Monday, December 20, 2010


So, this is Christmas!
I find myself surrounded by family, singing Christmas carols, eating cookies, and making paper snowflakes. Just like any other Christmas, except of course, it’s not! I am also working in the garden, applying lots of sunscreen, and not worrying about buying that perfect gift! Although Christmas promotions have been in the stores and on the television for weeks now, the typical “American” sense of Christmas has yet to invade our household, of which I am very grateful! There has been no mention of buying gifts for each other or even a special holiday meal. It is obvious that the real gift for their family is simply being together for a few weeks, and I am fortunate to be included in that family. I was the one who decided it was time to bring out the family Christmas tree, but that’s only because I’ve been sharing my room with it (fully decorated!) for the last few months. And I did catch a neighbor baking a fruitcake the other day, but we certainly didn’t order one!  The truth is, my host family doesn’t need trees or gifts or fancy foods to put them in the holiday spirit, as it is the same spirit of generous goodwill that they have year round. They remember the primary reason for Christmas, the birth of Jesus, and that is what they celebrate!

And what have you done?
Sometimes, I still can’t believe that I am in Africa. After waiting and praying for so long for the right opportunity to come my way, I am so thankful that I was accepted in the ELCA’s Young Adult in Global Mission Program. I took a risk, made the leap, said lots of prayers, and relied heavily on all of you for support! I said Goodbye. I made new friends, joined a new family, learned the basics of a new language, and crossed international borders.  I said Hello. I learned a lot about Africa, myself, and my faith. I tried new things, missed old things, and understood what it means to be truly grateful for what you have. I said Yes.

Another year over…
As 2010 winds to a close, I find myself reflecting on the varied adventures I’ve had over the last year. To be certain, many of them involved the YAGM program, and it is astounding to think that one year ago at this time I did not know just how profoundly my life would change in 2010. But I am so glad it did!

A new one just begun!
2011 will bring even more profound changes to my life; I know that the adventure is merely beginning. I am learning a lot about being patient here, and learning that God’s time is not always our time. I do not know what He has planned for me in 2011, but I can’t wait to find out!

So, Happy Christmas!
I hope that all of you have a most festive and joyous Christmas and New Year. Thanks again for traveling with me on this journey of faith, especially during this time of year when we celebrate the coming of Jesus, Immanuel, which means God With Us. Enjoy those delicious holiday treats, make time to celebrate with family and friends, and know that I am thinking of you with love. Happy Christmas!  

Lyrics from John Lennon’s Happy Christmas (War is Over)

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I heard these comments about rainbows at the ELCSA Eastern Diocese Synod a few weeks ago and wanted to share them with you, in light of South Africa’s National Day of Reconcilation, celebrated on Dec. 16. First, a rainbow is composed of multiple colors, not just one or two. Second, all those colors tend to blur together where they meet, creating endless possibilities of color. Third, a rainbow appears when both rain and sunshine are present. All of these things are true not only of rainbows, but of the Rainbow Nation itself. Even here in small town Carolina, the diversity of people and cultures is astounding. Blacks, Whites, Indians, and Chinese people all live and work in the community. Zulus, Swatis, and Afrikaaners maintain their cultural heritage while proudly being South African at the same time. At the moment, jobs and living areas are still strongly defined by race, but  they are starting to blur; in urban areas they are blending even more noticeably.  

"Rainbow Wall" at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg
Most importantly, South Africa is in the midst of good (sunshine) and bad (rain) times, simultaneously. Many tourists who never get out of the city may well presume that South Africa is a fully developed country with reliable infrastrucutre and services, however the South Africa outside touristed areas looks much different. As our Pietermaritzburg hostel manager told us during orientation, “South Africa is a first world country with third world problems.” It is my hope that the people of South Africa not only continue to take intentional steps towards reconciling themselves on matters of race and inequality, but  recognize that they need each other’s diversity and color in order to create the perfect rainbow.

Monday, December 6, 2010


I wish you a Merry Christmas- thanks for the support!

6- Brad and Sue Tucker

8- Vicki Terri
Grandon's Birthday

16- St. James Choir
Another Thursday night rehearsal
25- Rosie and Tracy Ebmeyer
Merry Christmas!


This Thanksgiving I had much to be thankful for. My experiences in Africa thus far have certainly opened my eyes to the larger global community, and I find myself truly grateful for the opportunity to embark on this accompaniment experience. Plus, I got to spend the day with my MUD3 family, playing soccer, swimming in an outdoor pool, and yes- even eating turkey, stuffing, and apple pie!

