutes later another passenger carried on a very similar package that contained a wooden statue and was probably 6-9 inches shorter than our giraffe. When I pointed this out to Moses, the Bursar, he checked out the statue and just allowed it. I think this was one of those cases which would have been called reverse racism in America.

Unfortunately Savannah had woken up with a tummy bug this morning and she struggled through the first couple of flights. The second and third flights were the long ones lasting 8 hours to Johannesburg and another 9 to Washington with an hour layover in Senegal. The majority of these flights were at night and so sleep seemed to be the natural thing to do but sleep was the hardest thing to get comfortable to do. When we arrived in Washington we were the first international flight of the day which meant we really had no wait. We cleared customs and immigration and then managed to get on an earlier flight which got us back to Houston at about the same time we would have been taking off from Washington and so we were all very happy.


This trip was a once in a life time experience for us as a family. There were so many firsts:

  • First time to Africa
  • Sky diving
  • Sand boarding
  • Cliff diving
  • Horseback riding on a beach for Savannah
  • Going on Safari
  • Swimming with penguins
  • Wine tasting
  • Visiting a Township
  • Taking over a school for the morning
  • Surfing

But amongst those firsts there was the familiarity of having my family with us. Every time I get together with them it never feels like

I have been away from them. I must admit Africa was a lot different than I was expecting with the exception of the Townships. The towns in general were much nicer than I was expecting, the countryside was much more spectacular and the people were just incredible. David and Kath at Constantia Lodge were much more like friends or family than proprietors of a bed and breakfast. The people every where you went seemed to have a smile on their face and were much more content with what they didn’t have versus us with all that we do have. I hope one day I will be able to return and if the right opportunity came up and would have no problem living there.

This brings to a close another trip for me.

Numbers 6:24-26 - The LORD bless you, and keep you; The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.

South Africa 2012 - Day Seventeen

Day 17 - Final day in South Africa - a day of rest (supposedly)

It was Sunday again in Cape Town (probably was everywhere else in the world as well because Sunday always seems to follow Saturday) and this was our last day before returning home. For Mark, Janine, Sam, Max, Matt and Emily it was actually there last day as they were going to fly out that night.

Being the spiritual son in the family I went off to church with Pop Pop and Liz. Actually the church had asked me to come back to run their children’s Sunday School again and I promised to do my fire eating for them. There were about 20 kids there again and a few adults I made sure to look out for the teacher who seem to like giving out snacks half way through my stories but he wasn’t there this week. Once again we had some fun as I shared some stories with the kids, did some tricks, did my fire eating using South African gas (petrol) which I have to say tastes a lot better than Romanian gas (somehow I am sure this is not healthy for me) and through it all shared biblical lessons.

After church I returned to the Lodge to find that mark and family had gone to the beach for some more surfing and everyone else was just relaxing by the pool. Through out the day we started packing to return home, watched some football on TV, ate and relaxed. As we got later into the day the one family who really needed to be there i.e. Mark’s, were no where to be found. They were going to have to leave at 6 p.m. and it was getting later and later, Finally about 4:30 p.m. they turned up having spent some time at a South African hospital because Max had been stung by a Bluebottle Jellyfish while surfing. Apparently the sting won’t kill you but does cause your heart to race and induces a lot of pain at the point you are stung. Luckily he was fine and they all quickly finished their packing. At 6 p.m. they all left for the airport after the goodbyes and some tears. The rest of settled into watch Liverpool versus Cardiff in the Carling Cup Final and to have our final dinner in Cape Town. That night we did all of our other goodbyes as well because Julian and family and Guy and family were all leaving at 5 a.m. for their flight. Again there were some more tears and then off to bed.

Every time I travel with the family i always never seem to sleep well the night before. This is mainly because i am the one who knows all the traveling details and want to make sure we all get home safely. This night would be no different as I walk up on a few occasions and kept checking to make sure I had turned on the alarm. I also woke up early in the morning doubting the time of our flight from Cape Town. For some reason I thought the 11:50 a.m. flight was from Johannesburg which would have meant our flight to Johannesburg would have been at 6 a.m. But I then remembered we had a 5 hour layover on Johannesburg and so knew the flight from Cape Town had to be the one at 11:50 a.m. - back to sleep for a few more hours.

