Things are going pretty well here in Johannesburg! The women are baking, the kids are smiling, and winter is coming to an end.

Today I got to go to church with Miky! I was so excited to get to see how different (or not different) an African Christian Church would be. On Sundays at the Orphanage, there are worshippers who come in very traditional dress and close off one room praise in—and that involves a lot of strange rituals I don’t understand—so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Eddie dropped us off at church and we joined the end of a very long, snaking queue. Us Americans tend to crowd around whatever door we’re waiting to enter, but the South Africans all lined up very patiently for the previous service to release. Miky’s church is held in the Hilbrow Theatre, and we so we were seated on the very back row of cushiony theatre seats. There wasn’t quite enough room, so the girl next to me shared my seat—something that would have been way too awkward for American standards, but we fit just fine. Like at church back in Nashville, a projector displayed the verse of the day and the words to a few songs that we sang. Altogether, it really wasn’t much different from church back home! But a few things really stuck out to me. First of all, the people are much more enthusiastic—everyone dances and raises their hands up in praise. And—to rile the people up—there was a little person on stage who leapt about, microphone in hand, screaming out the words to the songs with more enthusiasm than I have ever seen. I think, if I had been sitting close, I would have been a little scared of him (even from the back, let’s face it…I sort of was). He would scream “Ka!” and throw one arm up in the air, and then the people would answer with “Ka, Ka!” throwing both. It was a lot. But there was a lot of joy in the gesture, so eventually I joined in, too. The only song I could really understand goes, “One Love…one life…let’s get together and feel alright.”

I had a hard time with what the preacher had to say today, though. We read from Ezekiel 37:1-14 (you can read it here, which is a story about God giving life back into dry bones. God asks man, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And he answers, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” Then God says, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life’.

I took this to be a story about God being all-powerful, and his will knowing no limits. But the preacher told the people that they had to “prophesy” over their own lives, which I agree with, but…he especially told to “prophesy” over HIV/AIDS. He said, “why do you fear HIV/AIDS more than you fear God? Why do you praise it more? What you must do is prophesy over HIV/AIDS, say to HIV/AIDS that you will live longer than it will live, and so it will be! Just prophesy over HIV/AIDS!”

…Huh? Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the power of prayer against hardship and disease. But I also know that church is one of the few educational opportunities that grown men and women of this area are exposed to—certainly most of them didn’t graduate from school, and it’s common for them to have trouble reading. I’m definitely troubled by what this shows about HIV/AIDS education. Though I’m sure the preacher didn’t explicitly mean that if you have HIV, you can live if you just pray about it—I bet a lot of people would have trouble with the differentiation! That just really bothered me, and showed me how great a need there is for HIV/AIDS education around here. Of course, besides that little hiccup, I loved church today and can’t wait to go back. I’m so thankful that Miky lets me tag along in her life and learn so much. And don’t worry!! We’re going to cover HIV/AIDS prevention and transmission in the “health” part of baking class, so at least I can know that every kid at Malaika has got their facts straight.

Speaking of the kids at Malaika…WE GOT NEW TOYS TODAY!!!! Toys, and clothes, and food…it was like Christmas. A sweet lady named Natasha came with her two little boys and dropped off boxes of old toys, canned food, formula, and diapers. The diapers were maybe a little late because my sweet little Cindy, unfortunately, went all over my church sweater right before they arrived. Her pants had holes in them! And the sad part was, while I could take off my sweater…no one could seem to find Cindy any different clothes to change into, so the poor thing must have been so uncomfortable! If there were no little girls’ clothes in those boxes, I’m definitely going to have to find some for her soon. I’m not positive if she has other clothes. But anyway…

It was pure joy for the kids ripping into the toys boxes. And I loved it, too! I’ve been able to drop off gifts like that before, but never once have I been in a situation where I really needed something material and then, out of kindness, it was provided by a stranger. But today I felt like one of the kids when we were unpacking all that stuff—it was so exciting! Malaika literally has about six toys: a broken teapot, two dolls, a doll house from which all the dolls are missing, one red car, and a coloring book with some colors. There were swords, balls, toy cars galore, masks, dress-up clothes, notebooks—SO MUCH FUN PACKED INTO THE THOSE BOXES! And more than that, enough food to feed the kids and hungry families that come around in the afternoon for a few months. What a blessing. It was such a cool experience to be on the other side of such pure kindness…to be able to receive.

As we were unpacking the boxes, we gave out some of the food to the kids right away. I was a little surprised to see some of the orphanage workers eating the few chocolate bars that had been included in them, even as they kindly offered some to me (which I gave to poor Cindy, who I was still feeling bad for). That was another Big Reminder for me of how blessed I am. Even for those who are working here in Hilbrow—and who have enough to eat, luxuries like chocolate are still few and far between. I know things like clean showers or a closet full of clothes don’t exist. It was weird to go so quickly from feeling like I was receiving (along with kids) much-loved and needed gifts from a stranger, to remembering that I was actually a white girl from Edmond, Oklahoma, who had enough money to go to college and buy as much chocolate as I please. I’m just here temporarily. It gives you a lot to think about, doesn’t it?

Here’s some pictures of the kids being adorable. Can’t you feel their happiness today?!