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)

SONY DSCSONY DSC

 

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.

10 Suggestions for Helping Your Young Adult in Global Mission (YAGM) Return Home

Former YAGM-Mexico Country Coordinator, Rev. Andrea Roske-Metcalfe, originally wrote these tips in 2009. It has become a popular post in the YAGM community and is shared again for all those getting ready to receive someone they care about back home in the U.S. These tips are used with permission.  

10 Suggestions for Helping your Young Adult in Global Mission (YAGM) Return Home:
1. Don’t ask the question, “So how was it?” Your YAGM cannot function in one-word answers right now, especially ones intended to sum up their entire year’s experience, and being asked to do so may cause them to start laughing or crying uncontrollably. Ask more specific questions, like “Who was your closest friend?” or “What did you do in your free time?” or “What as the food like?” or “Tell me about your typical day.”
2. If you wish to spend time with your YAGM, let them take the lead on where to go and what to do. Recognize that seemingly mundane rituals, like grocery shopping or going to the movies, may be extremely difficult for someone who has just spent a year living without a wide array of material goods. One former YAGM, for example, faced with the daunting task of choosing a tube of toothpaste from the 70-odd kinds available, simply threw up in the middle of the drugstore.
3.  Expect some feelings of jealousy and resentment, especially if your YAGM lived with a host family. Relationships that form during periods of uncertainty and vulnerability (the first few months in a foreign country, for example) form quickly and deeply. The fact that your YAGM talks non-stop about their friends and family from their country of service doesn’t mean that they don’t love you, too. It simply means that they’re mourning the loss (at least in part) of the deep, meaningful, important relationships that helped them to survive and to thrive during this last year. In this regard, treat them as you would anyone else mourning a loss.
4. You may be horrified by the way your YAGM dresses; both because their clothes are old and raggedy and because they insist on wearing the same outfit three days ina row. Upon encountering their closet at home, returning YAGMs tend to experience two different emotions: (1) jubilation at the fact that they can stop rotating the same 2 pairs of jeans and 4 shirts, and (2) dismay at the amount of clothing they own, and yet clearly lived without for an entire year. Some YAGMs may deal with this by giving away entire car loads of clothing and other items to people in need. Do not “save them from themselves” by offering to drive the items to the donation center, only to hid them away in your garage. Let your YAGM do what they need to do. Once they realize, after the fact, that you do indeed need more than 2 pairs of jeans and 4 shirts to function in professional American society, offer to take them shopping. Start with the Goodwill and the Salvation Army; your YAGM may never be able to handle Macy’s again.
5. Asking to see photos of your YAGM’s year in service is highly recommended, providing you have an entire day off from work. Multiply the number of photos you take during a week’s vacation, multiply that by 52, and you understand the predicament. If you have an entire day, fine. If not, take a cue from number 1 above, and ask to see specific things, like photos of your YAGM’s host family, or photos from holiday celebrations. Better yet, set up a number of “photo dates,” and delve into a different section each time. Given the high percentage of people whose eyes glaze over after the first page of someone else’s photos, and the frustration that can cause for someone bursting with stories to tell, this would be an incredible gift.
6. At least half the things that come out of your YAGM’s mouth for the first few months will begin with, “In Mexico/Slovakia/South Africa/etc…” This will undoubtedly begin to annoy the crap out of you after the first few weeks. Actually saying so, however, will prove far less effective than listening and asking interested questions. Besides, you can bet that someone else will let slip exactly what you’re thinking, letting you off the hook.
7. That said, speak up when you need to! Returning YAGMs commonly assume that almost nothing has changed in your lives since they left. (This happens, in part, because you let them, figuring that their experiences are so much more exciting than yours, and therefore not sharing your own.) Be assertive enough to create the space to share what has happened in your life during the last year.
8. Recognize that living in a very simple environment with very few material belongings changes people. Don’t take it personally if your YAGM seems horrified by certain aspects of the way you live – that you shower every day, for example, or that you buy a new radio instead of duct-taping the broken one back together. Recognize that there probably are certain things you could or should change (you don’t really need to leave the water running while you brush your teeth, do you?), but also that adjusting to what may now feel incredibly extravagant will simply take awhile. Most YAGMs make permanent changes toward a simpler lifestyle. Recognize this as a good thing.
9. Perhaps you had hopes, dreams, and aspirations for your YAGM that were interrupted by their year of service. If so, you may as well throw them out the window. A large percentage of returning YAGMs make significant changes to their long-term goals and plans. Some of them have spent a year doing something they never thought they’d enjoy, only to find themselves drawn to it as a career. Others have spent a year doing exactly what they envisioned doing for the rest of their lives, only to find that they hate it. Regardless of the direction your YAGM takes when they return…rejoice! This year hasn’t changed who they are; it has simply made them better at discerning God’s call on their lives. (Note: Some YAGMs spend their year of service teaching English, some are involved in human rights advocacy, others work with the elderly or disabled, and at least one spent his year teaching British youth to shoot with bows and arrows. The rest of this phenomenon, therefore, can vary widely.)
10. Go easy on yourself, and go easy on your YAGM. Understand that reverse culture shock is not an exact science, and manifests itself differently in each person. Expect good days and bad days. Don’t be afraid to ask for help (including of the pharmaceutical variety) if necessary. Pray. Laugh. Cry. This too shall pass, and in the end, you’ll both be the richer for it.

