Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Seeing Christmas Differently

Bosigong kwa Bethlehem,
Ke bomang mo ‘sakeng?
Bo-Maria le Josef bat eng
Le ngwanyana yo ba mmonyeng,
Yo o tswang ‘godimong.

This is not a random set of Sotho words or phrases.  This is not a poem or some kind of Sotho saying.  This is the first stanza of the song “Silent Night” in Sotho, Hymn number 15 in our ELCSA hymnal.  It may look daunting, but give singing it a try, (don’t worry about your pronunciations, I struggled in the beginning just the same.) 

Singing songs like this in church, in a completely foreign language to me, reinforces South Africa’s motto, ‘Unity in Diversity.’  This powerful term not only refers to the people, cultures and societal norms of the country, but also to the Lutheran church.  As the ELCA and ELCSA share many of the same hymns, creeds and prayers, there are also many ways in which the churches differ from each other.  For instance, at my home congregation, offering is given by somberly passing a plate down your pew.  Here, offering is a celebration and people dance up the aisle, singing praises of thanks to God for being able to offer some of their money to the church.  And while there are many similar and contrasting aspects of church at home and in South Africa, I began to think of the differences during Christmas.   

For the majority of us, Christmas in America means Santa Claus, decorations and lights, Christmas cookies, popular Christmas songs, and a myriad of family traditions.  Christmas in America really seems to last over a month, as many store decorations and TV commercials would suggest.  Our capitalist society has commercialized the most significant Biblical occurrence of our time.   And as time goes on and years pass by, have we lost the foundations for what Christmas is really about?  Do we stretch our traditions and celebrations too far into the secular world and away from our core Christian beliefs?

Let’s pause for a moment.  Recently I have been thinking a lot about Christmas and the holiday season, trying to make sense of it all.  And it was truly hard to connect the dots. 

Let’s start with good ‘ol Saint Nick.  What a strange, mysterious, inconspicuous man he is.  An old, yet never-aging, man who routinely conducts in burglary and breaking and entering each holiday season.  Besides the North Pole, Santa visits shopping malls more than anywhere else, perhaps so he can pick up those gifts that his elves can’t produce in his shop.  And Santa has been climate-aware for some time, as his Reindeer surely don’t produce the amount of emissions many of our gas guzzling SUV’s do.  But what is the point of Santa Claus?  Where did this odd custom and tradition come from?  Without a quick Wikipedia search, I’m sure the majority of us would have no idea on the origins of Santa Claus. 

Despite Santa being a stranger, I always loved him.  And it’s a good thing growing up I always had a chimney because I always felt bad for the kids who weren’t getting presents due to their lack of chimney accessibility.  And I have to be honest, I probably found myself praying more to Santa Claus asking him for the newest gaming system than I did praying to God.

In addition to my love for Santa, I have a love of cookies.  I love cookies so much I could probably live off them, but then I’d most likely accumulate the gut, hypertension and rosy-red cheeks of Santa himself.  And I always loved our Christmas tree.  I loved the smell of a newly cut Douglas fir or other conifer tree, standing in the corner of our living room, shining bright and sparkling from the assortment of ornaments on it.  I never did love carrying the tree up the stairs into the house, watering the tree or cleaning up all the fallen needles.  I was never really fond of our dogs and cats knocking it over, either.  Nonetheless, I loved seeing that tree with gifts under it each Christmas morning.  But I suppose I never stopped and thought to myself, “Why are we putting a tree in our house?  Did I miss something in Matthew that said “Thy must place tree in house to show one’s love for Christ?”

Don’t get me wrong, I love the American Christmas traditions as much as the next person.  But what my Christmas in South Africa has taught me is in order to remember the real reasons we celebrate Christmas, I had to live Christmas differently.  My Christmas here was one of simplistic beauty, of pure jubilation for the birth of our Savior and of giving thanks to God for sending only Son to us.  Being in the Southern Hemisphere changed what I came to associate Christmas with.  Instead of bundling up and wishing for a white Christmas, I threw on my shades and enjoyed eating our meal outside in the summer Sun.  There was no Christmas tree, no outside lights, no cookies, and no Santa.  There was happiness, love of family and love of Jesus.  Everything I had come to know and associate with Christmas was different.

My coordinator, Brian Konkol, shared a quote with us on Christmas day from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Jesus stands at the door and knocks, in complete reality…He confronts you in every person you meet.  He walks on the Earth as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, and makes his demands.  That is the great seriousness and great blessedness of the Advent message.  Christ stands at the door.  He lives in the form of the person in our midst.”

This is what so many of us seem to forget at Christmas.  This is the reality of the holiday, and what it’s truly about. As I continue to meet new people each and every day, I must carry this message of Christmas along with me.  And as I am a lover of tradition and whole-heartedly enjoy the Christmas festivities, I don’t believe there should be an end to them.  However, I challenge you as I continue to challenge myself, to stop and think at times, and ponder how relevant our actions may be to Christ.  In the midst of preparing Christmas dinner or driving from mall to mall, or stressing over material things we want, we should stop and thank God for the truly best Christmas gift of all, Christ Jesus.  

