Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Expecting the Unexpected

There are many things I have seen since coming to South Africa that I never could have imagined…. A few weeks ago, I saw a taxi driving through a mall. Today in church, children played in the center aisle throughout the entire worship service. I’ve seen horses roaming around the townships and I’ve seen after-parties for funerals that easily could have been mistaken for wedding receptions. Even further beyond my imagination is the fact that I have come to expect these unexpected things. I have become comfortable seeing some of the random things that people come into taxis with. It is familiar and normal to me that people go to church with whistles around their necks to accompany the choruses they sing and I’m not surprised anymore to see young children standing on the benches during worship so they can participate in the singing and dancing during the service. It’s strange to feel so familiar with what can seem so out of the ordinary at times. There are moments when I stand back and objectively see how confusing this situation would normally be for me, but then I recognize that I really am learning to “go with the flow” as it were.

The physical objects and circumstances that I couldn’t have expected are frequent. However, equally as frequent are the interactions and conversations I have had completely unexpectedly and, more often than not, prove themselves again and again to be my favorite moments here.

Sometimes, these conversations start from a curiosity… someone wondering why you are riding public transportation or someone commenting about a sports team you support. A few weeks ago, several other YAGMS and I were standing in a parking lot talking and we ended up having an in-depth conversation with 4 “Capitec Bank” representatives for over an hour! I love these moments because it shows us that we have more in common with the people around us than we could ever realize. Taking the time to really see the people around us and recognize that they are worth our time can reveal massive amounts of insight about ourselves, others, the world around us and the God we are all a part of.

On Saturday, I found myself more confused than usual. I was at a church for a circuit council meeting and after the meeting, there was to be a meeting of the executive committee of the council. I figured it was a closed meeting so I would step outside and read my book. However, a woman came up to me and started asking me where we should go… this room or that one…. Or should we sit outside? She discussed it with the Dean of the circuit (not in English) and they chose a room- the sacristy at the back of the sanctuary and her and I entered it together. We sat down at the table and she began to ask me about my time in South Africa and about my work here this year. We talked about our families, about life, about God, about our spiritual gifts and then we got to the “point” of the conversation.

Eunice (as I later discovered was her name) told me that she used to be in the healthcare field and a little while ago, she single-handedly began an HIV/AIDS screening and education program in her congregation. It was very successful and there have been discussions of making it a circuit-wide program. The Dean wanted me to talk to her to see how I could get involved with the development of a wider program, and we did exchange contact information and ideas about the future, but what was gained from our conversation was of even greater value to us both.

As we talked about our families, Eunice told me that her grandchildren had lived with her since May when her only daughter passed away. I didn’t ask much about it at the time. Trying to be sensitive, I simply apologized for her loss and let the conversation continue. Later though, our discussion returned to the subject of her daughter and she began to describe how quickly her daughter had passed just a few months prior. As she talked, I felt my throat tightening. I listened to her story of how her daughter contracted meningitis and passed away in a matter of just days. She rubbed her eyes as she told me of her two grandchildren now living with her, having no other options. Tears fell from mine as I imagined her pain- and as I remembered my own. When she finished her story, we paused and I told her I couldn’t imagine her experience. I then told her about my own grief- my own recent loss and while losing a grandmother who had lived a long, wonderful life could not compare to losing a child, I also was grieving. She asked what happened and as I explained to her my Granny’s rapid deterioration in July and her passing just a week before I left for South Africa, I struggled to speak. Suddenly, she stood up, pulled me to my feet and wrapped me in a massive embrace holding me until I could breathe deeply and calmly again.

Who could have expected that scene? Grieving South African mother holding grieving American granddaughter. I certainly didn’t expect that the first person here that I would completely open my broken heart to would be a sweet woman like Eunice who I had just met.

It is sometimes said “God works in mysterious ways”. I am finding more and more that this is true in that God rarely works as we expect. Too often, we pray about our problems with a solution in mind; thinking we know what is best for ourselves. However, God more often works through the unexpected things in our lives. It’s written in 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring about things that are.” God doesn’t use what we expect God to use. We see power in what is already strong, but God sees power in what is weak and then makes it strong to display God’s power.

These past few months, I undoubtedly have experienced God working through unexpected people and unexpected circumstances to bring about change in my life and in the lives of those around me. So, as I learn each day to expect the unexpected, I continually am reminded that in this way, we must make room for the Spirit to move through our lives. Making time to willingly engage in that unexpected conversation, or embracing unanticipated circumstances that threaten to “ruin” our day… these are the first steps we can take towards being free to experience the unexpected and the closer we come to truly opening our hearts to those around us. You never know what to expect!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Some random facts about life

So, more and more, I am realizing that there are a lot of little things about my life here and SA that have not been communicated to you all... so, I am stealing this idea from a fellow YAGM in order to get across to you some random facts about my life here and life in general. I promise I'll have an actual post of substance up here soon. =)
SO here goes. Some random facts;

1) Traffic lights are robots. The trunk of a car is the boot. Tomatoes are pronounced Tomoto... (like when people say "tomato, tomoto"... yeah). You don't send a letter here, you post it. You don't go to the bathroom- you go to the toilet.

