Sunday, June 25, 2006

Crossing the finish line


Dear friends,


Last week I related to you about how our lives are like an ultra-Marathon. It is with that thought in mind, that I share with you that yesterday my very dear Aunty Dorothy crossed the finish line. Dorothy is my mother's elder sister. She is now with her Lord, for whom she had a great devotion, the love of Jesus that she learnt at her mother's knee, blossomed into true Christianity and she remained his faithful servant all her life. She was 91 years old.


On Monday last week, Mum, Aunty Helen, Dad and I went down to the nursing home to visit her. Despite getting over a bout of pneumonia, she was still very chipper and cheerful. Mum and Helen talked about various members of the family, some of whom she remembered, others not, but nevertheless she took a great interest. She had such a lovely sense of humour that lightened the mood of the room immediately. As it happened that day, I had been doing a teaching practice at a primary school and Aunty Helen picked me up on her way through to meet my parents. I had joked with her, saying that I bet she hadn't expected to pick up her nephew from school again. She said to Aunty Dorothy that she had picked me up from school a bit earlier, to which Aunty Dorothy very quickly, but with a laugh in her voice said, "Now you are exaggerating!" - That little exchange will remain with me as a treasured memory. Even though her memory was failing her, she definitely had her wits about her.


Growing up in Basutoland (Lesotho), Aunty Do (pronounced Doe) was given a Sotho name which was Mamahatho. Last year, she had a fall which resulted in her breaking her hip. The following is a poem written at that time by my mother who pictured her lying in hospital, looking over her life.


The Song of Mamahatho

Memories, shared with Jesus

A tribute from a loving sister



As I near the end of my journey and the dear gates of Home I can see

I reflect on the way that You took me, and the joy there is going to be.

I remember a mother so pretty, who loved me and cared for me so;

But I was so small when you called her, and I didn’t want her to go.


The year I was born, the world went to war and Dad had to go far away -

Back in Basutoland, Mother and I really missed him, so we found a way

To be nearer to him, at Mother’s old home, so we sailed away on a ship -

But we both fell ill and kept to our cabin, so it was a terrible trip.


When I got better, my mother was gone, and she didn’t come when I cried,

But You were so faithful, Aunt Brenda was there, to love me and stay by my side.

Then Daddy came home - The Great War was over and we all got so fond of each other

For we all loved my mother and missed her so much, that it helped us to love one another.


So Dad married my aunt and we all went back home to Basutoland, where I was born,

So You proved your love, and I had a new Mum, a new name, a new family, new Dawn.

But You loved me too, and You gave me a big happy family to love:

Three brothers, two sisters to love me, were the first gifts you sent from Above.


Happy hours in Basutoland’s mountains, happy holidays down by the sea,

We grew up mid love, fun and laughter, my sisters, my brothers and me

Of course there were times when my pathway led me down to a valley of tears

But your loving hand always guided me through all the worries and fears.


,In all the worst times You were faithful, bringing comfort, encouragement, hope,

And You showed me the way up the mountain, with advice, and a shove up the slope!

You took me to pinnacles of pleasure. You brought Terry into my life,

And You gave us our four lovely children and fulfilled me as a mother and wife.


One dark day it happened. My Terry was gone, so sudden, so brutal, I thought I would die…

But you held me close, and whispered your love, and I gave you my grief and the sorrow passed by.

It seemed no time at all before grandchildren came, and my family burst into bloom.

There were babies and toddlers all over the place and seldom a moment of gloom.


Time appeared to be running as years hurried by and babies all turned into teens,

And all of the time I was conscious of You as You lead me through wonderful scenes.

Then came the weddings, one after another and more lovely children to see!

With all these Great-grandchildren I am so blessed! Loving Lord, You are so good to me!


And so I thank You, as well as I can, for Your faithfulness, guidance and care;

For Your bountiful gifts that have lit up the road that we’ve traveled, and soon we’ll be There!

