Hand-washing allows me time to think…

Laura writes about the gift of hand-washing her clothes:

When I am back in the United States, I’ll never be able to do laundry with a washing machine and dryer without thinking about all the time I spent hand-washing my clothes here. Many Saturday mornings, you can find me in the backyard of my house, with a heaping wash bin of clothes stacked in front of me. I use the rain water that’s collected in a huge tank underneath the roof gutters and begin scrubbing with the same pale green bar of soap that my family also uses to wash dishes and bathe with; smelling of a sweet mint aroma, with a hint of pine… a smell I will never forget. The process of scrubbing, rinsing, hanging, taking off the line and ironing has become a process that (call me crazy but…) I actually enjoy.

There is SO much to think about here. Finding time to process and reflect on all that’s going on in my life and in the lives of the people around me is not easy. When I sit down and stare at a fresh empty page in my journal, often times I don’t even know where to begin writing. Or when I am laying in bed at night trying to fall asleep, my mind wanders in so many different directions. However, during these Saturday mornings, somehow I am able to just sit and think, and it’s a wonderful feeling. I don’t have to concentrate too much on scrubbing my clothes, as it has become quite a familiar task. As I hold each piece of clothing, I’m reminded of the places I’ve been, people I’ve conversed with, and situations where I’ve witnessed God’s presence…all since the last Saturday I did laundry. When I’m back home in MN, I know I will need time to just sit and think and for that reason, there is a very good chance I will continue to hand-wash my clothes (as long as the weather allows!) They become a lot cleaner this way anyways!

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Hospitality

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Taisha writes about her experiences of hospitality in South Africa:

Hospitality has to me come wrapped in so many ways during my seven months in South Africa, that I find making a concrete definition difficult. However, I don’t think there is a need to define it, because you know it when you receive it. The second week I was here, a young woman (Ruth), working at the school nearby, invited me to go to a Bible study and stay the night with her and her husband on their farm. She didn’t know me from anyone else, and I didn’t know her from anyone else. Little did I know, it was the start of a long, beautiful friendship. In the morning before heading back, she packed me a little sack of muffins to get me through the day. Ruth and Philip (her husband) have been such a blessing to me – gifting me with friendship, a place to stay, home cooked meals, English conversation, but more than that, teaching me hospitality (or kindness, generosity, friendliness, openness, welcome – from the thesaurus on Microsoft Word). Others have been hospitable through their work. The ladies at the crèche always make sure that I have something to eat for lunch and say thank you every day when I depart. Khanyi and Mr. Mayaba always share their drinks and lunch with me and insist that I sit squished in between them up front in the bakkie, so I don’t have to sit by myself in the back. Pamela, a high school student who hostels at the center where I live, came to my door to give me a chocolate bon bon, when I know she rarely has these sweets for herself. During the end of February through the middle of March, nine German student teachers were staying at the guesthouse connected to my flat to do a teaching internship at the local schools. Every night they invited me to eat with them, play cards, share in snacks and drinks, and just plain socialize…and yes, they spoke English as much as possible so I would understand. They invited me to go on a weekend excursion with them, which I would have never been able to without them. They had a huge farewell braii (bbq) and invited many people to share in the fun. Most importantly, they always included four boys who live at/around the center, and made them feel cared for and loved during their time here.

All of these moments eventually make me think of the foreign exchange students who end up in my home town from year to year. Sure, they have wonderful host families that take them in for their time, but I can’t help but feel guilty for the way they have experienced our town, our state, and our country. I was always too busy and caught up in my own life to take the time to invite over the foreign exchange student that lived down the road from me. I never had her over for dinner, to do homework, to talk, to spend the night. I never let her into my life fully. Of course, I talked to her in school, at events, and during tennis, but outside of that, what did I do to make her feel welcomed, like she belonged, like she was important, like she was a child of God?

