Monday, June 23, 2014

June 23rd Update - A Brief Testimony and Pictures


We have been in South Africa for almost four months. My (Zach) heart is full this evening. I have a lovely wife who is my best friend, I have two growing boys who are absolute joys, and I have a job where I am challenged, encouraged and also where I can provide for my family. All of these things (and many more – more than I can count) are earthly blessings given only by God that I do not deserve for one second. It is all because of God’s grace, and I can take no credit for any of them.

Eleven years ago (June 2013) I had just finished my sophomore year of high school and I was dead in my sin...lost, insecure, attempting to climb the social ladder but failing, saying a million curse words to “be cool”, the list goes on and on…but the Lord used a Young Life leader named John Aderholt and a few high school soccer guys to bring me to Young Life camp where I heard the gospel for the first time. Now, did lights go off in my mind and heart when I heard the good news that Jesus died for sinners and I was one of them? Absolutely not. I was confused. It was too good to be true. I was used to working my butt (or, shall I say “bottom” since we are teaching Bruce to use that word as it is a little more wholesome) off in life for everything that I had received in life, and I did not understand grace. My eyes were not yet opened to the glorious gospel.

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)

You may ask – what is the gospel? I enjoy Mark Dever’s (a Baptist pastor out of Washington DC) brief explanation. “The good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him. In his great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God.”
Over the next two years, I changed slowly. The Lord in His mercy allowed me to be accepted into Grove City College (a conservative Christian college north of Pittsburgh) due to me being a tall, left-handed pitcher. At the end of my senior year of high school, there came to a point (after getting drunk for 3 days with some buddies and puking near a toilet on the morning of the fourth day) when I had to make some decisions. Feeling empty and ashamed, I asked myself a few questions…What is the purpose of my life? If I say that I am a Christian, then why am I not acting like one?

I was wasting my life. I deserved death. But God. God had mercy on me, and He opened my eyes to the Savior, and I am eternally grateful. Over the last nine years, He has led me on a journey that I never could have dreamed of. I may share more of that journey at another time. Until then, God is good. Trust him.

“God without Christ is no God. And a no-God cannot save or satisfy the soul. Following a no-God will be a wasted life. God-in-Christ is the only true God and the only path to joy.” I took this nifty note from “Don’t Waste Your Life” by John Piper. It is a great book!

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:1-10)

In Christ,

P.S. Here are a few pictures of the Hillegi. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The LORD has done great things for us and we are filled with joy.” Psalm 126:3

The LORD has done great things for us and we are filled with joy.” Psalm 126:3

    We’ve been in the beautiful country of South Africa just under 3 months. At this point, we are feeling pretty settled – living ‘normal life’ in a different place. I don’t want to take for granted what a blessing it is that I (Kait) can confidently say we feel at home.  God has provided daily for our every need and has richly blessed us here.  

      One lesson I’ve been learning over the past year is to recognize the daily manna from the Lord in my life just as he provided daily for the Israelites when they were in exile in the desert (See Exodus 16). God is personal. He is near to us, he hears us, and he gives us what we need for each day. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:19

       As a daughter of the King, He knows me intimately and loves me specifically and tenderly.  

"O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it."
Paslm 139: 1-6

        My ultimate assurance of His love toward me is His son’s work on the cross on my behalf...

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4

        ...But there are also hundreds – thousands of ways he shows his love towards me daily – through blessings great and small (His daily manna). I don’t want to let another moment pass by before I share some of them with you.

Nights on the couch with my man.

One of our neighbors has opened his playground and toys for us to use. He has a sandbox, a swing, and toy tractors (Bruce's favorite). We play here at least 3 times a week!

Wyatt sleeps during morning play.

When Bruce plays and Wyatt sleeps, I get to sit and watch and think and pray and enjoy the beautiful setting.

We love story nights with the Whitlock family. Bruce especially loves the acting-out of the stories.

The boys play together!

Moments like this melt my heart. Bruce really loves his daddy and gets so excited when he comes home from work.
I love this picture. We get to be blessed by the photography skills of two of the Whitlock girls often, and this is just one example.

I love that Bruce loves his 'backpack' (it's a dog)! He gives me his tail to hold.

Our boys give us so many reasons all day every day to praise God for his blessings over us!

Here is our peaceful room we get to sleep in.

Victoria comes to clean each week and loves baby Wy.  I put Wyatt down for a nap and he was crying and fighting sleep for a bit. The crying stopped and a few moments later I found these two. Wyatt was a 'happy chappy' (as South Africans say) snuggled up on Victoria's back.

          People we meet here often ask us how we had the courage to make such a huge move overseas. The Sunday school answer is God’s grace. And it’s true – but more specifically, Zach and I speak about the hope we have in Christ. The same Jesus we gave our lives to in high school, is the same Lord and Savior who led us to South Africa and is ever present with us during our days.  He is unchanging, and although our circumstances change, He remains the same (Hebrews 13:8). He is our very present help in time of need (Psalm 46:1).

