Sunday, September 25, 2011


Here's the transcript of the sermon I gave at church this morning. Enjoy! =)

Good morning!

I have a confession to make everyone. I hope you will forgive the vocal nature of this- I know us Lutherans are all about silent confession- or confession in community you know, that whole part about “WE confess that WE are in bondage to sin?” Yes- well, I am here to confess that I am a missionary. Ugh. The word just makes you cringe doesn’t it?? MISSIONARY. Just think about what comes to mind for a second… MISSIONARY. Ugh. If you’re like most people in the world today, your image is probably close to what mine was before I spent a year in South Africa as a missionary. Maybe you think of colonialism… westernization… white people passing out bibles to darker people. And seeking to change their culture to make them more “civilized”. Well, I have reeeeally good news if this is what comes to mind when you think of missionaries. I am a missionary and I am totally disgusted by those types of images that come to our minds.

With all these things that come to mind, missionaries have the power. They are not coming to people to learn, to be changed, or to participate in cultural practices of local people. They are there with an agenda… to change people and spread a message! But it doesn’t have to be that way!!! We are missionaries to the world- not to change people but to accompany them.

Okay, I’ve definitely gotten ahead of myself.

WE are missionaries? Did I say that? YES! When I think of what a missionary is, I think of THIS! What I see right now when I look at a congregation of people who have assembled together in community and are interested in hearing more about message of peace, love and hope that God envisions for our world. I think of people like you- working in the community, loving your neighbors, being there for people who need your helping hands or your shoulder to cry on. I think of you when I think of missionaries…

And what else did I say there?? I said that WE are missionaries in the world- not to change people but to accompany them. What does that mean? The ELCA’s Global mission program is based around an idea of accompaniment. Meaning that they send people to other countries not to change other cultures but to build relationships in which partners walk together- sharing the way God is working in their lives. Missionaries of the ELCA are sent abroad to provide a ministry of presence. Especially in the Young Adults in Global Mission program which I was a participant in, we were not selected for our skills, expertise or intelligence. We were placed in communities to allow ourselves to be shaped and molded by the community and culture. I got to be friends with the people at my site. I learned about their families, met their children and learned the value of just being present with someone during hard times. Sometimes all someone needs is someone to listen to them. So, did I change anyone? I’m not sure. But I do know that I had some wonderful conversations while stapling papers, making copies, helping kids with their homework or having meals in people’s homes. In these ways, they changed me.

When I went to South Africa, I went to build relationships. Not to bring a message, change people, or DO anything. I just had to be myself and that made a huge impact on people. I had no idea how easy it would be… while being so hard. I learned people’s stories… I listened to them, talked with them and got to know their families, I became part of a community of people who cared about me and I learned to love them. But it took time and patience. Of course, part of me hoped I’d be busy helping people- making a difference and DOing a lot. But I quickly learned that community came first . People were more interesting in who was than what I could do for them. People wanted to talk to me more than they wanted to know what my educational background was or how smart I was.

Shortly after my arrival in my community just east of Johannesburg, I came to find that I wasn’t thinking of South Africans as “them” or “they” or others. South Africans became my friends, my family, my community. When I was missing home or struggling I went to my South African friends. I spent evenings and weekends with the people I became close to. They taught me so much about myself, my faith and the world. They made me think about the world differently.

Let me try to explain what I mean about seeing the world differently--- I am learning to drive a stick shift right now. I recently bought a car that I got for a pretty good price… but the catch was, I had no idea how to drive a manual transmission and so, I had to learn. It has changed the way I drive. Not only am I more attentive to what I’m doing, but I’m also more patient when the light turns green and the car in front of me doesn’t move… maybe they stalled out!! Like I still do on a regular basis! I know how it feels now. As I was driving around town the other day, I realized that my metamorphosis in driving is like what happened to me in South Africa. Learning about other people requires us to be uncomfortable and living out what others go through. It requires us to make ourselves vulnerable to others. We must know what it feels like to be stalled out in the middle of a busy intersection and we must learn to help others when they find themselves in that situation.

