Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mary, Did You Know?

Greetings from Cape Town this blessed Christmas Eve!

"...and she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn." (Luke 2:7)

As this new year has begun with the reflective season of Advent, we are called not to look back on those things we have struggled with or which have held us back in the year past, but to look forward to the many things our great God has in store for us in the days to come. We have spent these past 4 weeks preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ, our rock and our foundation who came to us in the miraculous, unexpected and incredibly vulnerable state of an infant. I can't help but to wonder what it must have been like that first Christmas as Mary gave birth to the Christ-child. I am reminded of the words to one of my favorite Christmas songs,

    Mary did you know that your baby boy
       would one day walk on water?
    Mary did you know that your baby boy
       would save our sons and daughters?
    Did you know that your baby boy
       has come to make you new?
         This child that you delivered,
            would soon deliver you?

These words remind me of the vulnerability of our God and of the vulnerability we are invited to have through relationship with this newborn baby, our Savior. Just as we wish to have a relationship with, to love on and care for little babies in our communities, I imagine we would also have wanted to care for the tiny baby Jesus. In that way, the birth of Christ as a baby starts to make sense for me in a way it never has before. It is an invitation into relationship with God in the least threatening way possible. God has presented God's self to us in a way that seems impossible and yet irresistible. Quite unlike meeting angels face to face, there is nothing threatening about this child that would cause one to greet Him for the first time with the words, "be not afraid." Instead, the first words spoken by outsiders are words of praise, as the shepherds "made known what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed" (Luke 2:17-18).

In reading the Gospel of Luke's account of the birth of Christ, I am drawn in by the power of these words, one line at a time. I accept the invitation to journey through that night with the one person closest to Jesus, wondering what this night must have been like for Mary. The words catch me every time... when the Shepherds spoke these amazing prophetic words about her newborn son, we are told she "treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). As she pondered in what I imagine to be joy and amazement, I wonder,

    Mary did you know that your baby boy
       would give sight to a blind man?
    Mary did you know that your baby boy
       would calm the storm with his hand?
    Did you know that your baby boy
       has walked where angels trot?
    When you kiss your baby,
       you kiss the face of God?

So much of why we celebrate the birth of the tiny baby Jesus is because we know these pieces of the story: Jesus grew up and invited us into a more full reality of who He was created to be. He has selflessly offered himself and returned infinitely more love than was poured over him as a child.

This annual night of remembering Christ as an infant is a reminder of the constant invitation for us to continue that relationship. Jesus maintained the purity and innocence of the child we picture on this night, and so in the same way as we fearlessly oddle over and seek relationship with the infant Immanuel, we are invited to enter into a relationship with the same Christ who invites the deaf to hear and the lame to leap.

It is true that for many, Christmas is about sharing gifts and spending time with family. I think we got this right: I believe God truly would want us to commemorate the birth of God's son by giving to and sharing with one another in love. Yet in sharing gifts we must remember that in the Christ child, we were given the greatest gift that could ever be given. We have been offered and invited to share in the gift of relationship and meaning in our lives. Through this relationship, we are loved and offered new life. New life that is remembered on this night, especially through the celebrated life of a new, unexpecting and holy child we long to love and care for, yet who loves and cares for us far more than we will ever know.

    Mary Did you know that your baby boy
       is Lord of all creation?
    Mary did you know that your baby boy
       will one day rule the nations?
    Did you know that your baby boy
       is heavens perfect lamb?
          and this little child you're holding is the great I AM?

May God be with you this Blessed Christmas Season

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Add To The Beauty

Usually when I fail to update often, it is because I dont have words to say or have been so busy I haven’t had time to post them. As of late, it seems to have been the opposite. I’ve had so many things weighing on me and demanding my attention that as they quickly run through my mind I have struggled to capture them for long enough to write them down.

Today, my friend Don posted (via Twitter) this link to a blogger’s sincere review of his new book. Unfortunately, it has not yet been released here in South Africa, so I am yet to read it myself. However, reading reflections like this one does two things for me: 1- make me more anxious to get my own copy, and 2 - make me miss the Ride:Well Tour and the way we somehow came to understand that life is to be lived with a sense of urgency in living a more full life.

This reminded me of the words of what has become one of my anthems. The song is Add To the Beauty by Sara Groves, and as we grow closer to Christmas and move into the new year, this is, I realize, what my heart and soul are crying out for: to Add to the Beauty.

Add To the Beauty
We come with beautiful secrets
We come with purposes written on our hearts, written on our souls
We come to every new morning
With possibilities only we can hold, that only we can hold

Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces
Calling out the best of who we are

And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That's burning up inside

It comes in small inspirations
It brings redemption to life and work
To our lives and our work

It comes in loving community
It comes in helping a soul find it's worth

Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces
Calling out the best of who we are

And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That's burning up inside

This is grace, an invitation to be beautiful
This is grace, an invitation

Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces
Calling out our best

And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That's burning up inside

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Occassions to Celebrate

The past few weekend have been eventful and full of time to spend with the Ilunga family, as we are invited/expected to be at family events. It has been a great way to get to know them better - the girls but perhaps especially Mama and Papa while outside of work-related events.

The first of these family weekend events was the weekend we returned from the Congo. In true Ilunga style, we received a text message at 3 telling us to be ready to be picked up at 5. That's it. We didn't know why, or where we were going. We did call to find out if we should eat supper first, to which we received a surprised "of course not! We're going out to eat!" haha, ok... good to know, right?

The purpose for this particular outing was to celebrate Debbie's 17th birthday! One more year as a minor... and she made sure we knew it! We - the 5 Ilunga girls, Mama & Papa, Clifford, Vixa, Rachel, Hannah & I - gathered for some much-needed laughs over our celebratory dinner, complete with singing a few rounds of Happy Birthday to implement proper amounts of embarrassment for the birthday girl!

On our way out, we did manage to stop for a family photo. Too bad the pretty blue wall behind us doesn't look so pretty with the flash ruining the sweet lighting. But you get the idea. :)

Our next outing was the following Friday, for which we gathered for yet another Ilunga family birthday - this time, Judy was turning 19! Again meeting up at the Waterfront for dinner, we added more people to our group and did our best to sing, take photos, etc. A quality bonding activity with the family, we are definitely starting to see different sides of them - esp Mama Tembo - and I love it! It also helped piece together where "innocent" little Nissia gets all her spunk from! haha


For the third weekend in a row, we spent a day this past weekend at another family function, this time at a wedding Mama and Papa were hosting (as the godparents of the groom). The ceremony was beautiful and provided an eventful and full day of events, beginning early (not until 10am for us) with preparations and continuing on an "African time" schedule. Following the ceremony, we (the entire wedding party, which we somehow became a part of and Hannah became the official photographer for) made our way around town for photos. We stopped at the city garden, where this group photo was taken, then moved to Milnerton beach, where a few of us managed to go play in the water while the photos were being shot. Eventually we made it back to the Ilunga home, where the entire party gathered to eat lunch and do that thing we are oh-so-very good at these days: wait. Nearly everyone changed to eat so they wouldn't spill on the fancy attire, only to begin with hair, make-up and new outfits for the reception. As usual, this took a bit longer than anticipated, and we arrived at the reception just over two hours late. The guests are clearly used to this routine, though, as when we entered about 15 minutes before the couple, everyone seemed content as could be just hanging out in the reception hall.

