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!

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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.

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!

Hospitality

DSC_0429

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.