My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA. I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.
During my last article, we journeyed through forgiveness. We learned through the story of Joseph that forgiveness is a process; and it is a choice. Sometimes we need to forgive those who hurt us more than once. It’s important to keep our hearts soft, and not full of bitterness. When we give God the person who has hurt us, we give him the right to deal out justice. Sometimes his justice turns to mercy, as it did when Stephen the martyr forgave those who stoned him. This includes Saul of Tarsus, who looked after the persecutors’ cloaks. Joseph showed discretion in dealing with his brothers’ sin against him. Since he did not openly share the transgression, it showed that he deeply forgave. This discretion allowed the family pain to be dealt with without his Egyptian colleagues getting involved. It saved face. We also learned through Corrie ten Boom’s story, that when you forgive your enemies, it brings special grace from the Lord, indeed. It took a miracle of grace inside her heart to forgive a concentration camp guard who was cruel to her family. But she trusted the Lord. He brought healing to her heart, and likely to that of her former enemy. God has a wonderful way of turning former enemies into family in Christ. He did this with Corrie ten Boom. He did this with Nate Saint’s family, after missionaries Nate Saint and Jim Eliott were killed by South American Aucas. Later on, the killers came to faith in Jesus Christ. One of the redeemed killers even baptized Nate’s son. That’s forgiveness. That’s a sign of real Christian family. We’re going to explore how we can grow in family.
A healthy family is a real blessing. Many families are very dysfunctional. Some are controlling, and others enmeshed. My own family lacked boundaries in some areas of their lives, and there was much confusion. Many families lack a real sense of having fathers, since they would be absent in some way. Some dads would be working and be always away from the family. Others may be addicted and demanding, or expecting their children to perform well at all they do, and yet others not caring at all. They may be there in person, but they aren’t there in their hearts. Their children can tell. I went through a lot of inner healing when it came to my father. He teased me all the time, as did bullies at school. There didn’t seem to be a safe place for me. So I collected big brothers who would protect me. Sometimes if you don’t seem to have a good sense of safety in a family, you try to find one elsewhere. Some kids find this in gangs, where they feel they belong. They feel safe, even if they aren’t safe. Now I actually had a loving father, who cared and cares very deeply for me and my sister. He was just insecure. He needed love and safety just as much as I did. And when I came to faith in Jesus Christ, I had spiritual dads who flowed from the heart of God the Father to me. This filled the deficit that I had – since my own dad could never have loved me as deeply as that. He still doesn’t know Jesus yet.
There are many kids who are fatherless. I’ve seen this in Ottawa, especially among the single-parent households in the poorer areas of town. Yet it’s even more evident in South Africa. Teen pregnancies are common in the Western Cape townships, and likely in other areas of the Rainbow Nation. Where are the fathers? Some are in jail. We’ve ministered to some of those in both Ottawa and Worcester. Others have taken off and fathered other families. We saw this in Mozambique. Others have died, since they have led hard lives as labourers, or were killed off in violence. So boys and girls grow up with their moms, who are struggling to make ends meet. While the mom may have help from her own mother or sisters, she is continually stressed. Sometimes in desperation she spends the baby bonus on cheap wine. The kids go hungry. Some of these kids have managed, but many of them have a sense of orphan spirit, where you can feel a sense of desperation and detachment. They feel abandoned. In some cases they are, but in others, their moms are trying to survive by working.
Before covid-19 hit, we would see farm kids in one of our after school kids clubs. Their parents work as farm labourers, and are in the fields for hours. They don’t see their parents much, so they’ve been left to raise themselves. We’ve found them to be some of the brashest, toughest kids we’ve ever known. They tested us at every turn, screamed, shouted and want to destroy things. Some have fetal alcohol syndrome. Yet, some will respond to steady love and discipline. Tony and I tried to love them this way. However, since our Afrikaans isn’t strong, they needed that added commonality of a shared love language. In came their Afrikaaner leaders, Flip and Inge-Lize, who love with discipline in their language. They were acting as parents, as family, even closer to them than Uncle Tony and Tannie Laurie-Ann. We loved them, but they needed surrogate parents. Family draws you IN, and helps you belong. Family usually speaks the same language.
We are created to grow in relationship. I remember learning this deeply when I was studying counselling in Tyndale Seminary. I remember writing about integrating different kinds of psychology and theology into counselling strategies. When I prayed about combining different counselling methods, what came to me was a Holy Spirit insight. Our faith isn’t just theology. It is something that is often thought through and lived out of. It’s a foundation. Everything needs to be based on that. If counselling methods are to work, it needs to be thoroughly drenched in our Christian world-view – not as a fake-imposed religion, but out of genuine compassion. God is our source of healing. He heals the counsellee, and he heals us. Since God is a God of relationship, as Father, so he also puts the lonely into families for healing. Psalm 68:5-6 says “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows – this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families. He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.”
