It’s a Runners World



Saamwerk Soutwerke

I’ve been told that loosely translated, the phrase above means “Together we can do more.”

This is the motto for the running club, Upington Harriers, with whom I have had the immense privilege of running two different races over the past two weekends. With them, I’ve already experienced this motto to be true.

I’ve been interested in running ever since we ran the mile on the track for field day in sixth grade. A few years ago I started getting into distance running and haven’t turned back. With two marathons, two half-marathons, and a Tough Mudder under my belt, I definitely consider running a significant part of my life and identity. Running is something I do not only for my physical well being, but for my mental, spiritual, and emotional well being too. Most runners will tell you that there’s nothing like the feeling one gets after a good run. I always know I can count on a run to start or end the day on a good note.

I was worried I wouldn’t be able to run here until I found out that my host pastor is an avid runner.  That was honestly probably the most exciting thing I learned in the first few days here. My pastor and his running partner took me under their wings during the next few days and included me in their training runs. It was exhilarating. I got to see my new community in a different way, and I felt like I was where I belonged. Our first morning out a car honked at us in a very specific way and my host told me that that honk meant it was another runner – a fellow member of the family.

I also realized during that first run as my pastor was yelling behind me to run faster up the hill that being a runner is a lot like being a YAGM. I think running metaphors are overused so I’ll spare you the cliché. But I couldn’t help but think about how that hill will not be the only way my community will push me out of my comfort zone, shouting words of support behind me. I know that even though it may be difficult at times, I’ll be better for it in the end.

The past two weekends have been great examples both of the openness of the running community and the hospitality of my host community here in South Africa. People have gone out of their way to make me feel encouraged, supported, and included. I’ve never done distance running with a club before, but I think South Africa is the place to do it. The Harriers’ motto reminds me of another South African concept – ubuntu. I am because we are. Together, we can do more. I am thriving because we are all working together and encouraging each other. It’s a great feeling – almost as good as the runner’s high. 😉


Relationships: Ubuntu & the Red Thread

Katie (middle) enjoys her YAGM friends during her Close of Service Retreat (July 2013)

Katie (middle) enjoys her YAGM friends during her Close of Service Retreat (July 2013)

Katie served in South Africa in 2012-2013. She writes about her life since returning to the U.S.:

Since I have returned from South Africa, I have slowly getting back into prayer meditation and Bible study to feed my soul. I found an online website run by Jesuit monks in Ireland called Sacred Space. I have started doing a daily prayer that the website offers to help out with my prayer meditation and to process and unpack my life in SA. As I was doing my prayer today, this was part of my prayer:

” I exist in a web of relationships – links to nature, people, God. I trace out these links, giving thanks for the life that flows through them. Some links are twisted or broken: I may feel regret, anger, disappointment.I pray for the gift of acceptance and forgiveness.”

I can honestly tell you that this sums up my life not only in SA but here in the U.S. as well. I think of ubuntu which means I am who I am because of who we are and I also think of the red thread which comes from China which reminds us that we all connected in relationships.

I believe there are days and maybe not only days but a lot of life we forget that we all connected to each other not just to our family or friends but to people in our nation and throughout the world. If we took the time to meditate and realize how we are all connected to each other maybe then we could realize the suffering that happens to our brothers and sisters in the world also affects us.

The prayer that I also posted reminds me that relationship on not perfect. In fact it reminds me that it always has been broken and twisted and even though it is twisted and broken it still has beauty. This web of relationships also reminds me that God is at the center of this web.

Would it be too much to ask for us to actually think about how we are all connected to each other? If we took the time to see how we all connected to one another would we view the world differently than we do now? Would we realize that the suffering that happens to our brothers and sisters throughout the world also affects us? What about how we are connected to nature and the earth?

I also know that I am not perfect with this either and I know this will be a work in progress for me but as I remember how UBUNTU has affected me and how intentional community and relationships have been a part of my life before and after SA, I have come to appreciate how we are all connected. Not only to each other but to nature and God.

I Am Because We Are

Soon after leaving her site in the Cape Town area, Jen wrote about the mark the year made upon her life:

It’s official, I’ve left Cape Town 😦

This year has been beautiful, it’s been a challenge, it’s been a mess, it’s been bigger and simpler and deeper than I ever could have imagined.

I am not the same.

People have walked into my life that have left their mark in a ways that I can barely put into words. The simple yet deeply real response I have is “thank you.” Thank you for accepting a lost American into your homes and hearts, thank you for laughing with me through the cross-cultural snafus and terribly cooked meals, thank you for letting me be witness to your lives.

Grace has truly carried me through this year. The grace of others through the ups and downs of accompaniment, grace for myself allowing my heart to feel deeply every bump in the road.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s of the beauty of community. I could never have made it through this journey alone. It’s been an adventure in itself learning to rely so much on others. The real beauty came in discovering just how powerful the love of a community can be in making us wiser, stronger, more vulnerable, more loving than we could ever have been on our own.

South Africans have a word that captures the heart of this idea, Ubuntu—“I am because we are.” It speaks to the truth that our humanity is dependent upon others to share it with, that the health of any individual is dependent upon the health of the community and vice versa. Stepping into this community so many months ago I had no idea how radically I would change. The unconditional, welcoming love of my family and others has given me the confidence to become more than I was—stronger, passionate, more open, vulnerable, rooted, loving. I became more because the quiet (yet sometimes sassy, outspoken) Ubuntu love of my community believed that I could.

Goodbye for now, Cape Town. Thank you for welcoming me, shaking up my life, and changing it for the better.