The Weather

Brittani lives with a community in the northwestern part of South Africa. Here is her weather report:

Our country coordinator recently posted a blog about the weather where she stays. The Minnesotan in me LOVES to make small talk and/or whine about the weather so I thought I’d do the same and share a bit about the weather here on the edge of the Kalahari Desert.

To start off, let me just say that it was 130 degrees Farenheit (55 degrees Celsius) warmer here than it was in my hometown on Wednesday. The one gas (“petrol”) station that I’ve found that shows the temperature on their sign said it was 47 degrees Celsius (that’s 116.6 degrees Farenheit!!!!). The forecast says the highs this week are between 39 and 42 (102 and 108) degrees, with the lows around 20 or 22 (about 70). It was like this for most of December and is supposed to be like this for most of January and February. From what I’ve been told, it doesn’t really cool off until May. I’ve told people here that the temp rarely gets above 40 C back in Minnesota, and if it does it’s only for a day or two, not weeks straight. However, back home it’s quite humid, so I thought this dry heat wouldn’t be too big of a deal. But my Minnesota-trained body is still trying to figure out how to deal with desert heat, especially when very few people have air conditioning (we call it “air con” here).

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It’s given me a whole new perspective on Minnesota winters. People who aren’t from the Midwest United States always remark how they don’t know how we handle our long, cold winters. But we just do it because it’s our home and there are so many things that outweigh the brutal winters. It’s the same with the summers here. I’m still trying to figure out what all makes it worth staying here, but just like back home, the people are a big plus. Upington people are tough and proud of their ability to withstand extreme temperatures for months at a time, just like Minnesotans.

This place has also given me a new perspective when I read Bible stories that take place in the desert. I think of the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, how they prayed for God to sustain them. And of Jesus, who went to the wilderness to pray and was tempted by the devil. Some scholars say this was in preparation for his mission. I try to keep both these stories in mind to think about what mission God is preparing me for here in this desert, and remember to ask God to sustain me in my faith in this context.

I read a book recently where the author talked about how the pain of climbing a mountain made the view more beautiful. I think it’s the same with this heat, and the cold back home. The discomfort makes you appreciate the place even more when you find the things that make it worth staying.

There’s Much to Celebrate

No mortar and pestle? That's fine. Use a rock for crushing spices.

No mortar and pestle? That’s fine. Use a rock to crush spices for the turkey.

Thanksgiving for me this year took on an entirely new form. If you would have asked me a year ago what Thanksgiving meant to me, my likely response would probably have consisted of something like time with family, food, and football. Which are all great things, and yes I am thankful for them, but those things mean so much more then the empty containers I use to put them in.

For the first time in my life I can honestly say that I was thankful for the food on the table yesterday. As a YAGM family we prepared an entire Thanksgiving feast together. It wasn’t grandma and mom slaving in the kitchen all day as I sat lazily in the living room watching football. It took all ten of our combined gifts and talents as a whole family to provide a meal for each other.

We found family in each other, and even maybe a new way to define what family really is. Not to say our families 8,000+ miles away weren’t in our thoughts or prayers, but for most if not all of us, we found a deep comfort in each other i’m not sure we were expecting to find.

It was a great reminder for me of how much we really truly have to be thankful for everyday. I desperately hope I can remember to thank God each and everyday for the things, people, and beauty he has brought into my life. And I don’t need a special day to remember where it all comes from in the first place. Happy Thanksgiving from South Africa!!

Be Still and Know That I Am God

DSC01231These past three weeks have revealed that I  moved from the “windy city”, to the “windy village”.  Pretty frequently Masealama has windstorms. These incredible storms, which seem to be isolated to ONLY Masealama. (ask anyone around here they will tell you that we have our own weather up here)  These heavy winds sound like waves crashing on a shore, and can cause so much havoc along the way.  I would say that about 50% of the storms knock the power out. Lets just say…the headlamp and candles are always ready to be put into use.

When I was little I use to LOVE when the power went out. We would light candles, read books or play board games. It was my favorite. Unfortunately, when the power goes out here I don’t have anyone to play Yatzee  with 🙂 – so I listen to music while reading, or watch movies on my computer. The last time the power went, I had just gotten back from a long hike and all that I wanted to do was lay on the couch and listen to music.  But when I opened my computer my battery was very low and I didn’t want to waste the battery just in case the power was out all night.   Not going to lie, silence when I am all alone – can be scary.  In my everyday, I usually have background noise so spending an unknown amount of time in silence seemed unnerving.  So I sulked a little bit and then realized I was just going to have to deal with it.