Many of us have been hurt in dysfunctional or abusive relationships. One of our natural responses is to run away. Others fight or freeze. I was the one who froze, or at least hid as much as I could. But the pain would always follow. I realized while I worked on this essay that a deep key of healing is actually received through godly relationships. God uses them to minister to others, especially if they can see Jesus in you. They respond to the compassion and light. I shared this insight with two leaders who had a healing ministry in the church I then attended. They looked at me with joy and told me I was ready to read Tom Marshall. Marshall wrote that relationships bring healing. To receive this healing, we need to connect with each other. This means your real face, rather than a mask; not a projection that is not yourself. Real family is a safe place where you can be yourself.
To add to the confusion of the fatherless generation, there are more and more blended families. Some of the teen girls we love and disciple are in blended families. They don’t know their fathers, but they know their mother’s boyfriends. The relationships aren’t stable. Other kids are jammed in with them in tiny houses. Some kids have different fathers, with confusing family dynamics. One pair of boys that we taught in school looked like brothers, yet the younger one was the uncle of the older boy. The kids we taught last year were so hungry for love. They loved the hugs and kisses I gave them, as well as the hugs and discipline Tony shared. They were unruly and had been given conflicting messages from their parents. One of the boys said in class that he wished that he’d never been born. Tony was shocked by this and asked him why. The boy replied, “It’s because I’m so boring.” This boy is anything BUT boring. He’s a caring gentleman, loves music and is quite endearing. Does this sound like an exasperated relative told him to shut up, and that he’s boring? Perhaps, but that sounds like a curse. And then there is the “S” word that is banded about – “stupid.” A bit later, the learners taunted each other with that word until I put a stop to it. I told them not to be silly – and that NONE of them is stupid. They ALL got high marks in my art class. This group is a dysfunctional family but we’re worked hard on fixing this by being consistent with them. Sometimes you spend more time with classmates than you do with family members, so they are family too. Unfortunately, school can also be a place of much pain, as it was for me. Childhood bullies are still a common problem, both in person or online. But we didn’t allow it in our school. While Tony and I were on furlough, our school was left in the care of Helena. She is very loving South African; both wise and strict. She doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to discipline. And while I once heard one of the boys complain to me about her, I found that some of them have grown more confident in their personalities due to her influence: especially the youngest child, Delivenance.
I have continued to learn about family through the Iris movement. Small groups and Bible studies had their place in my personal healing, but what I heard and my heart drank in through Iris, was transformational. I always had a longing to belong. I needed to know my ‘tribe.’ In Ottawa, I was part of three churches – one liturgical, one new Pentecostal, and one in the Catch the Fire stream. One fed me in communion and symbol, another in great teaching, and the third in deep worship, including prophetic drawing. I was allowed to thrive in that gifting. I worked hard for all of the churches at different times as I was needed. Each has been supportive in their own way. In 2014, I discovered Iris in Virginia, led by a dear Iris mentor, Brian Britton. He offered a taste of healthy, very connected family. Most members were loosely based, and were mostly sent out on the mission fields of South America, the US, Africa, Asia and Australia. But this was a supportive network that encouraged you in your own destiny calling. They believe that no one has a cookie-cutter ministry. We are all unique. In an earlier Ways to Grow article, I have spoken of how we grow in the communion of saints. This is a deep sense of church community. I’ve also shared about deep friendships, mentors and networking. But this was something greater than these relationships. This was Holy Spirit drenched connections, like deeply nourishing family. I met people there that I call forever friends, people like Brenda and her husband Danny, who nurture deep faith and wisdom. Then there’s Dennis and Cindy, who minister to the hidden poor in Williamsburg. And people in Richmond who are equally authentic in their faith, who treat the broken like long-lost cousins. I know what that’s like, since I met two first cousins-once removed through Ancestry.ca recently. One of them, Cousin Bonnie, is becoming a forever friend.
Heidi Baker always tells us that “love looks like something.” How does that look in the West? It looks like family with the same core values and community days, meeting together. It looks like being intentional. You WANT to connect as family. You love being together. My mentor Brian says that “family is the new wineskin. Iris is also like a family. The church is supposed to be like that. We need fathers and mothers – but often we quit on people. Family does NOT and should not do that. True family sticks together. We really need consistent fathers and mothers. We need to BE WITH people and not treat them as a project.” We need to love unconditionally, with humility. [Brian Britton, backporch talk on Iris in the west, June 15, 2016, Harvest School 24] This is the environment that I was attracted towards. I found this to some extent at Harvest School, but personally, that school was a pressure cooker for me. Where I really learned and absorbed family identity, was at the base where we are now connected. We were being prepared as spiritual parents by seeing it modelled by Johan and Marie Fourie.