We all know people in our lives that could use love and care, but why not give that to all people we meet? Why not let every person with whom we come into contact feel like they are of worth? Jesus characterizes the final judgment of the good in Matthew 25: 34-40 like this:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and your clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Why shouldn’t we want to do these things?

a taxi ride to Emmaus

In this Easter season, Rachel reflects about the faces of Jesus she meets in her daily life: 

DSC_0388A fellow South Africa YAGM wrote in his own blog that taxi riding in SA can truly be a spiritual experience. I have to agree. Today I dropped off Alex (another YAGM who visited me this weekend) at the bus station, went to the mall, and then returned to Mabopane. It might sound simple, but I rode in SEVEN different taxis to achieve it! Not an easy task…and not a journey made without an elevated heart rate at times. On the last leg of the ride, two beautiful little girls and their dad crawled into the back seat of the taxi with me, filling the 9 passenger vehicle with 10 bodies (plus our shopping bags and groceries). I scooted as close as I could to the open window to make room on the mangled leather seat. It took no more than a minute for the young girl closest to me to cuddle under my arm, and fall asleep. As my new friend drifted into dream-land, her body heat warmed my side and the beauty of the moment warmed my heart. A spiritual experience, indeed!

In that moment, I was feeling so proud of myself for successfully navigating the taxi system across all corners of Pretoria and Mabopane. As I recollect the day now though, I realize that I did not accomplish it unaccompanied. I can recall the face of a gracious stranger at each point in my journey who I couldn’t have done it without. Seven taxis. Seven faces.

Yesterday, Alex and I attended the memorial service of a woman who I had visited a few times throughout her battle with kidney cancer. We stood lining the street with other members of Modisa Lutheran Church, waiting for Aus Lizzie’s body to return to her home from the mortuary. While we were waiting, Alex pointed to a full rainbow that had appeared through the stormy looking clouds behind us. “Ga ayo mathata,” we sang, “No problems,” for we have God on our side.

Moruti spoke at the service on a familiar and favorite passage of mine — the walk to Emmaus. In this post-Easter story, a couple of Jesus’ disciples are too caught up in their own sorrows to realize that Jesus was literally walking beside them. I mean, you can’t blame them. They saw him sentenced to death and crucified on the cross, how could they believe he had truly risen to new life!? It wasn’t until the disciples ate a meal with Jesus that their “eyes were opened and they recognized him.” (Luke 24:31) Jesus really does know the way into the human heart…food!! Moruti invited us last night to not become so carried away by our own distress that we lose sight of Jesus’ everlasting presence in our lives.

It’s wonderful to be reminded that through the ups and downs of feeling comfortable and confident, and lost and lonely…I’m not walking alone. I am trying to etch into my memory the image of the seven people who I met along my ‘ride to Emmaus’ today. As I do, I’m also trying to wrap my head around the fact that Jesus was somewhere in each of those beautiful faces, and the Holy Spirit was filling any extra space that was left in the jam packed vehicles in which I rode.

A Light Shines in the Darkness

DSC01181Alex writes about the gift of light during a recent storm:

“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”    – John 1:5

It all began one cold, windy and a very rainy Saturday morning when I awoke to the sounds of thunder in the distance and rain gently tapping on my bedroom window…

Quiet. The occasional faint pitter-patter of drizzle on the corrugated iron roof would perk my ears up. Then more quiet. The only sounds above a whisper that reached my house over the course of a 34 hour period, from 2am Saturday morning until 12pm Sunday afternoon, were of families chatting and laughing as they cooked their meals over fires or gas stoves.

The reason behind this silence and darkness was that the electricity had been snuffed out from a most terrible and great thunderstorm. A thunderstorm so great it had the capabilities of shutting down the electric grid across an entire collection of villages. In addition to electric damages, there may have been some emotional damage as well. That is to say, I wasn’t scared out of my wits at all. No, that’s a lie. I was scared to death by the lightening and thunder, which decided to have a light show and make awesome cracks and rumbles just above my house.

