Tag Archive: rural

* Note from the author: this note talks of topics not yet fully resolved in my own mind, and may be retracted or edited in the future, please approach it with due grace. It covers sensitive topics and I have somewhat skirted around a few areas related to my arguments. Sometimes in searching for truth one must abandon comfort and force oneself to begin to form an opinion and this is my public attempt at doing so *

I work in a field that I enjoy where I can also make a difference in other people’s lives – and I do this from the perspective of my life philosophy – which is based on the teachings of Jesus. I am no militant evangelist but a philosopher and a man in search of truth, so when I come across a person in a distressful situation – I give encouragement and advice based on the philosophy I live by – sometimes this means advising people to seek God

This is the premise from which I understand evangelism at this point in my life. Evangelism is such a dirty word these days. Understandably so. Most evangelism – or at least the type that most people (of whatever persuasion) are exposed to is a closed minded endeavour to bully or provoke a listener into abandoning all they have ever known for something alien and seemingly harsh.

When the message of Jesus comes across as unfairly harsh and closed minded I believe something has gone wrong in relating it. However – there is danger in avoiding this line of thinking too, and I come now to one of the toughest questions in christiondom today:

Can I be a christian and open minded at the same time? Does being a christian mean that I must close my mind to whatever else and become what I protest to hate: closed-minded?

What do you think? I think we tread on sensitive ground and a part of me wants not to go on exploring this question for fear of the stern words I may receive. A quote comes to mind though:

“There is nothing so self defeating as a question that has not been fully understood when it has been fully posed”: Ravi Zacharias quoting CS Lewis

What this statement gets at is that the inquiring mind must first set adequate and appropriate foundations and devices in place before attempting to answer profundities with due eloquence and sensitivity.

It is important to realise that one does not sacrifice open mindedness by holding onto certain philosophies and ideas. Every person has a perspective from whose balcony they look upon the world. Without a perspective that one firmly holds onto, one is blind. And to be blind is to be closed minded.

What I have come to believe is that though it requires a delicate application of wisdom, one can in fact be open minded and hold on to one specific and exclusive perspective or philosophy simultaneously – on one condition:

The exclusive philosophy to which one holds must allow for the free will of others and hold that each individual is only responsible ultimately for them self.

Where evangelism seems to go wrong and cause hurt is where the evangelist denies the free will of him he evangelises and wrongly assumes a greater responsibility than he is fairly due for the listener’s life and beliefs. I believe that when correctly done; it is the role of the evangelist to provide and present argument, persuasion, doctrine freely as being what he believes. He should do so with conviction and passion – for passion is stirred by true belief. But – this is where his responsibility ends. He may even pray for the patron of his conversation but he must leave it then to them to ponder and act or act not.

Within the christian worldview – what follows humane and godly evangelism is a matter between God and an individual.

Being open minded means accepting that people believe what they believe – it does not mean rejecting what you already believe or feeling under obligation to reject it. One should be ready to give a thought to someone else’s beliefs and weigh them up against their own but refusing to adopt someone else’s beliefs does not make one closed minded.

Jesus was sure and uncompromising in who he was (God incarnate) and in what he believed to be true, and he stated it in no uncertain terms – but he was open minded, listening to the arguments of others before questioning them and stating his own.

If  being a christian did in fact call me to become closed minded and bigoted it would in fact be a case of “Missionary Impossible” for me.

It is from a careful, confident and open minded approach like this that people become receptive to arguments on matters of such sensitivity and importance, approach people in any other way and you will misrepresent the gospel and our God – for our God is one of love, compassion and wisdom, as well as of justice and holiness.

I think that a life well lived is one in which someone seeks God and finds peace in a life given over to Jesus. Heed my words, I believe them to be true and critical, but take it upon yourself to bring them further or leave them here.


Dear friends and family

The past few months have been dense with learning experiences, challenges (spiritual, emotional, physical) and God. I arrived here 3.5 months ago and this fact surprises me every time I think upon it because it has felt a lot longer. I think part of the reason for this is that back at University time really flew, especially in final year as a Mechanical Engineer, the continual deadlines came at me each week and the mounting pile of work and concepts to comprehend meant that I was always on the move.

Students never stop moving. They are a passionate demographic. Whatever they are doing, they are generally doing it with everything they have. I always felt as if I needed a few more hours each day; the effect of spending a long period of time with the constant feeling that one is short of time leaves the impression that time passes by very quickly. In contrast to this, life here in the valley is still very busy, but only to a fair and manageable degree. In University I needed 28 hours per day, here I need 24 hours per day and so my life feels balanced. This is what I have been searching for and have gone in search of this year – balance.

