Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Well, friends: it is official. I must be back working in a church again; I can consider no other good reason for sitting in a meeting for nearly 3hrs in the evening!

I have spent this week as a bit of orientation as I prepare to dive fully into work here. In the short few days I have been here, small but important steps have been taken toward settling in. I have been given an office at Plumstead Methodist Church, I have made my first home visit and as a result a few new friends. We have even come up with a contract and job description, which we presented for approval at a church meeting tonight.

No matter where I go, no matter what titles I am given, no matter how much experience I’ve had, there is still one thing about any sort of ministry that remains consistent: it frightens the daylight out of me! Perhaps this is why, though I anticipated a warm welcome by this church who has been nothing but kind to me, the reaction I got tonight was somehow both overwhelming and incredibly humbling.

I was not just welcomed as another order of business, as perhaps I expected. My reception came with responses of genuine joy that I would be able to stay for longer than a few days this time. I received an overwhelming response of joy and thanksgiving that I am not sure I can express in words except to say that it could not have been warmer.

The warm welcome, of course, only humbles me more in acknowledging the privilege and power of change that can come in the next five “short” months. I am reminded of what great opportunities lie before us - both for me and for the congregation. I am reminded of who has called me, why I am called, and that for these reasons, I must push on regardless of the circumstances that have brought me to this place.

I am grateful that today I have been given more reasons to celebrate this journey, difficult as it may have been. and I look forward to more days of celebration and joy in the months to come.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Running Start

Today was my first full day in Cape Town, and it was certainly an eventful one.

It started beautiful with a peaceful (dry!) walk to the Plumstead Methodist Church, where I how great it is to be in “family worship” and to have a sermon be just the words I didn’t know I needed to hear. It was a good reminder of why I have come to love the church and faith communities so much. It has been a long time since I have had a church I could call home, and yet there is something about PMC that gives me that feeling every time, even as I am only beginning to get to know this community.

After church I had breakfast and spent the rest of the morning/early afternoon doing one of my favorite things that I haven’t done in months: I spent the morning reading the newspaper. Funny how its the small things that can make one so content.

Mid-afternoon I went with Pete and Lisa to another church in the circuit. The youth at the Methodist Church in Vryground, an informal settlement within our circuit, invited us for a program they prepared. They had spent time learning about their culture and invited us so they may have an audience to share it with. This was also their effort at a delayed “67 minutes” of volunteer service in honor of Nelson Mandela. (Mandela asked that for his birthday this year, every South African give 67 minutes of their time back to the community. 67 - in honor of the 67 years of his life he has given to community service. The youth were on retreat on Mandela’s birthday, so they decided to make it up today instead of skip it). The singing, dancing and sharing of food were incredible reminders of the beautiful mix of cultures and traditions we are living so nearby, and yet have so few opportunities to interact with and live into.

This evening, we (the whole family and I) went to see a stage production of Mama Mia! It was the first time I’ve been able to see it live, and it was great! As happens every time, I was marveled at the genius of how so many hit songs were put together to form this story line. The talent was incredible, from the acting to the dancing, and least of all the singing: the vocals really were phenomenal- and made the show. The costumes didn’t hurt much either, though, with an abundance of hilarious sequins and sparkles reminiscent of the age of ABBA. As great as the show was, I must confess: topping it off for me was an adorable little girl sitting in front of me who would get my attention every once in a while so she could say hello and get a smile and wave from me. She was great, and really added to the show in her own precious little way.

Indeed, this was an eventful day and a certain kick-start to my stay in Cape Town. While I anticipate a bit of a slower start to work and daily routines as I begin to settle in, I am grateful for such an incredible introduction to the local church, community, and recreation all in one day. I look forward to what the days ahead hold.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Promise of Hope

As I sit to type this, I’m curled up in a blanket next to a heater in the living room of my new home.

Today I moved to Cape Town. The gloomy, rainy weather greeted me with a shared emotion as I walked off the plane contemplative of my new life that begins today. It has been a difficult several months that have brought me to this place, and it is difficult to bid the people and places I have grown to love farewell. It is with a heavy heart that I move forward, and with a joyful one that I celebrate this new chapter as it begins.

I have to tell you - this time, the joy doesn’t come as easy as the sorrow. But I move forward as I remember the countless blessings that are before me...