This blog entry was written for the ELCA MUD3 blog, which can be viewed at: http://elcamud.blogspot.com/

A New Chapter in My Journey

The past month has been one of exciting opportunities and new beginnings for me.  I had the opportunity to spend an amazing Thanksgiving holiday with my MUD3 family and a beautiful Christmas holiday with my Monama host family.  I was able to visit another YAGM’s site in Limpopo and experience the culture in the northern parts of South Africa.  I am truly blessed for the experiences I have endured recently.

That being said, I am also undergoing a transition full of new beginnings and opportunities.  In the last month, I have moved in with my ELCSA host, Rev. Monama.  In order to receive a more well-rounded experience and learn from the Bloemfontein community in new ways, we decided to transition to new opportunities in the coming year.  I am looking forward to meeting many new people and finding new challenging and rewarding work.  I thank God for my time at Lebone Village and will always cherish my experiences, memories and relationships I made there. 

Due to my new accommodation, my mailing address has changed as well.  My new mailing address is as follows:

Andrew Steele
29 Springbok Street
Fauna, Bloemfontein
9301, South Africa

I thank you for accompanying me on my journey during this transition period.  I look forward to the exciting new opportunities ahead, and can’t wait to share them with you in the future.

Have a wonderful New Year and God bless!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Limpopo-A Trip to Remember

On December 14, I had the opportunity to travel to the Limpopo province with my pastor’s family, the Monama’s.  The Monama’s are originally from Limpopo, which is the northern most province in South Africa.  So they were going back home to visit family and attend some events.  I was lucky enough to tag along.

On our way up, we made several stops to see family and friends of the Monamas.  We picked up Mrs. Monama’s mother at the Johannesburg airport and headed up to her home in Ga-Marishane, a small rural village south of Polokwane in Limpopo.  We arrived late at night, but couldn’t go right to sleep because we were too excited to be in Limpopo and finally at our stop.  The house was beautiful and had a very cozy feel to it.  This is also when I had my first experiences living without running water.  In Ga-Marishane the running water is controlled and only turned on periodically throughout the week in order to conserve.  This means that if you need water for anything, you need a backup plan.  At the house was a large rain water collection tank with a tap, which is where we got our water for cooking, cleaning, drinking and bathing.  Just a short time in Ga-Marishane made me realize the realities of the water crisis in this world, and sure did make me realize how much I have taken for granted.

The next day I was dropped off at fellow YAGM Heather Nelson’s placement site in the rural village of Masealama, east of Polokwane.  She lives at a drop-in center for orphans and vulnerable children operated by the Lutheran church.  And again, Masealama is a village without the services of running water.  In order to obtain water, we had to fill large buckets with water at tanks used by the village and transport them back to the house via wheelbarrow.  This can be a trying task, as the dirt paths and gravel roads pose a difficult time of pushing the water back to where you need it.  During my 3 days at Heather’s site, we visited the local University, went hiking up a nearby mountain, and did some physical work around her site.  Heather also had baked a few dozen Christmas cookies, which were so good that I probably ate over half of them.  She was also constantly playing Christmas music, trying to get in the mood as much as possible despite the summer temperatures and lack of American commercialized holiday festivities. Oh, and did I mention I ate chicken intestines for the first time?  Not too bad!

Intestines via chicken

As the weekend approached, Heather joined me as we met up with the Monama’s again for a weekend full of activities.  On Saturday we attended an 80th birthday celebration for a woman who attends Rev. Monama’s former parish.  We had the chance to not only meet a lot of great people, but also see the area that Rev. Monama used to serve in his former parish.  That evening we made several stops, seeing old friends and family of the Monama’s.  On Sunday we attended a large church service, with confirmations and baptisms.  Rev. Monama also had the chance to preach and give a sermon in a church that he helped establish.  And in the mix of the service, the Monama family greeted the congregation and called Heather and I up to the front and introduced us as part of the Monama family.  It was a great worship experience.  That afternoon we traveled to a very rural, remote village for a wedding celebration.  I was amazed to see how many people were there despite not seeing many people or a paved road for tens of kilometers.  Heather and I enjoyed sitting back and watching the traditional celebration occur, but we also had our fair share of interested people coming up to talk to us.  It is extremely rare for outsiders, let alone Americans, to be at such an event in such a rural village.  A lot of people wanted to greet us, ask us questions, and show us a good time.  The people were so nice and really made the event a lot of fun.

From left to right: The best man, Rev. Monama, "T-Pain Monama", Groom, Me

That evening we drove back to Maselama to drop Heather off and spend the night before our departure in the morning.  It was also nice because the Monamas could see Dean NJ Sikhwari of the Mphome Circuit of ELCSA.  The Dean and the Monamas have long been friends, and it was a great opportunity for them to catch up.  Dean Sikhwari is an amazing woman, the first woman Dean in ELCSA.  She is full of powerful messages, prayer and has surely been a blessing to ELCSA.