Hebrews 4:9 - So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God

South Africa 2012 - Day Sixteen

Day 16 - Final shopping and Spier Estate

Today Hunter turned 16 and Alex celebrated her birthday as well. I won’t say how old she

was but she is exactly 30 years older than Hunter. This Saturday morning provided some more free time and as though we hadn’t spent enough time shopping we headed down to Cape Town to shop. The main purpose was to find Hunter a ring for his birthday and a South African flag. We had seen a flag shop earlier in our trip and headed back because it had been closed first time. The shop had several small flags and I asked the girl working there if they had any bigger flags. She told me that they didn’t. Now if a shop is called Flag World you would expect to find flags and so I was rather surprised. About 2 minutes later a couple of girls also from the States came into the store and asked the same girl the same question and she gave the same response. I didn’t feel so bad thinking that it may have been my accent over here that was not understood not just in America. But then the guy who worked in the store said they did have some bigger flags and proceeded to show us an array of big flags. So apparently it wasn’t an understanding problem it was an incompetence problem. I have to believe we weren’t the first two people to walk into Flag World and ask if they had flags.

We also shopped at a local craft market where there were a number of very unique products. I think we all walked away with something from the craft market. All of us had a piece of jewelry and Savannah got an African drum. They also had a section where they had a psychic and a card reader. It always amazes that people get sucked into these mystics. If you know anything about psychics is that they are either fakes or if they truly do have spiritual guides these are not good but evil in nature. Hunter walked past as one person was having their cards read and said it was quite comical to see the look on the customer’s face.

After lunch at another iconic South African restaurant called MacDonald's. we headed back to the lodge. Before you wonder any longer, the fries are the same in South Africa as they are in the States but I do have to say that the burger seemed fresher and tastier.

For the evening Pop Pop had booked us in to a restaurant called Moyo at the Spier estate in the Stellenbosch Valley. The drive to Spier took us past Khayelitsha which is the second largest township in Africa with over a million people living there. The tin or wood huts seemed to go on for miles and there wasn’t one pathed road that we could see. I just wondered how long it took to find your hut if you lived in the middle somewhere and it was late at night. We got to Spier a little before our dinner reservation so that

we could visit the cheetah preserve. Rory and Savannah got to go in and pet an adult cheetah. They also have some shops at the estate and that meant more shopping. Dinner was under tents outside with a large buffet. There was also some African music and dancing. Once again we had birthday cake as we officially celebrated Alex and Hunter’s birthdays and also got to sing again to Pop Pop. I think now we had heard Happy Birthday 20 times for 4 people over the two weeks. The majority had been for Pop Pop and his birthday is not officially until March 8.

James 1:2-4 - Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

South Africa 2012 - Day Fifteen

Day 15 - Township and Tea Bags

Imizamo Yehtu or Mandela Park is a township on the outskirts of Hout Bay. About 10 years ago the government of South Africa established this township and it started with about 1,000 families. Now this has grown to between 10,000 and 15,000 families. As the growth has continued the wooden or corrugated iron huts have been slowly converted to proper brick buildings but still the predominance is the ramshackle huts. We split into two groups and Patric took us on a tour of the township. It kind of felt weird walking around a township while everyone who lived there was doing their own thing, however, they are now used to people visiting and see it as a sore of income.

As we walked around we handed out candy to the kids. Alex had also brought a few bottles of the bubbles. When she blew these bubbles the belly laughs from the kids could only make you laugh as well. One of the most memorable things about the people in South Africa is their smiles. They all seem to have bright white teeth and never seem to lack for a smile on their face. We visited a church, a kindergarten, a couple of shops and went in a couple of houses. Wherever we went we met people who despite their bad conditions seemed to be happy. It is hard not to be thankful and recognize how blessed we are.

At the church we got a rendition of Happy Birthday in South African and English for Pop Pop. When we went to the Kindergarten there were about 60 kids and we started to hand out the candy to the half that were inside. Then Alex started a mini riot when she started blowing bubbles. About 30 seconds later Hunter came running in saying they desperately needed candy. A couple of our teens had gone outside and given a couple of kids candy. Immediately they were mobbed by all of the kids with their arms held out wanting candy. Hunter had managed to break free and I rushed out with the remainder of the candy. All I could see was the headlines from the next day’s newspaper - “English family causes riot at Mandela Park kindergarten”.

After about an hour’s tour we headed about 500 yards down the road to Tea Bag Designs. This is an amazing story of a lady who had visited a township and been moved so much that she went back to run a training session on how the ladies of the township could use their creativity to make things to sell. One of the ideas that came up was to take used tea bags and paint designs on them and then make things from these tea bags. Several years later the business employs 13 people and makes a wide variety of truly unique products. These employees now can support their families and have been able to buy houses in the townships and send their children to school. One of my goals from this experience is start a tea bag collection project in the States to send over to this company.

Again we had had a unique experience and this was going to lead to another first for a few of our party. After a very tasty, albeit smelly, lunch at the wharf in Hout Bay we all headed to Muizenberg to go surfing. For Max, Matt, Hunter, Savannah and Rory it was their first times to go surfing. Max, Matt and Hunter all managed to get up for short rides but the most elegant surf of the day had to come from Rory. As he tried to catch a wave it became apparent he wasn’t going to be able to stand and so he just relaxed, lay on his side with his head in his hand and coasted in.

