5 05 2011

Things have been moving FAST – so fast in fact that I wanted to be sure to keep all of my blogging followers up to date with where to find me and my stories on the web.

With some sadness, I sign off of this blog (for now!) and direct you to a new blog.  My second assignment in my program is Seattle, Washington with the Church of Mary Magdalene and Mary’s Place.  To read the stories of my journey in the Pacific Northwest (back in the USA :0) go to the super easy to remember blog:

Keep watch for updates here which I am sure are to come.  South Africa will always be a part of me and I will always take the memories, experiences, and relationships from that beautiful country with me into wherever I am sent in the world.

Thanks for following me – see you in Seattle!


Four weeks…here I am stuck in the middle

30 03 2011

The good-byes really started almost 5 weeks ago, when I went to my last cell group meeting and gave my goodbyes to a group of stunning young adults who became one of my communities for the last 5 months of South Africa.

Then four weeks ago last Friday the good-byes continued.  Northfield had a farewell tea and I said good-bye to the wonderful staff that I was able to work with for 5 wonderful months.  Then I said good-bye to my friends at John Wesley Community.  And what seemed like a normal Fran and Rachel afternoon quickly ended when I said my last good-bye in Benoni to my dear friend and mentor.

Four weeks ago last Sunday I said good-bye to Mama Judy, Papa, G, Priscilla and Prince – my family that I love and miss so dearly.  I learned how to make pap one more time, we ate, we danced, we sang, we prayed, and we hugged and cried as I said one of the hardest good-byes I have ever had in my life.

And then in a flash the cleaning and sorting and packing is complete, and you’re packing up a car to go to an airport. I said a quick good-bye to the community in my building – the security that kept me safe and offered their smiles and delight every time we met.  At the airport, I said good-bye again to my “South African Parents,” John and Marie – ever more encouraging and showing their love through hugs and kisses.  Four weeks ago yesterday we were just six friends sitting in a food court at OR Tambo eating supper and wishing that time would just freeze.  Through tears, Hannah and I said our very last good-byes (hoping that they would never be good-byes for real) at the security gate to Matthew, Lucille, Edwin, and Freddy.  I remember looking through the glass with tear filled eyes waving good-bye before rushing to catch the flight before the last boarding call.  And four weeks ago yesterday I cried as the plane took off, off to another world that used to be so familiar – but a bit scared of what it would be like 16 months later, apart from all that had become familiar.

Four weeks ago today (after over 24 hours of travel with an 8 hour layover!) I arrived to two very tearful eyed and smiling parents who welcomed me into their open embraces.  2 hours later I was embraced by my loving sister and brother-in-law and started to fit right back in…or so I thought.

The following 4 weeks were filled with emotions that I cannot even begin to explain or even comprehend myself.  You never fully understand the complexities of moving between cultures until you experience it first hand.

There were times of great joy: in giving tight squeezes to family, in meeting and spending time with the other mission interns during our debriefing period together, and in the moments with friends when things seem to fall right back into place – as if no time had passed at all.

There were times of confusion: in training my brain to drive an automatic car on the right side of the road, in not knowing where to buy something so simple as face wash in a mall, and in hearing American accents and bad English as I overheard conversations in public.

And of course there were and still are times of grief: when I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve hugged so many people I WANT TO JUST HUG or see or be with for a while.

So then there’s the times when reality strikes.  I realize that this isn’t a vacation, and I’m not going back to South Africa anytime soon.  So you allow yourself to enjoy the moments you have with the ones that you love and have loved so dearly, and you thank God that you have time to be with them after being apart for so long.  I suppose you have grace with yourself in times of confusion and give yourself time to adjust.  I’ve decided that I need to allow myself to grieve, and be grateful for the time that I had in my home in Johannesburg for a little while.  In the end, I never really said good-bye.  The adventure is far from over – it’s time to look forward to a new future in Seattle.  I have no idea what the next year and a half will bring, but I’m up for the surprises and challenges.

