Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I have been suffering from a severe case of writer’s block ever since leaving my host family in Swaziland almost four months ago. Even writing that makes me cringe; four months? But yes, it has been four months, almost to the date. And I have felt paralyzed, trapped, neither here nor there since then.

A few weeks ago, I attended a Re-Entry Event for all newly returned volunteers who participated in the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission program. We talked about our stories, our experiences… where we had been. We talked about our fears, our current reality, our tears… where we were. We talked about our hopes, our dreams, our future… where we were going. But for me, most importantly, we talked about the transitions between each of those stages; the in-between time. 

Our program director described this time as being similar to learning how to be a trapeze artist. Slowly, painfully, throughout the last year we have learned how to hold onto the trapeze by ourselves, carefully advancing from simply hanging on for dear life to swinging confidently through the air. But now, at the height of our confidence, we must let go of the trapeze. We must let go, soar through the empty air, and trust that a big burly man will be on the other end, ready to catch us in his arms and swing us to even higher heights.

I was quite happy to be swinging away on my trapeze. Now I find myself in mid-air, looking frantically for my big burly man to appear and catch me. I don’t know where he is, I don’t know what he looks like, I don’t know if I will even be able to grasp his arms. But I do know that I cannot go back; it is not possible to turn around in mid-air; I am in motion. I have let go of my trapeze.

I focus on the feeling of wind in my face, the light in the distance, the gentle murmurings of promises to come, the confidence that assured me it was okay to let go of my trapeze in the first place. I know there is a safety net below, but I will myself not to look at it; it is enough to know that it is there. I am waiting for my big burly man. He will be there, I am sure of it, just as I am sure that the trapeze I left behind was solid and real and not a figment of my imagination.

As for now, the in-between time, I will wait, and soar, and fly.

Monday, July 11, 2011


It doesn’t feel like so long ago that I first wrote about the words Beautiful and Strenuous as descriptors for Africa, and yet at the same time September of 2010 seems light years away. I wrote then about those two words and how they create a rather intense tension. Now that I’m solidly in July 2011, I understand more fully how such tensions have truly shaped my experience. Am I a visitor or a local? Am I a child (young) or an adult (old)? Am I dependent or independent?

I’ve realized that during the course of this year I have been all those things, and that reminds me of the well-known passage from Ecclesiastes 3: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. You know the one... a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, etc. Whether you’re familiar with this passage because you’ve read it in the Bible or because you’ve simply sung along to the 1960s version by The Birds makes no difference. The profoundly simple words of wisdom are still relevant today, and I find it extremely comforting as my journey comes to an end... or is it just beginning?

I can relate each of the examples listed in the Ecclesiastes passage to something that I have experienced this year. And I’ve learned many important lessons that I feel I would have failed to receive elsewhere.

born – die / plant – pluck up what is planted / kill – heal / break down – build up / weep – laugh / mourn – dance / throw away stones – gather stones together / embrace – refrain from embracing / seek – lose / keep – throw away / tear – sew / silence – speak / love – hate / war – peace

Experiencing how South Africans are daily reminded of their violent and brutal history of killing each other as they attempt to reconcile and heal their country is not something I will easily forget. I’ve planted a lot of little green seedlings in the garden, but I’ve also done my fair share of plucking them out. I’ve mourned with many grieving families, and have danced with them as they lower their loved one’s casket into the ground. I have made difficult decisions regarding things to keep and things to throw away. And I’ve learned when it is culturally appropriate to keep silent, and when it is suitable for me to speak.

As I am busy saying goodbye to the people and places I have grown to love and my emotions change daily from sad to happy and anxious to confident, I’m not worried. I’ve learned that life is tension, and that there truly is a time for everything under heaven. And, yesterday in my last siSwati church service we just happened to sing Send Me, Jesus, the very same song that St. James sent me off with when I left Portland one year ago. It seems I have almost come full circle... which means that I'll be starting again soon. Thanks for coming along on the journey.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Well friends, together we have come almost full circle! Big thanks to my supporters for July!

4- Alex Zimmer
Happy Anniversary!

18- Charlie & Ann Tohlen
Happy Anniversary!

