Packing

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Caity wrote this blog post in June as she was preparing to leave her community after nearly a year:

Packing. When I left the states, it was the only thing on my mind, and now it is pretty much an afterthought. Everything is just barely going to fit and I’m not so wrapped up in making decisions this time.

I was terrified that I was going to over pack and bring all of the wrong things. But I was pretty much perfect on about my packing (I’ll take my humble pie later). I didn’t really bring too much and the only thing I didn’t anticipate needing was bug spray (mosquitoes in the desert, who knew?). Each time I travel I get further proof that I can survive on a very simple packing list, but I have learned exactly how far you can go before it is under packing in a fashion forward culture.

But to be honest (and incredibly cliché) it is the non-tangibles that I am working so hard to pack.

My love of an entire new community, my newfound love of prayer and the goodbyes that may be forever. The hard won smiles from children, the friendships in spite of language barriers and the inside jokes between colleagues. My memories of bearing witness to a community that has been uniquely marginalized because of their race, of the pain that comes from years of discrimination, yet I can only carry these stories as an outsider. The stories I heard when people truly opened their souls to me and the days that were a struggle for me to be so vulnerable. All this has to fit somewhere in my heart’s luggage, and, just like my possessions, it all has to go home.

And then there are the things I am working on letting go.

The images of God that have crumbled for me this year. The preconceived notions I had about South Africa and about church. The many times when people assumed that as an American, my hands were not stained from the history and present of racism, and the moments afterward when I would relate segregation to apartheid, the present South Africa to the present United States. The anger at the year being over so soon, the disappointment with myself as a follower of Christ, and the shear pain of being away for important moments in my sending community. These are all working on sneaking their way into my luggage. Some of them will healthfully fade away and some of them will become scars.

The person who packed last August with the intention of becoming a fellow Christian to a new community is not the same person who is packing today. I learned a lot, through trial and error, about accompaniment and compassion, about walking in the places that are called “lowly.” I learned to pray in moments when there was nothing else within my control. I learned more about America that I could ever have imagined. And just as I am not the same person, America is not the same country. I am writing this on a day when Lutheran churches in America are mourning. Mourning nine people who were the victims of a hate crime driven by generations of racism and entitlement. If I can go across the world as a Christian, I cannot remain the same after all I have learned and still call myself a Christian in the United States.

Today I don’t have the answers and tomorrow I won’t either, but tomorrow the best I can do is start with myself, my passion for justice and my own experiences of inequality and privilege. Today I will mourn, but I know that tomorrow I have to be a different person.

Joint Statement on Racism

On the eve of their departure from South Africa, the 2014-2015 YAGM-SA group prepared this statement as a collective statement about their ongoing commitment to address and work against racism. This was a culmination of a year of of conversations, learning, and commitments. It is a testimony to the reality that while the YAGM year is a year of service, it also lasts for a lifetime. Blessings on your future work, YAGM-SA 2014-2015! Thank you for your call to action!

We are nine young adults. We are a cow girl, an athlete, a runner, a dancer, a hippy, a square, a city girl and a cook.

We are nine young adults who share an American identity. We are four White women, two Black women, one Asian man, two White men.

We are nine young adults seeking to be God’s hands. For the last year we have served through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa.

We are nine young adults carrying nine different stories of Southern Africa. All of our stories include experiences of race and moments of racism. Racism: conscious and unconscious, directed towards us or through us, institutional and personal.

We are nine young adults carrying nine different stories of America. Leaving this home and returning to the home we once knew, we will see through new eyes. The shared elements of history have not gone unnoticed and we wish to cement our commitment to racial justice, to contribute to the process of healing, as we return to a country with as strong a history of racism as the one we are leaving.

We are nine young adults who know that the conversation only begins here. No one story can define one of us, nine of us, Southern Africa, the US, a people, all people, God. We believe that the church is one of many institutions that must transform and reform. We are calling on those who sent us, those who received us, raised us, taught us, welcomed us, loved us, baptized us, to listen for the unheard stories of racism and respond with compassion.

We are nine young adults with more identities and visions than we can count, some we share, some we do not. We are nine young adults moving from conversation to action. Amen.

