The Day that Changed Everything

Emily served in YAGM-Southern Africa during the 2013-2014 program year. Here is her reflection about the day that changed everything.

Leading up to December 5, 2013, I had spent the previous 3 months living in Soweto as a YAGM.

During those three months, I got acquainted with my new home. I figured out the taxi and bus system. I learned a little bit of Sesotho and isiZulu. I met amazing neighbors, coworkers, kids, and random people around the community.

However, I must be honest – the first few months as a YAGM can be really hard. Despite all of the great things that happened, those few months were also very difficult for me. At times, I felt like I may have been placed in the wrong community. I kept seeing Facebook and blog posts from other YAGMs about how great they were doing and I felt like I wasn’t doing enough to become a true member of my community. I doubted myself and God for putting me there.

It seems strange to say, but December 5th, the day that Nelson Mandela passed away, stands out in my mind as the turning point in my YAGM year.

Despite the agonizing circumstances, the events surrounding Madiba’s death gave me a new outlook on Soweto, YAGM, and God’s plan for me.

By learning more about Mandela and Soweto, I was able to recognize and appreciate the culture and history that is ever-present in that area. I felt proud to be living in a community that fought so hard for freedom during Mandela’s life, and continues to strive for a better future to this day.

While traveling to Mandela’s memorial service, I met people who found time to offer help and guidance to a lost, foreign, stranger. While at the service, I was welcomed into a period of mourning, despite the fact that I had no level of understanding of what Madiba meant to my South African neighbors and friends.

I finally began to trust in the fact that God sent me to Soweto, South Africa, a place just far enough outside of my comfort zone, in order to learn and be shaped in astounding ways. God knew that I would be challenged, but made sure to surround me with history, culture, and, most importantly, people who would be there to show me the way and continually provide encouragement.

And finally, I witnessed Nelson Mandela’s values of love and respect being lived out by the most ordinary, yet absolutely outstanding, people.

Thank you, Nelson Mandela, for your life, your passion, and your lasting legacy.

Hamba kahle, Madiba.

video board display at Mandela's memorial

video board display at Mandela’s memorial

a building in Johannesburg, lit with a message for Madiba

a building in Johannesburg, lit with a message for Madiba

Speaking English … in South Africa

DSC_0948Emmeline shares some of her early observations about English in South Africa:

So far during my time in South Africa I’ve gotten by just fine speaking only English. I know basic greetings and how-are-yous in Sotho and Zulu, but so many languages are spoken in my community that English is often used as a common tongue, plus its a big part of the South African school system.

Whether I always understand that English is another story. Not only do accents often get in the way of me understanding others and them understanding me, the lingo we use (prime example: me using the word lingo) impede communication as well. Most of the time I’m able to understand what someone means when they say something, but it certainly separates the fresh foreigners from the locals.

Here is a small sample of some of the English slang and vocabulary I’ve picked up in Soweto. Enjoy!

“How’s it?” – This is the typical South African greeting. If you ask “How’s it going?” people get thrown off.

“Is it?” – I have heard this used meaning anything from “really?” to “OK” or “yeah” in the American vernacular. This can be particularly puzzling to an American, like when you tell someone that another person is on their way and they answer “Is it?”. Also confusing when you tell someone your name and this is how they respond.

“Other Side” – If its not where you are, its likely on the other side. Sometimes this means another room, sometimes it means another building. Just try to follow where they point.

“Hectic” – If anything is at all busy, it is hectic.

“Robot” – Traffic light.

 “Now Now” – Every joke that can be made about African time has already been made. But if you say now, you really just mean sometime that day. If you mean right now, you say “now now”.

It’s a Runners World

Brittani

Brittani

Saamwerk Soutwerke

I’ve been told that loosely translated, the phrase above means “Together we can do more.”

This is the motto for the running club, Upington Harriers, with whom I have had the immense privilege of running two different races over the past two weekends. With them, I’ve already experienced this motto to be true.

I’ve been interested in running ever since we ran the mile on the track for field day in sixth grade. A few years ago I started getting into distance running and haven’t turned back. With two marathons, two half-marathons, and a Tough Mudder under my belt, I definitely consider running a significant part of my life and identity. Running is something I do not only for my physical well being, but for my mental, spiritual, and emotional well being too. Most runners will tell you that there’s nothing like the feeling one gets after a good run. I always know I can count on a run to start or end the day on a good note.

