Thursday, November 15, 2007

Last update...

I write this from Southern California, aware of the irony that it's warmer here in the almost-winter than it was in Pretoria in the almost-summer. I arrived safely back in California this past Saturday, and have been spending my time catching up on sleep, good food, and seeing family and friends. While it's good to be back for all of those reasons, I'm also very much missing South Africa and friends there. (As well as friends who were there and are now in various stages of transitioning back to the U.S.)

The whole NCSA group at our farewell dinner the night before I left




















Time is stretching out for me in strange ways. The past month, so full of experiences, and so full of bittersweet goodbyes, feels like it's a world away. We had our year-end celebration on November 4th, at the top of a mountain overlooking Pretoria. We invited the friends and ministry partners who have been part of our lives over this year and shared a meal, before taking time to worship together and pray over the city of Pretoria and the Tshwane metropolitan area. It was an amazing time of celebrating together and saying goodbyes. A week later, I was back in California, celebrating a dear friend's wedding.

Praying over the city from the walls of the fort atop the mountain



















The time since my last update has been full of celebrations. Gatherings for birthdays, baby showers, and goodbyes--many goodbyes--have filled my weeks. Goodbyes at Potter's House, a farewell party given by Granny's family--goodbyes said in many different ways and in many different languages. We've spent our "conversations" discussing releasing and re-entry, and looking back on what God has done in our midst and in our hearts over the year. It's been an amazing year filled with friendship, growth, and a deeper awareness of God's work--both in me and in the world around me.

The table arranged for the farewell party at Granny's



















The next steps for me are still coming together. There are a couple of things within CRM that I'm thinking and praying about and will be exploring further in the coming months. Be in prayer for me during this process, as I seek God's leading and discern where He might have me be during the next season of my life. I do know that I will likely be heading away from California--beyond that, the details are still sketchy.

On the writing project front, Sarah and I are (still) working. As our time in South Africa came to a close, we had to keep revisiting and revising our goals for the year, and we realized that we wouldn't be able to finish our writing and editing while we were there. So I'm attempting to be disciplined about diving into that writing now that I'm back and am looking forward to seeing what takes shape. There are some amazing stories to tell and we look forward to sharing them with you. I'll keep you posted.

If you'd like to look back on my year in South Africa (as I have been doing!), you can revisit pictures here and you can also peruse our community blog here.

And with that, I'll be on my way...

Monday, October 29, 2007

The cultural experiences keep on coming

Sarah and I went to Potter's House tonight for the last time. Well, Sarah will probably take her parents to visit there in a few weeks, but I'm headed back to California in a little under 2 weeks. Anyway. It was quite a night.

We were running late because on the way, we stopped at the store to buy dessert. We were a little worried we'd miss dinner--it's usually around 6:30, and we didn't get there until 7:00. No need for worry--we hadn't even come close to missing dinner. We got there just in time for a meeting on obtaining housing. The meeting went till 8:30. THEN they served dinner. We were asked to go ahead and dish up the milk tart we'd brought for dessert--on the plates with the rest of dinner. They said we should put the milk tart on top of the pap, so it wouldn't get in the gravy. Ok. It was a bit strange, but it worked.

Once the milk tart was dished up, we waited for the rest of dinner to be served. Sarah was in the middle of a conversation and didn't immediately notice what was being spooned onto the plates. I watched closely for her reaction. I was rewarded by witnessing her doing a very obvious double-take. Because, well...here's a visual aid:



They're also known as "runaways," but yes, that's a chicken foot. Mmmmm.

After dinner, we made the rounds, saying goodbyes and giving out contact info. The evening concluded with one woman asking for our mailing addresses in America because she wanted to send us a package. Actually, her exact words were: "I will send you the Vanity Fair bras." She went on to ask for our bra sizes. Aaaaaand, then we went home.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rain and Reunions

It's spring here in Pretoria. It's rainy and cold, and the jacarandas are blooming everywhere. Their branches loom overhead, loaded with purple blossoms that fall and carpet every inch of Pangani's garden. I'd been missing cold rain, and I've gotten my wish these past few weeks.

Jacarandas at sunrise along a nearby street
























The past month has been full of so many things (but maybe that's just the way things go here). My friends Anne and Karen came to visit in mid-September. They joined the five apprentices and the Stewart family for a weekend away to the Drakensbergs, a range of mountains in a province southeast of Pretoria. The scenery was beautiful, we went on a couple of hikes, and spent plenty of time just hanging out and relaxing at the cottages where we stayed. After our return to Pretoria, I spent a week juggling my responsibilities with showing Anne and Karen around the area. One of the highlights of the week was getting caught a little closer than we would have liked to a rather angry elephant at a local game park. I thought it was awesome; Anne was a little less enthusiastic.

Hiking in the Draks with Anne and Karen
























Most prominent in my mind right now is a crazy and amazing trip I went on this past weekend. Last Friday night, Doug and I took Granny, three of her daughters, her son-in-law Solomon, and their cousin Andries on a road trip to the Durban area. On this journey, we were hoping to reunite Granny with her daughter Dumazile, who was kidnapped when she was seven years old. 37 years have now passed, and recently Granny was able to get information about Dumazile's whereabouts.

The house where Dumazile grew up

















The journey was quite an experience--driving through the night in the rain, followed by a 2-hour drive on muddy, slightly perilous mountain roads. We kept passing incredible views, looking out over valleys and mountains beyond. At one point, I turned to Granny and exclaimed how beautiful it was. She responded by shaking her head, saying, "Oh, Barbara..." and covering her head with a blanket so she wouldn't see the dropoff to the side of the van! When we reached the home where Dumazile was raised, in a remote village in the mountains, there were several animated conversations in Zulu between Granny's family and the woman who raised Dumazile. We were finally able to drive to Dumazile's home and bring her back to be reunited with her mother and her sisters.

Granny with her daughters

















The sisters...including the "white sister," as they called me!


















When we saw our first glimpse of the daughter who had been missing from Granny's family for so long, Annah looked at me with joy in her face and said: "We have found our sister." All I could think was that Dumazile looked exactly like she belonged. She looks like Granny, she looks like her sisters Betty and Annah, and she looks like her niece Champagne. Dumazile was so happy to finally know her mother and sisters, to finally know that her mother did want her and had been searching for her. It was amazing to be part of the reunion and to hear the family exclaiming what a miracle it was to find Dumazile. As we were leaving, Granny walked with me on the way to the car. She kept saying: "I am so blessed, Barbara, so blessed by God..." We all felt that way as we began the long journey home.

I've felt so blessed to be here this past year, to see and be part of the amazing things God is doing. As my time in South Africa comes to a close, I'm excited about what God has in store for the future (though those details are still getting figured out). Even so, it will be hard to leave this community and these people who've come to mean so much to me. All of the apprentices are balancing thoughts of what's next with finishing well here. It's a delicate balance, to be sure...

Prayer:
-For my roommate Carissa’s continued recovery following her third surgery on her elbow (and at the same time, immense praise for how well she’s doing and how much movement she’s regained in just the past week!)
-For wisdom and perseverance as Sarah and I finish our writing project and figure out how much to do here and how much to put off till we get back to the US
-That my time here would finish well—in bringing things to a close in ministry and in saying goodbyes to everyone
-For continued guidance as I settle the next steps leading into next year

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Please pray about...

On Friday, I will be going on a unique road trip. Doug and I will be taking Granny's family to the Durban area, to find Granny's oldest daughter, Dumazile. Dumazile was taken away from Granny when Dumazile was about 7 years old. A family member took Dumazile and gave her to another family member who didn't have kids. Granny wasn't given any information on where Dumazile was or how to find her, and so it's been over 30 years since Granny has seen her oldest daughter.

Over the past year, the family has started searching for Dumazile. They've gotten in touch with other family members who were willing to give them information on where Dumazile is now. They now have an address of where she's living and we're planning to try to find her this weekend. There are plenty of family dynamics that will make this reunion complicated, especially since Dumazile and the family who took her don't know we're coming! Please pray for safe travel as well as a successful and happy reunion. It will be quite the adventure, no doubt!

Also on Friday, my roommate Carissa is going in for another surgery on her elbow, which she injured badly back in March. She still hasn't regained much movement in her arm, so she sought a second opinion from a specialist who was highly recommended by her physical therapist. Apparently there's a ton of stuff wrong that wasn't fixed in her previous surgeries. This new doctor is going to try to fix all of the issues in one surgery, with 6-8 weeks of recovery and physical therapy to follow. Be in prayer that her surgery will go well and lead to her regaining the desired movement in her arm!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Attempt at a weekly update

I posted on the community blog yesterday, and just in case you don't keep up with us over there, I thought I'd link to it here.

