Monday, February 26, 2007


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.

Language lesson

A variety of hellos:

Hallo (Afrikaans)
Dumela (Sotho & Tswana)
Sawubona (Zulu)

Other words and phrases I have absorbed:

Ack praat nie Afrikaans nie = I don't speak Afrikaans (Afrikaans, what else? And I'm pretty sure that most of that is spelled wrong.)

Lerato = Love (Sotho, I think)
Tando = Love (Zulu)

On Sunday, a few of us visited a church called "Reverb" in Hatfield--it's sort of the university area of downtown Pretoria. I was looking forward specifically to worshipping with other believers--worship in song is one of the things I've been missing about PBC lately. However, this service ended up being a lot different. We were asked to head out to the surrounding area in pairs, find someone to talk with & hear their story. Each pair was given R50 (about $7) and the idea was for us to find someone in need and help them out in whatever way we could. I headed out with Sarah, admittedly a little reluctant to engage in the project. It was cool to see God change that reluctance as we engaged people in conversation.

We ended up walking around the flea market and stopped at a booth to talk with the vendors who were selling some handcrafts--carving, beadwork, etc. Sarah spotted some small square paintings and asked about them--sure enough, one of the two guys at the booth had painted them. Sarah's an artist herself, so that gave us a really cool entry point for conversation. We spent maybe half an hour chatting with these two guys. They were brothers who had come to South Africa from Kenya, looking for better opportunities economically--"greener pastures," as one of them put it. During our conversation, the more talkative of the brothers asked what languages we wanted to learn while we're here. I'm still trying to keep straight all the names of all the languages we've encountered! I asked him how many languages he speaks. Six. Six languages! Here I am with English, some very meagre Spanish, and a phrase or two in Italian. I'm not even going to count the small bit of language I shared above.

Soon after I arrived in SA, someone mentioned how it's ridiculous that white people here often think black people aren't intelligent...when most black people here speak at least three or four languages. Capability in six languages, in America, would be considered pretty amazing. I was thinking about this last night, how such facility with languages isn't valued here like it is in a lot of other cultures. And then I wondered if perhaps it's just that facility with black languages isn't valued.

I'm still thinking about all of this and wondering what these observations will mean for my time here. I know the amount of language I can absorb while I'm here will be very small. At the same time, I want to try to learn at least enough to be able to greet people in their own languages--and not just assume everyone speaks some English (though that's usually the case). I don't want to conform to the "stupid American" stereotype...the tourist who expects everyone to speak his own language. =) I think that for me, part of engaging the culture here--something I can do to outwardly demonstrate that the culture I'm living in is important to learn about--will be an attempt to learn and use what language I can. (This will perhaps also help me in remembering African names...something I'm finding to be more difficult than I'd anticipated!) Stay tuned for my continued language efforts. =)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

One month

It's hard to believe that I'm already a month into my time here in South Africa! It's been such a blessing to be here, to learn from God and from the community here, and to begin seeking out where God would have me serve during the months ahead.

As I'm exploring different areas of ministry, I wanted to share about a really awesome experience I had last week. When I was here in May, I really felt drawn to ministry in the townships, and I've wanted to explore that further now that I'm here for the year. So last Wednesday, I went out to a nearby township with one of the other apprentices, Sarah, and one of the staff guys, Doug. We visited a family that Doug's been really involved with over the past couple years. A couple of the women in this family are (or have been) sangomas, or traditional healers. Ancestor worship is a big part of what sangomas do, but most people in South Africa who rely on traditional healers also practice Christianity. Often sangomas are accepted as just as high of an authority in spiritual things as the church.

Doug's had the opportunity to share a lot with this family about following Jesus, and at one point last year, one of these women told him she wanted to give up being a sangoma and only follow Jesus. The family has now asked him to lead a Bible study for them, and we got to take part in that last week. It was so exciting to see the family and some friends and neighbors all interested and asking questions and responding to the Bible story we read. One of the girls (Sophia) invited me to come and visit again soon--she wants to teach me to cook some traditional dishes, as well as go shopping for eye makeup. =)

I'm not sure where all of this will lead, but I'm looking forward to hanging out and talking more with Sophia and seeing where the next few weeks take me in ministry involvement. There are some opportunities with a couple of ministries to women and teenage girls in downtown Pretoria that I will be taking a look at this week. What I want to be part of here is building deeper relationships that make a difference--whether that's studying the Bible and mentoring girls in Soshanguve, or volunteering with women's shelters in downtown Pretoria, or something else entirely! Please be in prayer with me in the coming weeks that God would continue to show me where he is working and how I can best be part of that during this year.

Prayer requests:
-Pray that I would be attentive to where God is leading in the next few weeks, as I explore opportunities for ministry
-Pray that I would be fearless in diving into relationships here, getting to know people in deeper and more meaningful ways as God places them in my life
-Continue to pray for our team as we live and learn together--pray for deep friendships to develop as we move out of the "getting to know you" stage

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Out of orientation and onward!