I was worried I wouldn’t be able to run here until I found out that my host pastor is an avid runner.  That was honestly probably the most exciting thing I learned in the first few days here. My pastor and his running partner took me under their wings during the next few days and included me in their training runs. It was exhilarating. I got to see my new community in a different way, and I felt like I was where I belonged. Our first morning out a car honked at us in a very specific way and my host told me that that honk meant it was another runner – a fellow member of the family.

I also realized during that first run as my pastor was yelling behind me to run faster up the hill that being a runner is a lot like being a YAGM. I think running metaphors are overused so I’ll spare you the cliché. But I couldn’t help but think about how that hill will not be the only way my community will push me out of my comfort zone, shouting words of support behind me. I know that even though it may be difficult at times, I’ll be better for it in the end.

The past two weekends have been great examples both of the openness of the running community and the hospitality of my host community here in South Africa. People have gone out of their way to make me feel encouraged, supported, and included. I’ve never done distance running with a club before, but I think South Africa is the place to do it. The Harriers’ motto reminds me of another South African concept – ubuntu. I am because we are. Together, we can do more. I am thriving because we are all working together and encouraging each other. It’s a great feeling – almost as good as the runner’s high. ;)

Deep Pockets

DSC_0944Dave writes about his experience of heading to his site for the first time:

I just finished up a week of in-country orientation in Johannesburg with eight other YAGM companions, and our fearless leader, Tessa and her family. On Friday [the 29th of August], all of us departed our separate ways to our new home communities across the country; I traveled to Thohoyandou (8 hours north-east by bus from Jo-Burg). For the first time on this journey I felt alone, vulnerable, nervous, afraid, and anxious all at the same time, traveling alone in this vast country. I should also note there were a couple of unknowns before arriving to Thohoyandou, for instance, I did not know whom I would be staying with this year until I would arrive.

There were many stops before my final destination, and at the Pretoria station I still had an open seat next to me. An elder South African woman asked if she could sit next to me, I said, “Yeah, of course!” in a nervous/quiet voice. She smiled and sat down. From the first second she sat down, my feeling of aloneness, vulnerability, nervousness, afraid, and anxiousness were evaporated from my body. Even though we barely spoke to each other, I felt a connection of compassion and protection from her. She kept her hands in her pockets the entire ride, unless she needed something. She would take out a new thing every time; there was money, her bus ticket, Chap Stick, her phone, and even a salt packet for her Wimpy Fries. But most importantly in her pocket was a security blanket of comfort for a newcomer to this part of the world and brought it out when I was clearly struggling. She showed me a bright true side of South Africa, and how welcoming, hospitable, and friendly this place really is. I hope to pass on this characterization throughout my year here in South Africa, and have Deep Pockets of compassion and accompaniment.

 

YAGM-SA 2014-2015

Here they are! The new group. They arrived in Johannesburg on Friday, August 22nd.

After the group’s arrival, we spent a week together at the location of the national church office of our companion church (The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa – ELCSA) where they have their church offices as well as a motel/lodge and meeting space. We got to know each other as a group and we tended to matters of beginning and orientation. We also visited some significant sites including the Cradle of Humankind and the Apartheid Museum. In addition, we learned from our hosts as we heard from Presiding Bishop Phaswana, as we attended worship at a congregation on-site, as we were welcomed by General Secretary Rev. Mathe, and as we feasted at a braii put on by members of the congregation we visited. Good beginnings all around.

On Friday, August 29th, the new YAGM headed out to their new sites. Now, they are getting to know their communities and beginning to settle in. Keep them in your prayers. It’s quite a thing to venture off to completely new places. But they are received well and cared for well by our companions. We thank God for them.