This week marks the beginning of our last posture (Entrusting), which means I have only six weeks left here in South Africa. It's been pouring rain on our tin roof almost every night, and the jacaranda trees are bursting into bloom--lush greens and purples are everywhere. It's beautiful and I don't want to leave.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

So much for that weekly update thing

I've been attempting to write a monthly update for four weeks now. This is getting ridiculous. The weekend I was going to write the update, I thought to myself: "I'll wait a week, because next weekend I'll just be getting back from Mozambique and I'll have all kinds of fun stories to tell." Ha. I got back from Mozambique and our trip had been one of those unfortunate ones where almost everything went wrong. I didn't want to talk about it. I also didn't want to do anything but lie in bed because I was miserably sick with a nasty cold. (No, it wasn't malaria, but wouldn't that have been fun?) Then a few days after our return from Mozambique, eleven people descended upon Pangani for a 2-week-long Road Trip--doing ministry and catching a glimpse of what life is like here and what NCSA is about. The Road Trippers went home last Sunday, and I've been catching up ever since.

I always find it a little strange to write a monthly update in any case, because when I sit down and review the past month, I have what feels like two or three months' worth of experiences to write about. This is even more true this time around. So rather than attempt to give you a comprehensive summary (you really don't want to hear about Mozambique anyway), here are some of the things that are more prominent in my mind:

Sarah and I have been interviewing women for our writing ministry project, and doing the follow-up work of transcribing and trying to make sense of the interviews. As we've approached women about being involved, we've been encouraged and blown away by the openness and enthusiasm we've found. While we're a little overwhelmed with already-busy schedules, this is an exciting thing! This past week, I talked in more depth with Granny's family about interviewing several of them, and Emily immediately plunged into making plans for them to come to Pangani, where we can talk with fewer distractions. I'm looking forward to having them here on Wednesday this coming week--we told them to bring swimsuits and we'll make an outing of it!




















Me with Sophia, Annah's daughter


At the beginning of August, we had a team visit from InnerChange, a division of CRM that lives and works in poor communities. InnerChange has been looking at the possibility of starting a team in Soshanguve, and it was exciting to be part of their exploration in small ways as they got to know people and place—the history, struggles, and victories that are part of this township. One of our staff, Luc, wrote more about it on the community blog, and you can read that here. InnerChange will be moving forward with placing a team in Sosh early next year, and Luc and his family are going to be joining that team. We're so excited for Luc and Petunia, but I know NieuCommunities will miss them greatly!

Though the past few months have been really busy with all the groups and guests we've had at Pangani, the recent Road Trip was a really good experience. We had hosted a Road Trip group earlier in the year, and I think this time around we figured out better how to all pitch in and get involved. I had fun getting to know a couple of the RTs in more depth and had the opportunity to counsel with one of the girls on their last day here. I'm seeing more and more how much I enjoy those one-on-one mentoring kinds of relationships, and am excited to explore that further as I look at what's ahead.



























Me with Melanie G., one of our Road Trippers


Speaking of which, the question of the hour seems to be what my plans are for next year. I am very aware that the end of my time here is a short two months away! In our curriculum at the moment, we're in the middle of a three-week unit called Life Compass. It's been a great process to work through, looking back at the events and people that have made me who I am, looking at my gifts and personality, and starting the process of envisioning what all of those pieces might mean for where God is leading me in the future. I get to write a vision statement this weekend and will keep you posted. =)

I have two friends coming to visit this week--they arrive on Thursday and will get into things right away with a community weekend away to the mountains. Then they get to follow me around for a while! I'm so excited to get to show them around and introduce them to the people and places that have come to mean so much to me over the past eight months.

I will close here in the hope that my next update will be written in a more timely fashion...

Prayer:
-For the rest of the Life Compass process this coming week, and for direction beyond—for God to direct my thoughts as I look more closely at ideas and options for next year, and how they match up with what I'm learning about who I am and where He's leading me.
-For understanding in our communication as Sarah and I interview women, and diligence as we write their stories.
-For the family of Mpho, a woman Sarah and I met through a friend about a month ago. She was excited about being part of our writing project, but shortly after we first met and prayed with her about her recent illnesses, she was diagnosed with HIV. She passed away last night, leaving behind two children. Please pray for her family as they struggle with losing their daughter, sister, and mother.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Many weekly updates, all in one post!

The past weeks since I updated this blog in any substantive manner have been packed full of experiences. I'm just going to put it all out here, and you can read what you like, as I've included handy subheadings. =)

Building and Pizza


While Dayna's team was here building a house for one of Granny's neighbors, I spent many hours out in Sosh with the team and the family. I didn't do a whole lot of building, and our usual times with the family were mostly taken over by the building project, but those days were a rich time of deepening relationships and hanging out together. And getting to see Granny sing a song about pizza. Seriously, not to be missed. It includes air guitar.

A Funeral

One of these days included a lot more than a building project. Martha, a friend of Granny's family, passed away from AIDS on July 6th. The family invited me, Sarah, Doug, and Dayna's team to attend the funeral on a Wednesday morning. Visiting the cemetery for the service brought home the reality of the death toll here, as we drove past grave after grave piled with fresh dirt. At the same time, the voices lifted in song were a reminder of the hope that still lives in this place.

A New Home

Later that same afternoon, Doug, Sarah and I took a few of the family to visit a friend, Elena, who now has a new home in another block of Soshanguve. Elena has struggled to find permanent housing for herself and her two sons for a long time now. A family back in California sent money for a home for her, and Granny's family helped her to purchase a pre-made tin shack. Elena was able to put up her new house next to the home of her "uncle"--not a relative, but the brother of the woman who raised Elena. Elena was so proud to be able to welcome us into her new home and offer us cooldrink (soda).

Interviews and Writing Stories


Over the past few weeks, Sarah and I have begun to present our writing project to the various women we're working with--at Potter's House, and in Soshanguve. This past Thursday, Sarah and I had our first interview with Minnie, one of the women at Potter's House. She said over and over how honored she was that we wanted to hear about her life and write her story to share with others.

Sharing Lives


As part of sharing our lives with Granny's family and hearing their stories, we've been preparing to share life timelines with each other. Just like our Bible study plans, this hasn't always worked out with the timing we'd hoped for. This past Wednesday, Sarah and I planned to share our timelines with the women. We asked Carissa to come with us and hang out with the kids during this time, to minimize distractions. But...Emily was busy at her house with builders, and they wanted us to wait until we could all be together.

Impromptu Bible Study


Instead, Annah asked if we could study just a few verses or a chapter of the Bible together. I didn't have anything prepared, and hadn't even brought my Bible! Annah found Bibles for all of us, and we were off, reading the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4. This was similar to the previous Wednesday, when Doug asked me as we walked into Granny's if I'd like to lead the Bible study...so there I was, discussing Ruth 3-4 with Emily, Sophia, Sylvester, and Doug. Times like these make me feel like I'm on a really bumpy ride over which I have no control whatsoever. But I'm loving it.

More of the Meetings, Less of the Timelines & Bible Study

On Friday this week, we went out a little early to meet with a friend, Doris, to talk with her about our writing project to see if she'd be interested in being part of things. Her first reaction was to take us to visit her friend Mpho and present the idea to her so that she could be part of it as well. Then we went to Granny's to meet with the women and share our timelines together...except again, it was a busy Friday and that didn't happen.

But, as Sarah and I sat and had tea, a friend of the family named Queen stopped by. Annah had invited her to hear our timelines but also to hear about our writing project. We had a great conversation with her and she was really excited to hear about NC and about the InnerChange team coming next week. We invited her to come be part of things, and we're hoping that will work out. So. Friday: no timeline sharing. No Bible study. But: some great conversations with Doris and Granny and Annah and Christinah and two new friends.

Meanwhile, Back at Pangani

We're finishing up the "Contending" posture in our curriculum, and are therefore 2/3 through the year. I've had some great times with the community this past week, being prayed for in some of the stuff that God's working on with me. The InnerChange team arrives tomorrow, and we'll spend time with them sharing our experiences in Soshanguve. We'll also take part with the exploration the team will be undertaking as they look at establishing a team in Sosh in the future. It'll be an exciting though busy time...and just afterwards will be our final week off. Four of us will be heading to Mozambique to hang out on the beach for a week. And stay in huts. Can't forget the staying in huts.