For dinner that night we headed back to Hout Bay to the Lookout restaurant. The food at the restaurant was very good and they had a cover band playing live music. This also served as the preliminary birthday for both Alex and Hunter. The music seemed to appeal more the older crowd and at the end of the meal there were even a few people dancing. Even Pop Pop got up to dance, well more it was a shake of the arms as I am not sure his hip replacement has healed enough for him to really boogie. The only downside to the meal was the occasional dead fish smell that the wind would bring through the restaurant from the fishing boats and wharf. Mark had told us that if you continued driving down the water front the smell got extremely strong. Julian decided to test this theory out and drove that way after dinner. This resulted in someone actually losing their dinner a short while after. I won’t say who but it was one of the two birthday people and it wasn’t Hunter.

Philippians 4:11-13 - Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

South Africa 2012 - Day Fourteen

Day 14 - Nothing between us and Antarctica but water

Today was one day I was really looking forward to. I love going to places that are so unique you may only go there once in your life. Today some of us were going to go the Cape of Good Hope, the most southerly point in Africa. Some of our group wanted to go to the beach and shop and so we split up again. For those of us going to the Cape we decided to take the scenic route driving over Chapman’s Peak, around the coast through Nordhoek, Kommitje, and Scarborough. This was a beautiful drive along one of the most dramatic coast lines I have been to. When we turned one corner we so miles of crashing waves coming in and the mist of the sea water seemed to cover the town nestled in the cliffs. When we entered the town it was apparent that what we saw was the normal state as the town was called Misty Cliffs. After going along the coast we cut across the peninsula heading for the Cape. At one point we came across

our first close encounter with baboons. Although I knew they were dangerous I could not help but see them as soft cuddly animals. One of them was obviously a mother as she had a small baby having a piggy back as she walked. When she stopped the baby climbed off their mother’s back and slid around to the front to snuggle up to the mother’s belly as the mother instinctively embraced her baby in her arms.

A little while later we entered Cape Point national park and drove down to Cape Point. We were only going to stay for about an hour to climb to the top of Cape Point to the lighthouse and then come back down, however, the views were so spectacular we decided to have lunch there as well and then drive around to the Cape of Good Hope. Although the lighthouse is much higher and seems to be the southern most point it is in fact the Cape of Good Hope that is the southern most point. We didn’t really feel like climbing up to the high point on the Cape of Good Hope but Hunter, Rory and Savannah found a path that led them round the cliff face. I have to believe where they were there wasn’t any body who had been further south, on that day, on the continent of Africa and still be on dry land than they were. I must admit I was a little nervous because down below them the Indian and Atlantic oceans met and the waves really did crash in to the cliff face and if they had fallen there was not much anyone could do. However, this would be another experience they would not easily forget.

There are so many other walks and things to explore on this southernmost tip of Africa but we had to head back up to Boulders Beach where the others were waiting for us. After meeting up we spent a little time on the beach. Max, Matt, Hunter and Savannah obviously propelled along by Hunter, Savannah and Rory’s cliff climb experience earlier in the day decided to try their hand at cliff diving. The tide had come in quite significantly and there was a huge rock you could climb up. Having tried this it was time to head for dinner.

After a short shopping spree in Simon’s Town we headed back up to Nordhoek back to the Red Herring which we had found earlier in our trip. Tonight there was live music and also David and Kath from Constantia Lodge joined us we sat and had found and drinks looking out over the sunsetting over the mountains and ocean. This restaurant was a real gem and even despite some food ordering mix-ups I just felt able to relax and enjoy my family and surroundings.

If I haven’t already put in a plug for Constantia Lodge let me do so now. The house is absolutely beautiful and is set nestled up in the mountains. But the location is only a part of it. David and Kath who are originally from the Midlands are a wonderful couple who truly go out of their way to make your stay enjoyable. Having them join us for dinner was really nice because they have become more like our friends than the people who run our accommodation.

There are only 3 more days left of our trip but there seems so much we still want to do.

Romans 8:38-39 - For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

South Africa 2012 - Day Thirteen

Day 13 - 21 people, 21 different directions

One of the problems with having so many people in one group is that trying to either arrange for one thing to happen or to break down into different groups can be time consuming. This morning it took about 30 mins to figure out what the options were and then another 30 mins to organize how that would happen. Some people wanted to go to Crystal Pools, a place up in the mountains about 45 minutes away where you can do rock diving and swim under waterfalls. Some people wanted to go to the winery for a tour. Some people wanted to sun bathe and some people wanted to go shopping and spend time on the beach. In the end three cars headed for Crystal Pools and 2 cars

headed for the shops and beach.