Adding to my uneasiness about the thunder, I began feeling lonely and isolated as the silence penetrated my mind. I just needed to hear something other than rain and to be with someone other than me. Please, just anything other sound than rain pelting softly on the roof, which only made me extremely sleepy. Anything. On top of it all, the gray of the clouds muddled my spirits. So, I began humming, whistling and singing tunes to myself to brighten the day. Or so the theory goes, but only would temporarily lift the spirits. The occasional “moooooo!” of a cow or a “baaaaa” of a goat would interrupt the day’s silence, then nothing.
I did manage to walk over to a neighbor’s house through typhoon of wind and rain in search of social interaction and to use her gas burner stove to heat some water. To say in the least, I was extremely grateful for both. We chatted for a while about the weather and how crummy it was outside. I laughed as she joked, “Eish, we are just here and it is so cold and we are without electricity. Yoh! You can’t do anything other than just to sleep”. A wide smile then spread across her face and she gave a laugh, as if stating our shared feelings made her feel better. I certainly felt better from her smile and laugh.

She had a puddle building outside of her house, which I became quite worried that it would seep into her house. She, however, was not worried in the least. I guess she had been through worse or similar weather than what we experienced that day. Besides, what do I know? I’m only here for a year.

After a while of some well-needed social interaction and a time to heat up some water, which I was extremely grateful for both, I went back up the hill and back to my house. Despite the comfort of having friends and neighbors around me throughout the quiet day, however, a feeling of eeriness settled over my mind.

On any normal day, the village was filled with a vibrant social hubbub from the chatter and the laughter of people going about their daily business. Walking to the local water taps to fetch water or over to the tavern to buy bread or to play a game of pool are a few common activities in which people regularly participate. These sounds of normalcy, of people going about their daily business with family and friends, then radiate throughout the entire community. No matter where you stand across the village: its streets, yards and into the living spaces of each household, one can here these most common and comforting sounds of Masealama’s people. A social buzz filled with the dynamics of friendship, family and of people finding a place within their community. For me, the regular village sounds of conversation and laughter have become a source of comfort not only in observing these things but being an active participant in village life. I too enjoy making jokes with friends around the village, playing pool and feeling present in today’s world.

This day, however, was different. No one was walking around or doing any activity, really. It was as if everyone had up and moved out of the place, which rendered Masealama a “ghost town.” And who would want to? It was raining cats and dogs outside and it was pretty cold, too. The heaviness of the rain was just too powerful a force to keep people from going out at all, including myself. It seemed to me, both from experiencing this “ghost village” during the storm and speaking with people about it the next day, that many people in Masealama had the same mindset. The mindset of staying in and getting cozy, that is. Familiar village sounds as powered by electricity, such as the rhythmic beats of house and techno music of the nearby tavern, were silent. There was little doubt in my mind that the rest of the day, into evening and deep into the dead of night could get quite dark, lonely and cold.

When afternoon shifted to evening and when night quickly set upon the world, I realized that the next few hours had the potential to go well, or not so well, to put it plainly. The transition from the grey and cloudy day into night was moving very fast, as night does here usually, and I was given a limited amount of options. Here in Limpopo, electricity serves many numerous purposes for people. For instance, with electricity you can perform many different functions such as: turn on a light bulb, charge a cellular phone for communication purposes, keep your food cool with the refrigerator, watch television, and magically and instantly turn on a stove burner for your most immediate cooking needs and much, much more. Oh, the wonders of electricity!

Besides, what were I to do if this was a regular occurrence or if this were every night like it is for many people around Masealama? I began to collect every light-emitting object around the house.

Not only was I going to survive this impenetrable night, I would embrace this opportunity to learn and be thankful for what I had. Thankfully, I had candles. Thankfully I had matches and a little dry wood, despite the damp conditions, to start a fire. Thankfully I had tin foil, food such as potatoes and canned food and a metal grate upon which to cook. Uffda I had fun putting this all together. Though fun for the first night, I’m not entirely sure how many more days the fun would have lasted. I now feel like I have greater appreciation for those who, day in and day out, live a life relatively free of electricity.

The people of Masealama are a social safety net for me. When I feel lonely, others are around for conversation and to allow for me to heat some water. When I feel isolated, others are around to comfort me and teach me valuable lessons on companionship and hospitality. Wherever there is darkness, there is the light of thankfulness, resourcefulness and companionship. Thanks be to God.

“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”   -John 1:5