New Images

We are in the church season of Epiphany. Epiphany is about light and Jesus Christ for the world. It could also be said that Epiphany is about seeing anew.

In that spirit, I am sharing a BBC link of images from the first week of 2015 on the African continent. Why, you might ask. Well, during “home assignment” (time in 2014 when we visited sponsoring congregations), people said again and again that the images we brought with us were different than what they had been taught. Person after person was caught in old images of lion and dirt roads. They were surprised by highways and skyscrapers. And isn’t that how it goes if you don’t visit or live in a place? It’s hard to know what it is really like.

Well, follow this link for some interesting and diverse images of the first week of January on the African continent. If you want to really make this even more of a learning experience, have a map or globe handy, too.

Weather Report, Epiphany Day

We get all kinds of questions about the weather. So, here’s a weather report for y’all.

As I’ve been told, December was warm but not overly hot until Christmas. Then, it was 39C / 102F in Pietermaritzburg! Glad I missed that.

Now, as a friend explained, the rains and the heat are here and they kind of take turns. True. Since coming back, the days have been hot and mostly sunny. Later in the day, the clouds build up and there are evening showers. Our first night back we even got a thunderstorm. The rain helps break the heat but it seems to start all over again the next day.

Below is a screenshot of a weather app I use. It feels warmer than 76 out there. But note the humidity. That’s what gets us down. And note that it is only 9am.

In a few minutes I’ll go hang a load of laundry on the line. Then, I will feel the strong sun on my skin and the heat will be real. Later today, we will turn on the wall air conditioning (aka “air con”) unit in our living room. It will cut the humidity and cool us off. Until then, we keep the curtains closed to block out some heat.

If you are in the north as you read this, I hope you stay warm today! Feel free to come join us!


Signing the Mandela Condolence Book

Tessa has already written about our family’s trip a year ago, when we received the news of Nelson Mandela’s death. As Tessa mentions in her post we were on our way to Cape Town when ‘Tata [Father] Madiba’ died. The kids and I had not yet been to Cape Town and Tessa’s travels in Cape Town had been in relationship to her work with YAGM (Young Adults in Global Mission) so we ‘took in some of the sights’. For example, we went down to the pier in Cape Town. Surrounded by relatively upscale shopping and sight-seeing that clearly appeals to tourists from around the country and around the world, in many ways the V & A Waterfront could be in any of a number of international port destinations. It was here that we came across one of the condolence books.

After Mandela’s death condolence books were made available in numerous locations both in the country and across the globe. Even walking towards the book felt momentous. I think this might have been especially so since I was walking with Isaac and Sophia. I can imagine them remembering this moment for the rest of their lives. I remember not knowing what to write and I can’t remember what I ended up writing on behalf of our family. I remember asking the kids if there was anything they thought I should write and I remember that we read a few of the recent entries in the book. I remember that even within a few entries previous to the one I was to write I could see several continents, cultures and languages represented. I also remember that the messages had multiple audiences. Some people wrote to Mandela, some to his family, some to the country, some to the world and some to themselves or some combination of these. We were with the book for several minutes as there was no long line and we had no particular sense of urgency.

I’m struggling to find words for this blog post just as I did when I was sitting with the condolence book. All sorts of cliches come to mind: death is a part of life; Mandela’s legacy lives on; there is still work to be done; he was a great man; we will never forget that day. These are all true and yet they are insufficient. So I will share with you the picture below and a link to an online condolence book so that you might hear many words from many voices. I will share more of our experiences of these days following Mandela’s death in a few more upcoming blog posts. I’d also like to write about the church service we attended, visiting Robben Island and conversations with South Africans of the ‘born-free’ generation.


5 December 2013

One year ago, we were on a road-trip to Cape Town and back to Pietermaritzburg. We had already traveled through the Karoo area (heading towards Cape Town) and enjoyed it greatly. On December 4th, we spent the night at a guest house half a day’s drive outside of Cape Town. It was peaceful and lovely, even if a touch touristy.

The next morning, I checked my phone as soon as I woke up to make sure all was okay with the young adults I work with. No messages had come in overnight. But while I was at it, I checked my email. And there it was: news that Nelson Mandela had died during the night.

I could not believe it. I’m not sure why I was surprised. He was elderly and had been sick for so long. There were speculations about his health and his longevity. But to have it actually happen was something else. While I peacefully slept that night, the world lost a hero. I didn’t even feel the trembles during the night from the loss.

That day, I kept looking around to see how the world was different. I told the kids that they were so fortunate to have been in South Africa while Mandela was alive, to have been even that close to an icon of forgiveness and reconciliation.

As we traveled that day, one thing sticks out in my mind. We stopped for lunch in a town that was steeped in poverty. We stepped out of our car to look for a place we could eat and I could feel the hunger in the community. People lingered around the buildings, likely without work or a place of purpose for the day. There were signs of poverty everywhere.

We got out and a young boy eagerly scampered over to offer to watch our car. We did not need our car watched. But I knew he wanted to do it for work and so I said yes.

We walked to a restaurant. We sat down and ordered. Plenty of choices. All of them we could afford. I walked down the street while we waited and browsed at a used bookstore. I even found a book to buy, a score for me on our budget as new books are very expensive in South Africa. But I knew that they were still a luxury beyond the dreamings of many who lingered on the streets.

