Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Remembering Beauty

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

Celebrating Christmas with Granny's family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 30, 2010

One joy expected, another given

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

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

My friend Sally, swimming in Thailand

Monday, August 16, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 09, 2010


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

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

Since I've Been Gone

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Catching up

It's hard to believe the World Cup is nearly over... which means my time in South Africa is nearly over as well. Here are some pictures of what I've been up to over the past few weeks.

World Cup Opening Match
I went with some friends to a public viewing area at Giants Stadium in Soshanguve to take in the Opening Ceremonies and the opening game against Mexico.

It was amazing to be in the midst of tens of thousands of loyal fans to watch the first goal of the Cup scored by Bafana Bafana... even though the game ended up being a draw.

Paraguay vs. New Zealand
Sarah and I got tickets for one of the World Cup group matches and took several of our friends from Soshanguve on a road trip to see Paraguay play against New Zealand. It was a no-scoring draw, sadly, but we still had a blast watching World Cup soccer live and in person!

Me, Pretty, Lucky, Emily, Alex and Solomon

Kids' Photo Class Field Trip
Sarah took her photography class kids on a field trip to Joburg, to visit the Market Photo Workshop and the Joburg Art Gallery. She needed another driver, so I got to tag along for the day!

Sarah and me with the moms who came along for the day, and Sarah's translator for her photo class (also big sister to one of the kids). We took this picture with all the adults, and realized it doubles as a picture of our women's prayer/Bible study group. :)

Goodbye at Granny's
On Sunday, I had to say goodbye to many good friends in Soshanguve. Sarah and I had a goodbye party at Granny's home with the family as well as some other friends from Sosh. It was a great time of being together, sharing gifts and memories, and letting the family know how much they have meant to me during the past 3 1/2 years. I will miss all of them so much!

Me and Precious, Emily's middle daughter. Since I first met her in February 2007, Precious has been the little girl who singles me out whenever I'm in Sosh--to play ball, to dance, to do my hair. I'll really miss her.
Sarah and me with the women of Granny's family: Granny, her daughters, and granddaughters (and a great-grandson)

In between the above, I've been finishing up my weekly prayer & Bible study with women in Soshanguve and Art of Soul every couple weeks (we had a goodbye Monday night but I forgot to take pictures)... and now I'm in the midst of taking care of final details, thank you notes & goodbye gifts, and the packing will happen all too soon. I'm gonna miss this place.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

World Cup Geography

A friend forwarded this picture to me today, with the subject line: "Don't be surprised if no Americans make it to the World Cup..."

Monday, May 31, 2010

Learning instead of consuming

The following passage, quoted in Gordon T. Smith's Courage & Calling, stuck out to me during a day of reading yesterday:

"Learning is perhaps the only pleasure that might replace increasing consumption as our chosen mode of enriching experience. Someday, the joy of recognizing a pattern in a leaf or the geological strata in a cliff face might replace the satisfactions of new carpeting or more horsepower in an engine, and the chance to learn in the workplace might seem more valuable than increased purchasing power or a move up the organizational chart."

Smith goes on to comment:
"But this will only come about, as Bateson implies, when we come to see knowledge as a source of delight rather than as a means of power. We enjoy learning because we enjoy discovery, the expansion of heart and mind, and growth in wisdom, not merely because it is a means by which we can accomplish something."

There's something revolutionary about the idea of replacing consumption with learning. We spend so much time acquiring stuff, much of it entertainment--pursued not for knowledge and discovery, but for mindless filling of time.

I fall into consumption even while ostensibly pursuing learning--way more often than I'd like to admit. I miss the nourishment of discovery when I binge instead of taking time to savor, to absorb and reflect on the stories I take in. How different would it be to pursue learning, "expansion of heart and mind, and growth in wisdom" instead of escape? I wish I could say I always read this way. Sometimes, but not enough.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Exploring Kruger

Last week I went on a short trip to Kruger National Park, for a couple days of game drives--exploring the park and looking for animals. The nature of a game drive, which I always forget until I'm in the middle of one, is that there are long periods of time where you see nothing at all. You drive and look, and drive some more, you pass cars and ask other drivers if there are sightings ahead, and every so often you stumble upon something really cool. More often you stumble upon yet another group of impala. You start to get tired of the impala, while at the beginning of the drive they were beautiful and picture-worthy.