I’m stuck somewhere in the middle of it all – and I think that’s okay.

My last blog in South Africa

26 02 2011

I sit here in our lounge amidst clothes drying on the rack, blankets stacked up to be donated, and dishes and food that has been sorted and piled high on the counters in bags to be given to friends.  It’s hard to believe this moment has come – after 16 months of living in South Africa, it is now time for me to go back to the United States.

These past couple of weeks have been most wonderful as I have tried my best of make the most of the rest of my time here.  I would love to sit and write blog posts about my experiences and about those who have touched me the most and have become part of my story in this beautiful country.

But I’m not going to – not in South Africa.  I sign off this letter to you all, my dear blog community, to write that no more posts will be written before I board the plane Monday night.  For even though there is still cleaning and packing to be done, you better believe that more memory making is going to be crammed into these two days. I plan on leaving with a bang.

See you on the other side of the Atlantic. Cheers!


21 02 2011

I kissed several people this weekend.  And it’s something that I never thought I’d get used to.

I come from a culture where I kiss my family on the cheek when I greet them.  Just my family, just on the cheek – that’s it.

So it came as a bit of a shock to me when I moved to South Africa and my Congolese co-workers greeted me with a kiss on the cheek.  But, it was something I got used to.  Before I knew it, I was greeting most of the people I knew in South Africa with a kiss on the cheek.

Then, I moved to Johannesburg, and I started working in Benoni.  And around that time people started greeting me with a kiss – smack dab on the lips.  I’m all for getting greeted with affection – but you have to understand it’s not what I’m used to.  It made me feel awkward and at times it was shocking (especially when it came from married men – in front of their wives).

As I travel, though, and experience different cultures, I’ve learned to adapt and appreciate certain situations.  It comes as no shock to me now when I greet those close to me (and even the occasional stranger, at their silent invitation) with a kiss.  I gave and received many kisses this weekend as I said some goodbyes – and I know the same will be true for this week.  In fact, I’m starting to think how the world would be if everyone could greet people with that kind of affection.

I’m not advocating for you (especially those in my culture) to start greeting everyone with big smackaroos.  But, what if we always greeted each other with love, as if we were kissing them?  What if we treated everyone as if their existence -their life- mattered?  What would happen if we treated everyone as if they were really loveable – loveable enough to kiss?  I seriously think it would change the world.

To all of my American friends – don’t be surprised if I greet you with a kiss when I see you in March…but I’ll try to restrain myself.

For the Love of Chocolate

17 02 2011

Chocolate saved my crazy day.  Tomorrow will be my last day at work, and this whole week has been quite hectic for me trying to get my last projects finished.  I set out this morning and spent two hours writing a newsletter for mission and outreach.  After having it almost finished, my mouse disappeared and my computer decided to freeze.  And of course when this happens, you still haven’t saved the work you’ve been doing.

After manually shutting down my computer by just holding in the power button and turning it back on the same way, lovely little Microsoft word shows me my “repaired document” that is still missing 3 articles I wrote before deciding to freeze again.

At this same moment, my co-worker Charl (a new volunteer in our office) walks in the door like my knight in shining armor.  He carried in his hands the ingredients for 5 minute chocolate cake – a recipe I had given him when we found out our similar love for chocolate.  After restarting my computer and gathering what I could from my poor broken newsletter, I decided the best cure for my frustration was to eat chocolate.

It really did make life seem not so terrible.  Thank you God for chocolate, and those who bring it for my enjoyment :]


10 02 2011

It was just a normal Monday – but it started at 5 am and a beautiful view just before sunrise outside our lodge.  We had a big day ahead of us, one that would stand out to me as a highlight of the trip – they say you can’t go to Malawi without seeing it, yet many Malawians have never been there.  It stands along almost the whole eastern border of this tiny country. If you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about the beautiful Lake Malawi.

