Beginnings and Endings

The current YAGM group is in their last week at their placement sites and are deep into the good-bye’s. It will be tough a week from now. And on the other end of the spectrum, the next group of YAGM are just finding out about their placement communities and are imagining where they will be next year.  In honor of that, here’s a picture of the new crew. Keep everybody in your prayers!

Front row (L to R): Tessa (Country Coordinator), Rachel, Emily, Elle; Back row (L to R): Hannah, Joe, Keenan, Kelly, Abby, Brent; not pictured - Luke

Front row (L to R): Tessa (Country Coordinator), Rachel, Emily, Elle; Back row (L to R): Hannah, Joe, Keenan, Kelly, Abby, Brent; not pictured – Luke

A Glimpse Into Life in Bellville

During the later part of her YAGM year, Jen moved to another community to help support the work of the ELCSA church community that was hosting her. Here, she shows a glimpse of the places and people of her life while she served in that location: 

Bellville Youth Center
Officially titled House Erich Leistner, the Bellville Youth Center is a student hostel attached to the Bellville Lutheran Church. With a spacious meeting hall, they also host community outreach event and church functions. My pastor asked me to move to help with the center’s development in assisting the new director with administration, outreach, and event planning. It’s fun work and I get to stay at the hostel with the students.

We recently hosted a huge Mother’s Day Buffet and it was rewarding to get to see all of our hard work turn into a packed hall full of happy families and fantastic food. It was the first outreach/multi-church event and a wonderful way to bring together people from over five churches in the area. After the smash success of our Mother’s Day event we already have plans for a Father’s Day braai (barbeque), a Youth Day gathering, and a wonderful Women’s Day event planned for the upcoming months.

It’s wonderful to be a part of the church reaching out into the community and bringing people together outside of Sunday service. Living with the students has given me many new friendships as well through playing guitar, going to rugby matches, and watching South African soap operas together.

Women of Worth
Women of Worth is a women and children’s empowerment center in Bellville South. They are a multifaceted organization run by incredibly passionate women dedicated to make a real difference in their community.

Several skills-based classes are taught out of the center including comprehensive sewing, beading, fabric painting, mosaic, and handicrafts. It’s wonderful to spend time at the center and have women stop in to talk about how they are able to support themselves financially because of the skills they have learned at the center.

They also are aware of the needs of women in the area and serve as a resource base for women looking for counseling, support, or social services. Several personal development sessions are also held on the premises along with business classes to support women on their way to financial and emotional independence no matter their situation.

My favorite part of working with the WOW center is spending time with their after school program. They reach out to girls in local schools to provide positive role models and a safe environment for discussing women’s issues. We talk about healthy relationships, encourage dreams, and spend a lot of time laughing together.

It’s been inspiring walking with women so passionate about working for real change in their community. I truly look up to them and hope to live out their passion in my own life!

How Does One Say Goodbye?

Country Coordinator, Tessa, recently wrote about her own goodbyes of a year ago and the upcoming goodbyes of the YAGM crew in South Africa:

When saying last goodbyes, Tessa's daughter tried hiding under her aunt's deck so as to stay.

When saying last goodbyes, Tessa’s daughter tried hiding under her aunt’s deck so as to stay.

A year ago, we were saying our last goodbye’s to family and friends. Friends hosted farewell parties for us so we could see lots of people at one time. We were frantically packing and storing remaining items. And we were finishing the really hard goodbyes to family. At each place, we each cried in our own ways and were filled with love and well-wishes. Oof. It was hard. It brings tears to my eyes just to remember.

I just got an email from one of the young adult volunteers. She is in the midst of her own goodbyes at her site. She will still be there for a few more weeks. And yet, soon it will be time for her to leave her community for the final time. She lamented to me tonight that it is so hard to leave. It is.

I am really thankful that these young adults are struggling with their last weeks. No, I’m not actually thankful they are struggling. But I’m thankful that they have become so immersed in their communities that they are finding it painful to prepare to leave. That is how it should be.