This has been scattered and long. Sorry. Hmm, this is what my monthly updates usually look like. Guess that's what happens when I don't update for weeks on end...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Busy

There's been a lot going on over the past few weeks. This means there's a lot to write about, but not much time in which to write. Or rather, the time I've had in which to write has been spent doing other important things like sleeping (though not much) and reading Harry Potter. I hope to catch up this weekend, but until then I thought I'd link to a great post by my friend Elizabeth: South African Lingo for non South Africans. And, my recent post on the community blog: Moving beyond sin and blame.

That should tide you over.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Language lesson #2

My Sotho knowledge is growing.

When arriving at Granny's, this is the usual exchange, at least my understanding of it thus far:

Dumela, Gogo! (Hello, Granny)
Ahe (Hello)
Lekai? (How are you)
Kitang (I am fine)

I recently learned how to distinguish between plural and singular in greetings, making me a little more Sotho-competent. I know now that all this time I've been asking "How are all of you?" instead of "How are you?" and responding with "I am fine" when asked "How are all of you?" Maybe I'll get it right yet!

Okai? = how are you? (singular)
Lekai? = how are (all of) you?

Kitang = I am fine
Ritang = We are fine

Some more handy Sotho phrases:

Keleboha = thank you
Salampila = goodbye (when you are the one leaving--I think this translates to something like "stay well")
Samayapila = goodbye (when you are the one staying--as above, I think this one means "go well")

Phrases learned on our Banyana Banyana day:

kelapile ke lam: I am so tired
imonati: delicious
gwatonya = it's cold
gwafisa = it's warm
letsatsi lafisa: it's very hot/sunny
yisheshwa: things are happening fast (this is Zulu)

Another bonus in Zulu:
I learned last year on my Road Trip that "sawubona" means hello in Zulu. I have since learned that "sawubona" literally means "I see you." I love that. =)

Small note: I cannot vouch for my spelling of any of these words. Let me first figure out what to say when...

Midwinter

Hello from chilly South Africa! We're in the middle of winter, which means that it can get quite cold around here--and it has. Then again, there are also days like today where the highs are in the low 70s. Not so bad for winter!


Self-portrait--a warmer day by the Indian Ocean, on a weekend retreat

I was happy that we had warmer weather last Sunday for the outing Sarah and I had planned with some of the women from Granny's family. Sarah and I drove out to Sosh and picked up three of Granny's daughters, as well as three of their daughters. It was fun to see the family gathered to see them off for our big day! We went to a nearby park, had a braai (BBQ), played on the playground equipment, talked, laughed, danced...and Sarah and I learned many new phrases in Sotho and Tswana! It was a wonderful day to just enjoy being together.


Group picture on our "Banyana Banyana" (Ladies) day out

Sarah and I have been excited to see our ministry relationships with women here beginning to deepen and grow. Sarah recently started an art class for the women at Potter's House, and I'm joining her to help out every other week, in addition to my usual times out at Granny's house. While we haven't been studying the Bible so often at Granny's lately, the recent visits out there have focused more on helping families in their community. We've been preparing for a work team who arrived this week, led by a former NC apprentice (Dayna). This group is from California, and is an awesome eclectic team of people both Christian and not, all with a desire to serve and help those in need. They'll be spending their days this next week building a house for one of Granny's neighbors, Ma Ntabiseng. For the past week or so, Sarah and Doug and I have been watching and helping in the progress on Ma Ntabiseng's tin shack, as it's been torn down, moved to the back of the lot, the concrete floor broken up, and finally the foundation laid by a contractor, ready for the team to start building her new block house on Monday.

I took the opportunity to go visit at both Emily's and Granny's homes on Friday afternoon, to spend some time with them before the rush of the building starts next week. I talked quite a bit with Anna and Christinah, and mentioned that Sarah and I would like to share with them a bit more about our stories--maybe in our next Bible study time after Dayna's team finishes up. I'm looking forward to having this time to talk more deeply with the women about the ways God's worked in my life and open up the opportunity for them to share with us as well.

Looking ahead, next month we have a team coming from another division of CRM called InnerChange. InnerChange teams live and minister among poor communities, and this team will be exploring the possibilities of starting an InnerChange team here. Please be in prayer for this time--many of us will be involved with the team during their time here, in addition to our own ministries. I'm excited to see more of what InnerChange is about and to take the time to be out in Sosh more intensely during this time.

Finally, as my year here with NC flies past, I am thinking and praying more and more about what lies past November. A few weeks ago, we had a CRM staff member out here leading us through a leadership assessment test. He also met with us individually, and it was a really good time for me to look at my gifts and personality and how God might use those in the future. I think I have a better sense of how a lot of my gifts work together...but the specifics of how to use those are what I'd really like answers to. =) I know that'll come, but do be in prayer for me and the rest of the apprentices as we look ahead to where God might have us next.

Please pray:
-For the InnerChange team arriving August 6, and for our community as we join them in what they are doing in Soshanguve
-For Dayna's team as they build a house for Ma Ntabiseng this week, and for us as we host them at Pangani
-For the family (sisters, mother, and 4 children) of Martha, a woman we've been helping out in Sosh, who died of AIDS last week.
-For my ministry project with Sarah--as we share more with Granny's family, and as Sarah grows relationships with the women in her art class. Please pray for us as we start to narrow down which women's stories to tell, and as we begin to meet with them to get their stories on paper.
-For guidance in my thoughts and plans about next year

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

When the exotic becomes familiar

We've been talking a lot about "Kingdom Realities" lately, something I've written about here a little bit. In our worship time on Monday morning, we looked at a lot of the kingdom parables in Matthew, and then Arthur asked us to take a walk around Pangani, looking for pictures of or metaphors for the Kingdom of God.

As I walked along the bottom of the property, I heard a strange noise and looked up to see that it was a bird (called a Hadeda) that had landed on our neighbor's tin roof. I glanced at the bird and continued walking, then stopped as I realized how weird it was that this exotic-looking bird was now a totally normal sight to me--like seeing a sparrow at home. And that's where I found my kingdom metaphor for the morning.

The Kingdom of God is when the exotic becomes familiar. I've been thinking about how God's Kingdom is about making wrongs right--it's the way things should be, the way God intended for them to be. The reality we live in most of the time is not that way. There's injustice, death, suffering, sickness, poverty, AIDS. But as God's kingdom is realized, we contend against these things. As we participate in God's kingdom becoming a reality, we see justice, mercy, comfort, hope, relief, healing, and abundance. These things are not ordinary. All too often, they're unfamiliar. But when we truly participate in God's kingdom, these things become reality. Just like the Hadeda on our neighbor's roof...it's not exotic anymore. It's familiar, and I see it every day. If I take the time to glance upwards.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

It's not about the Bible study after all

On Friday, I headed out to Sosh with Doug, having three objectives in mind. I was planning to read and discuss the second half of the book of Ruth with the women. Doug needed to meet with Emily and Anna and a friend, Alena, to talk about some money that had been sent from America to help Alena build a house. We also wanted to take our friend Doris to meet and visit with Martha, who's very ill with HIV/AIDS. We left early, allowing time for all of the above to happen. Or so we thought...

As it turned out, Doris wasn't available until later in the afternoon, so we planned to do Bible study first off--Doug with the guys, and me with the women. But we had to track down people first. It was laundry day, and both Emily and Anna were busy with that. Anna kept sending text messages to Sophia to tell her to come home so we could read the Bible.

Doug finally did gather the guys and they started their Bible study. Meanwhile, the women all seemed busy with something else, coming in and out, taking care of other things. I grew uneasy about whether we'd have time to read together, and uncertain as to when I should get started. As we waited for Sophia to come home, I suggested that we plan the outing we've been talking about for months. And we did! The women were so excited to plan a day for all of us to just relax together--with no kids. As they put it, "Sisters and Mothers Only!"

The afternoon wore on, and I could hear the guys outside, having their Bible discussion. Meanwhile, I was sitting inside listening as Emily and Anna talked with Alena (in Sotho, of course) about the money for her house. Hearing Emily with Alena, hearing her taking leadership, trying to make sure that the situation was handled the best way for Alena and that the money was actually used for a house and not spent carelessly...it was then that I realized this was more important at that moment than studying Ruth and checking off one more objective from my agenda for the afternoon. Yes, studying the Bible is important, but on Friday, building relationships, planning time we could be together, helping others in the neighborhood--those are what God had for the afternoon, rather than reading chapters 3-4 of Ruth.

