Hello Everyone!

It has been a while! Time to catch you up!

Currently, it is fall in South Africa and spring in Minnesota. Why am I telling you that? Because the Leiseth family is currently living in both places!

Here’s the story. In May 2016, we let Global Mission know that the 2016-2017 volunteer group would be our last group. This was a really difficult decision as our hearts were not ready to end. But ultimately, it was the timing for our children that guided us. Isaac is ready for high school. Since we wanted to have our children complete their education in the U.S., it seemed only right to give Isaac the full high school years in one school.

We knew that timing would be tricky for our return to the U.S. Jon was nearly ready as a diaconal minister (now “deacon”) in the ELCA. I am already on the roster as an ELCA pastor. Where might we live and serve? How could we find employment while living on another continent? How would we listen to the experiences of the last four+ years in shaping the life and work we would be a part of next in the U.S.?

In the midst of these conversations, there was one job that kept calling to Jon. It was a post at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. That is the same place we both worked previous to coming to South Africa (and did our undergraduate degrees!). The post was a newly formed Minister of Faith and Spirituality in Action. As we each read the position posting, it was clear that the potential fit for Jon was great. And so, with a leap of faith, he entered the application process. That ultimately led to a job offer. And so, in September 2016, Jon moved to Moorhead, Minnesota, to begin his work.

I carried on in South Africa, with the help of friends (especially when I had to travel for work).The kids finished out their school years in South Africa. In December 2016, Sophia completed Grade 6 and Isaac completed Grade 8. Isaac even got to compete in the National Debate Tournament before we left (more about that in an upcoming post).

The kids and I flew to the U.S. to be together as a whole family for the holidays. Jon had worked hard and had found us a house and a puppy. The puppy was a surprise to greet the kids when they arrived. They also got to meet the brand new baby of their cousin, Brianna. Those first days were dizzying as we took in the next chapter that was laid out waiting for us.

I returned to South Africa in January for the second half of the YAGM program year. I’ve made a couple of visits back to the U.S. since then. Jon, with the help of family and friends, is solo-parenting and working a busy job. The kids began school in January – to repeat the 2nd half of the grades they had just completed; it was only fair as they skipped half a year when they moved to South Africa.

So now, we have nearly made it during this time of separation. It has not been easy. But regardless of how the transitions and timing played out, there were bound to be challenges.

I will end in mid-July and then Jon and I will be together at Global Mission summer conference and a weekend of “re-entry” for returning ELCA Global Mission personnel. The kids will get some much-needed grandparent time during this week.

After that, the horizon is open for me. I’ll write more about that upcoming, too. I’m not worried. Just curious as to what will be next.

Please keep following this blog. So much has happened in the last 4-5 years. I mean “events” and “activities”. But more than that, we have been remade. I hope we can continue to share that with all of you as we continue to live our lives and “unpack” the impact of the last 5 years. Thanks for reading along!

December 2016, Running to meet dad after 3 months apart (photo credit Sara Moon Waltz)


December 2016. The reunion. I was yet to arrive. The kids & I had missed a connecting flight and we had to split up in order to get flights to Fargo during the busy travel season. (photo credit Sara Moon Waltz)

Market Day

DSC03488Sophia just finished up “Market Day” at her school. As Grade 6 learners, she and her classmates had to create items to sell at school on 2 different Market Days. Their primary audience was other students. But at the second Market Day, parents were invited to come and visit the stalls as well.

As part of this learning exercise, Sophia worked with a classmate to create items to sell according to the rules that it must be recycled. They had a very limited budget for buying supporting supplies. Sophia and her friend used tea bags (used) to decorate note cards. They also planted flower seeds in used egg carton sections. They also made bookmarks from recycled supplies and sewed coin purses from assorted supplies they already had. It was fun to see their creativity and energy around this.

The students were very supported by their teachers in their learning. They had to make a plan and keep good financial records. They were charged a small fee to “rent” their stall. And they had to give 10% of their profits to charity. But they did get to keep the rest of their profits so there was good incentive to be successful business people! Everything tied in – even their spelling words that week were business-related words.

