Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Welcome to our South African sisters!

We've got some exciting news! We're welcoming some South African sisters into our book club this month. A few months ago, we were approached by Kerry, who with her friend Hayley, wanted to work out a way to launch EQUIP book club in their country. After a lot of e-conversations, we decided that they would jump on board with us instead of start from scratch. We're very excited to be welcoming them. Here's an interview with one of the women who came up with the original idea: Kerry Newell.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your family and where you live?

My husband Craig and I are approaching 10 years of marriage. We have two children – a four year old boy, Jesse, and an 18 month girl, Becky.

We live in Cape Town, South Africa, a city of about 3.5 million people. Cape Town is exquisitely beautiful with an amazing mountain and magnificent beaches. There are many other parts of the country that also have incredible natural beauty. South Africa is a stunning tourist destination in that regard. South Africa is also a very diverse country with many different people groups. It has 11 official languages. You can imagine how this complicates things, when it comes to gospel initiatives and training. We've had to learn "Two Ways to Live" in Afrikaans or Xhosa (pronounced with a click) when we've reached out to other communities.

South Africa has also had a very sad past of racial division and oppression, and even though the government and laws have changed, there remains tension between people of different races. Nelson Mandela has been an icon of reconciliation, but has ultimately been unable to bring about real unity, which of course, only the gospel can. We particularly long for the day when all nations will gather around the throne, united in their praise of King Jesus.

Sadly there is a huge divide between rich and poor. Many people live in corrugated iron shacks. This is a deep challenge to the church. It is also a very violent country. Increasingly, many houses in the suburbs have electric fences around the perimeter and their alarm systems linked to armed security companies. Just about every South African, personally knows someone who has been a victim of violent crime. Murder, rape and violent armed robbery, hi-jacking are commonplace. Guns are easily available on the black market.

What are your interests?

Craig and I serve at Emmanuel Church (Church of England in South Africa) where he is the Assistant Rector. Our church is in the Northern Suburbs of Cape Town – a typical middle class area. We minister together in a number of ways, the main being the training of young adult (18-30) Bible study leaders. I am involved in leading a Bible study for moms with small kids. My time is mostly taken up with the normal things that moms all around the world do - the 24/ 7 job of running a home

One of my favourite interests is reading and being a part of a mini-book club. Actually book club is one of the highlights in my life! It's so good to get together to just laugh and talk about what we've been reading, until our husbands start text-messaging us, to find out why we aren't home yet. Once a group of women get talking, it's hard to stop them.

What are your favourite books?

It's so hard to only pick a few!

But, I have been so challenged by Desiring God by John Piper. The main theme in this book and others by him is, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him". I was struck that our joy and God’s glory are not mutually exclusive. I was so taken by this book that I actually read it three times!

The other book that has been of immense help to me is Guidance and the voice of God by Philip Jensen and Tony Payne. Many Christians, in South Africa, are enslaved by their view, that God will give them specific guidance, a sign or a feeling, about whatever decision they have to make. This book points us to God’s clear will as outlined in Scripture so that we are free in our decisions about matters within His revealed boundaries.

Why do you want to launch EQUIP bookclub in South Africa?

Reading is powerful. The books you read shape your theology and life.

Reformed, evangelical theology is rather lonely in South Africa. We exist in an overwhelming sea of prosperity gospel teaching and just general wishy-washiness. Expository Bible teaching is often hard to find. Therefore our local Christian bookshops are a minefield. So many of the books on offer are those of false teachers or watered-down Christianity.

So firstly, we are concerned that the women in our congregations are choosing these books simply because their Christian bookshop promotes them. Hayley Tubman, a dear friend in ministry, and I were discussing this problem, feeling distressed about the books that women were choosing to read. When she told me that EQUIP had recently launched a book club, I knew that we had to investigate whether the EQUIP book club could work for us in South Africa. We soon realised that this book club could solve our problem because of the excellent selection of books.

Secondly, although some Christians do read Christian books, I would say overall, there isn't a general culture of Christian reading. A book club would be an ideal opportunity to inspire a deep love for Christian books in the context of the reading fellowship it creates.

Unfortunately, the biggest hurdle in launching this book club in South Africa has been the astronomical cost of books, proportionate to many people's salaries. Many people really struggle financially. (In a lot of cases that's a serious understatement.) And books are expensive to import. This means that books are a precious commodity. It makes a lot of people think twice before buying them. So in order to make this book club viable for people, Jenny Inglesby, (the Cape area Bishop's wife) asked a local Christian bookshop to sell the book club books at cost. Christian Book Discounters (CBD) came back to us immediately and said they would be delighted to do this. We were so overjoyed at this news! I couldn't go to sleep that night, I was so happy! It is real answer to prayer. It will make all the difference to the success of this initiative.

For the moment, we are launching the EQUIP book club in Cape Town and the surrounding areas. Hopefully we'll soon be able to go national. Christian Book Discounters (CBD) is willing to supply books wherever we need them. We’ll keep you posted as the rest of the country comes on board.

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