Monday, 29 June 2009

Gateway Training Week One...

Wow, I can hardly believe it has already been a full week of Gateway! The time has flown by, and yet it seems as if last Saturday was an age ago. The lectures have been really solid teaching, on Principles to Live By: Navigating The Seas of Life (which encompasses personality, potential, who you are, vision, behaviour and many other interesting facts on how to realise your full potential in Christ) and The God We Serve (God's character), as well as Hearing The Voice of God (on how God speaks today). Like I said, it's been really interesting, and let me just briefly give you a summary of some of the really meaningful points that I have gleaned from this week. This is by no means exhaustive - there has been a lot to take in and digest and I am sure that as time goes by God will remind me of much more.

I would say that my biggest discovery is in this statement: The number one reason that missionaries (or any Christian worker) leave the field are... wait for it... our fellow co-workers. This really hit home for me. Although I loved my time with Mercy Ships last year, it was towards the end of my time back in 2008 that I was getting rather frustrated and tired. I would be cranky towards my co-workers. It was tiny things that would get to me - things which five months earlier wouldn't have bothered me were now these huge problems (in my eyes). And yet Jesus tells me to first take the log out of my own eye. I can be quite judgmental and blame other people, but this is not God's way. He wants me to evaluate my heart and mind first. It may seem quite obvious, but for me it was an eye-opener!

I was also particularly challenged about the whole issue of potential. There is a lot more hidden potential in me than I give myself credit for. And linked to this, I need to start living by design. Stop reacting to life's circumstances and go out and shape my own course. This means taking risks and stepping out and trusting God. This was made abundantly clear to me yesterday. We all went to the Tyler State Park for a silent retreat. We took our journals and Bibles and headed out, each going to his or her space just to patiently wait for God. It was great because God really did meet us there. There were many things that were impressed on my heart at this time, but one of the most meaningful was the image of two eagles, soaring high above the earth. I was lying there on the grass, looking up, and suddenly these two specks came into view. I was reminded of the passage in Isaiah 40: 31 (NIV):
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run
and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

God wants me to be like that eagle - to reach the heights of my potential. He is the wind beneath my wings and will catch me if I fall.

And what else have we been up to here on Gateway? Well, we've also been kept pretty active here on campus, whether it is wallyball (indoor volleyball played on a racquetball court) or indoor soccer or basketball, it has certainly been a time of intense physical workouts in the evenings, followed by times of chilling in the pool! On Friday night our class went to a traditional Texan braai (barbecue) and that was loads of fun, and then last night we headed out to a country dance. It was great to get away and to see some of the culture and soak up the atmosphere of East Texas! Most of the photos here are from these events. It gives you a good idea that already we are like a big happy family here!

So that is what the first week of Gateway has been like. This week we look at Conflict Resolution, Kingdom Principles, and Living and Working in Harmony. It's going to be a good one! And so with that being said, from the Mercy Ships International Operations Centre in Garden Valley, Texas, I bid you all a very good night and God bless!

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Farewell Dallas, Hello Mercy Ships...

This past Saturday Lisa drove me a short distance to a little restaurant just off a large Interstate Highway and there Jamie and Kelly, both fellow Gateway participants, picked me up and after I had thanked Lisa and said goodbye, the three of us headed down to the Mercy Ships International Operations Centre. It was a really quick drive through.

The campus itself is in a wonderful wooded setting with plenty of shade and activities to do. I am in the main family dorm where I have an entire room to myself. It's great.

Saturday afternoon we had registration followed by orientation and ice-breaker type games and those were a lot of fun. We also introduced ourselves and got to share our stories. It's awesome to hear how God has brought us all to this point in our lives. I love hearing testimonies. The wonderful tone that was set on Saturday continued on Sunday with more orientation. We also got to swim in the pool and explore the surrounding areas. It was a great weekend.

Today the course itself started and it was a great day of learning. I feel so blessed to be here and I already know God is going to do wonderful things over the next few weeks! Stay posted for more...