My game drives in Kruger were a lot like others I've been on. Lots of down time, in which I saw nothing but antelope. At the close of the first day, I was a little frustrated. It felt like someone had let all the interesting animals out of the Kruger Park. I felt like I was spending a lot of time looking for something that wasn't materializing--a perhaps too-apt metaphor for the current vocational exploration I'm in right now.

Mid-way through Day 2, my last day in the park, I found myself appreciating the little things. Things I wouldn't have appreciated or even noticed had I come across a pack of wild dogs or a pride of lions stalking a kill. Things like watching male impala challenge and charge and chase each other. The saddle-billed stork with an enormous wingspan that swooped right over my car and landed in a shallow riverbed just metres away. The gnarled bare trees scattered throughout the park, outlined against a brilliant blue sky. The Southern ground hornbill that casually circled my car before ambling off into the bush. With his beak open as if he was about to speak, he reminded me of Mortimer the Raven from a favorite childhood book (except the hornbill was 3 times the size of any raven I've ever seen). The magnificent male waterbuck on the opposite shore of a watering hole, who paused as he walked past, horns silhouetted perfectly against the sky, as if he were just waiting for me to take his picture before he moved on.

Of course, the lesson I reluctantly admitted to myself is not to overlook the small beauties and discoveries of the journey, while looking for the big impressive end goal. That perhaps the end goal you're looking for isn't really the goal after all. Looking back, you realize you've seen far more than you thought you did at the time. And that the long hours of exploring were indeed worthwhile--and probably more important than the leopards and rhinos you never saw.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I've been going through lots of boxes, clearing stuff away in preparation for leaving South Africa in a few months. And yesterday I discovered that I've kept nearly every card, letter, or postcard sent to me here over the past couple years. It was so much fun to look through these and be reminded of how many people "back home" are praying for and encouraging me from afar. So thank you to everyone who's sent something to me via "real" mail!

Represented heavily in this picture are the Palmers, who regularly have their Sunday school class and Awana group draw pictures and write cards for me, and of course my best friend Heather, who (when she's not pregnant and forgetful) sends me scads of hilarious postcards. Another favorite pictured in this pile is a card I received just before coming here in 2008, from Kirsten Graham--age 9 at the time, if my math isn't off. The P.S. to her message says: "There is a scary frog on your desk!" This is a reference to something I had on my desk in the church office, which she used to comment on frequently, saying he looked mad. It was a turtle, but still. I can't believe she remembered (I haven't worked there since 2003) and I love that she commented on it in the card. :)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Kids with Cameras

My good friend Sarah Woolley has been teaching an 8-week photography class for kids in Soshanguve for the past couple months. She's using her talent for photography to teach these kids to look a little differently at their world, and to capture it on film.

Most of these kids are daughters and sons of my good friends in Soshanguve. Over the past three years, I've played hide and seek with them, sat with them on my lap, let them do my hair, celebrated their birthdays, and they've pulled me out into African dance circles several times (usually against my will, but who can say no when Precious tells you to dance?!). A couple of them frequently ask to borrow my camera when I'm out in Sosh, and I get home to find all kinds of pictures of their friends and their neighborhood.

It's been exciting to see these kids have the opportunity to learn more about photography and get their own disposable cameras to experiment with. I love seeing the kids' excitement--most times I've gone out to Sosh in the past months, I've seen these kids using their fingers to frame potential shots.

Sarah wrote a post about the project here, and I encourage you to check it out! She gives a short bio on each kid, so you can get to know them a little bit. I would so appreciate your prayers and support as Sarah finishes up this class and the kids have the opportunity to display their work at an art show in Soshanguve.

If you'd like to make a donation of any amount toward this project, you can click here. This link will take you directly to the support section of CRM's website, where you can make a donation to the "Kids with Cameras" project.

Your financial support goes toward supplies for the class, including:
  • Disposable cameras for practice and assignments
  • Film developing: prints and digital copies on CD
  • Snacks for each class
  • Journals, pens, posterboard, and other supplies
The cost for the class in Soshanguve breaks down to $100 per child. If you'd like to make a $100 donation to sponsor a specific child, please email Sarah by clicking here to let her know which child you’d like to sponsor. Again, to make the donation, click here. Donations are tax-deductible and work just like any other CRM donation. Thank you!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Let Glasgow Flourish

I came across the motto "Let Glasgow Flourish" as I walked into Glasgow's Botanic Gardens on Wednesday. I took the above picture, because I liked the image of the city flourishing like a garden... especially seeing the words as I walked into a garden.

