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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Reflections on Training: Week One

It’s my third day in Colorado, and I think I’m finally getting used to the altitude—or at least I’m beginning to adapt to it. My altitude-sickness headache has finally gone away, and I think I’m fully hydrated. The weather is really dry, and I’m applying lotion like crazy. I have a humidifier, and it is helping matters. The scenery outside my bedroom window is stark and gray with a gruff and harsh beauty.

Training is going well, and each day is getting better. There are missionaries from various denominations, and they are going to various countries. A young OBY/GYN from Knoxville is going to Cape Town, and a family is going to Johannesburg; so South Africa has a strong representation. (Plus, our main trainer is from South Africa.) I’m the only Episcopalian and “brown spot” here.

So far our training has focused on our own American culture and has challenged us to distinguish our culture from what is universal. We’re learning how to identify potential stressors and obstacles in our lives that will hinder us from adapting to our host country. In a nutshell, we’re learning how to live and to minister cross-culturally.

I’m learning a lot about myself and my personal hang-ups. I’m learning how truly American I am, and I don’t think I will fully grasp this reality until I’m living abroad. Knowing how much I have to learn about my new culture frightens me; I know the learning curve is going to be steep and that I will make countless mistakes. I will have to depend on grace—both from God and the people of South Africa. I know my new South African family in Cape Town will help me to adapt and to adjust and will guide me with love. I am already grateful for their patience.