My trip to Limpopo was full activity and I met so many wonderful people.  It was great to see so many places that were important to the Monamas and seeing where someone is from is always nice.  The day we left was somewhat of a sad day, since we had such a great time.  I felt honored to be considered part of the family on this trip, and I will always remember my experiences in Limpopo.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Strength Through Weakness

Recently at Lebone, I was walking around the fields going from one place or another.  But this walk was unlike all others.  There was a countless amount of white butterflies floating aimlessly around the field.  I stopped to take in the moment, because their presence was truly remarkable.  It could have been an image in a movie.  I was walking through the tall grass, hands stretched out, with butterflies flying all around me as the blades of grass ran through my fingers.  At that moment, I felt at peace with nature, myself, and God.  There was something about these newly transformed creatures floating around, moving with the wind as each gust would take them on a new journey, that made me stop and take it all in.  It was one of those moments that a picture could never fully capture.

After standing in the tall grass for some time, I rushed to find Willem, my supervisor, and ask the what, where and why questions about this ‘butterfly effect.’  Willem informed me that the white butterflies all around the property were actually once cut worms, small little worms that quite literally cut vegetation when they are feeding.  This caught me by surprise, because these creatures that created such a beautiful, wonderful scene, were the same animals that cut many of our seedlings in half and which I have grown to despise.  But this got me thinking.

The cut worm butterfly could act as a metaphor for South Africa.  Like the cut worm that used to destroy plants, cut stems in half and prevent progress, the government system of Apartheid acted quite similarly.  And then, in 1994, the first democratic elections were held in South Africa, with Nelson Mandela becoming the nation’s first democratically elected president.  And as the metamorphic process between the cut worm and white butterfly would become, the oppressive system of Apartheid transformed into a beautifully orchestrated new democratic state.  And now, in an important stage in the nation’s young life, it can be easy for people and policies to seem to float aimlessly just like the white butterflies in the African wind.  And this is understandable, it takes time for foundations to be built, relationships to be made and mended, and reconciliation to take place.  It has been fascinating to see this all take place during my year in South Africa.  I have been all around this beautiful country, to the mountains of KwaZulu-Natal, the plains of Kimberley, the rocky shores of Cape Town, and I have seen this new country taking form. 

And as an observer, I have realized that I have found it easy to fall into the trap of someone looking at a situation and being judgmental at times.  How could someone feel that way?  How could anyone say something like that?  How could something ever get like this?  These are just some of the questions I may ask myself.  But who am I to come to this country and make assumptions and judgments about its past, present and future?  The United States faces many uphill challenges with race, class and socioeconomic situations.  How can I judge someone who doesn’t ride the public kombi taxis here, if I rarely rode the public buses and taxis at home?  How can I judge people for only hanging out with people of their race if I didn’t exactly live a life of racial plurality at home?  And as I look at my life in South Africa and my life in America, there is something I have realized. 

I am weak, much weaker than I thought. 

My feet are weak compared to those who must walk greater lengths each day than I have ever imagined before.  There are so many who walk to and from work, to the grocery store, or to fetch life’s most important item, water. 

My hands are weak compared to all the people whose livelihoods depend on strong, working hands.  The weathering and history in the hands of those who work long hours in the fields, in shops, or at ports give me a newfound respect for their tireless work.

My heart is weak compared to the millions who have lost loved ones to HIV/AIDS, a disease that can be easily controlled if properly medicated and treated.  There continues to be an unacceptable amount of people dying each day from this disease and this is something I never had to deal with at home in the States.

My skin is weak compared to those that have no choice but to sleep outside, or in tin shelters located in informal settlements.  I never experience the extreme hot or cold that many of them do.

My view of the world is weak compared to those living in South Africa.  At home, we always refer to the ‘real world’ as life in the capitalist rat race after college.  But the ‘real world’ is here.  There are challenges and circumstances that many people at home never face.

And the funny thing is that as weak as I am at this point, I am immensely stronger than I was 3 months ago when I arrived.  My love of life, of Christ and of others has reached a new pinnacle.  I am infinitely grateful for the relationships I’ve made and the ones that have grown into fruitful experiences.  As I continue to learn more about this wonderful place, and witness moments in nature and life that make me think of the wonders of South Africa, I slowly become stronger.  And as it states in Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”  There is still so much room for personal growth, and I will continue to relish in the surreal moments of serenity and peaceful realization. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cape Town, the Mother City

Last week I was fortunate to travel to Cape Town, South Africa, for 3 days of travel including the USA/South Africa friendly soccer match.  It was so exciting to travel to another part of South Africa that I’ve never seen before.  As my flight from Bloemfontein was approaching the mountain ranges of the Western Cape, the view from my window seat was amazing.  Despite being thousands of feet from the peaks, it seemed as if we were flying just above the mountains.  The rigid mountain summits were juxtaposed by long winding walking paths, to and from rural huts and villages amongst the mountains.  It was beautiful. 

I met Josh, a fellow YAGM volunteer serving in Escourt, at the Cape Town airport and we headed into town.  We arrived at the apartment we were staying which was conveniently located downtown on St. George’s Mall.  Our accommodation was arranged through the Couch Surfing travel’s network, which offered us a free place to stay.  Our host was very gracious and welcoming, which made our stay quite comfortable and stress free.  After settling in, we met with a friend of mine that I knew in Lesotho during my trip there in 2009.  It was yet another example of how this is truly a small world after all!

