Friday, January 29, 2010

Becoming a Local

My last entry was about many of the difficulties of life on the farm, and since then I have been giving extra focus to not dwelling on what is difficult here. Writing that post drew out of me the heart of many of the greatest issues I face here, and has led me to consider what I can do to draw out of the dark place of loneliness and struggle.

At the heart of this struggle, for me, is moving beyond the loneliness and into a community. I am seeking to have relationships with each individual within our community, not just relationships from within and as a part of our group. I also have much exploring left to do in the community beyond my home and my colleagues with whom I live.

Slowly but sure, this is finally taking place. Today while Hannah and Rachel were away, Lucille and I went out for a walk to explore the long road on which we live. On our way back, we stopped at the house across the road from us to introduce ourselves. It was clear that they run some sort of Tuck shop there, and so as we introduced ourselves we also inquired as to what they had in their shop.

Lucy and I stood and spoke with Marianna and Slava for about 15 minutes, at which point Marianna finally asked what she had clearly been wondering since our conversation: [to Lucy]: “Where are you from?” When Lucy responded Cape Town, she was astounded that she was South African, she had been wondering what country she was from. She then promptly pointed out that I was obviously from the area, so she didn’t bother asking where I was from…

We just looked at each other and laughed, and I simply said, “no, I’m not from around here, either.” She was surprised and asked if I had moved here from Cape Town with Lucy. Technically I had, so we said yes and just left it at that. She was surprised, as she could have sworn I was a local. Who knows why: one of those familiar faces, perhaps? I know my accent has shifted a bit since moving here, but I am far from a South African accent and still hold strongly to my American accent, for better or worse. At least that’s what we thought.

On this particular day, I was evidently the one who looked and sounded more local than the South African I was with. Certainly amusing for us, and a moment that I will not let Lucy easily forget. Evidently I’m adjusting more quickly than any of us thought! Lets hope this is a sign of things yet to come as we get to know our neighbors and greater community better in the months to come.

Monday, January 25, 2010


When we first moved to the farm, there was a certain peaceful offering about the beauty, serenity, and constant peace and quiet of where we live. The only interruption we faced was that of the sound of the frequent rain coming down on our tin roof, a sound we have now become accustomed to, and which continues to bring me peace as I go to sleep each night.

I have been reflecting over the past few days about our time here and how much things have changed in less than 3 weeks since I first arrived. I have become increasingly aware of how much my environment here has affected me, and am convinced this morning that this is due, in part, to the incredible isolation we face here. In nearly three weeks, I have only left my home for something not work-related one time: to go shopping for some basic needs such as groceries - and even that trip was only possible because our landlord saw our need for such things and volunteered to drive us. Without his help, we would likely not have even been given that much “freedom.”

The road we live on is far from most civilization, at least for those who don’t have their own vehicle. Without paying a small fortune for a private taxi, we would have to walk 15K just to get to the nearest road with taxis (which even there only come hourly), making it impossible for us to get anywhere other than to and from the office - the hours of which are often extra long because we do not have a ride home in the evenings. We are told we can ask and borrow Mama’s extra car if we need/want to go someplace, but on the few occasions we have tried to do so, we have been told no and reminded that it is not our car. All of this is to say that the 3 of us - Rachel, Hannah and I - are feeling a bit cooped up in our farm house, where our phones only work in certain rooms and we don’t have internet to assist us with our efforts to stay connected with the outside world.

This has proven to be a great challenge, especially with the tragedy and heartache of the past two weeks (i.e. Haiti, losing Sam and Clint). We all long to be connected with people we know, and who deeply know us, beyond the perimeters of our home; I long for active relationships in my life that move beyond my home and workplace. For my own well being, I long to be independent, having a personal (social) life and time to myself to process and reflect. I want to be an individual beyond the identity of my roommates, who I love but from whom I am very different and also need time away from. This doesn’t even get into the challenges and frustrations I face in regard to the gossip and deteriorating language I cannot escape from some of the persons I am expected to (and want to) to respect the most, but whose words and actions make that increasingly difficult for me.

