A very belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all! 

We enjoyed a relaxed Christmas and New Year at the KZN coast, just north of Durban, with lazy days at the beach and delicious food. It was such a treat after this slightly crazy year and before what seems like now another COVID-dominated year. As so many will testify, 2020 was nothing like we expected and yet as we reflect back over the year, we are in awe at how God used these circumstances for our good and for Hope Church’s good.  

Particularly in the last quarter of the year, we personally had a lot of time and opportunity to reflect again on God’s grace and his character and our own failures! James preached a challenging series on gender identity with talks on true masculinity and femininity, sexual identity and domestic abuse and together we hosted panel discussions and Q&A sessions, which were extremely challenging personally as well. Lucy completed her CCEF course on counselling abusive marriages and also relaxed screen time rules excessively to allow for some extra reading time and prep time which was a real blessing. James also used the month of November as part of his sabbatical to study race and power dynamics or dominance in the book of Colossians. Throughout this time we really feel we have grown to appreciate God’s character again and it’s been a deep challenge to us to remember why we serve and to keep our eyes fixed on him. We realised increasingly how easy it is to find our worth and our identity in our ministry or our achievements or in others’ approval and how dangerous that is, so we would value your prayers for us both in that. The realisation has come with a commitment to slow down a bit more and a desire to grow in our genuine and humble dependence on God. 

It’s not all been spiritual though… We have had some great holidays despite COVID, with a surprise opportunity to take our caravan to the Kruger National Park and later the Pilanesberg National Game Reserve as well as our trip to the beach in December. The girls all finally learnt to ride their bikes (and promptly outgrew them), but mostly they spent time in the pool and on screens. We discovered ‘Among Us’ and play it obsessively as a family as well as more recently Dixit, Exploding Kittens and Settlers of Catan. It turns out that seven-year-old Rachel is a worryingly brilliant liar! Hannah (12.5) has just grown taller than Lucy and started high school. Sam (now 14!) only has four more year left at school – time really does fly! We also spent many hours and a small fortune trying to renew visas for the children, but wonderfully James was granted permanent residence in October so we hope we may all be granted it and will never have to apply for visas again! Do pray with us that that may happen soon.  

November saw the launch of the Gauteng Alliance (the Johannesburg and Pretoria arm of City-to-City) which James helps to lead. The launch took place with social distancing measures in place but thankfully in a large enough venue for just over 200 (masked and sanitised) people to come together from many different churches across Gauteng to God-willing ‘collaborate generously together for kingdom growth and gospel impact across all of Gauteng’. Musa Ntinga, who leads our church plant in Soweto (Christ Central Soweto) and leads the Gauteng Alliance team, spoke powerfully about putting our differences aside and pulling together for a common vision. In God’s kingdom we truly are ‘better together’. We were also reminded that 70% of Gauteng live in townships and that is where we need to plant churches, supporting one another. Please pray for local churches across denominations to keep working together in Gauteng for the gospel and God’s kingdom. 

We are not entirely sure what 2021 will look like for our family, our church or our denomination, which has been having lots of crucial conversations about race too. We moved from almost normality (plus masks and social distancing) to level three lockdown on 28 December, with the economy open but church (and social and political) gatherings banned – along with alcohol – and the start of school delayed. Many church members have recently lost family members due to COVID and have struggled to grieve without being able to attend long wakes and funerals and sing and pray in homes together, as is traditional. Any vaccination programme feels a long way away here and many are extremely suspicious of the government and of vaccination – some believe COVID-19 is a Satanic disease and the vaccine will somehow disbar them from heaven, so there is a long road ahead. 

It has been during this time that Jane (Hope Church’s women and pastoral care co-ordinator) has been able to set up a local training course in biblical counselling to help equip people in our church and further afield. The course started this week over Zoom with 44 people from churches around Johannesburg, South African, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda and even with one person from the UK.  Lucy leads one of the small groups for that. Wonderfully, we also start 2021 with four new interns (products of the student work) and Simphiwe May (a former intern) who has just returned from George Whitfield Theological College with Uno, his wife (also a former intern!), to work for Hope Church as a student worker. Please pray for us as a church and a staff team to also grow in our dependence on God this year and to adapt again to being online or to be able to restart face to face ministry effectively. Pray that right now we would strengthen our focus on one-to-ones and bible study/connect groups as we seek to grow together and care for each other without being together on a Sunday. 

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