The arrival of the couple meant a meal was soon to follow, followed by lots of dancing and photo opportunities (Hannah did a great job!). The party got one so late and everyone had such a good time cutting the cake was nearly forgotten! Seriously. It was so late when it was finally cut they decided not to bother serving it, and shortly thereafter the couple left, encouraging the guests to do so soon thereafter. A great time was had by all, but the time we left, we were definitely exhausted and thankful to be going home. We did manage to get one quick picture of the 3 of us in our "reception dresses" on our way out the door, though. A definite shout-out must be had to the Ilunga girls, once again, for letting us go through their closets (per request of Mama Tembo). All 3 of us started in clothing we'd taken the previous week. Then in the afternoon we unexpectedly changed into eveningwear... again, courtesy (not that it was always a choice) of the Ilunga closets. They're pretty stylish girls, huh?

This has been a lot of excitement in a little bit of time, especially since we spent today at a town meeting in Atlantis! (hopefully more on that later) With the youth Stay Awake Friday (read: lock-in only everyone seriously stays awake all night) and another wedding on Saturday (that we are not anticipating making after being up all night, if we can help it), to say we are tired would be an understatement. Its that good kind of tired, though. The kind that keeps me alive and remembering what we are living for. That every day is a new day, that every moment presents a new opportunity for adventure, that there are countless ways to enjoy life through love, laughter, and joy.

These are the kinds of moments I am living for. I have embarked on this crazy adventure. I have moved to South Africa because I believe God has called me to live and work and pray and serve.... and learn. Each day (like these) that I have to live more fully into the community I have been welcomed into here, I know I am being shaped. Sometimes, it feels like pinning and prodding. Most of the time, it feels like love shared between friends and family. That's how it feels today, and I realize I must have the best "job" in the world: I would rather be no other place in the world than right here, right now. That, friends, is an incredible feeling, and I praise God for it! and I praise God for you - my supporters and prayer warriors and friends and family who have helped support me and bring me to this place. Really, truly, from the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for being a part of this journey with me.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

World Cup Final Draw was AYOBA!

It has finally begun. The 2010 FIFA World Cup events, hosted this year for the first time by an African country, have begun in Cape Town. The world is preparing for it, and it is a great joy to watch first-hand the ways in which the World Cup has become such a great uniter among the excited fans throughout South Africa in particular.

As they well should be, South Africans are proud. The are excited. Sure, at some level the whole world (minus most of the USA, *sigh*) is excited for this great uniting sports competition, but they are REALLY excited. I mean... they are so excited they don't even have words to describe it, so new ones are created! Seriously. The World Cup and all things good around it can only be described by one undefinable word created for just this purpose: "AYOBA!"

So when I realized that the kick-off event for the World Cup - the Final Draw - would be taking place in Cape Town, two thoughts occured to me. One: it is going to be packed and chaotic downtown, and no one in their right mind would want to brave that crowd when they could watch from home and probably have a better idea at what's going on. Two: I wonder if my roommates would want to go with me, and if we could talk Clifford or Vixa into driving us.

Fortunately, we didn't have to ask: Clifford decided we should go and asked if he could take us. check!

So he did... and ten miutes after we arrived and had begun making our way through the crowd, we departed, planning to use technology as the only means to actually meet up again in these masses. We were there a bit early to make sure we'd be able to get in, and it was already PACKED! Its kind of hard to tell in this picture, taken shortly after we arrived, but we were pretty excited to actually be in Long Street for the World Cup Final Draw!

Fortunately, our thinking was right: we later found out they blocked the streets off and wouldn't let any more people in when it got over capacity at around 120,000 people. The last (unofficial) number I heard was that there were close to 150,000... but numbers don't really matter when it gets that high anyway. Basically, for as far as we could see in any direction, we could only see thousands of people. It was kind of intense and really awesome.

We obviously started all the way in the back, where the huge mass of people was pretty intimidating. By the time the draw started at 7 we had discovered how to avoide the ridiculous masses and found a hole in the crowd next to some great folks who were there for the festivities, but who (like us) really wanted to actually watch the draw. It was a perfect match as we battled to hear and would reveal results to each other as they were read. Pretty good draws, too: South Africa will play in opening game against Mexico! Uruguay and France are the other two teams making up Group A, while the USA will open group C matches against England with Algeria and Slovenia making up the other half of our group. Basically, that means we (USA) got a GREAT draw, and have an incredible chance of making it to the top 16! We got some funny looks for being so excited about this, but hey, what can I say? There are at least a few soccer fans in the US...

Following the draw, we slowly we made our way forward through the crowd; by the time our evening came to a close, we were about 10 rows from the front. Definitely an adventure, it was the perfect place to enjoy live music, meet lots of new and interesting people, and of course do the one thing we'd been wanting to go out for since we arrived: dance. So, here we were, mid-dance party, waiting for the final musicians of the evening to come on stage.

To our great (and pleasant) surprise in this giant crowd, we actually ran into a number of people we know, namely members of the Kalenga familiy or people we knew through SHADE/Woodstock Church that we didn't even realize were there. It was a great addition to the night, somehow making this city we live in feel a bit more like home.

We eventually closed the night with as much laughter and celebration as we started with, finally meeting up with Clifford, Sandra and Vixa. We were all exhausted but running on adrenaline, but clearly I seemed to have a bit more, as Vixa decided I should carry him up a hill. I talk big and had already smoothly made reference to how I of course could do it, the strength of a woman to carry a man or something of that sort. Fortunately, on this one I hadn't bitten off too much more than I could chew, and after stopping for pictures to remember the event by, it gave us all the more reasons to laugh together.

All in all, Dec 4, 2009 proved to be a memorable night, and as one of the posters on Long Street said, I am glad to be able to say, "I was there" the night it all began in Cape Town. It only makes me all the more excited about all that is to come with the World Cup only 6 months away!

A Bizarre Trend

I came across this quote on my friend Lisa’s new blog today, and I while I have heard it several times before, I think it fits incredibly well with my last post.
The bizarre trend in mountaineers is not the risk they take, but the large degree to which they value life. They are not crazy because they don't dare, they're crazy because they do. These people tend to enjoy life to the fullest, laugh the hardest, travel the most, and work the least.  ~Lisa Morgan.
While I am definitely not a mountaneer, I do resonate deeply with these words and like to think that I do my best to live in accordance with this philosophy. I think the best part might even be "work the least" because for me, it doesn't mean I become lazy or cease to have gainful employment. It just means that I have been blessed to find meaningful work that does not in fact feel like I am working most of the time.

That being said, I hope if this ever ceases to be true in my life, my good friends who have taken these journeys of life with me will not be afraid to challenge and push me into a ridiculous-sounding new adventure.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Its good to be in a City

I grew up in a small town. I graduated from high school with a class that was at the time the biggest class in the short history of the school district: 67. I grew up going to events or games in town knowing and expecting that while there, I would run into several people I knew. On many accounts, this was good and healthy: there were no secrets, and for a teenager, that was good because it kept me out of trouble. They say, “its not against the rules unless you get caught.” I grew up knowing that in a town like mine, I would definitely get caught.

One of the things I was looking for as I moved away from home was a shift in culture, life experiences, and adventure. Eventually, that is what led me to brave moving to a big city by myself. Chicago and the community I entered into amidst the 6 million people in the area quickly befriended me, and after 3 short years, I believe part of me will always call Chicago my city and my home.

