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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Rethinking Church

ChurchWhat 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.

Modern-Day Disciples

the Rooted in Jesus group
the “Rooted in Jesus” group

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 and Uncle Peter
Auntie Rosina and Uncle Peter

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—Paul

Uncle Jos
Uncle Jos

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.

First Few Days in Cape Town: Highlights

I have been in Cape Town less than two weeks; but in many ways, I already feel like it is home. My colleagues at Growing the Church have become my new family. They are taking such good care of me, and I feel like I have known them for a long time. Trevor, Estelle, Janice, Auntie Joyce, and Mike have welcomed me into their hearts and homes. I am blessed to have them in my life, and I look forward to being a part of their amazing work. In my short time here so much has happened. Here are some highlights:

1. The day after I arrived, Trevor (my boss) and his wife hosted an afternoon tea for me.
2. I started to work on my first project—helping to write and edit some sessions for the Anglicans Ablaze DVD study guide. (Anglicans Ablaze was the big Anglican conference Growing the Church hosted in Johannesburg last October.)
3. I moved into my flat, which exceeded my wildest expectations.
Walking the 5k 4. I walked my first 5K.
5. I went grocery shopping for the first time. It will take me a few more trips to get used to the  different foods and the method of shopping, but I loved buying fresh tropical fruit—mangos, avocados, lechi nuts. Plus, the eggs I bought are farm fresh and don’t have to be refrigerated; there were even a few feathers on the eggs.
6. I went to an afternoon braai (barbeque). My friends Estelle and Thurston braaied yellow tail and snook. Yummy!Estelle and Thurston
7. I learned the basic rules of cricket and rugby. (But I think I have forgotten them now.)
8. I had a lovely Sunday lunch with my friend Ali.
9. I attended Sunday morning service at Christ Church.
10. I bought a duvet for my bed.

Random Reflections on Flight to South Africa

Since I wasn’t able to blog along the way (original flight out Nashville was cancelled and rebooked, making all of my connections tight), below is a compilation of random thoughts and events along the way. By the time you read this, I’ll be in Cape Town.

  • Saying goodbye to my family was the hardest thing that I have done in my adult life.
  • There was a “loud talker” on the Nashville to DC flight. I know waaaay more about that guy than I ever wanted to know. He truly needed to find and cultivate his “inside voice.”
  • Dulles is the worst international airport in which I have traveled. It is so confusing and not user-friendly.
  • Snow was on the ground in DC (hence my flight cancelation in Nashville); it will probably be the last time I see snow in a while. I’m OK with that. 🙂
  • On the transatlantic flight, I had two seats to myself. Yay!
  • I watched “Ice Age” and did some reading, but I slept most of the way to South Africa. I guess I was tired.
  • I’m now in Johannesburg waiting for my flight to Cape Town. I’m burning up. It’s time to shed the winter clothes, but I’ll wait until I get home. I’ll arrive around 11:00 tonight.
  • I met a delightful woman who was in Washington for the inauguration. She lives in Durban and invited me to visit her.
  • I hear children playing and their laughter. Some things are universal and priceless.

It’s great to be back on African soil. I’m blessed to call it home for the next three years.

An Opened Letter to Scrappy Squirrel, esq.

Scrappy
Scrappy

Well, it has been real. We knew this day was coming, and it has. Actually, it came. I moved out two months ago. Have you even noticed? You probably haven’t missed me. I haven’t missed you either, well, maybe just a little. But I definitely haven’t missed your waking me up at 6:20 in the morning, cracking your walnuts or whatever else you squirrels eat for breakfast. I haven’t missed your scurrying around the rafters, scaring me half to death at night. I certainly haven’t missed your eating my tomato plants or digging up my petunias.

I have to admit, as far as squirrels go, you’re pretty good. And yes, I have even developed a little soft spot for your kinfolks. I shudder ever time I pass one of your cousins splattered across the Cold Gray River (By the way, we humans call it a road). I nearly had a wreck the other day, trying to avoid hitting one of your kindred. He couldn’t make up his mind to cross the road or not, kept darting back and forth. He was kind of squirrely. Ergh, sorry.

Scrappy's 2011 Pumpkin
Scrappy’s 2011 Pumpkin

So I have learned a little bit from you. Will you miss me? Probably not. I think you are still mad at me because I didn’t put out a harvest pumpkin in the fall; but as I said, I moved. I moved. Don’t get mad at me because you didn’t have any seeds to eat. To be honest, I got tired of fighting over the pumpkin with you each fall. Somehow you always won the battle. I think you fought dirty.

What? I don’t know if there are any squirrels in Cape Town. There are plenty of baboons, though. No! I won’t take one of them as a roommate. They are too big and mean. Are you trying to get me killed or something? The only furry roommate I ever plan to have again is a d.o.g. Yes, I know you hate dogs, but they are g.o.o.d. Stop waxing wroth. If you try being nice to them for a change, perhaps they will stop chasing you.

I hope your new roommate will be half as good to you as I was. I don’t think you realized how lucky you had it. What? I was lucky? Hum, I don’t know about that. But I admit, we did have some good times together. I will miss you.

By the way, why don’t you ask out Skiffy, the cute little squirrelette who lives in L-25. She likes you, you know. Yes, for real.

Adieu, my little friend. Mind the Cold Gray River.

Affectionately,
Nicole

“Scrappy” was the squirrel who lived between my ceiling and rafters. He had quite a personality and became a little celebrity among my friends and me. He has kindred all over Nashville. Perhaps you have seen one of them. Since my blog posts have been so serious of late, I thought I would shake things up. However, Scrappy is most offended by this; he finds no humor in his current situation.

Training: Week Two—Stress and Rest

When I first came to training, I didn’t know what to expect. I have been pleasantly surprised. Each day gets better and better. I’m being stretched and challenged to grow both spiritually and emotionally. But more than anything, I love the amazing sense of community among my fellow missionaries. Although we have known one another only for a couple of weeks, there is camaraderie, fellowship, and loads of fun. It’s a joy to talk with people who are experiencing the same things that I am. My new friendships are a gift.

Playing with new friends at the Olympic Training Park
Playing with new friends at the Olympic Training Park

We spent most of last week talking about stress and rest. We were challenged to look deeply into how we handle stress and were encouraged to cultivate healthy ways to cope with stress. The life of a missionary (especially at first) is one of elevated stress. In my new life everything will be new; and although that is exciting, it is also stressful. For example, I will have to learn how to grocery shop, bank, and drive on the left side of the road. Grocery shopping, banking, and driving are things I can do in my sleep back home (well, maybe not drive)), but even the most mundane tasks will become stressors in my life as I have to relearn them. I need to be prepared, and awareness is the first step.

We also spent significant time on the need to practice Sabbath rest. I was reminded of what we talked about in my huddle group (small group) at church—scripture teaches us to work out of our rest. Ironically, before I said “yes” to God’s call to serve in South Africa, I used to have a healthy rhythm of work, rest, and play. But the past two years have been filled with preparations, and I fell out of that rhythm. I am determined to create a new rhythm of work, play, and rest that will fit my new cultural setting. Living a balanced lifestyle will make me a better team member, a more in-tuned daughter, sister, and friend, and a healthier child of God.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”Rest by the Lake

–Matthew 11:28-29, The Message