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.

End of the Year

Well, it has happened again. Another YAGM group has left. Watch for an upcoming post about the Close of Service Retreat. And please keep in your prayers Adwoa, Brett, Brittani, Caity, Dave, Emmeline, Hannah, John, and Mae Helen as they make their way back to their sending communities, friends, and family. Hambe Kahle (“go well”), friends.

A last group photo at the airport

A last group photo at the airport

 

 

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

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!!

Gratitude

DSC01172Kaleb shares his gratitude for the opportunity to live, learn, and serve in South Africa:

A recent conversation at Umphumulo Hospital:

Doctor: What are you doing here?
Me: I’m a volunteer with the Lutheran Church. I stay at the church centre up the hill. I’ll be here for about a year total.
Doctor: Oh. And where are you from?
Me: The United States.
Doctor: What a sacrifice!

I left the hospital that day with a pit in my stomach. And I’m not talking about the stomach bug that was the reason for my visit. Sacrifice?! A good intention on the doctor’s part, but that word caught me off guard big time.

Yes, there are naturally sacrifices associated with spending a year living in another country. Like being away from my family and friends in the United States for a really long time.

Or living without Snickers bars for 11 months. Rough life. Ha.

But seriously. As my gut reaction to the doctor’s comment reminded me, I would never choose the world “sacrifice” to define  my life in South Africa. So if anyone out there was considering feeling sorry for me or commending me for making such a big sacrifice…I appreciate the kindness, but please channel your emotions into a sentiment that better fits the situation.

Like gratitude. Because at the end of the day—no mater how confusing or frustrating or exhausting it may be—the opportunity to live as a member of this community is an overwhelming privilege. To have the support of so many wonderful people in the United States is an overwhelming privilege. To be molded by an increasingly expansive vision of church and family and faith is an overwhelming privilege. To be invited into spaces of deep heartbreak and deep joy within the lives of my   neighbors here is an overwhelming privilege. To become a neighbor, a brother, and a son in Umphumulo is an overwhelming privilege. To wake up each day to a God and a community who relentlessly love me even when I feel unlovable is an overwhelming privilege. And to realize that I did absolutely nothing to earn any of these privileges…that’s grace, my friends.

And so no matter how overwhelmed or confused or frustrated I may be at times, I pray that the emotion that rises to the top of the jumble is one of overwhelming gratitude. For this place. For this time. For this family. For this global church. And for the grace that binds our gratitude together.

Doin’ the Dishes

DSC_0724

Rachel writes about doin’ the dishes:

One of the many blessings of being placed in host family is the daily occurrence of a shared evening meal.  My host sister does most of the cooking each night and although she does her best to teach me her ways, I mostly stay out of her way and let her work her magic.  I am used to shopping, cooking, and cleaning all on my own, so the relatively small amount of energy I have to put into these daily meals sometimes leaves me feeling a bit guilty.  (Especially knowing the effort that other SA YAGM put into each meal they eat!)

I have always despised doing the dishes; far too often letting them pile into the sink until I (or my poor roommates) couldn’t handle it anymore.  This is no longer the case…

I now gladly accept the role of dishwasher — partially as a way to ease my feelings of uselessness in the kitchen, and hopefully as a sign of gratitude for the meals that have been served to me.  I have come to love the time after meals, either in silence by myself or in conversation with another; hand-washing the dishes with a full and happy belly.

Hospitality is top notch in South Africa, and a sign of immediate thanks that I am often inclined to give rarely seems to be expected.  In my experiences, people give and share freely because they know that the gift will be returned to them in one way or another.  It seems to fit right into the Ubuntu attitude of being well in this world because we are in community with others.  Nobody keeps tabs or holds grudges about I owe you’s — people give joyfully and without hesitation.

Over the New Year, six of the other YAGM and I took a holiday away from our placement sites, and spent time together in Cape Town, SA.  We saw the sights, laughed a lot, and certainly did not help out with any dishes.  How interesting and humbling it was to jump into this week of privilege.  The time spent with my beloved YAGM was refreshing and rejuvenating, but also left me a little disheartened.  In our placement sites we are living so close to, if not directly in, the deep poverty of South Africa.  Spending a week much closer to the other extreme of the economic spectrum brought a new light to just how far South Africa (and the world) has to go before reaching equality.

I feel guilty, just as I sometimes do eating meals prepared so graciously for me.  So what do I DO with these feelings?  Mmm, not exactly sure yet.  But I know that I’ll keep doing the dishes, silently lifting up prayers of gratitude for what I have and for what others continue to bless me with.

The Great Thanksgiving

Kyle shares about his journey and Thanksgiving away from home:
Communities do many things: support, nurture, annoy, complicate, love. I’ve seen examples of all of these during my time here. On my little YAGM island in Soweto, the complications can loom larger than other positive aspects and make it hard to see the beauty all around me. Thankfully, our program had a retreat over Thanksgiving that motivates the title of this blog and brought ‘Gratitude’ to the front of my mind (as Rachel has beautifully tattooed on her arm). We had a wonderful time in Pietermaritzburg and Lesotho, but even before the retreat, Alex and Jen visited me in Soweto. Our three placements are wildly different, and I was blessed to have them around for a couple days to show them the sites and sounds of South Africa’s largest township. They reminded me of so many blessings I’ve had handed to me and friendships I’ve built around here, and I couldn’t help but smile at the wonder on their faces around every turn.
Kyle carves one of the Thanksgiving turkeys

Kyle carves one of the Thanksgiving turkeys

Another thing that community impacts is control. When we were cooking our Thanksgiving meal, I worked really hard not to hover over everything that was happening in the kitchen. You can ask anyone at Tessa’s house though, I was definitely stressed. This was for two reasons. One, I really wanted everything to turn out delicious for our group and I found myself making stuffing and carving the turkey (two rather important things I’ve never done before). Secondly, and more surreptitiously, I realized how attached I am to the way things happen in my family for Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite part of the holidays. I love the way my family does Thanksgiving, and as I watched dishes being whipped up differently than I would have done them (while sweating over my potential failure), I was hurting that I couldn’t hold on to the comfort of normalcy. Then something amazing happened…everything turned out absolutely delicious. Nothing went wrong despite all my worrying. In fact, I played a much smaller role than my ego would like me to think. And even better, I got to taste life from other traditions, and everyone had something special to contribute. It’s impossible to compare to any other Thanksgiving I’ve had, but it really was a Great Thanksgiving. Not just from the awesome food, but the people, the conversation, the many gifts around, everything about it was incredibly special. And so I left with a new understanding of this year of service, new goals in mind, and deeper friendships than I had mere days ago.