Doug and the guys finished their study and came inside, and when Doug asked how our study had gone, I was able to answer quite cheerfully that we hadn't even started. He had heard back from Doris and she was on her way home, so while we waited for her to arrive, I went outside and watched the kids dancing as the sun sank lower and lower in the sky.

At the beginning of June, we had a guy stay with us at Pangani for about a week as part of a year-long pilgrimage he's in the middle of. He's been blogging daily, reflecting on his journeys and the communities of faith he's visiting along the way. As I watched this group of neighborhood kids dance, David's post about visiting Granny's house popped into my mind. David commented that he felt like dancing at Granny's looked like heaven.

This week, we've begun reading Dallas Willard's book The Divine Conspiracy. In it, he discusses Jesus' proclamation that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand--present, here with us, a reality in which we can participate. As I watched the kids at Granny's hanging out together, dancing in the afternoon sun, laughing, and so full of life, I couldn't help but think that this isn't just like heaven...it's the kingdom of heaven. Granny's house is a place where I see God and His kingdom, here and now. And as we left Granny's at dusk and traveled to Block EE to visit Martha (without Doris after all)--Emily and Anna taking us to help bring comfort to a friend who is suffering--I saw the kingdom of heaven in action. And that's what it's really about, after all.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Well At Home

My time in Sosh on Wednesday was a little different than normal. (Although, I'm beginning to see that every trip to Sosh is "a little different.") Doug's former youth pastor and family were visiting from America this week, so they all came out to Granny's to meet the family and see the ministry Doug's been doing there. Since there were six of us headed to Sosh, in cars that seated five, I ended up driving by myself. (I had forgotten how much I love driving alone on the highway...that was fun.)

I stopped by Emily's house first to give her and various others a ride over to Granny's. We arrived at Granny's a little while before Doug and his friends, so when they walked in the door, I was sitting on the couch talking and laughing with the family. Before too long, Doug invited his friends to walk around Block KK and see a bit of Soshanguve. I was going to stay and talk, but Sophia and Anna and many of the others said "Let's go, too!" So I did. We walked around and visited several families and friends that Doug knows in the neighborhood--some of them now my friends as well. What made me laugh was that I felt such a part of the family, so at home just hanging back, talking with friends. Similarly, when we all headed over to Emily's just before sunset, to take a look at the site for the community garden, Doug was showing his friends around, and I was quite at home inside talking with Anna and Christinah and Emily.

One of the first things Emily said to me when I arrived at her house on Friday was: "Barbara, on Wednesday, you were well at home." This made me smile. I feel the same way.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Halfway

The past month and a half has flown by, and I feel as though I have hardly a free moment to dash off an update, but it's high time I did so!


Apprentices in Cape Town

My trip to Cape Town with my fellow apprentices was amazing. It was a great time of being away, relaxing together, and exploring a different part of the country. Hiking on Table Mountain, wandering on a beach with penguins, watching amazing sunsets along the Cape Peninsula and at the Cape of Good Hope were just a few highlights of the trip. Another highlight was seeing how well we traveled together and how the five of us have become such close friends. I feel so privileged to be sharing this experience with these people who I barely knew five months ago!

After returning from our week off, we had two weeks of the "inviting posture" before being joined by 6 participants from America and Ireland for a "Road Trip." It was great to have the Road Trippers around (even one staying in my room for the first week), to share with them a bit of what we do here and what God is doing in and around us. However, those two weeks were a whirlwind, and I'm still recovering! We've had quite the parade of visitors of late. As an introvert, I'm looking forward to getting away this coming weekend.

We're coming up to the end of our third posture, marking the halfway point for the year. The five apprentices will head to a small seaside town near Durban on Friday, for a reflection weekend. It'll be good to have some time and space to think back on the past posture as well as the year so far.


Dancing with Emily

Over the past few weeks, I've begun studying the Bible with the women in Granny's family out in Soshanguve, in response to an invitation by a couple of the granddaughters. I seem to always go out there with a plan that ends up being redirected as they ask to study passages they've been curious about in addition to what I've prepared! It's been so encouraging to see the ways God is working in the lives of these women as they share more of their lives with me and we seek God together.

Here at Pangani, our community is in the midst of working through a (rather lengthy) leadership assessment test, and in a couple of weeks, a staff member from CRM will be here with us to talk through it in more depth. I'm sure this time will be helpful especially for us apprentices as we start thinking more seriously about what God might have for us beyond our apprenticeship here. It seems that every other conversation I've had lately has included the question "What will you do after NC?" As I move past the halfway mark for my time here, I'll need to start confronting that question in earnest!

Some things to be in prayer for:
--Pray that this coming weekend would provide rest & time to hear from God as I reflect on all that's swirling around in my head from the intense past few weeks
--Pray for my deepening relationships with the women in Granny's family--especially Emily, Anna, and Betty (three of Granny's daughters), and Sophia, Champagne, and Winnie (three of the granddaughters)
--Pray for our community and especially the apprentices as we look at our leadership gifts in more depth
--Pray for discernment and clarity for me as I begin to seek out the next step beyond my time here

With that, I must return to completing the aforementioned lengthy leadership assessment. Yay!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Global Awareness Experience

This past Sunday night, we invited 50-some people to Pangani for what we called a "Global Awareness Experience." This event allowed attenders to have a taste (bad pun) of the ways people live and eat worldwide. Our invitations were purposefully vague--not knowing what to expect helped everyone think more about what was happening as the night played out. As people arrived, they were asked to draw a number that would determine where they sat for the meal. Each table represented a different economic class, and the number of people seated at each table represented the approximate percentage of people who live at that level worldwide.

















Table One: Three people sat here and enjoyed a three-course meal, served by a waiter. They enjoyed salad, steak, roast potatoes, and green beans, followed by chocolate mousse for dessert. Cloth napkins, a color-coordinated tablecloth, nice dishes, and candlelight completed the experience. They sat apart from the other tables and enjoyed their delicious gourmet meal as all the other tables looked on. Although some wanted to share their food with others who had less, they were told by their waiter: "This isn't that kind of restaurant."























Table Two: This table of ten enjoyed a family-style spaghetti dinner, with french bread and salad, and bottles of soda to share. They ate from regular plates with plain flatware and used paper napkins.

















Table Three: No tablecloth and no fancy dishes here...our table had a meal of rice & beans, which we ate from plastic plates. The sixteen of us had clean water to drink from our plastic cups and we each had our own bowl or plate, plus a fork.


















Table Four: Here is where the term "table" becomes negotiable. This group of 14 ate rice from a common bowl, and had dirty water to drink from a few cups (there weren't enough for everyone to have their own). Some at this table became a little bitter, and attempted to steal food from Table One. (They were reprimanded by the waiter.)























Table Five: yet again, not exactly a table. Six people gathered around this wastebasket fire and scavenged food from a trash can. Later in the evening, they began to beg food from the other tables. They actually ended up eating better than our table did, enjoying scraps of steak and potatoes leftover from Table One (these they dug out of the trash) and whole plates of spaghetti that were shared by Table Two.

Going into the evening, I was nervous about how things would play out. When I invite people to an event, I feel responsible for how things go for them--I want to make sure they have a positive experience. I'd invited several women from Soshanguve, and I let them know that this wasn't going to be a usual meal. The vagueness of the invitation made me wonder--and worry a bit--about how they would react. Admittedly, I was a little nervous that I would end up at Table Five--but I was more nervous that my guests would land there and have a bad experience.

My fellow apprentice Sarah and I picked up Emily and Winnie and brought them to Pangani, and when we arrived, everyone but Winnie drew Table Three. Winnie drew Table Five. I worried about her having to scavenge her meal from a trash can, but as it turned out, she ate better than I did and had a great time hanging out with the "homeless" people in her group!

The evening turned a lot of expectations upside down for most of us. Sitting at Table Three meant that I had a fairly filling, if plain meal. It meant that I had some food left to share with those who had less. However, Table Five didn't want our extra rice--they preferred leftover spaghetti from Table Two. I'm used to having something to offer to those less fortunate than myself, and it was strange to feel as if what I had wasn't good enough to be shared.

