Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Remembering Beauty

Granny Beauty was the matriarch of a loving, close-knit family who called me their sister and daughter during my time in South Africa. I celebrated birthdays and Christmas with the family, I attended coming-of-age ceremonies and funerals, we laughed and grieved and shared life together. I can't imagine my time in South Africa without Granny.

Celebrating Christmas with Granny's family

Granny had been sick for quite some time, and this year, her arthritis and diabetes and other health issues caused her to spend much of her time in bed. Her daughter, Christina, passed away in May. The family held a final mourning service for Christina in August, and two days later, Granny passed away in her sleep, on the morning of August 23rd.

I met Granny Beauty for the first time in 2006. I visited South Africa on a two-week Road Trip, and Granny and her family hosted our group for a meal. I sat in the dusty yard behind Granny's house and ate chicken and pap, and then Granny's grandkids and the neighbor kids teamed up with several of the white people to teach them to dance. There was a dance competition, and a lot of laughter. It was one of my favorite nights of the trip.

When I returned to South Africa for 10 months the following year, I spent my ministry time primarily in Soshanguve. I went to Granny's house twice a week with one of the NCSA staff. Sometimes I led a Bible study with Granny and some of her daughters, granddaughters and neighbors. Sometimes I joined in when Doug led worship or Bible study. And sometimes, I just shared life with the family. We visited friends who were suffering from HIV and other illnesses. We took food to neighbors in need. We visited friends who'd had a death in the family. As my friend Sarah once said, "You know how things are at Granny's--some form of life always takes over." It always did. And God was present.

One of my favorite memories of Granny is the song she wrote about eating pizza. The lyrics consisted of a repeated refrain: "Pizza imonati, pizza imonati..." which is Sotho for "delicious pizza." Granny spontaneously sang this song as her daughter Annah improvised a harmony, and the best part of all? Throughout the performance, Granny played air guitar.

Pizza imonati...
Toward the end of 2007, I went on a crazy road trip with Granny's family. We drove to a mountain village in KwaZulu-Natal to reunite Granny with her daughter Dumazile, who'd been kidnapped at the age of seven. We made our way up muddy, narrow, winding roads, our overloaded VW microbus clinging to the side of a mountain. The views were spectacular. Granny couldn't watch--it was too scary to look out at the dropoff. I kept exclaiming over how beautiful it was, and meanwhile Granny had a blanket over her head. At one point, we rounded a precarious corner and I said something about the view. Granny peered out from under the blanket, looked at me and shook her head, saying: "Ohhhh, Barbara!!" as she smiled in disbelief that I was still looking out the window.

Mother and Daughters:
Emily, Anna, Dumazile, Granny, and Christina
Later that same day, we said goodbyes to Dumazile and walked down zig-zagging pathways back to the microbus. Granny, walking beside me, said over and over: "Barbara, I am so blessed. So blessed by God." I was filled with thankfulness--not just to have been part of this reunion, but to hear Granny praising God for this blessing, to see her giving the glory to God for accomplishing this reunion with her long-lost daughter.

It's hard to be far away while Granny's family is grieving the loss of their wonderful mother and grandmother. Granny has left them (and me) a rich legacy of love and hospitality. I will miss Granny greatly, but am so thankful for the three and a half years I got to spend as an adopted member of the family. I have been blessed to see her grow in faith and her love for God, and look forward to the day when I will see her again...

Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
--Jesus (John 16:22)

Monday, August 30, 2010

One joy expected, another given

From C.S. Lewis' Perelandra:
" may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and another is given. But this I had never noticed before--that the very moment of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or setting aside. The picture of the fruit you have not found is still, for a moment, before you. And if you wished--if it were possible to wish--you could keep it there. You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other."

"And have you no fear... that it will ever be hard to turn your heart from the thing you wanted to the thing Maleldil sends?"
"...The wave you plunge into may be very swift and great. You may need all your force to swim into it. You mean, he might send me a good like that?"
"Yes--or like a wave so swift and great that all your force was too little."
"It often happens that way in swimming," said the Lady. "Is not that part of the delight?"

