“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.
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.
What is church? How do we do church; or rather, how should we do church? Is there just one way of doing church, or are there a myriad of ways? I recently started the Fresh Expression of Church’s six-month training course (Mission Shaped Ministry); and after my first class, I have been asking myself these questions.
Sometime ago, Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, called for a ‘mixed economy’ of church that includes both traditional and fresh forms of church: “Celebrating and building on what is mission-shaped in traditional forms of church and finding ways to proclaim the Gospel afresh to those who do not relate to traditional ways.” And thus the seeds for the Fresh Expression of Church movement were planted. What is a fresh expression of church? It’s a form of church for our changing culture, taking and being the church were people are. Shedding the mindset of the come-to-us type of approach, fresh expression of church says, ‘We’ll come to you.’
My role at Growing the Church is to oversee their youth development and resourcing ministry, and I’m taking the Mission Shaped Ministry course in the hope that it will help us reach out more effectively to young people in ways relevant to their culture.
I recently attended my first Rooted in Jesus training, and the experience was amazing. On the outset, Rooted in Jesus may look like a simple course in Christian discipleship; but upon a closer look, it is a powerful and meaningful course, equipping Africans in their faith in a context relative to them. These disciples in turn lead Rooted in Jesus groups, making more disciples of Christ. I had the privilege to be one of the team leaders for the training.
There are several things I loved about the training, but what I enjoyed most was the relationships. Among the people I met were three who reminded me of modern-day versions of characters in the Bible. I would like to share their stories with you.
Uncle Peter—The Loving Father Uncle Peter’s son was a drug addict. Because of his addiction, he lost his wife, his job, his health, his home. For two years he lived in the bush, and his family didn’t know his whereabouts. One Christmas Day he called his parents and asked to come home. Never giving up hope on finding his son and seeing him delivered from addiction, Uncle Peter had been waiting for those very words. Uncle Peter’s son has been clean for several years and has rebuilt his life. Uncle Peter still gets tears in his eyes when he shares his story. He told me, “I know that Jesus Christ is the Lord because I have seen what he has done in my son’s life.” Uncle Peter reminds me of the prodigal son’s father, who was waiting with outstretched arms to receive his son. (Luke 15:11-24)
Auntie Rosina—Anna Three months ago Auntie Rosina lost her husband. The pain and grief are still quite real for her. She’s a quiet lady, but I detected an underlying wit, which was quite charming. She has a tender place in my heart, and I would appreciate your prayers for her as she continues to work through the grief of losing her beloved husband. Auntie Rosina reminds me of Anna, the faithful widow in the Bible who was able to hold our infant Lord. (Luke 2:36-38)
Uncle Jos was a seaman for 45 years, sailing the world as a fisherman. In his words, he was quite a character back in the day and used to fight anyone who came along. All the other sailors were afraid of him. One day after getting arrested for fighting and having his wife bail him out, Uncle Jos decided to give his life to Christ; and with God’s help, he was able to turn his life around. Uncle Jos’s eyes still well up with tears when he talks about his “misspent youth,” but I think he is able to relate to sailors and to share the love of God with them in a way that most people cannot. Because of his numerous shipwrecks, conversion, and Christian witness, Uncle Jos reminds me of Paul.
*Note: In certain cultures in South Africa, the term “Auntie” and “Uncle” is a sign of respect and affection for older adults.