Friday, December 10, 2010

November, Dear November, Where Did You Go?!?!

This November was an incredibly busy one and I apologize for the lack of time to stop and share it with you. Things are beginning to quiet down as the holiday season is quickly approaching. Many places, including the Diocese Office where I find internet weekly, will be closing from December the 10th (today) until January the 10th, 2011. Things just kind of stop, which is a neat concept but something very new for me. Here goes a catch up on the last month or so of my life here in beautiful South Africa and expect another after the New Year is officially rung in.

My weekly routine has been working out pretty nicely. Mondays and Tuesdays I still spend at the state children’s home, Sinothando, hanging out with the babies. We have always had 6 of them, but this month we were blessed to bring home our 7th. I came to find out that Annalise is the sister of our youngest (and my favorite) baby. She had been in the hospital since February when she sustained severe burns across much of her body when someone at the home forgot to check the water temperature in the bath before putting her in. She was in the ICU until September when she was moved to the regular children’s ward before being released early in the month back to Sinothando. Her first few weeks were very tough…still itchy where her new skin is continuing to heal, overwhelmed by the change of scenery with tons of loud and crazy kids running around, etc. She has finally started seeming like what I imagine her old self was like. The older kids finished up school while I was on retreat for Thanksgiving and so they are all around now and boy does that change the energy levels around the property. They are a bit out of control at moments but then so are most school-aged kids who just finished a crazy year (complete with World Cup insanity and the days of school missed due to the strikes back in August and September).

Wednesdays, I still find myself with the home-based care group Phutadichaba. I have lots of fun memories from the month with the awesome caregivers but my favorite was probably the day of our door to door “TB Free” campaign kickoff. I showed up to the office, was handed a shirt to change into (a black t-shirt no less in the African sun), piled in the back of bakkie (truck) with 12 other caregivers and was driven and dropped in the feld (field) along the edge of a farm I didn’t even know existed so close to where I was living. We literally walked and walked and searched for people who lived on the farms in the area to hand them brochures and talk to them about testing for TB. Talk about an exhausting day but on the other hand, I was blessed with some wonderful company and we had an important task. TB prevalence is pretty high here and people aren’t always reliable to take their medications which will prolong their treatment time. It’s a complicated cycle for a curable disease. I’m pretty sure there were several “is this really my life right now?” moments that day as we wandered around in the middle of nowhere. Good times South Africa.

My Thursdays have been spent at the St. Luke’s Creche interacting with some awesome preschoolers. They just graduated last week while I was away in KZN (Kwa-Zulu Natal Provence) and the New Year will bring the next group up. I tried, with mild success, to teach a lesson on dogs – only a handful of the kids can understand English so it makes it tricky. I’ll definitely be brainstorming some other ways to teach them but in the meantime we just played alot. Play is a universal language as is getting them water and soap and having them help clean their tables and chairs. I always smile alot on Thursdays, even when scrubbing dirt and grime off plastic.

There were also many “non-routine” kinds of things going on in November.

My friend Elrico had his appendix removed so I saw another medical facility. He spent two days in the hospital but was up and about enough to make it to Carols by Candlelight at a local public school the day he got out (which I should mention was November the 4th – yes, I saw my first full Christmas production at a public school on November the 4th – so crazy but at least it was kind of cool that night!)

On our way home from the Carols, the clock struck midnight marking my 24th birthday. My host brother, Ralph, ceremoniously pulled the car over on a random street in the Galeshewe township so he and Elrico and Aldean could sing to me. It was the start of a very special day. It happened to fall on a Friday which is Internet day for me, so I got the chance to talk to my parents and one of my best friends thanks to the technology of Skype. Then my pastor took me out to a light lunch with my host brother, Shane, and our friends Quentin and Gavin. I ran a bunch of errands with the guys, went to fittings with them for Gavin’s upcoming wedding, then later when back with the bride, Iris, for her fitting. Eventually, we made it down to Ralph’s house where a surprise braai (bbq) had been planned for me. It was wonderful. Lots of family and friends stopped in and made my day something truly special and one to be remembered.