I don’t remember learning about entrepreneurship when I was a kid. I’m not sure if it is a part of U.S. school curriculum today either. But even the few times I’ve been in South African schools, I’ve noticed that being an entrepreneur is presented as a career opportunity. And then of course, there is our kids’ experiences of Market Day at their school. I’m sure there are many more examples I’d know about if I were a regular South African student or teacher.

All around in South African life are creative entrepreneurs finding a way to create basic income or to build a large business. I’m glad South African schools are helping to foster the entrepreneurial spirit and business skills to go with it. To be fair, this supported learning is likely least available to the kids whose economic situations dictate that they need it the most. That is the rub in all this.

In South Africa, there are many people who are small-business owners and entrepreneurs, like other places around the world. Additionally, I see a kind of entrepreneur that I did not see before I lived here and I might not have always used the word entrepreneur to describe. These are the people I see who are using their determination and resourcefulness in order to create a tiny bit of income for themselves and their families: women selling Tupperware, purses, etc., to other women; crafts made and sold from wire and beads; a table with snacks for sale set up where large numbers of people come through (at a clinic entrance, by the University, etc.); men who walk the streets and parking lots with homemade brooms and baskets for sale, men and women selling fruit at a table on the sidewalk. The list could go on. And the reality is also present that unemployment is high and creating a small informal business is sometimes the only way for some to find an income.





A South African tradition is to have tea midway through the morning. At school, our kids even have a “tea break” that is essentially a snack break.

Recently, I traveled with ELCA Global Mission colleague, Heidi Torgerson, and her mom, Becky. They came with me for a number of site visits. Heidi oversees the Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program from the Chicago office. This was her opportunity to experience the life and locations of the volunteers in the Southern Africa program and to meet our companions in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (ELCSA).

Looking back through my photos, I realized that we had “tea” at most of the places we visited. You could say that we came at the right time of day. Mostly true. But also, this is what one does. It is a sign of hospitality and welcome. It is also right that as we meet together we should also share food together.

Here are some images of the various “tea” times we experienced:

Tea at Umphumulo where Ryan serves as a YAGM volunteer. Birthday cake was included to celebrate Ryan’s birthday the day previous.


At the Lutheran preschool at Lekubu, where Josh serves, we were fed lunch and tea, as well as the peanut butter sandwiches and freshly made "chips" (french fries) pictures here.

At the Lutheran preschool at Lekubu, where Josh serves, we were fed lunch and tea, as well as the peanut butter sandwiches and freshly made “chips” (french fries) pictured here.


At the Lutheran Art and Craft Centre in Rorke's Drift where Lily volunteers, we were served their traditional tea break treat of magwinya / fat cakes, a yummy deep fried dough. Here, the director of the center, Mrs. Princess Tyler, is cutting the magwina.

At the Lutheran Art and Craft Centre in Rorke’s Drift where Lily volunteers, we were served their traditional tea break treat of magwinya / fat cakes, a yummy deep fried dough. Here, the director of the center, Mrs. Princess Tyler, is cutting the magwina.


"Tea" at Bethlehem Lutheran was a full breakfast spread which included breakfast cereal and milk, hard boiled eggs, and sandwiches!

“Tea” at Bethlehem Lutheran was a full breakfast spread which included breakfast cereal and milk, hard boiled eggs, and sandwiches!





Saturday Afternoon

It is almost 4pm on sunny winter Saturday. Our west-facing living room is filled with cozy sunshine. I’ve decided to end the daylight part of the day with a cup of coffee and a book.

I’m trying to read through the books I’ve accumulated on my shelves. Today, needing a new book, I pulled off the book pictured below. It is from a popular American author. And as much as I’m ready for an engaging read, I have been wanting to read this book because of where I got it.

Here’s the story of its acquisition. I was in Cape Town for work. I had met someone for lunch at a restaurant right near the beach in Muzinberg, a popular tourist spot. I wanted to take in the beach for a few minute before leaving.

