Packing

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Caity wrote this blog post in June as she was preparing to leave her community after nearly a year:

Packing. When I left the states, it was the only thing on my mind, and now it is pretty much an afterthought. Everything is just barely going to fit and I’m not so wrapped up in making decisions this time.

I was terrified that I was going to over pack and bring all of the wrong things. But I was pretty much perfect on about my packing (I’ll take my humble pie later). I didn’t really bring too much and the only thing I didn’t anticipate needing was bug spray (mosquitoes in the desert, who knew?). Each time I travel I get further proof that I can survive on a very simple packing list, but I have learned exactly how far you can go before it is under packing in a fashion forward culture.

But to be honest (and incredibly cliché) it is the non-tangibles that I am working so hard to pack.

My love of an entire new community, my newfound love of prayer and the goodbyes that may be forever. The hard won smiles from children, the friendships in spite of language barriers and the inside jokes between colleagues. My memories of bearing witness to a community that has been uniquely marginalized because of their race, of the pain that comes from years of discrimination, yet I can only carry these stories as an outsider. The stories I heard when people truly opened their souls to me and the days that were a struggle for me to be so vulnerable. All this has to fit somewhere in my heart’s luggage, and, just like my possessions, it all has to go home.

And then there are the things I am working on letting go.

The images of God that have crumbled for me this year. The preconceived notions I had about South Africa and about church. The many times when people assumed that as an American, my hands were not stained from the history and present of racism, and the moments afterward when I would relate segregation to apartheid, the present South Africa to the present United States. The anger at the year being over so soon, the disappointment with myself as a follower of Christ, and the shear pain of being away for important moments in my sending community. These are all working on sneaking their way into my luggage. Some of them will healthfully fade away and some of them will become scars.

The person who packed last August with the intention of becoming a fellow Christian to a new community is not the same person who is packing today. I learned a lot, through trial and error, about accompaniment and compassion, about walking in the places that are called “lowly.” I learned to pray in moments when there was nothing else within my control. I learned more about America that I could ever have imagined. And just as I am not the same person, America is not the same country. I am writing this on a day when Lutheran churches in America are mourning. Mourning nine people who were the victims of a hate crime driven by generations of racism and entitlement. If I can go across the world as a Christian, I cannot remain the same after all I have learned and still call myself a Christian in the United States.

Today I don’t have the answers and tomorrow I won’t either, but tomorrow the best I can do is start with myself, my passion for justice and my own experiences of inequality and privilege. Today I will mourn, but I know that tomorrow I have to be a different person.

Take-Offs and Landings

Abby wrote this right before she departed from South Africa after a year of service:

I remember reading once when I was younger that take-offs and landings are the most dangerous parts of any flight- the time when you are most likely to crash.

As a nervous flier prone to motion sickness, I’ve never exactly been a fan of flying, but the absolute worst parts of any flights are take-offs and landings. It is during these times of rapidly changing altitude, of literally altering your place in this world and watching the ground shift beneath you, that I am most likely to feel sick (in South Africa, we’d say I might “bring up”). I grip the seat handles until my knuckles are white, take deep breaths, and pray incessantly.

This seems like an appropriate time to reflect on take-offs and landings, as I am posting this from the Johannesburg airport, about to leave South African soil. I am not only in the midst of literal take-offs and landings, but also in the midst of great changes in my life.

I have left Cape Town. This last year has been…well…. I don’t quite have sufficient words for this year. The English language fails me in trying to encompass the struggles, joys, growth, depth, breadth, and overwhelming opportunity of accompanying communities in Cape Town for 11 short months. I have learned more than I expected, struggled more than I would have guessed, and been loved more than I could have imagined.

I have taken off from my newfound home, not only in Bellville South, but in the hearts of people who welcomed an outsider into their midst with hospitality, grace, and mercy.

I have taken off, again, from my YAGM-SA family. The nine other YAGMs and the Leiseth family have been a support system unlike any other I have ever known.

I will soon be taking off from South Africa, a country that will forever set my heart aflame and a country I truly hope to return to someday.

I will land, soon enough, in Phoenix, Arizona. I will land into the arms of my family and friends and congregations who have supported me in a multitude of ways over the last year. I will land in my first home, but I will not be fully at home. I will never again experience the simplicity of having everyone I love in one place, because I now have loved ones all over the globe. I will never be fully settled in Arizona, because a part of my heart will always live on in Cape Town.

I will also be landing into the unknown. In what ways have things changed in America? What has happened in the lives of my loved ones? How will the experiences that have shaped me and remade me in this last year translate? What does the future hold?

I still don’t have all the answers. I am sitting in the muck and the mess of the unknown, gripping the seat handles of my life, taking deep breaths, and praying incessantly. There is a distinct possibility that there will be turbulence. I have to adjust to this new altitude- this new me, in a once-familiar place, with my heart spread out across the world. I am in the middle of take-offs and landings. It is my least favorite part of the journey.

I may not know what will happen, but I am not going to stay on the ground just because it is easier. I am going to take off and land, take off and land, again and again in this world.  I am going to try to remember to breathe and pray, try to loosen my grip on the handles, and try to treat others with the same grace and compassion that I have been shown through this journey. Thanks be to God.