A Phone of My Own

I’m waffling over whether to click “publish” or not. Dare I—or not? I’m a bit embarrassed to publish this post; but as I said from the beginning, my blog will reflect my experiences of living cross-culturally. I won’t gloss over difficult situations or paint things in a rose-colored lens. Yet what I have written about is very first world. Even if my American and South African friends can’t relate, I think they will respect my honesty; and I know they will love me all the same, so here goes…

Budget Man puts the squeeze on iPhone. It didn't work.
Budget Man puts the squeeze on iPhone.

Ever since I arrived in Cape Town, I have been borrowing my boss’s spare mobile phone. It was time for me to get my own phone, and I had my heart set on the iPhone 5. Earlier this year, a local carrier had a good deal for the iPhone 5; but I hadn’t been in the country long enough to have all the required paperwork to get the phone on contract. Months later, when I did have the paperwork, the deal had ended and the iPhone 5 was way out of my budget. Ok. I thought. I’ll get the iPhone 4s. Well, it was still out of my budget, but I tried my best to justify it: It will sync with my laptop and tablet. I love the iPhone; I’m familiar with it. I can use several apps to stay in touch with my family. I need it to stay in touch with my family.

I spent several weeks researching all types of smart phones and looking at several local carriers, trying to find the best deal. I crunched numbers, trying to squeeze the iPhone 4s in my budget. I agonised over whether or not to purchase the phone or to buy a certain android phone, which was in my budget. (Gasp—I can’t go droid!) I was fretting about what to do. Finally, I accepted that I couldn’t afford the iPhone, and I began to pout. A week ago, when I was having a pouty conversation with God, I felt God say to me, Get a grip. You are whining over stepping down from a Mercedes to a BMW, whereas most people are still riding along in a horse and buggy.

Ouch, God. That hurt. But God got my attention. Over the next few days, I did a lot of soul searching. I realized, as ridiculous as it sounds, I had a lot of my identity tied up in Apple. I love Macs, and I am an “Apple person;” but somewhere along the way, my admiration for this product line became a way in which I defined myself and that wasn’t good.

Wrestling with my phone dilemma brought me face-to-face with the core of my problem; in many respects, I have been trying to hold on to the lifestyle I had in the States—and that’s impossible. South Africa is not the USA, and I make a fraction of what I earned at my old job in the States. And even if I could create a mini-USA lifestyle bubble for myself, it wouldn’t be the right thing to do, especially as a missionary.

But it’s hard. I feel the tension of going from a first-world country to a developing one. At times the tension is in the background; other times, it is at the forefront–but the tension is always there. I guess it is a part of living cross-culturally. It’s a challenge to know what to hold on to and what to let go. I’m embarrassed that it was so difficult for me to let go of something so trivial as a phone, but it was hard. On the flipside, some things are worth holding on to. Recently, I have come to terms that I need to join a gym, as it isn’t safe for me to go on walks by myself and as public tennis courts are non-existence. Physical health is vital to my emotional, mental, and spiritual health; and I am feeling the lack of exercise from which my body is suffering. This is the most unfit I have been in my adult life. Being fit is something worth holding on to; but the phone, I had to let go—and that’s OK. Steve Jobs would understand.

*Image created by Idea go, courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Girlfriend Time

Having coffee with Betsy
Having coffee with Betsy

This past Friday, 9 August, was Women’s Day in South Africa; and I had a fabulous weekend celebrating the joys of sisterhood with my girlfriends. On Friday, I went to breakfast with some girlfriends and in the evening went to the gym with one of them to work off the breakfast. On Saturday, I had my first “girls-night-out” with some new friends, and it was great to hang out in Cape Town, eating Thai food and enjoying good conversation. On Sunday, I met a new friend, Betsy, a fellow Nashvillian who recently moved to Cape Town with her family. It was great to finally meet Betsy, and I’m grateful for our mutual friend who put us in contact with each other.

The past few weeks at work have been very hectic, and I was thankful to have a little girlfriend time over the long weekend. I keep saying that I want the next six months of life in Cape Town to be about making friends and embracing life here. I’m so grateful for the five new girlfriends I have met in the past two weeks. At all times God is simply amazing, but sometimes he just outdoes himself.