I celebrate because I am blessed to be welcomed as a part of the family with whom I will now share a home; there is no better feeling than to know I am truly welcome, and know no one else with whom I could better trust to walk with me through this transition. Beyond family, Rev. Grassow has also been a great mentor to me, and I look forward to learning from him through the work and ministry we will share over the next few months.

For though the rain may come and the challenges roll in with the Cape wind, even through the gloom and gray skies, I cannot forget about one significant part of this gray, gloomy day: a rainbow was shinning brightly today, revealing itself from between the house and the trees. So goes life. No matter the challenges, to matter the struggle, no matter how great or difficult life may be, there is always a rainbow: there is always something to look forward to. Always something shinning brighter, something more to strive for. Always a hope of what tomorrow may bring.

So as I look forward to easier days of sunshine and clear skies, I give thanks for days like today when the reality of life changing before us has opportunity to sink in. and I give thanks for the many people in my life who have walked/are walking through the gloomy days with me, who are patient with me when I am the one in whom the storm brews, and who are the rainbows in my life: constant reminders of the promise of hope, love, and life that sits before us.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

For Every Thing There is a Season...

As I sit to write this, I realize I should be packing. However, I remain true to the procrastinator within, and think this is as good of a time as any to write a blog that has been a long time coming.

The past few months of my life have been anything but stable. If I told you all of the stories of my life from these last few months, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t believe me. I’m not sure I would, if I hadn’t lived it. The good news is this: I have had a couple of weeks and some really great friends who have helped me to process many of the events, and life is slowly but surely turning around.

This is my attempt at a “short” version of what I have been up to the past few months.

First, the good news: Our (SHADE’s) Education Centre closed at the end of June. It was a bitter-sweet closing. I truly loved my time teaching and getting to know each of our students, and was sad to see them go. I also experienced for the first time the joy of a teacher when she (or he) sees her students succeed. In many ways, I felt like I was more proud on graduation day than they were, and I have an entirely new appreciation for the teachers who helped me along my journey. I had no idea the work, hope, love and joy that come not just from teaching, but from watching students succeed or walk across the state. To all of the students of Espoir Centre: Congratulations!

The week after graduation was when the whirlwind of my life began to pick up. SHADE has undergone a lot of changes since moving to Johannesburg in January. As the Training Centre prepared to close, concerns about SHADE had begun to grow. Is the work (and financial need) of SHADE sustainable? Will there be enough work for THREE Mission Interns to keep busy? Would it perhaps be in the better interest of SHADE to not have Missionaries they needed to be concerned with while they were also undergoing other large changes that had little to do with us, but that would affect our work? One of the biggest questions had little to do with our work, but with growing concerns over our housing situation: it was increasingly clear that it would be best if we could move to a safer, healthier place near people, especially as tensions grew with our landlord. Basically, all of the concerns for SHADE we have had over the past several months boiled down to one big question: is the best place for us (Mission Interns) really at SHADE?

As Hannah, Rachel and I each took time to pray and reflect on some of these questions, so did some of the staff at GBGM. In the end, the decision GBGM came to was that it would be best for all parties if the three of us were re-appointed to work with other ministries for the rest of the duration of our international placements. This means we were looking for work within the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and preparing to begin placements all over again. In many ways, it was reminiscent of the anxiety over my placement I had while waiting to hear in June and July of 2009, or again in September 2009 when it was changed last minute.

This decision was not an easy one. The days that followed, the questions that have been asked and addressed, the move that took place: these are the encounters that create the unbelievable stories that are now to be tallied in my crazy book of life. We have new memories of the sad day we packed up our desks. We have crazy stories about the day we moved all of our personal belongings out of our house in 15 minutes. Stories of adrenaline, of joy, of sorrow. Stories that make me sad, bring me joy, or just make be laugh in unbelief.

One of our biggest concerns was free time: we had already wrapped up our work at SHADE. The World Cup ended two days after we told Papa David we were leaving. Would we waste away with no work to do for the next month?