I would describe the work that I am involved in here as two part time jobs. The first is as a Maths teacher at Kwa-Dinabakubo Secondary School and the second is as a general project team member where I assist with the weekly teaching and other projects that go on in any way that I can. Usually this includes video camera and multi-media work. We try to record each teaching and message that is given in both video and audio to put on CDs and DVDs. I also am the only one around with a car available and so another duty of mine involves taking people where they need to be for the different programs.

The school work is my main concern though, this job has become very close to my heart and is a vital part of this year of mine as I try to ascertain what to do with the years that follow this one. I am testing a hypothesis; I want to know if I can truly make a life out of teaching. I am considering acquiring a diploma in higher education and becoming a travelling teacher, spending a few years at a time (up to 10) in different countries, starting in the East (Japan, Thailand, South Korea, etc.).

So far the hypothesis is being proven true. I still thoroughly enjoy teaching and find that teaching comes naturally to me. As I step in front of a class and begin to open my mouth; it is as if a switch gets flicked and I go into ‘teaching mode’. I have learnt that I thrive in an atmosphere of organised chaos where maths lessons become more of a dialogue than a monologue by the guy in front with the chalk in his hand. I find that my training in engineering has prepared me such that I am able to answer questions even on new areas with just a few minutes of quite thought – giving me the freedom to provide a free sort of classroom environment. One in which every mind is engaged constantly.

I also know the value of discipline though, having learnt that without a certain amount of discipline one becomes shackled by one’s own languidity. I spent the first few weeks at the school walking around with a stern expression and a stiff gait, demanding respect from the kids. Thus when I arrived in my first class, the first impression was already one of someone who won’t take nonsense. This backdrop then gave me the freedom to introduce a less strict atmosphere into the class whilst retaining control. I enjoy a good joke, whether made by myself or one of the kids in the back row, and I believe this helps to build upon that relationship I hope to foster with the learners. In the end I want them to feel comfortable to come to me with maths questions, and life questions. On this front I have had some measure of success already. There have been 4 or 5 kids that have opened up to me and who I have done my best to guide in one way or another (with God’s help).

These are some of my thoughts on my mission thus far. Peace and grace to all my supporters. Thanks for the support. You are making a difference.

Jeremy (aka Jack Figure)

I began to work in Kwadinabakubo Secondary School just 3 weeks ago now. I hoped to be like Keating from Dead Poets Society. I think I am making head way.

First, an introduction to Kwadinabakubo Secondary School. One eventually gets used to saying the name, though it took me a few weeks. I have discovered something interesting about the rural third world, something old school and satisfying: when one is curious about something these days one need go no further than a simple Google search and the information is yours. In the third world however, you don’t get people with blogs or websites, so the information just simply isn’t on the net.

Crazy right?

Hence the resurgence of journalism. When Google fails, interviews become your search engine. Having just read an Isaac Asimov Sci-fi detective novel, I can’t help but feel a small sense of adventure when I seek information in this way. In any case, I digress, what I’m getting to is the meaning of the name of Kwadinabakubo Secondary School. When Google searches yielded nothing helpful, I began asking people in the area about the name. It turns out that the name comes from a traditional Zulu chief who ruled the area long ago. His name was Dinabakubo, translated literally as “To anger someone”.

So back in the history of this place was a boy who made those around him angry, yet rose to power and ruled an entire district. I hope I discover more about this story.

The school is a government township school, meaning that poverty grips the school with a corrugated iron fist and it shows. The school grounds are classrooms scattered over fields of knee-high overgrown weeds, sparsely interrupted by patches of red KwaZulu-Natal dirt. The kids adhere to a relaxed school uniform regulation, wearing as much of the uniform as they were able to acquire for themselves. Gray long pants and a white shirt, every 5th kid with a tie, every 10th with a school jersey and every 20th adorning a blazer. In classic South African style however, every kid has perfectly shined black school shoes. Every kid has a cloth they dearly guard and pull out at each available moment, placing each foot on a ledge to maintain that shine, ankles exposed, I’ve only seen 2 pairs of socks so far.

There is no bell and when the government disallowed corporal punishment, they put no alternatives in the hands of the teachers meaning that if there were a bell it would scarcely mean anything to the hoard anyway. When I first arrived, I though it was break time, but this is simply how things go all day in Kwadinabakubo. The problem is mostly with the teachers though. The kids are in class when their teachers are there, but my oh my how the teachers adhere to African time…

I am one of three volunteers who are working with CAPRO here with this mission to the school. I am joined by Ayanda and Sinesipho who teach English, they are beginning to set up a literacy program where they can identify and help the students who have managed somehow to hustle their way thus far through the school system thus far without being able to read/write/speak/understand english

I am teaching Mathematics. I am loving it. I can honestly hardly contain my excitement and enthusiasm following most school days. I have become that guy that loves his job. I always wondered if that was too high an aspiration to aim for, but here I am, each day as I walk from my final class over the weed patches, black-jacks clinging to my jeans, back to my car, I grin with a deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. I am working on the front lines for God, I am living out what I proclaim to believe (the teachings of Jesus), I am shaping young minds, I get to talk of interesting things all day and thrive off of a dynamic environment.