Friday, May 2, 2014

Early May 2014 Update

Hallo (which is hello in Afrikaans) family and friends,

It has been a busy past few weeks. We celebrated a traditional passover with friends, I (Zach) went on a work trip to Nairobi, Kenya for a few days, we went to Kaapsehoop to see some beautiful sights, Wyatt is crawling like crazy, Bruce is talking up a storm and is enjoying being a big brother, we received our shipment from the USA, we are meeting more people, Kait has met some ladies with small children in our neighborhood, and we have monkey problems (they stole 10 bananas and 2 mangos from our kitchen - blog post to follow). 

Kait and I have been memorizing the beginning of Psalm 34 this past week, and we have found much encouragement from the first few verses.

"I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. O, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together! I sought the Lord, and he and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears" (Psalm 34:1-3).

In Christ, we are able to bless the Lord at all times. Why? Not because of our circumstances (which can change in an instant), but because our names are written in the book of life (Luke 10: 17-20).  Even in difficult times, we can be "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (2 Cor. 6:10). Let us not boast in ourselves, but in the Lord (2 Cor. 10:17). May we be humble ("The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Psalm 51:17)) and magnify the Lord. He will deliver us because He did not spare His Son ("He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)). May this be the meditation of our heart this day and forevermore.

The Hillegi

P.S. See below for a few pictures.

Bruce feeding Wyatt

Celebrating a traditional passover on Good Friday with Craig leading us

Using our indoor barbecue grill for the first time

A mini deer with horns in our neighbor's yard

In Nairobe where I bargained vendors down from $300 to $48 for some souvenirs

A view of Kibera, a slum in Nairobe (a family of 5 people live in a 6 feet by 8 feet mud lean-to)

Eating some Ethiopian feed with Fanie (a co-worker) and two guys who minister to the South Sudanese 

Mt. Kilmanjaro from our plane

Two little buddies mesmerized by rain

Enjoying a night at the golf course

Our shipment arrived (hooray for books and toys!)

Bruce had a play date with a friend

Another view from Kaapsehoop

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mid-April Update

Family and Friends,

How are you? Life for the Hillegi is going pretty well. We have been here over  seven weeks and are adjusting nicely. We miss our family back in the USA a lot, especially when we have very slow internet connections and we want to speak with them (as a side note, please do not take for granted unlimited internet - you are very fortunate!). 

We love the house that we moved into on April 1st. It is perfect for us - a beautiful, furnished 3-BR house in a gated community that is also on a golf course. We are very, very fortunate and we do not want to take our situation for granted. 

We have been going through 1 John with the Whitlocks over the past few weeks (we just finished 2:15-17), and it has been eye-opening. Two verses in chapter two have really stuck out to me. "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins... (vs. 1)" and "I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake (vs. 12)." These two verses show that John (the author) is tender towards his audience by calling them little children, and he encourages them to not sin (which is impossible until his people are glorified in heaven). He then points them to Jesus who is their only advocate with the Father and the propitiation (a big word, but one of the most important words in the Bible - look it up!). Christianity is the only religion where eternal life is not dependent on a person's good works, and that is a good thing! It is not what we do for God (not that we can do anything - see Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3: 9-18, John 15:5), but what God has done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53, Romans 3:23-25, Ephesians 2, Philippians 3 and about a hundred other passages in the Bible). Let us bow down and worship the King.

Anywho, below are a few pictures:

Yes, this is a giraffe near our friends' house (Kait was 40 feet away while taking the picture). 

Bruce loves his little brother (BTW, Wyatt is close to crawling!)

Eating some corn with my little man...

Did I mention that the views are breathtaking?

Before "caving" at Sudwalla Caves with our friends Willem and Helene (they are awesome!)

In the cave with the fam!

Drinking some cave was tasty!

Another picture with our friends!

The girls getting the royal spa treatment where...

little fish clean off the dead skin from tickles a lot! We were jumpy at the beginning, but after getting used to felt pretty good.

First round of golf in South Africa happened today!


Zach, Kait and the boys

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Almost One Month Down in SA

Friends and Family:

Tomorrow will mark four weeks in Nelspruit, South Africa. We have been staying with the Whitlocks for the last four weeks due to challenges in finding a place to rent. It has been nice to transition slowly, and we have experienced great fellowship with the Whitlock family. Lord-willing, we will move into our 3-BR fully-furnished house in Matumi Golf Estate on April 1 (this is a different house than the one I blogged about a few weeks ago...there was a sewage problem with that one so we canceled the contract). To catch everyone up for the last few weeks, Bruce turned two on the 23rd of March, Wyatt is very close to crawling, Bruce loves to swim in the pool, Kait is enjoying being a stay-at home mom, and I am enjoying the challenges of work. I am really thankful for my mom who has been my right-hand woman in dealing with the sale of our house in Pittsburgh (Lord-willing, it will close on April 11th - please pray!). I (Zach) have been downtrodden the past few days due to various trials. However, I received an SMS from a dear brother in the Lord today that was a great reminder to be thankful. It read "Always remember to be thankful when there is housing, water, food, money (provision) and those who love you surrounding you." This is a great word. The truth is that if we receive anything good it is because of God's grace. We don't deserve any good things, but God is very merciful and gracious to his children (Ephesians 2:1-10; Lamentations 3:21-23; Romans 8:28-39).

With this being said, I wanted to share a few pictures...ooh yeah, the weather here is the 80's...

Zach, Kait and the boys