Living in a city made the shift to Cape Town both a natural one, and a difficult one. I miss the public transit systems and opportunities to get on the train without a destination in mind. On days like that I knew that in an hours time I could move from the young, student-dominated neighborhood I lived in and into the downtown area where there was always something going on, if only I knew the right places to look. I miss the live music, the masses of people sharing in excitement at big events, the opportunities to be involved on social justice issues across the board. I miss the sports and living just a 25-minute train ride from Wrigley Field, home of my favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs. I loved that if I wanted something to do on any given night in Chicago, it could be found.

Living in Cape Town in an area far from the downtown area has presented challenges. We are far removed from any action of the city. We live in a really quiet (read: also very safe) neighborhood, and since Vixa and Clifford live across the road, we’ve been strongly discouraged from venturing out on public buses or in those infamous white taxis. At this point, we still haven’t learned how to navigate them, and the biggest hesitation pending doing so is that we are leaving in a few weeks time, so by the time we learn it, we’ll have to learn in a new city all over again.

This isn’t to say there aren’t things going on in Cape Town. Quite the contrary: and fortunately, proper confidence has finally been placed in us to “allow” for exploring to take place. Mama Tembo still gets pretty nervous about any adventures we embark on, but at least now she realizes these adventures are of our own accord and she needn’t worry so much about taking responsibility with the “what-ifs.” If you know me at all, you know I only get frustrated with the “what-if” questions, and if you propose such a question, I am most likely to respond with something along the lines of, “but what-if we don’t… and we never live life…”

One such simple, not life-altering what-if (and the actual intended purpose of this post) came up over this past weekend. Every year, Cape Town holds a big lights festival downtown on Adderly Street, where each block is decorated with lights according to a theme. This big event draws a huge crowd with tens of thousands of people gathering for the live music and the official first turning on of lights in the city. Following the lights turning on there are fireworks, a parade, and lots of celebrating. With a crowd like this, there are lots of “what-if” questions - its easy to be pick-pocketed, for example.

Aware of risks involved, Rachel and I decided to go (Hannah was already out with friends elsewhere), and what we discovered was that of course it was no different from any of the many events I had attended back home. Lots of people providing lots of entertainment to watch if nothing else, and I may go as far as to say it was safer than most other small events, as there were police EVERYWHERE!

(please note my favorite display. Cycling was the only sport aside from soccer (a given with the upcoming World Cup!) created in lights. AWESOME. And yes- they were in motion!)

All of this is to say, We had a really great time and enjoyed an opportunity to get back into a crowd and just be amidst people again. We’re even talking now about returning to downtown next week for the World Cup Final Draw, where there will likely be ten times as many people in about the same amount of space. This isn’t just any event, though: its the official start of South Africa hosting the 2010 World Cup! Exciting times, indeed, and I cant seem to come up with a good reason to miss it. I’m sure Mama Tembo will have some waiting for us, though, so we’ll see. :)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thankful Indeed

There is much to be thankful for year ‘round, and I am thankful that each year in the last week of November, we US citizens celebrate and remind each other to be thankful through a national holiday: Thanksgiving.

I have celebrated Thanksgiving in various places and with different groups of people who are important to me, but this was the first year I was not in the United States. That means that while I have always contributed to the Thanksgiving feast, it has always been done pot-luck style. That was not the case this year, as we knew that as the only Americans we know here, if we didn’t prepare the feast ourselves, there would be no traditional foods to be had. Therefore Hannah, Rachel and I did all the shopping over the couple of days leading up to Thanksgiving and stayed home from work Thanksgiving Day to prepare the feast. Our only regret was that we didn’t have a bigger kitchen/house to host people in, as our list of who we wanted to invite was significantly larger than the list of people we actually did get to invite.

As we prepared the large feast that included TWO turkeys (who were we kidding? We knew these folks could EAT!), excitement built. The baking of desserts was done the night before and were taunting us from the cupboard. As the preparations began in early hours of the morning, we had all day to talk about our own traditions and how things were the same or different from back home. We laughed and shared stories of memories from years past. We took time to share things we are thankful for and remembered the many ways we are fortunate.

We received our guests with joy and excitement into our aroma-filled house. While initially unsure how they would feel about these foods that were all almost all new to them, we were easily convinced they weren’t exaggerating their approval as they moved in for third and forth servings. By then, we had also moved into entertainment by some of the girls (through singing and dancing)- all of this before they slipped into food comas, sprawling out in the living room before we even got to dessert (don’t worry, we woke them for it!). Needless to say, they ate their fill and then some, and we hardly had any left!

Only days after we finally got some furniture in our house, it was great to fill our house with guests that brought such energy, joy, life and love. We spoke all week of things we are thankful for, and as the evening came to a close, I realized the depth of gratitude I really do have especially for the friends and family (however defined) I have in my life. I am also grateful this year to have been able to share this great tradition (and traditional food!) with others for the first time. It was indeed a great Thanksgiving, and I went to bed counting my blessings for an incredible life and for a God that is always giving us new life in ways great and small.
Here we are mid-meal... I was teaching them how to stretch their stomachs to make room for another course. :)
Our entire group, L-R Top Row: Judy, Joyce, Me, Lucy, Nissia, Debbie, Vixa
Front Row: Lynn, Hannah, Clifford, Rachel

Monday, November 23, 2009

This is Africa

This is Africa. When in Africa, do as Africans do.

If nothing else, we have learned to appreciate flexibility in Africa. If you know me, you know I am a “P” on a Myers Briggs scale, meaning that I am flexible, I tend to prefer to “go with the flow” and not make plans. I procrastinate, I make lists, sometimes even lists of my lists, but not because I am organized and well-managed. Rather, I have lists because of the opposite: I am unorganized, unplanned, don’t tend to stick to built-in structures, etc - and without lists, I would probably lose my way or forget what my intended goal had been when I arrive. I very much enjoy taking these windy, unexpected paths to get to a destination, often a destination that changes along the way, and I like my lists because they remind me of where I’ve come from and how I’ve grown along the way as the Spirit led me to a place very much unlike where I thought I was going.

So... this is Africa. In Africa, that is the way it is. Change and flexibility are not an option or exception, but a way of life. This morning in the office, we are reflecting on the conference in DRC, and I am reminded of this and what a great gift it is to be able to pull away from our usual “American” expectations and to be comfortably settling into a new way of life.

“This is Africa” we are reminded as we laugh and share stories from weeks past. Mama Mande shares great examples as she repeats this phrase to us again: “This is Africa! In Africa,” we are told, “its not about 1-2-3 - that won’t work here. It is more likely to be 10-1-7-4.” In Africa, when you are looking for 10-1-7-4, you are set up for success. You are expecting the unexpected, seeking success no matter the avenue. You may occasionally find 4-5-6, and on that rare occassion, allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised. But don’t spend too much time celebrating, as you may miss 7-9-2 that comes next.

That’s my lesson for the day, my key to success in fulfilling my hope to living a full life. Its scary to let go of the familiar. To live life without a planned routine. But its also redeeming. Try it, you may be pleasantly surprised with your new found freedom and with the many new and “unplanned” ways you encounter the living God among us.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Finally an Aunt!