At the end of the meal (which wasn't really much of a meal for some), we gathered in two groups to discuss the evening and our reactions to it. The goal of the event was to get all of us to think more deeply about how things actually are in the world, where we fit within that bigger picture, and to experience a bit of what life is like in different economic classes. Ultimately, we all were asked to consider what we can and should do with the awareness we gained from the experience.

As we talked in smaller groups at the conclusion of the night, I was again struck by the overwhelming generosity of my friends from Soshanguve. Their economic level is probably closest to the Table Three group. Emily and I talked a lot about how she wishes their family had more--not so they could live like Table Two or Table One, but so that they could better help others who have less. She talked about how hard it is to not be able to help in the ways she would like. And we talked about how important it is to help in the ways we can.

What are the ways you can share what you have with others around you?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Movie Memories

This afternoon, a bunch of us went to see the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie. As the movie ended and the credits came up on the screen, the closing music suddenly brought back memories of when I watched the first Pirates movie in the theater. I started thinking back on where I've been when I've seen each of the three movies in the series. (Ok, this sounds a little cheesy, but just go with me.)

Pirates 1:
July, 2003. Denver, Colorado. I went to see it with four girls who'd become my good friends during a program in publishing at the University of Denver. I was just finishing up the program and anticipating the beginning of my career in the publishing industry. I had no idea where the next few months and years would lead. They ended up leading to a job in the Bay area, where I was for the second Pirates movie...

Pirates 2:
June, 2006. Palo Alto, California. I went to see it with my roommate Joyce and some of her friends. I was questioning career decisions in the midst of changes at work, and rethinking life direction in general. I was also in the middle of the application process for NieuCommunities, which led to me coming to South Africa for ten months, where I am now for the third Pirates movie...

Pirates 3:
May, 2007. Pretoria, South Africa. I went to see the movie today with apprentices, staff, kids, and friends--to celebrate the birthday of Kyle, one of the staff kids. I'm in the middle of this year of exploring a calling to mission, and again have no idea where the coming months and years will lead.

I've always had a thing for looking back. I'll often pull out old journals and look back at "a year ago today," to see where I was, what I was doing, what I was thinking about, what God was doing in my life. Well, a year ago at this time, I was right here in South Africa. I came here for two weeks on a "Road Trip," hoping to further explore a calling to mission and to see if this place and this organization was something God might be calling me to.

Coming full circle--on Monday, five Road Trippers will arrive here at Pangani, for a 2-week experience of their own. The next two weeks are going to be really, really busy, since we're keeping up with all our usual community and ministry activities. Sometimes we'll join in with the Road Trip activities, sometimes they'll join in with our ministries and apprenticeship learning conversations. And sometimes both will be going on simultaneously. I'm looking forward to this time--to seeing the ways God will work in the lives of the those who will be here for the Road Trip. At the same time, I'm looking back at my time here last year, thinking back on all that God did in my heart and life during that time, all the things that added up to bring me back here, to where I am now.

A common question among the apprentices in the past few weeks has been: "What do you think you'll do at the end of the year?" Pretty much universally, the answer for all of us has been: "I have no idea." Ok, we have some ideas. But none of us know for sure. That kind of unknown quantity always unsettles me. But this week, I've been surprisingly contented with, and even excited about the unknown.

I think one reason I like looking back so much is that it helps me to see glimpses of how things fit together. When I reflect on all of the pieces God has put together so far in order to bring me here, it gives me hope in the moving forward. I know that where I'll be a year from now is in His hands and that He's drawing me there even now, though I can't yet see exactly what or where "there" is.

And I wonder: will there be a fourth Pirates movie? Where will I be then?!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Inviting and Being Invited

This is the first week of our inviting posture, so one of the things we've been talking about is inviting as a way of moving deeper in relationships here. We're planning an event we're calling a "Global Awareness Experience"--it's designed to help those who attend gain a better awareness of different levels of poverty in the world. We were challenged on Tuesday morning to start inviting people to this event--people already connected with our NC community, people we work with in ministry, and others we've met in the area. I'd decided to invite some of the women from Granny's family, and was hoping to talk with them in person on Wednesday. But instead, we were challenged to do the inviting on Tuesday afternoon, mostly so we could talk about the process in our conversation on Wednesday morning. This meant I needed to do my inviting over the phone.

1. I really don't like talking on the phone, unless it's someone I know really well.
2. Making a phone call myself is even higher on the list of things I don't like to do.
3. Communicating over the phone is even harder when there's a language/accent barrier.
4. There are some aspects of this dinner/event that are better experienced than explained beforehand, so giving details was going to be complicated already.
5. Sigh.

It was late afternoon on Tuesday before I talked myself into picking up the phone and making some calls. I called Emily's cell phone, and invited her and her husband Solomon to come to the event, trying to explain what we would be doing without explaining too much. When I asked if she thought they'd be able to come, she said "I will try my best!" I asked her to talk about it with Solomon and let me know on Wednesday what they thought about coming, and she said, "I have no problems!" =)

The next afternoon, I was out at Granny's as usual, and when Emily had to leave a little early, she asked me to walk with her to the corner. She asked about the event, saying she couldn't understand me very well on the phone the day before. I explained things a little more, and she said she would like to come. On the walk back to Granny's, I invited Anna (who I'd tried to get hold of on the phone the day before, with no success). She also said she'd like to come, and we decided that she'd maybe bring her sister Christinah as well, come by taxi, and that I'd drive them home afterwards.

We ended up not doing the usual Bible study on Wednesday, since we'd gotten there later than normal. Since we were just hanging out, I had more time to talk one-on-one with several of the women that I've been getting to know. Sarah and I were talking with Sophia, one of Anna's daughters, when Sophia said to me, "I heard that you are looking for women to study the Bible with." Doug usually meets with several of the guys on Fridays to read the Bible together, and I've been talking with him about doing a Bible study or just meeting with the women in the family at the same time on Fridays. I'd also mentioned something to Emily and Anna about this earlier in the evening, saying we'd have to talk about what we could do together while Doug was off with the guys. I guess word travels fast. =) Sophia pointed to herself and said, "Me and Champagne. We want to read the Bible with you." (Champagne is another of Granny's older granddaughters.) Then a little later, Anna called me aside and said that Sophia and Champagne wanted to come to the Global Awareness event as well--would it be ok if they came, too? I told her of course!

As I left Granny's that evening, I realized that in this first week focused on inviting, I ended up being the recipient of invitations, far more than being the one doing the inviting. I'm often reticent in extending invitations, wondering whether my invitation is wanted or welcomed. I've started to see the other side of it--I know how welcomed it makes me feel when others invite me into their lives, and I want to make others feel welcomed in this way, too. God's been teaching me this in many ways, but this week especially I've seen these tentative invitations of mine be warmly accepted by Granny's family as they embrace me and invite me into their lives as well.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

I don't have a clever title

It's been a while since I've written an update, and it feels like the days are flying past. The weeks have grown more and more full, the weather is growing cooler, and it's strange to realize that I only have a little over 6 months left here. I'm realizing just how much time it takes to build relationships and to really engage in the culture here--and I feel like my time is so short!

Sarah and I have been meeting more regularly to dream and plan our writing project, and we've decided to each spend some time in the other's place of ministry, so that we can both get to know the women in each place; though we'll each invest more deeply within our own ministry location. It's been difficult for me to get to know the women at Potter's House (a women's shelter in downtown Pretoria) over the past few weeks, as the activity that we've planned to take part in has been cancelled each week! We've been able to chat with some of the women in passing, but that side of things seems to be coming slowly.

But, the past few weeks have been wonderful for me in getting more connected to the women in Soshanguve. Each Wednesday, I head out to Soshanguve with Doug and Sarah to hang out and read the Bible with Granny's family. The past two weeks, I've driven out to Sosh myself, and though the process has involved a bit of trial and error--and children pointing and shouting "makua!" (white people) as they ran after the car--I think I finally know which dirt roads to turn on in order to get to Granny's house, as well as the home of her daughter, Emily. But more important than my improving directional skills, I feel like my own friendships with many of the family members are growing--I don't feel quite so much like I'm just tagging along with Doug anymore! That's been exciting.

This week, Anna (one of Granny's daughters) asked when she and her sister Emily can come and visit me at Pangani. I was really excited to have her do that, as I've connected with her more and more the past couple of weeks. I've been looking for an opportunity to spend more time personally with the women in this family, but haven't really had that opening yet, so this invitation was really cool. I'm hoping to take this time to share a bit of my story with them, to start opening the door for them to share more with me about their lives & experiences.