On arriving in Gordon’s Bay we pulled in so a few people could “freshen up”. As it happened I parked right in front of a Fish and Chip shop and that was the end of the story. I don’t know if I even turned the car off but just headed straight in to order my first fish and chips in about a year. They were not the best but they were definitely good enough to quell the craving my family had been having ever since arriving in South Africa. Another

interesting experience was seeing the armed guards who had come to pick up money from the local supermarket. I guess being from England the sight of a guard walking around with a fully automatic sub-machine gun ready to be fired was a little off-putting. Living in Texas, my family were not surprised to see a gun. There we are the anomaly because we do not own a gun.

Despite reading up about Crystal Pools online we knew there was a problem when we arrived at the location and the gate was padlocked. Luckily this was at the bottom of the mountain and not at the top after we had walked up. We found out that Crystal

Pools had been closed for the year for “rehabilitation” efforts. The only saving grace was that we were right on the coast and could walk down some rocks to see the waves crashing into the rocks. We also got to watch a pod of dolphins swim by and a seal playing with a fish he had caught.

What this minor problem had caused us was a little more time on our hands. And what better way to spend some free time than to go shopping. I am not sure why but shopping seems to be a focus. For me it is the food but luckily the two seem to go hand in hand. For this shopping extravaganza Barbara, Savannah and I headed to a music store in Cape Town to see if there were any unusual or local guitars we could get. Savannah had been saving up for a while and really wanted something unique. We did see some locally made electric guitars made out of drift wood or oil cans but she really wanted an acoustic. It was then she found a series of baby guitars. Now these are not specific to South Africa but were something Savannah fell in love with immediately and so about an hour later we walked out with a baby guitar.

That evening we had been invited to a BBQ at friends of my father’s. This BBQ was only for the adults in the party and usually that means an interesting time as my brothers and I are all practical jokers (I know this is hard to believe if you know me :-) ). What was different for this meal was that we got into a pretty animated discussion around our faiths and how that affected how we viewed

social issues especially one in particular. As a family we are all at different stages of our Christian walk and we definitely had some diverse opinions but what was comforting was that we all held to the same doctrines. I think for me, because I live in America, the hardest thing to accept was that there are certain so-called Christian pastors who appeal to the itching ears of society but whose teaching is so heretical that we should pay any credence to their words. Rob Bell was one where we definitely did not agree. Some people love him but a couple including me just cannot accept his doctrines which are so anti-biblical it makes me angry. I am sure the evening proved to be very interesting for our hosts and I think they may think twice before inviting us all back.

2 Timothy 4:3-4 - For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.

South Africa 2012 - Day Twelve

Day 12 - Safari Time

Our day began early today as we had to be ready to leave for the morning safari at 6 a.m. It definitely was interesting (and cold) to have a shower outside. We were behind an enclosed wall but it was strange to think that about 20 feet away from where I was

showering there could have been a water buffalo or other animal. Every body turned up ready to go, that was except for Savannah and Hannah whose alarm malfunctioned. I was pretty impressed that it only took them about 10 minutes from wake up to be out at the truck.

The morning run was a little less impressive. We didn’t see the elephants and the hippos stayed submerged. Even a few of the lions had gone for a walkabout. However our driver did take us over to a different section where they are trying to introduce giraffes. We really couldn’t get too close but it was good to see. There were also enclosures for two cheetahs, which to me are beautiful animals, 3 crocodiles and 3 more lions. These lions could not be released into the park because they had just been

saved from a park where they had been bred purely for the purpose of being hunted. I am not a PETA freak nor am I anti-hunting but I really do have a hard time when it is purely for fun and there is no material use for
the meat.

At the end of the morning safari we packed up and drove about 5 minutes down the road to an ostrich farm. This was actually pretty interesting and much more fun than I thought. We got to see ostriches all the way from being in an egg to a few days old up to 15 years old. Some got to sit on an ostrich but for some reason I wasn’t allowed, something about the hippo size again. We also did get to eat ostrich which doesn’t taste like chicken but has much more of a beef taste and consistency. It is extremely lean meat as well.

On the way back home we decided to go back through Franceshoek which is nestled in a valley and has multiple wineries. It is a beautiful part of the world and being able to sit at the Rickety Bridge winery tasting the wine was a great setting to relax for a while. Prior to our return to Cape Town we stopped for a little shopping which was frankly disappointing. Barbara did

manage to find a diamond store and of course picked out a beautiful ring that was only $11,000 (yes dollars not rand). Barbara and I both managed to control our expressions when we found out the price. Hunter on the other hand just let out a “wow” and that was the end of shopping/looking in that store.