Wednesday was the big exciting day.  We got up early and hiked Lion’s Head mountain, the peak mountain next to the famed Table Mountain.  It took us about an hour to hike the 3km trail to the summit, and the view from the top was amazing.  You could see the entire city, Robben Island, as well as the other mountain ranges.  After our hot day of hiking, we headed down to the beach.  We hopped in the frigid water and relished in the moment of riding in the waves in Cape Town.  After resting up after a long day, we walked to Green Point Stadium for the USA/South Africa soccer match.  The stadium is was outstanding, and the entire city was buzzing with excitement.  The game was fully sold out, and the loud constant hum of vuvuzelas went on the entire game.  Despite rooting for both teams, the USA won the game 1-0.  It was an amazing international experience! 

The next morning Josh had to leave early for an earlier flight, so I had the day to myself.  So I decided to follow the recommended walking tour mentioned in my ‘Lonely Planet: A Guide to South Africa,’ book.  I have always been interested in history, and the walking tour took me across parts of the city that I may not have normally have seen.  I got to see the Castle of Good Hope, (the oldest known building in South Africa,) old public squares and churches, as well as important historic sites.  The end of my walking tour brought me to the first Lutheran church built in South Africa, which was located in town.  It was a beautifully built church, which was originally disguised as a barn because they were barred from worshiping at first.  There was a striking pulpit built by the master German sculptor Anton Anreith, and everything was still original.

My trip to Cape Town was short, but very sweet.  The weather was great, the people were kind, and the experiences were some I’ll never forget.  I can’t wait to see more of this wonderful country and experience all it has to offer.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Descriptive Answers

So, as I have been living my life in South Africa, I have encountered numerous questions ranging from the weather, to the food, to my living conditions.  I will attempt to answer some of these questions as I describe things in this blog.


Well as many of you know, I am living in the southern hemisphere, which means our weather is opposite that of the United States.  So as many of you are turning to your scarves, sweaters and pea coats, I am turning to more SPF 30 and flops.  It is spring here in South Africa, which isn’t much like the spring I am familiar with at home.  The daily average temperatures here have been in the upper 80s and 90s.  The sun is hot, and bright.  From the start of the day, the sun is strong.  As it reaches mid-day, you feel as if the sun is getting closer to the Earth.  But for as powerful as the sun becomes during the day, it subdues into a calm rest during sunset.  The sunsets here provide a beautiful sight, and a comforting change in temperature.  The day winds down, the soft breeze blows through the trees, and the Guinea Fowl come out to attempt to eat our newly planted corn.  The complete opposite of the calm sunsets are the intensely aggressive storms here.  I’m not sure if it’s the semi-desert topography or the simple fact that everything is more intense in Africa, but there thunderstorms here are unlike any I’ve experienced.  The loud cracks of thunder seem to be continuous during the storms, and the bright flashes of lightning are so incredibly vivid.  I have already experienced three hail storms, which bring a chorus of their own to my tin roofed cottage.  I am truly thankful and blessed to have a comfortable, safe, secure and sheltered place to live while here.  My heart feels for all those without proper shelter that I’ve seen since being in South Africa.


The food I have been eating hasn’t been too crazy.  I have certainly been eating more fruits and vegetables than ever before.  I have also been eating a lot of ‘Pap,’ (pronounced Pop), which is a staple food in South Africa.  It is essentially melie meal which can be made into a variety of ways.  At Lebone they cook it so it has a dry texture and is a bit crumbly.  However the Monamas cook it the way they used to when living in Limpopo, essentially harder on the outside and soft on the inside.  It’s a bit difficult to explain, so I am learning how to make it so I can explain by making it at home!  I have also taken Kristen Konkol’s advice of trying to eat things closer to the ground, which means it’s healthier!  I feel healthier, and even though I am without a scale, I am pretty sure I have lost some weight.  The large grizzly beard I am growing makes it hard to tell though.


I am only going to touch on the animals I come in contact with while at Lebone and in Bloemfontein.  As I mentioned in previous blogs, I have become accustomed to living besides insects of all shapes, sizes and colors.  I probably only know what 30% of them are when I encounter them.  The spiders here are as intense as the thunderstorms.  There are also a plethora of birds at Lebone, which love the various canopies and treetops they can live in here.  I’m not sure what many of them are called, but I do have a nemesis in the Ibis, or as I call them, the ‘Pterodactyls of the sky.’  (First time I have ever spelled out Pterodactyl and am honestly amazed by the proper spelling.)  They look and sound like prehistoric annoyances that terrorize you early in the morning.  There are also Quail and Guinea Fowl in this area, which bring a lot of entertainment to the kids here as they chase them around the fields. 

Ibis...don't get too close!
My cottage

At Lebone, they have a 3 bedroom cottage for volunteer housing.  They built it a few years ago and have had visitors and volunteers stay here from time to time.  One of the bedrooms has been converted into a study room of sorts, with a table and chairs.  There is a full bathroom and a full kitchen.  There is also a living room space, with a couch, loveseat and chair.  It is quite comfortable living.  And thanks to Morgan Freeman during the ‘Bikers for Mandela’ trip this past summer, the cottage is fully furnished.  As Morgan Freeman and company visited Lebone last July, they came to serve as well as donate some wonderful things.  And thankfully they came with beds and furniture, allowing me to stay in this wonderfully accommodating housing.   
One of my roommates

Hopefully this clears up some imaginative thinking for most of you.  If not, please don’t hesitate to ask me anything about everything.  I am looking forward to sharing more experiences with you soon, as I will be heading to Cape Town in a week to see the USA soccer team play South Africa in the Nelson Mandela challenge!  

