Update from Jon: Discerning a Call to Diaconal Ministry (part 1)

Friday, July 31, 2015 IMG_0117

Greetings from Pietermaritzburg on a cool but pleasant winter day. My body is still adjusting to both the temperature and the time zone as I just returned from a few weeks in the United States this past Wednesday. While the reason for my planning the trip was to attend the ELCA’s Diaconal Ministry Formation Event (more on that below), I also enjoyed visiting friends in San Antonio, TX and my parents in Payson, AZ, where my sister who lives in Iowa joined us. In addition, I was able to catch up with a YAGM alum in Phoenix and make several new friends along the way. I jokingly refer to these three weeks as my 2015 Hot Cities Tour. Humid Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (the site of the ELCA event) was the clear winner, though Phoenix had much higher temperatures.

While two years ago I returned to seminary studies with Luther Seminary—I am definitely one of their longest-distance learners and benefit from online offerings!—a fairly recent development is that I’ve transferred into an M.A. program. In addition, I will be seeking rostering as a diaconal minister of the ELCA. Participating in the week-long Diaconal Ministry Formation Event (DMFE) hosted by the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg is a requirement of that rostering process. ‘Rostering’ refers to a way in which the national church of the ELCA enters into mutual accountability with church leaders, including both clergy (aka pastors) and non-clergy. Currently there are three non-clergy rosters: diaconal ministers, deaconesses and associates in ministry (AIMs). One aspect of rostering is the process through which the ELCA accompanies people in discerning calls to rostered ministry. I am currently in the middle of the rostering process and won’t be fully rostered until I’ve accepted a call into particular work.

Perhaps you’ve never heard of diaconal ministers and that would not be surprising. There aren’t that many of them: according to the ELCA’s website, as of September 1, 2014 there were only 192 diaconal ministers compared to 16,543 ordained clergy. And while the development of diaconal ministry is ancient—some consider Stephen and the other six set aside for ‘table service’ in the book of Acts the first diaconal ministers—the actual ELCA roster has only been around for about 20 years.

But what is a diaconal minister, you might be wondering. Stay tuned for a future blog post!

2014 Reading

Looking back on my 2014 reading, here are the top books I read that connect to our location and/or work which I recommend for others to read.

AmericanahOne of the best books I read in 2014 is Americanah by Chimanda Adichie. The African connection is Nigeria rather than South Africa. Regardless, its explorations of issues of race, in Africa and the U.S., make it worth the read. And, it’s a great story.

Margie’s Orford’s mysteries, Like Clockwork and Blood Rose, are set in South Africa and Namibia. Each one brings its context to life while telling a great story. I’m also very fond of Orford’s work as she has a way of illuminating marginalized people particular to the settings of her books. If you want to see the underside, check out these mysteries.

An honorable mention in my South African reading is The Blacks of South Africa. Again, dealing with race and identity, this novel is worth reading.

TattoosOne of the most popular books read by the young adults who serve with us is Tattoos On the Heart by Greg Boyle. Global Mission in the ELCA is all about accompaniment and I’m not sure I could recommend a better book for illustrating what that looks like than this book. Father Greg Boyle works in Los Angeles, USA, and practices a ministry of presence. We could not recommend this book more highly.

My favorite faith book this year is Consider the Birds by Debbie Blue. I don’t have a thing for birds but I loved this book. Each chapter is an examination of a different bird as seen in the Bible. Having seen ostriches in South Africa, I enjoyed that chapter but really all were good. If you like to see new things in the Bible, check this out.

TutuIn 2014, I read two different children’s books which are relevant to this post. The Cool Nguni by Maryanne Bester is a fun story about a mama Nguni cow and her calf. But it also helps readers come to know this indigenous breed of cattle. Recently published Desmond and the Very Mean Word, by Nobel Peace Prize author Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a South African story about forgiveness for kids. Both are worth reading and having to share with children in your lives.

Lastly, a book recommendation that is hardly related to our location or work. And yet, it too is about race and identity. The book, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, is a powerful exploration of a family after the loss of their daughter. It is probably the best book I read in 2014.

What books are you recommending?


Go Well, YAGM-SA 2014-2015

I can hardly believe but it another YAGM program year has ended. The 2014-2015 crew left about 10 days ago. The house and my cell phone have been strangely quite since then.

The last 10 days have been a time of catching my breath and picking up some of the pieces from our Close of Service Retreat as well as a variety of things from the last year. My office is still a mess. But, it has also been a week of taking some deep breaths before planning for the next group ramps up.

The kids are on school break. They are between their 2nd and 3rd terms right now. In other words, they are half-way through the school year! They have enjoyed having this last week off from school and enjoying some good relaxation. They go back to school on Tuesday.

Here’s a photo of the 2014-2015 group as they prepared to depart at the airport. Please keep them in your prayers. They are Mae Helen, Hannah, Dave, Caity, Adwoa, Brett, Brittani, Emmeline, and John.

One last group photo

One last group photo

This morning’s reminder

This morning I received another reminder. There are people all over this world who don’t have their basic needs met: food, water, clothing to keep warm, people to call them by name.

This morning I came back from taking the kids to school and there was a man going through our garbage, taking with him expired hummus, a bag of badly bruised apples, the styrofoam from the inside of a vitamin bottle. This is normal. We have many people come down our street on garbage days.

