Tag Archive: Nigel Branken


maid

This is a complex one. We don’t presently have a maid/domestic worker but have spoken about the possibility of employing someone in that role. And this is not a witch hunt to try and make anyone feel bad [unless you need to be feeling bad and then don’t feel bad but just change how you’re living!].

A number of months ago i was chatting to a domestic worker at a friend’s house and just hearing some of her story Continue reading

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elephant

There is that old joke that goes, ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’

i know, it’s NOT funny. please stop eating elephants. But the point it makes is pretty valid. i don’t know about you but when i think about my home country of South Africa and everything that needs i change i can feel completely overwhelmed and usually simply just paralysed. What can i do to make any difference? Ah, well there you have the answer – all the difference is ridiculous and crazy and impossible and you can’t do it. But any difference? All you have to do is start, and here are ten ideas you can get started on [To not add to your overwhelm’ment, why not start with one? And also what might really help is getting a mate to do this with you. Who comes to mind? Great, let’s get going]:

Continue reading

apart from having one of the greatest full names known to personkind [say Lara Harler Lahr out loud or sing it to the tune of ‘Deck the Halls’] Lara and her husband Chris and their daughters Alexa, Moriah and India are good friends of ours that we met in Philly in our previous season of life…

having made some very similiar decisions to Nigel and his family in the previous post and demonstrating some true inspiration of what incarnation is really about and how perhaps more of us are called to live like this, here is Lara Harler Lahr…

from left: Moriah, Lara Harler, India, Chris, Alexa

from left: Moriah, Lara Harler, India, Chris, Alexa

We started raising our kids to be world changers before they were even conceived. The day we returned from our life changing summer in  India in 1997, we decided to live differently. It was that experience that led us to name our first daughter Alexa, which means defender of mankind. Soon after, we moved from Wilmore Kentucky to Philadelphia PA. We sold everything except what we could load into our van and bought a house in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Philadelphia 13 years ago. I knew that bringing an almost 1 year old to the ghetto of Philadelphia made no logical sense to our family or much of our friends…and there were days that I thought we were crazy as well!

Our next door neighbors fought a lot. I remember fearing for the woman next door and for those sweet boys of hers. As the screaming went on for hours on end, all we could do was pray…or so we thought…. We started talking to our neighbors a little here and there and eventually decided to take down the little gate between our two back “yards.”  We went in halfsies and bought a baby pool.  I never had any deep conversations with them during that first year, and never pried into their problems. One day Chris was on the front porch hanging out when he saw our neighbor talking to other neighbors. Afterwards she came to Chris and said “Did you see that?! I just talked to a neighbor!! I never talk to neighbors, but I have been noticing you and Lara talking to neighbors and I decided I shouldn’t be the neighborhood bitch anymore!” Then she went on to say that she had noticed our relationship and it really brought hope for a healthy marriage!!

We realized at that point that having a healthy marriage and a healthy relationship with our kids does change the world!  Especially in the area where we live…where hardly and kids have a two parent home!!

Fast forward 13 years to today. We have three daughters who go to a local charter school. We have been part of a local church in the heart of the “Badlands” of Philly.  They witness the reality of poverty, drug addiction, prostitution, incarceration, shootings, and other violence. We have had to listen to our girls share heart breaking stories that they have heard from friends at school. My younger ones love to play homeless like most kids like to play house! This is just the world they know. Because my girls are exposed to such difficult and seemingly unchangeable circumstances, we put a lot of energy into teaching them to pray.  We have had morning devotions every morning for several years now and we are teaching them to pray and believe.

Two years ago we were able to travel to India to visit with our friend and her 48 kids and the child that we have been sponsoring for years. I had been in a car accident that left me with a settlement that covered our trip, and I wanted to go there more than do anything else so that my kids could witness and be a part of the faith of these kids in India. I could go on and on with stories of how much faith these children have and how God answers their prayers. I want my girls to know that closeness with God and to have that kind of faith. My girls hearts were changed. They are being molded more and more every day by their experiences which give them love for people and a deeper reliance on the power of prayer that does change the world.

