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.

2015, part ii

As promised, here are the highlights from the 2nd half of 2015. If you missed the first half post, check it out here.

July

We had the Close of Service Retreat with the YAGM. This is always such an interesting retreat. The YAGM are exhausted and grieving as they have just left their communities and yet it is a ripe time for reflection and being together. We do a variety of activities in the retreat, including helping them begin to gather their thoughts on how they will tell of their experiences once they are home. It is holy time as they are in limbo land between one home and the next. This year, we were mostly in Pietermaritzburg. But we also traveled to the Drakensburg to do some hiking in gorgeous mountains.

DSC_0693

The kids enjoy the stream while the YAGM are on a more intense hike

One last photo at the airport

One last photo at the airport

 

August

In preparation for the new YAGM group, our family explored some places in Durban, including the beach.

Evidence that Durban is one of the busiest ports in Africa (ship on the horizon)

Evidence that Durban is one of the busiest ports in Africa (ship on the horizon)

It was also a “normal time” with field hockey for Isaac (he’s the goalie):

DSC_0839

And soccer for Sophia (she’s also the goalie although after this game decided she preferred a different position):

DSC_0812

And then at the end of the month, things got a bit crazy for me. The new YAGM group was already gathered in Chicago as they had just had their orientation with 70+ other YAGM going to serve around the world. But the work/volunteer permits hadn’t yet come through for the SA group. So I hopped onto a plane and joined them in Chicago for some Out-of-Country In-Country Orientation.

20150828_150340

Children’s dictionaries for the various languages they’d experience. Since they couldn’t start orientation by hearing those languages, I thought they should at least see them.

 

September

I met the new YAGM in Johannesburg when their permits finally came through. We spent about a week together finishing up our In-Country Orientation.

YAGM arrival! (One more arrived a few days later)

YAGM arrival! (One more arrived a few days later)

Then, our family headed out on a vacation during the kids’ term break. We returned to much-loved Cape Town. We also visited the Cedarberg Mountains and the West Coast National Park. See Jon’s blog post here for a special focus on the Rooibos Tea we learned about on our trip.

At the top of Table Mountain

At the top of Table Mountain

At West Coast National Park

At West Coast National Park

 

October

The YAGM came to Pietermaritzburg for a first retreat and some language training. I even joined in for the 20-hour language training.

Graduation from our 20-hour language courses, along with our instructors.

Graduation from our 20-hour language courses, along with our instructors.

Worship at the seminary (The Lutheran Theological Institute)

Worship at the seminary (The Lutheran Theological Institute)

The early Thanksgiving feast cooked by the group

The early Thanksgiving feast cooked by the group

And the kids’ school was part of a choir concert in the amazing Town Hall.

DSC01280

And we celebrated Halloween with our American friends who are here for a year. No carving pumpkins this year so we used melons. We all had to adapt our pumpkin carving knowledge but it certainly worked out.

DSC_0152

 

November

I traveled the country and visited the YAGM in their sites. It is such a privilege to get to experience the diversity of the country, engage with our church companions, and witness the YAGM adapting to their new contexts. While no one picture can sum it all up, here is the only one I’m in.

A selfie of myself (left), YAGM volunteer Abby (right), and worker at the Lutheran church ministry for children (center)

A selfie of myself (left), YAGM volunteer Abby (right), and worker at the Lutheran church ministry for children (center)

At the end of the month, we had several extra events for end-of-the-year activities. In particular this year were several events as Isaac was finishing Grade 7 and thus would need to move to a different school for high school. (His primary school only has a girls’ high school).

DSC_0306

At the Leaver’s Chapel where the Grade 7s said goodby to the school.

 

December

School ended for the year at the beginning of December and summer vacation began.

Isaac with classmates on the last day of school.

Isaac with classmates on the last day of school.

Sophia with her Grade 5 teacher on the last day of school.

Sophia with her Grade 5 teacher on the last day of school.

The end of Primary School for Isaac was a change for both kids as they really loved being at the same school together. We’ll keep you posted as to how the new school is going.

Once school was out, we were visited by dear family friends, Jim and Carolyn Tonneson. We went on a couple day safari together and also spent time together in Pietermaritzburg. They also traveled in South Africa before coming to visit us.

