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.