Traveling Struggles and Saints

DSC02681Traveling to visit other volunteers around South Africa blesses us with incredible opportunities – a chance to explore a new part of this wonderful country, a chance to meet new friends, a chance to relax in the company of a close friend, a chance to challenge all the things we think we know about how South Africa works. Add to that a sense of confidence and achievement in successfully navigating South Africa’s public transport on one’s own, and the combination is addicting. However, the high of personal success is short lived when faced with the reality that in no way can I be attributed with navigating the whole way on my own. There was Gogo Nkosi, who adopted me on our taxi ride to Joberg and directed me where to go in the intimidating city. There was the guardian angel at the station turnstile who let me cut the line to get to my bus, as it was five minutes from leaving and I was still 10 minutes away. There was Sandile, who told me about his interest in psychology and theology before I had the chance to tell him my background and interest in both, who sat with me while we waited for stores to open. There was the sister whose name I never learned who guided me through the complexities of village taxi life and recommended some interesting books. There was the Afrikaner grandmother, knitting on the bus, who spoke up for me when tea and coffee was passed around the cabin. In South Africa, you rarely travel on your own. Taxi rides may be silent, but at gas station breaks, a shared taxi is often enough to warrant a few watchful friends. On buses, drivers or attendants can almost always be relied upon to smile patiently while explaining, again, that the stop you need is still coming. In South Africa, traveling isn’t so much about moving from one place to another as it is an opportunity to be in close quarters with a new knitting partner, a new best friend, a new community. Like everywhere else, traveling here is riddled with challenges and struggles, but when traveling in the company of saints, it’s always an entertaining trip.

Youth Day

EmilySoweto

Current YAGM, Emily D., writes about her experience in historic Soweto on Youth Day 2014:

About a year ago, I found out that I would be living in Soweto.

Naturally, as soon as I heard, I did as much research as possible on the area in preparation for my YAGM year. Nearly everywhere I looked, I saw mention of the Soweto Uprising. I saw it described as the beginning of the end of Apartheid, a critical piece in the struggle, the first time the next generation became involved, and more. It became clear that the events of June 16, 1976 will forever be etched into the history of South Africa.

For the past 38 years, South Africans and others around the world have celebrated, cherished, and remembered this day. Today, June 16th, is a public holiday known as Youth Day.

I have always had a love of children. I grew up with a preschool teacher as a mom, two younger brothers, and countless babysitting jobs. In college, I spent a semester as an Elementary Education major and coached elementary students in gymnastics. While here in South Africa, I spend a majority of each day with kids ranging in age from 7 months old to 20 years old. Basically, I love kids and youth.

Now, after hearing more about June 16 and spending all day with some of my favorite high school students in the world, I not only love kids but have a deep and profound respect for them.

First of all, my respect and admiration for the students involved in the Soweto Uprising is through the roof. At the age of 13, I was much more worried about my hair and what boys were saying about me than the political climate of my country. I realize that the political situation in Soweto in 1976 was a little more intense than Minnesota in 2004, but I still don’t think I would have had the courage or ambition to do what those amazing students did.

Apart from my respect for the 1976 participants, I am beyond proud of and grateful for the OVC After-School Programme students who played a huge role in the success of the events today. The Oldest Group sang three songs, including one that they chose and practiced on their own. The Middle Group sang three songs and performed a dance, despite the fact that the sound system stopped working. The Youngest Group sang a song completely in English. All of the children respectfully listened to guest speakers and marched proudly through the streets of Soweto.

The courage, ambition, creativity, and energy of these kids is astounding. I am constantly blown away by their desire to learn, their ability to face challenges, and their overall joy and excitement for life.

In my opinion, the Soweto students of 1976 left a legacy that is being carried on and continued by the Soweto students of 2014.