That night was a time to relax and eat in before heading to bed fairly early.

Genesis 1:24-25 - Then God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind"; and it was so. God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.

South Africa 2012 - Day Eleven

Day 11 - Safari Time

First let me apologize for the stoppage on the posts. The internet over here is less than stellar. I have had a hard time loading pictures and for the last few days just getting on the internet has been a problem I am back on now and so will post a few days without photos.

Monday morning started with anticipation as we packed to go on an overnight safari. Many years ago the family had gone on a safari in Kenya where they stayed out in tents and had bucket showers. I had not gone on this trip but I knew when they told us we were staying in lodges that it would not quite be the same. Monday was also a special day in that it was my birthday. As I had breakfast with my Dad I carried on trying to hint that it was a special day and he carried on commenting on how much he was looking forward to the safari. It wasn’t until about the third or fourth person came up to wish me a Happy Birthday that her remembered. It then hit me that it had been about 19 or 20 years since I had celebrated a birthday whilst being with my Mum or Dad or any of my brothers and so this year would truly be special. Barbara and the kids had bought me a New York Giants cap commemorating them winning the Superbowl and Hunter had been wearing it all morning before I realized. It was one of those double take moments when I finally recognized it.

The drive to Aquila was about two and a half hours and with 5 cars going in a caravan it was going to be interesting. I somehow was going to lead us and then the goal was to try and keep my Dad up with us. The good news was that my car was nothing more than a glorified lawn mower and so getting to the speed limit of 120 km/h was a rare feat. The bad news was that my Dad still drives very slowly. At one point having gone through a tunnel my Dad was literally within about 100 meters of me. Within a mile he was about half a mile behind me. The issue was that Mark suffers from claustrophobia and so had a hard time making it through but my Dad wanted to make sure he did make it through. Bu this seemed to be a constant effort to try and keep everyone together.

We only stopped once on the way to freshen up and get some snacks. Somehow I persuaded myself to buy a “HooHah” burger with chips (fries). Not sure I needed that much food but at least I was putting some extra fat on in case the lions caught me. Somehow Barbara persuaded me to buy her some jewelry. I think it was a first for me to buy jewelry at a petrol (gas) station but I do have to admit it was a great price.

We arrived at Aquila in the early afternoon and had to wait a couple of hours until our rooms would be ready and so we shopped or went and sat by the pool to pass the time. Eventually we all had checked into our rooms and were back at the pool for a swim. The pool was very nicely designed and even had a swim up bar. The only problem was that the water was freezing and had bits floating in it and I think swimming up to the bar to order drinks caused way too much confusion. The three bartenders were struggling. In fact I am not sure they were really bar tenders because they had no clue how to make any drink even beer. If you ordered a beer it was room temperature at best because they didn’t put them in the fridge. If anyone ordered a mixed drink it had to be made using a drink book because they had no clue where to begin. We knew it was time to leave when they turned the sprinkler system on where everyone was sun-bathing. We moved pretty quickly to get out of the way but one of the guests looked up and took sprinkler blast to the face.

At about 5 p.m. we headed out for the evening safari. It wasn’t long before we were seeing a plethora of animals - elephants, zebra, hippos, water buffalo, springboks, elands, wildebeests, and finally the lions. We even stopped off for a quick drink and a snack.

There are so many great pictures that I cannot include enough to do the trip justice. It sometimes isn’t until you spend time in close proximity to something that you realize what is happening to that something. This can be true for homeless people, children, orphans and animals. In the last few months poachers have killed the male rhinos at this park purely for their tusk. Why because some people especially the chinese believe the male tusk has special qualities. I did like what some people were doing which was cutting their finger nails and grinding these up and sending them to China labelled as rhino tusk. That alone should show the fallacy of the power of the rhino tusk.

We also learned a lot about the animals. For instance, never get between a Hippo and the water. They are extremely territorial and will attack if you get in their way. At the end of the evening safari the dominant male hippo was chasing the two younger males to make sure they knew who was boss. It was amazing to see something so big run that fast. For me it gave me hope that maybe I could also run faster. Another thing I learned was that antelope is not an animal per se but a genre just like snake or dog. All in all it was a great safari. I know there had been a lot of requests from people in England to leave Mark with the lions but our guide just wouldn’t let us.

After the safari it was back to the lodge for dinner. This was my birthday dinner and it was neat to me eating it with my family on safari in Africa. I did get a few presents including a ladies’ shirt from the safari reserve we were at - I am not sure why anyone would let Julian go shopping for me.

When you are out in beautiful places like Aquila with these amazing animals around you and amazing views it is hard if not impossible to see how their is a God who is the creator of everything. Back home in Houston there is so much light pollution that star gazing is a fruitless pastime. In Aquila the stars were absolutely stunning. I am not sure I have seen so many stars in my life maybe with the exception of in Canada.