Mom and Dad in Cape Town!

with my GtC (work) family
with my GtC (work) family

Nearly two weeks ago, my parents touched down in Cape Town, and we have been having the best time together. It’s a delight to show them my city and to give them a taste of my new home. They have seen things ranging from the iconic and historic sites of Table Mountain and Robben Island to the local Pick n’ Pay and Food Lovers Market, two grocery stores where I shop. I treated them to fish and chips at Kalky’s, a colourful eatery in Kalk Bay; and Mom has fallen in love with our local South African “regular” tea, Five Roses.

Yet what is most special about my parents’ visit, besides our just being together, is that they are meeting and spending time with my South African family. It has been a blessing and a joy to introduce them to my new friends and to introduce my friends to my parents. My friends have rolled out the red carpet for my parents, and I am truly grateful.

The Parents with my "Strand Family"
The Parents with my “Strand Family”

Mom and Dad are amazed at the South African hospitality, and it makes them feel so much better knowing the lovely people with whom I work and hang out. I am amazed at the wonderful community in which God has placed me, all within less than six months.

Mom and Dad Relaxing at Estelle's and my Birthday Party
Mom and Dad Relaxing at Estelle’s and my Birthday Party

It is truly special for me to see family from both of my homes come together.

Passion and Dedication

Conference One: Group Shot
Conference One: Group Shot

 A few days ago, I returned from a three-week trip Tanzania. I wasn’t able to blog about my experiences while I was on the road. Many places we stayed didn’t have indoor plumbing or running water, let alone Internet access. But I had an amazing time, and I would like to share some of my experiences in a short series of blog posts. This is the first installment.

It will take me days, if not weeks, to process all of my experiences in Tanzania. I had a great time, and I am so grateful that God gave me the opportunity to travel to that country. I was a part of a Rooted in Jesus Junior training team. (Rooted in Jesus Junior is a discipleship program for children, aged 8-14.) Four of the team members were from the UK. One was from Kenya, and two were from Tanzania. I represented South Africa and the US.

We did two four-day trainings, and they went extremely well. The first training was in a rural area; the second training was in a city. Each training had its own unique flavor.

One thing that was consistent about both trainings was the passion and dedication of the participants. In the Mom and Babyfirst training, most of the trainees were Sunday school teachers from rural areas, most of whom only had a primary education. In the second training, we were training people who played a leadership role in their parish or diocese; these people were to go back and train others in their parishes or dioceses in Rooted in Jesus Junior. Many of the participants in both trainings traveled for hours (some for an entire day) to get to the training site. At the first training, many mothers brought their children; many moms had infants on their backs. The participants were completely dedicated in their call to ministry to children.

Over our three weeks of travel, I got to know several clergy—priests, archdeacons, bishops—in various dioceses. Their passion for God and their people was evident at every turn. Many of the priests spend an entire Sunday cycling to their various parishes to preach and to offer pastoral care. The roads they travel on are often so rough that I wonder how they make it without traveling on a 4×4. Many of the priests are on call 24/7, just a mobile phone call away from the needs of their people. One retired bishop reflected on his years as bishop, talking about how people would line up at his house, asking for advice, help, food, and spiritual counsel. This was a daily affair. When I asked what he would do when people asked for food, he replied, “feed them.” He was bishop for more than 18 years.

Training Team with Bishop of Musoma (Canon Jacob, far right)
Training Team with Bishop of Musoma (Canon Jacob, far right)

One of the Tanzanian members on our team was a clergyman named Jacob. Father Jacob is a canon and was just elected the diocesan secretary of his Diocese of Musoma. Canon Jacob is the type of person you are blessed to meet in a lifetime. You can see God’s fingerprint on his life, and he is so full of joy. Canon Jacob works hard, probably too hard; but he is so passionate about the Lord and about the flock under his care. Canon Jacob’s diocese is a model of the church being the hands and feet of Christ. The diocese has a healing center that is opened 24/7. People travel near and far to come to this center where they can be prayed for. The diocese also has a secretarial school where young women can come and stay and get secretarial skills so that they can get jobs. The diocese also has a center for people who have disabilities. The diocese is not rich or well-off, but its lack of financial resources doesn’t hinder it for being the hands and feet of Christ.

