Saturday, February 27, 2010

Unexpected Phone Calls

The mail is a running joke in our house, as every time we go to fetch the mail, Lucille and I happily let Rachel or Hannah pick it up, as if there is something in there, it is probably not for us. In good fun, we say things like, “its good we have each other, since no one loves us enough to send mail!” We are aware of how ridiculous this is, but it is a fun way to tease Hannah who gets mail (a card or letter) from the US nearly every day. To which they usually remind me its family or friends they’ve done their time with or paid off; the only letter I’ve gotten (it came in Cape Town) was from Ireland! None of us could fake that kind of fan support, haha.

Phone calls are pretty much the same. It costs a lot to make a call here (we only pay for outgoing phone calls), and right now, none of us have the cash to buy airtime and make longer calls. So we talk each other’s ears off when Hannah and Rachel are reading their letters or talking on the phone to their family on the phone.

Tonight while sitting at dinner, my phone rang unexpectedly (it rarely does that unless its one of the 3 girls I was sitting at the table with). I ran to the other room (to get better reception) only to be presently surprised by the voice on the other end of the line: my old friend Ruth West! Ruth and I were friends my first year at Simpson. She was on a 1-year exchange from Ireland, and though we were not the best of friends during that time, we did get close enough to take a quick road trip to visit my family in South Dakota… and close enough to keep in touch since then! What a pleasant surprise, then, to hear her beautiful voice and strong Irish accent on the other line!

Ruth phoned to follow up on an email she sent but I had not received, and wanted to know: can she come visit? Of COURSE my response was pure joy and excitement, I haven’t seen her since 2003! She has family in Cape Town she is hoping to visit, so it only makes sense to stop over here and say hello! What a wonderful, pleasant surprise; I certainly hope I get to welcome her in my home soon!

I sat back at the table excited about such prospects, and only moments later Hannah’s phone also rang: her mom. The popular girl on the block couldn’t be outdone, we laughed! But then… my phone rang again, and much to everyone’s surprise, it was: my mom! I haven’t talked to her since leaving Cape Town, as I dont have internet access and she can’t figure out how to call me via skype. So though it may have cost her an arm and half of her leg, she called from her cell phone: a mama’s gotta talk to her girl, and it had been too long! So precious!

It was great to hear familiar voices, to be reminded of the world so far and wide and to be amazed at how great technology is that we could so easily be in communication with each other! In an hour I picked up a phone and three continents were connected! Great conversations were had, with exciting news or updates. News that was welcome in this hole of no- internet or other connections to the busy world that continues on around us!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Esther's Funeral

I went to a funeral today.

I never met the young woman we are grieving today. She was the daughter of one of our DRC satellite leaders. She passed away on Sunday after weeks in intensive care; she came to South Africa in hopes of medical care that would save her life after they could no longer help her at the hospitals at home in DRC.

Esther Kalanga Mulowayi was 25 years old:
    Only one month older than me.
    She was healthy.
    She was happy - a newlywed, married in 2009, less than one year ago.

How quickly life passes us by as the words of the season rang in my ears during the service, “From Dust you came, and to Dust you shall return.”

There are countless reasons to mourn her passing. Today we are mourning.

There are also countless questions to ask. As the questions come in and the grief set in, I have spent a lot of time talking with Lucille (one month older than me). We have spent time reflecting on our own short lives that could be taken at any moment.

I am reminded to be grateful for all I have. For all that our lives have offered us, and more importantly, (we hope) others.

Today I am (perhaps selfishly) not ready to grieve the loss of Esther’s life. Instead, I am thinking about what I would want today to look like if it were a memorial service in honor of my own life, even at the young age of 25. I would want it to be a celebration.

I would want the small congregation not just to grieve, but also to celebrate the many good things of that have been shared over the past 26 years. It would be a celebration that of a life fully lived, even if it was cut “short.” I hope it would be a celebration of a life in which every day was lived fully, embracing each moment in refusal of letting mistakes of the past or fears of the future dictate the present.

Today, I celebrate. I celebrate that even if Esther and I did not meet in this world, we will meet in the next.

I celebrate that though we never met, Esther’s life has brushed mine.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lent Devotional

I am pleased to announce that many of my students and fellow staff have written a devotion to be shared during the season of Lent. I encouraged everyone to write a story from their life that gives testimony to the work that God is continuing to do in and through each of us. It opens with these words:
We believe that every person has a story to share, that there is evidence of God’s grace, love, and sacrifice in each of our lives. These stories are glimpses of that truth in our lives and give evidence of the Light God has revealed in and through our lives.
I am excited to share these stories around the world. They have already been sent to places in Europe, Asia, North America and South America. If you would like to read these short stories/devotionals and pray with us this season of Lent, I would love to share a copy of this devotional with you. Just send me a message and I’ll send you an electronic copy.

