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)