The Ministry of Pain

Tea Time
Tea Time

The St. George’s outreach team left on Saturday, and I miss them already. I had a wonderful time being with my St. George’s family in Johannesburg and Cape Town; it was very special to share my adopted country with my church family. I particularly enjoyed the moment when my two good friends Martha and Agatha came over for tea.

In many ways, however, this South Africa outreach trip was the hardest one for me. In Johannesburg, we visited the mother whose house we had helped to rebuild several years ago. Our friend recently discovered that she was HIV positive; the pain was fresh, and she wept in the arms of a mutual friend as she told us how she discovered that she had HIV. On the same day, we had some more sad news. The teenager who was the head of a household we had helped a few years ago was in a downward spiral. The state had taken away her younger brothers and sisters, and her HIV had developed into AIDS.

In Cape Town, we found ourselves in an unfortunate situation that caused a local community leader in an informal settlement to “lose face” among his community members. Although the situation was not of our making, we were not totally without blame, and we sat in silence listening to the community leader express his hurt, the pain etched solidly on his face.

“The ministry of pain” is how I would describe this outreach trip, and it is a ministry we can all learn. In my American culture, we don’t deal well with pain, suffering, or grief. We are taught to “get over it,” “move on,” “rise above it,” “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” Seeing someone express grief or pain makes us feel awkward, powerless, uncomfortable. We don’t know what to do; we don’t know what to say. I’m a people pleaser, and I like to fix situations; so I particularly struggle in this area. However, with God’s help, I’m learning that it is more important to just be there with someone who is suffering than to say or do anything. The gift of presence is a healing source. It is a lesson that I’m praying to learn so that I can live more faithfully in both my adopted and native countries.

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Rethinking Church

ChurchWhat is church? How do we do church; or rather, how should we do church? Is there just one way of doing church, or are there a myriad of ways? I recently started the Fresh Expression of Church’s six-month training course (Mission Shaped Ministry); and after my first class, I have been asking myself these questions.

Sometime ago, Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, called for a ‘mixed economy’ of church that includes both traditional and fresh forms of church: “Celebrating and building on what is mission-shaped in traditional forms of church and finding ways to proclaim the Gospel afresh to those who do not relate to traditional ways.” And thus the seeds for the Fresh Expression of Church movement were planted. What is a fresh expression of church? It’s a form of church for our changing culture, taking and being the church were people are. Shedding the mindset of the come-to-us type of approach, fresh expression of church says, ‘We’ll come to you.’

My role at Growing the Church is to oversee their youth development and resourcing ministry, and I’m taking the Mission Shaped Ministry course in the hope that it will help us reach out more effectively to young people in ways relevant to their culture.

Adapting

I can hardly believe it, but I have been living in Cape Town for nearly six weeks. Saturday will mark the milestone. All is going well. I continue to work hard on the Anglicans Ablaze study guide booklet. I’m beginning to meet with local and provincial youth leaders so that we can start building relationships. I participated in my first Rooted in Jesus training, and on Saturday I will start the Mission Shaped Ministry course, in the hopes that Growing the Church will have the opportunity to help start a Fresh Expressions of Church at a local university.

 CarOn the home front, I have moved into a lovely flat, opened a bank account, subscribed to an ISP, and started grocery shopping on my own. I bought a car earlier this week, and I’m beginning to drive. (Today I drove on the motorway for the first time!) I am spending a lot of time with my South African friends and getting to know them and their families better. I enjoy this time the most, and I am learning loads about South African culture from them.

I am also beginning to miss the familiar—my family, my friends, my church, food, the shops, Starbucks, an active social life, work that was routine, tennis, kickboxing, walks around my neighborhood, grocery stores with aisles of choices, houses that aren’t gated in with fences and barb wire and locked up with burglary bars, walks in the parks, the freedom to come and go as I please by myself, my puppy-nephew, taxis that abide by traffic rules, words spelled with z‘s and not s‘s.

There are many things that I love about my new culture; others I find rather strange. No doubt my feelings indicate the birth pangs of culture shock, which is just a natural part of the process of living in another country. During my missionary training at MTI, we were warned about the phase of culture shock and were prepped for it. I think being aware of this phase is key and will make going through the process much easier than if I didn’t know otherwise. The most important thing about culture shock is not getting stuck in it. Equally important, I believe, is not blitzing through it, trying to escape the discomfort. I’m praying for the courage to live into the culture shock, to acknowledge the discomfort, to reflect deeply on my home culture and on my adopted culture, to emerge on the other side as a person who can live healthy and happily in both of her worlds.