For my South Africa experience, it was mostly about race. I have never in my life been a racial minority. Living for a year in a country with tense race relations and as a member of the minority has changed the way I view race in this country and in our world. They say you can’t understand a person until you walk a mile in their shoes. I say, a mile is not nearly long enough. We may never get the opportunity to live the life that many struggling people in our world live. But we must try to understand. We must remember a time when we were stalled out in an intersection, hopeless and praying for the forgiveness of the people around us. We have to remember what it felt like to have someone welcome us when we were the outsider. When we see people at their most vulnerable, we must know that they need us and our support most at that moment.

Among many other lessons that I learned in South Africa, I learned the importance of relationships and community over all other things- including time. Here in the States, it’s so easy to let our schedules rule us… we want to stay busy and plan ahead. By sticking to our schedules, we sometimes miss out on opportunities to build relationships with people and reach out to them when they may be struggling. We in the church are really good at having meetings and planning events… but do we take the time after meetings to get to know the people we are working with? Do we understand the people we are raising money for? Have we taken the time to hear the stories of the people we are helping? Sometimes, I believe we get caught up in our schedules and forget the value of human connection. We are sometimes DOing too much- and we’re really good at DOing great things for people in need! But we also need to remember the value of being with people- being present with them. It’s not just Pastor’s job to visit and talk with people who are struggling, but it is what we should all be striving to do as missionaries.

When I think of missionaries, I think of you. But I also think of people who may have never set foot in church but have a vision for a world full of peace, justice, love and acceptance. I think of those on a mission of love. A mission to make our very confused world understand that there is a better way for humanity to live in harmony together. We gather here in church to share good news with each other. News that there is more to life than the daily struggle. We have come to share our stories with each other and celebrate how God is working in our lives. We should leave this place ready to begin seeing people for who they are… and what they are- Children of God and members of humanity.

In Zulu, you say Hello with the word “Sawubona”. Literally translated it means, “I see you”. I see you for who you are- I recognize you as a person, a member of my community, worthy of my time and my presence. We should see everyone we meet this way. We are missionaries. We are called to walk with people in their struggles and in their joys. We are called to remember what it feels like to be stalled out in an intersection, totally hopeless and praying for someone to have mercy on us. We are called to see people. Sawubona.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The challenges of home

I have been home for a little over 6 weeks... perhaps it's time for an update. =)

Let's Tarantino this entry and I'll start by telling you what has been so shocking about being home (i.e. what has inspired this entry to be written RIGHT NOW) and then I can recap what has been happening in my life the past several weeks. K?

Recurring themes in my life that remind me how much I have changed and remind me that I am no longer in South Africa:

I was just driving around town and was waiting to pull out onto Route 611, a pretty decently large road with a lane of traffic going in each direction and a center turning lane. So I'm sitting there, half listening to a story on the radio and waiting for a good opportunity to turn... there was no one waiting behind me so I was taking my time. There was a gap in traffic and I decided to wait, even though it probably would have been enough time for me to gun it and enter traffic... then this guy, passes and gestures to me with a shrug like "What the heck? Why didn't you go?" It really irritated me! What business of it is his if I go or not? It's not like I was being ambiguous or indecisive. I was just sitting there... why does he care that I just didn't feel like burning rubber out into traffic to make it where I was going. It was like he was saying "Why aren't you in a rush like everybody else!?" My opportunity came about 30 seconds later with a large gap in traffic coming from both directions. What's 30 seconds? Why is everyone always in a rush??

Joburg is, by no stretch of the imagination, a slow city. It's fast-paced, people jump out in traffic all the time, and walk quickly to get where they're going... but there's a balance. If I want to stand and talk to someone for a while, there's no problem with that. It's still perfectly acceptable to take your time...

I didn't think that being car-less would be such a challenge for me. I didn't have a car for most of my time in college... I lived without a car for a year in South Africa. But, my life living at home now has been extremely restricted by not having a car. I miss the taxis in South Africa SO much. I could get absolutely ANYWHERE by taxi during my year there... for very cheap! Of course, I'd have to wait for an unknown amount of time before I could arrive, but the point was I really could get anywhere. Now that I'm back in the states, I can't get anywhere! The public transportation here in the Poconos is lacking, at best. To get to Philadelphia, about a 2 hour drive away is $40 by Greyhound bus! That's 280 rands! I could go from Joburg to Pietermaritzburg by busfor that much! (6 hours away!!) And by taxi, it'd be even less.