On safari

On safari

We saw many wonderful things. This nursing toddler rhino was definitely a highlight.

We saw many wonderful things. This nursing toddler rhino was definitely a highlight.

After worship at an area ELCSA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa) congregation.

After worship at an area ELCSA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa) congregation.

For the rest of December, we enjoyed family and rest time. We have spent a lot of time in the last couple of years coming and going. For this holiday time, we needed to stay put.

Christmas Eve selfie

Christmas Eve selfie

One of many games of Catan that were enjoyed over the break

One of many games of Catan that were enjoyed over the break

At the end of the year, we were (and continue to be) grateful for health, friends, family, and the opportunity to live, serve, and be transformed in South Africa.

New Eyes for American History

When we were on Home Assignment in 2014, the kids missed 1/4 of their school year. To compensate for this, we developed our own home schooling / on-the-road plan. As part of that plan, the kids did some reading in key topic areas from American history that we chose with them. These topic areas were based on themes that United States History had in common (or related to) themes from South Africa. The American History topics were:

  1. First Peoples / Native Americans
  2. Early Colonists / Revolutionary War
  3. American Civil War / Slavery
  4. Early Settlers / Westward Expansion (railroads, gold rush, Louisiana Purchase) / Immigration
  5. Civil Rights

I had great fun putting together related books for each topic week. Retired teacher friend Holle even temporarily called back in some of her books she had donated to her school when she retired. Each week, the kids were presented with the topic and the possible books that they could read. They were then free to choose what to read.

When we were on the road, we would designate certain time blocks as theme week reading times. One week, when we got to the church we were visiting early, we even spent time at the town library. The kids tried out their library research skills to find more material for that week’s theme. We tried to then talk about the readings at the end of each week.

Recently, I came across this great list of “13 Honest Books About Slavery Young People Should Actually Read.” I wish I had this when I was planning the kids’ reading in 2014. There look to be some really good and important books in the post. Over and over again, our time in South Africa is asking us to look at our home context of the United States and see it more honestly. This list of books is a good start.

2015, part i

Regularly Jon and I comment to each other that we are so busy living life that we have difficulties finding the time to share about our experiences. With that in mind, this blog post is a recap of significant moments in 2015.

January

Our whole family was in the United States on December 31, 2014. We had been in the U.S. to be with my mom who was dying of brain cancer. The kids and I needed to get back to South Africa for my work and their school. And so, the 3 of us traveled back to South Africa on New Year’s Day. Jon stayed back in the U.S. for a bit longer in order to take care of a few things.

On January 12,  my mom passed away. And so even before getting the kids to the first day of school, we packed our bags and returned to the U.S. for my mom’s funeral and burial. Thank you to all of you who walked with us through this significant time.

February

We traveled with the YAGM (Young Adults in Global Mission volunteers) to the Eastern Cape along the Indian Ocean for a retreat. We stayed right by the Woody Cape section of Addo Elephant National Park, by large movable sand dunes. Time was spent in conversation, reflection, worship, rest, play, and fun. We also did a day trip to Addo Elephant National Park to further appreciate the wonders of creation.

The gorgeous beach at Woody Cape

The gorgeous beach at Woody Cape

 

Addo Elephant National Park

Addo Elephant National Park

 

Who knew that this job would include driving near elephants!

Who knew that being a country coordinator would include driving near elephants!

March

I traveled in March to visit YAGM throughout the country. At the end of the month, our family journeyed to Kruger National Park, a place we had been wanting to visit. Nothing can capture the wonder of the trip. A highlight to share is coming upon a pack of hyenas one morning, even before full light. They were just lying in the road, probably enjoying the remaining heat of the road. We were able to park in the road and observe them for quite a while as no one else was around.

As we were coming upon the hyenas

As we were coming upon the hyenas

 

Hello hyena

Hello hyena

April

We finished our Kruger trip, seeing everything we wanted except leopards. We ended the time in that area with an Easter Sunday visit to the Barberton Parish, worshipping at the Lutheran church in Matsulu. The journey from darkness to light was exactly what my spirit needed.