Since moving to South Africa, I have mostly only written about how great my time here has been - and it has. I am indeed still loving my work and (most of) my time here, and surely will write again soon about the many exciting things going on here at SHADE. However, I also want to be honest in the ways I am in need of prayer and support right now. Truthfully, I am confident that one day I will look back and think just that as I miss this life, these people and this small town in which so many people I love live. I will think about the many ways I have grown and learned from this time here in Walkerville. Someday, I will do all of these things. For now, though, I am moving one day at a time, walking humbly forward with the God I know has called me, and listening to the Derek Webb’s song A New Law playing in the background telling me, “do not be afraid…” as I reach out for an extra word of prayer for patience, strength, discernment and peace in the days to come.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

So Much More

During Missionary Training back in October, a friend introduced me to Brett Dennen. I have probably listened to the album "So Much More" 10 times, but today, the title track caught me off guard as I seem to have heard the words for the first time. Perhaps this is due to the recent tragedies, but it speaks words from the depths of my own soul all the same. I can't do these words any more justice than they do themselves, so I will save my thoughts and share the words with you for your own reflections...

“There is so much more"
      -Brett Dennen

When I heard the news, my heart fell on the floor
I was on a plane on my way to Baltimore
In these troubled times, its hard enough as it is
My soul has known a better life than this

I wondered how so many could be in so much pain
While others don’t seem to feel a thing?
and Then I cursed my whiteness and I get so damn depressed,
In a world of suffering, why should I be so blessed?

I heard about a woman who lives in Colorado
She built a monument of Saul behind her garaged door
Where everyday she prays for all whom are born
and all whose souls are passed on

Sometimes my trouble gets so thick,
I cant see how I’m gonna get through it
but then I would rather be stuck up in a tree
Than be tied to it

I know
There is so much more

I don’t feel comfortable with the way that my clothes fit
I cant get used to my body’s limits
I got some fancy shoes to try and kick away these blues
They cost a lot of money but they aren’t worth a thing

I want to free my feet from the broken glass and concrete
I need to get out of this city
Lay upon the ground, stare a hole in your sky
Wondering where I go when I die… when I die

Sunday, January 17, 2010


I am truly out of words tonight but wish to thank any of you who have been praying with and for those suffering as a result of the Haiti earthquake, and specifically for the Rabb family. Only a couple of hours ago, we received word that Rev. Clinton Rabb, Director of Volunteers in Mission (VIM) for the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM), has passed away from injuries he sustained during the Haiti earthquake a few days ago.

Really, truly, I have no words and a very heavy heart. I leave you, therefore, with words of wisdom Clint has spoken to me. I thought them wise enough to quote him at the time, and tonight am grateful to have these words to remember him by.

“We are sent. Not to do something. But Sent. We will know when we get there what we are called to do.”

“Jesus claims he is sent - be careful what you claim.”

Saturday, January 16, 2010


I first got word about the earthquake on Wednesday afternoon. I sat at my computer on a lunch break at work and read an email from the Dakotas Conference asking for prayer and financial support. Immediately flashed before me were images of Haiti, of the work so many of my friends have gone to do or are doing, of the great need already evident before such a tragedy, and of how many people I know that have been or even could be there. Where are they? Are they accounted for? Didn’t I hear something about missions teams being sent there in January - is that now?

While these questions came to mind I simultaneously allowed my fingers to type Haiti into google in search of more information and let my voice cry out for my roommate Hannah, who I knew would want to know right away. Over the next couple of days, information flowed in slowly and took us on a roller-coaster of emotions. We misread information, were fed wrong information, were left without any information. I am especially grateful for those who have gone out of their way to share any information with us, as has proven difficult to keep up with any news in real time from here.

My heart is heavy. It has been heavy for days as I have been thinking about, praying for, and reflecting as I read others’ reactions to this tragedy. To be honest, in the past when a tragedy such as this has struck someplace around the world, I usually join them in prayer and think about it for a day or so, then feel guilty about going back to life as I know it while people are suffering. The guilt has come this time too, but its different this time.

