Hold On

Kyle writes a poem to help express his experience:

Hold On

Over and yonder and
round the next bend
Is the promise of mercy
on this I depend

For life rarely shows me
that which I seek
And so I must wait
as I have every week

Great longing for action
from God in this world
See death greed corruption
into the void hurled

Sometimes it is painful
i so often miss
All that I hope for
sweet promise of bliss

Sweet sliver of mercy
if you I should find
I’ll be deeply thankful
my pain might unwind

I try to be patient
and slow to get mad
At a world that has evil
And makes me so sad

We’re slaves to injustice
we know it’s unfair
God says on each head
that he loves every hair

We’re part of one body
we’re part of one soul
Yet Broken Heart Pieces
are hard to make whole

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Dance in the Rain

Rachel and children from the preschool sing and dance.

Rachel shares about dancing in the rain:

I spent one of the first weekends I was here with a family in a rural area outside of Mabopane. Moments after I arrived at their home, a delicious  dinner was served. Not seconds after praying for our food, a storm rolled  in, and we lost power. Not a grumble was made, candles were lit, and we carried on with our meal singing hymns and laughing! Throughout the weekend, this beautiful family continued to teach me lessons about the importance of not waiting for the storm to pass, but to dance in the rain instead! When I left on Sunday, Mama gave me the nickname, “Mmapula,” woman of the rain. She explained, “Remember on Friday? You arrived, and it rained. You brought the rain and the blessings to our  family.” I think the name suits my rainy eyeballs.

Just Be

Katie shares her journey of learning to ” just be”:

Being here in Bloemfontein for two months has been an eye opener for me in some ways. There are a few things that I have discovered about myself and the community of Manguang where I am living. It is kind of surprising for me to notice the few changes that have been taking place in my life. I can tell you that it took a lot of patience, faith and trust on my part but I  believe it is with these things that I have discovered the changes that are taking place in my life.

First, I can tell you that when I arrived that I did not have a place to volunteer right away. This was frustrating because that is how I am use to things happening. Having something lined up and starting right away. Of course this is how we are all use to things. We are used to being doers and doing things that we feel will make a difference. What I have begun to realize though is that while it is ok to do, I also need to just be. Just being is actually a lot harder than what it seems. You see, as much as I love to do I have never taken the time to just be. This is what I remember being told to us at orientation in Chicago time after time. This really did not hit me until I actually had to learn to just be. I slowly had to realize that things do not happen on my time or right away. As Dean Monama has told me repeatedly when things did not happen right away for me “Just give it time.” I can  say that if I had not taken the time to just be, I would not have developed a bond with my host family. I would not have had a chance to get to know the people in the community of Manguang nor would I have learned about the history of South Africa during apartheid. I also would have not bonded well with my little siblings that I live with because they mean so much to me now. To just be is hard and something that I have not been used to, but if I didn’t take the time I would never have  experienced the love in this community and to discover what it really means to be in relationship with God and with others. To really be living in community and to be interdependent on one another has really been a spiritual growth for me. I am slowly starting to understand why it is important to be intentional in relationships and community. My host family, my church friends here and the people in this community have taught me all of this and it is because of them that I have and am still learning what it really means to Just Be.

Celebrating Eternal Life

Laura eats a traditional Zulu meal during orientation.

“The fact that we have eternal life is not something we take lightly here in South Africa. It isn’t something we can just blow by quickly…but something that we can celebrate each day”.