The beach was pretty empty but inviting.  The waves were calm and almost reminiscent of an ocean.  The water felt fantastic, but because Sam doesn’t know how to swim, he wouldn’t go out too far with me.  I probably went about 25-30 feet out into the water, all alone.  And it became one of those moments when the world seems to pause for a little while.  Nothing else mattered.  Time did not exist in my mind, it was just me and the lake and the mountains.  The MOUNTAINS!  They could be seen all around me.  I looked to the left, they were there.  I looked to the right, they were there.  I looked in front of me, and still they were there!  It wasn’t long before I noticed my quietest voice start to sing, “How GREAT is our God.”  I started to sing for my audience of One.

Sometimes it’s difficult, however, to venture out alone into the unknown.  It is difficult when you’re not surrounded by others.  I don’t think anyone wants to experience the loneliness that going into the unknown often brings.

My reflection on this particular highlight of Malawi brought a thought to my mind last night of the new journey set before me.  I soon will be leaving a place that has become home to me, a place where I am so surrounded that I am trying to plan out what I will do with others during my every single last day here.  I will go back to the United States and be surrounded again by those who I have not seen in so long.  And then I will move.  And I will move alone.

But I think it’s in those lonely times, in those times when we take the risk to venture out into the middle of the lake all by ourselves, that we are able to come closer to God.  The distraction of others is no longer there to keep us from seeing the beauty of Christ in the world around us.  And in those intimate times with God, we realize that loneliness doesn’t have to exist – because the God who created the universe is the same God that wants to experience life WITH us every day.  How GREAT is OUR God.

My Heart Breaks Part 2

3 02 2011

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked.  ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.  Jesus wept.  Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ – John 11:33-36

I went back to the relocation site this week.  A few representatives from churches and organizations in the area wanted to talk with the community organizer, Beno, about what they could do for the families that were relocated.  And if I wasn’t moved enough from the sights I had seen the week before, hearing more statistics shook me beyond words.

Let me give you a little geography first to understand.  Gauteng is the province of South Africa that I live in.  Gauteng has three major regions or cities: Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Ekurhuleni.  Chief Albert Luthuli Park is where the relocation site is located and it is part of Ekurhuleni.   Althogether, Ekurhuleni holds 111 squatter camps similar to this one.  That’s just in Ekurhuleni alone.  ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN!  This particular camp has about 3,000 homes, and it’s not the biggest one.  By law, the government will provide for the needs of this community for three months. THREE MONTHS.  And then after that? They are relocated again, or forced to find other means of housing after taxi stops and clinics are taken away.  How does somebody live like this?  Hundreds of thousands do.

Fran and I started talking about it yesterday while we drove past this Chief Luthuli Park.  I kept on saying these statistics from our meeting with Benno, explaining how absolutely unacceptable I felt it all was, and asking where the hope was in any of it.  I was angry.  Fran’s response was a gift.  She explained how I mustn’t stop being angry.  I mustn’t stop crying.  It is in our anger and in our crying that we are motivated to move.

In the piece of scripture I shared above, Jesus has traveled to see Mary and Martha after hearing that their brother Lazarus was dying.  Jesus is so moved by the grief that everyone showed in this man’s death that he also wept for Lazarus.  Jesus was weeping out of compassion and love for his people.  And this weeping moved him to do more – it moved him to raise Lazarus from the dead.

I’ve heard some people say that they do not want to go and visit places where poverty exists.  Many are fearful, and others think that they will be too sorrowful to do any good.  But, it is in our crying, in this true act of compassion that we realize our humanity.  We realize that we are not and cannot become numb to it all.  And in all of that, we see the work that God has called us to do.  God uses our sorrow to push us to do more.

As always, I invite your responses and thoughts to my reflections.  Some of you may disagree with me, and that’s okay.  I hope for at least some of you that this may encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and find what God is calling you to do right where you are.