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.