Advent in Summer

DSCN6142As I work at home today and listen to Christmas music, my brain is trying to wrap around the fact that this year I will be having a summer Christmas. It’s hot outside; yesterday was very hot—even for me, someone who loves summer and heat.

I overheard an American say that he was looking forward to spending Christmas in a country that wasn’t too commercial about it. I’m not sure about that, at least in regards to Cape Town. The shops started putting up Christmas stuff in early October, and the Christmas music has been blaring in them for some time. In some shops, it looks like Santa Claus’s factory blew up in there. It’s Winter Wonderland (in the summer) overkill. People keep warning me about the jacked-up prices (which is definitely true) and the upcoming holiday traffic. Apparently, the country pretty much shuts down from mid-December to mid-January to celebrate the festive season. After all, it is the heart of summer and school break. I, for one, am looking forward to having some quality time off before heading to the States for a while.

But I am so busy. It has been an intense two months of trying to get things organised and in a good place. Yet so much still needs to be done before I head Stateside. I’m trying to have my ministry work in good shape while I am out of the office; I’m trying to organise some training conferences for early next year. I have last-minute visa stuff to sort out, and I have to lay the foundation for my Home Missions Assignment. In addition, I need to start support raising. Whew.

Yet I am determined to enjoy every moment of my summer Christmas with my hubby and SA family and friends. So this year I will be dreaming of a balmy Christmas and walking on a sandy-beach wonderland.

 

 

Questions

Ever since the wedding, I have been inundated by a sea of questions. That’s to be expected during the first few weeks of marriage, especially in a situation like ours, where many of the basics (for example—where are we going to live long-term) haven’t been determined. But sometimes I find myself saying inside, Can we just ease into married life, please?

There are three questions I am asked a lot and would like to address:

  • What is my new name? Legally, I’m not changing my name—at least not now. It’s just too complicated to change my Abstract Bridename, when my visa and South African paperwork are all in my maiden name. Socially, I will style myself as Nicole Corlew Curtis. We’ll see how long I can keep that up since it is a bit of a mouthful.
  • Am I still a missionary? And if so, can one still donate to my missionary account via SAMS? Yes, my status as a SAMS missionary with Growing the Church isn’t changing. Everything remains the same, including my ministry work and my need to raise my own support. And yes, people who want to support my ministry can still donate to my missionary account through SAMS. (Thank you!)
  • What is married life like so far? This is a hard question to answer! It is wonderful and full of joy. It is a transition to be sure, especially when you marry later in life as we did and have been used to doing life on our own. I am rather surprised to find the joy and challenge in the detail—getting used to sharing a bed with another person, having extra help around the house, traveling together to church, making meals for each other, coordinating schedules. I am reminded of what Fr. Leigh Spruill said in his homily for our wedding: A wedding is like the incarnation of Christ. It is only the beginning. And it is true—our wedding is only the beginning of our marriage, and it takes time for two lives to weave into one.

A New Chapter

In a whirlwind, a new chapter of my life begins; now I am a married woman. Seven weeks ago, I was headed home; I couldn’t wait. International and domestic travels, wedding appointments and planning, quality time with family and friends, doggie time with my fur-nephew, Christmas, wedding, honeymoon, celebrating a new year, meeting with SAMS (my mission agency), back home in Cape Town—all done within six weeks. No wonder I’m tired and way behind in my thank-you cards and unpacking. (I won’t even mention the messy state of my flat and all the weeds in my garden.)

But I’m excited to begin this new chapter of my life, as I add the title of “wife” to my seasoned labels of daughter, sister, and friend. I wonder what the first year of marriage will hold for us; I know it will entail a lot of change.

IMG_5138Wayne and I are so blessed and so happy. Sometimes I still can’t believe how much God has blessed me with such a wonderful husband. I still pinch myself when I think about our wedding, which surpassed all of my dreams. From the time I woke up to the time I went to bed, I enjoyed every moment of our special day. It was a day of pure joy. I will never forget the feeling of happiness I had when I was able to get a glimpse of all our guests sitting in the church; in my mind I thought, Wow. All these people love us. How many people have the honour and privilege of being surrounded at one time by so many people who love them? We are so blessed!

We are so grateful for our family and friends who helped to make our day so special and who continue to share in our happiness. We love you all.

The Orchestra of God

When I was younger, I used to think that God would call me to do something that I would totally dislike. Even worse, I thought he would call me to live in a way that would run contrary to how I was wired. I was so wrong, having a warped concept of God’s love for his children and a lack of understanding of his desire for us to live an abundant life. God has equipped each of us with certain gifts and talents in order to use for his glory, for the general good, and for our enjoyment. I don’t think he would call us to live in a way that was contrary to how he made us.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure to meet Emanuel Ax, one of my favorite pianist.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure to meet Emanuel Ax, one of my favorite pianist.

This is how I see it: The kingdom of God is like an orchestra, and each one of us is gifted to play a particular instrument. God, the conductor, wouldn’t call a violinist to play percussion; but God, at times, would stretch the violinist out of her range, training and disciplining the violinist to become the best violinist that she can be and thus helping the orchestra to become the best it can be. At times in our lives, God may call us to play out of our range; but I don’t think he would call us to play an instrument that we aren’t equipped to play.

I see this reflected in my life in South Africa. God has definitely called me out of my comfort zone, but I am still living a life that complements my nature. I live in a beautiful city, not the bush. I am able to use my gifts and talents in youth ministry and publishing to help the church, instead of being asked to use gift sets that I don’t have, such as planting a church.

What are your thoughts about God’s work and call in our lives? What instrument do you play in God’s orchestra? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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.

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.

Connected!

I finally have Internet at home, and I am excited beyond belief! I had to go through loads of paperwork to have a phone line in my name and to get a DSL service provider; but once all those things were in place, it didn’t take long for the companies to get me connected. Yippie!!! Can you tell that I am excited?

Boys Fishing in Gordan's Bay
Boys Fishing in Gordan’s Bay

I have been in Cape Town for nearly a month, and things are going well.  However, during the past few days, the mental stress of settling in has caught up with me. Each day I have spent loads of time trying to get Internet at home, a cell phone, a bank account, and a car. In a normal situation, these things can be time consuming; but as a foreigner, it seems to take triple the time. It can be quite exhausting. Plus, not having Internet at home has made me feel very disconnected from my family and friends. That feeling was definitely adding to my mental stress. I’m thrilled that my family and friends are now just a click away. Thank God for our marvelous technology.

I’m grateful, though, that my friends and colleagues at Growing the Church have helped me with all the settling in items that I named above. I can’t imagine trying to do this on my own. After experiencing such things on the “other side” as a foreigner, I will be much more empathetic and helpful to my international friends when I move back to the States. Moving to another country is truly like starting over. In a way, you have to rebuild your life—establishing yourself and unlearning a lot of things that may work in your home country but not in your adopted country. It is definitely a learning experience and not for the faint of heart.