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Selfish Spirituality

The other week I received an email from a friend, basically asking how I was and also shedding light on what my experience meant to her.  She was very gracious with her outpouring of spiritual honesty and humbling notions.  By no other means but her own gatherings, I believe that she grasped the term accompaniment, and can understand why it is such a focal point for me as a Young Adult in Global Mission.  I was elated to hear from a YAGM outsider who understood the importance of simply being, loving and being peaceful in my foreign surroundings.  But, whether she knew it or not, my friend alluded to things about herself that I began to see in myself at home and here in South Africa. 

In the email, my friend discussed how she has never really been outgoing in her Christianity and faith.  She tends to internalize it and that God means so much to her that she really keeps her feelings close.  The term ‘selfish spirituality’ was used, which automatically triggered a thought process for me.  Is there such a thing as ‘selfish spirituality?’  I had to sit back and think about this one.  I had never thought about being selfish in terms of my faith journey, or relationship with God. 

Despite being a PK-squared, (Pastor’s kid) I haven’t been one to wear my faith on my sleeve, or anywhere else for that matter.  I just have always had a more personal relationship with God, and have always internalized the spiritual things in my life.  I, like many other people, have had my ups and downs with my faith.  I have experienced things that made complete sense to me, and others that made absolutely no sense whatsoever.  A turning point in my faith came when my mother was diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 2009.  My first reactions were to run to God, looking for an embrace of comfort and peace.  But my longing for comfort quickly turned into anger and confusion.  Why?  How?  WHY??  As I finally began to settle down and realize the strength that was going to be needed by our entire family, I began to open up.  My spirituality became the opposite of internalized.  My sisters and I shared Biblical texts that helped us get through the tough days and sleepless nights.  Every minute of every day was spent praying, calling on the Lord to bring strength to my hero, my mom.  During those 6 or so months, I found the comfort, embrace and strength of God through prayer and my open spirituality.  It was refreshing to share my feelings with others, and together we prayed and proclaimed our faith in Christ that my mom beat her sickness.  And thanks to the grace of God, my mother was healed of her cancer and has been healthy ever since.  However, as her health has increased, my public spirituality has decreased. 

That is, until I started living in South Africa.  It started with having two country coordinators who have wonderful, intellectual, common-sense yet intricate ways of explaining their faith and beliefs.  I have been able to share my thoughts and beliefs with the other YAGM volunteers, and we have had meaningful discussions about the topic.  I then arrived at my placement site, an orphanage deeply rooted in faith and not afraid to show it.  My supervisors at Lebone are people of loving faith who give it all up to God and have faith that it will work out.  And then there were the ELCSA services each Sunday, entirely in Sesotho without any English at all.  Was it by pure design of the program that I was encountering such circumstances?  Or was it simply the way South Africans are about their faith, open and external?  I think a mixture of both. 

There are certain things that a program can plan, such as placements in faith-based organizations with good spiritual intentions.  But there has been so much more that a program cannot plan for that has happened to me while being here.  The YAGM program cannot plan for complete strangers to be so welcoming to me, and so willing to join me on my faith journey.  The YAGM program cannot plan for women in church taking notes on the sermon, and then showing me the notes which they write in English so I could understand.  The YAGM program cannot plan for such euphoric actions of praise and worship on Sundays and the smiles and happiness in each of the people’s faces in church.  Yes, the YAGM program is one well planned, organized and articulated, but there are surely things no one but God can plan for.

As I am now settled into my site and have been living in South Africa for two months, I can express myself spiritually and feel comfortable doing so.  I now feel comfortable dancing and clapping in church, although you probably wouldn’t call what I do dancing.  I also look forward to experiencing prayers over meals with people that are important in my life here.  I can’t help but smile every time I share in a spiritual experience with someone here.  I am overtaken with the joy and blissful emotions when I hear people describe their love of God. 

So as I continue on my faith journey, ensuring accompaniment is my guide, I am no longer hesitant to shout ‘Amen!’ in church, dance my way up the aisle to give my offering, or join in on a popular Christian chorus with some of the children at Lebone.  I am here to learn from the people around me, which I absolutely have thus far.  And one of the major things I’ve learned is that ‘selfish spirituality’ doesn’t exist in South Africa.  Learning about my spirituality is an ongoing process, and will take its twists and turns with the twists and turns of life.  And as I have transformed from spiritually internalized to spiritually externalized, I can now rejoice and look forward to the time when my dancing in church improves.     

This blog entry was written for the ELCA MUD3 blog, which can be viewed at:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sights, Sounds and Sun, Oh My!