2014-2015 YAGM - Southern Africa

2014-2015 YAGM – Southern Africa

End of the Year

Well, it has happened again. Another YAGM group has left. Watch for an upcoming post about the Close of Service Retreat. And please keep in your prayers Adwoa, Brett, Brittani, Caity, Dave, Emmeline, Hannah, John, and Mae Helen as they make their way back to their sending communities, friends, and family. Hambe Kahle (“go well”), friends.

A last group photo at the airport

A last group photo at the airport

 

 

June 16 – Youth Day

10441327_10154285774145074_2456973897392330603_nLast week was Youth Day in South Africa. YAGM Alum Emily D. writes about her memories of being in Soweto, South Africa, on Youth Day in 2014.

June 16, 2015

One year ago, I was living in Soweto, South Africa. The organization I worked for, Diakonia AIDS Ministry, was holding an event that we had been working hard to plan for weeks. I was wearing a Morris Isaacson school uniform and marching through the streets of Central Western Jabavu. I was watching the youth I worked with sing songs, perform dances, and have a live debate. I was cooking kota and working in the kitchen. I was exploring a newly-opened museum in my neighborhood. I was taking pictures with friends and having the time of my life.

39 years ago today, however, was a different story. School children in Soweto were having laws forced upon them that made learning difficult, if not impossible. These same students were planning and executing a peaceful protest of these laws. Police were reacting to the protest in hurtful, intimidating, and deadly ways. People were upset, angry, and scared, but not defeated. The world was slowly starting to realize what was happening in South Africa as a result of Apartheid.

Now that I have been back in the United States for almost a year, I realize that my memory of June 16 in Soweto is seen through rose-colored glasses. For me, June 16 was a day to learn more about the history of my community and spend time with my friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Overall, I would call it a wonderful memory.

For many people, however, June 16 is a day to remember the heartache, pain, and suffering of that day in 1976. For many others, it may bring up memories of the apartheid era in general. Still, for others, this day may bring up feelings of pride and honor. June 16 means different things for different people.

Having grown up in a small town in Minnesota and not being born until about 15 years after the events of 1976, I cannot even fathom what the youth of that time were going through. I also cannot understand what June 16 means to a native Sowetan. Despite having lived in Soweto for a year, I know that I will never truly understand what June 16 is and what it stands for.

These feelings of not completely understanding June 16 are frustrating. I want to comprehend people’s feelings of hurt, pride, pain, and joy. I want to be able to articulate what Youth Day means for Soweto and South Africa — but I know I never will.

What I do understand is that June 16, 1976 is not only a day to be remembered and commemorated with a national holiday. It is a day to be mindful of and to learn from. It is a day to listen to stories and learn more from others around you.

For me, June 16 was, and still is, a day to celebrate the power of youth. It is also a day to remember the wonderful people I met in a South Africa. It is a day to think about my second home in Soweto and the history and culture that makes that community unique and vibrant. It is a day to appreciate people of all ages and their individual and collective capabilities. Finally, June 16 is a day to be thankful for those brave enough to stand up for what they believe in, regardless of the cost.

Thank you, Soweto youth of 1976.

Home

Hannah, second from the right, stands with members of her community at her service site.

Hannah, second from the right, stands with members of her community at her service site.

Hannah lives and serves in rural South Africa. She writes:

I believe the writers for Disney are geniuses. Disney movies entertain the youngest child to grandparents. They know how to use words to make us laugh and to wrench our hearts. From “Some people are worth melting for” to “I thought we all were the children of God” and “I love you,” the Disney writers know how to capture our hearts. Growing up watching Disney movies and now watching them as a young adult, I can also see the deeper messages in them: love, family, acceptance, personal growth, forgiveness, and so much more. A line I used to laugh at when I was younger is Pumba’s “Home is where your rump rests!”

Lately, I have been struggling with the concept of home. What exactly is home? I know it’s different from the word “house” which refers to a physical structure, whereas the word “home” seems to have more of an emotional attachment. I realize I have moved around a lot since I turned eighteen. A new place every year during college. An apartment in Philly for a semester. The house I grew up in during the summers. A house in Matsulu for 4 ½ months, and now a house in Langeloop for 5 ½ months. But were any of those home? Or were they just places I inhabited?