Another thing that's been exciting for me during this past week has been seeing God moving among our community in so many ways. Our discussions this week have really connected with issues I've been struggling with personally as well as things we've been dealing with as a community. I feel like we're all moving closer and deeper as a community--both corporately and in individual friendships--and I'm looking forward to continuing that journey with the team as the year goes on.

A group of seven of us will spend Monday through Wednesday of this week at a conference just outside Jo'burg, and then next week will be our first week off. It's hard to believe we're already this far along in the year! The five of us apprentices will be off to Cape Town May 8-13, and I'm excited to go see the penguins. ;-) It will also be wonderful to see the coast--I've missed the ocean!

Please pray:
-For my friendships with Anna and Emily and the other women in Granny's family, that these relationships would deepen and that I will be able to begin meeting with them personally on a regular basis.
-For our community as we continue to grow closer as a team, that we might be perceptive of each others' needs and to how God is working among us.
-For our upcoming week off, that it would be a good time for the five of us to grow closer, and that it would be a great week of both relaxing and reflecting on our time here thus far.
-For me to continue to deepen both ministry and community relationships here, especially as I feel like time is growing shorter.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Day in the Life

I've had a few people ask me what a typical day here is like. I don't think there is such a thing as a typical day, really, but here goes!

Wednesday, April 11th

I wake up just in time to get ready and grab a mug of tea before our community check-in time at 8:30am. We have a couple of visitors from the CRM office in town for the next 10 days--Peter and Lori. They introduce themselves before we split off into two groups of about six each. We each share a little about what's been going on in our lives the past week, and take time to pray for each other. Usually, we would follow the check-in time with a "conversation" (our learning/discussion times together), but these times have been abbreviated this week as we're taking time to focus on a project observing culture in more depth.

After hanging my laundry on the clothesline (Wednesday is laundry day for Pangani Room 4), I settle onto the couch in the coffee house to get some writing done. I keep getting interrupted with conversations, and as much fun as talking to people is, there are some things I want to sort out in writing, so I move outside to the stoep (patio). I have a little time to write before Sarah tracks me down and we start talking about our writing project ideas. This leads to a long chat about diving into culture and ministry and relationships here. My writing is abandoned as I explore some of these issues more deeply in conversation with a friend. We are interrupted periodically when the dogs, Chippy and Jessie, come over and beg for attention. And sometimes, they drool on us. Eeew.

Sarah and I continue to talk over lunch (leftover biltong salad--go ahead; look it up!), then I drag another load of wet laundry out to the clothesline. I'm not sure where the rest of the afternoon goes--I try to get some reading done, but end up talking more with other apprentices--this is the danger of hanging out in Pangani's common areas during the day!

At 3:00, five of us head out to Soshanguve: Doug, Peter, Katie, Sarah, and me. We drop Katie off at the Home of Joy, an orphanage for AIDS-affected children. The rest of us travel to Block KK, where we stop at Emily's house. Emily is one of Granny's daughters, and we're going to give her a ride over to Granny's house. Peter asks to take a few pictures, and Doug shows him where they plan to start a community garden behind Emily's house. We take a look at the handmade pillows and shoes that the family is selling in front of the house. There are also some snacks for sale, and one of us finally asks a question I'd been wondering for a while: what are the little plastic bags of rocks for? Emily and her friend Francine explain that people snack on these. I think we all wonder briefly if this is an instance of "play a trick on the white person." Both Emily and Francine make faces when we ask if they like to eat them, but Emily insists that we have a taste. They're soft clay-ey rocks and sure enough, you can nibble little chunks off and chew on the powdery rock dust. It tastes pretty much like you’d expect a rock to taste; it's kind of like eating dirt, actually.

Sarah and I talk to Francine and eventually wander down the road to visit her home. She invites us in and pours us some cooldrink (Coke, in this case). We talk a little bit about her life, and she shows us pictures of her children and her white wedding--and her husband, from whom she is separated. She says that he looked nice on the outside, but that the inside was not so nice.

The afternoon is wearing on, but Doug encourages us to stay and visit with Francine while he and Peter walk to Granny's with one of the boys. We leave soon after they do, and drive to Granny's with Francine, Emily, and Emily's daughter Michelle. It's an interesting drive. A couple of the dirt roads are blocked by bulldozers and large piles of dirt because the city is in the middle of the slow process of putting in a sewage line. We wind our way through an alternate route, Sarah doing her best to keep the car out of the worst of the holes and bumps in the road. We arrive at Granny's just minutes before Alex shows up with Doug and Peter.

Granny and the family welcome us warmly--Anna calling me by my African name, Lerato. After we spend some time chatting, the family gets out their Bibles and Doug starts asking some questions about what they all thought and felt after watching The Passion of the Christ on Good Friday. We combine this discussion with reading and talking about the account of the crucifixion in the book of Luke. The Bible passage is read in English and then Sotho, and Doug asks questions as we read each section. We finish our time together in prayer, and have some time to talk a little bit more before we head back to Pretoria North.

Back home, I grab a quick dinner and then Sarah, Katie and I head for the lounge and watch the latest episode of Lost. (The third season just started up here about a month ago.) Afterwards, I retire to the coffeehouse--now a much quieter place, since the staff have gone home and it's just us apprentices around Pangani. It starts raining outside and Sarah and I put aside our reading for a few minutes to go outside and play in the rainstorm. But I do finally finish the next chapter of Sub-merge in preparation for Thursday’s book discussion and then call it a day and head for bed.


There you have just one day out of one of my weeks. A small slice of life here...

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Being Among

This week, it's my turn to post on the community blog. Rather than come up with two separate posts, I'm just going to direct you to this link. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Horses, sheep, flooding, dislocation, and amazing kindness

Following are fuller details on the more eventful part of our reflection weekend, if you're interested...

Sunday morning, we had breakfast together and then each did our own thing--napping, reflecting, reading, whatever. Carissa and Tyler took the opportunity to go horseback riding with Jana, the daughter of Nico and Ane (our B&B hosts). I stayed at the cottage, reading and journaling. We said we'd start packing up around 2:00pm.

Around 1:30, I decided to take a short walk over to the lake. I was almost there when Tyler caught up with me on the road. He told me that Carissa had fallen from her horse and had most likely broken her arm. Sarah and Katie had taken Carissa to the nearest hospital, about 40km away in Ermelo, and Nico had gone along with them.

Tyler and I hurried back to the cottage and started packing stuff up--somehow we were both still thinking that we'd be on the road back to Pretoria that evening. We settled in to wait for the girls and Nico to return, reading and speculating a bit about the extent of Carissa's injury and what it would mean. Her arm had been bleeding quite a bit after the fall, which made both of us worry about compound fractures and the possibility that Carissa would need surgery. The seriousness of all of it started to sink in as the afternoon wore on.

And then, our afternoon at the farm got a bit more exciting. First of all, Tyler noticed that there was water flooding the yard. Then the sheep got out, and we had a little adventure in sheepherding. The two dogs "assisted" us in this process. Except that one of the dogs got a little over-enthusiastic and attacked one of the sheep.

All of these events were punctuated by a couple of calls to Nico's cell phone as we tried to not let things become disastrous at the farm. When Tyler filled Nico in on our adventures at the farm, we were also able to hear that Carissa's arm wasn't broken after all; instead it was a dislocated elbow. This seemed like really good news--just a dislocation, right? So much less severe! Little did we know. Nico had invited us to stay an extra night at the farm at no charge, since there was no way we'd be making the 3-hour drive back to Pretoria that night. We were out of food by this time, but when Ane came home, she brought burgers over for us to grill for dinner.

Katie stayed overnight at the hospital with Carissa, and it was after dark by the time Nico and Sarah returned to the farm. This was when we finally heard the details (not for the squeamish). Carissa's elbow took the brunt of the fall. The elbow dislocated so badly that the bone went through the skin and into the ground--thus all the bleeding. They did surgery that afternoon to clean the wound, and started plans to transfer Carissa to a hospital in Pretoria the next day, since she would need to see a specialist.

