Balancing Act

Trying to balance ministry, family, me-time, God-time and friend-time is hard. I more or less always feel the tension. Recently, I have felt it a lot and have not responded well.

When I get overwhelmed, stressed, or way out of balance, I get cranky and irritable. My to-do list grows, as I try to control what I can. When I don’t tick off everything on my to-do list, which I rarely do, I feel like I failed. This leads to feelings of guilt that, in turn, leads to more moodiness. It becomes a vicious cycle, and those close to me almost have to be saints to put up with me.

I feel as though I am disappointing a lot of people these days. I am so busy that I have little time to spend with my family and friends on this side and to talk with my family and friends on that side. Last Thursday, I had a stress headache, which is a huge warning sign that I need to slow down and take a break. So instead of going to the gym after work, I came home and watched a musical. I enjoyed it—yet I felt guilty about indulging in a luxury, watching a movie during a weekday. I had supper to cook, lunches to make, clothes to wash—why on earth was I watching a movie?

Guilt

Guys & Dolls, one of my favourite musicals, happens to be about a missionary
Guys & Dolls, one of my favourite musicals, happens to be about a missionary

I think I am in need of a holiday, a real vacation in which Wayne and I can go away for a while and just relax. In the meantime, I am relieving my stress through musicals, which have become a sort of a mental escape for me. I can totally switch off and sing to my heart’s delight.

I admit: I am an over-achiever, a product of my American-driven culture. Being a missionary has not cured that part of my personality. On the contrary, I have carried that part of me into my ministry, which is not necessarily a good thing. When I don’t see the results that I want to see or expect to see, I feel like I am failing. But who puts that pressure on me? It’s me. I am my own worst enemy.

Why do we do this to ourselves?

In times like these, I try to keep in mind two of my favourite quotations:

God calls us to be faithful, not to be successful.”
–Mother Teresa

Man is born to live, not to prepare for life.”
–Boris Pasternak

I pray, asking God to help me live in the moment and for wisdom on how to put my life back in balance. And I dream about what sort of musical my life would be if I could portray it in song and dance.

Keeping It Real

One Junior group delves into scripture (All Saints Belhar, Cape Town)
One Junior group delves into scripture (All Saints Belhar, Cape Town)

One thing the Rooted in Jesus Junior programme does is encourage children to memorise scripture. The idea is that the Word of God gets off the page and takes root in the child’s heart. Memorising the memory verse is a key element of the Junior programme, and it is one that I like.

Another group's Memory Verse Corner
Another group’s Memory Verse Corner

As a child, I hated to memorise scripture. I used to think, Why do I need to memorise this verse? I have a Bible, or I could ask Mom and Dad. However, the few scripture verses I did memorise as a child have come to mind at times when I really needed them, and I know it was the Holy Spirit using these verses to minister to me. I regret not memorising more scripture, so I can appreciate the importance the Junior programme places on the memory verse; and I strongly encourage Junior leaders not to skimp on this but to make sure each child memorises the verses.

Mom and Dad modeled the importance of knowing scripture and of having devotional time with God. When I was growing up, before school each day, we would have a short time of prayer together as a family, and each week we would have a family devotional time. I hate to admit it; but at the time, I didn’t really value these times together. I was always rushing before school to get ready on time and could have used the extra minute or two. Our family devotional time didn’t take much time, but it seemed to cut into my evening routine. However, I did think it was kind of cool that we had this weekly time together as a family.

Now as an adult, I realise how formational to me were these dedicated times of prayer and scripture reading together as a family. I realise how powerful it was for my parents to pray over me and my siblings each day before we went to school; those prayers of protection, guidance, and wisdom went a long way—more than I will ever know.

When I have a family of my own, I plan to carry on these two traditions of family prayer and devotional time. I plan to teach my children the importance of reading and memorising scripture, as we do it together, keeping it real.

Compassion

SunkissedWhen I told my mom that I thought God was calling me to be a missionary, she wasn’t that surprised and mentioned something about my always having a compassionate heart. She told me the story again about when I was a child, I would always put my coins in the little charity boxes for kids with disabilities, for people fighting disease, or for abused animals.

I do think that God has given me the gift of empathy and compassion, but these traits didn’t develop naturally; they were learned and cultivated. It was my mom who taught me to be compassionate, and it was through her deeds, her lifestyle, and not merely through words.

When I was around 10 or 11, there was a tragedy in our small town. A drunk driver hit and killed a person; I don’t remember the details at all, but I believe it was a young person he killed. This drunk driver became the bogeyman of our town; he was reviled and hated for what he did. Mom’s heart went out to the family who lost their beloved member, but Mom felt God was also calling her to visit the man, this murderer, in jail. She was obedient and did so and started ministering to him in jail. This started my mom’s jail ministry that continues to this day, and my dad joined in years ago too. Together, they have been ministering to inmates in the local county jail for more than twenty years.

In our society that is more or less compassionate and Christian, inmates are a forgotten group and are thrown away. But our Lord loves them just the same, and my mom was opened to being a vessel of this love. It’s not a “sexy” ministry; nobody really applauds those who ministers to people in jail, but it is an important and vital ministry. Did not our Lord tell us not to forget those in prison?