It is good to be home! Travels were uneventful (thankfully!) and we have all been home since Late Wednesday evening. We spent Thursday resting and re-settling into our home in Cape Town, and are working our energy back up as we look forward to getting back into the office. Believe it or not, I’ve really missed the office, our scheduled work and our incredible staff we get to spend the days with. It is good to be home, and I look forward to returning to Salt River to work on Monday!

Of utmost importance other than the details of arriving home safely is big family news I am excited to share! After more than two days of labor, my little sister Aleah has given birth to a beautiful baby boy!!! My first nephew Quintin Eugene was born on Wednesday, November 18 and was 8lbs, 4oz and 21in long! Mom and baby are still recovering but doing well, and expect to go home on Saturday.

Here he is - isn’t he beautiful!?!?

My only regret is that I am so far away, but I have been assured by Aleah and my mother both that they will cuddle and kiss him plenty for me, too! Please join with me in celebrating the birth of her first child (my mother’s first grandchild after she’s wanted grandchildren for so long!), and in praying for them as she learns all the intricacies of motherhood. (and fatherhood for Daddy Corn!)

Welcome, baby Quintin, and congrats Mommy Aleah and Daddy Corn! Love you guys!

Sunday, November 15, 2009


I write today from our host home, Uncle Jimmy’s house in Lubumbashi. We (Rachel Hannah and I) were supposed to leave with the rest of the South Africa group yesterday, but we realized that we had not yet seen much of the Congo outside of the conference walls and our drive between the center and Uncle Jimmy’s home, so we changed our tickets and have decided to stay an extra few days: through Wednesday. We will then fly home with Joyce, Mama Tembo and Papa David.

(Our "family portrait" from the Cultural evening with Mama Tembo, Papa David, their daughter Joyce, her friend Abigail, and of course Lucy, our friend/sister/roommate for the week, and co-worker at SHADE)

The conference officially ended Friday, and while it was sad to be over, I think our bodies are also somewhat grateful. I know I have learned a valuable lesson about which Malaria pills I should not be taking, as I have had terrible reactions to the ones I have been taking, and as such have spent most of the past ten days quite sickly. I’ll spare the details, but I will say that I am grateful to have some time of much-needed rest and to a more regular eating schedule, something that certainly cannot hurt an aching and upset stomach.

Aside from that, this week really had been phenomenal. The official ending of the conference was marked with the Cultural evening/event on Friday. We had a lovely dinner and everyone dressed up in cultural attire, including us Americans. It was a great opportunity to feast, fellowship and laugh together one last time before we had to part ways with our new friends. I know I was certainly thankful for those final non-work related conversations we had the opportunity to share with new friends! Not to mention the music, the presentations and the fashion shows that ensued. There were no dull moments to be had, that much is certain!

I am struggling to come up with words to describe the evening or the close of this week. I am still processing the many events of the week, and am nothing if not grateful for being a part of it. There were lots of struggles this week, lots of joys and sorrows shared, lots of memories created and friendships began. God was present and faithful and full of surprises, but most of all, Good. We know that All the time, God is Good, and this week was no exception. Right now, I can do little but celebrate in that fact, in how well the conference went despite all the challenges faced. In such a mode of celebration and gratitude, I want to share a few pictures from our closing ceremony - the cultural evening of celebration.

Chancey from the American team (Church of the Resurrection) shows off during the Fashion Show.
Zambia during their cultural presentation

Me, Rachel, and Hannah with our new friend from Malawi, Sam

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Reflections on Wounded Healers

The conference thus far had been absolutely amazing. Words cannot describe how great it has been to meet the delegates and satellite leaders, to share in our stories that have brought us to this place, to learn and worship and pray and feast and fellowship together in this conference center that has been made a holy place by so many great people gathered in one place.

Every night I go home and think about the days past, about how much I have been able to learn and grown in this short amount of time. I debrief a bit with my sisters I’m staying with (Hannah, Rachel, Lucy and Joyce) and think about what has been and what is yet to come. About how we are growing not as individuals but as a larger community across the continent of Africa. I think about what it means to be a “wounded healer” and am thankful that so very many people who have such deep, cutting wounds have sought healing in Christ and want to use those wounds to seek further healing or prevention of wounds for others.

I have heard stories that sound like they are from a book. These are the stories that I have heard “of” -
you know, the ones someone else once encountered and it affected them so strongly they brought it home to share, to share with others that others might seek a means to help and make a difference. These are the stories I have heard before, the stories that have helped connect me to these men, women and children. The stories that have played such a strong role in developing my understanding of my call to do what I can as one part of the body who has a means to make a difference. We were told many times this week, “As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person.” That is the humble goal we seek this week. To make a positive change on person at a time. Easier said than done, as it is often harder to love one person well than to love the idea of changing a community. But that really is the point, isn’t it? That the higher path is rarely the easy one, and the right path requires a community such as Sister2Sister to rely on, encourage, and offer strength through prayer to one another. That is what this community has embraced. Those are the stories I am hearing.

Stories of lack of clean water in communities that are desperately trying to move on with education or development or farming, but who cannot because they must walk to carry dirty water home each day for cooking, cleaning, washing. Water that is making them sick, so the sick are taking turns with days off, meaning they really do need every person to help out.

Stories of communities where the average age is 14. Where entire generations have disappeared because of HIV/AIDS. In many households, it is difficult to be clear who is caring for who: the grannies for the babies, or the babies for the grannies. What would they do without each other? Where will this lead the next generation of youth?

Stories of women and children having violent crimes committed against them. Crimes of abuse, of violent rape, of being taken as child soldiers or sold into slavery. Crimes committed out of fear, confusion, miseducation. Crimes being committed because no one was there to break the cycle for them, because violence and abuse and fear are all some generations have ever known. Fear is the heart of so much of the evil and pain, and at times it seems unstoppable.

Then one comes to Sister2Sister Tujenge conference here in DRC, and we know differently here. Here, we are a room filled with people who carry these same stories, but something was different for them. For these women, children and a few men, these stories are as real today as they were the day the were a victim. The difference is that someone somewhere along the way reached out a hand to them - to one person - and offered them a way out of that cycle. Their worlds were changed. Now, these “Wounded Healers” want nothing more than to be that glimmer of hope and change for one other person. To return the favor as many times as they can. God has led us to this place, God has guided us through this healing, God has given us the courage and wisdom and presented us with opportunities to move beyond the cycles we were once in the midst of.

Here at Sister2Sister Conference, we are choosing God and God’s grace to continue moving us to a place of healing. We are focusing this week on the theme, the one thing that keeps us moving not from week to week or sometimes even day to day, but from moment to moment as we grow out of our own painful stories. We (Wounded Healers) are remembering that “Hope Is The Cornerstone of Africa.” Thanks be to God.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Arrival In Lubumbashi, DRC

(I write as we wait for our ride to the conference center this morning. A ride which is late, of course, but then we are working on African time!)

Our arrival in Congo was far from that which was expected, but it was a great arrival to say the least.

We were greeted with a large party of folks that I later learned were a mix of some locals and some satellite leaders from various places throughout Africa. As if we weren’t surprised to have such a large party waiting to greet us, perhaps an even bigger surprise was that we were greeted not as we got into the terminal, but as we got off of the airplane, still parked out off the runway! After a long day of travel, it was a great joy to have so many smiling, excited faces there to join us, and some familiar and some we looked forward to getting to know in the week to come.

