by Laurie-Ann Copple
Hello everyone! This is an article I wrote for the people of my Anglican church back in the west end of Ottawa, Canada. I had a Whats-App conversation with a lady who manages our Canadian affairs while we are in South Africa. She is excellent at it and I am very thankful for her. She has been a tremendous support in wisdom, encouragement and handling things back home. She told me however, that people approach her in church, and ask how we are doing, despite reading my articles in the local church newsletter. They don't seem to understand that our base isn't the type of base where everyone lives together on a compound. There are those, but Western Cape is not one of them. We are spread out over two towns and a farm. The two towns are Robertson and Worcester. We are the Worcester cluster, which makes us semi-pioneers. We chose to connect with several existing ministries, and each could become a full-time job - so we juggle. Then we also do our unique ministry of art, internet radio, and pastoral care. We know that love looks like something, and in each place where you are, love can look a little different. The culture is different. The needs are different. Although all of us need love. Here is what I am sharing with one of my church families in Ottawa. You can also have a glimpse of what we do, without going into each part of our website to figure it out. Our official motto is that we are ouma and oupa (grandparents) to township latch-key kids. However, we became more than grandparents. We became mentors. Here is what I said below:
Tony and I have been in South Africa for a while now (since November 2017). It almost seems like Canada is a far-away dream, but we look forward to seeing you when we are on home visit in June. Fr John and Lorna have arranged for us to speak during the youth services on June 23rd in a question-and-answer format. However, I get the impression that some of you have questions already. Most think of missionaries as 3rd world evangelists in the jungle, working with lots of children in an orphanage. In some cases, that is true. Yet we have learned that different regions require different forms of love.
Officially, we are Iris Ministries Canada missionaries, connected with the Western Cape base, and assigned specifically to the nearby town of Worcester. We are the first Iris missionaries planted here, so we are pioneers. However, we didn’t need to start something new. We have instead connected with existing ministries and partnered with them. The ministries we have become involved with include: My Father’s House, Master Peace Academy, Prison Alpha, two kids’ clubs, Change Makers, a Worcester hospice, and a local financial planning group. We have begun doing home visits to lonely and shut-in people in the retirement village in which we live. We also produce our own internet radio show on Thursdays, “The Worcester Reports.” So, let me tell you a bit about each of these, and hopefully answer some of your questions about what we are doing, and how.
My Father’s House (myfathershouse.org) is a project in the Avian Park community that works with teens and adults. Avian Park is a community that struggles with poverty, addiction, and gang activity. Our hope of working with township children was not part of their plan, but leader Jan Buchanan blessed us to do children’s outreach under their ministry. We eventually found that it was not sustainable to minister to 60-80 children on our own, when we don’t speak Afrikaans well. We needed to train up our young helpers to be actual evangelists instead with young children in their own community. This is a model that can multiply: local people ministering in their own communities within the context of small groups. Since these are teens, they gain confidence, have an opportunity to let God love the children through them, and they also grow in their own faith. We continue to minister to these teens on Saturdays (with Bible study, worship, prayer, food and events). We also bring some of them to church and youth group. While they live with their own parents, we have become second parents to most of them.
Heidi Baker, one of the co-founders of Iris, says that “love looks like something.” That “something” looks different depending on the context. What does love look like to suburban teens in Kanata? What does love look like to teenage girls who grow up in alcohol-sodden, drug-infested, gang-filled townships? One of our teen girls, Britney, just had the misfortune of her mother being attacked by her step-father. Then her phone was stolen by this man. The mother, Britney and her siblings are in a safe house elsewhere. Britney spent the first night with us, while her siblings were with other relatives. Tony and I cared for her the first night, and then she was placed with a family who could provide better than our living room futon. Still, she walked up from Avian Park (a long walk!) to our house with two of our other girls – just to visit. They know that we love them. They feel safe with us. To Britney right now, love includes safety. This same girl has witnessed gang shootings and deaths many times, and she is only thirteen years old. What we are bringing to these townships is to instill the love of Jesus, hope, resiliency and a future to eight girls.
The second ministry that we were grafted into is Master Peace Academy, a small Christian school for children mostly from the black township, Zweletemba and migrants from Zimbabwe. Last year our group of learners included up to six boys, and they all responded well to love, teaching on science, music and art. Other teachers were brought in for other subjects, and our principal taught English, French and social studies. This ministry keeps Tony hopping five days a week, although my own involvement is on Tuesdays. Currently we have two boys and two girls, aged 5 – 8. We’re finding their youth a little challenging for the material. We are teachers: teaching children through curriculum, love, wisdom and like an aunt and uncle.