The singing procession through the neighborhood before sunrise

The singing procession through the neighborhood before sunrise

 

Sunday morning worship with Rev. Pereira

Sunday morning worship with Rev. Pereira

April also included my annual trip to the U.S. for the event where the volunteers for the next year are figured out. This event which centers around discernment is a highlight of the year for me. I also added on a trip to Fargo, ND, where I spent time with my sister and my dad. My sister and I cleared out my mom’s craft supplies. We also did a day-trip to where my mom is buried. It was healing to be a part of those steps.

May

I did more YAGM site-visit travel in May. A highlight of the month was the addition of Templeton the hamster to our family.

Welcome Templeton

Welcome Templeton

June

Isaac had one of 2 significant events of his Grade 7 year. He and his classmates participated in a 12-hour walkathon to raise money for a local creche (daycare/preschool) in an underserved community. Isaac and his classmates surpassed their goals and impressed the school principal with their effort and results. Isaac loved the challenge and camaraderie of this event.

DSC01143

(Stay tuned. July through December will be shared in an upcoming post.)

Rooibos (aka red tea)

12039367_10207845728769287_4829594028489479970_n

Treats at Nancy’s Tea Room: rooibos tea, chocolate cake, rooibos latte and a scone with all the accompaniments (jam, cream and cheese).

Earlier this month we returned from a wonderful holiday. We started in Cape Town and then headed to the Cederberg Mountains. We stayed outside of Clanwilliam at Traveller’s Rest, which is just outside of the Cederberg Wilderness Area. The idea to visit here came from a friend who lives in South Africa. She shared with Tessa that before she moves back to the USA (whenever that may happen), this is the one place she wants to make sure to visit again.

DSC_0901

The rugged Cederberg.

So our intrepid family travel agent (aka Tessa, Mama Moon) worked it into our holiday and we’re all glad that she did! It is beautiful. After a few days at our favorite guest house in the entire country, we drove inland to the Cederberg. The terrain is rugged and rocky and just a stone’s throw from the Traveller’s Rest restaurant begins the Sevilla Rock Art Trail. (You can buy a trail permit at the TR restaurant/farm stall.) The four of us were in awe of the rock art and the terrain and I was in awe of the centuries old wild olive trees. (I like trees.)

DSC_0870

Just one example of the incredible rock art.

We knew that we would be in South Africa’s rooibos region but we hadn’t made any specific plans around this in advance. If you don’t know rooibos…you should. OK, maybe that’s too directive but I love rooibos (‘red bush’). This tea is commonly found across the country of South Africa and on our last few visits to the USA, I’ve noticed it more and more. (You might not know it, though, as it is sometime simply referred to as ‘red tea’ or is found as the ‘red’ in red espressos, lattes and the like.) And it grows only in this region! Here is one map that shows how specific this crop is to its home area. We read that the tea was first used by Asian slaves but we were curious if it hadn’t been used earlier. During a tour at the !Khwa ttu San Education and Cultural Center, we asked. Basically, the answer we received is that the San and Khoi (or Khoikhoi) didn’t have time to drink tea….

DSC_0077

Sophia tries on traditional clothing at !Khwa ttu, the San cultural center.

We’re assuming it’s especially the British imperial influence which left behind the tradition of tea-drinking. Tea time is often observed. Tea and cake/biscuits (aka ‘cookies’) are served for parents at many of the kids’ school events (including sporting matches). At most places we stay on our travels we can choose between coffee, black tea and rooibos and these can be prepared right in the room with the ubiquitous plug-in water kettle.

20150929_145317-2

The Netmar Rooibos Tea Room: talk about selection!

On our trip we visited the Netmar Rooibos Teahouse, the Rooibos Ltd. factory (where we watched a video) and Nancy’s Tea Room. Yep, we were playing our parts as tourists to the hilt this holiday. It would have been fun to visit the Elandsberg Tea Estate which does eco tourism, but it didn’t fit with our schedule. But we did come home with quite a bit of rooibos, which is caffeine-free, rich with antioxidants, soothing to upset tummies and comes in a wide variety of preparations: green (not fermented so not the trademark red color), plain and mixed with any of a variety of herbs, spices, fruits, etc. My current favorite is a rooibos espresso with a bit of honey.

12039651_10207845727289250_5046679579989330321_n

[Note: in my searching for links for this post I came across this story about some legal action regarding intellectual property and rooibos as trademark.]