“I thought I would never see you again!” were the words of the girl who came rushing across the parish hall to greet Wayne and me. She asked if we remembered her, and we did. She was one of the students who took our first Alpha course at Heathfield High that we led a couple of years ago. Her name was Kelly.
The three of us were visiting a local church for a youth service, and it was so great to run into Kelly again. Our young friend told us that she switched schools last year and was now attending a school that emphasised sports and athletics. She was a volleyball player. Kelly described to us how the Alpha course had touched her life and how she was inspired to lead a course at her new school. Her news pleased but astounded us. We had no idea.
Sometimes being a missionary is hard. I’m a product of my home culture, and we put a lot of emphasis on measurable outcomes. But in a ministry setting, it is often difficult to see measurable outcomes of one’s work. The bulk of our work in South Africa focuses on teaching and training, especially in the area of discipleship. We work on the provincial level and in local churches; sometimes we work in local schools. Some of the people we serve and train we never see again. How do we know that our work has been “successful,” for a lack of a better word? We don’t and that can be challenging.
So it is very encouraging when we meet a Kelly, who shares with us about how God has been working in her life and how she is now ministering to her peers. We can only pray and hope that there are many more Kelly’s out there that God has given us the privilege to serve who are now leading transformed lives and who are helping others to grow in their faith as well.
Last week, my Nashville church, St. George’s, lost a beloved and faithful member. Across the miles, I feel the loss of Don, a dear friend and an instrumental role-player in my journey to become a missionary to South Africa.
I first started coming to South Africa with outreach teams from St. George’s, and Don was one of the organizers. I have many fond memories of him on these trips, but my favourite one is of his running in Soweto. In this township where so many white South Africans are too scared to venture in, Don, a short, white American man, would get up early in the morning to go running. I thought this was super cool but rather risky. Yet I enjoyed hearing his stories about the people with whom he met and talked along the way. I thought it would be cool to go running with Don one morning, but 1) I don’t run and 2) he got up really, really EARLY to go running; and I was always exhausted and ready for any extra minutes of sleep I could get on these jam-packed mission trips.
Now I wish I had gone running with Don, but I am grateful for this memory I have of him and for this lesson he taught me about perceptions of certain areas. Sometimes we just need to get out of our comfort zone and take a run—or a nice long walk.
Yesterday (26 January) marked my one-year anniversary of living in South Africa. I can’t believe that my first year has come and gone. I feel like I blinked and the year was over. Full stop.
I had a wonderful time being at home for Christmas. Words can’t describe how great it was to spend time with my family and to reconnect with old friends. I have returned to Cape Town refreshed and renewed. I’m ready for the new year of work, ministry, fun, and living more into my adopted home and culture.
I have come to the realization that I have two homes. It feels good to have two homes; but while I’m in one, I miss the other. I thought I would grow out of this longing, the longer I lived abroad; but I’m beginning to realize that this longing for Tennessee home or Cape Town home comes with the territory of living abroad, with the reality of having two homes. It’s a bit of a tension and somewhat ironic but necessarily a bad thing.
Wow—a year has passed and how much has happened in that year! This time last year, I was kind of living in a fog. I didn’t know what to expect; I had a ton of feelings swirling inside of me. Returning to Cape Town, I feel as though I am home, surrounded by my loving community and by so many familiar things—from certain decorations in my flat that make me smile to the beautiful mountains that I see every day.
And might I add, it’s great to be out of the deep freeze and into summer!
Of people begging at the robots (traffic lights), asking for money, trying to sell me things or collect my trash.
Of singing worship songs in languages I don’t understand or can’t pronounce.
Of people having difficulties understanding me or of my having difficulties understanding them because of
Of the time it takes to bake any of my favourite things because I have to convert the measurements (sometimes twice) or hunt around for ingredients that are hard to find.
Of feeling pulled in many directions, from people, from projects, from commitments that demand my time. Sometimes I just want to do what I want to do. Sometimes I want space. God, could you please place me in timeout?
Of the use of archaic words, such as “whilst,” in everyday English.
Of trying to find the balance between a relational culture and the reality of time constraints and deadlines.
Of seeing the worst of American culture imported to this beautiful country, giving South Africans a warped view of my country and heritage.
I’m not unhappy. I still love my life and work in Cape Town; but even in the best of times and in the best of circumstances, cross-cultural living can be challenging.
I wonder if people wonder why I don’t write more about work. It’s an easy explanation. Although I love my work and find it very fulfilling, my day-to-day work often takes the form of emails, phone calls, writing, editing, planning, and coordinating projects. The details of doing such things are just not exciting to write about, but the fruit of the work is very rewarding.