It's funny that the USA is called the "land of the free"... what does this actually mean? Do we really believe we are more free here than people are in other countries?? (See South Africa's constitution... I think you may be surprised) And even if our economic, social and political world is supposedly constructed to fit with the "land of the free" picture, does our culture live up to that title?? Are we free? Are we free from the influence of corporations? Free from the grip of poverty? Free to REALLY speak our minds in a politically incorrect way? Are we free to be strong, healthy, educated and strong-willed people who challenge our government and keep them accountable? Or are we taking what we're given and living as victims?

Shifting gears a bit, I have never been more grateful for my family. My immediate family, who I am currently living with, has put up with SO much emotional up & down from me. It has not been easy for them to re-adapt to having me home. They missed me, but any change in family dynamics upsets the previous established order. My sister got used to being an "only child". My parents got used to only communicating with me once a week (now they have to hear about my weird dreams and strange ideas all the time!! Haha) They have been patient. They have talked me down from my occasional melt-downs. They have told me to breathe on numerous occasions. They are awesome.

My MUD family, the other volunteers, have been so good for me, as well. So far, I communicate with at least one of the other volunteers nearly every day... And some days, like yesterday, I get to talk to 4 or more! =)We are all at different points in our readjustment. Some are 100% ready to go back to South Africa, while others are just glad to be home but continue to struggle with getting re-established. Some are already gainfully employed, while others of us are still searching for work. But we all speak the same language these days and it's nice that they understand.

That's all for now, I believe. I will write again with the nitty-gritty details of how the past few weeks have been going. For now, I need to go do some dishes (yay for contributing to the workings of the household! Haha) and I also need to prepare for this evening as I am going to see some friends from camp. =)

Hope each of you is doing well and remembering to enjoy every moment, every challenge and joy that life hands you. =)
I promise I'll update again soon.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Transitions and goodbyes

Please take a moment to read the words of a fellow volunteer, Andrew Steele, placed in Bloemfontein, South Africa. He expresses his experience so powerfully that it will help you glimpse what we all have been through this year in this incredible country.

I don't think I am capable of putting it better than Andrew has.

As we prepare to leave our sites and gather together in Pietermaritzburg for our close-of-service retreat on Wednesday (two days) please keep all eleven of us in your prayers. The emotional weight of this time of transition is not easy to explain or accept. As we move towards attempting to make sense of how this year has changed us, your support and prayers are SO very valuable to each of us. Thank you for all you are and thank you for your support and love.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Next year, July.

There are certain phrases I have said countless times this year. These include,

"I live in a state called Pennsylvania"
... no reaction from whoever I'm talking to...
"It's about 2 hours from New York City."
"OHHHH New York!"

"Yes, I miss my family, but I love everything about South Africa. The people, the music, your sports, everything!"

"I love your weather! Right now it's about 15 degrees below zero (Celsius) at home and there's about half a meter of snow on the ground!"
or, more often these days,
"I'm not enjoying the weather so much anymore... June, July and August is our summer at home. I liked it better when it was hot here and there was snow there!" =)

One of the things that always comes up is how long my term is. These days, people can't believe I've been here since "August, last year". They ask if I've been home at all (nope!) if I miss my family (yup!) and if I'm going to miss it here (of course!) But last year the conversations were very different.

When I would meet people in September or October they would ask me how long I'm here in South Africa for and I would reply, "Next year, July." "JULY!?!?", they would exclaim. Perhaps they didn't believe I was going to make it... maybe they didn't understand why I would go away for such a long time. Sometimes I even had those kinds of doubts. Would I make it to "Next year, July"? What would my perspective be at that point? Would I wish myself to stay longer? Would I be anxious to go? It was so far away, I could not at all guess how I'd be feeling. But I thought about "Next year, July." constantly.