This time, the guilt isn’t that I have forgotten them, failed to keep them in my prayers, or not “done” something. Rather, it the guilt has been about how lavishly I live my life and how easily I take it for granted. The guilt has been linked to how I can spend hours thinking about this, but at the end of the day still not be ready to give up certain luxuries I know I have.

It has also been different because this time, I can’t forget or move on. Something about this tragedy struck me deeply, and has left me without words. This has been true before, but never has it been true without the media constantly feeding me pictures, videos, stories so that I felt connected and was reminded of the crisis. This time, I have had only minimal access to media, and with the exception of occasional emails from my Conference, I could easily have forgotten it or moved on.

Friday morning, I discovered one of the unknown connections that perhaps kept me so closely tied (prayerfully, emotionally, etc) to Haiti. In a matter of hours, I discovered that 3 GBGM/UMCOR officials were in Haiti and were last seen entering a building that collapsed in the earthquake. Misunderstandings and a passing of wrong information led us to believe they were found but fine, then not found, then one walked away with bruises and the other two were pinned for 55 hours but then found alive and would be okay. It was a rollercoaster, to be sure, especially since the two pinned men, Clint Rabb and Sam Dixon, are two men who I have worked with (Sam indirectly) over the years and who I know to do incredible work. I also know that they are two of the men within the UMC that would know the most about how to get relief to Haiti in the quickest and most efficient way possible - Clint is the Director of Volunteers in Mission (short term missions) and Sam the director of UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief).

Tonight, we are not greeted with such great news. We finally have confirmed information, and know for sure that these reports offered to us before were not entirely true. It is true that the third man, Jim Gulley, an UMCOR consultant, is okay and walked away with cuts and bruises. It is also true that Clint and Sam were trapped for 55 hours under a pile of debris that was once the hotel. Tonight’s confirmed report tells us that Clint Rabb was found alive and has since been transported to a hospital in Florida, where he remains in Intensive Care.

Another report updates us on Rev. Sam Dixon. Unfortunately, Sam did not make it out of that pile alive, and today, thousands are grieving the loss of an incredible man.

Around the world, Sam Dixon was a loved servant and friend. With great hesitancy and difficulty, we (Hannah, Rachel and I) shared this update with Mama Tembo, our boss whose home we were at following an incredible evening of celebrations. We knew from conversations the past couple of days that Mama Tembo had known Sam well, and she was relieved to hear positive reports as we received them yesterday. Today, however, we had not such good news, and our celebrations quickly ended as we took time to mourn together.

Life is such a delicate thing, and we sat around the table rotating between moments of needed silence, tears, or opportunities to share stories about Sam and the incredible difference he made in the world - in our worlds. As we did so, I began to also reflect on this delicacy of life, and how incredible it really is that Sam truly lived his life as a fun, joyful, hardworking and passionate servant of God. He truly loved his work and was great at it, blessing millions along the way. Sam was in Haiti on business, and I like to imagine there was no other place he’d rather have been.

As I sit rambling and writing this post, it is nearly 4am and I am sleepless. It has indeed been a full and exhausting week, and yet I know it is far from over. I remember Sam’s family, friends, and extended community around the world, a community I cannot quickly forget as Mama Tembo tells us of what an integral role Sam Dixon played in getting funding for SHADE early on. I also think of and pray with and for Clint, who lies in ICU in Florida, and for Suzanne (his wife) and their large family, and pray for ease of pain, for healing, for comfort and patience. I hope they can feel the thousands of prayers flowing for them, can feel the incredible love and support being poured out to them though it is only minute compared to what they have first offered to their communities.

As I prepare to try again to get a bit of sleep tonight, I remember and pray for the thousands of people still missing or still suffering in Haiti. I pray for the millions of people in Haiti - and around the world - who are grieving following this terrible tragedy. May we continue to be aware of the many ways God is with us in these difficult days.

