I’ve been told that loosely translated, the phrase above means “Together we can do more.”
This is the motto for the running club, Upington Harriers, with whom I have had the immense privilege of running two different races over the past two weekends. With them, I’ve already experienced this motto to be true.
I’ve been interested in running ever since we ran the mile on the track for field day in sixth grade. A few years ago I started getting into distance running and haven’t turned back. With two marathons, two half-marathons, and a Tough Mudder under my belt, I definitely consider running a significant part of my life and identity. Running is something I do not only for my physical well being, but for my mental, spiritual, and emotional well being too. Most runners will tell you that there’s nothing like the feeling one gets after a good run. I always know I can count on a run to start or end the day on a good note.
I was worried I wouldn’t be able to run here until I found out that my host pastor is an avid runner. That was honestly probably the most exciting thing I learned in the first few days here. My pastor and his running partner took me under their wings during the next few days and included me in their training runs. It was exhilarating. I got to see my new community in a different way, and I felt like I was where I belonged. Our first morning out a car honked at us in a very specific way and my host told me that that honk meant it was another runner – a fellow member of the family.
I also realized during that first run as my pastor was yelling behind me to run faster up the hill that being a runner is a lot like being a YAGM. I think running metaphors are overused so I’ll spare you the cliché. But I couldn’t help but think about how that hill will not be the only way my community will push me out of my comfort zone, shouting words of support behind me. I know that even though it may be difficult at times, I’ll be better for it in the end.
The past two weekends have been great examples both of the openness of the running community and the hospitality of my host community here in South Africa. People have gone out of their way to make me feel encouraged, supported, and included. I’ve never done distance running with a club before, but I think South Africa is the place to do it. The Harriers’ motto reminds me of another South African concept – ubuntu. I am because we are. Together, we can do more. I am thriving because we are all working together and encouraging each other. It’s a great feeling – almost as good as the runner’s high. 😉
Dave writes about his experience of heading to his site for the first time:
I just finished up a week of in-country orientation in Johannesburg with eight other YAGM companions, and our fearless leader, Tessa and her family. On Friday [the 29th of August], all of us departed our separate ways to our new home communities across the country; I traveled to Thohoyandou (8 hours north-east by bus from Jo-Burg). For the first time on this journey I felt alone, vulnerable, nervous, afraid, and anxious all at the same time, traveling alone in this vast country. I should also note there were a couple of unknowns before arriving to Thohoyandou, for instance, I did not know whom I would be staying with this year until I would arrive.
There were many stops before my final destination, and at the Pretoria station I still had an open seat next to me. An elder South African woman asked if she could sit next to me, I said, “Yeah, of course!” in a nervous/quiet voice. She smiled and sat down. From the first second she sat down, my feeling of aloneness, vulnerability, nervousness, afraid, and anxiousness were evaporated from my body. Even though we barely spoke to each other, I felt a connection of compassion and protection from her. She kept her hands in her pockets the entire ride, unless she needed something. She would take out a new thing every time; there was money, her bus ticket, Chap Stick, her phone, and even a salt packet for her Wimpy Fries. But most importantly in her pocket was a security blanket of comfort for a newcomer to this part of the world and brought it out when I was clearly struggling. She showed me a bright true side of South Africa, and how welcoming, hospitable, and friendly this place really is. I hope to pass on this characterization throughout my year here in South Africa, and have Deep Pockets of compassion and accompaniment.
Here they are! The new group. They arrived in Johannesburg on Friday, August 22nd.
After the group’s arrival, we spent a week together at the location of the national church office of our companion church (The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa – ELCSA) where they have their church offices as well as a motel/lodge and meeting space. We got to know each other as a group and we tended to matters of beginning and orientation. We also visited some significant sites including the Cradle of Humankind and the Apartheid Museum. In addition, we learned from our hosts as we heard from Presiding Bishop Phaswana, as we attended worship at a congregation on-site, as we were welcomed by General Secretary Rev. Mathe, and as we feasted at a braii put on by members of the congregation we visited. Good beginnings all around.
On Friday, August 29th, the new YAGM headed out to their new sites. Now, they are getting to know their communities and beginning to settle in. Keep them in your prayers. It’s quite a thing to venture off to completely new places. But they are received well and cared for well by our companions. We thank God for them.
John, Adwoa, Dave, Caity, Brett, Brittani, Emmeline, Mae Helen, Hannah