2) If you want to say "okay", "goodbye", "that's fine"--- you can just say "sharp"- but don't actually say sharp... say shop. Example,
Person #1 "I'll see you later then?"
Person #2 "Sharp, sharp"

3) Snail mail is a God-send.

4) Here, it's hard for me to tell what the primary language is. I'm working with Zulu people, Sepedi, Zimbabweans and a whole mix of individuals. While I think I mostly hear Zulu, I'm not quite sure. Also, you would think this would be an issue for the people here communicating with each other, but the vast majority of them can hear the other languages... so a perfectly normal conversation can occur with one person speaking strictly Zulu and the other speaking only Sotho... This is moderately mind-boggling to me.

5) I am constantly surprised at how happy I am here. I have made some wonderful friends and I am learning a lot. The year is going quickly! And I am determined to live in the present as much as I can and enjoy the people I am walking with this year.

6) The above being said, I am always thinking of home. I'm missing people to some extent... but more than anything, I think I am just looking forward to spending some good, quality time being comfortable with the people I love back at home when the times comes for that. NOW though, I am determined to be fully immersed in this awesome experience.

7) Did you know people drive on the left side of the road here? And the right side of the car? It took me a long time to get used to it (and not get completely freaked out at intersections!) But I'm pretty much acclimated to it now, for the most part... I sometimes dream with the wheel on the right side of the car.

8) Things I've been surprised to have here- The Oprah show, Amstel lager, the occasional oak-lined stretch of road that looks like the suburbs around Muhlenberg, Chips Ahoy!, soft-serve ice cream that tastes almost like home, American club music

9) Things I miss but didn't know I would- Autumn, macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, Reese's PB cups, worshipping in English

10) Things I knew I would miss- my dogs, the smell of my home, receiving and sending short text messages to friends just to say hello, driving

11) Things I've discovered and fallen in love with- House music, HUGE emails from close friends, GENERATIONS (my fav soap opera), random adventures, being confused, Zulu hymns, the MUD family (the 10 other volunteers here in SA who I am in regular contact with and visit! They get me through tough days!)

12)The MUD program here has a blog that you should check out! Here's the address: AND if you are on Facebook, you should "like" E.L.C.A. MUD as well! =)

This is all I can think of for now, but I hope you are all well and you can expect another blog from me soon!!
All the best!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Just call me Lerato Mnisi

This past weekend, I found myself in the kingdom of Swaziland for the bishop elections of the ELCSA Eastern Diocese! Fellow YAGM volunteer, Christine Doidge had invited me to the 2 day meeting of delegates throughout the diocese which encompasses Swaziland. At these two special days, among various reports, debates and lots of singing, Christine’s host dad, Dean Mnisi was elected as the new bishop of the diocese! It was such a successful, peaceful and exciting election but I had no idea that I was just glimpsing the surface of what an exciting event it was for the family and for the diocese!

After the election, I got to spend some time with the Mnisi family and Christine in their hometown of Carolina, which is in a rural area of SA about 3 hours East of where I am in Bonaero Park. The love, hospitality and faithfulness I was immediately made a part of filled my heart with such joy and peace. It was a fantastic, unexpected experience to find a home so far from home. =)

Just a few minutes after meeting Ma Mnisi, she was introducing me to other people at the meeting as Lerato Mnisi. Lerato is my African name. =) Given to me last weekend by my friend Thando, Lerato means “Love” in Sotho, a language mostly spoken in the Northern regions of South Africa. Thando, one of my best friends here, gave me this name because her name, “Thando” also means love! Thando means love in IsiZulu which is one of the most common languages here, and mostly spoken in the Southeastern region. And Mnisi, my new surname, means “rainmaker”!

So if you want to try to pronounce my new name… here’s some tips.
Lerato: don’t pronounce a hard “R”. It’s not Le-Rato. Instead the r is almost like a quick D… if that makes sense. =) “Leh-dAH- toe” almost… haha
Mnisi: Start with a bit of a hum… then say nee-see. “m-NEE-see” =D Good luck!

From the very first day when the Mnisi’s slaughtered a “welcome chicken” for me, to this morning when they demanded hugs and pictures before I left, I’ve never felt more completely and freely invited into someone’s home, family and heart. From the first moments with them, I was made part of the family. This meant I was expected to take part in daily morning and evening devotions. I was a part of making and serving the meals. I even became the go-to person for fixing the new DVD player… Haha. So if I was reading or working on making dinner with Christine, I knew my assistance was needed when I heard “Lerato!!” being called from the living room. =) It was wonderful to feel so at home and I was grateful that they were so comfortable treating me as one of their own children… and Lord knows that children are there to serve!

Although I didn’t necessarily DO a lot this week while serving with Christine, it was wonderful to work in the Mnisi’s garden, weeding, picking spinach for customers, delivering orders to town and generally experiencing life with the family. Sometimes the most important thing we can do in life is open our heart to what we are experiencing… becoming fully present to the people around us and completely devoting our attention and time to others. Showing another person they are worth our time and our love may be the most valuable ability we have. Never underestimate the worth of an open heart. The Mnisis taught me this weekend that there is no greater gift than this.