Of course, God has this all under control. On Tuesday, 13 July, 4 days after we were officially done with our work at SHADE, I wrote this blog about meeting my friends Emily and Joanne for the first time. Little did we know this would not be a one-time pastoral visit. Quite the contrary, we returned the next morning to greet and pray with their newly arrived family from the US, and basically, we never left. We took so well to Jen and Matt (Emily’s parents, Joanne’s son and daughter-in-law) that they were soon telling the nurses we were immediate family so we could spend more time with them in the ICU. They were in South Africa nearly a month, during which time we saw them every day, blessed with opportunities to love, laugh, pray, sing, watch movies, share meals, etc. with them. We even took our turns staying overnight with Emily; Emily had become like a little sister to me, and it was as if I had known them my entire life.

As they prepared to leave, it was only then that I realized how much we needed each other during this time. God really did have it under control: we could not have made it through that trying, difficult month of change without them and without another ministry to keep us busy. As the Kerstetters packed up to go home, I made may way to Durban (a much needed vacation I wrote about below). Another week at home in Johannesburg to pack and get ready to go, and here I am: Saturday I move to Cape Town, where a new chapter of my life and work will begin. I am moving nearly 2 months after serious conversations of moving began, and I somehow do not feel like I have had enough “down” time to even process all of these changes. Yet I am grateful to be moving forward before I have begun to feel stagnant. Balance is everything, so though I am not yet sure if I am ready to go, I move forward this week, leaving Rachel and Hannah in Johannesburg, where they still await their appointments.

Though I know this “update” is long, vague and nondescript, I hope it also serves as a small window into some of the changes that have occurred. My next updates will be from Cape Town, where I slowly put the pieces of my life and work together again, hopefully gleaning valuable lessons from the challenges of the past several months. As I do so, and as Rachel and Hannah continue in a state of transition and uncertainty, I ask your continued prayers and support. For if there is anything that can be said with absolute certainty from the past 10 months, it is that we would not have made it through without prayer.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Real Life

I just got home from what turned out to be one of the most restorative and life-filled weeks I have had in the past two months. Where was I, you ask? With friends. In Durban, to be precise, but then that’s just a city. The location didn’t matter. The conversations with people-who-get-me, the hospitality and no-expectations, the just-be-yourself-safe-space did matter.

This combination of days turned to a week were just what I’d been looking for. and to think: the day before the journey, I was still debating if I should cancel it. I just have too much to do, important people I want to see and spend time with here in Joburg, packing and planning to do. What terrible timing for some “holiday” I planned months ago, before I had any idea how much my life would change between then and now.

How my life has changed is a blog I’ve been mulling in my head as I try to figure out a way to share about it: when that comes, or when I am more settled into those changes (whichever comes first), I’ll be sure to share all about it. In the interim, I’m resting in one of the things I have taken away from this week.

Now: This moment: That’s all that matters.

In the past few months, perhaps since moving to South Africa, I have been overwhelmed with stress or anxiety. For the first time in my life, I was made physically sick by all of the stress in my life. If you know me at all, you know the magnitude of that statement, as I have certainly been no stranger to stress. Some of this was self-inflicted, the most of it wasn’t. But I suppose the result of stressful things you can do nothing about is often more stress. So the cycle continued.

This past week, I stepped out of my growing bubble in Johannesburg and visited some American friends living in Durban. It was good to spend time with them and digest some of my life from the past few months. They understand all too well the elements at play in my life here, and it was healthy to digest and process my life with people who understand but are outside the situation. The opportunity to be honest and take down the walls of protection over involved parties was like a breath of fresh air.

Fresh air. Spring is in the air. In Durban, some days are so warm you forget winter has not yet passed in full. Fresh air on the beach, soaking in sun on my first full day in Durban could not have been a more welcome treat. We sat for hours in silence, listening to the waters crash, the birds chirp, the people laughing and talking around us. Beautiful Serenity.

Days that followed brought trips to good coffee shops (finally- good espresso!!), watching movies, non-work related chatter over countless shared meals and games of cards. We played with their 3 cats and I visited with their Monday night Bible Study group. I even read an entire book - the first time I’ve managed to finish a book since February or March.

All of this, and as I sit home reflecting on this “ordinary” week that didn’t involve typical site-seeing tourism as may be expected on a vacation (and first trip to a new city), all I can think about is how great it felt to be back to “normal.”

No negative stress. No overwhelming anxiety. No to-do lists looming or people questioning my actions. No one to check in with. Just time with friends, space for honesty, and a bit of healthy competition over a few too many rounds of “Nertz.”

At the end of the day, I can’t help but wonder:
    Maybe this simple stuff is what life is really “about.”