As my time here quickly moves to the end, I think about going home. But I’m not sure what that means. I’ll spend a month at the house I grew up in before heading off to school again. So what do I mean when I say I’m “going home” again? What do I mean when I sometimes say I’m homesick? What is the “home” I keep referring to?
At first when I thought about Pumba’s definition, I viewed it as one place where you put roots down. But what if we think of it in a more general sense? How many different places does your “rump rest” in a day? A week? A year? Is your home the comfy chair in your living room? And maybe also the window seat in your favorite coffee shop? What about the church pew?

While I like thinking of home as a literal place, I also wonder about the roots of our homes that we put down that aren’t attached to a place. What about the roots we plant in people’s hearts? What if my home is my people? My mom, dad, brothers, and sister; my college friends scattered across the US; my church family; my theatre and dance families; the YAGM across the globe from Hungary to Madagascar; the YAGM all over Southern Africa; my host pastor and first host mom; my host sister in Joburg; my friends in Matsulu; my host family in Langeloop; the volunteers at the drop-in center; the kids at the center. These are my home.

My home may never actually be a place, a space I occupy, but my home is all of the people around the world who care for me and I for them. You are my home, and I carry my home in my heart wherever I go. In a few short months, I will return to my, my friends and family in the US. But I will also be leaving a part of my home behind. My home will forevermore be partially in the US and partially in South Africa. My home has been stretched across two continents. While I am excited to return to my home in the US, I will shed many tears for my home here that I will not return to for an indeterminate amount of time, maybe ever. But for the next few months, I will cherish my home here and look forward to returning to my home in the US. I guess the cliché is true for me: home is where the heart is.

It Takes a Village . . .

11265114_10204250799247023_2087251582728663855_nFor as long as I can remember, community has been a reoccurring theme in my life. Since arriving in South Africa in August, that theme has only been strengthened. When thinking about the importance of community and supporting each other, I am reminded of John 15:4. Jesus tells us to “remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remind on the vine.”

While Jesus was telling us to remain in his and God’s will, I also wonder if we can take this with us in regards to community. So often we are told not to forget where we came from, but possibly there is truth to that.

I have noticed that people do not forget their roots in South Africa. Even once they move away, some people that I have met try to stay entrenched in their communities (past and present) in any way that they can.

I want this for my people and for myself, for what better way to remain in Jesus, than to remain committed to those who have always been committed to you? Be that in spirit or any other way. We must be the branches that bear fruit.

10 Loves

As Caity,a YAGM volunteer in the northwestern part of South Africa, comes closer to the end of her service year, she reflects:

The 10 Things I Love About My Community

  1. Someone will always go with me

If I’m going to the store or headed to church for some reason, I never have to go alone. Similar to my image of the American South, people sit on porches to share stories and cigarettes. I can always find someone on a neighboring porch to walk with me.

  1. Everyone is Auntie and Uncle

Showing respect in South Africa is easy, just address an older person with these titles. In Afrikaans, it is Auntie/Tannie and Uncle/Oom. It is respectful without being formal like Sir/Mam, and it gives me a chance to open conversation with an older person (not always easy but usually worth it).

  1. Raw Musical Talent

The hymns at our church are unaccompanied, and no one is shy to sing out. After years of needing hymnals/powerpoints and organs/cantors, I have learned that they can all sing me under the table.

  1. Bread

I make a lot of bread these days. I love that bread here is not the dreaded “carbohydrates,” it is just delicious.

  1. Greetings really matter

People here ask “how are you” with such habit that when I forget that part of the greeting, I still get a “fine, thank you, and you?”

  1. Everyone has nicknames

At the beginning of the year, people would give me there proper names, only for me to get completely confused later. Everyone has a name, and a nickname, a lot of people have two.

  1. Pedestrians have right of way

Unlike the rest of South Africa, where you can’t even walk in a parking lot without fearing for your life, it is great that here I can walk down the middle of the road knowing drivers will stop. It helps that there aren’t many cars at all.

  1. Windmills

There are a lot of windmills around that add some variety to the skyline and generally make me smile.

  1. School uniforms

I’m glad I never had to wear a uniform, but I think the school uniform for Rietfontein is cute. The colors, forest green or light blue, are great. It’s less of a hassle than homework, so it can’t be too bad.

  1. Someone is always playing music

On quiet nights when our TV isn’t working, it is nice to sit outside and hear the distant music drifting in from someone else’s house. Sometimes you just want peace and quiet, but sometimes it’s nice to know people are having a good time.

 

Caity (left) learns bread making from her auntie.

Caity (left) learns bread making from her auntie.