But if you get one, I challenge you to wait until Easter Sunday to read the final devotion titled, “Jesus is a Chicken!”

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hope In The Dark

Today is Valentine’s Day, and what better reason for a feast, fellowship and celebration than to celebrate our community that has gathered and become one because of the One who first loved us? So we had a Valentine’s Day party last night at Mama Tembo’s home.

I arrived in the afternoon surprised and excited by the scene painted before me. There were a couple people hanging out in the office, by far the quietest place on campus. Several were up in the guest house where the cleaning (the goat, ducks, chickens and doves) and cooking of our feast was taking place. I headed that way but didn’t make it, as I was distracted by the ongoing soccer game in the lawn. It was great to watch them as even Papa joined in the friendly (albeit intense) game. I eventually walked through the dance party in the garage and made my way to the pool to find the same thing: contagious joy.

Despite the incredible fellowship and contagious joy and laughter throughout the evening, my favorite part of the day came at its close. As dinner was finished, Freddy began to DJ and began playing songs as shout-outs to different groups. “This one goes out to Zambia!” he proclaimed as he turned up the music. It was a familiar song to many, and soon the 5 students from Zambia were all up and dancing. It was only a matter of time before others joined them as well, perhaps encouraged to do so when even Mama Pastor (Tembo) got up to join them. By the end of the song, half the group was up and dancing, but it took them so long it was quickly decided we should play the same song again.

The song repeated and people continued to join the circle. Then, in the middle of the song and completely unexpectedly (there were not even storms to speak of!), all power went out. The music stopped, the singing quickly faded and you could feel the movement of the air grow stale as no dancing remained. The silence hung heavy in the air as no one moved or spoke a sound.

As if out of no where, a voice began to sing, picking up the song where it had left off. Before anyone knew what was happening, almost everyone had gotten on their feet to celebrate together in the darkness. One song turned into many as songs of praise and worship were lifted higher, louder and more melodically than they had been all night. It was a sight to see - or more appropriately - hear.

It was unlike any other worship we had shared together before. Rather than fearing darkness, it was embraced. It was almost as if we were safer together in the darkness, without light to shine over our brokenness or fears. The only light to shine in the group was the metaphorical light shinning from each person in the circle, and yet it may well have been the brightest light I have ever seen in my life. As our eyes adjusted and our dancing eventually slowed, we closed with passionate prayer and thanksgiving to our God who has shown us again today the many ways to find light in the darkest of places.

An incredible physical reminder of why we are here and who we are here to serve. How great is our God to shine so brightly in such a small, dark place!?

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Today, the rain has gone, the wind has ceased to blow, and it is very, very hot, inside and out.

I sit in a quiet house, on a quiet farm, in the peaceful, quiet little village town of Drumblade. There are few things to disturb the perfect silence out here. Occasionally, the dogs will bark, mostly at each other as there are no unfamiliar passer-bys to keep them entertained or excited.

We woke this morning to get out and enjoy some fresh air before the heat became too much. Our usual walk to the end of the road and back was almost eventful this morning, as we saw people out and about for reasons other than heading to or from a long, labor-filled work day. We greeted our unfamiliar neighbors as they were out on morning walks and tried our best to stay out of the pathway of other neighbors hurriedly driving past, impatient with walkers in road as they made their way to destinations that remain unknown to us.  As we walk, we wonder aloud: what do people here do? Where are they off to in such a hurry at 9am on a Saturday? We know this village has a lifetime of stories to tell; we are slowly becoming a part of these stories and look forward to hearing of the stories past.

As we approach the Tuck shop, we realize the distant person opening the shop has recognized us: it is Cindy, who we hoped would soon join us on these daily walks through town. We greet her, pleased to have any ‘familiar’ face to greet us along our way. We learn this is her shop as she tells us about her busy week and as she apologizes that time got away from her this week but she still hopes to join us next week. Perhaps her husband can go on bike rides when we walk each day, as a means to keep him accountable to exercise also. As she tells us this, a small group of cyclists passes us, and I am reminded of how much I miss having a bike and people to ride with; the thick, unforgiving heat of the morning reminds me of many days on tour last summer.

Cindy quickly starts writing notes, and we soon realize she is active on committees throughout the neighborhood. She is enthusiastic about putting out a notice that I’m looking for a bike to borrow for the year I am here; she insists there is no reason to buy one for such a short period of time. I drift in and out of the conversation, dwelling on information she offers, invitations she offers, the relationships she is looking forward to developing during our stay here.

