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.
Taisha packs communion wafers made at her site
Taisha puts language to why she decided to spend the year with YAGM in South Africa:
This question has probably been in the mind of many as they have heard, one way or another, that I was going to South Africa for a year. I have also been asking the same question. Here is my feeble attempt at how I got here and why I am here.
As of this past year, and pretty much the majority of my “senior” years, I have not had a clear grasp of a vocational calling. Most of my searching has been in the medical field, so I majored in Cell Biology & Neuroscience (Montana State’s fancy name for a premedical degree), which I graduated from in May. Many probably figured I would follow the straight and narrow right into medical school, as my high school class voted me “Most Likely to be Successful”, but I didn’t. Something was missing. I couldn’t make the commitment to at least eight more years of my life if I wasn’t completely sure. What do I count as success anyways? Is medical school a grasp at success? As of late, I have been realizing my definition is becoming more and more distant from the norms American society raised me to believe.
Therefore, if I was not continuing my education, what on earth was I going to do with my life? Something new. Somewhere new. But, who knew what that would be? One day while I was making small talk with the Lutheran campus ministry pastor, whose office just happened to be in the same building I lived in, my future came up. I explained that I didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation as I didn’t know if the commitment and lifestyle of a doctor blah blah…blah blah blah. After listening, pastors’ specialty, he told me I should look into Young Adults in Global Mission, as I am a Lutheran.
I, checked out the YAGM website and looked into the country programs they had available. After perusing, I knew that this could be a great option because, not only was the time commitment right, but, moreover, it was through the church that I trusted and focused more on being rather than doing. I was ready to ‘just be’ at the end of finishing the university years of ‘do do do’. I wanted to serve – not succeed. Live – not produce. Attempt to not be selfish? I really don’t know if it is humanly possible, especially after living here about three months, but always worth striving for.
Many think I am running. Many think I am scared that I may not succeed in med school. Many think I am doing this for selfish reasons. Honestly, all of those thoughts are valid, and true in some way or another, but I hope that my main motive always remains true: I want to know and follow God. I want to experience and trust Him like never before, and it is happening – in the most unexpected ways.
Katie shares her journey of learning to ” just be”:
Being here in Bloemfontein for two months has been an eye opener for me in some ways. There are a few things that I have discovered about myself and the community of Manguang where I am living. It is kind of surprising for me to notice the few changes that have been taking place in my life. I can tell you that it took a lot of patience, faith and trust on my part but I believe it is with these things that I have discovered the changes that are taking place in my life.
First, I can tell you that when I arrived that I did not have a place to volunteer right away. This was frustrating because that is how I am use to things happening. Having something lined up and starting right away. Of course this is how we are all use to things. We are used to being doers and doing things that we feel will make a difference. What I have begun to realize though is that while it is ok to do, I also need to just be. Just being is actually a lot harder than what it seems. You see, as much as I love to do I have never taken the time to just be. This is what I remember being told to us at orientation in Chicago time after time. This really did not hit me until I actually had to learn to just be. I slowly had to realize that things do not happen on my time or right away. As Dean Monama has told me repeatedly when things did not happen right away for me “Just give it time.” I can say that if I had not taken the time to just be, I would not have developed a bond with my host family. I would not have had a chance to get to know the people in the community of Manguang nor would I have learned about the history of South Africa during apartheid. I also would have not bonded well with my little siblings that I live with because they mean so much to me now. To just be is hard and something that I have not been used to, but if I didn’t take the time I would never have experienced the love in this community and to discover what it really means to be in relationship with God and with others. To really be living in community and to be interdependent on one another has really been a spiritual growth for me. I am slowly starting to understand why it is important to be intentional in relationships and community. My host family, my church friends here and the people in this community have taught me all of this and it is because of them that I have and am still learning what it really means to Just Be.