Isaiah 40:26 - “Lift up your eyes on high And see who has created these stars, The One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, Not one of them is missing”

Sunday, February 19, 2012

South Africa 2012 - Day Ten

Day 10 - His People, Blue Peter and the Beach

One thing I have found is that it is seldom that one cannot find a church to go to. On this Sunday at the end of the first week for the English contingent we joined Dad at his church, His People, in downtown Cape Town. After a time of worship I went to run the kids Sunday school.

You are never quite sure what you are going to find when you are visiting a church. There were only about 20 kids ranging in age from 4 to 12 and throughout the time with them they were all very well behaved (which I later found out was not normal). It seems as though the three standard responses of “God”, “Jesus”, or “the Bible” to every question works in South Africa too. The only real issue I had was with one of the Sunday School teachers decided to give one of the children a cracker and a drink. Almost instantaneously the kids just got up in the middle of one of my object lessons and crowded around the teacher. Now this was the teacher I had locked in thumbcuffs and so he may have just been retaliating.

One of the issues you have when you have 21 people traveling as one group is trying to coordinate leaving somewhere and communicating what is happening next. For some reason no-one seems to let me know and so I just follow. Today after church the cars went in 2 different so I just had to decide who to follow. Eventually we all met back up and headed to a restaurant called Blue Peter for lunch. The meal was served in African time (slowly) but was good. Then we had another problem of the “21-people-in-a-group” syndrome. For some reason the
restaurants cannot separate orders into families and so when the bill comes we are left to go item by item through the bill. This only took 30 mins to do and it was only that short because I just agreed to pay what ever was left. But finally we were done at the Blue Peter (where all I could hear was “Down Shep” - for those who grew up in England back in the 70’s). With the restaurant on the beach the kids were ding to go down onto the beach. However to me the beach was too crowded and didn’t look clean. Max, Matt, Hunter and Rory decided to go boogie boarding. You know this is a questionable decision when they tell you that a wet suit is highly recommended. Hunter said that you got used to ice cold water once your feet and hands had gone completely numb as long as your head didn’t go under. If it did then it felt like your head was going to explode. For me I could not understand spending time at this beach when 2 days earlier I had spent an hour walking down a pristine beach with no-one on it. Anyway most people stayed while a few of us left for a warm swimming pool.

Tonight was a quiet night in, eating leftovers and resting up for potentially one of the highlights of the vacation, an overnight Safari.

Luke 18:16 - “But Jesus called them to him, saying, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God”

South Africa 2012 - Day Nine

Day 9 - Sandboarding: God’s provision to parents

Another active day was planned and once again there were a few who decided to take the less strenuous option and either

stayed at the Lodge or dropped off people at sandboarding and then took off for shopping at the beach. Barbara and I, being the athletic ones out of the adults stayed with those who were sandboarding. Once again the training was about 5 minutes long which consisted of how to put the board on and how to point the board downhill.

Everyone did have to sign the indemnity form which I think said that if they died during the event they would bury them in the dunes.

Barbara and I were the photographers for the day and soon realized that this sandboarding

was just like a skateboard park and was God’s provision to parents as we just sat and watched kids wiping out time and time again. I even climbed up the slope and tried to find more difficult and dangerous slopes for them to wipe out on. By the end of the day we had even built a ramp that made the wipe outs even more impressive. Now Barbara and I had to try and show the youngsters up and grabbed a board and went up to the top of the hill. We obviously came down sitting on the board but there were no wipe outs although Barbara did go backwards for a while.

By noon it was getting pretty hot and so finishing at 12:30 was just about perfect. Mark, Janine, Julian and Alex returned from their shopping trip and we all headed back to the Lodge.

Saturday evening was going to be Pop Pop’s birthday celebration. The plans seemed to keep changing and instead of the guests arriving at 7 p.m. people started turning up at 3 p.m. The evening consisted of a lamb roast, a gospel choir and a marvelous rendition of a Julie Andrews song from the 4 Britton brothers. Mark then went into an im

promptu speech that was so uplifting as he talked about people dying and funerals. Not sure Dad was uplifted by the speech. Mark ended up in tears as did Julian, Guy got 5 words out before he broke down. Luckily I was the level-headed one and was able to get my speech out without tears. All in all it was a great evening and nice to meet all of Dad’s friends in South Africa.

Somehow I was volunteered to run the children’s Sunday School at church and so I had to put together some ideas before going to bed. Hence the late blog for Day 9.

