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!