I give Thanks for my family, every last one, my grandparents, uncles and aunts;

My cousins far spread now, their husbands and wives and their children, all part of the Dance.


For my dear lovely Mother, whom I long to see when I get home in the morning.

Dear Dad will be with her, and my second Mum, and my Terry! The new day is dawning!

Brothers and sisters I mustn’t forget: Tom, John, Paul Helen and Ruth.

Each with a family for me to love, and I do love them so, that’s the truth!


I give thanks for my children, so precious to me, and their loved ones, (my dear children too)

Seventeen grandchildren, husbands and wives, and the babies so sweet and so new;

And when I get home, I hope they won’t cry by my grave or by some memory wall

For I’ll be so happy to be Home with You, and I’ll watch over them all.


They will see me in the wind and the rain and the sunlight that brightens the hill.

In the bright little birds at the window pane and the roses that nod at the sill.

And the wish of my heart is that they will know You, and that You will be close to each one,

So that you’ll bring them all home at the end of the day, when their journeys on Earth are all done.





Brenda Dorothy Anne Kennan was born on 9th October 1914, at Mohali’s Hoek, Basutholand. Her father, Tommy, an officer in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, went off to war in Europe. Dorothy, her mother, decided to return to England with little Dorothy to wait for her husband there. Aboard ship, on the way home, little Brenda contracted measles. Her mother decide to keep this a secret and nursed her privately in their cabin. As result, Dorothy caught measles too. When they reached England, little Brenda who was then three, recovered from the illness, but sadly her mother didn’t, and she died. Dorothy’s younger sister, Brenda, took responsibility for caring for little Brenda and little Brenda bonded with her. Tommy returned after the war and their common sadness at losing a wife and sister drew them together, and they got married. This upset many of the family, but eventually they accepted it and Tommy and Brenda lived a very long and happy life together, having five more children. To avoid confusion and to honour the child’s mother, they decided to call her by her second name, Dorothy.


Dorothy married Terry Dutton in 1940. They had four children Dorothy Margaret (Polly), Robin, Myles and Frank. In 1963, Terry suddenly passed away, leaving Dorothy with a family of teenagers. Looking at her family today, we can only say what a wonderful job she did.


I did not meet Aunty Dorothy until I was a teen, as I grew up in Zimbabwe, and she always stayed in South Africa. However I did know about her as every year, on or around my birthday, I would receive a birthday card with a postal order for a few Rand in it from Aunty Do. I did not realise until later in my life, what a sacrifice that was for her. I would see her from time to time, when we visited Howick, but sadly, did not get to know her as I would have liked. I remember her cards always contained a sweet letter written with much affection.


The poem above reflects her strong faith, and her many friends will remember her faithful service to her church and her neighbours. Mum says she is sorry that she made the poem so long, but summarising 9 event-filled decades is not an easy task.


See you next week.





Monday, June 19, 2006

FW: Running the Race or What lies within

Running the Race or What lies within


June 16th in South Africa is a public holiday - Youth Day. It is the day on which the world famous Comrade’s Marathon is run, each year. For those who don’t know, the Comrade’s Marathon is run each year between Durban and Pietermaritzburg. Each year they change direction, one year starting in Pietermaritzburg (The Down Run) and the next in Durban (The Up Run). This year was an Up Run. The distance is 87.5 km.


My friend, Blessing, competed for the 8th time this year, and though he was disappointed not to have won a Silver Medal he did get a Bill Rowan Medal with a run of 8h 56min. Naturally, I was keen to watch his progress. As he is not one of the front runners, the chances of seeing him on TV amongst the thousands of runners were slim, but I could at least chart his progress, via the Comrades website, which I did.


On the home page of the website, there is a quote: “What lies before us and what lies behind us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.


I cannot be sure of what Mr. Emerson’s intended meaning was, but may I share what I understand by the statement and share with you some insight I gained from these words?


