Emily served in YAGM-Southern Africa during the 2013-2014 program year. Here is her reflection about the day that changed everything.
Leading up to December 5, 2013, I had spent the previous 3 months living in Soweto as a YAGM.
During those three months, I got acquainted with my new home. I figured out the taxi and bus system. I learned a little bit of Sesotho and isiZulu. I met amazing neighbors, coworkers, kids, and random people around the community.
However, I must be honest – the first few months as a YAGM can be really hard. Despite all of the great things that happened, those few months were also very difficult for me. At times, I felt like I may have been placed in the wrong community. I kept seeing Facebook and blog posts from other YAGMs about how great they were doing and I felt like I wasn’t doing enough to become a true member of my community. I doubted myself and God for putting me there.
It seems strange to say, but December 5th, the day that Nelson Mandela passed away, stands out in my mind as the turning point in my YAGM year.
Despite the agonizing circumstances, the events surrounding Madiba’s death gave me a new outlook on Soweto, YAGM, and God’s plan for me.
By learning more about Mandela and Soweto, I was able to recognize and appreciate the culture and history that is ever-present in that area. I felt proud to be living in a community that fought so hard for freedom during Mandela’s life, and continues to strive for a better future to this day.
While traveling to Mandela’s memorial service, I met people who found time to offer help and guidance to a lost, foreign, stranger. While at the service, I was welcomed into a period of mourning, despite the fact that I had no level of understanding of what Madiba meant to my South African neighbors and friends.
I finally began to trust in the fact that God sent me to Soweto, South Africa, a place just far enough outside of my comfort zone, in order to learn and be shaped in astounding ways. God knew that I would be challenged, but made sure to surround me with history, culture, and, most importantly, people who would be there to show me the way and continually provide encouragement.
And finally, I witnessed Nelson Mandela’s values of love and respect being lived out by the most ordinary, yet absolutely outstanding, people.
Thank you, Nelson Mandela, for your life, your passion, and your lasting legacy.
Hamba kahle, Madiba.