We finished our meals and we had leftovers. I asked them to be boxed up. We walked back to our car and the young boy eagerly dashed over to show me how my car was still safe. I gave him some money to thank him. And I gave him our extra food and asked him to share with his friends. His face lit up with joy.

Before we could even pull away, the boy was dividing the food up among several others and it was eagerly being eaten. My kids saw it all and learned a powerful lesson about abundance and sharing and gratitude and poverty.

And I sat a bit numb, thinking about this world. Yes, the world lost a hero the night before. Yes, Madiba had worked so hard and sacrificed so much to make the world a better place. But there is still so much work to do.

May we all be inspired by the legacy of Nelson Mandela and give of ourselves to make the world a better place.

(I do not like to write about the poverty in South Africa because it isn’t all poverty. It isn’t all people who are unemployed. It isn’t all hungry children. Yet that part is also real and so I wrote of it today. But please read past and future posts as well as other perspectives to see that South Africa is so much more than poverty.)

Kids’ Education

It has been an interesting year for the kids’ education. While we are in the United States right now to be with my mom, the kids are going to school. Earlier in the year when we were on Home Assignment and were in the U.S., the kids missed school in South Africa. But, because we moved around and it was U.S. summer, they did not go to school here. Instead, the did some maths from their South African school. And, we had some guided reading theme weeks. One week was on the Civil War. Both kids picked a book from the Civil War week as being a favorite from the summer. Here are their book reviews:

Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith. (review by Isaac)

It’s a book about a boy who lives on the Kansas-Missouri border and Bushwackers (Confederate gorilla fighters) attack his farm and he signs up with the Union infantry and then is drafted into the cavalry. But, he has a Confederate girlfriend. At some point, he accidentally ends up fighting for the Confederates. I really liked the way this book looked at the Civil War from the point of a soldier who had fought on both sides. Plus, it was a really good book.

Charlie Skedaddle by Patricia Beatty (review by Sophia)

It’s a book about a boy whose brother died fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg. One day he sneaks onto a ship and joins the army as a drummer boy. One day he goes into battle with other troops and when he sees two friends gunned down mercilessly he shoots a soldier. Then he skedaddles into the mountains because he thinks he killed a soldier. So the book is about how he survives in the mountains. I liked it because it shows how war affects people.

The Diverse Body of Christ

Today was All Saints Sunday. It is one of my favorite days of the church year. It is a day to remember all of those joined in Christ – those who are newly baptized, those who have gone on before us, and all of those in between.

This year, I am in the United States to be with my mom. And yet in the midst of that, I am also thinking of the Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) serving in southern Africa. I started to think about this day through their eyes.

Many of them have known a certain location and a certain group of people for all of their lives. Each of them has some diversity in this story. And yet, for the most part, the faces and stories they have known have not included the lives of Southern Africans. But now this year, the lives and stories they know do include those from southern Africa. In fact, they know more than faces. They know their laughter and joys. They know their frustrations and challenges. They know their landscape and their surroundings. And this makes me wonder, what do these YAGM now see differently? If they now know more fully the people of God in the world, how might they now see and know God differently? How is this year, with the saints in southern Africa, changing their understanding of who God is?

These are questions for all of us. What is the face of God? Who is around us that is showing us more about God? How do we see more fully the vastness of the body of Christ in the world?

For Everything There Is A Seaon

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die – Ecclesiastes 3:1-2a

The Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program year is underway. It began with the new group arriving on August 22nd. As far as I was concerned, this was to be a “normal” year. For you see, my first year was of course, my first year. And so, it was a year of learning. And in the midst of that year, Jon had some health challenges and we spent some weeks in the United States. My second program year was the year of Home Assignment. Not only did we do the regular YAGM work, but we also spent 3 months in the United States. That was certainly not a “normal” pattern. So this year, was supposed to be “normal.” I wanted to make my plan for YAGM and to follow it. No interruptions.

Ha! Life does not work that way. For everything there is a season. And this season is about my mom. She has had brain cancer for 5.5 years. Way longer than expected. But soon after we returned to South Africa in July, we found out that her tumor was growing again and options were limited.

Recently, things took a turn for the worse. My mom had a stroke or seizure and was taken to the emergency room. She was near death and we quickly booked our plane tickets. We arrived late September, expecting a rather short trip for the end of my mom’s life. But she is tenacious. And she is not done living. She has rallied and stabilized. She went from a regular hospital room to palliative care and now to a nursing home.

At the nursing home, they are able to give my mom the physical care that we cannot do on our own as a family. She is also receiving some physical therapy. There are days where she mostly sleeps. And there are days where she is quite interactive. It is an interesting season. I came here for one thing and now it is another.

So what do we do? Flights between the United States and South Africa are very expensive so do not want to return to South Africa only to have to return soon to the United States. An active brain cancer diagnosis is not one where one would expect lots of time. And yet, my mom has proven doctors wrong time and time again.

We don’t know how this will all work. We did decide to enroll the kids in school here inthe United States so that they get some structure and stimulation. They begin tomorrow. Jon continues his Luther Seminary classes. I spend a lot of time with my mom and keep up the essentials of my job that I can do remotely. Other than that, we take it day by day. I guess that’s all we can do.


After flying in some really large planes, the plane for the flight from Chicago to Fargo stood out as being pretty small.