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.

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Preparing for Placement Visit

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” comes to mind when I think of all the preparations I still have to make for my placement visit to Cape Town. (Leave it to Dickens to say it best.) Getting sick last week threw me for a loop and got me behind in everything. I’m still not hundred percent, and I’m trying not to get overwhelmed as I begin to hash out my to-do list.

While I was sick, I started to think about the true purpose of my placement trip. I have been so busy with the preparations that I haven’t had much time to think about the reason why I’m traveling to Cape Town in the first place. Yes, I’m going there to visit four organizations–Scripture Union South Africa, Growing the Church, Anglican Youth South Africa, Anglican Students’ Federation–with which I may work for the long term. But what do these visits really signify? A lot, to tell the truth; and I’m somewhat nervous. My skill sets and personality needs to match their needs and vice versa; my placement needs to be a good fit.

I think my fears go back to the old elementary school fear with which we adults still struggle: Will they like me? Will they want me to be a part of their team? I’m praying for God to help me lay aside these fears and to trust him to lead me to the right organization. In the end, that’s where I want to be; there’s where I can make a difference, give, receive, learn, and grow. God has been guiding each step of my journey to become a cross-cultural Christian worker, and I know God will continue to do so. I just need to listen.