As I’m sure you’ve been able to gather from my previous blogs, South Africa is filled with amazing sights, sounds, and Sun, all of which I am infatuated with.  This is truly a gorgeous, beloved country.  Everywhere I look I am amazed by the sheer beauty of the landscape, architecture, and people.  Last week on my visit to Kimberley, the drive alone was fantastic.  Instead of forests, trees, or deer alongside the highway like there is at home, there were endless golden grasslands with cattle grazing, and occasional pairs of Ostrich.  Yes, Ostrich.  How cool is that?  And this weekend I was able to go on top of Naval Hill, a game reserve in the middle of Bloemfontein.  The views from the top are breathtaking.  You can see all of Bloemfontein, and much of the Free State.  I will never get sick of seeing a woman walking with goods high atop her head, as I am sure I could never do that myself. 
I also have quite a few roommates now.  I live with some mighty large spiders, beetles, random insects I’ve never seen, and a host of praying mantises.  I really have no qualms about it, I’ve learned to live with them peacefully, unless they are giving me a vibe.  All part of the experience!
The sounds of South Africa are exhilarating.  I have come up with a ‘South African soundtrack’, that I listen to each day.

Track 1- The kids at Lebone getting ready for school, around 6:30am every day
Track 2- The Doves, Ibis, and Rooster calling their mighty morning calls
Track 3- Children reciting their daily songs at the pre-school at Lebone
Track 4- The sound of sprinklers all around Lebone watering the fields
Track 5- The siren notifying the workers at Lebone that it’s time for tea, lunch, end of work, and dinner
Track 6- Calls of ‘Andrew!’ from the kids who get home from school, hoping to find me ready to play
Track 7- African house music, which I am becoming quite the fan of
Track 8- Dogs barking at night, protecting their respective homes
Track9- Thousands of crickets playing in their evening orchestras
Track 10- Kea Monama practicing her violin skills, which are improving greatly
Track 11- Sounds of elation from Tape’ Monama when Real Madrid scores a goal
Track 12- Pure joy, elation, happiness and praise in the singing of church members each Sunday
Track 13- The hustle and bustle of the Mangaung township on the weekends
Track 14- And pure silence, as I settle up each night to read, think and get ready for bed

The Sun is so important in Africa.  It is crucial for the crops growth.  It dictates how hot or cool each day will be.  I spend almost my entire day outside and I am working on one of the most amazing farmer’s tans in history.  My occasional use of my gumboots is also making for an interesting tan.  The sunsets here are astounding, bringing a striking mixture of yellows, oranges, pinks and reds to the sky.  The sunset brings cooler temperatures, and the Guinea Fowl come out and scurry around the fields. 

The sights, sounds or ‘soundtracks’ and African Sun are truly becoming part of my daily life in South Africa.  I like to stop and take it all in from time to time, knowing I will miss this once I’m gone.  But for now I’ll continue to relish in my experience, atmosphere, and awesome farmer’s tan.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Cars driving on the left side of the road.
Summer occurring during December and January.
Traffic lights referred to as ‘robots.’
Loud, aggressive sounding birds called ‘Ibis.’

This surely is a different place than what I’m used to.  There is not much I am accustomed to, or much I can familiarize with where I grew up.  The sights, sounds, smells and tastes are so different than suburban New Jersey.  Each day brings something new that I have never seen, done, or even thought about.  Not until last week had I ever cut steel, used a circular saw, or eaten ox tail or wild guinea fowl.  And I know a lot of my friends won’t believe I did any of that.  But I did, and it was all new to me.  Being in such a different place and doing such different things should make me feel alone.  But I’m not.  I have a new family.

One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions for ‘family’ states, “A group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation.”  Before being on my own, independent and living in a foreign country, I only understood ‘family’ to mean my Mom, Dad, two sisters and all of my extended relatives.  Blood was what constituted someone as a family member of mine.  I have family that spreads from the shores of South Carolina to the beaches of California.  Although I may not know a lot of my family well, they are nevertheless family.  I had a ‘family’ at Wittenberg University, and the school and people will always be considered part of my extended ‘family.’  But what makes someone part of my family?  Is it the simple fact that there are shared genetics between us?  Is it that we share the table during Thanksgiving?  Or is it those that send me a card on the holidays and my birthday?  I have spent time thinking about this, and I think I know the answer. 

The four weeks I have spent here have taught me that it doesn’t matter that some touchable, seeable, tangible things around me seem alien.   What matters is that I now realize that I am a part of a new family.  I have a South African family.  One that is diverse, alike, different, the same…a rainbow of colors, cultures, and characteristics. 

I am blessed with country coordinators who love us, have an interest in us and what we do, and even worry about us when necessary.  Their voices of reason during difficult times give us a sense of calm when we need it most.

I am blessed with 10 brothers and sisters, scattered across the nation, all serving through Christ.  Despite our placements and experiences being individually different, our core achievements of accompaniment, purpose and better understanding will create an unbreakable bond for the rest of time.

I am blessed with a Moruti and his wonderful family, who take me into their home every weekend in order for me to worship alongside them.  They care for me, and have since day one.

I am blessed with some of the most amazing relationships at Lebone.  Every child here offers something different.  I am their big brother, friend, and someone they can talk to.  We walk hand in hand daily, and I am learning so much more from them than they are from me.

I am blessed with wonderful site supervisors at Lebone.  They have treated me like a son, and I look to them as parents.  Even members of their family have been there for me during times of need.

I am blessed with a parish within ELCSA that welcomes me each and every Sunday with smiles, handshakes and hugs.  Even though my singing may be off key and my pronunciation not quite right, they allow me to worship alongside them.