John, Adwoa, Dave, Caity, Brett, Brittani, Emmeline, Mae Helen, Hannah

John, Adwoa, Dave, Caity, Brett, Brittani, Emmeline, Mae Helen, Hannah

Thoughts From a YAGM Mom

Dana Lamb writes as a mom who is about to send her daughter off on a YAGM year in Southern Africa. May God bless the families and the faith communities that raise and send these people of faith to share their lives with others for a year. Dana writes:

On Sunday, we had a “sending blessing” for our daughter, Brittani Lamb, at our home congregation, First Lutheran Church in St. Peter, MN. She will be serving in the Young Adults in Global Mission program in Southern Africa for the next year.

It was an emotional day as the reality of her leaving is sinking in. I wouldn’t say I have been in “denial”, as I have been preparing myself for this day for quite a while now, but that didn’t stop the tears!

Why tears? Tears of pride, tears of joy, tears of apprehension, tears of excitement, tears of heartache, as I know how much I will miss having her home for the holidays, family events, and even just a quick shopping trip! Even though she has been at college for four years, and working at summer jobs, she has never been more than a day’s drive away. This will change soon and I am so thankful for the support of our church family and prayers from friends.

When we moved to St. Peter nearly twenty years ago, we searched for a church that would welcome our family, as we did not know anyone in town. It has been so much more than that. Our family has been blessed by our church in ways we never could have imagined, from being in a small group of families with toddlers (most of whom are now out of high school) to participating in Sunday school, Confirmation, church musicals, camp and leadership roles in worship.

After seeing everyone talk to Brittani on the way out of church, I know she is not in this journey by herself. She is being guided by the hand of God and the prayers of our entire First Lutheran family. As we heard on her baptism day and in the verse she chose for her confirmation day, I know she will “let her light so shine before others so they can see her good works and glorify her Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

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Take-Offs and Landings

Abby wrote this right before she departed from South Africa after a year of service:

I remember reading once when I was younger that take-offs and landings are the most dangerous parts of any flight- the time when you are most likely to crash.

As a nervous flier prone to motion sickness, I’ve never exactly been a fan of flying, but the absolute worst parts of any flights are take-offs and landings. It is during these times of rapidly changing altitude, of literally altering your place in this world and watching the ground shift beneath you, that I am most likely to feel sick (in South Africa, we’d say I might “bring up”). I grip the seat handles until my knuckles are white, take deep breaths, and pray incessantly.

This seems like an appropriate time to reflect on take-offs and landings, as I am posting this from the Johannesburg airport, about to leave South African soil. I am not only in the midst of literal take-offs and landings, but also in the midst of great changes in my life.

I have left Cape Town. This last year has been…well…. I don’t quite have sufficient words for this year. The English language fails me in trying to encompass the struggles, joys, growth, depth, breadth, and overwhelming opportunity of accompanying communities in Cape Town for 11 short months. I have learned more than I expected, struggled more than I would have guessed, and been loved more than I could have imagined.

I have taken off from my newfound home, not only in Bellville South, but in the hearts of people who welcomed an outsider into their midst with hospitality, grace, and mercy.

I have taken off, again, from my YAGM-SA family. The nine other YAGMs and the Leiseth family have been a support system unlike any other I have ever known.

I will soon be taking off from South Africa, a country that will forever set my heart aflame and a country I truly hope to return to someday.

I will land, soon enough, in Phoenix, Arizona. I will land into the arms of my family and friends and congregations who have supported me in a multitude of ways over the last year. I will land in my first home, but I will not be fully at home. I will never again experience the simplicity of having everyone I love in one place, because I now have loved ones all over the globe. I will never be fully settled in Arizona, because a part of my heart will always live on in Cape Town.

I will also be landing into the unknown. In what ways have things changed in America? What has happened in the lives of my loved ones? How will the experiences that have shaped me and remade me in this last year translate? What does the future hold?

I still don’t have all the answers. I am sitting in the muck and the mess of the unknown, gripping the seat handles of my life, taking deep breaths, and praying incessantly. There is a distinct possibility that there will be turbulence. I have to adjust to this new altitude- this new me, in a once-familiar place, with my heart spread out across the world. I am in the middle of take-offs and landings. It is my least favorite part of the journey.

I may not know what will happen, but I am not going to stay on the ground just because it is easier. I am going to take off and land, take off and land, again and again in this world.  I am going to try to remember to breathe and pray, try to loosen my grip on the handles, and try to treat others with the same grace and compassion that I have been shown through this journey. Thanks be to God.