I am grateful for: 
G: Global Mission, allowing me to see the world and share it with you
R: Role Models, who inspire me to lead a life of service
A: Awareness of God's presence in my life
T: Time to reflect, grow, and live in the moment
E: English, which allows me to communicate with those around me
F: Family and Friends, both near and far
U: Understanding more about myself and the world in which I live
L: 'Love God, Love Your Neighbor', which is what got me here in the first place!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


The rain has come. It is not a gentle, caressing mist, but rather a wild, powerful force that takes my breath away. It can be sunny and warm one moment, then in the next the clouds have gathered and a torrential downpour begins. Our electricity flickers and finally shuts off, and we rush around the house to place large buckets underneath areas prone to dripping. It is hard to predict just when the storms will come, and when they will go.

Today, after the rain ceased, I walked to town to purchase some bread, collect the mail, and stretch my legs after being indoors most of the day. I had almost forgotten about the stormy weather until I stood in the doorway of the grocery store and looked out. Big drops of rain were beginning to fall, gaining in intensity as I debated whether to venture out or stay in. Truthfully though, it wasn’t much of a debate; I didn’t have far to go, and what’s a little rain? I zipped up my jacket, put on my hood, and set for home, for once not walking faster than everyone else, as people everywhere were dashing for cover. The rain poured down, turning the gravel streets to mud and carving deep gouges in the earth. The clouds were racing across the sky and lightning flashed all around me, followed closely by booming thunder.

Suddenly, a flash of yellow caught my eye, and a man rode right in front of me on his vintage road bike. He was wearing a bright yellow rain suit that covered him from head to toe. It reminded me so much of Portland that I laughed aloud and couldn’t keep the smile from spreading across my face. After all, it’s one thing to get caught in the rain unawares, but something entirely different to plan on it. I, like him, was wearing my rain jacket and so was maybe subconsciously hoping to get wet. A little crazy? Yes. Happy? Most definitely! I smiled all the way home, thinking of the unexpected ray of sunshine that had crossed my path, even though my pants were soaked, the mail a little soggy, and my feet splattered with mud.

Once home, exhilarated from my wet walk, I found myself singing this hymn: When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul!” Welcome back, Rain. You nourish the plants, provide cheap entertainment, keep things exciting, and make things well with my soul!

As for all you cyclists saddling up for another wet winter, just think of all that rain flowing across your back as many drops of peace, flowing like a river.  Your dedicated ride in the rain is probably just the piece of sunshine that someone is looking for. I am riding with you in spirit!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


The very first day that I was in Carolina, we were visited by a couple from a neighboring town who are hosting a German volunteer for one year in their home. As the others began to converse in SiSwati, Jana and I attempted to make conversation in English. We asked the usual questions of each other, “What is your name? Where do you come from? What are you doing here?” I discovered that Jana had arrived in August, and was teaching math at a primary school. I, of course, being the fresh recruit, was eager to hear about her experience in South Africa thus far. So when I asked, “What do you think of Africa?” I was shocked to hear her reply, “There are a lot of funerals.”

Fast forward two months later, and I couldn’t agree with her more. In the USA, Saturday is commonly perceived as a free day; people go hiking, work in the yard, do some shopping, and maybe catch a ball game. In South Africa, Saturday is Funeral Day. I was horrified the first time I asked someone what they were doing over the weekend, and they replied, “Probably going to a funeral.” That response implied that although they didn’t have any plans as of yet to attend a funeral service, chances were likely that by the time Saturday rolled around, there would be. Do you think you would look forward to your weekend as much if you knew that you would “probably be going to a funeral?”

According to the UN, about 1,000 people in South Africa died every day because of AIDS in 2008. Five years earlier, in 2003, an estimated 600 people died every day. The number of deaths is increasing, not decreasing. South Africa has more people living with HIV and AIDS than any other country in the world (Bring Me My Machine Gun, Alec Russell, p. 203). Mothers and fathers die, leaving children to be absorbed by other family members. Cousins become siblings, grandparents become parents. The bereavement policy is clearly posted in the teacher’s lounge of the primary school where I volunteer. Commercials on television promote Funeral Policies, and ask the question, “What will happen when your loved one dies?” A young woman proudly showed me invitations she had painstakingly made by hand. When I asked what they were for (thinking birthday parties and weddings), she replied, “Unveilings,” as in Unveiling of the Tombstone after a burial. Death is a way of life.

Although I have encountered death in my own personal life, I have never before encountered death as such an omnipresent reality. As a volunteer in South Africa, I struggle with how to cope when I hear of yet another death, and I usually don’t even know the deceased. But I do know that each and every death has a profound impact on those I do know. It is a frequent occurrence, but the pain is real, and felt anew each time. If there’s anything I’ve learned thus far, it’s that death is a way of life. There is no hiding, denying, or getting used to it. It is real, and it affects everyone, even me, a newcomer in this community.

What are you doing on Saturday?

Monday, November 1, 2010


On Saturday, my host dad was elected by his peers to become the new Bishop of the Eastern Diocese of ELCSA. I have known about this election for weeks; indeed, it has been the topic of much discussion and prayer at our house. The position of Bishop is not an easy one, and requires much personal sacrifice. 

