A “Quiet”Christmas

If you are wondering what the Christmas season is like in South Africa, here is a reflection from Joe, written while he waited for the arrival of Christmas:

December: Quiet, relaxed, open, relationships, singing, dancing, waiting, Jesus. These are a few words that have been mulling through my mind during this past month as I have been preparing for the Christmas season. This December has been unlike any other in my life. Most of South Africa is on Holiday, not because of Christmas but because it is the end of the year. Schools and Creches are closed due to summer break, businesses closing, waiting for the New Year. I have found myself with a lot of time on my hands, time I do not always know what to do with. Although I try to fill it with friends, excursions to new parts of Mabopane, or spending time with my host family, there is always time left to fill. This Christmas will be different. I do not know what I am doing or where I am going. It does not feel like Christmas to me. I have to constantly remind myself to do my Daily Advent devotions, or to listen to Christmas music, which I love so dearly. There is rarely exchanging of gifts, and barely any Christmas music (When there is, its always about snow. Kinda funny when its 90 degrees outside). But the absence of an “American”/”Western” Christmas has forced me to ponder this season. Not necessarily what I miss, but the meaning, what is important. I do not know how or when, but I wait and pray for God to reveal himself on Christmas. To reveal himself through Jesus’ birth, but also through the people I encounter and the memories I make. A Quiet Christmas, One I will remember and cherish.


a taxi ride to Emmaus

In this Easter season, Rachel reflects about the faces of Jesus she meets in her daily life: 

DSC_0388A fellow South Africa YAGM wrote in his own blog that taxi riding in SA can truly be a spiritual experience. I have to agree. Today I dropped off Alex (another YAGM who visited me this weekend) at the bus station, went to the mall, and then returned to Mabopane. It might sound simple, but I rode in SEVEN different taxis to achieve it! Not an easy task…and not a journey made without an elevated heart rate at times. On the last leg of the ride, two beautiful little girls and their dad crawled into the back seat of the taxi with me, filling the 9 passenger vehicle with 10 bodies (plus our shopping bags and groceries). I scooted as close as I could to the open window to make room on the mangled leather seat. It took no more than a minute for the young girl closest to me to cuddle under my arm, and fall asleep. As my new friend drifted into dream-land, her body heat warmed my side and the beauty of the moment warmed my heart. A spiritual experience, indeed!

In that moment, I was feeling so proud of myself for successfully navigating the taxi system across all corners of Pretoria and Mabopane. As I recollect the day now though, I realize that I did not accomplish it unaccompanied. I can recall the face of a gracious stranger at each point in my journey who I couldn’t have done it without. Seven taxis. Seven faces.

Yesterday, Alex and I attended the memorial service of a woman who I had visited a few times throughout her battle with kidney cancer. We stood lining the street with other members of Modisa Lutheran Church, waiting for Aus Lizzie’s body to return to her home from the mortuary. While we were waiting, Alex pointed to a full rainbow that had appeared through the stormy looking clouds behind us. “Ga ayo mathata,” we sang, “No problems,” for we have God on our side.

Moruti spoke at the service on a familiar and favorite passage of mine — the walk to Emmaus. In this post-Easter story, a couple of Jesus’ disciples are too caught up in their own sorrows to realize that Jesus was literally walking beside them. I mean, you can’t blame them. They saw him sentenced to death and crucified on the cross, how could they believe he had truly risen to new life!? It wasn’t until the disciples ate a meal with Jesus that their “eyes were opened and they recognized him.” (Luke 24:31) Jesus really does know the way into the human heart…food!! Moruti invited us last night to not become so carried away by our own distress that we lose sight of Jesus’ everlasting presence in our lives.

It’s wonderful to be reminded that through the ups and downs of feeling comfortable and confident, and lost and lonely…I’m not walking alone. I am trying to etch into my memory the image of the seven people who I met along my ‘ride to Emmaus’ today. As I do, I’m also trying to wrap my head around the fact that Jesus was somewhere in each of those beautiful faces, and the Holy Spirit was filling any extra space that was left in the jam packed vehicles in which I rode.

The Brave Little YAGM

Rachel is a Brave Little YAGM as she learns to milk a cow during orientation.

Rachel is a Brave Little YAGM as she learns to milk a cow during orientation.

Rachel shares about being a Brave Little YAGM:

Since arriving in South Africa I’ve read many thought provoking, educational and inspiring books.  But none of them have moved me quite like “The Brave Little Fish,” a story read in the Grade 6 class I help out in.  In the story, a bored young fish tells his mother that he wants to leave the only stream he’s ever known to see what “lies beyond the mountains.”  He says:

“…I’m tired of swimming in circles.  I want to see the world; I want to see what’s happening elsewhere.  I don’t want to spend the rest of my life swimming round and round in this spot.  I want to see if there’s another way to live in this world.  Once I have learned, I will come back and tell you about it.”