[For another exciting story on raising children as world affecting people, click here for the story of Lisa Scandrette and her family]

lahr

 

If you haven’t yet read the story of Nigel and Trish and their five children who moved into Hillbrow in South Africa to do life, then you are one of the few. That story has been blowing up on my blog with over 2000 views [that’s ‘blowing up’ on my blog] and 350 Facebook shares.

People are resonating with the story. There is something about it that just reaches out and grabs you [and i imagine makes a lot of people uneasy or nervous in a kind of wait-a-minute-do-i-need-to-now-go-do-that kind of way].

I want to suggest that it is the idea of incarnation. 

One dictionary definition i looked up for incarnation described it as ‘the action of incarnating’ which was not so helpful. Another said it was ‘the bodily manifestation of a spiritual being’ which at least starts to give us something to work with.

It has been given as a description of what Jesus did which is well described in Philippians 2:

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Basically, God, in the form and person of Jesus, came close.

After years of sending messengers is the form of leaders and angels and prophets, God took a step further and came to deliver the message and demonstrate the way to live Himself. He came and lived it amongst us. And forever took away our ability to say, ‘God doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know what I’m going through.’ Well yes He does, because He was here. He gets it.

It’s about not so much looking to your interests as to the interests of others [which Jesus strongly called us to in His ‘Deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Me’ speech of Luke 9.23]

Now as followers of Jesus we have the Holy Spirit living in us and so everywhere we go there should theoretically be ‘the bodily manifestation of a spiritual being’ – but the question that needs to be asked on that is how often do we end up looking like us and how often do we end up looking like Jesus?

Here is another story i read about a South African family who look to be at least trying to ‘get’ this to some extent. Although their experiment definitely led to mixed responses from those around them:

‘Some condemned it as a “stupid experiment” and exploitative, calling for them to be “burned in their shack” by locals. Others applauded their courage in bridging South Africa’s massive wealth divide.’

And the same kind of story resonates in this American family, the Albrechts, who have lived in the UK since 1992 and have taken in around 250 homeless people over the last 7 years.

I would say that is one of the strongest lessons we have learnt or observed from our time over here. That moving in to the area ad building relationships with the people around you is one of the most effective ways to really get the chance to share your message [because the loudest sharing of it comes from the day to day of how they see you live life]

It is what resonated with me in my favourite book of all time, ‘No Compromise: The Keith Green story’ where Keith and his wife started taking people into their home within a few months of being married and they ended up on a farm with a community of many people [a lot of whom started out from a place of being down and out]. It wasn’t comfortable or cool or hipster or anything like that. It just felt like the word of God and so they did it.

i love how the word ‘nation’ is present in the word ‘incarnation‘ as well as the word ‘in’

do i think everyone is called to move into a poor, broken-down neighborhood to help bridge the gap between rich and poor and incarnationally make a difference around them? absolutely not. but i do think a lot more people are called to than are presently doing it. i also know that it would be a lot easier if people did it in greater numbers – so groups of friends moving into the same neighborhood [and i would thoroughly encourage the need for some form of relationship to be present before just deciding to move into a rough neighborhood]

i also think this is powerfully linked to the concept of stability – committing to an area, a community, a workplace for a considerable length of time.

maybe the question each of us should be asking is, ‘Why should i not go?’ and then, if there is an answer, stay where you are. there are a growing number of us who believe that poverty will end when the rich meet and get to know the poor. when they move in as neighbors and become some measure of friends.

are you being called? and what scares you about this most? [because i imagine this scares some of you a lot]

in Jesus, the Word became flesh

for most of us the challenge is seeing our flesh become Word…

I have already shared an article on my blog about Nigel and Trish before and how they moved into what is known as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods with their family and how some of that has played out. Val and i managed to have a Skype call with Nigel a few weeks ago and it was truly inspiring hearing some of the story of how they got to where they are and how it has been playing out. Nigel takes some time here to share about some of the ways in which their decisions and actions have influenced their children in growing up as World Changers…

Nigel,Trish,Hannah,Rachel,Jordan,Daniel,Sarah

Nigel,Trish,Hannah,Rachel,Jordan,Daniel,Sarah

Reflections on parenting: Choosing to put God first

When my wife and I moved into Hillbrow, Johannesburg over a year and a half ago, the main concern expressed by many of our loving friends was for our children. People literally asked questions like “What if one of them is kidnapped, raped or murdered?”. Hillbrow is just one of those communities which seem to invoke fear.