In the morning, Sarah, Tyler, and I packed up and headed to the hospital in Ermelo, expecting that we would be on the road to Pretoria by mid-day at the latest. I stayed behind to keep Carissa company while the other three headed out to get some breakfast. They ran into Ane in town, and she insisted on buying breakfast for all of us. She then spent the entire day with us at the hospital, dealing with all the many, many frustrating details that had to be settled. Tyler spent the bulk of the day on the phone--back and forth with Carissa's family and NC staff back at Pangani, trying to figure out how to get the hospital bill covered so we could get on the road. And then, we had to figure out how to cover the necessary fees to be paid up front at the hospital in Pretoria. In all of these headaches, Ane and Analie (one of the staff at the hospital) were right in there with us--offering advice, cell phone usage, and cups of tea.

When we finally left the hospital, Ane bought dinner for all of us, and insisted on driving Carissa back to Pretoria in her car. The five of us had driven out in a small 1987 Toyota Corolla since our microbus was at the mechanic. Ane wouldn't hear of us driving Carissa back in such cramped conditions. So we were off, in two cars, leaving Mpumalanga finally around 5:00pm and arriving at Eugene Marais Hospital in Pretoria at about 8:00pm. Thus concluded our first reflection weekend.

The whole experience with Carissa's injury was so much more extreme than we could have anticipated. And yet, at each step along the way, we were met with kindness upon kindness. On top of all that Nico and Ane did for us, the doctor at Ermelo offered to let Katie and Carissa stay at his home if we were unable to get her back home to Pretoria until later in the week. Ane's cell phone was the main point of contact for Carissa's family and for NC staff back in Pretoria. Ane herself got into the discussions when needed, explaining what she could communicate better than any of us could. Analie, the finance person at the Ermelo hospital, did the same, not only explaining the charges to us, but offering advice on hospitals in Pretoria, and even talking with NC staff and I think Carissa's parents as well. We were taken care of and provided for in ways we didn't even know we needed, by virtual strangers. The five of us pulled together as a team, doing whatever we could to handle the experience we found ourselves in.

And now that we're back home--all of us, since Carissa came home from the hospital this morning--I feel even more strongly a deep sense of gratitude for God's presence and provision every step of the way. It's an amazing thing to see God's love in such a tangible way, demonstrated through people's genuine care for others in need. I wonder if I would ever go so far out of my way for the need of a stranger. It's a challenge to me to remember how I have been cared for, and to extend that same generous demonstration of love to those around me.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Eventful

I wrote this and emailed it out, and have delayed on posting it here because I was going to give you, my blog-reading public, the full version of Sunday's events. But I'm lazy right now and will post that later. When I get to it. I have updated some details at the end, though...

I was excited about writing an update this week, knowing it would be just after a weekend retreat spent in the countryside of Mpumalanga, a province just east of here. As it turns out, there is indeed a lot to share, both good and bad. As a result, this is a bit long-winded. Deal with it. =)

This week is the final one in our listening posture, and now comes the time to make decisions about ministry for the rest of the year. The decision process has been a bit frustrating for me, as I've felt pretty clear on where I'd be doing ministry (Soshanguve), but the details of what that would look like have been fuzzy. I've thought about getting involved with the ministry that one of the staff here--Doug--is already doing in Soshanguve. He's working closely with one family in particular, and there's a real need for women to minister to the women in this family, with discipleship & mentoring, as well as to just lend a hand in some outreach to the surrounding community. I've kicked around this idea without a real sense of why, and that's what's been bothering me. I've wanted to nail down a purpose and calling for ministry that is uniquely my own, more than just arbitrarily filling a need.

For some time, I've also been wondering about my background in writing and editing and the passion that I have for the written word. I've wondered what part that might play in my ministry here, and for the rest of my life! About a month ago, I chatted online with a friend who challenged me to keep an eye out for people here who have stories that need to be told. He emphasized the "literary expertise" I could offer to help someone write about their own experience. While I felt my "expertise" was being a little over-estimated, this conversation stuck in the back of my head.

Fast forward to this weekend. In addition to being a great time of being away, spending time with my fellow apprentices, and taking time to reflect and just be with God, over the weekend God did some really cool stuff in my ministry decisions. On Saturday, Sarah and I were hanging out, just chatting about random stuff, and we started talking about ministry decisions. Sarah mentioned some of the big dreams she's had about creative things she might do while she's here...downplaying all of them as things she'd realized wouldn't really be possible. And she said she'd had this dream of using her writing and art to help tell people's stories. As soon as she uttered that phrase, I started laughing as everything clicked together in my head. Then I had to explain why I was laughing...not at her dream, but because it was a dream God had planted in my heart as well. Suddenly, we were sharing all the different things that had brought us both to this same dream, and wondering why we hadn't had this conversation before.

That one conversation brought a lot of things into focus for me. While what I was already thinking about as far as ministry may end up looking the same--ministry to women in Soshanguve--there's now a clarity and focus to this that makes it uniquely my own, even as I work alongside other members of my community here. My vision is to work with some of the women in Granny's family, as well as begin to build some relationships with other women in the community. As I share in each of their journeys, along the way I'm hoping to help them to share their stories in a written form. I'm not sure where all of this will go, but I'm excited, and I feel very settled in what God has brought together in my mind and heart. There are still conversations I need to have as Sarah and I develop this idea, and as I figure out how to fit into the ministry Doug has in Soshanguve. Be in prayer for me and for Sarah as well as in working out the details of how this will look for both of us.

Now, the not-so-good part of the weekend. On Sunday morning, my roommate Carissa severely dislocated her elbow in a fall from a horse. We extended our weekend by an extra day since she ended up in the hospital overnight after having surgery. Our hosts at the farm where we were staying for the weekend went way above and beyond in their hospitality, and at every turn we've encountered others who have done the same in so many ways. We arrived back in Pretoria on Monday night, and got Carissa checked into a local hospital, where she had reconstructive surgery yesterday on her elbow. Carissa's doing well, but please be in prayer for her recovery and for her settling back into life at Pangani with only one good arm! Also, pray for the money considerations that need to be worked out with the hospital and the insurance company and all the really not fun details of that process.

New info: While we had hoped Carissa would be able to come home today, I am still roommate-less. She needs three more days of antibiotics via IV and will therefore be in the hospital at least until Monday. That's not fun. Continue to pray for her recovery and for patience with the longer hospital stay!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Weekend away

An actual update will be posted later, when I've been able to eat and sleep normally for at least a day. But in the meantime, here are some stand-out moments from our first apprentice reflection weekend. (I bet your St. Patrick's Day weekend wasn't nearly this eventful.)

-Finding out there's a "Lake District" in South Africa
-Grilled chicken and boerewors (sausage) eaten outside under the stars
-Killing 32 moths (inside my room) before bed
-Finding out exactly what a half bedroom is
-A big exciting visionary "God-moment" shared with a friend
-Raspberry picking
-Impromptu sheep-herding
-A flooded farmyard
-Really, really amazing hosts at the Florence Guest Farm
-A friend with a severely dislocated elbow due to a fall from a horse
-Many hours spent in two different hospitals (one in Mpumalanga and another back home in Pretoria)

In short, we're back from Mpumalanga--a bit worse for the wear, but safely home nonetheless--with many a story to tell. It was quite a weekend. More later...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Braai

A couple of people have asked me questions about the weekly braai here at Pangani. And I'm finally answering! The braai is the current form of NC's "regular God-centered inclusive-of-others ministry together." In other words, it's what we do together on a regular basis to intentionally invite others outside of NC to come along and experience & know God better.













Braai means barbecue in Afrikaans--and that's pretty much what we do. At about 3:30pm, people start arriving, and we fire up the braai. Each of the NC-ers brings a side dish to share, and there's also the amazing freshly baked braai bread. Mmmm. When the coals are ready, we braai the meat (everyone brings their own). Afrikaners really like meat. Lots of meat. We embrace this aspect of the culture here:


















As we braai and eat, there's a lot of time to hang out with each other as well as get to know the guests that have come for the week. We usually have a pretty eclectic crowd, with a random mix of Americans, white South Africans from Pretoria North, poor blacks from the townships, international students from the universities nearby, and the list goes on! Here is a (not-so-eclectic picture) of the hanging out time.












After the meal, we gather for a time of connecting with God. Our "God time" looks different each week. Last week, Luc led us as we each shared a song that helps us especially to connect with ourselves and with God. Last night, Daleen led a "lectio divina" (or spiritual reading) on Psalm 46. This part of the evening is designed to provide a way for each person to connect with God regardless of where they are spiritually--believing, seeking, or maybe even just here for the food. =) After the God time, we finish off the evening with coffee & tea, and usually dessert as well. And there you have our braai!

