Home Assignment 2014

Every two years, “long-term missionaries” serving with the ELCA take two months to visit sponsoring congregations in the United States. Well, that’s us this year!

As we looked at our schedules and considered many factors, we figured out that post-Easter until late June would be the best time for us. For the kids, this means that they miss a whole term (quarter) of school. And while it is a long time to be gone from school, we are thankful for their helpful teachers and the fact that we’ll be back for them to begin the third term of the school year.

During those two months, we will be mostly on the road, visiting sponsoring congregations. We’ll preach sermons and make presentations. The kids will even be doing a presentation for Sunday School kids. We will also catch up on doctors’ visits and such. Before and after the home assignment time, we will have a little vacation to visit each of our families.

Here’s a basic schedule of where we are currently scheduled. Contact us if you want to know more.

April 26 & 27  -  First Lutheran Church, Morris, MN

April 30 – St. Ansgar’s Lutheran Church, Cannon Falls, MN

May 4  -  Concordia Lutheran Church, Superior, WI

May 5    -  First English Lutheran Church, Wausau, WI

May 7   –  Grace Lutheran Church, Tomahawk, WI

May 8   –  Wisconsin River Valley Conference pastors gathering

May 11   –  First English Lutheran Church, Appleton, WI

May 16   –  Northeast Ohio Synod assembly

May 18   –  Israel’s Lutheran Church, Paris, OH

May 19   –  Peace Lutheran Church Church, Ashland, OH

June 1  -  Kviteseid Lutheran Church, Milan, MN

June 3 & 4    -    Baudette Lutheran Parish, Baudette, MN

June 7   –  Bethel Lutheran Church, Willmar, MN

June 8   –  Calvary Lutheran Church, Willmar, MN

June 11 – Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church, St. Paul, MN

June 13 & 14   –   Southwestern Minnesota Synod assembly (including meal with First Lutheran of St. Peter)

June 15    -  American Lutheran Church, Windom, MN

June 17    -  Kerkhoven Lutheran Church, Kerkhoven, MN

June 18    -  Baxter Lutheran Church, Montevideo, MN

June 21 & 22  -  Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Neenah, WI

June 23   –  East Central Wisconsin Synod office

June 23    -  St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Wausau, WI

(This information is now on a new “page” of this blog. To find it, click the red circle towards the upper right-hand corner of the blog. Then, click on “Home Assignment 2014″)



YAGM Retreats

DSC_0614Well, it has been a long time since we have posted anything. Let’s just say we’re super-busy living life and we haven’t quite found the time to talk about the life we’re living!

We have just returned from a retreat with the young adult volunteers. This year, we had the retreat at the Woody Cape section of the Addo Elephant National Park. We stayed at a backpackers / hostel just a 5-minute walk from the beach. We’ll have to show you pictures later of that. It was amazing. We were right by a large dune field.

At the end of the retreat, we headed up to the main location of Addo Elephant National Park so we could have a day of seeing elephants. On that day, we were considering how nature can be a teacher as well as the amazing intelligence of elephants.

After the retreat was over, three of the YAGM stayed in residence with us at our second backpackers. They spent a day and a half with Jon, reflecting about vocation and their own callings and gifts. We call these “mini-retreats.” Usually, they are at our home but it worked to have one right after a retreat. The kids and I had a free day and so we went back to the National Park. The elephant picture here is a young one we saw drinking at a water hole. We were able to watch via a “hide” in the park. We were behind a fence with only viewing slots to watch through. It was quite cool!

Emily, one of the YAGM volunteers wrote a great blog post about the importance of retreats for YAGM. You might want to check it out here.

Stay tuned. We hope to share more soon!

2013 Books

Jon reads to us from The Elephant Whisperer while we wait for sunset at the Valley of Desolation

Jon reads to us from The Elephant Whisperer while we wait for sunset at the Valley of Desolation

In the year 2013, I (Tessa) read 40 books. A number of them had to do with South Africa and the surrounding area. For those of you who would like to learn more about our context, I’d like to share with you the best of what I read in 2013.

South Africa History/Context:

Notes From a Fractured Country: Selected Journalism by Jonny Steinberg, After Mandela: The Battle for the Soul of South Africa by Alec Russell, and The Mirror at Midnight: A South Africa Journey by Adam Hochschild.