Firstly, I felt that the quote is indeed apt when connected to an ultra-marathon such as the Comrades. To compete in the Comrades takes a great deal of preparation, and athletes generally train for a year before the event so as to be at peak fitness on the big day. There is the physical training, each day going out for lengthy runs to build up the physical stamina needed for the run. There is the mental training too. The runner has to prepare himself to endure and to push on through the pain and the tiredness that they experience during the race. They have to focus on their goal, which differs from person to person, according to their own experience and their purpose in running.


I am not entirely sure what Bles’s purpose in running the race is, (though I’m sure he will let me know when he reads this,) but there was another person whose progress I was interested in, although we have never met. His name is Paul Dolman. Paul competed on Friday too, and I am pleased to say he completed the marathon in 11 hours and 53 minutes. Paul has made history as the first person with Cystic Fibrosis to compete in the Comrades, or as far as we are aware, any ultra-marathon. His determination is an inspiration to us all. If you are interested in reading about him, go to this link:

May I suggest you do not miss this story!


Bles told me that the night before Comrades, he didn’t get a wink of sleep as the hotel where he was staying in Durban had a very loud disco that kept going until the early hours. He was also feeling a bit nauseous and the combined effect of exhaustion and nausea affected his running and slowed him down – but it did not stop him! He had a goal in sight and he kept pressing on towards it.


Paul said, "I almost baled out half-way. It's really hard, too hard to even describe. It's like a nightmare after 70km. The road's long and helluva winding. You start wondering why the hell you are doing this to yourself, but the spirit of the race keeps you going."  Well Paul, it’s not the spirit of the race, my friend, but the spirit within you – that amazing  faith and determination that made you press on, despite the difficulties. You certainly are an encouragement to us all. I was most inspired when Dr Graham told us about you at Bible Study.


While the Comrade’s Marathon is a race in the sense that we all want to know who the first man and the first woman across the finish line are, everyone who completes the distance before the cut-off is a winner of sorts. The first man and woman across the line get the biggest prizes for their efforts, (lots of money!) but with Comrades, as with many other ultra-marathons, there is a medal for everyone who finishes before the final cut-off. For many, it is not about speed, but about persevering, keeping going to the finish. The majority of athletes are proud to achieve a bronze medal, (by getting in before the 12 hour cut) but the next time, they try to break the 9 hour cut. This wins a Bill Rowan medal, in memory of the first man to win the race, in that time. If they make it before seven and a half hours, they win a silver, and the first ten men and first ten women in, win gold medals.


My point here is that you cannot win anything unless you keep going. For the runner, it is he or she against the road. All the facilities are there to help them on their way, like refreshment stations, and medical tents to help with those who are struggling, but at the end of the day, it is the athlete who has to run the race.


I am reminded that our lives are likened to a road race – or maybe more likely an undulating cross-country-cum-obstacle-race. Without question, life sometimes throws unexpected and debilitating circumstances our way. We may be confronted with sickness or disability in ourselves or our loved-ones. We may find ourselves out of our depths economically. Our marriages or businesses may be in tatters. We may have to deal with family or friends who have made unwise choices, or who have fallen foul of the law. We may be victims of crime, and have the added insult of seeing the perpetrators acquitted as a result of a “technicality in the law.”


How does one pick himself up in such circumstances, and continue with the race of life? Some don’t, and simply “bale” – we call it suicide. Either the person becomes so overwhelmed, they lose perspective and try to kill themselves, and sometimes; succeed; or they simply check out mentally. They close down mentally and spiritually. The common terms for such an experience are “burn-out” or “a nervous breakdown.”  Fortunately with much love and professional care, people who have had such breakdowns have been able to recover and return to their lives. Other people deal with the pain in their lives by succumbing to addiction to drugs, alcohol or other destructive behaviour patterns. These things are understandable, but they are not the answer!


