#Blessed. This hashtag is hugely popular on social media these days. Type it into the toolbar and you will quickly be presented with pictures of happy families, lavish days out, a holiday, a delicious meal. For many, 2020 might be a year where the adjective ‘blessed’ is absent. It has certainly been a challenging year in many ways.

Yet scripture gloriously reminds us that those who trust Christ are lavished with blessings that no earthly pandemic can jeopardise. Debbie and three ladies from bible study recently had the privilege of attending a women’s event at one of the churches who have partnered with St Thomas’ to provide food during lockdown. The speaker reminded us that we are blessed primarily not because of the abundance of our possessions, health of our bodies, success of our careers, grades of our children or the myriad of life experiences we’ve enjoyed – although undoubtedly all good gifts are from the Lord. Rather our most precious blessings are found in the gospel. How much richer are the blessings of sins forgiven, help in times of trouble, comfort in times of sorrow, wisdom in complicated situations, hope of eternity. The Bible is filled from Genesis through to Revelation with evidence of God’s blessings available to believers. Why not take some time to reflect on God’s promised blessings to you?

At St Thomas’ we are thrilled that regulations have allowed us to begin face-to-face services again. What a thrill to see people again! Unlike a lot of the world, we haven’t been ‘Zoomed out’ but rather ‘WhatsApped out’ these last six months! We realise the blessing of being saved into a community of believers. We’ve moved Sunday school outside under the trees and we have a multitude of protocols to follow, but we are grateful to sing (behind our masks), pray and engage with God’s word together.

The youth group had its first meeting back last Friday. The leaders were slightly anxious about managing the teens in a way that maintained social distancing but it was still friendly. Again, the Lord was gracious – we had fifteen turn up and they all really enjoyed being together after seven months apart. Ilana is now able to join Likhona at youth – she is thrilled!

One of the biggest social impacts of COVID-19 that we are seeing here in Heideveld is the loss of schooling. Most of our Sunday school and youth group are still only able to attend school 50% of the time, as class sizes are too large to accommodate social distancing. Our congregation has two primary school teachers and a high school admin clerk. All speak of the challenges – from teaching behind masks, to catching up on missed curriculum, hungry pupils and a sharp increase in teenage pregnancy. Many don’t have adequate help with learning at home. We covet your prayers for the St Thomas’ children and youth. Pray for their protection – physical, spiritual, emotional and cyber. Pray for our three learners writing Matric (high school leaving exams) over the next few weeks – that they would be diligent, healthy and able to write without further disruption. Sadly, we learnt that just eight out of the 38 Matric learners at a nearby high school passed their mock exams. This is an example of an already struggling school further impacted by lockdown. 

Like much of the world, job losses in South Africa are huge. With over 2.2 million jobs lost so far, the Western Cape is bracing for a very quiet tourist season. Again, our congregation has been affected – from redundancy, to significant wage cuts, to struggles to find work. One only needs to look at the long queue of people forming opposite the church, waiting for the small COVID grant (equivalent to about £16 a month), to see how many people are struggling financially at the moment. Pray that those who are facing real uncertainty would continue to trust the Lord, and that those who still have their jobs would continue to be generous. 

Arise has been extremely busy. Their training has all been taken online and the uptake has been very encouraging. They have conducted over 130 home visits and delivered over 500 food parcels during lockdown. The family centre has reopened part-time and is running the family forum group meetings and individual cases. St Thomas’ pre-school is open once more but with only six children. Financially this is not viable, but we are hoping for better numbers in January, if we are not hit by a second wave. Pray for Alun and the governing body as they think through what is the right way forward.

Our four mid-week growth groups begin tomorrow night and Thursday. We are studying the book of Hosea in line with our sermon series. After 200 or so daily podcasts, it will be great to be back grabbling with God’s word together.

And finally, a snippet of family life. Life over the last two months has begun to look more normal. Likhona and Alun have really got into mountain biking and find time in creation such a source of refreshment. Yesterday they cycled from our house around to the front of Table Mountain and back, training for a two-day cycle/camp down the peninsula in a few weeks. Building a solar oven is another current project for our high school home-schooler! Ilana is progressing wonderfully with piano, is studying for her first exams next month and continues to enjoy baking. We are amazed at how much time our two older children can spend simply chatting to each other nowadays, although weekend movies together are much enjoyed! Malachi is learning to use PowerPoint, enjoys reading missionary biographies with Dad in the evenings and can’t get enough of sport at school – largely thanks to a wonderful coach. Timothy loves to draw, sleep in Ilana’s bedroom at weekends, peel carrots, collect eggs and do the app ‘Reading Eggs’ on the computer. Debbie has valued reconnecting with cousins throughout lockdown, is relearning high school maths/science (!) and is thankful for the chance to meet with a few friends again.

Do pray that the Lord would give us energy to finish the year well, for creativity as we think through how to run end of year events safely, for generous hearts, contentment with restrictions and an ever-increased desire to make Christ known.

With Every blessing,
Alun, Debbie, Likhona (15), Ilana (12), Malachi (8) and Timothy (4) xx

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