Well, the last few months for us all have been almost unbelievable. Virtually the whole world on lockdown, no international travel, essential services only operating… and many hundreds of thousands of deaths worldwide. It sounds like an apocalyptic Hollywood movie, but it is, in fact, the world we are all part off.
We started March looking forward to Don’s family visiting us and although Dorothy and David did arrive, unfortunately due to Covid-19 and the rapid worldwide epidemic unfolding they had to leave after only 7 days of their long-awaited 21-day trip. They did not manage to visit Table Mountain, nor Robben island or Boulders Beach, although they did manage to fit in a short trip to visit some of the townships, the work of NewDay United (NDU), and very briefly some of the past work of UBU. It was a very poignant day when we took them back to the airport, but it does mean that they will just have to return once international travel is safe again. Don’s other sister and husband, Lesley and Gordon, were also due to visit in April and their trip was simply postponed till…
Very soon after David and Dorothy left, we got only a couple of days’ notice that South Africa was going into a full level 5 lockdown which basically meant that everyone had to stay at home except for essential food shopping or medical appointment. No outdoor activities, no purchasing of non-essential items, a strict curfew from 8pm to 5am daily, the sale of cigarettes and alcohol made illegal, with the police and army, often harshly, reinforcing the rules. In contrast to most other country’s including the UK, South Africa took this step incredibly early, in fact almost immediately after the infection reached these shores. However, this turn of events left us very unsure as to what we should do. Instinctively, our thoughts turned to home and some friends were not slow to implore us to get on a plane. You won’t be surprised to hear following our last blog, ‘Stand Firm’ (http://adventurouslyexpectant.com/stand-firm), that we continue to believe God has asked us to be here in Cape Town. Still, it took a few tearful days (mainly Lorna) before we contacted our 3 children and asked them if they thought we should stay or return home. All of them without hesitation or collaboration advised us to stay. They rightly pointed out that a long-haul flight was unwise, once home we would not be able to see our grandchildren anyway and who knew when we would be able to return to South Africa. We are so grateful to have their unwavering support, not to mention this further clear confirmation of God’s plan for us.
Once the decision to stay was made we prepared for lock down by food shopping for some families we have contact with that would not be able work so would not be paid during lock down. Initially level 5 was intended to be for 3 weeks but was extended for a further 2 weeks. There is next to no government support system here to help people out in this crisis. The lockdown has had a huge impact on the economy, not least because so many of the poorer people have casual work, were not being paid and therefore were unable to feed their families.
We are extremely fortunate that although we only live in one room, we have access to a lovely, spacious garden so can find a quiet spot outdoors. It is difficult for us to image how a large family can cope with extended lockdown in a one room shack, having to go out to collect water and use the toilet facilities they share with many neighbouring families, as is true for so many here. The message of washing hands regularly and using hand sanitizer seems ridiculous in this situation where people have no running water at home and no income to buy sanitizer.
We were just beginning to wonder how we would cope with being isolated at home all day when the need all around us was so great, and what our purpose for being here at this time was, when we learned that NewDay United had applied for Essential Service Status and that it had been granted. This gives permission to travel for ‘Care Services’ and ‘Social Relief of the Distressed’ and provides the necessary paperwork to present at the police road-blocks.
As an organisation NDU decided that it should start by providing food parcels to our adult and children beneficiaries. This involved a lot of organising and logistics in the first couple of weeks but is now running very smoothly, despite the desperate needs of poorer communities increasing weekly. We decided that Don should use the available permit, and, as UBU is currently unable to build since they don’t qualify for Essential Services status, he has been working alongside the NewDay team driving his bakkie (pick-up). The UBU staff have been added to the food parcel drops as they have been unable to earn, and we even managed during one delivery day to get a very-unexpected birthday cake to Thulani, a key UBU team member (it surely qualifies as food). In the most recent delivery, Lorna even managed to organise getting seed starter kits to each of the children to promote food-growing by the families themselves.
With the lockdown continuing to bite and the need for food parcels growing, NDU came up with the idea of a skipping challenge to raise the necessary funds (https://newdayunited.org/ if you want to get involved). A huge thank you to everyone who took part in this venture. Many of you are now known here as the “Skipping Scots”. Your sometimes-amusing efforts will enable us to provide food for many families in the coming weeks. To date we have managed to deliver over 460 food parcels, feeding 1840 individuals for several days.
We moved to lockdown level 4 in early May, which basically didn’t really change anything, except that exercise was allowed in your local area from 6am to 9am only, on the condition a facemask must be worn at all times while outside. We are currently transitioning to level 3 at the beginning of June which lifts some more restrictions, but it is expected that the virus will peak thereafter as the numbers currently are exceptionally low.
This lifting of specific restrictions also means that Don and the UBU team can shortly access their new base which they have been reassured will finally be available from 1st June…having waited since November. Once the base is established, they can start manufacturing the bags and eco-beams for the Early Childhood Development facility in Khayelitsha that has been on hold for many months. Despite this, Don intends to continue assisting with the food drops as well as long as the need is there.
Once again, and unsurprisingly with all that has been going on, we feel a long way from home. As has become our practice, we were planning on being home for a couple of weeks in June/July but we are disappointed that this doesn’t seem either sensible or likely for now. There is no point in getting home just to isolate for two weeks! We are however, looking forward to being home towards the end of the year for the birth of our 3rd grandchild as Ruth and Justin are expecting Baby Benson no.2 in October. This happy news just demonstrates that time does not stand still, and that change is the only constant in life. Perhaps an entirely unexpected pandemic which has put the important things in life into perspective for so many people further reinforces this thought. For many this will lead to an exploration of faith, whether it is faith in an ever-present God, or faith in the vacant alternative.
Max Lucado, a Christian writer, when discussing the faith we need to have in the pilot of a plane experiencing turbulence, says of God: ‘Please understand! His goal is not to make you happy. His goal is to make you His. His goal is not to get you what you want, it is to get you what you need. And if that means a jolt or two to get you into your seat, then be jolted.’
I suspect we are globally being jolted.
‘The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.’
Hebrews 11:1 (The Message version)