These three books were hands-down the best ones I read in 2013 for helping me understand better the South African context. Steinberg is a journalist. Notes From a Fractured Country is a collection of essays he wrote for his Business Day (newspaper) column.  They are short and incredibly helpful in understanding a variety of issues in contemporary South African life. In a similar vein, After Mandela looks at various issues in South Africa post-1994. I felt like it filled in the story for me where Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom left off. Hochschild’s book, The Mirror at Midnight, is a combination of memoir and history. He examines contemporary South Africa through the lens of the historic 1838 Battle of Blood River (Boers vs. Zulu) as well as the commemoration at the 150th anniversary of the battle. He helped me see some of the layers underneath the context in which we live.

Apartheid Era:

If you want to read a bit about the Apartheid-era, I recommend from my 2013 reading The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, The Unlikely Secret Agent by Ronnie Kasrils, and Miriam’s Song: A Memoir by Mark Mathabane.

The Power of One is the fictional story of a white boy growing up during the Apartheid-era. Much of the book ends up focusing on boxing, of which I have no interest. But the book is very well written. And for me, the portion where the main character goes to work in the mines was incredibly insightful. The Unlikely Secret Agent is about the white freedom fighter, Eleanor Kasrils. She is no longer living and it is her husband telling her story. The telling is rather simple and over-invested by his perspective. And yet, it is a quick read of another view of the Apartheid-era. Miriam’s Song is a memoir as written by the brother of Miriam. Mark Mathabane has his own memoir, Kafir Boy, which I find to be a much stronger book. But, I was very thankful for his sister’s perspective on growing up in a township during Apartheid.


No Time Like the Present by Nadine Gordimer and The Madonna of Excelsior by Zakes Mda.

Gordimer is a Nobel Prize-winning author who continues to have her finger on the pulse of South Africa. Her latest novel, No Time Like the Present is no exception. The style of writing is makes it difficult to get into at first. But it is worth it. Two South Africans – one Zulu and one white – met during their Apartheid resistance work as young South Africans. In this novel set in the present day, they are married and trying to navigate a mixed-race, mixed-background marriage in the midst of post-Apartheid South Africa. Zakes Mda is equally prolific as an author. This novel, The Madonna of Excelsior, is also set in South Africa as it examines the Immorality Act of the Apartheid-era. We meet Niki and her mixed race daughter and the difficulties they navigate. A good look into the complexities of Apartheid.


Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony. My mom picked this book up while visiting us and read it on her way home. It seemed like a good airport book and I wasn’t impressed with the title. But boy was I wrong. This book chronicles the building of a nature reserve in rural South Africa (in KwaZulu-Natal, the province where we live) and the incorporation of a herd of elephants that no one wanted. The story is delightfully narrated. We read this one as a family while we were on a road-trip. It was the perfect companion. Think of it as a mixture between nature/conservancy, rural Zulu politics, and the surprisingly delightful nature of elephants and you’ll be set to read it.


I love a good mystery and I started two different series that I greatly enjoy. Malla Nunn sets her books in rural KwaZulu Natal during the Apartheid era. A Beautiful Place to Die and Let the Dead Lie are the first two books in the series. I really enjoyed them. I also enjoyed the beginning of a different series by Michael Stanley. His first book, A Carrion Death is set in Botswana and makes wonderful use of the physical setting.

Regional Context

For a very satirical look at contemporary life in Zimbabwe, take a look at the novel, Unlikely Genius of Doctor Cuthbert Kambazuma by Chris Wadman. It is incredibly well-done and is very humorous. I think you will find it funnier if you have some knowledge of Zimbabwe’s recent years.

And if you want to travel to Botswana and read a young reader book, take a look at The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe’s Very First Case by Alexander McCall Smith. If you have read books from the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, you will enjoy all the more this book for kids that tells a mystery from the point of view of young Precious (the main character in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series). The illustrations alone are worth it.

O Christmas Tree

We’ve been up to all kinds of things here in South Africa but we sure haven’t been posting on the blog! We’ll work on that in 2014. We have things to share about a 3-week road trip, Nelson Mandela’s death, etc. For now, those reflections are stored up in our heads. But before we are too far away from the Christmas season, I want to share about our Christmas tree.

Our family had been on the road from December 1st through the 19th. We arrived back home a bit disoriented that it was Christmas season! It was hot. It was summer. And it was almost Christmas. Yikes!

I’ll be honest. We weren’t in the Christmas spirit. We did listen to carols in the car. But it still wasn’t the same. So, we decided that the best thing we could do was get a Christmas tree. Now I have no idea if we could have found anything in the Christmas tree category that was living and for sale. But we knew that we could get an artificial tree. And, we knew that we had actually brought ornaments with us in preparation for a Christmas tree.