My third week in South Africa has concluded, and with it, our orientation time. Friday afternoon/evening and Saturday morning were spent in a time of reflection, solitude, and prayer--to look back on the past three weeks as well as to the year ahead. We celebrated with a Mexican Fiesta last night (organized by the apprentices), and had a time of commissioning at tonight's braai.

I'm excited to jump into our first six-week "learning posture" tomorrow--the year will be made up of six of these. Our first posture is "Listening," during which we'll focus on listening to God, ourselves, and the culture around us. On the ministry side of things, these next six weeks will be spent exploring different opportunities for ministry and seeking out where we might serve for the remainder of our time here. Though I'm a bit impatient to jump into ministry, I'm looking forward to seeing where the next six weeks take me.

In other news, over the past week I've plunged more deeply into culture here by driving a lot. I was very proud of my solo grocery-shopping trip on Thursday, during which I had no problems driving on the correct side of the road. Until yesterday, when Sarah had to stop me--twice--from turning onto the wrong side of the road. Sigh. Interesting fact, to counterbalance my not-so-talented driving: in South Africa, a traffic light is called a robot. No one seems to be sure why. But there you go. That's all for this week. Stay tuned. =)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

I lied.

It's raining and thundering outside. I think I'd better pack this in and go to bed.

Week #2 concludes

You’ll be happy to know that it's not rainy today, so I’m anticipating that I’ll be able to write an update without incident. (I can feel your excitement.)

This past week, I’ve started to feel a little more settled--I think I’m moving from feeling like a visitor (as on the two weeks I was here in May) to being more at home here. The upcoming week will be our last week of orientation, and our schedule will more closely resemble what our usual schedule will look like during the year. It’ll be nice to have a little more room in the day for things like...breathing. =)

This past week has been full of a lot of team building-type stuff, as well as many discussions on culture, culture shock, and worldview, as we start to anticipate engaging more fully with the culture here in South Africa. Though we've done a few service projects, we've had a lot of team interaction as well. It's been a challenge for me as I’ve started observing more closely how I interact with others in a team setting. I always hated group projects. =) This will be a year of living together in close community, and it’s been both difficult and rewarding for me thus far as I start to see in deeper ways what living out the whole “body of Christ” thing can look like.

I'm not going to give a play-by-play of the week--hopefully the daily photos will give you some idea of the past week--but I will say that I drove here for the first time on Friday. Yes, on the other side of the road and the other side of the car. Go me.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Week #1

Note to self:
When writing weekly updates, it is best to avoid doing so during a thunderstorm, as inevitably, lightning will strike (literally) and not only knock out the power, but also short out your power cord, preventing you from posting said weekly update. An additional side effect of said thunderstorm and lightning strike may be that the Pangani modem and/or router will fail, and then prevent further access to the Internet for the remainder of the weekend.

(There's my excuse for this being late.)

It's Sunday, and I'm at the conclusion of my first full week in Pretoria. This past week has been a great time of getting to know the team as well as absorbing some local culture and getting the lay of the land, so to speak.

Our mornings usually start off with a communion time. This doesn’t always mean literal bread-and-juice communion, but rather a time for communion with God through worship in different forms. We’ve had many team discussions, exploring aspects of culture here, some bits of philosophy of mission, and just generally orienting ourselves here in Pretoria.

We’ve also ventured out from Pangani quite a bit, with trips to the Voortrekker Monument and Pretoria Community Ministries’ sites (all kinds of urban ministry from an AIDS hospice to a homeless center), and a picnic at the Union Buildings. And, the five of us apprentices were set loose on Pretoria North one afternoon for a scavenger hunt. They made us drive and navigate our way around Pretoria North on our own...aaaa! To be truthful, I haven’t driven yet. Two others of our team volunteered...and so I was off the hook. I suppose my day will come soon enough. (Further note: I drove this week. Woo!)

Another big component of my time here so far has been made up of just getting to know the team here--both staff and fellow apprentices. By way of introduction: Carissa, my roommate, is 23 and is from Illinois. Sarah’s 27 and hails from Oregon (she’s my fellow non-morning person). Tyler, the lone male apprentice, turned 23 on Friday, and he’s from Texas. And Katie (I met her on last year’s road trip) is 27 and also from California. Our staff coaches are Arthur & Melissa (from Fresno, CA), Luc (from the Congo), Doug (from Michigan), and Bryan & Daleen (from Visalia, CA, and Pretoria, SA, respectively). (Bryan’s actually on sabbatical for the next few months, but he’s still joining us for the fun stuff!)

The week concluded with a day of hanging out at Sun City, a resort-type location that’s a 1 ½ hour drive from Pretoria. I had a great time relaxing and spending time with the group, though hanging out on a fake beach at the edge of a chlorine pseudo-ocean still seems a bit odd to me. =) Today we visited a local Methodist church and witnessed a nice big rainstorm (alluded to above), just before our evening braai (smaller this week and indoors because of the wetness outside!). Perhaps next weekend my online time will not be curbed by the interference of lightning and power outages.

Thank you to those who are praying and emailing and keeping me in your thoughts. I miss home and friends and it’s good to hear from you all!