20- Rev. Joe & Judith Smith

Previous trip to SA in July

21- Margie Antico

Happy Birthday

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Wow. Ten months of this amazing experience and I've:

  • Obtained 3 new pairs of shoes
  • Filled up 7 pages in my passport 
  • Developed a nice caffeine addiction thanks to drinking so much black tea
  • Had my hair cut twice, which means it's rather long at the moment
  • Mastered the art of storing my cell phone in my bra
  • Only used 1 bottle of sunscreen
  • Read all my books and am trying to make the last one stretch as long as possible
  • Lost 2 pair of sunglasses
  • Long stopped converting S. African rand and Swazi emalangeni into US dollars
  • Decided that I am definitely sad to be leaving... but so excited to be going
Please keep me and all YAGM in your prayers as we enter the last final weeks of service. Ten months! Isn't that crazy?!

Thursday, June 9, 2011


"One shall not live by bread alone"... but I come pretty darn close! In fact, I recently estimated that I eat an average of six slices of bread per day! However, although a bit high, this is not unusual; I have always loved bread. Even in the USA, my default snack was a nice crispy piece (or two) of peanut butter toast.

But looking back, I realize I inhaled most of those pieces while leaning on the kitchen counter, in too much of a hurry to even sit down.

I don't eat my bread like that anymore.

I sit down. I take my time. And I pray before eating, thanking God for providing yet again, food for me to eat.

The Lord's Prayer says "give us this day our daily bread". I pray that just as my body is nourished and sustained by physical bread, my spiritual self will also be fed with the Word of God. I think of it like the spiritual version of "if I had a nickel every time I..."  If I pray every time I enjoy a slice of bread, I'll be talking to God a lot more. And that means that He'll probably talk back. The combination of eating and praying leads me to a more fulfilling relationship with God... and makes me feel a lot less guilty about indulging in another slice!

Saturday, June 4, 2011


Thanks to all my June supporters!

11- Folin Family
Memories of a Moroccan feast

16- Keith & Joyce Amundson

18- Don & Lori Neptun
Happy Birthday Lori!

21- Tom Schmidt
Summer Solstice

24- ELCA-Oregon Synod Global Mission Committee

Saturday, May 28, 2011


During my recent foray back into South Africa, I had the opportunity to visit Apartheid Museum in Soweto. I would say I had a good time, but good seems to imply some sense of joy, rather than respect that such a heavy topic requires. It was simply an experience (rather hard to swallow, at many times) that showed all too well the terror and injustice that ruled South Africa officially (and unofficially) for so many years during the Apartheid era. I couldn’t help but wonder, “How would I have acted if I had been here during this time? Would I have supported the system? Would I have fought against it?” More chilling were the similarities I noted about the South African policy of apartheid, the German extermination of Jews, and even America’s unjust treatment of Native Americans. All of these scenarios included one group of people who assumed they were superior to another group of people. All were afraid of those they were persecuting. And most decisions made during those various “campaigns” were made out of fear. Don’t believe me? Just change the word township to ghetto to reservation… they mean essentially the same thing; a way to keep “them” away from “us”.

Apartheid in South Africa officially ended in 1994. The German holocaust is taught in history class, as is the slaughter and eventual removal of Native Americans from their land. But with such a scary thing happening so many times the world over (and the three I’ve noted are but a few examples) I can’t help but think “Where is the injustice happening now? What people are being tortured, detained, jailed, beaten, persecuted; just for being different, right now, in my lifetime?”

Look for those that are Apart. Don’t be afraid of them. Welcome them. Or the world will be ruled by fear and a constant sense of Apartheid.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Big thanks to all my fabulous May supporters!

1- Huetteman Family
Happy May Day!

5- Annie & Alex Karel
Happy Birthday, Annie!

5- Montgomery Family
Happy Cinco de Mayo!

8- Donna & David Rundquist
Happy Anniversary!

14- Jen Wright
Memories of a fun trip to Rockaway Beach!