Weddings. Quentine and Loretta had gotten married in mid-October and it was a blessing to be a part of. We had spent the whole night before decorating the reception hall and then got to watch them finally walk down the aisle and celebrate in style after all the planning and preparing. It was beautiful. Iris (Loretta’s sister) and Gavin’s wedding was almost exactly a month later. Again we found ourselves busy, busy setting up the hall the night before, making sure everything was just so and the dishes were clean, etc. We did have the sound system hooked up and the House music was flowing making it even more of a good time. Their wedding too was simply beautiful and everyone had a great time at the reception. I think we’re off the hook for decorating for the next wedding – Nicky and Bev are getting married mid-December. Yay for all the love.

Nelson Mandela Challenge. Yes, the USMNT beat Bafana Bafana 1-0. It wasn’t the prettiest game I’ve seen played but I very much enjoyed the end result. I can’t say the same for my host cousin, Errol, who is a huge soccer fan. He didn’t really want to talk to me much that day or the next although we had a good time watching the match on TV – both of us jealous of the couple of YAGM’s who had been able to make it to Capetown.

Retreat. What a blessing this time was. Brian and Kristen try to plan the first of our three retreats to be in Pietermaritzburg over the Thanksgiving holiday since it’s the first major holiday we are really missing by being here for the year. I left a few days early and spent some time in Bloemfontein with friends from Kimberley and then with Andrew at his site. We eventually got on our bus to PMB and were the first volunteers to arrive on Wednesday morning to a chilly and drizzly/overcast KZN – quite the change from the very hot, very dry, still praying for rain, semi-arid desert that is Kimberley. We spent much of Wednesday waiting for everyone to arrive from our scattered locations. Turkey Day Thursday we got up early to make the desserts we were in charge of then headed off to play a friendly soccer match at the UKZN fields. We followed up our morning match with a dip in the chilly but pleasant Olympic sized pool on the same UKZN property. It was incredibly refreshing (and for most of the volunteers something they never would have dreamed of doing at the end of November) and quite the change from relaxing watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We ran home and changed, grabbed our food, and then headed over to the Konkol household where we finally got to meet Brian and Kristen’s 6 week old son, Khaya Tews. He was just beautiful and Kristen looked as though she’d had never been pregnant in the first place. Brian’s parents had also been able to fly over to meet Khaya and got to share the holiday with us as well. Kristen had made an incredible meal that we enjoyed over good conversation and the little NFL football coverage that we could find at that time of day on ESPN.

Friday we headed off to the Royal Natal National Park, checked in to the Backpackers where we were staying, and then headed off to the Drakensburg Mountains for a good long gorge hike. It was a slightly overcast day that, although not great for pictures, was incredibly pleasant for hiking. It was so beautiful. Fun facts about the Drakensburgs – they were in consideration to be the filming location for Lord of the Rings movies except they don’t get and keep enough snow to last through the filmings so New Zealand was the choice, and if you want to follow the Mayan calendar and believe the world will end in 2012 these mountains are reportedly the safe place to be. We just enjoyed them for their trails for the day and it was a great day. We stopped at Brian’s favorite pizza place on the way home and enjoyed some high quality pizza. Mmmmmm. Saturday we went to a remote village in Lesotho arranged through our Backpackers. They are helping to build a new school building there and so we got the chance to see the existing building along with where they are in their plans. Things are looking good. We hiked around a lot there too. We were blessed with a bright, sun shiny day, and plenty of cool breezes as we explored the highest country in the world. Lesotho’s lowest elevation point is higher than that of any other country, even though their highest isn’t the highest. Pretty cool. We reached our stopping place for lunch and had accumulated lots of the local village kids as companions as we went along. Our guide, Josh, pointed up and said pretty nonchalantly “There are some cool views if you want to hike up there to the summit”. Well, we’re MUD3 and why not give it a go. Wow, did he not warn us of the elevation change – it was pretty much straight up at a few different points but he was right, the view at the top was priceless. 12 of the 13 of us made it, one of the girls has a serious fear of height when coupled with strong winds, a valid concern as we went higher and higher on the edge of a valley with some pretty gusty winds. It was awesome though. We visited with some of the locals as we returned to the village and eventually made our way in our Kombi (mini-bus/15 passenger-esque van) back to South Africa. We cleaned up in our towers (fondly resembling the Bernstein Bears house) and headed in for an evening of fun at the main lodge of the Backpackers – they have a restaurant that served us a wonderful meal, pool table, rock climbing wall, Internet cafĂ©, book exchange, pool if you were so inclined, etc. Of course we couldn’t leave for dinner until the sun was almost completely gone since we were getting a beautiful view of the most incredible sunset as it dropped off behind the mountains. The number of colors we saw in that 45 minutes or so was just spectacular. We dubbed it a perfect day and we definitely had a good time overall at our stay out there. Sunday we packed up, held our own worship service under a tree looking out at the mountains with a nice breeze blowing through, then headed back to PMB.