I recently read that in biblical Greek, the word for Shepherd is often translated as Pastor. A good shepherd tends his flock, seeks out the lost, comforts the weary, and if necessary even lays down his life for that of his sheep. I can’t help but picture the Dean (now Bishop-Elect) doing the same for the people of the Eastern Diocese. By accepting the role of Diocesan Bishop, he is putting the needs of the Church ahead of his own. For one, the Diocese is based in Mbabane, Swaziland. This means that his family must relocate there, leaving behind friends, extensive plans for the future, and of course their magnificent garden in Carolina, South Africa. It means yet another home for their children, who have moved frequently their whole lives because of their father’s ministry.

I am touched that in the middle of this major professional and personal transition he has taken the time to speak to me about my unique position as a volunteer in their household, discussing visa requirements and other preparations that may need to take place before they (and hopefully, we!) relocate to neighboring Swaziland. I feel as though I am a valued member of his flock, one that he will not leave behind.

I respect and admire his courage to face this new challenge with humility and faith, even as he has been discerning God’s continual call for his ministry. The events of this weekend certainly should have erased any doubts- the votes cast for him easily met the majority requirement, and it is clear that the entire Diocese will support him as Bishop. He is a good Shepherd, and I am glad to be a sheep in his flock!


Praise and Thanksgiving for each and every one of you this month! 

3- Gene Maier

25- Shirley Roggen
Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, October 28, 2010


I am a dork. This means that I like dorky things, like LED flashlights in the shape of Jesus. I purchased such an item when I was still in the USA, as it 1) made me laugh and 2) was practical- it’s small enough to stow in your pocket. A few days ago, my dorkiness paid off; I discovered that it can be really helpful to have “Jesus, the Light of the World” in your possession.

After a long day of pulling weeds and planting still more seedlings in the garden, I was filthy. As the sun began to sink below the horizon, a thunderstorm was brewing in the sky above, bringing (we hoped) much needed rain to the area. As much as I love thunderstorms, I’m not necessarily a fan of bathing while one is happening outside. But on this day I didn’t have much of a choice, as I was covered in dirt. I decided to hop in and get it done with, before something happened due to the storm, like the roof blowing off the house (it’s happened here before)!

So there I am- scrubbing away at my filthy limbs and lathering up my hair when ZAP! There go the lights! I am plunged into sudden darkness, punctuated only by flashes of lightning which I glimpse through the windows. Instead of being afraid though, I laughed aloud; I knew Jesus was with me. I had a feeling that something like this might just happen, so I had brought my dorky Jesus light with me to the bathroom. His Light led me through the darkness, and brought comfort where there might have been anxiety; I was, after all, in a rather compromising situation! After drying myself off and getting fully clothed, I was proud to walk out of the bathroom and show my host parents that Jesus, the Light of the World, had led me through the darkness.

And today, I realized just how much of an impact that little light of mine can have; I was at the store with my host mom when she noticed little mini flashlights for sale at the cash register. She reached over, grabbed one, and said, “Well, you have Jesus with you. I decided I’d better get one for myself.”

Moral of the Story? It’s great when you have a Light, but it’s even better when you can share that Light with others. I wonder when I might need to pull out Jesus, the Light of the World, next?

Saturday, October 23, 2010


My Favorite Things That I Brought With Me
~Hiking boots - now Garden boots
~Bible- providing comfort on a daily basis
~Wide brimmed hat- thanks, Liz!
~Knee High Socks and Leggings- it can get much colder here than I expected! 

My Favorite Things I That I Forgot
~Stocking Hat- thanks for mailing it, Mom!
~Winter Jacket & Long Underwear- who knew?!

My Favorite African Foods
~Fresh Avocados
~Custard and Jello Dessert- yum!
~Boiled tomatoes and onion
~Ouma buttermilk biscuits- served at teatime and delicious when dunked!
~Peanut Butter Toast- nothing exotic here, but so nice to have!
My Favorite Foods That I’m Craving
~Macaroni and cheese- probably the longest I’ve gone without eating it, ever!
~Chicken Wild Rice Soup
~Granola bars
~Anything with chocolate

My Least Favorite Experiences
~Having dirty feet
~No napkins after eating most food without silverware- but isn’t that what pants are for, anyway?
~Inconveniencing other people to drive me around
~Waiting for the internet to decide if it will cooperate today- or not

My Most Favorite Experiences
~Saying  ‘Hello’  to people on the street in Zulu- and the look of surprise on their face when they see that a white person can and wants to speak Zulu to them!
~Meeting new people at Sunday worship- and then recognizing their faces again at Circuit events
~Morning Prayer with my family- and the fact that they love to give hugs!