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


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


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!