Everything's bigger in Texas...

Some general information and my thoughts on living in Texas.

State tree: Pecan Tree
State flower: Blue-Bonnet
State bird: Mockingbird

Everything seems to be so much bigger here in the USA. The cars are bigger, and the cities (Dallas being my only point of reference) are bigger. But more than the size of everything is the opulence of it all. America may be in a recession and there may be many job losses, but it is still a far cry from South Africa. I see wealth and plenty everywhere. In a sense this turns my stomach because I come from a land where, yes, there is wealth, but you do see poverty everywhere you go. You can't escape it. Here I feel as if you can escape it, and this makes me uncomfortable. I could never live in an area where there is so much plenty. It is just not me.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Don't mess with Texas...

So what have I been up to these past few days in Dallas, Texas? Well, I've spent a lot of time recovering from jetlag and just relaxing here at Lisa's place (at right). I am amazed by these houses that have no front wall or security gates! Certainly a change from South Africa.

Wednesday I spent primarily here, trying to get my mind connected to my body again. We did go to a big Walmart-type shop called Target where I was able to buy a calling card and then we also went for a walk in the neighbourhood and did a lovely trail of the nearby river. There were lots of ducks and geese and turtles.

Thursday was probably my highlight of my time here in Dallas. It was an extremely busy day. Lisa became my tour guide for the day and she gave me a sight-seeing tour of the city. We first went to a big shopping centre, Northgate Mall, so I could find an adaptor for my two-prong SA plug type. (The one I brought from home was the wrong voltage - one of the things I had forgotten to check.) We also went to the Texas Treasures store where I got some Texas memorabilia. From the mall we drove to Einstein Brothers Bagels, where I had my first American bagel. It was really good. We then made our way to the West End Historic District, in the heart of Dallas.

Here Lisa showed me the 6th Floor Museum (the old book depository), which is one of the locations from where President John F. Kennedy could have been shot. We also saw the JFK memorial and the exact spot where JFK was shot (marked with an X on the road - picture at left). We then took a look in the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History and Culture, where we browsed through an exhibit on the lives of Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, American Civil War generals. Lisa was going to take me up Reunion Tower, a high observation point overlooking Dallas, but unfortunately it was closed for the day. We then meandered back to the car.

Lisa then drove me through downtown and we passed the Dallas Farmer's Market (where they sell fresh produce), as well as Lisa's old house and Southern Methodist University. We then came home via Marble Slab creamery, an ice-cream store.

After an hour or so at home Lisa took me to my first baseball game. I had wanted to go to experience another aspect of American culture. So we drove to the Texas Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, a 45-minute drive away. The Texas Rangers were playing the Houston Astros in a very entertaining match. And although the team we were rooting for (Texas Rangers) lost 5 - 3, it was still great fun and lovely to soak up the atmosphere of an American sporting event. It was also pretty exciting as the previous President of the United States, George W. Bush, was at the game and waved to the spectators from his suite. The game ended late and we were only home at around 23h00.

Then today, Friday, we went to a Mexican restaurant, Desperados, for lunch and that was fun. My first experience of real Mexican food! Tomorrow I head to the IOC and am looking forward to this next chapter in my life! But before I close my time here with Lisa and her parents (Rick and Debbie) I must thank them for opening up their home to me. It has been a great time of rest and relaxation and Lisa has been a great friend and tour guide!

Travelling to Texas...

Sorry about the delayed update, but things have been very busy here in Dallas. So with that being said let me start back at the beginning: My flights from Cape Town. On Monday (15th June), I left Cape Town on South African Airways flight SA 0220 bound for London Heathrow. The flight was uneventful, albeit long (over 12 hours), and we landed early the next morning (Tuesday) in London.