As we walked toward the terminal in a large group, Mama Helene told us to follow her. We went off to the side rather than inside. She led us through some guards who simply nodded at her and allowed her to bring us through, and as we entered the first security gate, we were greeted with a series of photographs being taken and film being rolled as we were led into a VIP room with lots of big, soft couches. They collected passports and took care of the customs for us while we got to know each other a bit, also helping us to skip the hoopla of having to pay off the customs officers to get through. It was a great way to be received.

Upon leaving this private waiting room (which we later discovered we were able to be welcomed into because Mama Helene’s husband is a high official in the national government), our first introduction to the Congo was the roads. The road to the airport was a rare glimpse at a paved road in the country, but at times we weren’t sure if paved was better or not. We did decide that the term “pothole” was never quite sufficient, though, as these were definitely just holes. It was an adage to our adventure, and the more near we drew to the home where we’d be staying, the bumpier the roads (no longer paved) became. No worries, though - by the end of the week we hardly noticed when we were bouncing down a road with our heads knocking together. It was all just a part of the experience.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Lion's Head

I am leaving for the Democratic Republic of the Congo in a few hours' time and should probably not be online, but as I was uploading photos onto my computer tonight I realized that if I dont post these now, I will likely overlook them upon our return from DRC.

On Saturday, we went for a hike at Lion's Head. It was our "warm up" hike before we hike Table Mountain the week we return from Congo. It was an absolutely PERFECT day for it, plenty hot but with a nice cool breeze. Of course... the breeze didn't keep the sun from giving me my nice first burn since arriving, but lesson learned, I suppose.

As you can see here, the view was absolutely incredible. Granted a photo hardly does it any justice, but it was absolutely breath-taking. I wanted to make sure I shared this. Definitely.

My first question upon reaching the top was if we could camp up there some time, but Vixa seemed confused as to why anyone would want to do that, haha. I do want to give a shout-out to Vixa for making us take the difficult route, though. At one point in the hike, we came to a crossroads with the "recommended route" continuing up a trail wrapping around the mountain, with another arrow pointing to a steep climb with a sign that says "at your own risk." Naturally, we took the risk. Why not add a little adventure to our day!?

This is one of the two climbs that was straight up, thus involving chains to help us climb up. I gotta admit I was super-hesitant at first, but it wasn't as bad/difficult as it looked (not for me, anyway). Still, it was pretty steep! This photo is actually on the way down, I went down ahead of Rachel, Hannah and Vixa, who you can see near the top in this photo. Good times!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Finding Home

I write today from the safety and comfort of the home of a dear friend and colleague, Pete Grassow. I was invited to join him and his congregation at Plumstead Methodist Church for worship this morning, helping to lead the services and to share with them why I have returned to South Africa.

I was greatly blessed by this congregation the last time I was here, and this morning was no different. This congregation has generously offered to pray with and for me throughout my time in South Africa, and I cannot begin to express my gratitude of having a congregation that I know I can call “home” even from so far away from the places I have understood to be “home” before. It brings me back the very question of what it means to be “home,” and of the struggle I face every time I am asked where my “home” is.

Certainly, a piece of my heart will always lie in the place my family still lives and where I once attended and graduated from high school. The same is also true of the places I lived and that shaped me so much as a student during both undergraduate and graduate studies. Even before returning, I somehow knew that I had a home in South Africa and I have often referred to my friends here as family, though I never truly anticipated the day would arrive when I would return and be able to greet them again in their “home.” I am glad that I was wrong.

The degree of questioning what it means to be “home” has significantly increased since the two years of the Ride:Well Tour. Through these long journeys I have embarked on, what I have discovered is that I have somehow come to find great comfort in the strange or otherwise unfamiliar places I find myself in. A few weeks before I left to ride my bike this summer, I moved out of my apartment and turned in the keys, officially making me “homeless” with no residence of my own to return to. I visited with family and friends until I flew to LA to begin the tour. Every time someone asked me where home was on tour, I wanted to say, “I live right here,” as no longer had a physical place to call a home of my own. I had come from Chicago, but I knew I would not return there. Where would I return to? I did not even know until the final week of tour where I would be moving to after we reached the Atlantic Ocean. I therefore wanted to claim the moment, not to let go of or forget where I’ve come from, but to embrace that if “home is where the heart is,” I can be fully present and at home wherever I am. I have certainly come to care for my team as family, so why can we as a family not make a home wherever we are?

Home. It is where I can feel comfortable and safe, be secure in who I am but never cease to be challenged. Where I can feel understood and risk being vulnerable. Where I can love and be loved. Where I can know that no matter what the day brings, there will be people around to get me through the nights.

I am really far from the place I refer to when I am asked where “home” is. Yet days like this, days when I know that I am home in a place far, far from South Dakota (or Iowa or Chicago), I am reminded of what an incredibly blessed life I have. I am reminded to count my many blessings, and I am thankful for the many people and places who have made this journey possible.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Becoming Aquainted

Life is quickly passing us by here in Cape Town, and as may have been expected, I am not finding as much time to update here as I hoped. I still hope that will change, but I make no promises.

This week brought with it a great deal of change, as the SHADE office we were introduced to last week is now no more. As our office is in transition in preparation for the big move to Johannesburg in January, we have moved from our large space in Woodstock into a much smaller office only a short distance away. Monday was our last day in the old office, and by the time we left, all that was left of that office was the carpet on the floor. Really.

Following work Monday, we made it to pick up our Congolese dresses!! We tried them on, and after a couple small alterations were made on spot, they were perfect fits and we can’t wait to wear them!!! I’m so honored to have been invited to be a part of that evening in this way. Really. (Aren’t the dresses are BEAUTIFUL!?!)

As last minute preparations for the Sister 2 Sister Conference in DRC are well underway and the office was in transition as it was being moved, we were phoned after arriving home on Monday and asked not to come in to work on Tuesday and Wednesday. Surely the work we had to do could be done from home (as we are working on our personal computers anyway), not to mention the fact that by looking at us they could very much tell that we were in need of some good rest.

Goodness, were they right! We took advantage of the invitation to have some time to get a bit of much-needed rest and enjoyed some real quality Sabbath time. Friends, never underestimate the power and importance of this time each week. We had not yet had a day of rest since arriving, and these two consecutive days made a world of difference as we returned to work once again alive with energy, passion and a desire to work in the midst of the “stress bucket” that is the SHADE office in these days of important conference preparations. I only wish everyone were able to have a day off... I certainly know it would make a world of difference at the office!

The good news is that all staff going to the conference have been asked to have their preparations completed by now (confession: I have a bit yet to do, but I have 5 days to do it... plenty of time!). We have also been asked to take at least one day, but up to 3-4 days before the conference not just off from work, but truly to rest. We are not expecting to so much as sleep much during the conference, so storing it up will be wise. I am looking forward to our time in The DRC, but reality is we are expected to be awake and functioning 20hrs/day for 7 days, so it will be exhausting and we need to be prepared for this in as many ways as possible now!

While most were out of the office on Friday, we returned there in the afternoon to wrap up a few

things, including the newsletter distributed to the youth each month. Last week, we were handed a couple of old copies and asked to prepare an issue for this month. Always more work because it was our first one and we weren’t really sure what to do with it (as we hardly know the youth by now!), we had a good time making it and it felt good to print and distribute it today. I went to youth group this afternoon and am really enjoying getting to know them. Its really too bad exams, etc have come so quickly, as now we only have one gathering left with them (A Stay Awake in December) before we leave. It really is a great program, I was glad to learn today that Yannick will be continuing it.