The list could go on and on.  There are so many people that I have met during my time here that have been so gracious to me.  But it is more than them just being nice to a visitor.  I feel as if they are welcoming me into their families.

What makes a family so special is the way they handle adversity together.  A family is strong because of the love and support they provide to those who need it most.  My family has reached some difficulties, and we will undoubtedly face them in the future.  Despite the challenges facing my family and me, I know the power of prayer and the unconditional love of God will guide us through our troubles.  I have a family here.  One I never knew I’d have.  I am grateful to have them in my life.

I have had many people ask me, “Are you homesick?  You must really miss America.”  Everyone seems to assume that I will answer, “Yes, of course I miss home!”  But, as I think about how I feel here, I have to admit that I am not homesick.  Not because I do not miss my family and some of the comforts of American life.  I would love to grab a cheesesteak tonight, or go fishing with my sister whenever I wanted.  But I now have a home here.  I understand the road signs.  I know enough Sotho to greet people, and say the basic things that make someone smile as you walk past them.  I have a job work hard each day, putting forth my part in making this wonderful place operate.  I have people that, when I am gone from them for too long, I miss dearly.  These are signs that I have a new home, a new family, and a new position in life.

There is so much that one person can experience in a year’s time, especially in a completely unfamiliar place.  And they will only be intensified from me being here.  The experiences I will undergo while here will shape me for the rest of my life.  Some already have.  And despite the many differences amongst all of my new family members, we are all united by our common convictions of love of God and love of each other.

And so, as I continue trying to strengthen the bonds I have already created and search for more to come, all I can say is, Ke rata lelapa la heso, “I love my family.”

This blog entry was written for the ELCA MUD3 blog, which can be viewed at: http://elcamud.blogspot.com/

Monday, October 11, 2010

It just gets better and better

No matter how amazing each week is that passes, things seem to just get better.  This past week was a busy, event packed week that surpassed any expectations I had. 

On Thursday, Lebone had their 10 year anniversary gala dinner.  We spent all week feverishly working to prepare the hall, and all the little details to make the event a success.  As Thursday approached, it was finally time.  Over 100 guests came to the dinner, in which everything was meticulously set, planned and decorated.  People came from all over the country to celebrate the last 10 years of Lebone.  The night included a wonderful dinner, speeches from those who have made Lebone what it is today, performances from the children and the announcement of a new logo, name, and website.  The Lebone House is now “Lebone Village.”  Please visit the new website and learn more about this wonderful place.

The Lebone Junior Choir performing at the dinner

On Friday, I had a braai at my cottage for 5 of the children.  Since there are over 40 children living here, I don’t get much time to spend with each child.  So I thought it would be a good idea to have a series of smaller gatherings where we can relax, braai, and get to know each other better.  The first one was a success and I look forward to next week’s!

Saturday morning I got to do something I didn’t think I’d get a chance to do for a year.  I went golfing!  Frances, Willem’s son-in-law, picked me up and we hit the course early in the morning.  Surprisingly, I didn’t do too bad.  Being able to play a round of golf in South Africa was something I never thought I’d be able to do.  I can now check that one off the ol’ bucket list.

Later on Saturday, I joined the Monama’s at their house.  Saturday night I had the opportunity to attend the Macufe cultural festival, a massive culture festival held in downtown Bloemfontein.  The festival had been going on for a week, but Saturday was the big night of music.  There were performers from all over South Africa and Africa.  I saw such performers as Tshepo Tshola and internationally known Salif Keita, whose voice would be recognized by most of you.  It was a great atmosphere, with thousands of people lounging in the rose garden, relaxing and listening to good music.

At Macufe

Sunday morning I attended church, and afterwards had a feast of a braai at the Monama’s.  After eating Vors (sausage,)  chicken (chicken,) Pap (hard to explain,) and other veggies, we headed to the Macufe Cup soccer match between Bloemfontein Celtic and Kaiser Chiefs.  The Kaiser Chiefs are from Johannesburg, and are the most followed team in the nation.  The stadium had an unbelievable buzz as soon as you entered through the gate.  There were thousands of people, sporting their striped green and white uniforms and singing and dancing during the entire match.  The winner of this game would win the Macufe Cup, a prize that had the buildup of a weeklong festival.  After 90 minutes of regulation, the score was 1-1.  The game came down to penalty kicks, which intensified the game even more!  After 4 shots by both teams, all the Celtic had to do was score and they’d win.  And that’s exactly what they did.  The stadium erupted and it felt like I had just witnessed a World Cup victory, not a Macufe Cup one.  But that is why they say the Bloemfontein Celtic fans are some of the best in the South African soccer league.  It was great to be a part of it.

Rev. Monama and I having a great time at the Macufe Cup

The weather is getting hot, and the Sun continues to be bright.  This week should be a good one, just as long as the Phillies keep winning!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Settling In

I have to begin this entry by apologizing for the long gap between blogs!  My last week and a half has been very busy and on-the-go.  I have been busy traveling and working hard to get ready for Lebone’s 10 year anniversary dinner next week.