Monday was time to head back West but Andrew and I had some company in tow as Joy and Heather decided to come and visit our sites in Bloem and Kim. What a special treat that was. We spent a couple of extra days at Andrew’s site, Lebone Village, working on the farm and even on Thursday right before we left getting to take the kids of the orphanage there to the waterpark. We were slightly terrified of taking 28 non-swimmers to such a place, but it was perfect. The kids were great, knew their limits, but weren’t afraid of the water or trying to learn to swim. It was a really fun day. Then we headed back gathered our stuff and caught a long-range kombi/taxi back to Kimberley. We utilized Internet Friday and then headed in to see Kimberley’s biggest attraction, The Big Hole, it was my 3rd time viewing it but it is still awe-inspiring. Pastor Standaar hosted a potjie at his house for us Friday night and we spent all day Saturday relaxing near the river with most of the good friends I’ve made here. The girls headed back East to Joburg early Sunday morning but it was a really nice way to end our retreat and start off the month of December.

I hope things are well with all of you wherever you find yourself during this holiday season. May it be a joyous celebration of faith and family. I will be spending Christmas with my South African family here in Kimberley and the New Year with nearly all of my MUD3 family hiking around in Lesotho. It should be an incredible experience (and also a very very hot one as summer is getting into full swing around here these days!)

Peace, Love and Prayers from the Southern Hemisphere – Thanks for all of your continuing support!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Paint With All The Colors Of The Wind

This was written as a monthly reflection to be posted in the ELCA-MUD Blog which includes updates from the other YAGM volunteer and our coordinators Brian & Kristen Konkol. It can be viewed at

I was reading the other night when I heard SA’s Got Talent come on the TV in the other room. I had some things to do and wasn’t going to be able to watch the semi-finals with some members of my host family (though the auditions had been pretty entertaining last week so I’m sure these were also wonderful). Before refocusing myself, I did briefly hear one of the contestants singing the chorus of “Colors of the Wind” from the classic Disney movie, Pocahontas.

I began to think about this concept of wind. When we try to explain the idea of wind to kids we are really only able to do this through its impact on the concrete things around us. You can “see” the wind as it blows through the trees shaking every leaf (or frond for those of us who have always seen more palm trees than big shady oaks.) It’s almost as if the wind causes the trees to dance a beautiful number in unison. But, growing up in the state of Florida (aka Hurricane Central), I also learned that wind wasn’t always so friendly and nice. I saw firsthand, on more than a few occasions, the wake of damage and destruction that can be left in a storm’s path as it comes ashore. Interesting, how this unseen thing can have such different attributes.

When I came to Kimberley I found that the same, strange, love-hate relationship with wind existed here as well. As we are moving into the summer season, temperatures are rising, especially in the semi-arid desert landscape where I find myself these days. A breeze is a beautiful gift from above as people move about our township and the greater city to get to and from work, visit the local clinic, or head off to school. The contrast comes, in that because of the climate, most people do not have grass since it takes so much water and effort to maintain it. This means that most yards, empty fields, parking lots, and shoulders next to the roads are nothing but sand. When the same breezes that are so nice to cool us in the heat of the day arrive, they simultaneously carry dust literally everywhere. My neighbors in this community do their best to control nature by actually raking and then watering their yards of sand with hoses daily to keep it from being swept up with the next gust. It is successful here and there, but how do you water an entire community? I can now “see” the bigger gusts of wind as they come down the road because they have a brownish hue to them; something I can say has never been an obvious attribute of wind based on my experiences in the States. But I am learning the wind is so much more than what we typically “see”.