A couple of weeks ago, I was having a Skype conversation with a good friend who is a missionary in France. Neither one of us is a “conventional” missionary, and we were talking about the challenges our callings pose and the freedom they give. Our world has changed a lot, even during our short lives; and the way of doing missions has changed too.
It’s kind of exciting being a missionary in the early part of the 21st century. It is like God has unleashed his creativity, encouraging and calling people to use their gifts and talents, regardless of what they might be, to help build his kingdom. In my case, I’m working with an organization, Growing the Church (GtC), that helps the Anglican Church of Southern Africa to grow in numbers and spiritual formation. As my work at GtC evolves, I am beginning to understand that although most people living in the countries that make up the province may be Christians, many of them have not been discipled well, mainly because of a lack of resources and knowledge. I feel privileged and honored that I can use my gifts and talents in youth ministry and publishing to play a small role in what God is already doing in our province.
I’m waffling over whether to click “publish” or not. Dare I—or not? I’m a bit embarrassed to publish this post; but as I said from the beginning, my blog will reflect my experiences of living cross-culturally. I won’t gloss over difficult situations or paint things in a rose-colored lens. Yet what I have written about is very first world. Even if my American and South African friends can’t relate, I think they will respect my honesty; and I know they will love me all the same, so here goes…
Ever since I arrived in Cape Town, I have been borrowing my boss’s spare mobile phone. It was time for me to get my own phone, and I had my heart set on the iPhone 5. Earlier this year, a local carrier had a good deal for the iPhone 5; but I hadn’t been in the country long enough to have all the required paperwork to get the phone on contract. Months later, when I did have the paperwork, the deal had ended and the iPhone 5 was way out of my budget. Ok. I thought. I’ll get the iPhone 4s. Well, it was still out of my budget, but I tried my best to justify it: It will sync with my laptop and tablet. I love the iPhone; I’m familiar with it. I can use several apps to stay in touch with my family. I need it to stay in touch with my family.
I spent several weeks researching all types of smart phones and looking at several local carriers, trying to find the best deal. I crunched numbers, trying to squeeze the iPhone 4s in my budget. I agonised over whether or not to purchase the phone or to buy a certain android phone, which was in my budget. (Gasp—I can’t go droid!) I was fretting about what to do. Finally, I accepted that I couldn’t afford the iPhone, and I began to pout. A week ago, when I was having a pouty conversation with God, I felt God say to me, Get a grip. You are whining over stepping down from a Mercedes to a BMW, whereas most people are still riding along in a horse and buggy.
Ouch, God. That hurt. But God got my attention. Over the next few days, I did a lot of soul searching. I realized, as ridiculous as it sounds, I had a lot of my identity tied up in Apple. I love Macs, and I am an “Apple person;” but somewhere along the way, my admiration for this product line became a way in which I defined myself and that wasn’t good.
Wrestling with my phone dilemma brought me face-to-face with the core of my problem; in many respects, I have been trying to hold on to the lifestyle I had in the States—and that’s impossible. South Africa is not the USA, and I make a fraction of what I earned at my old job in the States. And even if I could create a mini-USA lifestyle bubble for myself, it wouldn’t be the right thing to do, especially as a missionary.
But it’s hard. I feel the tension of going from a first-world country to a developing one. At times the tension is in the background; other times, it is at the forefront–but the tension is always there. I guess it is a part of living cross-culturally. It’s a challenge to know what to hold on to and what to let go. I’m embarrassed that it was so difficult for me to let go of something so trivial as a phone, but it was hard. On the flipside, some things are worth holding on to. Recently, I have come to terms that I need to join a gym, as it isn’t safe for me to go on walks by myself and as public tennis courts are non-existence. Physical health is vital to my emotional, mental, and spiritual health; and I am feeling the lack of exercise from which my body is suffering. This is the most unfit I have been in my adult life. Being fit is something worth holding on to; but the phone, I had to let go—and that’s OK. Steve Jobs would understand.
This past Friday, 9 August, was Women’s Day in South Africa; and I had a fabulous weekend celebrating the joys of sisterhood with my girlfriends. On Friday, I went to breakfast with some girlfriends and in the evening went to the gym with one of them to work off the breakfast. On Saturday, I had my first “girls-night-out” with some new friends, and it was great to hang out in Cape Town, eating Thai food and enjoying good conversation. On Sunday, I met a new friend, Betsy, a fellow Nashvillian who recently moved to Cape Town with her family. It was great to finally meet Betsy, and I’m grateful for our mutual friend who put us in contact with each other.
The past few weeks at work have been very hectic, and I was thankful to have a little girlfriend time over the long weekend. I keep saying that I want the next six months of life in Cape Town to be about making friends and embracing life here. I’m so grateful for the five new girlfriends I have met in the past two weeks. At all times God is simply amazing, but sometimes he just outdoes himself.