Finally, today, it is beginning to feel like there is life in this small town, and this brings me hope. I am hopeful as the mysterious going-ons of the community are at hand as we are promised a radio by the end of the week, whereby we will have access to the community broadcast system. We will be in the know of community gatherings, volunteer opportunities, or needs/wants as they have their own form of “Craig’s List” that is broadcast each morning between 9 and 10 each morning. They even have a ride-share program the radio is used for so that people like us - people without transport to town - can potentially pick up rides with others heading that way near the same time. It is encouraging today to be reminded of the shared life and fellowship and networks of a small town, and I imagine that this small town is, in many ways, not so different from the small town I come from in South Dakota, a small town called McCook Lake that I will always call “home.”

Monday, February 8, 2010

Praying Together

Anyone who knows me, probably knows I am not what may be easily defined as a “morning person.” This has required some an adjustment on my behalf, as most mornings there is someone at our house before 8am. As our co-workers in the cottages next door still do not have a fridge in their homes, they are here for breakfast before leaving for the office - which we are to be ready for by 8 (though it is usually 9:30 before they fetch us, as most things here run on “African Time”).

Due to transportation issues and all the people that have someplace to be in the morning, if I wish to be at the center before 9:30am, I must leave home with the car at 6am. Today, I took my first turn (of many yet to come) going to the center first thing in the morning. I was, as you can imagine, not excited about arriving so early that the doors to the center were still locked and I had to wait for students to roll out of bed before going inside. I was drowsy at best, but gave being a morning person my best shot. It wasn’t too bad, as it had been several days since I’d seen most of the students, and I was looking forward to seeing them.

This being said, I had only one conclusion at the end of the day: It is great to spend time at the Center and with the students. They really, truly are an incredible group of students. Before breakfast it was peaceful and quiet at the center, providing and incredible opportunity to catch up with students who had newly arrived and who I had not seen since we were in the Congo in November. Catching up turned into great conversations over breakfast, and I could not have felt more alive as I began the day leading worship and devotions with the group of about 30 students from all over the world.

I am really looking forward to learning, studying and praying with this incredible group of diverse people from all over Africa over the next 6 months.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Espoir Centre

Espoir Center. Center for Hope. A place to call hope.

This is what we have named the center that officially opened today in DeDeur, South Africa. The center is just south of Johannesburg, southwest of my home and southeast of our new SHADE Office. It is a center that can house up to 24 students and is the location at which we will teach and develop leadership from 30 students from 13 different African countries. These students have nearly all arrived (pending a few with Visa issues), and were as excited as any us to begin today with the official opening of the Center!

This is a project that has been long awaited, and was the main purpose of SHADE’s move from Cape Town. It is a vision that has been in the works of becoming a reality for over a year, and is the pilot project of what we hope will become many more Education Training Centers throughout Africa. The next one is already being built and we are hoping it will open later this year in Lubumbashi, DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo).

At the Center, students will learn (and help teach, as they certainly brought skills with them!) in four major departments: Life Skills, Basic Education, Poverty Alleviation, and Spirituality and Health. They are being taught in this order on a rotating basis, each department teaching for an entire week before rotating to the next one. The course will run for 5 months, concluding at the end of June/beginning of July.

I am overseeing the Spirituality and Health Department. Fortunately, my co-facilitator, John Mitchley, is a local guy who has worked in and with the church for quite some time. He is proving to be a great resource and I look forward to getting to know him better as time goes on.

As our week to run the program does not come for several weeks, it has been an incredible blessing to sit back and watch the students and other facilitators at work. It is hard to tell who is more excited about this Center finally being up and running: the visionaries, or the students who are more than happy to be the ones to run and test out the ways this Center will be run and which programs will go well. They are eating up every piece of information they are offered, attentively taking notes that they may take home and share and teach to their communities at home. It is a positive cycle we are creating, and an exciting process to watch and be a part of.

While I am grateful to be a witness, I am perhaps even more grateful to have this time to build relationships and get to know the students better. Part of my role in overseeing the Spirituality department is to see to the health and wholeness of the students, both as a group and as individuals. I am their go-to person if they have any physical health needs (from doctor visits to prescription refills to filling the first-aid kit), and have been asked to be available if crisis hits or someone is in need of counseling. It is absolutely an overwhelming and large responsibility, but also one I could not be more excited to step into. In many ways, this is the pastoral role I have been missing and seeking, but had no idea would be coming.

This place we call Hope has certainly brought much hope to me already, and I look forward to the ways it will continue to do so in the months to come.