I then entered Britain and took the tube from Heathrow to Green Park where I met my old friend from high school, Mark. We had breakfast in the park and it was lovely to catch up. Mark had to get to work and so I spent an hour or more wandering in the beautiful park. I also walked across to Buckingham Palace. I love the history of London: it's so rich!

I then caught the tube back to Heathrow and passed security and customs and a few hours later boarded United Airlines UA 0959 bound for Chicago O'Hare. This flight was quite stressful as we were delayed leaving the airport, and then made up time on the flight itself, only to be delayed again by a major storm in Chicago. So we were placed in a holding pattern over the Great Lakes. We finally landed in a heavy rainstorm nearly an hour late, at around 19h00 local time.

This added pressure to me for my connecting (and final) flight to Dallas Fort Worth. But praise God customs and immigration went really smooth and soon I was sitting waiting to board the delayed (due to rain) flight UA 0481 to Dallas. We ended up landing an hour late in Dallas Fort Worth and a very weary Murray emerged from the airport, to be met by my lovely friend Lisa (from the ship last year). She drove me to her family home in Richardson, Texas. I was asleep almost as soon as my head touched the pillow.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

I've arrived!

This is just to say that after nearly 40-hours of travels after leaving Cape Town on Monday, I am now safely in Dallas, Texas. All my bags came through just fine and I am now relaxing at my Mercy Ships friend Lisa's place. I was so thankful to have a familiar face meet me at the airport at midnight last night! My mind is feeling completely disconnected from my body but I'm guessing that's just the jetlag... More coming soon! (I'll hopefully post a more detailed description of my travels later tonight.)

Monday, 15 June 2009

Commissioning Service...

Today (Sunday, 14th June) was my Commissioning Service at Claremont Baptist Church. It was a very special service for not only me, but for anyone who has been a part of my journey over the past two-and-a-half years. I was asked to come up front and so I shared a bit of God's faithfulness and provision for me over the past year and also showed a Mercy Ships DVD on our big screen. My pastor, Peter, then shared a message for me from the church and also gave me a couple of verses from 2 Timothy. The one was 2 Timothy 2: 14 (and I quote from the NIV version):

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the Word of Truth."

The other was 2 Timothy 4: 5:

"But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry."
These are both verses that I will take with me over the next few months and years ahead - and are certainly applicable! The "keep your head in all situations" reminds me of the often stressful times in Reception, with the Fire Panel going off and crew members asking many questions (often simultaneously as the Fire Panel alarms went off). It certainly requires a calm head!

Peter then invited anyone who wanted to come up front and lay hands on me to do so, as they set me aside and commissioned me. And as my friends, family and supporters came forward, a lady from the Bible Study that meets at the church on Tuesdays took the mic and shared how they have an orange tin at each meeting. And every week for the past three years they would put money into this tin for some project. They unanimously decided to donate all the money set aside in this tin to me! I was overwhelmed and so thankful! This is another wonderful gift from God and another confirmation that I am going where God wants me to go.

My cousin Adrian and close friends Kelvin and Fritz (all three pictured at right with me) then prayed on behalf of my supporters (whilst everyone laid hands and gathered around me) and Pastor Peter closed the commissioning part of the service. My cell group had also prepared a lovely song item which they sung for me, and then the Rev. Henry Gwani came and preached a wonderful sermon on Mark 10: 17 - 31, The Rich Young Ruler. He focused on how the man's wealth was a stumbling block to him following and serving God - and how we should be prepared to sacrifice everything for God - even stepping out of our comfort zones. Henry also had some words of encouragement and wisdom for both myself and the church body.

We then had tea and cake after the service and I said many goodbyes to close friends and supporters. Thanks to my friend Danielle for taking the photos of my special service. Picture at left of me with Henry and Mampho Gwani.

So now as I type (and again my Internet is being fickle - so it is Sunday night, even if this is appearing on Monday) I have less than 24 hours before I board my flight to London and then on to Chicago and Dallas... The butterflies have started and I have lost my appetite... But God is in control over all! Amen!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

On Final Approach...