We were however convinced that God had spoken to us about moving into the neighbourhood, about downward mobility, and about standing in solidarity with our urban poor neighbours. Trish and I had long discussions about the call of God on our lives, and in fact the potential suffering that following Jesus may cost any believer, and therefore also us. The question we had to answer was whose voice would be louder… the voice of God or the voice of fear.

We searched the Scriptures and were convinced that if Jesus were alive today, He would be spending his life not in comfort and convenience, but rather in places like Hillbrow as friends of prostitutes, drug dealers and the homeless. The more I studied Scriptures, the more I became aware of the dangers of greed, individualism and consumerism.

We drew courage from reframing the question as this: what is more dangerous for our children, given the realities of eternity – to grow up in a society and culture which teaches you to worship the unholy trinity of “me, myself and I” or to be in a potentially physically dangerous place where you can learn the values of Jesus of justice, compassion and love?  Jesus said “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? (Matthew 16:26). An important reflection.

We started to dream of a new world, the kind of world we would want to leave to our children.

We want to see a world in which the rich do not tolerate extreme poverty and inequality. We want to see many people actually laying down their lives of comfort and convenience for the sake of bettering the lives of others. Seeing people freed from poverty, inequality, racism and exploitation is more important than fulfilling our lust for more things! We want to be part of a society in which people are valued more than things. We want to see the god of consumerism in South Africa bowing its knee to a love motivated revolution which results in freedom from oppression and exploitation. We want to see this for all people, regardless of class, citizenship, race or religion. We dream of equality in every sector of society. We believe that if the education system is not OK for a rich kid, it is not OK for a poor kid. The same goes with healthcare, housing, security. The same goes for rural kids and inner city kids. The same for black kids and white kids. We are not more valuable than the least valued in our society. We are doing our lives in a new way. We are going to live our dream and see this reality briefly described above happening around us. We hope others will join us and this will happen around them too. Who knows, very soon, the world can be a different place!”

As we weighed up God’s Word, His call and his promises, we finally came to the decision to move regardless of the cost. As a side reflection, I have subsequently found that the time God gives you grace to do something often coincides with the moment of your decision to obey His Word to you. Grace comes through faith and faith comes from putting the Word of God into practice in your life.

So fast forward a few years from when we made this decision, and here we are living in what many describe as one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the world. As responsible parents, we do all we can to protect our children. They know the rules and the risks and we are always close by to protect them. What we have found is that rather than restrictions, we are now in the most spacious place in our lives and the move has in my opinion been the best thing we could have done for our children. So often we think doing radical things for Jesus will harm our children, when in fact the opposite happens – they grow and develop.

I am so often overwhelmed by the things my children do in response to the poverty they now see in the lives of their friends who they love. My son Jordan, aged 8, has spent very little of his pocket money on himself since we have lived here. A little while after we moved in he came to me with his savings and said “Dad, you give me everything I need, I don’t need this money, who do you think we should give it to?” Needless to say my chest swelled as I held back tears of gratitude at the work God was doing in my boy’s heart. He has since done this again and again. His little brother, Daniel, aged 6, also loves to give his pocket money away or to buy food for the homeless with it.

In our block of flats, one of our children’s friends is a little boy named Sipho. Sipho lives with his 4 year old brother, Thabo, and his two year old baby sister, Princess, (not their real names)and single mother in a single room that they sub-let as a family. The room is barely big enough to fit the double bed which they all share. His father is legally not allowed to see him after he tried about 2 years ago to poison the two little boys and himself in an attempted family suicide. Their mom works at night and so the boys are often chased out the flat during the day so she can sleep. They are often hungry and so our two older girls love making them food. Sipho recently turned 8 years old. It was obvious that his mom was not going to throw him a birthday party or buy him any presents. Enter my children! All by themselves they conspired to bless this boy with a birthday party. They all pooled their pocked money together. Hannah, our 12 year old and Rachel, our 10 year old baked the cake. Jordan bought the presents. It was an amazing event. Through these and other similar stories I have become convinced that you cannot teach your children how to love and show compassion through  your words, you have to demonstrate it as a parent and create opportunities for them to take the initiative. Living among the urban poor and standing in solidarity with our neighbours constantly presents opportunities for acts of love.