As our Country Coordinator, Brian, explained in a post on this blog a few weeks ago, the M.U.D. program here in South Africa stands for and incorporates the idea of this program as a Ministry that is both Upstream and Downwind. This is a concept that is taking a much stronger hold in me the more time I spend with the wonderful people in this beautiful community of Kimberley. Although I am learning more and more about these aspects, the notion that this was ministry focused and upstream, were the easiest parts for me to find my fit in the program. Yes, I am here with the Church to build relationships where mutual growth and learning can be found in the love and grace of God. Yes, I am going against the current, as the majority of recent college grads in the States aren’t running off to be volunteers for a year instead of starting grad school or striving to land their dream job. Yes, we are against the current as we shift the ideas others have of what it is to be a “missionary”. Yes, I am even against the current when South Africans ask me what I am here to DO and my response is to BE with the people and to share life with them. There are already and will be many more examples of this program as a ministry that is upstream. Where I initially had more difficulty was in wrapping my mind about being downwind. I was a religion minor in college and so learned in one of my first classes years ago that the Hebrew word “ruach” means breath/spirit/wind. I struggled, not so much in understanding the intention of calling our attention to the breath/spirit/wind of God, but more in how I would daily find myself experiencing it. I just couldn’t foresee that piece, so I set it aside for a later time. Here, now, is that time where it all begins to click and fit together.

As I have walked the streets of the Roodepan Township and felt the wind blowing through my hair, I have started to “see” the effects of the breath/spirit/ wind of God on the concrete things around me. Those concrete things are more than just the trees or the sand, but are the hearts of the people I meet daily and even more the heart I find within myself. When locals ask me what I think of my time here and the people I have met so far, I can only answer that they are wonderful. I only wish there was a word to really sum up just how welcome they have made me feel and how open they have been with me about their lives. Instead there are stories. There is the story of a client at the home-based care group I serve with who has been living as an abused woman for the last 8 or so years. In a language I couldn’t understand, she explained the abuse she suffered and her continuing love for the man who treats her this way. What I did understand were her tears as she told the story. It was healing for her to tell her story and to cry – to sob – and breathe in deeply the love of God through three women that were placed there to simply listen and to pray with and for her. Another story. Two days a week, I get to spend the day with 6 orphan babies at the ChildWelfare Children’s Home. They are so spectacular in many ways. I love that they will both laugh and cry at, what to me, are the littlest things. They are the breath/spirit/wind of God that remind me without words how fragile and joyful life can be. A third experience. I have been blessed to be absorbed into an amazing group of friends that knew my name months before I would even meet them and know who they were. They welcomed me into their homes and families and even wedding and birthday celebrations from the day I arrived and once again showed me what the meaning of “family” really is. They are the ones that laugh at me as I try to pronounce things in Afrikaans, but are always striving to teach and encourage me with the kind of humility that can only be from the breath/spirit/wind of God. The stories that I have had the privilege to listen to and be a part of, have taught me more than I ever expected about the way that God’s life-giving breath/spirit/wind shapes and impacts each of us.

Footprints left in the morning hours here in Kimberley will be gone long before morning tea time as the wind sweeps across the community. And, just as the wind that we can “see” picks up every loose piece of sand, always changing the pictures we have drawn, the breath/spirit/wind of God is constantly in motion changing hearts, minds, and lives. There is another lyric in the song from Pocahontas that says “if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew, you never knew.” I think that is incredibly relevant for where I am today as I begin to truly blend the pieces of the M.U.D. program together. I am learning the most about the program I am in, from those former “strangers” that I get to walk alongside this year. This is truly a Ministry that moves both Upstream and Downwind, even when we can’t “see” it right away. I encourage you all to find the breath/spirit/WIND in your life and have some fun and happy painting with ALL the colors you discover.

P.S. – I think the rest of the lyrics to “Colors of the Wind” are pretty awesome so find them all below and ponder them for a bit, from a new context. It’ll rock your world. Go Disney Classics!

You think I’m an ignorant savage and you’ve been so many places I guess it must be so.

But still I cannot see if the savage one is me.

How can there be so much that you don’t know?

You don’t know.

You think you own whatever land you land on.

The earth is just a dead thing you can claim.

But I know every rock and tree and creature has a life, has a spirit, has a name.

You think the only people who are people, are the people who look and think like you.

But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.

Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned? Can you sing with all the voices of the mountain?

Can you paint with all the colors of the wind? Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest.

Come taste the sun sweet berries of the earth.

Come roll in all the riches all around you and for once never wonder what they’re worth.

The rainstorm and the river are my brothers.

The heron and the otter are my friends and we are all connected to each other, in a circle, in a hoop that never ends.

How high does the sycamore grow? If you cut it down then you’ll never know.