The beauty of a public/government school to someone like me is that I am free to do things my way:
– One must rely on an ability to think quickly on one’s feet, the labour of detailed planning is made unnecessary by the chaotic freedom in a school like this.
– The dynamic environment is extremely stimulating, being forced to juggle mathematical concepts, 40 different personalities, an improvised lesson and discipline all at the same time. One must constantly seek to hold 40 people’s interest, maintain order whilst allowing the small amount of chaos that catalyses the learning process and make sure to teach from the perspective of those whose attention one holds, one must teach and explain to their level.
– I absolutely thrive in this chaos.

The privilege of seeing that spark in the eyes of a kid as they suddenly grasp something that has been a mystery for years is invigorating. As they exclaim “oooooooohhhh!” and suddenly the motivation is shrugged off and they attack the next problem on the worksheet with new confidence. Knowing that you have just made an irreversible difference in a kid’s life like this is special. And I won’t grow tired of it quickly.

As relationships with the kids grow, other opportunities open up too, I shared a very enjoyable conversation on religion, apologetics, practical philosophy and Jesus with two matric kids just the other day.

Please leave any comments or questions you may have, I will respond as soon as I can,


Jack Figure (aka Jeremy)

Have you ever watched Dead Poets Society? I watched it first as a much younger version of myself, no doubt because my sisters had rented it from the video store (yeah VHS – retro cool!). Of course I could think of cooler things to watch than what if I’m honest sounded pretty boring… I mean poets? And dead ones? Geez… boring… of course maybe if it was more like ‘The Return of the Dead Poets’ or ‘The Living Dead Poets Society’ or something it would have been more enticing to a 9-year-old, head-in-the-clouds kid like myself. I mean zombies, and poetical zombies… That’s good TV. Anyways, I digress, the movie, right:

So I begrudgingly watched the movie. The grudge slowly turned to awe though, and this may have been when I first entertained the idea of becoming a teacher like the awe-inspiring, oh captain my captain, John Keating (played by Robin Williams).

The Living Dead Poets Society

The Living Dead Poets Society

Much later on, the idea resurfaced when I realised  some time in 2010 that I was not really cut out for industry work as a Mechanical Engineer. I began to truly enjoy my studies and realised the academic life may suite me better. I had a few conversations with a few lecturers that I had at the time with whom I had been impressed. With the information gained from these conversations I began considering the lifestyle that an academic might have. I became convinced that I wanted to pursue such a lifestyle. The lifestyle sounded a lot more like freedom than any industry job I’d come across before.

I had the perfect style of erm, hair, and thinking to be that crazy and eccentric, bushy haired professor that the majority of university and college students love to hate. I could be that tweed jacket wearing, wildly intelligent (or at least appearing so to undergraduates) Prof. who finds potential in a few young minds and moulds and shapes them to become astute, shrewd and wise.

This has become a real passion of mine. Finding young minds and hearts to shape with what I have come to believe are extremely important truths. Truths not only about science or maths or English, but about the world. Philosophy. Religion. Psychology. Truth.

As time went on and the idea of vagabonding grew in substance and passion; this idea of teaching as John Keating did began to merge with the longing I had to travel and see the world, and by doing so; to widen my perspectives with which I see the world. In order to set out to share deep and wise perspectives with young minds, I would have to make sure my own perspectives were not narrow and unworthy of reproduction.

Hence the travelling, teaching, missionary-explorer-vagabond.

This goal for this year has taken shape now with its first phase beginning on the 7th of February 2012, where I will be joining CAPRO, a missionary organisation working to supplement the substandard education of grade 11 and grade 12 students in the largely rural area known as The Valley of 1000 Hills in the Kwazulu-Natal region of South Africa.

I have had many concerns since deciding to follow this path a few months ago, the smallest of which is not money. As many of my friends get jobs and begin to earn money this year as newly graduate engineers and as they begin to pay back their parents for their education, I find myself in a position such that I am completely and totally in the arms of my God who must fulfil his promise to provide for me while I do what I believe he has ‘called’ me to do.

Every now and again however, (with increasing frequency) I find myself quite excited to have jumped into what I have only spoken and postulated about before. The new environment to experience, the new challenges to figure out and battle, the lessons to learn, the young minds to shape and the spiritual strength to gain. All of these things have become of infinite importance to me, and I feel complete peace (most of the time) in giving up a corporate career and all of the security that comes with one this year, in order to chase them down.

I know this whole idea of the Inspiring Professor is very romanticised in the Dead Poets Society movie, but I don’t expect an exact replication, I just expect to make some noticeable difference in a neglected group of young and potential filled students that come out of adverse conditions and may still accomplish great things, if given the chance.


Jack Figure (aka Jeremy)

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