On Waiting

DSC01061The new YAGM-SA group is still in Chicago, waiting for all of their visas to be finalized. As they wait during this unexpected delay, Sarah writes about what she is experiencing and learning:

I’ve been anxious. I’ve been distressed. I’ve grown frustrated with waiting.

An update: We are still in Chicago. Due to a situation outside of anyone’s control, the visas for our group have hit several road blocks. Each has been handled in turn with as much patience and grace as possible, and all the items should be squared away now. We hope to be departing soon, but in reality, no one can say for certain when our departure date may be yet.

I think I’ve put a happy face on and dealt with our circumstances with a general air of positivity (most of the time). But below the surface, I’ve been letting it get to me. I told myself that acting like I was embracing this waiting period was good enough. But it didn’t make me feel any more satisfied or at peace with the circumstances. I settled into a confusing period of conflicting feelings and inner discord.

Then, today, my perspective and attitude was challenged in a beautiful way. Anna and I attended worship service at the seminary we’re staying at to see her friend Marissa preach. (She was wonderful, by the way.) Marissa preached on Mark 7:24-30, in which Jesus is annoyed by an interruption from a woman asking for him to heal her daughter and makes  what is usually interpreted as an unkind remark. But the succeeding conversation he has with the interrupting woman changes his worldview and the work that he is doing (Marissa, in all of her wisdom and seminary educated-ness could, and did, put it much more eloquently. But bear with me). Marissa went on to discuss how the interruptions that plague us, that annoy us, and that frustrate us, are often the interruptions we need; they are the interruptions that will give us the time, the words, or the insights we need to see clearly and proceed with wisdom.

She went on to make several more great points, but the message I needed to hear today was already echoing in my mind.

I’ve been living carelessly day to day like this waiting period is just a burden to bear before I depart on my YAGM year where I will live simply, intentionally, and mindfully, and will be open to learning from people and circumstance. But truthfully, this waiting period is the beginning of my YAGM year, fully a part of what I am setting forth to do and be, and the time to apply the principles that I am going to live by is already at hand.

God didn’t keep our visas from being processed in a timely manner. At least I don’t believe that. But God has the power to make something beautiful out of the situation at hand.

So today is the day that I challenge myself to turn my attitude around and to better appreciate the beautiful things God is doing with our waiting time in Chicago. Not just to pretend to appreciate it, but to really, fully and deeply, embrace the opportunities for learning and becoming. Below is a list of things I have to be thankful for in this period of waiting, in no particular order.

-A chance to witness fall, and see the beauty of the leaves changing and the landscape transforming before we go.

-The opportunity to get to know my YAGM South Africa cohorts on a deeper level and to become like brothers and sisters; laughing, chatting, cooking together, playing games, fighting, cuddling, storytelling, and the list goes on.

-Our time here being like an intro course to skills we’ll need in SA; we’ve already gained, for example, knowledge on budgeting, simple living, and how to cope with lots and lots of free time.

-The gift of extra time to spend making the most of things we took for granted and now realize will be more difficult to come by in the coming year: phone calls with loved ones, long walks after dark, a favorite food (tacos, in my case).

-Time to spend in gratitude for those who have helped us make it this far; writing thank you notes, letters, and emails to our supporters, and contemplating the network of love that sustains us.

-A lesson in how to be a humble receiver of hospitality; the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, our host in this interim period, has gone above and beyond in inviting us to use their facilities, encouraging us to join them at meals, and inviting us to worship and social events. Likewise, the network of YAGM alumni in Chicago has opened their arms to us as well, inviting us into their homes and offering to put together events and activities to keep us busy. We have been blessed to be hosted so lovingly.

-A beautiful opportunity to become familiar with Chicago, the city I now hope to move to in the near future. The time to explore the city and find my way around has proven to be a marvelous adventure. Since we are to be waiting somewhere, I’m glad to be waiting in Chicago.

-The blessing of becoming a part of new communities, be it our own YAGM SA community, the LSTC community as we bond with seminary students during their orientation, the Chicago Hyde Park community as we visit local shops and restaurants and get to know the neighborhood, or the community of unique and downright beautiful folks that ride the #55 bus and the red line train to downtown Chicago.

-The gift of patience, which we are all learning whether we want to or not.

It’s hard to let go of the way we hoped our journey would be. But I’m only beginning to realize that the interruptions ARE the journey, and that what I’m expecting to learn and experience in the year ahead is going to be constantly interrupted by what I’m actually meant to learn and experience. This is just the first of many interruptions that will shape my journey and, for that matter, me, in indispensable ways.

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Deep Pockets

DSC_0944Dave 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.

 

YAGM-SA 2014-2015

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

John, Adwoa, Dave, Caity, Brett, Brittani, Emmeline, Mae Helen, Hannah

Top 10 Lessons Learned … So Far

Abby’s Top 10 list, written a few weeks ago, encapsulates well much about the beginning of a YAGM experience:

Abby (waving) as she arrives in South Africa

Abby (waving) as she arrives in South Africa

I have been in my placement site for nearly two weeks now. I have learned more than I could ever explain- about South Africa, politics, culture, religion, people, what it means to be hospitable, and mostly about myself. But I love lists and short blog posts, so here are the top 10 lessons I have learned since my arrival!