The third ministry we do together is weekly – Prison Alpha. We have been in the medium wing of Brandvlei prison since early July (it took a while to get clearance), and we will switch to the youth offender unit in March. This was something that we wanted to do from before we arrived in South Africa. It’s similar to what we did in Ottawa, but with more favour, despite the time it took for South African police clearance and a request for a renewal in less than a year. We are prison “spiritual care” volunteers.
We are also involved with two other kids clubs – one is run by the Iris Western Cape base. They work with farm worker’s children in Vinkrivier. These children are rough, not sweet at all, so they need a lot of extra love. We met these kids when we were on our extended outreach in 2016, so we knew they would be a part of our lives. We are with them for two hours a week. We do similar ministry with township children in Riverview township. Mella (our school principal) often provides teaching, but sometimes she asks us. We give fruit, cookies and juice, as well as lead worship each Wednesday. We are children’s workers, training up the children in the way they should go, like second parents.
Then Tony and I have different ministries. I became bookkeeper to an important ministry called Change Makers in Roodewal township, another gang-infested area. Change Makers helps transform recovering addicts, gang members and broken men into men of love and integrity. It’s like an adult version of Teen Challenge, and what goes on there is a lot of work, but also of love. They run camps, training, counselling, rehab and so much more. While I’m in the background, they needed an international to do their books. This is one of my most challenging tasks. Tony also helps with the books on My Father’s House. Tony goes into the hospice weekly, sometimes alone, sometimes with others. I plan to join him in future when I can. He also is involved with a financial planning club that promotes savings and investment in the townships. We are background support workers, helping others learn and grow in their own ministries. We are pastoral care workers.
And I am involved in art – in so many guises. Not only do I draw during times of worship, I share this with the children and teens as well. The farm children, and Avian Park children love to colour in my drawings, as did the children’s church kids at our local church in Worcester. They all have an increased awareness that they can also express their faith in art. I am gathering my own worship drawing images to make a colouring book, so that not only can it be a source of income, but it can bless more children. I also like teaching art in the school, but find it a challenge when they all ask questions at the same time. And we have our own Christian radio station on the internet. Tony rents a broadcasting device from Galcom Canada, and we program our own show, “The Worcester Reports” every Thursday. People listen to us in many countries, as well as South Africa and Canada. People all over the world read our website, as well as my own Ways to Grow in God blog. I can tell by our stats that people read my articles in countries were Christians are persecuted. May their faith continue to be encouraged. We are media missionaries, in art, radio and online.
Do we get paid for any of these tasks or jobs? Not directly. We are officially considered Iris Ministries Canada contract workers/missionaries. This means that free-will donations come through Iris Ministries Canada, and are taxed by the government like a regular job. We have five monthly partners, and receive roughly $220 a month, not counting one-time donations.
How do we manage financially? Tony has pensions, one of which was a business pension. Unfortunately, this ends in April, so now we are about to take a leap of faith. Either another income stream will come, or Holy Spirit will touch specific hearts to contribute through Iris Ministries Canada. We don’t know how the provision will come, but it WILL come. If God called us here, He will provide in some way. We can only trust him on this.
We also rent out our Ottawa condo, which pays for our South African rent. Is this enough for us to live and minister? Sometimes it is, although we did not expect health issues to arise. Some of these are covered by our emergency insurance, some of these are not. We also sold our cars, and I’m trying to sell my art. We are surprised by God at different times with financial help. Sometimes it’s a tax break. There were errors in two of Tony’s pensions, where we suddenly stopped receiving them, but these were rectified just in time.
How can we afford to come for a home visit? Well, it is a stretch, but it’s the middle of our three year term, and we need to strengthen our ties to Canada. We need to make sure that we are not forgotten, and we need to take a break for a different kind of ministry. “Furlough” or home visit, isn’t a vacation – although we will have times for that. We are to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary while staying near Carleton Place. Ten years ago, our journey was to Paris and the UK. This year, our celebration trip is not a journey to an exotic location, but instead, it’s a journey home. We can celebrate with you! I also need to see my parents. My mom was quite ill in hospital for a month, and I struggled with whether I should go see her. But we really couldn’t afford to do both. We will spend early July with my folks and sister.
What do we hope to do on our home visit? We plan to speak at St Paul’s, and visit other churches we are friendly with. We are working to arrange sharing and praying in small groups during the week while we’re in the Ottawa area. We need to meet more prayer partners and financial partners as well. I will bring unframed worship drawings that will be for sale as well.
Please continue to keep us in prayer as we continue to minister in Worcester (and beyond) to children, teens, inmates, and vulnerable people in hospice, hospital and our retirement village. We’ll be at St Paul’s on June 23rd, and at Christ Church Ashton Morning Prayer on June 20th, as well as other places from early June to early July.
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Tony and Laurie-Ann Copple (usually Laurie-Ann)
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