1 John 2:15 - “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him”

Friday, February 17, 2012

South Africa 2012 - Day Eight

Day 8 - Hope and Horses

Today was one of those different days for a typical vacation. At 8 a.m. we set off as a family (minus (Barbara and Savannah who needed extra rest - not sure why, not as though we have been active or anything) headed for the School of Hope. Several years ago the school was set up to help provide education and a nurturing environment for older kids ages 15 -21 who had been forgotten by society and were too old to be placed in a school. When we arrived we were welcomed by the cheers of about 50 kids and pretty much immediately took over the school for the morning.

The first part of the morning was a test to see whether they could first select the four sons of Pop Pop and then decide who was

the oldest (which was unanimously decided to be Mark much to his bewilderment). After this we were put into our family groups. The one exception being Matt who they decided must have been our Tour Guide.

We had planned several break out groups to either put together a play, create a mural, put together a song or two or play football (soccer for the Americans who may be reading). At the beginning and at the end we came back together as a large group and I did some of my usual stupid stuff like getting free from thumb cuffs, card tricks and fire eating. I think by the end we had realized how real, how talented, how respectful (except for the odd wolf whistle for Sam until they found out Matt was her boyfriend) and how much these kids deserve a chance at the Hope and their future.

After the morning at the School of Hope we headed back to the hotel except for Hunter, Rory and I who decided that McDonald’s was a great option for lunch. Because of the driving on the left side of the road the drive through runs the opposite direction to those in America. This was definitely freaky because when you turned the corner around the building you felt as though a car would be headed straight for you. I think this was one of the most efficient McDonalds I have ever been too. You placed your order, drove to the first window where you paid and then as soon as you had paid a hand appeared at the next window with a bag with your meal in. American McDonalds could learn a thing or two from this restaurant.

After a short rest Cleo, Savannah, Barbara and Emily headed off to Nordhoek to go horse riding down the beach. The two guides best matched the horses to the riders based on their experience. Barbara happened to get the one horse who could not be

mounted using a mounting block and so she had to mount from the ground. Somehow between the laughter I managed to get a few photos. At one point we thought she was going to fall straight off the other side, end up the wrong way around or just lie flat across the horse’s back. The last of these being the first choice but eventually Barbara did get up right. As they set off Julian, Alex, Hannah and myself who had gone to watch drove over to the beach and walked down towards where they would all come along the beach. After enjoying a nice walk over the bright white sands of the beach with o-one else around and the waves crashing in, we finally saw the group riding up the beach with the more experienced riders cantering in front. As I next looked I could see Barbara standing by her horse. I was praying she had not fallen off and when we got closer you could see the problem. Both her stirrups had broken which meant she had no control over the horse.

After a short video shoot they headed back to the stables and we headed to a beach bar called the Red Herring. I am so glad we found this small little restaurant / bar because the food was good a cheap and the views were incredible. This was definitely a place we wanted to come back to.

Tonight was Home-made dinner at the Lodge and then we all sat down to watch the videos from our sky diving. It was the first time I had seen any of these and it truly did back some great memories and also a few laughs.

For those that get out CHristmas letter will recognize this part. Every so often Barbara comes up with a new word and today was the first time in South Africa. Apparently the fact that the mountains will one day be flattened by God is “monumous” which I think is a shortened version of monumentus

Tomorrow some of us head back up north to go Sand boarding. Not sure what that all entails just yet but the youngsters are dying to go.

Jeremiah 29:11 - “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Thursday, February 16, 2012

South Africa 2012 - Day Seven

Day 7 - Free falling

It was an early start this morning as the sky-diving group left for the small airstrip about 40 minutes north of Cape Town. We had to be there for a 9 a.m. start and left at 7 a.m. to allow for rush hour traffic. That really is an oxymoron and especially in Cape Town. There is no way anyone can rush anywhere with the state of the traffic. What would prove to be the hardest thing to do all day was to get to the sky diving place. The two cars got split half way along the way, went two completely different ways and somehow managed to arrive within a minute of each other, albeit 20 minutes late. Having completed the short disclaimer form and paying, we were put into our three groups - Group 1: Julian, Guy and Sam; Group 2: Hunter and Savannah; and Group 3: Matt. Then began the intensive training - “Ok - you have a harness on. When you are going up your tandem partner will tell you what to do. Oh and have fun.” In the States this would have been an hour long course in how to breath and what to do in every conceivable situation. The first group went up and 20 minutes later they were out of the plane at 9,000 feet. After a 30 second free fall the chutes opened and then a 4 or 5 minute drop with the chute open. Guy left the plane last but came down first followed by Julian and finally Sam who had left the plane first. Apparently weight does has something to do with the speed you drop.