And you’ll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon.

For whether we are white or copper skinned, we need to sing with all the voices of the mountain, need to paint with all the colors of the wind.

You can own the earth and still all you’ll own is earth until you can paint with all the colors of the wind.

An Authentic Self, Made in the Image of God.

This was written as a monthly reflection to be posted in the ELCA-MUD Blog which includes updates from the other YAGM volunteer and our coordinators Brian & Kristen Konkol. It can be viewed at

Earlier this month I had the privilege of leading the regular meeting of the Youth League at St. Luke Lutheran Church in the Roodepan Township of Kimberley. Life had been very busy in the days leading up to this particular evening and my talk was slowly coming together. I was pretty clueless when I first began outlining it as to what I should speak about. How would I, as an American that had just stepped into this place, relate to a group of mostly high school aged youth that I had met on one occasion prior to this night? And then as I was processing all that I’ve been experiencing in the 6 weeks here in South Africa before this particular day, I realized that in some ways, I had been reliving that same time period in my life. Those were the days of first impressions and trying to make friends that would last a lifetime. What image would you portray to someone you had just met? What view did you have of them and what formed those opinions? Funny, that my life has been an intense, non-stop series of first impression-making situations since arriving in South Africa and even more so since I settled here in Roodepan.

In thinking about the first-impressions I have been making, I can’t help but recall a wonderful conversation I was blessed to have with a fellow MUD3 volunteer in Pietermaritzburg after an ELCSA Young Adult League conference. We spent part of an evening discussing our personalities; the things that make each of us tick, what makes us who we are as individuals. We talked pretty openly about the traits that sometimes we wish we could shake because of the reputations that they have given us (both positively and negatively). Then came the big realization: even with a chance to be someone completely new coming into a situation like this where no one knows who we have been, we both found ourselves revealing the same core identity, these same traits, being viewed in the same ways by entirely new people. What was it about these core characteristics that we still couldn’t leave behind, even in coming to another hemisphere of the world?

While pondering these two ideas of first impressions and core identity, I found myself remembering the story of the creation of mankind, found in the first chapter of Genesis. There, as I had read so many times before, were the words “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” and “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them...” And suddenly, I found myself on this quest to define God’s “image” and “likeness”. What does it mean and how does it relate to my life where I am today? While we can dwell on the characteristics of an all-powerful, all-knowing God who is a Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace, etc, etc how does that translate to a mere human, who by nature is imperfect and will never hold all the power? I found myself reading some of those passages of the Bible that were written with the very intention of teaching us to live our lives in a way where we are striving to be a true image of God. We were created in the image of God, a reflection of those characteristics on earth, but not actually to be just like him.

The night of my discussion with the Youth, I gave them a long list of verses to look up and read out loud to the group (quite the challenge when I’m giving a book of the Bible in English and they have never heard of it because the books apparently translate differently in Afrikaans – we managed to navigate through with some mutual learning along the way.) In the end though, we could sum up all of what we were reading in Jesus’ answer to one of the Pharisees’ questions about which of the commandments was the greatest of them all. It is here in the Gospel of Matthew (22:34-40) that 10 commandments become just 2 – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Still the question remained for me: How does this fit in with that core identity I can’t seem to escape?

These days I seem to find myself standing out in all sorts of ways. In all likelihood, I am the ONLY white person living in the Roodepan Township (which is a predominantly coloured community – during the apartheid era this was the term used for those who didn’t fit in the White, Black, or Indian categories because they were actually “mixed-race”.) I frequently find myself being watched as I walk the streets to my work sites each day, catch a taxi, or even ride in a vehicle through the community with a friend or host family member. But on the flip-side, the whites in town can’t seem to figure me out either. As I wander the mall with coloured friends of mine, carrying their 18-month old beautiful boy, it is easy to see the questions on their faces trying to figure out if he is light-skinned enough to be my child or what in the world I might actually be doing hanging out with “them”. Even if people are not hung up on the color of my skin and just speak to me, the moment I respond, either to say “sorry, I don’t speak Afrikaans, yet” or to actually carry the conversation they are then stopped in their tracks by my accent (even if they can’t place it as American initially.) It has not been easy trying to fit into the boxes that my “neighbors” have for me. But how often have I been guilty of this in some way too?

