Remembering

Last night, during a spiritual exercise with my “cell” (small) group, I thought about some people who had played a special role in my life. Who immediately came to mind was my dear friend John Mogabgab, who recently passed away. If you had the blessing and honour to know John, then you know how hard it is describe him, this marvelous man with a gentle spirit and a wonderful wit, a beard like a desert father, a pupil and scholar of Henri Nouwen, and the founding editor of Weavings. Yet, last night, I realised a special gift John and his wife, Marjorie, gave me and that was the gift of listening to God. The two of them, through their contemplative spirituality, showed me through practice and example how to be intentional about listening to God. Although I don’t do a very good job setting aside quiet time to just listen to God, I am grateful for this lovely and essential gift John and Marjorie gave me, and I’m trying to cultivate in my life a pattern of listening.

On another and a very surprising note, I also thought about the math teachers I had in high school and at university. While listening to a friend share about her child’s struggle with math and with the school’s frequent change of math teachers, I realised for the first time in my life how blessed I was to have the math teachers I had. No doubt, my high school and university friends can’t believe what they are reading, as I struggled so much and complained endlessly about math. However, with one exception, all the math teachers I had were good at teaching their subjects and were so patient with me, going beyond the call of duty to offer me special help. Geometry gave me the hardest time, but my teacher regularly tutored

geometryme after school. I don’t even remember his name; it has been that long ago, but I remember his face and his kindness. Honestly, if I didn’t have helpful math teachers, my academic life could have noise-dived; and I could have become so discouraged. Who would have known that twenty-plus years later, I would give thanks for the math teachers in my life?

I continue to live into my life of Ubuntu, as I continue to realise that my “humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up in yours”—my dear friend John and my math teachers.

 

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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.

Training: Week Three—Grief and Loss and Good-byes

I returned from training a few days ago, and I’m still processing all I learned. It was truly an amazing three weeks, and I already miss my community of new friends.

We spent the last week of training talking about grief and loss, hellos and good-byes. The life of a missionary is full of hellos and good-byes, and grief and loss are a true reality as missionaries prepare to leave for the field. I know that I have been grieving since the summer, mourning the loss of so many things I love about my life—moving from my city and condo, leaving my job, saying good-bye to my favorite cafes, hangouts, and dear friends. In a few weeks, I’ll be saying good-bye to my beloved family and my closest friends. Sometimes thinking about it is unbearable, but I’m determined to embrace the good-byes and to live into them. It is a part of being a missionary. It is a part of life.

By loving, we take risks. If we didn’t love, good-byes wouldn’t hurt so much. But life is full of risks, and choosing to love others is always worth the risk. When it came to hellos and good-byes, I used to feel like Charlie Brown, who in his typical depressed and despairing state, sang woefully about why life couldn’t be filled with more hellos and less good-byes. 

Earlier this year, I began to change my perspective.  A sermon my rector, Father Leigh Spruill, preached has challenged me to live into the good-byes, to see saying good-bye as ministry. (I invite you to download and listen to the sermon, “Saying Goodbye Is a Ministry.”) Without his sermon, I think I would have been tempted to gloss over the many good-byes in my life with words, such as, “I’ll see you soon. We’ll be in touch. The time will fly by.” They are well-meaning words, but they dull the reality of the loss by not truly acknowledging it. Instead, I’m trying my best to acknowledge the loss, to name what I will miss about the person, and to voice my blessings and well-wishes for him or her in the future. It is a hard discipline, and I often want to cower; but with God’s help, I’m determined to say my good-byes well. Please pray that my last few weeks at home will be full of beautiful good-byes.