A big part of this Young Adults in Global Mission program is that it happens through relationships. Each young adult has formed many relationships. They now see South Africa in general and their communities in specific completely differently than when they arrived. They now understand issues in new ways. They see and understand God in new ways. Frankly, they see life differently than when they arrived. This is because of the real people that they have been sharing life with over the last year.

In a month, these beautiful young adults will be landing on their home soil or on their way there. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers. This is not an easy journey. But thankfully, it is a journey of love.

Common Humanity

As she comes near the end of a very transformative year, Katie pauses to express how this experience is shaping her:

Katie and the city she has come to love and call home

Katie and the city she has come to love and call home

The other day, I had an experience  that has showed me what it truly means to carry one another’s burdens and how we are bound together by our common humanity and our struggles. Unfortunately, I cannot go into detail with it because of respect of privacy. Sometimes when you just don’t have the words, a moment of silence, reflection, meditation and even a prayer from the heart usually helps. Sometimes, there are no right words to say to bring comfort to someone who is hurting or in need. Sometimes, love, grace and mercy can come in the form of a hug or a smile. A laugh or a cry. There really is no perfect way but knowing that it comes from the heart can bring a little hope. It is in this that I believe we are bound by our common humanity and it is with this that even though it is hard to carry one another’s burdens, we also have Jesus who said we could place our burdens on him as well. It is with this that end this with a prayer. A prayer that comes from my heart.

Father God,

As we begin a new day

may we realize that

we are all bound together

by our common humanity

May we realize that

we are not meant

to carry our burdens

alone

that we also realize

that others should not

also have to carry their burdens

alone

We are connected to each other

and we can help carry one another’s burdens

May we also realize that You God can also’

carry our burdens

Help us to remember to be merciful to one another

and to always pour out your grace and love among others

that you have so freely given us

Maybe one day

people can truly see your will be done here

on earth as it is in heaven

Amen.

Little Worker Be

Jen & Director, Joy, at the Women's Center

Jen & Director, Joy, at the Women’s Center

Jen reflects about her experience of “being”:

Sitting still has never been my forte. Playing, skipping, dancing, climbing mountains, meeting new people, walking in sunshine, and playing on the beach have always been much better alternatives. It’s a spirit of movement and moving forward and doing things that has come to define me and my outlook on life. As a kid my dad had a game he liked to call “Still” which consisted of him forcing me to sit down and be quiet when I got too rowdy. You can see where this is going. Struggling and yelling, the “game” lasted until I gave up and was actually quiet, giving some much-needed relief and peace for everyone else in the room. The sight must have been pretty amusing to the rest of the world but within my little six-year-old heart it felt like torture.

Coming to South Africa has in some ways felt like “Still” 2.0: lifestyle challenge. One of the main tenets of the Youth and Global Missions program I’m a part of is the saying “Be, not Do”. Hear it enough times at orientation and it begins to sound like an old do-be-do-be-do Motown jam that still doesn’t make any sense. Be? Not do? But doing has been a part of what defines me! I love to make things happen and pursue crazy dreams and am constantly on the move! Shifting my focus to being with my community rather than doing things for my community was a foreign concept.

On my third cup of tea already, hands covered in black paint from a fifth repainting of boxes, I gave up and took a good look around at the other six women in the room at the W.O.W. (Women of Wisdom) women’s center. All smiling, most laughing, relaxed, chatting, the smell over over-sugared coffee overpowering the room. And not a single one of them doing anything remotely “productive.” For a moment I was frustrated, but then a thought occurred to me. I’d kept myself busy for the past two hours but had I really done anything worthwhile?

A smiling glance from Caroline, a quiet, joyful intern caught me. Chatting to a woman in the sewing skills class, their conversation had been going on in rapid Afrikaans for the last half hour. The mission of the WOW center is to “inspire women and give them the support to achieve their best potential.” Painting boxes for the upcoming market day—helpful, but not exactly inspiring. Being friendly and building relationships with women in the community no matter the socioeconomic differences, encouraging each other and listening deeply—now that’s what I would call inspiring. And worth much more than any little thing I could do for the organization.