I often hear that Africa is going to be the center of Christianity for the next millennium, and I believe it. I used to believe it because the faith is exploding on the continent, and the African church is full of young people. But I now believe that Africa is going to be the center of Christianity because of people’s passion and dedication for God. We in our first-world, post-modern culture have lots to learn from our African brothers and sisters.

Mr. Sam Hannah

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Tanzania, I had to prepare a sermon. I’ll be preaching at a parish church while I’m there. Preaching is definitely not my gifting; and I’m slightly nervous about the whole thing, but I know with God’s help it will be fine.

My sermon centers around the New Testament reading for that Sunday, which is 1 John 4:7-21 (the famous passage about how loving God and our neighbour goes hand-in-hand), and the issue of children’s spiritual formation. I’ll be traveling to Tanzania to be trained in Rooted in Jesus Junior, and thinking about children’s faith formation made me reflect deeply on my own spiritual formation as a child. I was reminded of the Sunday school teacher I had as a child, and I talk about him in my sermon. Below is the clip, and it is dedicated to my Sunday school teacher, Mr. Sam Hannah, and to all Sunday school teachers for children. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

8-or-9-year old me. Age I would have been in Mr. Hannah's Sunday school class.
8-or-9-year old me. Age I would have been in Mr. Hannah’s Sunday school class.

“I want to tell you a story about myself. When I was a child, my Sunday School teacher was a man named Sam Hannah. Mr. Hannah was an elder in the church and community. He was kind-hearted and was like a grandfather to me and the other children. He prayed with us and listened to us. He would laugh with us, and I remember his lovely laugh. He was such a joyful man. Many times after church, he would buy cool drinks and candy for us kids. Mr. Hannah died several years ago, but I still remember him. I don’t remember a single Sunday school lesson he taught us, but I remember that he loved us, that he loved me. Through Mr. Hannah’s words and deeds, I knew that I was special to God and that God loved me. Through Mr. Hannah’s love, I experienced the love of God; and I have never forgotten that.

When your children grow up, they may not remember a single lesson you taught them about the faith, but they will always remember the way you loved them. Your love for them will be etched on their hearts and minds as a manifestation of God’s love for them. God is love; and if we love God, we love others, says the writer of 1 John. If we love God, we love our friends, enemies, people in our community, strangers, elders, children. 1 John 4:12 says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” If we love one another, God’s love is manifested among us.

In closing, I want to challenge you and me to love God more by loving our neighbour more. I especially want to challenge us to be more intentional about loving our children, teaching and equipping them to have a personal relationship with Christ now. Our children are not just our future; they are our present. As we love and welcome children in the name of Jesus, we welcome our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”

Before I became an adult or a teenager, before I knew where my life was going or what God was calling me to do or whom he was calling me to be, Mr. Sam Hannah was playing a role of ubuntu in my life. I am who am partly because of this wonderful man.

Stretching

Str-e-e-e-t-c--h
Str-e-e-e-t-c–h

“But you moved to Africa to be stretched out of your comfort zone,” my friend said. Yeah, but, I thought, I can take only so much change. I wish God would place me in “time out” for a while.

In a few weeks, I’ll be traveling to Tanzania in order to be trained in Rooted in Jesus Junior. As I read through the training manual, I only get more excited about my trip. I’m thrilled and honored that I will be trained in this powerful and transformative discipleship course for older children and young teens and that I will be bringing back this course to South Africa so that we can introduce the course to Sunday school and confirmation teachers. People in South Africa are already asking for training, so it’s quite exciting.

At the same time, I’m a bit nervous about the trip. I will be totally stretched out of my comfort zone, as I travel in rural Tanzania. In a way, I feel as though I will be hurled out of it. This American city girl is about to get the American city girl knocked out her. I will be traveling with a training team from the UK, and we have to bring our own water and loo rolls (toilet paper). In one of the places, we’ll be using something called a “long drop toilet.” (I think I’ll let this one surprise me.) I had to get several inoculations for the trip, and I’ll have to take malaria medicine and sleep under a mosquito net. I have been invited to preach at one of the parishes; and this, in a way, makes me more nervous than anything. Talking with my friend about my anxiety led to the snippet of conversation with which I opened this blog post.