I was literally choked up in front of the entire Grade 6 as the teacher read this story.  It might as well be called, “The Brave Little YAGM.”  I wouldn’t go quite so far to say that life before S.A. was nothing more than swimming in circles, but the fish’s desire to ‘see if there’s another way’ resonated with me like crazy.  The teacher had the kids imagine ways that they can break away from their own ‘boring circles’.  They shared things like: be the first in their family to pass Matric (High School), not become pregnant as a teenager, and go to University and get a job to support their family.  Pretty inspiring and humbling as I discern my own vocation…

As I swim through the foreign seas of Mabopane, the people I meet along the way never fail to teach me what it means to be brave.   My friend often uses the phrase “Ke tlaba strong”…I’ll be strong.   She described it as the equivalent of when I say “I’m fine,” but am actually not fine at all. Since learning the phrase, I’ve noticed that the teachers at the crèche say “O tlaba strong” …you’ll be strong… when kids fall and scrape their knees and such.  In either form of this phrase, there is no choosing whether or not you’re going to be strong and courageous.  Even if you don’t want to be, you just WILL be.  I mentioned to one of the crèche teachers how tough I’ve noticed all the kids are.  She responded, “Well, they must be.”

I don’t know how the story of the brave little fish ends, just as I don’t know how the story of the brave little YAGM will.  But I’m continually grateful for a community at home that sent me away to explore with such grace.  It’s a blessing to be a part of the beautiful things that God is already doing in Mabopane.


Rachel with two new friends from Mabopane – at the Lutheran Theological Institute

YAGM participant Rachel shares a reflection of her beginnings in her community:

Quiet! by Rachel

“Be quiet!”  “Too Loud!” “Sit Down!”  “Quick!”

I would have never guessed that commands such as these would be the first few Tswana words and expressions that I would learn and perfect!   I spent my first week in Mabopnane working in a creche with my OWN classroom full of four year olds, so it makes sense!  Yup, just 10 adorable children yelling and hitting at each other, and one helpless “Mama Rachel.”  Yelling has never been a spiritual gift of mine; but it might soon be.  Although these days have been challenging, they have been generously scattered with blessings.

There are four lovely teachers at the center (one was gone for a week, hence my own classroom) and I have quickly grown to love them.  Last Friday, I watched them chatter away in Tswana, calculating and dividing their month’s salary.  Before putting her earnings in her bag, one teacher filled an envelope with her “ten percent for the Lord.”  She showed me the envelope and told me to copy down the verse that was printed on it:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and mind.  This is the first and the greatest commandment.  –Matthew 22:38”

What a testament, right?

Conversations about big issues in South Africa including HIV/AIDS, access to healthcare, and poverty have come in small but powerful bits.  I’m not sure how to share what I’ve gathered yet, but I look forward to continuing to acquire first-hand accounts of a broken and beautiful country.

I’m having a hard time getting used to the slower paced, ‘why worry today about what I can do tomorrow’ way of living.  My life as an RN did not prepare me very well!  I know that the people of South Africa have a lot to teach me about priorities and taking time to breathe it all in.  I have managed to get my internet set up due to the gracious help and transportation of my host family!  Realizing that internet is not available at the snap of my fingers was embarrassingly tough for me.  I’ve had to face the reality that I can’t depend on tangible affirmation that my family and friends are okay (ahem, Facebook).  I’ve been trusting that all is well, and hope that you have trusted the same about me!  (p.s. to all of my BFF’s… it’s sort of socially acceptable not to text someone back, since you pay for each message.  Yes!!)

A few other highlights:

– Singing and dancing in front of the congregation with the Youth Choir (luckily most of the words were in English, and I just tried catching on to the rest!)

-Judging a “beauty contest” at a local Primary School (It lasted five hours!)

-Eating with my hands (and of course, feeding the toddlers with my hands!)

-Explaining what “Gratitude” means (and demonstrating that the writing won’t come off of my arm!)

Each morning at the crech, one of the teachers says, “Fold your arms.  Close your eyes.”  And they all begin singing what is possibly the best prayer I have ever heard.  The words go:

“Father we thank you for the night.

And for the pleasant morning light.

For rest and food, and love we pray,

And others – make them well today.

Help us to do the things we should,

To be to others kind and good.

In all we do, in all we say,

To grow more lovely every day.”

The way that the sweet voices of the children harmonize with the power of the teacher’s chokes me up every time.  They think Mama Rachel’s watery eyes are funny.