I tried to keep myself occupied. I flipped through my bible a bit, I finished the last chapter in a book that I was reading, but most of the time I just laid there, in deep thought and gave thanks. I thought about the beautiful hike I had just gone on and all of the interesting wildlife I saw and I thanked God for these things.  A few hours later the power was restored and I went right back to my noisy life.

As I hopped into bed the next night I took a quick glance as the pictures and cards that I have on my wall. The one that caught my eye was a small card made by my friend Lo that says :

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

Reading this, I became aware of the little God moment that had just occurred.  Being powerless allowed me to be still and thank God for the experience that I just had and reflect on all He has blessed me with.  If the power weren’t out, I would have been distracted in the noise of life and would never have taken the time to think about these things.

Then I flipped to my bible to read the whole passage.  I read it from The Message and it says;

“Step out of the traffic! Take a loving look at me, your High God.”

This version spoke to me. It gives me more clarity as to why God may have called me to South Africa, and more specifically Masealama. I believe that God needed to take me out of the “traffic” of not only Chicago, but MY LIFE. This time of silence and “being still” has allowed me to take time to look at Him and all the blessings He has provided me and for the first time in a long time – I thanked Him!   Now I’m excited to see what I else I am bound to discover during my year of “stepping out of the traffic”.

A Concert for God

DSC01229Joe shares about a choir concert in September which was different from choir concerts he knows from home:

Today, it is Heritage day, a South African holiday that celebrates the many different cultures in the country. My community church’s youth choir (which I am now a member of) put on a concert for the community. After rehearsing for over five hours yesterday, learning at least 25 songs, in which 20 were in Tswana, we performed them today.

All morning I was freaking out due to many reasons. Particularly the fact that I knew almost none of the songs/words to the songs and would probably look like a fool but on top of that I would be the only caucasian in the choir, meaning I ASSUMED that all eyes would be on me, which turned out to be not true.

We were supposed to meet at 8:30 this morning to rehearse for the concert that started at ten. The choir arrived between 9:30 and 10:00 and we began to rehearse. A few people trickled in to the sanctuary, but no more than 15, and sat down scattered around in the pews. At 11:00 our director told everyone to go and change and get ready for the concert. We all arrived back 30 minutes later and began to sing. I was very confused to what was going on. I turned to Chilies, a friend in the choir, and asked him, “Is this the concert?” in a very naive and clueless manner. He replied, but only with a giant grin and a nod of his head. I was baffled. I had never been to or performed at a concert where there was no more than 20 audience members in attendance.

Regardless of what my mind was telling me and wrestling with, we performed five songs. After we went and sat in the seats around the front of the church, and listened as members of the choir performed other songs, including mixed sextets, trios, soloists and flat out comedic performances in which someone would mock the director. This same process of performing five songs then listening to other “acts,” went on for at least five hours, providing some very funny and moving performances. They tried to get me to beatbox or sing, but I turned them down. I do not think they are quite ready for my sick beats or my rendition of “And I am Telling You” by Jennifer Hudson yet, but in due time. ;)

As the concert came to a close, I was still struggling with the fact that this was a considered a concert. Who was it for? You can’t really call this a concert. Why spend hours preparing for virtually no one to hear you?

As we concluded our director turned and looked at us and said. “Friends, this concert was a true success.” I could feel myself catching a laugh and almost saying, “Really?” He continued, “God is pleased. We came together today to give God a concert, and we did. We chose today to magnify his name, and we did. This was true worship, and God is pleased.” Silence, except for the sound of my jaw hitting the floor. I was amazed at this concept of concert. All this time I was so concerned with being worried about the music, worried about the audience, worried about the meaning of a “concert,” when really the answer was so simple. This new type of concert opened my eyes to a wonderful revelation today. God loves concerts too.

A Beautiful Vision

DSC_0427Inspired by an experience at one of her service sites, Taisha writes:

I saw the Father today. He was small, but strong. He was poor in the worldly sense. He was a father. His wife was dead, and he lived with his sons. As we pulled into his kraal, he was bathing his son in a plastic tub next to the house. His son was about my age. He was intellectually and physically disabled, so he was not able to wash himself. The father took his time washing his entire body with a cloth, then scrubbing with a stone, and then rinsing off. He washed with diligence until the son was truly clean. When finished with bathing, the father went inside and brought out lotion and soothed his son’s entire body.

I saw Jesus today. He washed his child, just as he washed the feet of his disciples.

I felt the Spirit today. It descended on a child of God and cared for his needs. It descended on his child watching the humble scene before her eyes.

I saw God today. The God I know washes us. He cleans every part of us and makes us whole. He gives us fresh life. He smooths us out when we have rough spots. He knows everything about us and cares deeply about us. I love that we have a Father who loves us so deeply, a Savior that taught us so much about how to serve, and a Spirit that lives within and guides us all of our days.