The truth is that as we run this race that we call life, there will be things that slow our progress, and it may be necessary to walk or even crawl on occasions, but we must keep pressing on towards the goal that lies ahead of us. To use another race as an analogy, when athletes race over hurdles, if they knock one or two over accidentally, they don’t give up, and they are not disqualified, but the knocked hurdles will slow their progress. The athlete does not dwell on the felled hurdle, but keeps running towards the finish line. Bad things will happen, but we cannot allow what has happened in the past to impede our progress forward. Neither should we allow the obstacles ahead of us, real or imagined, to make us give up altogether. We need to keep going, believing that when circumstances demand it, we’ll have the necessary strength to keep going.


Everybody who sets off at half past five in morning at the start of  Comrades, believes that they can reach the finish line within the twelve hour time limit.  If you started that race with the thought that you might not make it, I believe you are already defeated. You won’t.


So in summary, like the tough ultra-marathon, life demands perseverance. Perseverance is born out of resolve. One can only have resolve if one has purpose.


Do you know what your purpose is?


There will be refreshment stations along the route, and even the odd medical tent. There will be coaches and seconds to give the necessary advice and encouragement. There’s nothing weak or wimpish about taking advantage of the facilities that are provided. In fact, you’d be crazy not to take advantage of them. They are there to help you keep going so you can reach your goal. .


Remember, only one person can run the race for you – that is you.


As a Christian, the inspiration behind my purpose and what gives me courage to persevere when the chips are down is the knowledge that Jesus has gone ahead of me, and is my guide and mentor. He has left me with a task of bringing the Good News to my fellow contestants in the race of life.


I wish you all fitness and stamina for the race that lies ahead of you.



Monday, June 05, 2006

Dear Friends,


I would like to start by saying “Gut Yom Tov” to my Jewish friends. The reason for this is that last Friday was the festival of Shavuot. For those who do not know, Shavuot is also known as Pentecost. Now, most of you will recognise that term. Christians celebrate Pentecost and I will explain what that is, but before I do, let me expand a little on the Jewish significance of the festival – What are the Jewish people celebrating at Shavuot. It is a harvest festival but its Spiritual significance is that it commemorates and celebrates the giving of the 10 “utterances” (commandments) by the Lord to Moses at Sinai. I listened this afternoon to a most interesting service on the radio – from a Synagogue in Cape Town celebrating Shavuot. It was a most enlightening experience. The speaker, the rabbi, spoke about the Aliya – which I understand means “lifting up”. He spoke of three Aliya but I recall only two – The lifting of the Torah, The “going up” of the people of Israel to Jerusalem during the Pilgrim feasts, I think the other one is the Going up of Moses to Sinai to receive the 10 commandments. The rabbi explained that before the reading of the Torah in the synagogue and afterwards, a blessing is said. The gratitude to God for his Words to us is acknowledged in that. In a nutshell, Shavuot celebrates God giving the 10 Commandments.


This morning, Ray preached at church, and he emphasised that we should really know the Word. Let God’s word dwell in us richly, and not to rely on stale bread, as it were, but constantly search the Scriptures and get a fresh understanding of what the Lord would say to us. That wasn’t part of his main sermon, but he kept on coming back to that, so God was clearly speaking to us about it.   


So what is the spiritual significance of Shavuot – Pentecost – to the Christian. Firstly the term Pentecost comes from the Septuagint – a Greek translation of the Old Testament. It means 50. Why fifty – Seven weeks and one Day after Pesach – Passover, Jews celebrate Shavuot – the Feast of Weeks. ( 7 times 7 = 49 + 1 = 50)

Jesus was crucified on or just before the Passover, according the Gospels, three days later, however you work it out, Jesus was resurrected. For a period of 40 days, Jesus continued to appear to various disciples to convince them of the Resurrection, then on the 40th day, He ascended into the heavens. He left the disciples with instructions to return to Jerusalem and wait there. This they did, and during the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) – I want you to picture this scene. It was a pilgrim festival, the Bible says that there were Jewish believers from far-flung places. All in Jerusalem, to celebrate Shavuot. The disciple were together – (All the followers of Jesus who remained faithful) – there were 120 of them –  Then there was a sound of a mighty wind and what appeared to be tongues of fires appeared above the heads of all the believers and they all started to testify. They were testifying to the crowds around and the people were amazed, because these uneducated Galileans were speaking the languages of the far flung places that people had come from.  During this time, the Apostle Peter stood up and started to speak. His sermon is recorded in Acts 2:14-36

I won’t go into the detail of what he spoke that day, but I strongly urge you all to read it. What was happening? Jesus had told the disciples at the last super that he would send the Comforter – the Greek word –Parakletos – means one who goes alongside – and that Comforter is none less than the Holy Spirit, the Third person of the Trinity.