(I also encourage you to give, to donate what you can to support relief efforts in Haiti. Perhaps in honor of the incredible work Sam Dixon has done, I recommend giving through UMCOR, which you can do here.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Things Aren’t Always What they Seem

There is no question that life is going to be very, very different here on the farm. I got an email response from my mother yesterday that reflected a bit of concern over all the changes and unexpected issues we’ve run into. It suddenly made me very, very aware of how the words one uses to describe a piece of a situation can so vividly paint a picture very unlike the reality I’m actually living in.

That is to say, things are pretty great here. There are lots of things yet to be worked out, construction projects yet to be finished, items large and small still needing to be moved in, out or unpacked. The stories that are easy to tell, some of which I shared with my Mom and are the cause of her concern, are the ones that have raised blood pressure or have come with element of surprise. Stories that are not unnatural for life on a farm, as we are out “in the bush” as they say. These are stories of the field mice that have made themselves comfortable in our home. Yes, our home - not just our kitchen! The third night we were staying here, I stood in the hallway speaking to Hannah when one unexpectedly ran right across my foot and into her room. Element of surprise. Blood pressure. Trying to shoo it away until we gave up on knowing where he (now nicknamed Stewart) was, so we slept in the extra room.

Of all things, one thing we will not claim here on the farm is to ever be alone. For example, we have 3 dogs that live here and are great guard dogs. Hannah even calls one of them Simba because she thinks they all look like lions, haha. Fortunately they’ve warmed up to us quickly, though I have discovered they don’t like it when you’re up to early, such as for a morning run this morning. I got some great growls and wondered with good reason if they weren’t going to bite if I didn’t stay away. They have a good memory, though, and the sound of my calm voice is enough to keep them calm, though if I stop talking to them for even a brief moment, the growls running after me are quick to return. It is good to learn these things early, if for no other reason than to pass such advice on to the boys (Vixa and Clifford) who are very, very afraid of dogs and are to move here (cottage on same plot) sometime this week.

We also have lots of other creatures roaming about in the area, including some toads that seem to really like our house. At first they too surprised us, but now that we’ve found 5, I’m kind of getting used to them. We even have a method for getting rid of them, though there is no doubt they don’t like it. This morning I found one in the bathroom, and once he was safely outside and I closed the door, he stared at the window for a good 15 mintues, not moving. His first move? A pounce to try and get back in the house. Poor guy, I do kind of feel sorry for them!

My least favorite visitors, though, are the bugs. Lots and lots of mosquitos, so I’m grateful for my mosquito net, though there was one night that I killed a giant one inside the net. I’m not sure how he got in, but I just imagine him outsmarting the net was linked to his size. Older, more wisdom, right? I suppose if you really want something and work for it, anything is possible, ha. Also, I’m not sure if its some mosquitos or some other bug of sorts, but something out here keeps biting me and giving me allergic reactions. Its happened 3 times, resulting in large swells around the bite that do eventually go down in about 24hrs time. Not fun, pretty annoying, and yet somehow intriguing - I wonder what I’m allergic to?

These, friends, are the kinds of questions I find myself asking these days. Intriguing, right? Perhaps not. But I have appreciated this more relaxed time of settling into life out here. Next week our students arrive, and with each passing day, I’m also getting excited to get moving with this center we have talked so very much about. Life in Walkerville should not be reduced to life on the farm, afterall, for there is lots and lots of work awaiting us through SHADE and throughout Africa. I’m ready to get my hands dirty and see where God is taking us.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Continuing the Journey

It has been a long day in transit to Joburg, slowly (and honestly hesitantly) moving into my unknown future as I made my way from where I woke this morning in Plumstead (Cape Town) to what will be my new home in the Johannesburg area. My mind was moving nonstop in the car the airport, anxiously sitting and waiting at the airports or on the plane… and finally now as I sit in the building that will one day be the new SHADE office in Walkerville, South Africa. I have few words but am appreciating the time to breathe deep and take in my surroundings with no demands or expectations as I wander around the property and breathe deeply the fresh air.

We are far, far from town, beyond the reaches of public transit. I have no idea yet what my home will look like, only glimpses of the picture painted through the brief words of my roommates who moved in on Monday. Four days later, I was hesitant to leave the life, family and city I love, but with each passing moment I am accepting the peace and serenity of the day, resting in the comfort that our Creator has something in store for me here that none of us could predict. I do not know what awaits me here, but something about the uneasy and unrelenting the frustration and pain that has brought me here, also brings me comfort. peace, even.