I thought about the first day in Allentown airport. I thought about hugging my family and friends for the first time in a year. I hoped everyone would still be happy and healthy and not too different from when I left them. Slowly, but surely, the concept of "Next year, July." was pushed to the back of my mind... and I only thought of it when I said it to someone. Or when I completed another milestone. The past few weeks and months, however, the idea of it has been pushing it's way to the front of my mind, interrupting my daily activities, constantly on my mind.

And now... July. It's July. Wow.

Nearly 11 months have passed since I left home last August. Since I cried and snotted my way through the Allentown airport security and had people thinking I was crazy when I got on a plane for Chicago (for orientation) haha. A year.

This year has taught me some incredible lessons about myself, life, people, faith, culture, joy and love. Near the end of one of my favorite movies, Little Miss Sunshine, Steve Carrell's character, a Proust scholar, shares some reflections from Proust with his nephew Dwayne. He says, " [Proust] gets down to the end of his life, and he looks back and decides that all those years he suffered, Those were the best years of his life, 'cause they made him who he was. All those years he was happy? You know, total waste. Didn't learn a thing. " =)

Now I'm not going to say I have "suffered" this year... I'm not going to tell you that I have not had an incredible, happy time here in South Africa with incredible friends and surrogate family. If I were to tell you those things, it would be a lie. I love my friends and "host family" here and I love this country. I have had so many adventures and I have many happy memories from this year. But in the midst of the joy, the laughter and "is-this-really-my-life???" moments, there has been struggle. There has been loneliness, grief, heart-brokenness, homesickness and working through these challenges has changed who I am. They have made me who I am.

I feel so much more independent now... while simultaneously so much more interdependent on the community of people around me. I am astounded by my strength, my inner peace and my patience. I have connected with people this year in ways I never had before. And I made it! I made it to July!

I cherish each day. I know the time will fly so I am enjoying each second here with my SA family. But... I made it! =)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

10 Suggestions for helping your YAGM return home

Written by Andrea Roske-Metcalfe, the Mexico Country Coordinator

1. Don’t ask the question, “So how was it?” Your YAGM cannot function in one-word answers right now, especially ones intended to sum up their entire year’s experience, and being asked to do so may cause them to start laughing or crying uncontrollably. Ask more specific questions, like “Who was your closest friend?” or “What did you do in your free time?” or “What was the food like?” or “Tell me about your typical day.”

2. If you wish to spend time with your YAGM, let them take the lead on where to go and what to do. Recognize that seemingly mundane rituals, like grocery shopping or going to the movies, may be extremely difficult for someone who has just spent a year living without a wide array of material goods. One former YAGM, for example, faced with the daunting task of choosing a tube of toothpaste from the 70-odd kinds available, simply threw up in the middle of the drugstore.

3. Expect some feelings of jealousy and resentment, especially if your YAGM lived with a host family. Relationships that form during periods of uncertainty and vulnerability (the first few months in a foreign country, for example) form quickly and deeply. The fact that your YAGM talks non-stop about their friends and family from their country of service doesn’t mean that they don’t love you, too. It simply means that they’re mourning the loss (at least in part) of the deep, meaningful, important relationships that helped them to survive and to thrive during this last year. In this regard, treat them as you would anyone else mourning a loss.

4. You may be horrified by the way your YAGM dresses; both because their clothes are old and raggedy and because they insist on wearing the same outfit three days in a row. Upon encountering their closet at home, returning YAGMs tend to experience two different emotions: (1) jubilation at the fact that they can stop rotating the same 2 pairs of jeans and 4 shirts, and (2) dismay at the amount of clothing they own, and yet clearly lived without for an entire year. Some YAGMs may deal with this by giving away entire car loads of clothing and other items to people in need. Do not “save them from themselves” by offering to drive the items to the donation center, only to hide them away in your garage. Let your YAGM do what they need to do. Once they realize, after the fact, that you do indeed need more than 2 pairs of jeans and 4 shirts to function in professional American society, offer to take them shopping. Start with the Goodwill and the Salvation Army; your YAGM may never be able to handle Macys again.