Then yesterday I encountered the phrase again at the Kelvingrove Museum, and asked about it. It's the motto of Glasgow, and it used to continue with the words " the preaching of Thy Word and the praising of Thy Name." The words are attributed to St. Mungo, patron saint and founder of the city of Glasgow. This city has a rich spiritual foundation, one that has largely been set aside.

The image of Glasgow flourishing like a garden has stayed with me. It reminded me of Isaiah 58:11-12, and as I looked up the passage this afternoon, I realized the context. The following verses describe promises God gives to Israel if they will practice true fasting, genuine worship, and pursue justice for the poor and oppressed.

The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

These words describe the restoration of a city, a city again flourishing because of God's blessing, and because of His people's commitment to true worship and justice. Today, these words are on my heart for this city I've been visiting.

Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of Thy Word and the praising of Thy Name.

Glasgow in Spring

I've been in Glasgow this week, meeting a bunch of people and exploring possibilities for ministry here. It's been a fantastic trip so far. And spring is here. New growth just beginning...

Crocuses (croci?) in the Botanic Gardens

...and the sun came out!

Some daffodils for my mother

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I need poetry in my life

I regularly follow The Writer's Almanac. Partly because I'm the nerdy sort who likes reading small bits of info and stories about writers, books, etc. But also because I need poetry in my life. Poems help me slow down and read carefully. They make me pay attention and look more closely. And often, poetry says something my soul needs to hear. This was today's poem:

Thomas R. Smith

It's like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes.
So you take your car to the new mechanic.
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.

The package left with the disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—
all show up at their intended destinations.

The theft that could have happened doesn't.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even
when frozen, arrives at the right place.

And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can't read the address.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Introducing Lesedi

My friend Doris is the mother of two boys, and really wanted to have a little girl one day. Last year, she became pregnant with her third child. Doris is HIV-positive, and so her friends were very concerned about her health as well as the health of her baby. We've been praying steadily for Doris, and she gave birth to a healthy baby girl in early December 2009. Both Doris and baby Lesedi are doing well, and I finally got to meet Lesedi this week. Her name means "Light." She's beautiful.

Doris and me

Me holding Lesedi, who looks extremely startled in this picture

Melinda holding a sleeping Lesedi, with Doris and me

Group photo! Sarah, me, Lesedi, Doris, and Gopolang (Doris' younger son)

With the Girls at Emily's

I've had a lot of fun the past couple of weeks hosting my good friend Melinda, who came to visit from California. Melinda and I were roommates the semester I studied in Italy, and are seasoned travel buddies... we added a few journeys to our repertoire, having previously only traveled together in Europe. It was great to introduce an old friend to my home and friends here in South Africa. Here are a few pictures from an afternoon we spent hanging out in Sosh with Emily and her daughters.

Me, Melinda, and Sarah with Emily and her girls: Precious, Lungile, and Pretty

Games with Lungile: "One day I go to Congo, to see the people of Congo..."

Melinda making faces with Lungile

Mel and the girls: Precious, Lungile, and Pretty, and their cousin Nthabiseng in the background

Saturday, February 27, 2010

What I've been up to lately...

It's been too long. I'm in the process of writing an email update, since I've been out of touch for several months! In the meantime, here is a handful of pictures illustrating the variety of places and climates I've been traveling through lately...

"Winter" in Southern California. Me with my sister and her kids just before I left for the airport.

Next stop: winter in Karlsruhe, Germany. I spent a little over 2 weeks in Germany, visiting a friend and exploring some ministry opportunities there.

Me with a frozen lake and the Karlsruhe Palace in the background

From freezing temperatures in Germany to summer in South Africa, here I am hanging out with Granny's family in Soshanguve. Lungile, while braiding my hair, told me that my hair is too soft.

My friend Melinda came to visit just a few days after I got back to South Africa, and we went on a short trip to Cape Town. Here we are at the Cape Point lighthouse, getting pelted in the face with rain as gale force winds threaten to blow us off the edge of the African continent.

A slightly more peaceful weather day on our Cape Town trip: here I am at a lookout point near Chapman's Peak.

I'm back in Pretoria now, getting some much-needed rest and planning the next "vision trip" to explore ministry in the UK. I've got a couple more weeks before I head out again...