To be here, today, at peace with the path I am on has not come easily and has required a great deal of humility. It also does not come without continued reservation. I am seeking to find silver lining in all things, in the rest and opportunity to process that this afternoon has provided. Yet I will not deny the frustration with being here, only a couple of miles from my home and roommates that I look forward to seeing and greeting. 4½ hours later after arrival here, I remain here stranded, without transport (the cars have all left to run other errands), without reason for being present here, in want of a warm shower or a bed to rest on after a sleepless night and early morning. It reminds me that few things have changed, that this is somehow what I have signed up for.

This continues to humble me. To remind me that this isn’t about me. It isn’t about what might be good for me or about what seems rational or “right” or “reasonable” in my mind, but rather it boils down to me not having my own transport, and the owner of the vehicles has their own life to live, errands to run, people to see. So I will wait. I might go home before the daylight has gone, I might not. My roommates waiting for me have no idea what is going on; I have been asked not to phone them so it is a “surprise” when I arrive - but perhaps they are concerned, as they know our flight was scheduled to land over 7 hours ago. But then, that is my “rational” western mind thinking in western time, when I am in neither of those places anymore. Which is why it is okay and not surprising to discover just now that a celebration has been planned this evening - which we are all expected to attend - in honor of Judith who received passing Matric grades yesterday, and Lucy, who got engaged over the holidays. It is unclear what time that will be or if I will go home before then, but at least we can be sure that when the girls are fetched, I will go home with them after the celebration.

That is how my life is, and perhaps will be, for the year to come. Much of my time is spent in limbo, waiting, at the call of another who is often impatient if I am not ready when they call. It is an interesting predicament to find myself in, struggling with the lack of order as one may call it, when throughout my life I have always been the one, at least in the western perspective, who has been the most “flexible” or “go-with-the-flow.” I am not one who likes to over-plan, and have certainly never been the most organized. I am known for my incredible skills at procrastinating, leading to far too many late nights in grad school. Yet something about what feels like a structure-less environment has left me wanting, needing, grasping for some organization and order. For the first time in my life, I understand the question once asked to me by a good friend (Amee), “How do you do it!?” That is - how do I live a life of such unstructured freedom where I dont plan my life but live each moment as it comes, often leading to more stress later but somehow always managing to get things done. There were so many questions to follow in that conversation, and I just couldn’t understand how or why anyone would live any other way.

Today, I am in disbelief at hearing myself as the one who is asking those questions, and I can’t help but smile as I hear the laughter of friends and classmates who would not believe me if I tried to tell them this. I wonder what the balance is between how much I have truly changed, and how much the environment has simply drawn these things out of me through necessity. Perhaps my myers briggs personality has shifted, and I am more of a “J” than anyone ever believed I could be. Or perhaps what we are really learning is none of these things, but that truly, these things are all relative, purely a reflection of the environment in which we find ourselves. Maybe according to my peers in seminary, I would still be considered a “P.” I can’t help but wonder, then, how Amee would react if living here, now, under these circumstances.

Just when I start to ask these questions and dive deeper in, though, something surfaces that stops me. Again, it is that overwhelming sense of peace with it all, reminding me that it doesn’t actually matter. Reminding me of what great opportunities this life has presented to me, and most of all, making me grateful for all that is before me. That though I am not home (with my roommates a few miles away), I am sheltered from the pouring rain. I am offered food to eat, water to drink and am surrounded by people who care about me. I have so much, am so richly blessed, so deeply challenged and changing, I can hardly begin to count these blessings.

I believe this journey today to be representative of the journey the next year will bring me through. It has highs and lows, frustrations and deep joys, times to learn and opportunities to teach. It is an unpredictable journey that has potential for great blessings if I continue to seek God in each day, resting in the great peace that surpasses all understanding, and seeking to share that love and grace with those I encounter. Even when it humbles me.