I brought the man this morning an outgrown sweater–it’s getting chillier. I worried it would be too small for him but then I thought to myself that this really didn’t matter one bit; surely he knows someone who could fit into that sweater. Then I noticed he was working hard to keep hold of his finds because he didn’t have a bag or sack in which to put them. I went back in to the house and came back with a plastic bag and a bottle of water. He was already walking down the hill to his next stop. On the way he dropped an apple and it bounced down into the storm drain. I called after him, “Baba” (father). I held out the sack. He was clearly thankful. He said thank you many times over.

Seriously, people, there are people all over this world who don’t have their basic needs met. If they aren’t in your view today, if you don’t see them or hear them…they are still here…everywhere.

Story Time

During this chapter of life, we are enjoying times of sharing books together as a family. Right now, the kids have a 4-day weekend. With the extra time, we are listening to the audio book version of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. If you have not read it, you must. It is the story of an ordinary Danish family caring for and harboring their Jewish friends during WWII. It is a story of ordinary people intentionally choosing to be on the side of justice. We need these stories to inspire and motivate all of us.

Operation Suitcase Organization

2014 was a year that had a lot of travel and plenty of time living out of suitcases. After looking in my suitcase in January and seeing that I had delicate dress clothes packed along with boxes of macaroni and cheese (to take back with us to South Africa for the kids), I decided it was time to make an investment in how I packed.

I am excited to report that I am thrilled with the choice I made. I’m sure there are other good products out there. But I chose Eagle Creek packing cubes (and no, they are not paying me to write this). There are two styles. The regular cubes zip three-fourths of the way around so you can open it up really nice and see the clothes you packed in it. I’ve found that I really like these for my work clothes when I am traveling for work. These cubes are rather inexpensive. But, these cubes weigh a little bit more than another choice Eagle Creek has. Since every ounce is precious on the international 50 pound weight limit, I’ll likely leave these at home when traveling internationally.

The lightweight packing cubes (also by Eagle Creek) are from their Specter line. They are more expensive but if you are counting the ounces in your luggage, I think they are worth it. They fold down to nothing and weigh barely anything. They don’t quite unzip three-fourths of the way around, though, so I find them a little bit more difficult to use when traveling. If I’ve placed a line of about 5 t-shirts, each one rolled up, into the cube, it’s a little difficult to see the one down in the bottom. Also, because they are so lightweight, they have less structure than the others, unless completely full. Thus, they seem to work better for my casual clothes. But that is all a personal preference. They are noticeably more expensive than the other ones also so I’ve scouted out some discounted ones. I think these will work especially well when traveling internationally.

I just returned from a U.S. trip. I had my giant suitcase with me. I was thrilled when I saw that my cubes fit nicely across the bottom of my suitcase (see picture). They are designed to fit with common suitcase sizes. They also come in a couple of sizes – regular, half and quarter. Thus, they stack nicely on top of each other. After I laid out the base layer, I added some more cubes as well as the usual treasures we bring back from the U.S., like mac and cheese.

I leave for a short work trip on Monday. I actually am excited to pack and be organized with my cubes. It will help me sort my clothes and find them during my overnight stays.

What packing tips and tricks do you have?


top left (black) is the regular cube; bottom left (raspberry) is the light-weight cube; top right (green) is a “Specter Sac”; bottom right are two light-weight half cubes


Back At It

If you are a regular follower, you might have noticed that this blog has been quiet for quite some time. Let me catch you up.

We returned to South Africa in July from “Home Assignment”, a time where we all traveled in the United States visiting churches that sponsor the work we are a part of here. We also had some precious vacation time with family. We returned to South Africa in July and quickly put together the remaining details for a closing retreat for the YAGM (Young Adults in Global Mission) group that was just ending.

Then in later July, we learned that my mom’s brain tumor had begun growing again. She had been diagnosed with brain cancer in 2009. We had been so fortunate that the tumor did not continue to grow after the regular protocol of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. So, this was not good news.

I took a quick trip back to the United States for an important visit to my parents. I then returned to South Africa so we could receive this year’s group of YAGM in late August.

In late September, my mom had a stroke or seizure, likely caused by the tumor. It was seriously enough that her doctor truly believed she was days away from death. So, we all booked tickets and sped off to the United States. While we flew, I thought I would never hear my mother’s voice again. But I did. She rallied. We stayed. The kids went to school in the U.S. I kept up as much of my work as I could while we were away.

Finally, the kids and I returned to South Africa in early January. The kids needed to get back for a new school year and I had stayed away as long as I could. Jon stayed back for a few appointments thinking he’d be joining us soon. 

Soon after we returned to South Africa, my mom developed an infection and passed away. We were not even home 2 weeks and we turned around to go back to the U.S. for my mom’s funeral.

We returned to South Africa late January and have since been in the throws of regular life. School for the kids. Work for myself and Jon. We are still feeling the effects of being gone so much and having so much of our time uncertain. And yet, we wouldn’t trade that extra time with my mom for anything.

So, we are home. I hope we’ll be posting more soon. Thank you for all of your prayers and support on this journey, but especially during the last 6 months.