As I sat in Dean Mkaya’s (my host pastor here) pick-up truck, he told me about  the importance of funerals here. It was late one Saturday afternoon and we were driving back to Pietermaritzburg after being out in the more rural area for almost seven hours! It was a day spent at a funeral, followed by a burial, unveiling of a tombstone, and then a feast of delicious traditional Zulu food. Though the day had been exhausting, I didn’t mind the time it took to travel home, because the scenery of the hills and fields still amazes me each time I travel anywhere here. Dean Myaka graciously invited me to come along to this funeral to experience an important part of the culture here. The funeral was all spoken in the native language here, isiZulu, so I did not understand anything they were saying. Luckily, the Dean preached at this particular funeral, so the majority of our drive home was him explaining to me what his sermon was about, in English! He described why the funeral service was almost five hours long, his cultural and religious views on death, and the impact it has on communities here. It all goes back to the quote I shared previously at the beginning of this paragraph…  We discussed how it is healthy to grieve, but it is also healthy to celebrate the life a person has lived on earth, and to look forward to the eternal life we are promised through Christ Jesus. Here in South Africa, funerals are seen as a celebration; a time to celebrate life and the hope we can live in each day. Talking with the Dean took me back to several conversations I have had with my mother about funerals. She has always told me how she wants her funeral to be a party, a celebration, a time where people can acknowledge that though her life on earth is done, her life has really just begun! During the funeral service, the lady I sat next to graciously shared her isiZulu worship hymnal with me so I could sing along to the songs. I was surrounded by tears of joy, beautiful voices, laughter, and random shouts of praise and felt quite silly actually, as I tried to sing along to tunes I had never heard and words I had never said. I’m sure my voice was adding some interesting harmonies just by trying to sing and I knew that my Minnesotan accent stood out more than usual at this point… but what a neat feeling it was to sing with others in another language, especially in worship setting. So though I was confused for the majority of the time, this idea became insignificant. More importantly than me trying to sing the right words and emphasize the correct syllables, was the fact that no matter what we sounded like, all of our voices were uniting together to worship our Lord, and that was a beautiful sound.

Thoughts on Being Unnecessary

Kaleb reflects on his role:

A few weeks ago, I started my daily journal entry with these words: I am totally unnecessary here. There is no process, no function, no  organization that totally relies on my presence. Before you start worrying that I went halfway around the world for nothing, let me explain why I think these words are an important starting point as I begin to tell the story of my year in South Africa. It goes like this:

The same morning I wrote this journal entry, I decided to go for a run. As I was jogging on one of the many dirt roads that crisscross this area, I passed a woman carrying a five gallon bucket full of water and a cooking pot, all balanced on her head. While this isn’t an uncommon sight in this area, I was particularly struck at just how hard this woman was working to get her daily water home that morning. By the grace of God, I scraped up enough courage to ask if she needed any help. Looking just slightly surprised, she pulled the   load off of her head and handed me the cooking pot…which turned out to be empty. While she hoisted the massively heavy bucket back  on her head, I stood there awkwardly with an empty pot that weighed next to nothing. And off we went, up the steep muddy road. So there I was. The only white person within miles, barely able to communicate in isiZulu, and carrying an empty pot up a rural dirt road with a woman I had just met. I couldn’t say anything meaningful, I didn’t know where we were going, and my attempt to help had hardly lightened my companion’s load. By all standards of productivity, I was pretty useless. But at that moment in time, the standards” didn’t matter. It was the simple gift of companionship which both of us chose to share that gave meaning to our encounter. I may not have made her physical struggle easier, but perhaps our brief moments of being together, or my miserable attempt at conversation, or just an awkward smile, spoke something meaningful to her. I know her willingness to simply walk with me was a gesture of solidarity that blessed me that morning. Just like carrying an empty pot, the work that I do on a daily basis here at Umphumulo is certainly not a matter of life or death. I type letters or make copies at the Lutheran church diocese office. I grade tests or play with kids at the local schools. I help weed the garden or hang clothes on the line at the neighbors’ house. I am not saving lives, feeding starving children, or solving the issue of poverty. The work I do is, ultimately, unnecessary. But the relationships I have been given here at Umphumulo are some of the most necessary blessings I could receive. It is not the work I do, but instead my brothers and sisters and moms and dads at the diocese office, at the schools, at the hospital, and across the street that give purpose to this year in South Africa. By welcoming me into their everyday lives, including the typing and grading and weeding and washing and walking, my family here at Umphumulo is opening my eyes to a God who defines value not in productivity or usefulness, but instead in a boundless measure of grace that binds us all together in relationship. So why am I here? I am here to simply live the joys and struggles of daily life alongside our South African brothers and sisters. I am here to celebrate the ways that God is already at work in this vibrant community. I am here to witness the grace of God through the hands and feet of the people of Umphumulo and to understand that I can never repay the deep hospitality and care that I have already received. And I am here to live in the trust that God can transform even our most simple and unnecessary offerings, like empty pots and awkward smiles, into something of purpose.