I walked to the beach. There was a man with a duffle bag and some books, spread out on a bench. He caught my attention and told me the books were for sale. “How much?” I asked. “Pay what you can,” he replied. I looked to see if there was something I wanted to buy. Luckily, I saw the book below and knew I’d enjoy another one from that author and I made my purchase, offering what I thought was fair for a used book. In the transaction, I also met the woman he introduced as his wife. She was pregnant. They were down on luck. I have forgotten the details of their sory but it was clear that the income from the books was helpful.

I didn’t ask him where he got the books. I didn’t know what the answer would be or what he could tell me. But I noticed he did not want to stay and chat. He was quick to sweep the books into the bag and move on. There are a lot of “informal economy” sales that happen around South Africa, whether it is legal or not. So, we each went on our way.

As I sit down in my comfortable living room, I wonder about the two booksellers I met that day. I wonder where they are now, and show,their lives are.

Darkness Into Light

Easter Sunday 2015 was less than 3 months after my mom had passed away. My heart and my spirit were not at all ready for an Easter celebration. But fortunately, our worship experience last year was just what my grieving heart needed.

Our family had been on school holiday. We were enjoying some restful and restorative time at Kruger National Park. But we had plans to join one of the parishes hosting a YAGM for Easter worship.

I had inquired when we should arrive. I knew worship would be all Saturday night, all weekend really. But I knew we would not be there all night. I was told to come at 5am for the procession of the light.

I wasn’t familiar with what this meant but I trusted it to be true. We were staying about 45 minutes away so we made our way in the dark to the church. As we arrived, they were just passing out individual candles, like I am accustomed to for Christmas Eve. We each were given a candle. The church was packed. Many people were also outside.

It is at that time that the worship leaders began moving from the front of the church, down the aisle, and outside. And then, we all followed. And it was indeed a procession of light.

It was still darkness around us. But we sang and we sang as we walked through the community with our lit candles. We helped each other find our way and miss rough patches in the dirt road. Others knew the way much better and I could tell they were looking out for us to make sure we were okay.

I don’t remember the details of the experience. I wish I could describe it better. But what I know is that by walking with other believers in the dark, with our individual lights, we were a strong community. And my heart was soothed. My home traditions had brass and organ blaring loudly on Easter morning. But this felt more true. I wasn’t ready for happy sounds and bright lights. I still knew darkness. Yet I needed to be reminded of light in the midst of the darkness. And I needed to be with others who also knew it to be true. And as we walked through the neighborhood, we sang and we proclaimed that light does indeed shine in the midst of darkness. And the savior is indeed risen from the dead.

A photo taken while walking

A photo taken while walking


Cream and sugar?

For the last 8 months or so, we’ve had the privilege of having friends in town who come from the same place as we last lived. It’s pretty incredible to be living in another country and to reference stores and streets that we both know. Amy has been doing a much better job of blogging than I’ve been able to pull off. I’m sharing her post because it shares a lot about our regular lives and our kids’ school culture. The school she writes about is where Sophia is a student and Isaac was up until last January. (Isaac has now moved on to Grade 8 in a new school). Click on the link below (Cream and sugar?) and enjoy!


Here I am with my American friend, Tessa, at…   Take a guess. Where do you think this photo was taken?

Source: Cream and sugar?

BE the change

This is both a metaphor and a literal experience of mine. It happened within the hour of my originally writing this (a few weeks back), in fact. I went out for a walk. That’s not unusual. I walk a lot in our neighborhood, often more than once a day. Sometimes I have a destination and task in mind (i.e. buying a few groceries from ‘the OK’) and sometimes I’m just out walking. Today I was just out walking to walk. And today it’s hot! Even when I got up at 5am this morning and opened the windows, the air outside was no cooler than inside. That generally translates to a hot-hot day. In addition, a storm rolled through shortly after I woke up but kept most of its moisture in the air so it’s hot and humid. (No surprise, since Pietermaritzburg has a sub-tropical climate, but still not my preference.) All this to say, it’s hot today and I chose a route very common to me. It includes what may be the biggest ‘valley’ in this community. Already on my way down one hill, I saw a woman slowly making her way up the other side. Even from a distance I could see that she walked with two canes and without ease.