So, we headed out to Game, a local store that is actually now owned by Wal-Mart. It reminds me of a small-town Wal-Mart store. I guess we should have predicted it but they were nearly out of artificial trees on the 20th of December. In fact, at first we couldn’t find any. But then, we found a little tree a little bit shorter than Sophia. It was very inexpensive and exactly what we wanted.

The tree didn’t have a box so we inquired. But no luck. So, we took our precious tree to the counter. Problem was, it didn’t have a bar code. It had a nice display sign advertising the price. But no bar code for the cashier. Well, it got a bit complicated from there. Turns out, they couldn’t sell it to us without the bar code. And, it took a while to look up a bar code and print a tag. A long while. A really long while. And the only reason we stayed is because we knew we might not be able to find one elsewhere and we really wanted that tree.

It all turned out fine. We got the tree. We took it home. We decorated it. It helped a lot. Here’s some pictures:

Here we are, waiting to buy our tree. Notice that we still look fresh and impatient. Things changed a bit later in that category. Also, don't be alarmed, the tree is in two parts.

Here we are, waiting to buy our tree. Notice that we still look fresh and patient. Things changed a bit later in that category. Also, don’t be alarmed, the tree is in two parts.

The all-important bar code

The all-important bar code

Decorating the tree

Decorating the tree

The Barbie fairies that later came to nest in the tree. Sophia designed and made their costumes.

The Barbie fairies that later came to nest in the tree. Sophia designed and made their outfits.

The finished tree.

The finished tree.

Monkey See

Yesterday I was sitting at the desk when I saw a small face peer at me from outside the corner of the window. The adult vervet monkey and I looked at each other for a moment, each with curiosity. Then the monkey dropped back down to the ground and out of sight. But I saw her again as she walked across the grass. That’s when I saw the baby nursing while holding on to her belly. Mama with baby changed direction and walked over to the fence that separates our yard (or ‘garden’) from the neighbors’. While Mama sat and Baby finished nursing, more juveniles entered the picture. There were four more in total. Three of them were quite young but not nearly as young as Baby. Besides being bigger, their faces were also darker. Eventually, Baby clambered down and played a bit away from Mama (but not for long). I was struck by his awkwardness.  

Here’s a YouTube video of Vervets. At 2:20 you can see another mother with her young, nursing and hanging on to her belly. At 3:30 you can see two babies playing on a log and, yes, they’re awkward, too.



Multicultural South Africa

Something I love about living in South Africa is that there is so much cultural diversity. As part of this, South Africa has 11 official languages. One of them is English. Another one is Afrikaans (a derivative of Dutch, unique to this country). The other 9 languages are African languages. Of course, all of these languages and cultures bring challenges. But, they also are great gifts. And they don’t even represent all of the cultures interacting together in South Africa.

To give you a glimpse of the cultural diversity we experience right in our city, here’s an example from our day. This morning, we went to worship at the Lutheran Theological Institute (LTI), the Lutheran seminary for southern Africa. I don’t know all of the cultures represented there but I do know that there were people from Zulu, Tswana, and Sotho heritage. I’m sure there were more. English was the primary language of worship, but not the only language.

For church today, Sophia wore her Tswana dress which some friends shared with us as their daughters had outgrown it. She also had a Zulu necklace on.

After worship, we went to get a few groceries on our way home. We also stopped at a bakery right by the grocery store which has amazing chocolate croissants (a special treat we have once in a while). The bakery is owned by Hindus. As we walked away, I saw a Hindu family on their way in to the bakery.

We needed to make one more stop on our way home. And, well, we were hungry. We hadn’t eaten our croissants yet. So the kids and I stopped in an Indian take-away shop that I love. We got samoosas – a snack-size meat or vegetable filled “pie/dumpling” – for while we waited for Jon.

And now tonight, I can hear fireworks still rumbling in the air. It is Diwali, a Hindu festival of lights.

Of course, eating food and observing other people’s fireworks doesn’t make for the fullness of cultural diversity. But I think these things point to the diversity with which we are surrounded. In this season of giving thanks, I am thankful for so much diversity. I hope to continue to experience more.

Sophia wearing her Tswana dress (back in August)

Sophia wearing her Tswana dress (back in August)

Eating samoos (and experiencing soda out of a bottle for the first time)

Eating samoos (and experiencing soda out of a bottle for the first time)

Standing outside near the street to get a better view of the fireworks all around

Standing outside near the street to get a better view of the fireworks all around