Sunday Church Service

Elle writes about a recent worship service at her site:

It was a hot Sunday morning and the room was full. During the service a woman got up to give an item. She sat in front of the congregation and sang a song that she had written on a piece of paper that she was holding. All that accompanied her song was the soft humming that came from some in the congregation as we sat swaying and listening to her musical offering. When she was finished we clapped and a song struck out as we sang her back to her seat.

Then as we sang another song a group of men made their way to the front to offer their music. They sang a song from the hymnal in great harmony. I followed along as my mom pointed out which one they were singing from. When they finished, we again bursted out into song. This song lifted people from their seats. The Spirit took some from their chairs and moved them into the aisle. I was on the end of our row witnessing a little girl dancing in the aisle. Then a woman joined her. Then two other women and a man danced their way to join in the joyous event in the aisle. I beamed and danced watching and singing. One of the women noticed and invited me to join their circle. I instantly jumped in and joined their stomping, dancing, singing, and shouting as we praised God with the voices and energy of the congregation.

It was loud. People were singing as loud as they could. One woman we were dancing with had a whistle she was blowing. Others were clapping. People were using their books as drums to hit and make loud praise. Women (including myself) shouted and cheered as we sang and danced.

Church lasted three hours on that hot Sunday. But I did not notice. The Spirit took hold of that Sunday and it was holy, full of praise and joy, restoration and peace. 

Emily’s Top 10

Emily (on right) tries South African mangos for the first time.

Emily (on right) tries South African mangos for the first time.

Emily sums up much of the YAGM-experience in her list of 10 things:

I love making lists. On my desk, I currently have an old to-do list, a more up-to-date to-do list, a list of addresses, a list of people to whom I have sent postcards, and list of blog ideas. Sometimes, I will even make a to-do list filled with super easy things like “Eat breakfast” just so I can make a list and cross things off.

A couple of days ago, I started a list of the things I love about YAGM. While I have only shared my top 10 with you, there are approximately 732 other things I could add as well. 🙂

 10. YAGMs are constantly trying new foods.

I would have never thought that I would fall in love with a sandwich piled high with French fries, cheese, an egg, and two kinds of meat, but here I am, ordering kota (the sandwich I just described) almost every week. Many people are proud of me because I will try almost anything, as long as I’m not told exactly what it is until after I take the first bite. Food is not only a fun thing to try, but it is also an excellent way to connect with people and a community.

9. I can now appreciate simply “being.”

Yes, I am an American. Yes, I studied Business Finance and Accounting in college. Yes, I like to get stuff done and be super productive. Yes, I have finally realized that “getting stuff done” may not be the most important thing in life. Some of my favorite days have been “unproductive” in the American sense, but filled with wonderful conversation and time spent with others. Surprising, I know.

8. Being able to find comfort in the discomfort.

This is one that took me a long time to appreciate. Trust me, being a YAGM is usually anything but comfortable. I have been thrown into more uncomfortable situations than I can remember. However, I have noticed that those situations are the ones that I learn from and appreciate.

7. I have been forced out of my comfort zone.

To piggy-back off of the last point, YAGM has completely and totally forced me to go way outside of my comfort zone. Exhibit A: Small-town Minnesota girl (that’s me) living in the largest township in South Africa, with a population of over 1 million people (that’s Soweto). Enough said.

6. YAGM has taught me so much about myself.

Through all of the challenges, joys, random experiences, conversations, and simple everyday life, I have learned more about myself than I thought possible. I have learned more about how I see myself as a Christian, as a friend, as a white woman, as a privileged American, and especially as a part of the greater global community.

5. I have learned how to rely on others.

Throughout my whole life, I have been pretty independent. I have always been able to do things on my own without asking for much help. Well, if I tried to keep that same mindset as a YAGM, I probably would spend the whole year sitting in my room doing nothing. In order to simply live in a new country amongst a new community, asking for help is a must. To be honest, I was afraid to do so for the first couple of months. I got through, but since I have started asking for help, I have learned so much more than I ever could have imagined.

4. You can learn a new language.

The YAGM Southern Africa program is fairly unique in the fact that no language training is provided at the beginning of service. Why, you may ask? Well, between the 10 volunteers here, we are attempting to learn 6 different languages. Yep, 6! South Africa is a wonderfully diverse country, so naturally a lot of languages are spoken. For me, personally, language has become simply fascinating since I moved here. In my little neighborhood, I have met people that speak Zulu, Sotho, Venda, Tswana, and Xhosa as their first language. While this could create major confusion, people are incredibly helpful in translating things to English when I need it, while also trying to teach me some of the native languages.