All three of them were raving about the exhilaration of the sky dive. Despite the raving about the jump Matt was still a little nervous. Being the kind person I am I decided to join Matt on the third jump. The only issue was my weight. They weighed me and miraculously I had lost 10 kilos over night and came in right at 105 kg. I am convinced that the scales were rigged because it just seemed to stick on 105 kg. Also on the board which listed all of the jumpers I was the only one who had 105 written by my name. So apparently the small child I needed to be my tandem partner existed.

But first Hunter and Savannah had their jump. For them it was again a routine jump but I must admit I was holding my breath until I saw both chutes open properly. There is something about having both of your children jumping out of a plane. But to see them on the ground afterwards made it all worthwhile as they both had been able to experience something truly rare - sky diving in South Africa. Savannah also had the lightest landing of everyone and seemed just to float down like a feather.
It was now time for group three to go up and Matt and I got our very simple instructions and got onto the plane. For me this was the part I was not looking forward to me as I suffer from motion sickness. However the flight up was great except for being cramped into a tiny compartment with 5 other people. This was definitely not the situation to be in if you are claustrophobic or need your space from other people. Then came the jump. The free-fall was truly an amazing experience and even with a tandem partner you really did feel like you were flying. When the parachute opened the jolt was pretty significant but I am sure that was because of my slimmed down 105 kg came to a dramatic halt. The rest of the fall was very peaceful except for the conversation with the tandem partner which seemed like a really strange place to strike up a conversation. I apparently was the only one of our group that landed on their bum but it was very soft.

The most fun part was then watching the video they had made of your drop. I cannot do justice to these videos nut the three best bits were 1. Savannah having to have her legs pulled back by the tandem partner; 2. Guy, Julian, and Giles’ faces looking like they were made of plastic as they wobbled all the way down; and 3. Matt’s amazing tumbling exit from the plane and the tandem partner literally having to use both hands to pull Matt’s head back so the camera man could video him.

After this there really wasn’t much else to write about and at the end of the day we all ended up at Sloppy Sam’s for a great dinner. Tomorrow we will head to the School of Hope to run the school for the morning. I am not sure what they are expecting but having the Britton’s run a school for a morning could scar kids forever. We have all reminded Mark that his jokes are not funny and laughing at them yourself doesn’t make them funnier.

Exodus 19:4 - “... and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself”

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

South Africa 2012 - Day Six

Day 6 - Table’s Can Be Tougher Than You Think

Today was a day for the physically fit, well at least for some of us. Two car loads of the Brittons (including Matt) headed for Table Mountain early in the morning. In the physically fit group we had Julian, Cleo, Rory, Guy, Elliot, Max, Matt, Hunter, Barbara and me. As we arrived at the bottom of our route up which was Planterklip’s Gorge we were all excited about the climb which was estimated to take us about 2 and a half hours. The path looked a little daunting but we were ready for the challenge. After about two minutes of basically rock climbing the men had been separated from the boys. Julian and I were sucking wind while the youngsters bounded up the path.

Having done a lot of climbing in my time I knew that the climb would have its steep parts but then have its flat bits as

well. Well apparently in South Africa they don’t follow the same protocol and all this route had was straight up. What Julian, Barbara and I realized is that when you get to our age you learn to appreciate the beauty that surrounds you and so stopped regularly i.e. every 15 yards to take in the breath-taking views, well that was when we could pick our heads up out from between our knees. The younger crowd made it up the mountain in about 90 mins, followed by Guy and the two youngest about 15 mins later and then the nature appreciating trio came up 45 minutes after that.

As for the rest of the Britton group they decided to take the cable car up to the top of the mountain. That took a 45 minute wait and they were all tired from waiting when they got to the top. For some reason the climbers really had no sympathy. The views from the top were really incredible as we had a completely clear day with great views over Cape Town, out towards the Stellenbosch

Mountains and then out over both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. After lunch on top of the mountain we all took the cable car back down and headed back to the Lodge to swim and relax. I think over the next couple of days there will be a few sore muscles around the family.

One thing that became evermore apparent today taking my

car part way up a mountain is how small it is and how much power it doesn’t have. In the picture my car is in the middle and it just about comes up to the back door of the car next to it. There were times today where I had my foot pinning the accelerator to the floor and I wasn’t quite sure we would make it. I think if I was ever pulled over by the police for speeding in this car I would either bust out laughing or celebrate. The Chrysler company really have done a nice job with the body work around the lawn mower engine.

In the evening we headed down to the Waterfront in Cape Town for dinner and I was somewhat surprised how modern it was. The shopping area and restaurants could have

easily been in any coastal US city. After the meal I think there was a definite need to get back to the Lodge and get some sleep. I for one am feeling the muscles in my legs and feeling a little tired.

Tomorrow we head north for an hour where 6 of our group will jump out of a perfectly good plane for their tandem sky dive.

Psalm 90:2 - “Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.”