Thanks to many of you calling and asking for detailed accounts of our South African mission trip. It’s been a tough first week back, some due to jet-lag hitting each night around 6pm, but mostly due to the contrast of last week’s extreme’s compared to my real life’s excesses and comfort. Thanks to those for pushing me to put my thoughts on paper – I apologize in advance to the length. We joked that it felt like we lived 9 days in each day, thus this is a glimpse of three-months away!
I now realize that part of the benefit of going on a Mission trip is to disconnect from our every day. To get fully engrossed in a different culture and to stay present in their needs, hopes and joy. A few family members questioned my desire to go to South Africa. Since we have poverty and struggles in the US, including the homelessness and heroine issues in Cincinnati, why couldn’t I stay put and do the work while safe at home, they reasoned. The beauty of going half way around the world (literally) is to recognize that people are very similar to us regardless of their address, culture or financial status. Being away from my every day, I had the time to process and pray through it. For those who aren’t much for praying, think of it as talking to yourself and then getting nudges or promptings of action. Ironically, God kept telling me to open my hands to receive, open my eyes to see. The 25 women from 45243 (our zip code, thus our group name) were ministered to, probably as much as the children and girls we were teaching.
No doubt our emotions were high and low throughout each day, but the four feelings that were most pronounce and still hitting me today include:
- Freedom – Walking through Nelson Mandela’s jail cell. The years and life he gave up to make a better world for others. He understood there was something bigger than himself.
- Forgiveness – Listening to a political criminal who returns to Robbens Island to give tours of the horrible place he was jailed. So many of us hold onto bitterness from far smaller grievances or disappointments. It prompted me to let go and ask God for forgiveness.
- Hope – The people of Khayelitsha (20 miles of shanty village) cannot rely on their career, self or finances. They must rely on God for better circumstances.
- Joy – The people of Khayelitsha are financially poor, yet there is incredible hope and joy in their hearts. Pastor Patrick asked us to consider how rich America is, yet the number of people who are burdened with the Poverty of Spirit and Poverty of Community. Wow – that knocks us down a few rungs.
Pastor Patrick kept commenting on what a huge deal it is that we left our families behind to come spend time with these strangers. They kept introducing us as the Mom’s who left 75 children at home with the Dad’s. One village woman commented in her native tongue that her status was elevated that Wednesday when half of our group walked through the Township with her. Going inside the shanties and seeing women dying from HIV/Aids was not something I was prepared for, nor did I feel safe doing it, but they were so appreciative to it. They just kept smiling and thanking us. Why? They believe in the power of Prayer.
I learned that though I may never see them again, the children and women we met, including my “bud” Xolelwa, are my Sisters in Christ and that I will spend eternity with them. I heard the Holy Spirit tell me in a dingy, tented church that I was no better than them – we are all the same, no longer to think “them and us” … just us. I desire to come home with an evangelist heart to talk about God’s salvation to my friends in America too. I want eternity to be spent together, and for them to enjoy the joy of God every single day…not just at the end of their life. I hope people will be able to see a difference in how my family reacts and what my family does and that we are not afraid to share our love for Christ. Yes, I know that sounds strange, but a good friend Lori Valentine put it this way, “what is the better alternative to living for Christ? Beauty fades, youth ages, you cannot take wealth with you, but God can provide all for us here and into eternity, why miss the every day joy He can provide?”
Lori’s comment is counter-cultural to us. The American Dream tells us we can have it all if we work hard enough. And many of us have worked hard… we have so many things, we have so many blessings. We were fortunate to be born when and where we were born. We shouldn’t take it for granted. It would be foolish to live without the joy of God now, every day. Don’t wait until you think you are at your end days; enjoy your Big Daddy spoiling you now! He knows and loves us unconditionally; he knows what we need individually. This isn’t to suggest to stop working. In fact just the opposite, I hear this as a calling to use my talents to create a financial engine to help others, or use my time to serve others.
Pastor Patrick introduced the concept of Celebrating Ahead. After a few days in the preschool of orphans and with our twenty-ish year old mentee girls, we were feeling like we wanted to bring them home and give them everything. Patrick told us not to feel guilty for enjoying what God has given us. To enjoy the dessert, the wine, the scenery, because the Lord (our Big Daddy) enjoys spoiling us. WOW, that is cool.
The people of Khayelitsha truly have nothing. The village was nasty. Their homes were sheet metal pieces somehow held together (or stolen shipping containers) with exposed wires, rusted nails, holes in walls and ceiling, flies and bugs everywhere! They were happy with nasty dirty furniture full of holes, because it was somewhere to sit instead of the sandy, dirt floor (the parable of building your house on rock instead of sand was hard to miss). Driving through the village, I saw a cow eating out of piles of trash along the road, next to him was a man peeing. There was empty alcohol bottles and debrief everywhere. Yet there were similarities too – they took pride in their homes with a simple set of curtains, a welcome matt, a bird figurine on a shelf or a poster on the wall. The kids at church were taking our pictures, knowing how to “swipe” to turn on smart phone.
The first week at home has been a bit of a rollercoaster. It’s wonderful to be home with family, but I miss the sorority house of 25 friends! It’s been nice to share stories with friends and colleagues at work, but I miss praying 12 times a day. Working with wealthy families at the bank has brought up many “first world problems” that seem a bit ridiculous after a week in poverty. I’ve even had ideas of how to use Flair for teaching purposes instead of catering to an elite clientele. I am thankful that Marcus, Keegan and MG have a stronger understanding of poverty, homelessness and all the blessings they have, thanks to our trip.
Remember Staple Inc’s red “Yes” button? I would like to create a “Reset” button. We get so busy, so distracted in our day-to-day activities. Week after week, the same noise. I race around to accomplish tasks that I am now sitting back and wondering how necessary are they? Part of the race might be from not wanting to miss out on anything, or to feel connected into something, or just never stopping to ask myself why am I doing it?
If nothing else, I am hoping never to say “I am so busy” again. I don’t desire to be busy. I hope to prune out the activities that aren’t necessary and fill my time with more satisfying endeavors:
Community – spending time with friends, Sharing the gifts God has given me, Opening our home to celebrate friendship, Taking time alone to learn more about God and how he desires my family to live, Focusing on the needs of my husband, Building faith into my children, Going on prayer retreats and service days, and Finding needs in my community…
Thank you again for your prayers and for those who supported my five friends to take this life-changing trip along side of me. Please feel free to call with questions, there is so much more to share, but this seemed long enough 🙂
(As published by Orchard Africa, February 2015)