We spent 22 days at Iris Western Cape base after two months in Mozambique. We came ‘home’ to be poured into, to rest, and to receive love. This was incredibly freeing. My art was unleashed as I was inspired. Johan and Marie encouraged me to draw the beautiful landscape of the Langeberg range, foothills and bushveld. I even drew their beloved field of flags by their winery business. The Fouries poured into our whole team in a deeply loving, yet in a laid-back way. I will always remember Johan telling us that “it’s all about family.” Heidi Baker had the revelation of making love practical, and being hungry for God; but the Fouries brought me deep relationship of another kind to the table. Johan was and is a papa.
Each Iris base is different. We have experienced three bases: in Mozambique and South Africa. We also know two affiliates: one in Virginia, and the other in East London, Eastern Cape. The bases had a sense of family, which seemed strongest at Footprints near Jo’burg, and here at Western Cape. Since our base is not the traditional compound base with a children’s centre, a different strategy is needed. Johan’s dream is to put missionary couples and families in a ring of towns around the base and farm. We are to all link with other ministries and churches. These ministries aren’t Iris, but they are still family. And that is exactly what we’ve done. We’re further apart geographically from the other Iriser’s than we’d like, but since we link arms with other ministries, we flourish in our own callings. Some of us are with children, others with seniors. It hasn’t been easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. We are intentionally sowing into our Iris family, as well as the family clusters we’ve joined.
Tony and I joined with several YWAM ministries, and they’ve become family. The teen girls who we share Saturdays and Mondays with, have become family. Our cellgroup at church is a very tight-knit family; we’re always in touch on a Whatsapp group. We can share the need for prayer at any time. This is the ex-pat group in our church, and is perfect for being ourselves. We don’t need to always be in ministry-mode, unless the Holy Spirit prompts us. We’ve found this group is very real; if you need them, they will come help you. We’re so thankful for this kind of family. I had a similar experience of family when I was let go from my job in British Columbia. I became very close to some church leaders, the women’s group, and my connect group. They became my life-line. It’s been the same of certain female friends – they are like sisters to me. Even my relationship with own sister has become stronger in the past few years.
Families are actually the building block of a sturdy civilization. Families are being attacked all the time by the enemy of our souls. Marriages are as well. And so, this brings us to one of the core reasons why Tony and I were called to South Africa. We are called to be mom and dad, tannie and oom to the abandoned latch-key kids of the townships. We are like second parents, loving them, teaching them, and discipling them in the faith. We allow them freedom to love and make mistakes; to learn and grow. Yet we have healthy boundaries and are teaching them about honour. One of the girls, Jamelia, told me that we are her second parents. She tells me that she is very thankful for us. Another girl, Chantelle, calls me Mommy, although she still calls Tony “Uncle” Tony. We love them all. As we spend time with them, they grow. They really just need our intentional time and love. This takes commitment, especially during covid times. The girls had been in turn, loving younger township kids through small Bible studies. They got to be big sisters. That’s family. This is how family should be. We’re not perfect, and neither are they. But when there’s grace and unconditional love through the Holy Spirit, we can bless each other. We can grow like plants in good soil. I pray that this may be this way in your own lives too.
Are you part of family like this? If you’re not, would you like to be? Seek God – he can draw you to the right place. It won’t be in a gang that seeks to harm and destroy. It will be in within family that loves you to life.
Let us pray together. Lord, thank you that you set the lonely into families. May you pick us up and out of destructive relationships and bring healing. For the broken, I ask that you father us in a way that only you can. Minister deeply to hearts, restore a sense of their identity in you, as your child. We ask for more spiritual moms and dads. There are so many needed, not just the Copples and the Fouries. Not just Brian Britton and Rolland Baker. Fill our arms with the broken prodigals and those who need family. Prepare our hearts. We thank you that you create the best family. May you bring your deep healing and love. And may we continue to grow in you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on the coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the “Listen” drop-down menu). Click here: (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #59! If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!
Updates: For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I am almost finished the expensive Herceptin injections, with just one to go! I do not need tamoxifen, although will need to have my chemotherapy port flushed. I have decided to keep the port for now. I am continuing MLD therapy, lymphedema treatments and physiotherapy to get me stronger for our eventual return to Canada. We are applying for medical visas, which would allow us to stay six months longer in South Africa. The medical treatment here is excellent, although expensive, despite the rand-Canadian dollar exchange has helped keep costs almost 20 percent lower. We have incurred significant medical debt, although kind people in Canada and around the world have helped us so far. God bless each and every one of them. But we still need help. Please click here for the medical campaign page to get more info: https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/medical-campaign.html.
We are still crowdfunding to cover the cancer treatments (and Tony’s TB treatments). If you feel led to contribute, please do so via our PayPal: https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod
L-A’s colouring book: If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at OliveTree Bookshop in Mountain Mill Shopping Centre (near Pick n Pay), Worcester, Western Cape. You can also buy them at LeRoux and Fourie Wineshop on R60 beside Cape Lime (between Nuy and Robertson). Or you can order one (or more) printed for you through Takealot.com through this link: https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus/PLID68586424
Bless you and thank you for your support!