That wraps up our week. Oh - and how could I forget? We have internet now! We have purchased a couple of wireless cards to share and have each purchased our own DATA packages to connect, so we should be able to use it anywhere in South Africa - meaning this connection will move with us to Johannesburg and we shouldn't have such a delay again when we move. That being said, I must also confess I am enjoying this bit of disconnect from cyberspace, as it allows me to be more fully present here and now. That is, after all, why I came here, and so I am enjoying the opportunity to embrace it.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Rounding out Week 1

To begin this update, I would like to give a shout-out to my Ride:Well family, who I thought of lots this week while you were at the Venture banquet! I even made... I mean “invited” my roommates here to watch the ’09 Ride:Well Video (courtesy of Josh McNeilly and the wonderful world of Facebook) Thursday night about the same time as you all were gathering for the banquet. I hope it went well- miss you all!

After a busy week at the office, we were informed that Joyce would be coming to stay and accompany us on our journeys for the weekend. This was a welcome surprise, and so the weekend began with a trip to get fitted for Congolese cultural dresses, to be handmade by a friend of her family. The fabric she gave to us to have them made is absolutely BEAUTIFUL, and I can’t wait to see how they turn out!

Friday evening brought with it whole new sides of Vixa and Joyce we were yet to see. As it turns out, not only Joyce was staying with Vixa for the weekend, but also 2 of Vixa’s brothers - Raul and Yannick. We learned so much about Vixa (our co-worker and driver, who lives across the street) that I hardly know where to begin. One thing is certain... one should never trust in anything he and Yannick agree on, haha. You should have seen them over card games on Friday and Saturday night, switching between French and Swahili to keep us from catching on to what they were saying. I dont think I’ve laughed so hard in a very, very long time. I’m thankful for the friendships that have come so easily out of spending this time together. I’m looking forward to getting to know them better, for sure.

When not trying to play an “honest” game, we did take time out for tourism to go down to Cape Point. We did a bit of light hiking, much to Joyce’s dismay. It was gorgeous! Though I have to say, myfavorite part was likely the drive through Simonstown, where we stopped to see the many whales in the bay. I’d never seen whales before, so I was pretty excited.

The weekend also consisted of lots of cooking... its funny its only been a week and we “finally” cooked for those poor boys who are clearly starving. I made pancakes, Rachel baked cookies. Yannick is certain that no matter what we make, his is better. This was actually good news for us, for if his is better, we’re convinced we shouldn’t waste our time with sub-par meals, and next time he comes for the weekend, he is going to cook for us! I’ll let you know how that turns out, though...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A New Chapter Opens

My life has certainly not been void of adventure, and so I carefully consider the weight of such a promise when I say that I came to South Africa looking for what I know will be the greatest adventure of my life. With each passing day, I am more convinced of the great adventure that lies ahead of me, though I am also convinced that as usual, it is not going to be the adventure I was looking for. Its going to be even better.

The first couple of days have brought with them many new people to meet, places to visit, and communities to explore as we struggle through our jet lag. Rachel did a great job talking about some of the people we will be working closely with, I encourage you to check out her blog for introductions.

 (Me, Rachel, Lunch break on the front porch of SHADE offices. YEA sunshine!)

The first day at SHADE was Monday, and it was spent trying to soak in as much information as possible. We knew before we arrived here that we would be going to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in a few weeks’ time, but we didn’t know why. Today, that date seems like it is only a few days away as we are welcomed with open arms. We are anxious to get some of the groundwork set so that our open arms we offer in return may soon be used to help carry the burden of work for this upcoming journey. After getting a short history of SHADE, how they came to be, how their projects have come to grow, and where they may be going next, we were briefed on why we are going to DRC.

SHADE is hosting an international women’s conference (Sister 2 Sister) in Lubumbashi, DRC. It is an annual gathering of women leaders (and now also some key male leaders, mostly clergy) from all over southern Africa. It is an opportunity for these leaders to gather, learn, pray and plan together for the communities they will return to and the communities SHADE is yet to reach. I am looking forward to meeting some of the leaders of Satellite Projects I will be working with over the next couple of years.

Yesterday (Tuesday) brought with it another overload of information, which will likely be the case over the next several weeks. It also brought with it more concrete information about what our tasks will look like, at least in terms of the upcoming conference. In addition to helping out with preparations now, we are also each leading one plenary session and leading twice daily hour-long workshops. For as ill-prepared as we feel, we recognize both what a great privilege it is to be invited to lead in this way, as well as the huge responsibility it brings.

Rather than a lecture, I’ve been invited to offer a morning devotion (read: 30 minute message) on the topic of “True Worshipers.” At first, I was really excited about this and thought I got the “easy” one, but then I realized the topic for the day is “The church’s response to the abuse of women and children, and to the endless violence in the world.” With the overarching theme of the conference as “HOPE,” this may prove to be more challenging than originally anticipated, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I’ve begun with a light outline am excited to see where it takes me.

Slowly but sure we’re finding our way here in the office. Whether we find ourselves useful by making folders and packing bags to go to the conference or by preparing lectures for either the conference there or confirmation classes here (I start teaching them tomorrow), I am enjoying the fact that we are quickly adapting and feeling useful.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Morning in Cape Town!

Its a beautiful morning in Cape Town, and the three of us have all arrived safely and had a good night’s rest. We woke up early when Tembo’s brother stopped by to check on us... and to let us know he would be back later to take us to get phones and find internet (hence this is finally posted!). While we were up, we weren’t quite awake, so we took advantage of the morning off by gathering in one bed under a blanket and chatting the morning away. Before long, we had taken a liking to the beauty of the silence of the morning, and the time flew by. Its taken until nearly 11 for us to awake, eat, and now to blog a bit on our first morning in South Africa!

In a short while we’ll have phones, and we’ll let the world know we’re alive and well and soaking in the beauty that is around us. I look forward to the opportunity to update more in the near future!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Arrival in South Africa

It took walking off of the plane and into the international airport in Johannesburg to make this move seem real.

It seems quite strange to say it, but there is a strange comfort that comes from a familiar smell, and as I walked off the plane and into the terminal this morning, I was welcomed with a familiar smell I had not sensed in two years. It was a delightful sensation that came over me as I began processing this move in a whole new way. It is becoming a reality, this calling I have sought after for so long. I am not just on a short-term mission journey as in the past, but I have finally made a move overseas for mission work. I shall reside in South Africa for the next 16 months. While I am certain I will someday look back and understand this as short-term as well, it is a huge step for today. What a great blessing to be able to share in this work in this beautiful country!

I have now arrived in Cape Town, and in a couple of hours my two sisters and roommates - Hannah and Rachel - will also arrive. I am excited for their arrival, and looking forward to settling in together. And yes - also looking forward to finding internet and phone so that I may let everyone (both folks at home and my friends I am excited to greet here!) know I have arrived safely. (this has been posted and back-dated to when written).

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Great Visa Expedition

New Blog - Visa Expedition

Good news, friends - we have visas!

Up until an hour before closing time of the South African Consolate’s office yesterday, there was no certainty as to whether all three of us would have visas to depart today. The good news we had was that Hannah and Rachel were likely going to have theirs and would thus have no difficulty departing the next afternoon. The bad news was that the same was not true for me.