23- Dick Wegner
Thinking of the last St. James Bach Cantata of 2009-2010 season!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


When I was growing up, Palm Sunday was one of my favorite worship services. All of us children would gather in the back of the church and be given large palm fronds, then we would joyously march in at the beginning of the service, waving our palms with much enthusiasm and loudly singing 'Hosanna! Hosanna!' It truly felt like we were part of the crowd two thousand years ago who greeted Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. However, in recent years Palm Sunday has also become known as Passion Sunday. Now, in addition to reading the festive account of Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem, the entire Passion story is read, including the Last Supper, the betrayal of Judas, the trial before Pilate, the crucifixion of Jesus, and finally, his death.

What a downer! Can't we just wave our palms and shout 'Hosanna'? Do we have to hear about death, too?

Unfortunately, that attitude is exactly why Palm Sunday is now Passion Sunday. Not too many people are excited at the notion of Jesus dying on a cross... so they don't attend worship on Good Friday. They just skip all that nasty death stuff, because at the Sunday following Palm Sunday there will be trumpets and lilies and hoorah! The miracle of Jesus' resurrection!! Of course, in the northern hemisphere tempting signs of new life are everywhere- tender green shoots are bursting forth from the cold ground, buds are suddenly apparent, and how can you not believe when the days are warmer, longer? It's an exhilerating time of year!

However, in the southern hemisphere exactly the opposite thing is happening. Days are growing shorter, the wind more cold and blustery. Plants are dying, green things fading to brown. New life seems like a long ways away. The worship service that I will be celebrating this Sunday morning is an afterthought to the real event- Good Friday. Jesus becomes the most real, the most human, through his death. Everyone in my African community has experiencd death. Not many have seen miraculous resurrections. They know what death looks like, and they know it cannot be avoided. It is an integral part of their life. And they will not miss the death of their Lord.

This weekend, I challenge all of you to look beyond the lilies and the brass bands and even the Easter bunny and the brightly dyed eggs. Look beyond to Golgotha, The Skull, and see the crucified body of Jesus. Hear the mourning cries and the weeping of his loved ones. It's uncomfortable. It's awkward. But this is why we celebrate Easter... because of death.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Oct. 30: My host dad is elected as Bishop of ELCSA-Eastern Diocese. As the Diocese is based in Mbabane, Swaziland, a move is required for his new position. Move estimated to take place early January. We begin to pack non-essential items from the kitchen. 

Dec. 5: Discover that the move has been postponed due to lack of funds. Tentatively plan to move sometime in March. 

Jan. 18: Visit Swaziland Dept. of Home Affairs, who insist I need a full visa to volunteer in the country. Rather than go through the hassle, it is decided that I will enter Swaziland as a visitor, which means that every 30 days I must leave the country for a few nights and then re-enter. Begin to unpack and use kitchen items previously boxed up. Start thinking about the move in terms of “if” rather than “when”.

March 20: Consecration! Once the big day is finally behind us we all wonder when (or if!) the move will happen. 

March 29: Last day of school in the first quarter. I assure my coworkers at Sobhuza Primary that I will “definitely see them” when school resumes on April 11. 

March 31: Notified that we will be moving “now now”… as early as April 6! We begin packing in earnest. We also complete a mandatory inventory of all items that we are taking with us- a requirement for Customs at the border.  
April 5: Due to mechanical problems with the moving truck, our moving schedule has been pushed one day. Here is the plan: The truck will depart Mbabane SD at 10am on April 7, arrive at the new Dean’s home in Mayflower. They will load his belongings and drive to Carolina. We will then unload his things and load our things, cross the border, and be in our new home in time for supper!

April 7, 10am: Frantic packing continues. We box up all the food and remaining kitchen items. Expect word of moving truck whereabouts at any time.  

April 7, 3pm: Truck still has not left Swaziland. We unpack food, pots and pans, and prepare food. 

April 7, 5pm: Truck finally leaves Swaziland. 

April 7, 8:30pm: Truck has gotten lost on the way to Mayflower. Movers contact the new Dean and get accurate directions to his home. We discuss if we will be sleeping in Carolina or at the border post. 

April 7, 10pm: We have evening prayer without Bibles and almanacs as they are already packed. We talk about the story of the wedding guests who must stay awake for the arrival of the bridegroom. We are exhausted. Swaziland border closes.