I have no doubt that my trip to Tanzania is going to change me in some profound ways. I keep hearing about how hospitable the Tanzanian people are, and I know that I will be met with some mind-blowing hospitality. I look forward to visiting Rooted in Jesus Junior groups and to meeting the children. I look forward to being trained in the course and to helping out with the training during the second week. I’m praying for God’s direction as I start planning my sermon.

Yes, I’m being stretched out of my comfort zone. Like physical exercise, it is tiring and at times painful; but it is also exhilarating.

Home

St. James Beach: one of my favorite spots to walk
St. James Beach: one of my favorite spots to walk

Yay! Tomorrow I get to go home. I thought as I packed up for the next leg of the recent church trip. On the St. George’s trips to South Africa, we spend our first week in Johannesburg and then fly to Cape Town on Friday. Normally, when I repack for this leg of the trip, I think, I get to go to Cape Town tomorrow! This time I thought, I get to go home. Yay! I miss the mountains and the sea. I miss my flat and my bed. I miss my friends. I miss home.

This line of thinking is a good sign. Cape Town is indeed becoming home to me. However, I was a bit unnerved about this first feeling of home, and I fought against it on the flight to Cape Town and for several days afterwards. Nashville is where my family and friends live; it is where I grew up. It’s home, not Cape Town.

And yet Cape Town is feeling more and more like home, and that’s good—I keep telling myself, although a part of my heart stings. I have had several feelings of “home” during the past month—playing board games on Easter afternoon with the young members of the Adams family, my dear friends, visiting a friend who had a recent operation, routine grocery shopping at the local shops, curling up with a good book on a quiet evening.

Yet it’s ironic; the more I live into life here and the more Cape Town becomes home to me, the more homesick I get for home. I feel the tension. At times it’s intense. At times I want to go home and hug my family. I miss them.

Friends via Nashville Connections
Friends via Nashville Connections

It’s hard living in the in-between of two homes, but I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It’s a natural part of adapting to cross-cultural living. I look forward to the day when I can call both cities home without an ache in my heart or at least without the intensity of the ache.

As believers in Jesus Christ, living in the in-between is nothing new. It’s what we’re called to do, being dual citizens of heaven and earth. And at times, that type of living is difficult as well. It is also a tension.

I’m praying for the courage to live with the tension.

Reclaiming Ubuntu

Archbishop Tutu DancesLast Thursday, I had the honor and privilege to attend Archbishop Tutu’s Templeton Prize thanksgiving service at St. George the Martyr Cathedral. It was a beautiful and joyful service dotted with amazing music by the Cape Town Opera Voice of the Nation Ensemble. I think all of our hearts leapt when Archbishop Tutu started dancing with the ensemble.

 The archbishop accepted the award on behalf of the people of South Africa, saying it was the people’s award. Then he gave one of the most moving speeches I have ever heard. Speaking from the heart and walking in front of the nave of the church, Archbishop Tutu recounted parts of “the struggle” (South Africans who fought against apartheid refer to their fight as “the struggle”) as he came to the heart of his speech, imploring, “What has happened to us? What has happened to us? What has happened to us? . . . God is weeping.” Speaking of the transition to democracy, the archbishop continued, God was proud of us. He was going to show us off as a people who could live together in harmony despite our cultural differences and as a people who would share with one another what they had. “But what has happened to us?” the archbishop asked, referring to the high level of violence in South Africa, especially violence against women, and referring to South Africa’s dubious distinction of being the number one country in the world with the widest gap between rich and poor.

 As Archbishop Tutu walked in front of the nave, crying out from the heart, “What has happened to us?” I no longer saw him as the renown public figure and global icon of peace. I saw him as a beloved grandfather asking his children and grandchildren, all of us in the service and in South Africa, “What has happened to us as a family?”

The archbishop ended his speech by challenging all of us to reclaim the spirit of ubuntu, which to me can ultimately be summed up with Jesus’ two great commandments: Love the Lord God with all of your heart and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. If we did this, we would be living out ubuntu.

Archbishop Tutu’s words have challenged me in a profound way, and I am more determined than ever to try to live a life of ubuntu, both here in South Africa and in the States when I return home. Want you join me by accepting the archbishop’s challenge to reclaim (or claim for the first time) the spirit of ubuntu?

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.

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.