My definition of “neighbor” has been challenged most of my life, but in the last couple of months it has taken on a whole new meaning. While in my mind, my neighbor has always included the people of Africa, South Africa, Kimberley, Roodepan (and the rest of the world)– I have only now been able to begin to put faces with that concept and I find myself taking to heart those words of Jesus a little bit more. I have had the privilege of traversing part of this beautiful country by bus three times now between Pietermaritzburg and Bloemfontein and I’m reminded of a line from one of the many movies that have been shown for entertainment during those trips. The characters were having a conversation about race issues amongst their youth baseball team. The coach asked the team what race one of the players was and the boys responded based on the color of his skin. The coach told them they were wrong and went on to say that “his race is human because there is only one human race.” What an important reminder for us as we try to determine who our “neighbors” really are. We are one human race and our neighbors are our brothers and sisters that make up that one human race. We don’t get to decide who fits in that box, everyone is in, and everyone needs to be loved in the way that we love ourselves.

Coming back to these ideas of first impressions and core identity, I see that so often we can only create a first impression by what is obvious and usually based on what is on the outside. We rarely give one another more than a few seconds, before making a judgment about what that person’s core identity surely must be, based on things like the color of their skin or the accent with which they speak or the way they dress or how their hair is done (or un-done), etc. In this journey to understand those traits of my core identity that keep coming back, I find that they are the characteristics I was given when I was made in the image of God and are much deeper than just the outside surface of my person. I can only hope that my attempts to embody this image by loving my “neighbor”, translates into an authentic picture of myself. I hope that I’m not just carrying that notion in my head and in my heart but that it is also so very apparent through the smile on my face and in the way I greet a new person in the street. I want my core identity, that part of me that I can’t seem to shake even when I have a chance to reinvent myself, to continue to be a beautiful reflection of the image of God and I want it to be obvious to those around me. I hope that so far I have been the most authentic “version” of myself to the people that I have met in South Africa, but more so I hope that I can lose the other “versions” and just be the person I was created to be, without fear of what my neighbors might think. I hope, too, that I am learning to see that all of my neighbors were also made in the image of God and that their unique characteristics are what make them a beautiful part of the family of Christ. I think that I have definitely been placed in a community that will challenge me to this task day in and day out for the next 10 months and I am grateful for that. I pray that this is a contagious idea, worldwide – you don’t have to be in South Africa to challenge your notions of who your neighbors are or what the image of God looks like in you. I hope that all of us will truly seek to live out our lives as our authentic selves, made in the image of God. After all, first impressions can be hard to break.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Info for Sending Packages

Hi friends. Just a quick piece of information for those of you who were wondering about sending packages....

I can definitely receive them, however, a few things to consider:

1) Don't send it if you can't stand to lose it - corruption is a big deal here including with mail at the post offices please don't send anything extremely valuable unless you want to potentially give it to a South African.

2) Customs - you will be required to fill out a customs form - try to include the word "Used" (yes even for a toothbrush) with a listed item - this I have been told is a good deterrent for theft when it arrives in South Africa.

3) Cost - be aware that what you send me (if it is much bigger than a regular sized card) I will have to pick up at the post office - I also will have to pay a customs fee to pick up these type of packages so please beware that I am living on a budget and as much as I would love to receive goodies...please be sure they will not be extremely costly on this end as well.

Thanks for the continued outpouring of love and support! Keep checking back for further updates from my time here.

Peace and Love,

Friday, October 8, 2010

Yes, I'm Still Alive...Here's a Quick Update

Helloooo Blog World! Sorry you have been neglected since my arrival in South Africa but internet has been sketchy. Please find below a brief update of the things going on in my life here. It really is just a quick overview but I should have more reliable internet from here on out so there will definitely be some analysis of things that have been happening in the last 6 weeks coming soon! I miss you all. Don’t forget to email ( and Facebook me updates in your lives. Here also is my mailing address if you want to go the old fashioned way and send me some love. (Jessie Fairfax, 3 Pansy Street, Pescodia, Kimberley, 8309, South Africa)

It has been wonderful hanging out in the Southern Hemisphere. I am living in a township called Roodepan just outside the city of Kimberley, South Africa. Roodepan is pretty much an entirely Coloured (mixed-race) community so they don’t fit in the mold of White, Black, or Indian. While some of the YAGM here will encounter Coloureds, I am really the only one living in a community that is entirely Coloured so that should provide some interesting discussions when we meet up for our first retreat at Thanksgiving.