It is Tuesday night, 22h30 South African time, as I sit here at my laptop. My Internet has been down for all of this evening, so this will only be posted (hopefully) tomorrow. Strange to think that in a week's time (at the time of my typing - not of the actual posting) I will be somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, on final approach to Chicago. This will be my first trip to the United States, and most definitely the longest travelling time for me. It's around 36 hours, give or take, from when I lift off in Cape Town, South Africa, to when I land at Dallas, USA, late this coming Tuesday. I'm not looking forward to the many hours of flying lying ahead of me. I don't mind flying if it's a nice short day flight, but I do mind the long haul flights. I can never sleep well and usually just sit there, eyes glued to the plane's progress on the screen... But I am looking forward to seeing some familiar faces in the United States and to see what God has in store for me. The first familiar face I see will be at Dallas Fort Worth Airport. A good friend from the ship last year has kindly offered to fetch me and put me up for a few days at her house in Dallas, before the Gateway course starts on the Saturday. (Thanks Lisa!)

And I am also so excited about the Gateway course. I've been reading a couple of prescribed books over the past few days and am really being challenged to shift my perspective in how I think about the modern church - as well as how I communicate to people of other cultures. Interesting stuff. I pray that the course itself will blow me away!

But enough of that, these past few days have been extremely busy, as I get things sorted out for the next few months. I am glad that I am only packing for about six weeks and that it is summer up north of the Equator... Definitely means I can pack light. And I'm glad that I have a month in Cape Town before I head back to the ship in September.

This coming Sunday I have my commissioning (or sending out) service at my church (Claremont Baptist Church) here in Cape Town. This will be a great time of celebration and also a time to show a little presentation on Mercy Ships to the congregation. But the cherry on the cake is that the Rev. Henry Gwani, who was the Head Chaplain of the M/V Africa Mercy, during our time in Liberia, has agreed to take the sermon. Henry is a wonderful speaker and is such a loving man of God. This Nigerian national is married to a South African girl, Mampho, who he met through Mercy Ships. They are both helping in the SA office of Mercy Ships. I'm so excited to see them again! I hope to do one more blog before I leave for Texas, probably on Sunday afternoon, and I hope to tell you all how the service went. (And hopefully get some pictures up too...) Until then, God bless!

Friday, 5 June 2009

Why I Serve With Mercy Ships...

I found this clip on my laptop that was taken by my friend Vandi last July. Despite my rather dopey appearance in the first frame, I thought I'd put it here because it gives you an idea of why I loved working onboard the Africa Mercy - and why I'm returning again. It's an interview with me and I'm answering the question, "What do I think about Mercy Ships?"

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

An Update...

Just thought I'd give you all an update as to the events mentioned in one of my previous posts. (Stunned...)

My friend who had his home burned down is doing much better now. He is seeing it as a unique opportunity to make a fresh start. Obviously it was a highly traumatic experience, but he sees that God is in control of the whole situation. My other friend who was mugged at gunpoint is doing much better as well. Thankfully her insurance will cover most of the financial costs of replacing locks and keys, etc. And whilst she is still processing what happened, she knows that God was watching over her that day. Thank you for your prayers into both these situations.

As to myself, I have been busy the past couple of days with getting things in order for my trip overseas. I bought my USA - SA adaptor plug a few days ago and have even hauled out my suitcase in preparation for my packing. If you know me well this won't surprise you, as I usually like having things ready several days in advance. I have also been doing a few odd jobs around the house, such as cutting the creeper off the garage roof and cleaning out the gutters. Tomorrow I need to go to the traffic department and apply to have my driver's licence renewed, since it expires shortly after I get back from the USA. I've got a long checklist of Things To Do and I feel so fulfilled when I get to check something off! But unfortunately I woke up this morning with a sore throat and a cough so I am making sure I hit this cold hard before I leave in under two weeks time! More coming soon - God bless!