As a result of the previous story I shared about them going home to get proper background checks with their State Police offices and me getting mine only over the phone, there was question as to whether or not mine would be adequate enough. From the way the letters were written, it was clear to the Consulate that I had not presented myself as requested. I was also missing the fingerprints the other two had turned in. This did not mean I would be turned down permanently, but it did mean I may have to return home after all to make up for these missing pieces.

Fortunately, our beloved Gail who is our Regional Executive (based in NYC) and who is from South Africa, decided she was going to do everything possible to get me that visa in a timely manner. So she gave up on such conversations over the phone and presented herself in person, even saying she would camp out (and that we would join her) until we got that visa. Oh, how we love her!!!

So down to the office Gail went, and when they told her she would surely receive two but maybe not three visas that day, she voiced to them how and why that was absolutely unacceptable. Gail tells us that rather than take no for an answer, she proceeded to yell (as much as Gail yells) at them, insisting they were wrong. It went something like, this:
(Gail) “Jen Tyler? You aren’t really going to turn down Jen Tyler, are you? You’ve got the wrong gal! If anyone should be allowed into South Africa, its Jen Tyler! Do you know that she rode her bicycle all the way from California to Delaware to raise over $100,000 so that people in southern Africa could have clean water? She of all people should be allowed into our country!”
(Consulate Secretary) “Is that true?”
(Gail) “Of course it is, I can’t make this stuff up!”

The she walks away. Sure enough, when she returned, we had three visas!! That’s right, friends, they decided I’m not a criminal and that I am in fact worthy of a visitor’s visa because of that epic bike tour called the Ride:Well Tour I embarked on the past two summers.

I would always have been the first to tell you Venture Expeditions and the Ride:Well Tour changed my life for the better in monumental and indescribable ways, but who would have thought it would also be the gateway that literally allowed me a visa to move overseas as a missionary? Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


It is now official. I am a commissioned missionary for The United Methodist Church, and praise be to God, everything is now in order and visas now in hand, so I will be leaving in only a few hours to fly out to Cape Town, South Africa!

The commissioning service yesterday went beautifully. We worshiped, we laughed, we cried, and we were prayed over one at a time and officially sent for by Bishop Ough. There was a full crowd in the room to watch, and thousands more from 4 continents and all over the US watched via live stream on the internet. It was a great moment not just for those of us long anticipating this moment as missionaries, but more so for the global church. What an incredible gift that so many from all over the world were able to share in this moment with us.

Among the many blessings from this service was the opportunity to be commissioned with my brother in Christ Jonathan McCurley. He and I attended seminary together, have discussed our calls at length, and perhaps most importantly have really worked together to challenge one another on the many things we disagree on, yet maintaining our relationship due to the nature of love and the uniting power of our similarities. I believe the two of us being commissioned after this long road to be a beautiful display of the theological diversity of our Church, and I am honored to be a part of that.

To my huge and incredibly pleasant surprise, one of Jonathan and I’s classmates at Garrett came to see him be commissioned, having no idea I would also be there. Mike Rudd is a blessing to every life he touches, and was kind of the grandpa of the seminary during his time there. It brought such an added burst of joy to the night, and I definitely wish to say thank you to Mike for the incredible support over the years and for standing with me when my name was called - it was great to see you there.

Perhaps my favorite part of the evening was just after the service ended. All of those newly commissioned were led into the room next door where we would wait for photos to be taken, and immediately as we gathered in, the Mission Interns and US-2s circled up, holding one another and singing “Amen!” in great joy and with laughter. Soon, most of the room was joining us, and it truly was a witness to one another of the overcoming of struggles we have come to get this far and how very much it was worth it. God is indeed good, and it was great to celebrate in that together.

These are all of the missionaries with Bishop Ough immediately following our commissioning.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Group Credo

Over the past week, each missionary in my program has been asked to write a credo - I statement or expression of one’s believes that we seek to live by. It is a great privilege to be able take the time to respond to such a question from within a group as incredible as this one, to hear some of the things we believe articulated with such beauty and thoughtfulness. So upon the sharing of our Credos on this morning, we worked to combine the Credos we had each written individually into one we could all share in. We took one line from each person’s credo, then used this as a prayer and declaration of what we are being sent forth to do during our closing worship service. We both wrote it out and illustrated it. Together, we wrote:

These statements are rooted in our stories, unified to make this ever-changing credo.
We believe...
*There is beauty in nature, the simple, and the very complex.
*We are created to be in relationship and community.
*Rededicating ourselves to the long and bitter but beautiful struggle for a new world.
*There is unity in our own diversity.
*Grace is an invitation to be beautiful.
*Blessed is this life and we’re going to celebrate being alive!
*We can either stomp or sway in the struggle.
*There is love in the midst of fear.
*Struggle is where we learn the most.
*God is everywhere singing.
*Peace can happen through love.
*Life begins with joy, grows with love, and is rooted in grace.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Last-Minute Changes

If you have traveled on long-term journeys before, you know there are countless things to do in preparation for such a trip. That was definitely true as I prepared for South Africa. I just lived out of one suitcase (and a bin!) for three months, surely I would have no problem packing, right? Maybe... except for that tiny little detail that I was not just going on a trip this time - I am moving.

Something about that word is intimidating and reminds me of the many things to pack that I usually wouldn’t, such as certain books I want to keep on my shelf. It also meant I had to pack for four season, which was not a simple task with the goal of one suitcase for all of my clothes. Somehow I managed, though, so here I sit mid-flight with everything I need to live in a cargo hold underneath me. It is actually a bit liberating to know that I really can live on the things I packed in those suitcases, or even less if need be.

Some of the most challenging things to take care of pre-departure had nothing to do with getting everything into those suitcases, though. The biggest challenge was one that our dear regional executive Gail dealt with on our behalf: Visas.

Less than one week before our flights were set to depart, the three of us going to South Africa were pulled from a meeting and sat down. There was a problem with our Visas. It was unclear where the root of the problem was, but there was some sort of misunderstanding or miscommunication between our office and the South African Embassy issuing our visas. We had a problem, and it required our urgent attention.

While we submitted required background checks with our visa applications, they were now requesting that we have background checks from our state police or local FBI. The problem with this (beyond time, of course) was that to have these reports in time for our visas to be filed, we had to present ourselves in person at said offices that we may show ID and sign for them. It was already Thursday and Monday was a holiday, so this required leaving within an hour or so to get home that evening and get the paperwork filed the next morning. This was not painless but was at least simple enough for Hannah and Rachel who could jump on a train to their homes in VA and PA. I, however, would have to fly home, and there were evidently no flights to get me home that evening. Therefore, I was told I would not leave until Wednesday to go (for I couldn’t miss commissioning on Tuesday, the next business day), and would definitely miss my flight and be asked to reschedule.

Naturally, I was not excited about this plan, so I immediately set to work. My first instinct reminded me of people I know and the great fortune I have of being from a small town/state. So I started making calls, the first to the police chief in my hometown. He was more than willing to help me out and agreed to send the requested letter to our office in NYC. Next I got on the phone with the FBI, who was far from sure what I needed, but were helpful all the same.