5. Asking to see photos of your YAGM’s year in service is highly recommended, providing you have an entire day off from work. Multiply the number of photos you take during a week’s vacation, multiply that by 52, and you understand the predicament. If you have an entire day, fine. If not, take a cue from number 1 above, and ask to see specific things, like photos of your YAGM’s host family, or photos from holiday celebrations. Better yet, set up a number of “photo dates,” and delve into a different section each time. Given the high percentage of people whose eyes glaze over after the first page of someone else’s photos, and the frustration that can cause for someone bursting with stories to tell, this would be an incredible gift.

6. At least half the things that come out of your YAGM’s mouth for the first few months will begin with, “In Mexico/Slovakia/South Africa/etc…” This will undoubtedly begin to annoy the crap out of you after the first few weeks. Actually saying so, however, will prove far less effective than listening and asking interested questions. Besides, you can bet that someone else will let slip exactly what you’re thinking, letting you off the hook.

7. That said, speak up when you need to! Returning YAGMs commonly assume that almost nothing has changed in your lives since they left. (This happens, in part, because you let them, figuring that their experiences are so much more exciting than yours, and therefore not sharing your own.) Be assertive enough to create the space to share what has happened in your life during the last year.

8. Recognize that living in a very simple environment with very few material belongings changes people. Don’t take it personally if your YAGM seems horrified by certain aspects of the way you live – that you shower every day, for example, or that you buy a new radio instead of duct-taping the broken one back together. Recognize that there probably are certain things you could or should change (you don’t really need to leave the water running while you brush your teeth, do you?), but also that adjusting to what may now feel incredibly extravagant will simply take awhile. Most YAGMs make permanent changes toward a simpler lifestyle. Recognize this as a good thing.

9. Perhaps you had hopes, dreams, and aspirations for your YAGM that were interrupted by their year of service. If so, you may as well throw them out the window. A large percentage of returning YAGMs make significant changes to their long-term goals and plans. Some of them have spent a year doing something they never thought they’d enjoy, only to find themselves drawn to it as a career. Others have spent a year doing exactly what they envisioned doing for the rest of their lives, only to find that they hate it. Regardless of the direction your YAGM takes when they return…rejoice! This year hasn’t changed who they are; it has simply made them better at discerning God’s call on their lives. (Note: Some YAGMs spend their year of service teaching English, some are involved in human rights advocacy, others work with the elderly or disabled, and at least one spent his year teaching British youth to shoot with bows and arrows. The results of this phenomenon, therefore, can vary widely.)

10. Go easy on yourself, and go easy on your YAGM. Understand that reverse culture shock is not an exact science, and manifests itself differently in each person. Expect good days and bad days. Don’t be afraid to ask for help (including of the pharmaceutical variety) if necessary. Pray. Laugh. Cry. This too shall pass, and in the end, you’ll both be the richer for it.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Happy Birthday and the Mother City!

Recently here in South Africa I have been enjoying some new events, new places and new friends! Just two weeks ago on May 27th, I celebrated my 23rd birthday in South Africa! It was a beautiful day, cold and sunny. I started the day by visiting the kitchen where my friends Sakhile and Jane grabbed me and sang happy birthday and then proceeded to try to pour water on me! A strange birthday tradition. After enjoying breakfast, I had a simple day at work just hanging out in my office and doing some writing, making photocopies and of course, visiting friends around the center. Trevor, one of my favorite pastors here in SA, was visiting the office on my birthday for a meeting so it was great to sit with him during lunch and enjoy the conversation.

That night, I went out with three of my friends here, Mantsha, Mpho and Mahlodi. We went to a seafood restaurant and I told them that probably more than half of you at home in the states have no idea how beautiful and modern some places here in South Africa are. So they demanded we take a picture so you all can get a better idea of what this corner of Africa is like =) SO here is a picture from the evening:

After enjoying their wonderful company, I came back to my place and began packing for the next big adventure! In the morning, I would be leaving for a few days in Cape Town! How can one spend an entire year in South Africa without at least seeing the beautiful city known as "The Mother City". So I was off to experience this awesome city that I have heard feels nothing like the rest of South Africa.

On Saturday, May 28th, I landed in Cape Town and was immediately struck by the beauty of the city between an ocean and a mountain! Gorgeous. The weather for my 5 days and 4 nights there was not ideal but that's why it's called the off-season! I was appreciative of the lowered prices for accommodation and most attractions. And I got to see most of the big attractions in the city including a trip up Table Mountain, a tour of the Cape Winelands, a ride through Camps Bay, many museums in town, the infamous Long Street and the penguins of Boulders Beach on the southern peninsula.