1. Nothing good will ever happen if you don’t leave your room.

2. Sarcasm does not come across language barriers.

3. Anytime is a good time for tea time. Similarly, there is no such thing as too much hot tea.

4. Clean laundry is an unspeakable luxury that should never be taken for granted.

5. Some of life’s best pleasures are universal, like food, laughter, sleep, and music.

6. If you’re afraid to sound like an idiot, you’ll never learn to speak a new language.

7. Your parents were probably right about what you should pack. Unfortunately, it seems your parents are always right….

8. Patience is a muscle. Exercise it often, so it will be big and strong when you need it.

9. Never assume you know what tomorrow will bring. Actually, never assume you know what the next five minutes will bring.

10. Always graciously accept free food, warm clothes, and good conversation.

I can’t wait to see what else I learn, and to share more lessons with you!

A YAGM Year

DSC01233As her year begins, Hannah shares what the YAGM year is all about:

A YAGM (Young Adults in Global Mission) year is a year that encompasses many things. First, it is a year of accompaniment, which the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) defines as: “walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality. In this walk, gifts, resources, and experiences are shared with mutual advice and admonition to deepen and expand our work within God’s mission.” Accompaniment is being in community with the people around you and allowing life to happen naturally. There is no leader and no follower, but we each are moving together through our journeys. Accompaniment can take all forms. You can accompany someone by having a conversation (ingxoxo in Zulu), going to church with them, laughing with them, crying with them, praying for them, or sending them letters. Each person who reads this is accompanying me on my journey. Everyone at home who sends me their love and support is accompanying me. And as a Young Adult in Global Mission I have agreed to live in accompaniment (solidarity, mutuality, and interdependence) with my community in South Africa. And, in all of this, Christ accompanies all of us on our journeys in life. As we walk, there is God our Parent walking beside us. As we weep, Jesus weeps with us. The Holy Spirit works alongside us as we go through life. This is accompaniment.

 A YAGM year is also a year of vulnerability. This year I will be making myself vulnerable to my community in South Africa, my fellow SA YAGMs, and to the world at large. In this vulnerability I may feel weak and unprotected, but it will give me so much more room to grow and feel genuine love and compassion for those around me. During orientation in Chicago we spoke about being a servant and becoming vulnerable in servanthood. It is one thing to serve others, but quite another to become a servant. Serving others still allows some measure of control (deciding who, when, where and how to serve), but becoming a servant eliminates that control and makes a person truly vulnerable in that embodied service.

Fourth, this is a year of simple living within a community.  As part of accompaniment I have agreed to live on a small stipend and have limited phone and internet access. I will budget with that stipend for everything that I will need, and I will live as a part of my community. Through a year of simple living I hope to learn what it is we really need to nourish our souls: a roof over our heads, an offer of food from a stranger, communion, compassion.

In this year I will be challenged to get outside of my comfort zone so that I can grow in mind, body, and spirit. Allowing myself to be challenged will help me grow in faith and better understand who I am. This is a year of discernment where I will learn more about myself and who I want to become through these challenges. I hope and pray to come out of this year having a better idea of what I could be both in my career as well as spiritually.

My YAGM year is a year of both learning and making mistakes. I want to look at the world with wonder and simply take in all that I can take in. I want to learn the languages that are spoken around me and the way people speak to one another. I want to learn the history of South Africa and the reasons for how we got to where we are today. I also know I will make mistakes along the way, which I cannot say will be easy for me. However, I will make mistakes and from those mistakes will learn how to better live in community and accompaniment with my neighbors.

Lastly, a YAGM year is a year of stories. There are stories that we tell and stories that we hear. We have stories of ourselves and we listen to stories of others and to God’s story. As these converge we have the story of us, and that is the most beautiful one of all. This year I hope to better understand this story of us and begin to learn how to tell it with joy, love, hope, peace, understanding, and thoughtfulness.

Why YAGM?

DSC01232During In-Country Orientation, Keenan reflected upon his call to serve with YAGM:

When I first turned my application in for YAGM last September I honestly can’t tell you why. It was a program I had always thought would be an interesting opportunity, but was always too wrapped up in starting a career and being an “adult” to look much further. I think the excitement of just coming off of an entire summer at Christikon [Bible Camp] may have majorly played into my choice to turn in an application, but who really knows. Regardless, it wasn’t until the application had already been sent in that my discernment process really started. I struggled with whether or not to do the program. I think I convinced myself both yes and no multiple times in the months to follow. It wasn’t until I sat and talked with a good friend about it one day in February that I fully committed to a yes. He told me in a very excited voice, “Life’s entirely to short man, go live life and see the world.” as he lay in his hospital bed terminally ill. Craig, you truly gave me the strength to say yes to a call I had been running from for so long. For that I will be eternally grateful, and I will never forget our conversation and the joy still present in your face that day. God bless you, and save me a seat in the big house dude.

So along with the helpful words of a wise and caring friend, and opening my heart to the call, I now write this post from Johannesburg, South Africa. Our country program has been here for only four days now, and I’ve already felt a change happen in me and how I view my life. I’m slightly overwhelmed by the thought of the person I will be a year from now. At the same time I am so excited. YAGM couldn’t have come into my life at a better time, in a better place. I know without the slightest doubt that this place, this very place, is where I am supposed to be at this moment of my life. It feels right, it feels peaceful, it feels messy, it feels emotional, and it is going to help form me into the person I have always wanted to be in this world.

So why YAGM? Cause it is where I have been called to be in the world right now. Thats it. And simply being here is enough for me right now. I’m not here to fix it, i’m not here to change it. I’m here to learn, to be immersed, and to simply be. To walk along song God’s children, my brothers and sisters. Not only so I can help tell their story, but so that they call help shape and mold mine. I can’t wait to meet Keenan Weatherford in September of 2014.