It was during the festival of Shavuot – the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers – it was the birth of the Church. In a sense, Shavuot represents the birth of Judaism, with the giving of the 10 commandments - It was the birth of the Church with the giving of the Holy Spirit.


Shavuot is the harvest festival – a time to give thanks to God for the harvest. It also is a time for us to give thanks to God for his commandments – and by extension for His the Word, the Bible, and for Christians, it is a time to give thanks to God for pouring out His Holy Spirit, who continues to live in his followers to guide us firstly to himself, and secondly, in the works prepared in advance for us to do, and to empower us to be His witnesses throughout the world. Without His indwelling Holy Spirit, Christians could not function – such is our need for Him.


I find it ironic that Christmas and Easter are celebrated widely and well known, even among non-Christians. These two are important celebrations and I would not want to mimimise their importance, but I think that Pentecost – or Shavuot – is also a significant Christian celebration that goes almost un-noticed. In a way it is a good thing as this wonderful day does not attract to itself many of the irrelevant “trappings” of the commercial world as has Christmas – with Father Christmas/Santa Clause – and Easter – with Easter bunny and Easter eggs. But I believe that Christians should celebrate the Feast of Pentecost – keeping in mind both the Jewish significance of harvest and the giving of the 10 commandments – and the Christian celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church.



This week has been a busy week for me, finishing off the first part of my Teaching Practice. The second part starts tomorrow. I had a number of Crit lessons to present last week. I have learnt a great deal about Shaka, the first Zulu king as I was teaching the children about him in a history lesson. I had intended to give a power point presentation about him, but as things go with technology – they did not fire up as I had expected and so after trying for 10 minutes to get it working – I had to give it up, and instead taught the lesson from memory. I had sat up until 2 in the morning preparing the presentation – all to no avail Fortunately the teacher assessing me credited me for my recovery as I was able to recount the stories of Shaka from memory and was able to keep the children’s attention through my verbal presentation. I have to say that the people at the school at which I am doing my prac, they are very helpful and encouraging. Thank you Lord for opening that door to me.


KwaZulu-Natal has been hit by a flu epidemic. Schools have been hard hit. One school actually closed because so many of the staff and learners were affected. Another school, a Government school, was not allowed to close, but they had 125 learners and 7 teachers away due to the sickness. Other schools have not been as badly affected, but their attendances have been significantly reduced. Mum and Dad have also been affected and Dad especially so. I fortunately had had an anti-flu jab and I think it has helped me keep illness at bay. Mum was at the Royal Show this week looking after a stand selling a pool ioniser that helps reduce the amount of chemicals needed to keep the swimming pool clean. It was something Mum and Dad were going to do together, but because of Dad’s illness, Mum only went. She was not alone though as there were other people involved too.


On Tuesday, Mum and I watched the show of the Lippezahne Horses and the Drakensburg Boys Choir, in the main arena. It was quite an experience I must say. Those horses were really beautiful and quite impressive when they jumped on their back legs in what the announcer called a “Cabriolet”. The Drakies as they are affectionately known here gave their usual star performance with songs from different eras as far back as Mozart to the modern times with songs from the movie “The Lion King”.


May was actually a comparatively cultural month as two weeks ago we went to see my nephew play the role of “Bill Sykes” in Oliver, the musical. He performed wonderfully, and well deserved the Drama Honours he received for his performance. It was an enjoyable evening, and all of the young actors performed very well.


Your friend, John