My friend Sally, swimming in Thailand

Monday, August 16, 2010

Take a photograph, 'cause this ain't gonna last...

The last few weeks have felt largely surreal. I'm not in South Africa anymore, and it's still hard to take in the fact that I'm not returning. As I said goodbyes, person after person asked me when I'd be back. I reassured many friends that I'll visit, and I've left and returned enough times that it seems I'll be headed back before too long. But in my brain I know this is the end of an era (even if my heart hasn't absorbed it yet). I'm moving on. I don't know into what, and that may be part of why the leaving is still so surreal.

After leaving South Africa, I spent a week in Malaysia and then one in Thailand. My time in Malaysia was at first full of reunions--many friends I hadn't seen in months or years were gathered in one place as part of the CRM Worldwide Conference. As the week came to a close, the reality of saying goodbyes to those friends, as well as the reality that I was leaving CRM, began to sink in.

The day the conference ended, I took a taxi to a ferry to a taxi to a train... and on that overnight train across Malaysia, I had one of those moments where time and place and music and life converge. I was traveling at high speeds away from the ending of something good, and heading into new travels in another country. The lights were out in the train compartment, I was tucked into my little bunk listening to my iPod, and Andrew Osenga's song "Photograph" was playing:

" take a photograph
if you're wanting this to last
'cause you can try the best you can
but God knows, it's about to end."

For the last few months, I've been holding on to the idea of continuing in full-time international vocational ministry. I've wanted this season of my life to last. I've explored 9 teams in 6 different cities (some more thoroughly than others). None of these opportunities have worked out: I've been turned down, referred elsewhere, it's been the wrong time, it hasn't fit, or it just hasn't felt right.

Acts 16:6-10 was a passage I spent a lot of time with in October and November, when I decided God was leading me out of NieuCommunities and into something new. At the time, I was struck by the way Paul & the apostles tried to go several places, and the Holy Spirit prevented them--literally kept them from going where they thought they were supposed to go. There's been an element of that in my last 8 months. And so, I've been letting go. The CRM conference in many ways marked the end of an era, as well as a letting go of this form of ministry for the next season of my life. That night in the train--however belatedly--was a final acknowledgment that "it's about to end." But also: that it was good. And that the ending of it is also good.

The song ends with the repeated lines: "I don't know where I'm going / but I know that you'll be there." Sometimes I'm okay with the not knowing, and other times not so much. It comes and goes. But I'm confident that there is another era in store for me, and that God will be there, as he has been so profoundly all along.

Writings I've relatedly been reading:
Arriving Back in KC
When Endings Come

Monday, August 09, 2010


Every four years, CRM missionaries from around the world gather for a Worldwide Conference, and this year we met in Langkawi, Malaysia. I left behind winter in South Africa and arrived in Malaysia to spend a week in humid, 90-degree weather on the beach (and in overly air-conditioned conference rooms). It was a great week spent with some pretty awesome people.

The best part of the conference was spending time with friends--reuniting with friends I hadn't seen in a while, renewing and deepening acquaintances, and getting in some last good talks with teammates from South Africa before we said goodbyes.

Since I've Been Gone

In the rush of leaving, I didn't manage to post photos of last goodbyes in South Africa. Now these seem ages ago and continents away... the latter of which is true.

Dinner & movie night with Sarah, Busi, and Lizzy before Lizzy left for Limpopo where she's been teaching for the past 6 months.

Goodbye party in Pretoria North with lots of South African friends (too many names to list!)

A last visit to Soshanguve, at Emily's... with pap & vleis for lunch. Mmm.

Playing games outside while lunch was cooking--two kids held a long tied-together loop of pantyhose and everyone else took turns jumping into the middle, hooking one of the strings over a foot on the way in.

Tshepo shows his style here...
A last Soshanguve sunset