I am living with a host family that I absolutely adore. The siblings are all around our ages (my sister, Ilse, who lives at home is 22, my brother, Ralph, is 29 and lives on the next street over about a 2 minute walk from where I’m staying, and my brother, Shane, just turned 30 last month and is married with a 5 year-old and a 14 year-old and lives a 5 minute drive from our house in Roodepan) so that has been really awesome to connect with them and meet a ton of their friends. I already have a list of weddings to go to in the next few months. Crazy.
The primary language here in Kimberley is Afrikaans but most people also speak at least some English. I am working on my Afrikaans though so I don’t wind up quite so left out of some conversations and all of the sermons at church. Haha. Having a family to keep watch over me and feed me like 10 meals a day has definitely made it easier for me to adjust and to keep any homesickness away. My parents have been able to call my really ancient South African cell phone via Skype when they get the chance although we’re still working on the whole time difference thing but it’s been nice to be able to catch up with them. If you have a Skype calling plan and want to call me sometime – let me know and I’ll get you my number!

The pastor that I am working through here is very big on getting the church he serves part-time more involved in the greater community and is using me as a springboard into some different organizations to find ways to start including them. Mondays and Tuesdays I am working at a children’s home/orphanage and since most of the kids are at school when I can be there, I spend my days hanging out with the 6 babies (ages 5 months-3 years). All of the kids who live there are infected or affected by HIV/AIDS and most of the caregivers don’t seem to have a lot of training, so it is definitely an eye-opening experience. Wednesdays I am working with a home-based care NGO that is literally a team of mostly women who go out into Roodepan and walk to visit different patients that they have, every single day during the week. Most are helping to deliver meds for TB patients or giving elderly persons sponge baths and other things but sometimes they are just visiting with people as well. Most of the women carry a 12-15 patient load and are walking long distances through the township to visit each of them each day. Thursdays I am spending working at the church Creche which is like a day-care/pre-school. I am also involved with the Youth program, Young Adults League, and Confirmation classes, and whatever else someone grabs me and tells me I just have to be a part of at St. Luke’s and beyond. It’s busy, but I’m loving all of the different types of people that I’m getting to know through these various ministry opportunities.

Things I’m learning – the list is very long but really I would say the main thing is just learning to listen to the people around me. Everyone has a story or something that they want to share with me and although I may be exhausted some days, it is still important for me to listen and participate in the conversations and activities that I am invited to. I can’t say that I’ve been disappointed yet by putting off sleep or time to myself for the people that God has placed in my life at this time.

Weirdest Food so far - I did eat pig’s feet the other night for dinner. I told my host family just not to tell me until after I’d eaten things what it was so I usually don’t ask questions. It was kind of weird but definitely not bad but I’m sure my opinion would have been different if I’d known from the start. For the most part though, they eat things that we would consider pretty normal which has been really nice.

Prayer Requests:

My country coordinators (Brian and Kristen Konkol) are expecting their first child literally any-day now. She is officially due the 21st I think, but when we saw her at the end of September she was ready to go at any time and they told Brian he wasn’t allowed to leave town as he had been planning with us. They are a bit nervous so just be praying for the safety of mom and baby boy (who was dubbed “Creature” by the last YAGM crew and that name has stuck since they won’t reveal the name they’ve chosen) and the peace of the Lord to be with all three of them as they wait.

Other than that, my biggest prayer is for my community and placement sites. I’m am 99.9% sure I am the only white person living in Roodepan and that attracts lots of attention and when I tell others where I am living they kind of scoff at me. I gave a talk at Youth this week about living our lives in such a way that we are striving to be the image of God that we were created to be. I pray that this is something I am doing everyday as I walk the streets and ride the crazy taxis in this place and that I am taking the time to truly see the people that have been placed in my life these days.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Time For A New Venture...South Africa

Hello, dear friends and supporters!!!

Look for updates soon and (internet-access willing) often as I embark on my next adventure...a year of service in South Africa with the ELCA's Young Adults in Global Mission program. I leave home in about 7 hours bound for a week of orientation in Chicago. From there, the 43 of us scatter across the globe to 6 different placement countries (11 of us will be headed to South Africa together.)

I can't wait to see where this path is heading and to have you all along for the ride.

Stay tuned.
Peace and Love.