Right now, we're taking a closer look at the braai and how it works as our "regular God-centered inclusive-of-others ministry together." We may be changing things up a bit as the year goes on. Please be in prayer for us as we seek how best to do this ministry together and invite others into what God is doing in our midst.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Prayer...and another blog

I feel like I've very much settled into a pattern here. Our weeks consist of worship and prayer and some meals shared together, learning through book and Bible discussions and training conversations, and of course there are personal errands and chores around the house. We're each exploring different areas of ministry, and spending time hanging out as a team. I know this pattern will change as we move into the rest of the year and get involved in ministry. But right now, it's nice to have a sense of home and community, and know that will form a foundation for the rest of the year.

As to my own decision process on ministry involvement, I'm still praying and thinking along the same lines I mentioned last week. I'm feeling more and more that God is leading me towards ministry in Soshanguve, and I'm seeking a personal calling for what that might look like for me. And, I'm trying to take advantage of the three weeks remaining in our listening posture to be attentive to what God is doing and find peace in that process.

In the past week, God's been teaching me a lot about prayer, through both of the books we're reading together as a group. I'm seeing new aspects of prayer I hadn't thought about or really absorbed before. The following quote is from a book by Henri Nouwen:
"Prayer, therefore, is not introspection. It does not look inward but outward. Introspection easily can entangle us in the labyrinth of inward-looking analysis of our own ideas, feelings, and mental processes and can lead to paralyzing worries, self-absorption, and despair. Prayer is an outward, careful attentiveness to the One who invites us to an unceasing conversation." (p. 62)

For someone like me who's prone to a lot of introspection and over-thinking things, this was really helpful. Prayer isn't first of all about me--it isn't about self-analysis or even me talking to God. It's about me being attentive to what God is saying.

If you're interested in some of what we're learning together, here are the titles of the books we're working through right now:
Spiritual Direction, Henri Nouwen
Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster

I'm really enjoying reading these and talking about them with the group. If you're inclined to pick these up and read a bit, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

And, as a conclusion to this somewhat scattered update (I've been migrating from computer to computer--can you tell?), I'd like to direct you to yet another blog. (Because two of my own apparently isn't enough.) We've set up a team blog so that our friends & supporters can get to know our community as a whole, as well as catch a glimpse of life & mission here from many different perspectives. Each week, there'll be a post by a different team member. Go and check it out here!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Decisions

Even though I have another four weeks to explore areas of ministry here, this past week I've found myself in the midst of a lot of thoughts and analysis about where I feel drawn to serve. NC is really encouraging us to take time to listen to where God is leading, and I'm still in that process. This brings up a lot of questions for me as to guidance and exactly how to hear/listen to God's voice. I'm prone to analyze everything, but in this instance, I think God may be nudging me to listen to my heart as well as my head. (What a novel idea.)

Last week, I shared about spending some time in Soshanguve and my excitement about what God's been doing there. This past week, I had the opportunity to visit a couple of women's shelters in downtown Pretoria, as well as to again spend a little time out in Soshanguve.

On Wednesday, Sarah, Carissa, and I drove downtown to a women's shelter called Potter's House. We met with one of the social workers there and she showed us around the facility and introduced us to some of the women. I didn't have too much time to really connect with any of the women past mere introductions, but I did feel drawn to these women and being part of their journey.

Friday morning I was out in Soshanguve, again with Sarah and Carissa, to do an assembly at Uthando Primary School. There were about 400-500 kids and we did the assembly in a courtyard/playground outside. I read the story of the lost sheep, and Sarah and Carissa provided the accompanying actions (the kids loved baa-ing along with the story every time we said "sheep"). A first for me was presenting a story through a translator! Though the kids know some English, most speak other languages (Sotho, Zulu, Tswana, and others) at home, and learn both their home language and English at school.

On Friday afternoon, the same three of us went downtown to visit Lerato House, a shelter for teenage girls there. Apparently there was some confusion about our appointment, because no-one expected us...and they had another group coming soon after we got there. So we're setting up another time to go back next week.

As we left Lerato, even though we'd had very little time there, Sarah and Carissa were both really excited to imagine doing ministry there. Meanwhile, I was caught up in getting us back on the road home. Sarah asked me what I was thinking and feeling about Lerato, and I said something to the effect of "I'm just trying to figure out how to drive!" Which was true. But I was also wondering where my heart was, and feeling a little left out of the excitement. As I prayed about all of this later on, I realized that the excitement that Sarah and Carissa were feeling about Lerato was the same excitement I had felt last week on the way home from Soshanguve. Hmm.

I do want to spend more time at Lerato--to actually hang out with some of the girls, to get a better sense in my head about what ministry, for me, could look like there. That's something I need to think about a bit more as I consider Potter's House as well. At the same time, I'm not sure what ministry in Soshanguve would look like for me, either.

My heart has been for the townships--in large part because of some of the social justice/reconciliation issues that have been on my heart. The black people in the townships are largely ignored by the white population here, so much so that when we've gone out there, little kids in the street will often stare and point and smile and shout "Makua!" which basically means "white people!" We're a curiosity. People are so warm and welcoming and thankful just for us being here and hanging out with them. It's amazing to see just how much difference mere presence makes. At the same time, I want to be more than just present. I don't know yet what, specifically, my vision is for serving here. I know I want to work with women, either one-on-one or in smaller groups, but that's pretty vague, and I'm not sure what form that should take.

Lots to think about, lots to pray about. The not knowing is unsettling to me. It's weird to not be able to imagine what the rest of my time here will look like. I'm trying to take things as they come, to see what God brings to me and to listen to Him in that. That's not easy for a planner like me. But it's good.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ash Wednesday

A bit of a departure from the update. I think a lot of things that had been kicking around in my head are finding voice today. This is one of those.

Arthur sent our team here an email recently, just making us aware that Ash Wednesday is tomorrow, and wondering if we would want to do something for Lent, as individuals or as a community. I had intended to spend time tonight thinking and praying about what that might be for me. I've never really observed Ash Wednesday or given something up for Lent, and feel like this year would be a good time to start--to mark the season in some way. I got distracted tonight by working on some donations info and settling some accounting stuff online (ugh), but before I logged off for the night, Melissa had sent a couple links with some further information on Ash Wednesday. And I started typing. =)

While reading Psalm 51 last night, I began thinking about just how public David's sin was. His adultery with Bathsheba was something that he took desperate measures to conceal. But his sin--and his repentance--were ultimately recorded in the Bible in both narrative and poetry. What was secret and concealed became known and recorded for all who followed after. One of the things David is known for is that very public sin. I wondered how it would feel to be known, for the rest of your life and thousands of years afterwards, for such a public example of sin.

As I read this, the following stuck out to me:

"Ashes marked on the forehead of worshippers were not given to everyone, but only to the public penitents who were brought before the church. Much like Hester Prynne bearing her scarlet letter, these open and notorious sinners were marked publicly with the sign of their disgrace.

As time went on, others began to show their humility and their affection for the penitents by asking that they, too, be marked as sinners. Finally, the number of penitents grew so large that the imposition of ashes was extended to the whole congregation in services similar to those that are observed in many Christian churches on Ash Wednesday."


This reminded me that whether it's known publicly or not, we are all like David. We may try desperately to hide it, but we are all sinners. Derek Webb sings about "trading sins for others that are easier to hide"--a phrase that resonates with me all too well. As long as others don't know what I'm hiding, it's okay. Somehow it's okay that God knows--just as long as others don't. And I think that's probably what David got caught up in--a desperate attempt to keep his sin quiet. It had disastrous results. But the whole debacle, recorded in scripture, continues to remind me of my own attempts to conceal, and my own deep need for forgiveness.

"We who will bear the ashes upon our foreheads stand with those whose sins may be more public, but not, according to the Scriptures, more grievous to the heart of God. And so we make our confessions. . . . If you only knew the secrets of my heart, if you only knew the sins that I am capable of contemplating, if you only knew some of the schemes I have considered – and of course God does know – then you would know that I, too, am a sinner."


At this season leading up to Easter, I'm looking for something tangible to remind me, daily, of my need for Christ--of my need for the sacrifice of Good Friday and the victory of Easter morning. I pray that for you, too--that God would remind you of not only Ash Wednesday, but also of Easter Sunday.