Dreaming of a White Christmas

One of the many ways Jen takes in the world is through her camera lens

One of the many ways Jen takes in the world is through her camera lens

Jen writes about expectations and Christmas in another part of the world:

It’s a scorching 34°, the sun is shining, summer is just heating up…perfect timing to take out the snowflake-covered Christmas decorations. Wait, what? Snowflakes? Snowmen? Picturesque cottages all nestled in snow and pine trees? With all this heat I doubt even a snow cone would last very long.

All I can say is I feel incredibly sorry for the poor man in a fur-lined Santa suit as I’m sweating in my shorts. He deserves and raise and an ice cream cone.

When I came halfway around the world I guess I expected things to be a lot more different. Don’t get me wrong, South Africa is incredibly unique and vibrant in its diverse cultures, long history, breath taking landscapes, and mix of languages. But no matter how far away it is, Westernization still plays a huge role in modern culture here. It can be seen in the music on the radio (the same I blasted this summer around CA), the hair extensions that look like smooth European hair, face bleach creams, and, yes, even the visions of Christmas. Pictures of snow and pine trees for the holiday sure didn’t originate here, that’s for sure. Oh, and I still haven’t heard anything about Kwanza.

While as Westerners we may not have planned for our culture to be broadcast around the world that doesn’t change the fact that it’s happening. There are always gains to be had from learning about other cultures, but what about when it is one-sided? We rarely see African movies/music/stories/photos (other than those of hungry children and safari animals). What is lost in the process?

There’s no way change what’s happening but we can make it more even—to take the effort to listen to what’s happening around the world, hear their stories, learn from their experiences.

Maybe it’s our turn to return the favor and simply pay attention.

Listen Deeply

DSC01020Jen writes about listening deeply in her new place:

Heerlikste Jesus, sterke Wereldheerser, koning op die hemeltroon, lof, dank en ere aan U, o Here, my hart se vreug mi siel se kroon….

You catch that? No? Me either. While I’m in the process of learning Afrikaans, everyday conversation is still way beyond me.

In case you were wondering, that was the first verse of the hymn “Beautiful Savior.” All of our church services are almost completely in Afrikaans. At first I was a little frustrated with the fact because it meant I had no idea what was going on for a good deal of the service. I have to take cues from everyone around me about when to stand up, sit down, sing, or when something else happens. Having no access to what was going on was tough until I began to listen to the messages behind the words.

Unplanned harmonies ring throughout the crowded chapel as people from all different walks of life come together to create one beautiful song of worship. I may not understand what the words mean but just listening to the sound of so many voices coming together as one speaks volumes about how God can bring people together in peace. The joy on people’s faces as they sing and greet one another speaks more than their words could say.

In some ways the language barrier has been a blessing.—it is forcing me to think with my heart instead of my head for once. Without the easiness of communication through language I have to listen deeply to intent rather than content to understand. Yet in slowing down enough to do so I feel like I am looking at church and life in a way I never have before: in paying attention to the very real joy and peace and community that church is meant to be all about.