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.