April 7, 11:30pm: The moving truck arrives. We unload in the dark and wisely decide to sleep in the house in Carolina before loading morning. I sleep on a single mattress on the floor of the sitting room, surrounded by boxes. Even the movers get bread and tea before catching some sleep on extra mattresses. 

April 8, 7am: Moving Day begins (for real!) My first task is to recreate from scratch our entire moving inventory. The movers forgot their copy. 

April 8, 7:30am: Neighbors materialize to help load the truck. All are introduced to the new Dean and his family. 

April 8, 9am: Moving truck departs Carolina and heads for the border. Neighbors and friends gather for a final prayer with our family. 

April 8, 10am: We depart in two vehicles- Bishop and Ma Bishop in the car, my brother and I in the bakkie. We see our moving truck in the long queue when we get to the border. We get our passports stamped, then wait two hours for all the truck’s paperwork to be completed. 

April 8, 1:30pm: Proceed to the Swaziland side of the border. We have boxes in the bakkie and are told to wait until an official is available to search us and the moving truck at the same time. We wait over an hour. I mark thirty days off in my calendar while we’re waiting, so I know when I will need to leave the country. 

April 8, 4pm: We arrive at our new home (finally!) It is 5k north of the Swaziland capital of Mbabane, and just 2k away from the ELCSA Eastern Diocese Center. It is a nice house with terraced lawn, guest flat, and spectacular view. We are absolutely exhausted. What an experience!

I am glad to be here in Swaziland, and I look forward to seeing what surprises and lessons this new country has for me in the next few months! Most of all, I am thankful that my host family was willing to bring me along with them in this new chapter in their lives… it’s exciting for all of us!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


I’m used to thinking of public transportation as a well-designed system of buses, trains, and light-rail that get you where you need to go. Public transportation in Africa looks a lot different! The main component of “taking public” here are taxis, but they’re not the bright yellow sedans I’m used to. They are actually small vans (like VW buses) that seat 14-16 people and go just about everywhere around the region. These taxis can be local or long-distance taxis. Each driver owns their own vehicle, drives the same route regularly, and charges the same fare as other drivers (while also equipping their vehicle with eye-grabbing decals and ear-splitting sound systems).  These taxis are a good reason why time in Africa is so flexible, as they don’t run on a set schedule, like a bus. They only leave when they’re full, which could take minutes or hours, depending on your destination and the time of day you are traveling.  For this reason, some people prefer the other main component of African public transportation: hitchhiking. 

Hitchhiking here is a very common practice that many people utilize to get around. Especially in Carolina, where many people cannot afford their own cars and where the only taxis take people between town and the township, hiking is essential for getting into and out of town. Each town has unofficially designated hiking pick-up spots, where people stand to signal to drivers their intended destination. There is also a complex series of hand signals to let people know where you want to go. If you need to go to Swaziland, just wave your passport. If you’re headed east, point your hand in that direction. If your car is full, tap your closed left fist with your open right palm. It’s a rather fascinating system!

Hiking in this fashion becomes more valid as a public transportation option as it is not free. People seem to have agreed on standard fares between locations, so I know that it is appropriate to give a driver R25 if they take me to Ermelo, no questions asked. This makes the whole system seem a little more legitimate.
In fact, I had a nice discussion the other day about this very topic with a driver who picked me up to travel to another town to catch a bus. We were debating the similarities and differences between African and US public transport. In many ways, I think that the African system actually makes it easier to get around. It may take more time, but the options are truly endless. Leave your front door, walk a few blocks, and raise your arm when a car approaches. If they’re not going in the right direction, wait for the next one. The system makes it possible to literally hike anywhere around the country, and because payment is expected it significantly reduces the risk of foul play (which, thanks to American cinema, is about the only thing hitchhiking is associated with these days). For people who do not own cars it provides the ultimate sense of freedom and the necessary means to travel. 

Although hitchhiking isn’t recommended when other options are available, I am glad that I’ve had the opportunity to utilize this means of transport. Once you’ve done it a few times (and have also been in a car that picks up hikers) you truly begin to understand how hitchhiking fits into the African concept of community. If I pick you up today, maybe you’ll pick me up tomorrow. The entire system relies on the kindness of strangers… a true experience in having a little faith in your neighbor!  I’m glad I’ve had the chance to really and truly Take A Hike!