What’s Next?

Way back, before Jon and I had any clue how our transition might actually go, we talked about how we would find jobs in the U.S. in such a way so that we could have a home in the school district where our kids would start school in the (northern hemisphere) Fall of 2017. This seemed like a very ambitious goal. But we knew that more than anything, we desperately wanted our kids to start school on time in the schools where they would stay.

We never got to actually executing that transition timeline as Jon started his U.S. job in September of 2016. And in fact, our kids ended up starting U.S. school a whole semester ahead of our goal. That was a gift as it gave them time to transition and adjust before the pressure of new school year starts. So, our main goal in transition is accomplished. Whew!

Now that our whole family is in the U.S., people wonder what I’ll be doing. Me, too! Let me share with you what I know. First, it is expected that it takes some time to adjust and “restart” life in he U.S. Even though Jon did tons of this for our family, there is still plenty to take care of to get us smoothly operational in a new setting and a new country. Thankfully, the ELCA factors this in for its long term missionaries and there is some salary coverage, based on how long you served, to aid with the bridge time.

With that economic pressure off for a bit, I am leaning into this reintegration time and trying to do the deeper work of arriving. Besides adjusting to living again in the U.S., I am working on settling us into our house and getting everyone ready for a new school season. I am finishing up financial reporting work from my old job as well as doing catch-up medical visits, etc.

In addition to these life tasks, I want to use this intersection to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider what is next for work. Yes, I want a job. But also, I want to be doing the “yes” work – the work to which I am especially called. Is it a congregation? Is it a nonprofit? What does it mean to have accumulated the experiences and skills from the last five years and where/how must I use them? I am curious and open. I don’t know the answers. But I know I don’t want to speed past the exploration.

So, we’ll see what the coming months hold!

Ordering Breakfast, American Style

A few days after returning to the U,S,, I (Tessa) had the opportunity to go out for breakfast with a friend. When the waitress asked me what kind of toast I wanted, I said a tentative, "brown?". The waitress and my friend had a bit of a laugh and it confirmed my suspicion that this was not how to order toast in the United States. Unsure of the correct answer, I asked, "what kinds do you have?". She started listing options and when she said, "wheat," I knew I'd found the comparable response and I indicated that one.

Fast forward a few more days and I was again ordering breakfast, this time with my dad. Luckily I had him order first. When the waitress asked how he wanted his eggs, he said "over medium." That reminded me of how to order fried eggs and when it was my turn, I indicated that I wanted my eggs "over easy." Embarrassing moment avoided. I suspect I wouldn't have remembered the right words had I not followed my dad's example.

This is just a sample of the adjustments and "reprogramming" that is involved in moving to a new country, even if you have spent all but five years of your life in that country.

For the curious, in South Africa, most often, bread is "brown" or "white."When ordering eggs, they can be scrambled. Or, if you want fried eggs, all you need to do is say "soft," "medium," or "hard." It is assumed then that the eggs will be fried.

Grieving and Grateful

As of July 20, all four members of our family are in the U.S. I (Tessa) landed in Fargo on July 20th. It was a wonderful reunion with Jon, Sophia, and my dad greeting me. My dad took us out for dinner after we collected my FOUR bags. And then, I tried to stay awake.

I had one day at home to get repacked for the next part of the journey. Saturday morning, Jon, Sophia, and I set out to pick up Isaac at Norwegian language camp. It was great to have the family together! We then traveled to Minneapolis so the kids could fly out the next day to visit the grandparents. And the day after that, Jon and I flew to Chicago to join other missionaries for the annual Summer Missionary Conference. We spent 5 days at a retreat center outside of Chicago, enjoying a time of worship, learning, and relationships. Everybody at the conference is involved in Global mission service. It was a very good community to be with, especially right now.

Now, as of this afternoon, Jon and I are with a smaller group of missionaries who are ending missionary service. We will meet tonight, tomorrow and Sunday. Our retreat is being led by a counselor who will aid us with "re-entry". All who know our story know Jon has been back for many months. But all the same, I think it will be good for both of us to spend this time focusing on reentry. On Monday, we will rejoin our kids in Minneapolis and then drive to our home.

I still hesitate to say "home" as my heart has not yet fully arrived. I am so grateful to be with my family. And I am so grateful to have had this opportunity for the last five years. But I am still grieving as I left one home for another and am missing life and community in South Africa. It will be a process of reentry. We will keep you posted.


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.