Here Is Our God

In the last week at his site, Kaleb reflects upon the last 10 months:

Kaleb in UmphumuloA voice says, “Cry out.” 

And I said, “What shall I cry?”
You who bring good tidings to Zion,
Go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem,
Lift up your voice with a shout,
Lift it up, do not be afraid;
Say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
– Isaiah 40

I have lived in Umphumulo for 10 months. For 10 months, this place and the people in it have been my daily life. For 10 months, I have been falling in love with this community. For 10 months, my soul has been stretched by the relationships that have embraced me here. For 10 months, I have been blessed beyond measure.

And now, in one week, I will leave.

I am overwhelmed, to say the least. I am terrified and excited and exhausted and inspired and confused and content and nervous and hopeful and so incredibly thankful. There’s so much to say, so much I need to express to the people all over the world who have been a part of this life-giving year. It’s like there’s a voice urging me to “Cry out!” And my over-full mind just doesn’t know how to say it all. What words could possibly convey the vibrancy, the graciousness, the utter fullness of a year like this? What language could hold my gratitude? “What shall I cry?”

Amidst all the confusion, there is one truth that has rooted me: The people of Umphumulo have become my family. It is normal in the Zulu language to call everyone by familiar names: baba (father), mama (mother), sisi (sister), mfowethu (brother). I have always loved this beautiful practice, but now I understand the deeper reality behind the words. Nowhere else have I experienced a conception of family as vast and inclusive as I have in Umphumulo. I truly do have mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers here. I have love and grace abounding here. And it is not because of anything I have done to deserve it. It is because my family and neighbors in Umphumulo have allowed me to bear witness to their lives in all their beautiful and perplexing and mundane and glorious fullness. People like Sbo have been honest and vulnerable. People like Mvoto have the courage to cry and laugh and welcome me to be a part of it. People like Baba Mabaso have the grace to call me, with all my imperfections, by the names of brother and son. And by choosing to live alongside me every day, these people have given me the most precious gift they could offer: the gift of their stories.

For a brief time, our stories have intersected. Just as Ma Mabaso and Sno and Zamadelwa and Nzuzo are now a part of my story, our time together has become part of their unique stories as well. Despite all the barriers that threaten to separate us, we have walked together. And it is in the walking that our stories weave in and out of one another, transforming our difference into commonality.

The brief thread that has woven me into the fabric of Umphumulo is turning out to be stronger than I ever expected. I am heartbroken to think about leaving. I am terrified to discover what my story will look like without the interweaving of Sma and Akabongwe and Baba Nzama and so many others. What will I do with a year of beautiful and sorrowful and transformative stories? Since I can’t walk the same road as this community forever, since our roads diverge in one short week, I have a choice. I can keep this precious cargo to myself and mourn the briefness of a year. Or I can be open with the transformation I’ve received, open myself up enough to let these stories trickle out into every day.

I pray that I will choose the latter, that I will be genuine enough to live out the stories that have already become a part of who Kaleb is. My love for these people makes that the only honest choice.

And perhaps it is here that I find the most genuine answer to the overflowing gratitude in my heart. “What shall I cry?” I shall cry out the stories of this community, the stories that have woven us together and that give me the hope I desperately need. They are stories of strength in the face of challenge, acceptance in spite of differences, and grace that unites all of us as sisters and brothers who yearn together for reconciliation in our world. It is these stories that give language to this year. And it is by holding these stories with care and passing them on with hope that I can best express my deep gratitude.

Amidst the overwhelming flood of goodbyes, perhaps what I am called to do is just what the messenger in Isaiah needed to do. To lift up my voice, to refuse to remain silent, to pass on the story, to live out the gratitude, to be transformed by the welcome. To face my deep fear with a shout of the assurance, “Here is your God!” Because, after all, it is in the stories of Umphumulo that I have most clearly encountered God this year. Here, in their joys and sorrows and fears and hopes. Here, in the hands that have accepted me. Here, in the grace that has overlooked difference. Here, in the people who are no longer strangers but family. Here, in my family in the U.S. and all around the world who have upheld me. Here, in your own sacred stories as well…and the stories of your neighbors. Here, in the journey we share as sisters and brothers. Here is your God.

I have come to the end of my journey here, and I’m realizing that all along I have been constantly seeking and forever arriving at the most amazing yet most simple destination: home. It is a destination that is both miraculous and beautifully normal. I find myself amazed and yet not surprised at all. After all, what is more natural than feeling at home with your family? But what is more amazing than finding a family halfway around the world?

Here is my home. Here is my family. Here is our God.

Um, why are you in South Africa?

Taisha packs communion wafers made at her site

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.