I’d like to point out a little ironic twist in this story. I was wearing a t-shirt which quotes Gandhi: “BE the change.” I love the shirt for several reasons, but I do sometimes feel self-conscious when I wear it in public. After all, I am a white American male who is in South Africa working in global service through a church partnership. I also don’t like cliche. Being an American walking around in the city where Gandhi got kicked off the train in his ‘Rosa Parks moment’ (decades before Rosa Park’s famous moment)—well, you can probably see my discomfort coming a kilometer away.

I greeted the woman by saying, “Sawubona” (literally, “I see you.”). She responded with, “Yebo” (“yes”), a common answer to the greeting. She stopped in the shade of a tree growing along the roadside, less than a quarter of the way up the hill. My instinct was to slow down and stand with her and that’s what I did. Actually, I first thought of offering to carry her backpack, but that seemed just too potentially awkward. So I figured I’d walk with her up the hill, recognizing that could take maybe up to half an hour at this rate. I asked for an isiZulu lesson as we talked about the weather—‘shisa’ means hot, in case you didn’t know. I said that if I had wheels, I would give her a ride. She asked where I lived and shared that she’d made her way to the home where she works and, “Madam is on holiday.” She also shared that now she had to go through town and her children wanted money. We chatted a bit about other things.

It was at about this time that she started turning to look at a house slightly downhill. I thought maybe she was thinking of turning back and asking for water. She was sweating profusely, wiping at her brow and had also taught me the words for ‘dry’ and “there is no water around” when I asked for a translation of ‘hot’. A car pulled out of the garage of the house at which she was looking and into its driveway. My walking partner said something which included the words “Pick-n-Pay”, the grocery store up the other side of the hill. Oh, she wanted a ride, I realized! So I raised my hand as the car driver pulled out into the street. The driver was slow in leaving so I thought perhaps they were stopping. I thought the window might open but it didn’t. I don’t think they could have missed me but I took some steps towards the car and waved. They drove off. She thanked me for trying. I replied, “I could have run. Next time I’ll run.”

Before either of us had a chance to say much more (or make much headway up the hill), a truck came down the hill we were heading up. It stopped. The driver, seemingly a husband and dad with his wife in the passenger seat and two or three kids in the back seat, rolled down his window and asked, “Do you need a lift?” “Yes, she could use a ride,” I replied before my walking companion could even respond. “Where you going, girl?” The 30-something white man in the truck asked my walking companion who is maybe 50+ or perhaps even 60+. “Cascades,” she replied, now giving the name of a shopping mall a good 15k away on the other side of town. (Clearly she knows multiple routes home!) He shook his head but still invited her in as his ‘wife’ got out of the truck in order to get in the back seat with the kids. I called out, “Hamba Kahle” (“go well”) and I think the woman responded but I couldn’t hear. I turned away and took a few steps but turned back, thinking I ought to acknowledge the driver somehow. Should I thank him, I wondered. I raised my hand and he raised his, slightly. The gesture could have been my dad’s greeting of another farmer on a back country road in the Chatham township in the Minnesota of my youth.

I walked home and took off my sweaty “BE the change” shirt and hung it up to dry. I don’t know if I was the change on my walk but it is not common for me to stop and converse. I don’t regularly decide to join a stranger for a slow walk up a hill on a really hot day. Of course, I think the world and my understanding of God is calling for far more than changes in my walking and talking patterns (i.e. social injustices, disparity of resource distribution, environmental abuse, etc.). But for today, Mama got a ride at least part of the way to her destination in the front seat of a nearly new air-conditioned truck. And I am also changed. I’m still thinking of that walk we shared, a walk which ended up being about the length of one front yard’s width.