Through mom’s actions long ago and through a lifestyle of giving and showing compassion to others, often to the forgotten of society, Mom has taught me to have a compassionate heart. I still strive to be more and more like Mom in this regard, as I have a long way to go. But I thank you, Mom, for your example of faith, obedience, and compassion.

Reading Time

I can’t remember my life without books. Reading has always been a huge part of me, and I have my dad to thank for that. When I was little, Dad always read to me. Even though I had books of my own, he would take me to the library each week so that I could pick out new books and get used to the smells, stacks and system of the library. I loved our weekly adventure.

Poky PuppyBefore reading a storybook to me, Dad would read me a Bible story. I didn’t like them that much. I found the stories boring, but I would bide my time so that we could get on to the old lady with the house full of rabbits, to The Poky Little Puppy, to Danny the Dinosaur, or to any of the Richard Scary stories. I was patient back then.

But there is one Bible story that I vividly remember; it was about the four friends who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus for healing (Mark 2:1–12). I remember the blue-striped robe Jesus was wearing, the smile on his face, the four friends digging through the thatched roof to get to Jesus, and the happy faces of all the friends, especially of the one who was healed.

I don’t really know why this story touched me or why I remember it so well. I think in my child’s mind, it was the first time I had an idea of who this Jesus was—he was a happy and caring man. I could go to him; I could take my friends to him. I liked the friends who were so determined and the digging through the roof. This story has always made me happy, and it still does today. Thanks, Dad.

Childhood Reflections

Over the past two months, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on my early life. During Lent, I spoke at my church on the discipleship of children. It was my first such talk on this topic, and I drew a lot from my personal experience as a child.

Palm Sunday: Church of the Good Shepherd
Palm Sunday: Church of the Good Shepherd

When I first moved to South Africa, my role at Growing the Church was to be the youth coordinator, but it quickly evolved into doing children’s ministry as well, as I ultimately became responsible for Rooted in Jesus Junior (a small-group discipleship course for children) in the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. Over the past two years, this has reshaped my attitude towards children and ministry to them.

I am by no means an expert in this area, and I believe that the church in both my countries has fallen short in the discipleship of children. But in reality, discipleship begins at home. I believe that the church should play a secondary role in a child’s faith formation, reinforcing and building upon what a child is already learning at home about God and about living life as a follower of Christ.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to blog about some of my faith experiences as a child and how they have shaped me into the person I am today. I think this will help me to process my reflections and, hopefully, will inspire readers along the way.

I See Her in Them

South Africa LadiesEvery time I see an African domestic (maid) with white children, a wave of sadness comes over my heart. I understand the cultural dynamics, the legacy of race in this country, and the economic inequity to know the reason for and, in a way, the necessity for these domestics. But my heart feels sad all the same when I see situations as I described.

I think I know why I feel the way I do. My grandmother on my father’s side was a domestic. Grandma was an educated lady. She was a teacher, but when she got married, as was the custom of the day, she stopped working to stay at home as a housewife. Eventually, for her family to earn extra money, she worked as a maid for a doctor’s family. In Jim Crow South, this was one of the few things black women could do to earn an income. Thankfully, the doctor and his family treated Grandma well; and she talked fondly about them until the day she died.

My great-grandmother on my mother’s side was a domestic. She was a formidable, God-fearing woman. She raised half of the children–both black and white–in her small Southern town. When she passed away, there was standing room only at her funeral, as the entire town, all of her children, turned out to pay tribute.

My great-grandmother on my father’s side was an ex-slave. Queen was her name; and according to the family stories, her named suited her. When freed, she was given land in her own right. That land is still in my family today.

So I think the reason why I feel sad when I see African domestics taking care of white children is because I see my grandmothers in them. I wonder if they have good situations in caring families, as my two grandmothers had, or if they are treated badly. I wonder what children they have of their own whom they are struggling to support, to give a leg up in the world. I wonder if they are happy. I wonder if they are really queens underneath their doeks. I think my grandmothers would be proud to know that their hard work has not only paid off in their children but also in their children’s children and in their children’s children’s children. I wonder what my grandmothers would think of me. What would they think of my serving as a missionary in Africa? I hope they would be proud. I like to think that they would.

Hello’s and Good-bye’s

One of the hardest things for me in my new life and ministry is dealing with all the hello’s and good-bye’s. The hello’s are great. The good-bye’s are hard.

Picking up my mom and sister at the airport= wonderful, exciting, beautiful, priceless
     Taking them back to the airport= tearful, sad, a feeling of loss

Running the Youth Alpha course at a local high school= connection, bonding, joy, relationship
     End of the Alpha course=sadness, loss, wondering if I would see most of the students again

Conducting a Rooted in Jesus Junior training=connection, excitement, new friendships
     End of the training=sadness, loss
Kissing MommieMy happiest hello’s are when I see family members again—either on this side of the world or in the States. I’m so grateful for the two weeks that my mom and sister got to spend with me in Cape Town. I loved every minute of our time together, showing them around and giving them a taste of my world, especially since it was my sister’s first trip here.

I love meeting people through the trainings and programmes with which I am involved. It’s amazing how a sense of community can form within three days or six weeks, but these projects are always short-term; and we have to move on. And so we do, waiting for the next hello.