3. I have made so many new friends.

Between my friends in my host community and my fellow YAGMs, I feel almost overwhelmed by the love surrounding me. First of all, in my host community, I have fellow volunteers, other co-workers, neighbors, and children of all ages that I now call my friends. Although they all know I will leave in only a few short months, they have all welcomed me into their lives and I will be forever grateful. Second, my fellow YAGM-SA family is truly my second family. When we are together, the air is filled with laughter, discussion, discernment, tears (of joy and heartache), and so much love. I cannot imagine going through this experience without them and I know we will stay friends forever.

2. YAGM makes you think.

Woah. The thinking that I have done. Seriously, I didn’t know my brain could handle all of these thoughts! Not only has my experience made me think about simple things like new foods and languages, but my time here has made me think about social justice, race issues, gender equality, economic justice, and more. I joke sometimes that ignorance really is bliss, because sometimes it is hard and frustrating to wrestle with these thoughts. However, I am extremely grateful for experiences that bring up these difficult thoughts, because now I feel the need and passion to work on these issues alongside my global brothers and sisters.

1. I now feel truly connected to the global church.

Seeing what YAGM has done here in South Africa as well as the impact made by fellow YAGMs around the world is absolutely incredible. I feel blessed to be a part of the greater church, but I feel even more blessed to be a part of God’s greater kingdom here on earth. I have seen God in so many unexpected places, and I now know that our Lord’s presence is truly being felt around the world.

The Mandela Legacy, part ii

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Katie Justice served in YAGM in Southern Africa in 2012-2013. Below, she shares the impact of Nelson Mandela on her life:

“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”  –Nelson Mandela

Hearing the news that Tata Mandela passed away on December 5th, I can honestly say it took me by suprise. I sort of thought it wouldnt because of the fact that he became really ill during my year in South Africa and was close to dying. Hearing that he had passed made me realize what a great human being he truly was and how there will never be another Nelson Mandela in our lifetime.

Madiba (as he was affectionately called by the people of South Africa) has always been an inspiration for me. His struggle to bring human and equal rights to all is one of the many qualities that I have admired about him. The quote above to me defines what God’s love in the world should look like when practiced. He also realized that for South Africa to move forward from the dark memories of Aparthied, forgiveness and reconciliation is the gateway for working together as a family.

The quote above always reminds me of the purpose that God has laid on my heart. Forgiveness, reconciliation and the struggle for equal rights for all is something I will continue to strive for and I hope to see achieved in my lifetime and, as Madiba said himself, if need be Im prepared to die for.

Tata Mandela, Thank you for continuing to inspire me and many others around the world. You have served your country well my friend. May you rest in peace and celebrate with Our Father Almighty in heaven.

A “Quiet”Christmas

If you are wondering what the Christmas season is like in South Africa, here is a reflection from Joe, written while he waited for the arrival of Christmas:

December: Quiet, relaxed, open, relationships, singing, dancing, waiting, Jesus. These are a few words that have been mulling through my mind during this past month as I have been preparing for the Christmas season. This December has been unlike any other in my life. Most of South Africa is on Holiday, not because of Christmas but because it is the end of the year. Schools and Creches are closed due to summer break, businesses closing, waiting for the New Year. I have found myself with a lot of time on my hands, time I do not always know what to do with. Although I try to fill it with friends, excursions to new parts of Mabopane, or spending time with my host family, there is always time left to fill. This Christmas will be different. I do not know what I am doing or where I am going. It does not feel like Christmas to me. I have to constantly remind myself to do my Daily Advent devotions, or to listen to Christmas music, which I love so dearly. There is rarely exchanging of gifts, and barely any Christmas music (When there is, its always about snow. Kinda funny when its 90 degrees outside). But the absence of an “American”/”Western” Christmas has forced me to ponder this season. Not necessarily what I miss, but the meaning, what is important. I do not know how or when, but I wait and pray for God to reveal himself on Christmas. To reveal himself through Jesus’ birth, but also through the people I encounter and the memories I make. A Quiet Christmas, One I will remember and cherish.