I have so many more stories to tell, like how Hannah, our 12 year old has become a real advocate for the rights of the oppressed. Our children have had opportunities to speak on radio and television and to many journalists about how society should be helping their friends. Hannah often comes to me and asks me to help a friend get back into school or to get some form of assistance for someone, whether adult or child. We have often involved friends who are lawyers to help her friends and have even taken cases to the Constitutional Court (South Africa’s highest court) on behalf of Hannah’s friends. God is not only doing a work in their hearts, He is giving them a voice to the world.

Moving into Hillbrow has been the best thing we could have done for our children. When we put God first in our lives, He takes care of all the details of our lives. He really does love us and wants the best for us and we can trust Him with our children as we pursue Him and His call with all of our lives. We should never let our children set the agenda in our lives, as precious as they are. We believe they are more precious to God than to us and that He will work in their hearts and do things in them we could not even dream of if we allow Him to really be on the throne of our lives completely.

So in conclusion, let me quote Jesus who said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” We have found this verse to be true in our new life and Hillbrow and know that Jesus can be trusted!

To follow their story a little more closely, check out www.transforming.org.za or connect with Nigel on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/nigel.branken

[For the next inspiring story, with a similiar flavour, in this series on raising world changers, read this one on Lara Harler Lahr and family in Philly]

FamilyOnAWalkDanielTrishSarahHannahRachelNigelAndJordan

“I think the church has lost its path, you know. It is so entertainment-focused. The true place of the church is here, where Jesus would be and we are trying to bring that back. We are motivated by convictions around justice, and looking at the life of Jesus, and the book of Matthew in which we learn to love our enemies. The job of the church is to be a sign of hope for a community and the greatest weapon we have as Christians, is love. At the end of the day Christianity is about sacrifice and the cross.” [Nigel Branken from this article by Jessica Eaton titled, ‘Hope in Hillbrow: ‘If Jesus lived anywhere, it would be here.’]

branken

The Two Cents blog I help put together [conversations on the intersections between FAITH and FINANCES with some JUSTICE thrown in for good measure] recently ran a deeply challenging article by Nigel looking at the difference between minimum wage and a living wage in terms of how we pay those who work for us. So not too much surprise that I discover that him and his family are practicing what they preach having moved into one of the worst trouble spots in South Africa.

In the midst of everything that has happened around us in Americaland such as the whole Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman shooting case which brought a lot of issues of colour to the fore], this feels like a timely word and example. As church leaders, families and individuals wrestle with trying to find an appropriate response and to journey with those who would return violence for violence [understandably to an extent as this is not an isolated incident but rather one more to add to a history of fear and prejudice] the example of this middle class South Africa family might have something to say:

Nigel takes me out to the balcony overlooking Kapteijn Street and points at all the people he knows. “The best way to keep safe around here is to know as many people as you can. If you know people, they won’t hurt you.”

This all sounds too familiar to my own journey of reading Acts 2 and 3 and looking at the early church and sensing something different from what it has become and the line about church being entertainment-focused does not sound too far from the truth for a large number of them at least. Having moved into Kayamandi township for 18 months and then spent some time at the Simple Way in Philadelphia, although I didn’t quite find the answers and resonance I was searching for there I certainly was introduced to some of the deeper questions and made connection with a variety of different people who are seeking out this Truth in very different contexts and ways.

Like Bono, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for, but I feel like I’m getting closer. Looking at Nigel’s motivation there are some similiar echoes and a call for me to head back to Matthew:

“I had been going through a bit of a journey myself … now obviously we are doing this as a result of our Christian faith and we looked at Matthew 5,6 and 7, huge scriptures for us, all about Jesus’s beatitudes and the same text that inspired Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King and all of those significant leaders.

“They have all looked at those teachings of Jesus and have felt that their lives were totally different from how we live our Christian faith. And when I looked at those scriptures again five years ago, I was shocked because I realised my Christianity looked nothing like it.

So take the time to read this article and try and hear and see the sounds and smells of Jesus in their story and ask the difficult questions about your own life, the church you are part of, the mission Jesus really called us to. And if there is something that needs to change, then be bold enough to step out – start small if you must, but do something, because this status quo is starting to smell…

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