Finally, I called our state police office in Pierre, South Dakota, and again they were not sure exactly what I was looking for. I talked to a few different people before finally finding someone who was still uncertain, but who was willing to help me out. It never occured to them that I would need to be there in person to make such a request, they just trusted that with such an unusual request, I was probably who I said I was - thank goodness for being from a small, trusting, friendly state! The officer even called back THREE TIMES to make sure he had the right thing, and to make sure I knew it had been sent next-day air, and should arrive first thing the next morning. THANK YOU!!

The paperwork did come through, and the only difference in mine and the other two girls was that it was requested of them to give fingerprints at the same time. I did not do this, obviously, so I am hoping this does not come back to be a bad thing. Only time will tell, though, as we will find out if what we have is sufficient on Tuesday. The good news is that I didn’t have to go home, but that there is still a good chance I will be able to depart on time on Thursday. We are hoping this is indeed the case, if for no other reason than to save the changing fees on the flight! I’ll be sure to keep you updated - thanks for the extra prayers it will work out!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Columbus Day

I have taken the posting of these lyrics from my dear friend Heather's blog, words that come timely as many in the US will celebrate Columbus Day on Monday. Many will also refuse to celebrate for countless reasons. I choose to use it as an opportunity to honor those we should truly be remembering on this day: Native Americans.

These are some lyrics from one of her favorite bands, show of hands

santa maria sailed out of the sun
warrior priests with crosses and guns
on a thousand tides and a million waves
they came carrying sickness, cattle and slaves

columbus didn’t find america
it wasn’t lost
it was always there
i won’t celebrate 500 years
of plundering wealth and scattering tears

alvarado and cortez,
amalgro, pizarro and all the rest
they raped the land and stole the sun
thieves and butchers everyone

columbus didn’t find america
it wasn’t lost
it was always there
i won’t celebrate 500 years
of plundering wealth and scattering tears

far a stretch from shore to shore
the water was clean and the air was pure
now driven from the land and living in slums
without names and without tongues

1492 columbus didn’t find america
columbus sailed the ocean blue
it wasn’t lost it was always there
now the new world sickens
and the old world grows fast
i won’t celebrate 500 years
might have been much better if the world was flat
plundering wealth and scattering tears

columbus didn’t find america
it wasn’t lost it was always there
i won’t celebrate 500 years
plundering wealth and scattering tears…

(Heather's blog can be found at

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Watch the Missionary Commissioning Service!

Training is progressing and we are covering our basis as we talked about forms of communication this morning, then safe sanctuaries and theological diversity this afternoon. Over lunch, someone mentioned that we are more than half done with training, which is a bit overwhelming when we think about what that means.

Our commissioning as United Methodist Missionaries will take place in only 6 days: on Tuesday, October 13 at 7pm ET at the Marriott in Stamford, Connecticut. If you are in the area, it is an open event and we would love to have you with us!

As most of you are not in the area, I would still like to take this opportunity to invite you to watch the service. For the first time, this service will be broadcast live over the internet! I am really excited about this opportunity for so many people from so many places to watch, pray and celebrate together! To watch, you can follow this link or visit

This is the press release offered on the website, and has been prepared as a bulletin insert for anyone wanting to invite their congregations. This insert is available for free download on the website in either color or black and white- please feel free to use it!

The day after the service, we will make our way from this retreat center at which our training is being held and back to New York City. The three of us moving to South Africa will then have one day to wrap up packing and preparations, and will fly out on the 15th. The time is drawing near, friends!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Reflection on Matthew 4:21

Training is going great. We've discussed important topics ranging from diversity and seeking mutuality in service to discussing where our stipends will come from and how our health benefits will work. Its been a busy time from morning to night, but a productive time and one that I am grateful to be going through with my fellow Mission Interns and US-2s. They have proven to provide great company and companionship, and know that lifelong friendships are sure to bloom out of the budding relationships begun here.

Sunday we had the honor of spending the afternoon to study Missiology together. Rather than a traditional lecture, we were each given a verse (or chapter) of Scripture to study independently for about an hour and then came back to share what we learned. It was a great way to study, learn, and spend a day of Sabbath.

The verse I was assigned was Matthew 4:21. This story is a familiar one, the story in which Jesus first calls upon the men who will become his disciples to follow him. It is a story that I have seen, heard and even taught as one that offers to us a vivid example of the immediacy and lack of hesitance we should have when called upon to follow Jesus. When Jesus comes across James and John, they are doing every day tasks, and in verse 22 they "Immediately" follow his call. I was not assigned verse 22 to pray about, though, I was assigned 21. In the NRSV translation, this reads,
As they went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zeb'e-dee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zeb'e-dee, mending their nets, and he called them.

For some reason this time, a few small words jumped out at me for the first time: "and he called them." I kept repeating it, trying to figure out what it meant and why I kept repeating this phrase over and over again until I finally realized the incredible significance of those four small words I had previously thought of as unassuming. As one who has struggled with my call to ministry and mission, its hard to believe and perhaps even embarrassing to admit how many times I have passed over this, but today nothing in the whole of that chapter seemed more important. "...and he called them." I kept repeating this phrase. My meditation on this verse has stuck with me, and so I have decided to share the reflections I wrote here...

James and John were busy and had important work to do. Its not like they were sitting around, looking for something to do. Quite the opposite, really. They were hard at work, focusing on the task of mending nets, preparing for the next time they would go out looking for fish.

"...and he called them"

If James and John were working so hard with their father alongside them, it sure seems like an inconvenient time for Jesus to walk by and pull them away. Yet that didn't stop Jesus from calling upon them and interrupting their lives or from pulling them away from their father who was sitting with them, but who was not called to follow with them. Jesus knew the timing was right, and James and John, though unexpecting, were ready. They trusted that Jesus had a plan greater than any they could understand, so they followed (immediately!). I couldn't help but squirm in my chair as I read it again,

"... he called them."

God doesn't always call us at a convenient time, but God's time is the right time.

"...and he called them."

But who will take care of our families? James and John were with their father, working toward perfecting his profession so they may take over and someday care for him. Yet Jesus called them away from their family and on to something more. Our stories are often the same - I know mine is. What if when I first heard God calling, I refused the call answering in honesty, "I cannot go now, for if I do, I may well give my poor mother a heart attack! I wouldn't want to put her through the stress and anxieties of so many unknowns that I call 'adventure'!"

"...and he called them."
"...and he called me."

The reality is, if we listen, we will hear that God is calling all of us to serve in some way. As we prepare to do so, we must remember that our active acceptance and obedience to follow Christ in response to our call is not something we have completed because we have accepted that call to serve. Especially for those of us preparing to work full time in our mission sites, it will be far too easy to go forth and become comfortable in our new homes. Soon, we will again have a routine we are following, we will be going on with our daily lives in these new places. It is then that we must remember again the words spoken to us here,

"...and he called them."
"...and he called me."

We will be called upon again and again, and as we seek to more fully live out that call, we shall seek to let go of the urgency of "fixing our nets" and to leave behind us our daily work to allow ourselves to be called, to be re-directed and re-shaped and re-formed into the kinds of servants that Christ is calling us to be in the here and the now.

"...and he called them."
"...and he called me."
"...and he called YOU."

What is Christ calling you to today? What is the net that you are focusing on while Jesus is calling us to move on, to follow him? There will always be a "net" that is easy to get caught up in. Are we willing to let God untangle us from it, that we might move beyond that which is comfortable and into a realm of the unknown service yet familiar (albeit intimidating) covenant of Christ?