And yes, I was traveling alone! I was a little bit worried about it but I think that just as in any other major city in the world, one simply just needs to be smart about things. I was just fine for my stay in Cape Town and I enjoyed the freedom of doing things by myself! I could change my mind at any moment about what I was going to do next or what I was going to have for dinner. =) It was sort of nice not having to consult with a travel buddy. Figuring everything out on my own also made me feel very independent and accomplished.

By the end of my trip there though, I was missing Johannesburg! Which, when I said this to a man in a restaurant in the city, made him laugh uncontrollably for about five minutes "You miss JOBURG??? Seriously??? You're telling me you're in Cape Town right now and you MISS Joburg." Hahaha. Seriously though! Joburg has such character and a much more "African" vibe if I can say that... Fruit vendors, people yelling, music in the streets, almost getting hit by taxis... there was nothing like it in Cape Town! =)

It was a nice escape to experience this metropolitan city. Parts of it felt like NYC or a european city... but I was glad to get back to my friends and my life in Joburg.

I hope to post pictures of my Cape Town adventures some time next week! =)
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tick tock... living in the moment

When I arrived here at my placement site in September of last year, I watched clocks and calenders a lot. I counted the days to our first all-volunteer retreat. I counted until Christmas. I counted until July when we would travel home. I thought about that first day back and what it would be like. Especially as I was challenged in the early months, I thought about how long the year would be and what things would be like at the end... would I be SO ready to go? Would I be begging to stay? It was almost impossible for me to imagine.

I also watched clocks a lot because the pace of life seemed so different from what I was used to. Everything moved so much slower. (Little did I know that I was in one of the fastest areas of the country and some of my fellow volunteers were experiencing a MUCH more dramatic slow-down!) Getting used to "Just now" was challenging; waiting for what felt like an eternity for a taxi to fill up or having someone walk away saying "I'll be back just now" and then waiting for up to 30 or 45 minutes took a while to get used to. Coming from a culture of now means NOW and "Time is money" it was culture shock and it took me a long time to acclimate.

Slowly but surely, I have come to love this country's pace. I find myself rarely irritated by having to wait. Sometimes I have moments where I really can't believe how much I've changed. Like when I wait over 2 hours for someone to pick me up, for a taxi to leave or for someone to call me and I don't get the least bit irritated. Now, I was a bit abnormal in this respect before I even came to South Africa... I didn't mind traffic too much (especially on a beautiful day! Roll down the windows and turn up the music!) I also didn't mind lines and the grocery store or post office. It is what it is, right?

But South Africa has taught me patience to the EXTREME. Things happen when they happen. People arrive when they arrive. There's no use in freaking out about having to wait for something, because it will do no good. Better to just take out your book (always have a book with you!) and enjoy the day.

I also don't count the days so much. My family is counting for me now. =) They know exactly how many weeks and days (maybe even hours and minutes!) until I step of the plane. For me though, that day will be SO awesome and yet so sad. I'm very, VERY much looking forward to seeing family and friends who I love dearly and miss tremendously. But coming back to the states means leaving this country that has become my home and the friends here that have become my family. It means leaving a place that has taught me so much about independence and interdependence. It means leaving a life that I love and people that I love even more.

This year has not been a "trip" to Africa. This has been a year of my life in an extraordinary country. I have been challenged, I've learned, I've laughed, I've cried and I've grown so much as a person. So, I'm not counting anymore... at least I'm trying not to. I'm embracing each day as an opportunity to love this life, this place and these people. I hope you are doing the same... wherever you are, whoever you are with and whatever you are doing- love the day, love the moment. Life is too unpredictable to not.

Having July 13th on the horizon as the last day at my site is somewhat scary and foreboding because I know much is going to change when this year ends. But it's also a blessing in a way to know how precious these days here are. And I'm loving each one. Each conversation I have becomes precious. Each moment with my friends is one I enjoy and value. I am loving each day and living as though it is my last... are you?