Last weekend, I, along with 8 other YAGM volunteers, attended the ELCSA Young Adults League conference.  The conference was held at a school between Pietermaritzburg and Durban.  I was very excited to attend the conference, learn more about ELCSA and see the other volunteers.  As much of my travel has been so far, my journey from Bloem to Kwa-Zulu Natal was an adventure.  Jessie, the volunteer living in Kimberley, was on the bus that was to stop in Bloem and pick me up.  This is when I first truly experienced “African Time.”  Our bus was to leave at 6am, and we didn’t get on the road until 9:30am.  But the liveliness and excitement from everyone on the bus made it much more bearable.  People were already singing, laughing, smiling, and happy to be going to the conference.  Jessie and I were treated with random snacks, food and drink from people who were better prepared than we were.

We were the last to arrive at the conference, where the other volunteers were anxiously awaiting us.  (A bit of an over statement, but that’s what I’d like to think!)  It was great to see everyone again, share laughs and hear all about our different experiences. 
Overall, the weekend was very informative.  We got a great sense of the logistics of the YAL, what they are trying to accomplish, and how other members of ELCSA are involved in the League.  We were able to hear insight from Bishop Biyela of Eastern Diocese, Bishop Bowles of Cape Orange Diocese, ELCSA General Secretary Rev. Mathe, and even our own Rev. Brian Konkol.  In addition to learning about ELCSA and the YAL, we met many wonderful people who we are sure to see again.  And of course, being back together with the rest of the volunteers was the icing on the cake.  It was special to be able to share our stories, experiences, struggles and joys.  It was a very productive weekend.

After the busy time in Kwa-Zulu Natal, Jessie and I headed back West.  We are the furthest West out of any of the volunteers, so we are destined to share many bus rides together.  Due to some transportation issues, Jessie actually stayed at Lebone until Friday, serving alongside me and the other workers here.  I don’t know if she expected to work as hard as we did!  Over the last few days that she was here, we planted over 100 trees, built 3 tables and painted them, made over 100 coasters, moved piles of rubbish, made wooden planks for fencing, and had a braai.  Willem sure did take advantage of an extra pair of hands around!

After four weeks of living in South Africa, it still feels surreal that I am living here.  It really hits me when I’m traveling through the Free State, (the province I live in.)  The rolling Drakensburgs Mountains in the distance with endless golden waves of tall grass between each rocky protrusion serve as a humble reminder that I am actually here in South Africa. And the more time I spend here the more I realize this is not a trip, it’s not a vacation. This is my life. I am living here. This is my home. And as I spent the past weekend away from my placement, I felt me missing it for the first time. I missed the kids, the workers, the fields, dogs, sights, sounds, everything.  That means this is home, a place where I feel comfort, love and a sense of belonging.  Never did I expect to call a place thousands of miles away from Moorestown, New Jersey home.  But I'm here, and can't wait to see what the future brings.  
Sunset over the trees at Lebone

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A week and a birthday to remember

Greetings from Bloemfontein! 

I have officially been here a week now, and what a week it’s been!  I was kindly welcomed to Bloemfontein the first night we arrived by Rev. Monama, my ELCSA supervisor.  He picked Jessie and I up from the train station and we spent the night at his house.  (Jessie accompanied me to Bloem because she was getting picked up to head to Kimberly the next day.)  We spent my first official day in Bloem traveling around the city, seeing downtown as well as the Mangaung township.  I spent another night at the Monama residence, where I was already being treated like family.  It was easy to feel comfortable there, with great food and great conversation.  I arrived at Lebone Land on Wednesday and was again welcomed with open arms.

As I was unpacking my things, Mr. Willem Snyman came into the room and welcomed me to Lebone.  It was a very pleasant greeting, and I could tell that serving alongside him will be exciting.  I felt like a special guest at this hustling and bustling place. 

There are over 40 acres of land at Lebone, with nearly 300 chickens, pigs, greenhouses, vegetable gardens, flower gardens, a bread bakery, and much much more.  Lebone Land is a place that creates the opportunity to sell some of the goods they produce, which help members of the community as well as the people living here.  I am so privileged to be living here and working here each day.  The kids that live here are amazing.  They are all so full of life, excitement, interest and affection.  I already have a group of boys that have become good friends.  I think we will have a fruitful friendship throughout the year.

This past weekend I turned 24, yikes!  And at first I really was expecting an awkward birthday, where I might have felt lonely.  But it was anything but that!  On Saturday, Mr. Snyman’s daughter offered to take me to a Rugby match between the Free State Cheetahs and Pretoria Blue Bulls.  What an experience!  I felt like I was at a Philadelphia Eagles game, except the Cheetahs won!  And after the game I got to a real South African braai, (BBQ for all you Yankees out there.)  And if that wasn’t good enough, Sunday was an amazing day as well.  I attended my first service at the Bloemfontein South Parish where Rev. Monama was preaching.  What a lively, spiritually energizing service!  The pure love of God and worship of the members was illuminated by their glorious singing.  The service, with no musical instruments or bulletins, added a beautiful notion of simplicity in my life that is usually accustomed to anything but simplicity.  Rev. Monama’s sermon really hit home for me, “practice what you preach.”  And by the way, his preaching was incredible!  So high energy and profound, I can surely get used to Sundays! 
After the service I was taken to a wonderful lunch by Mr. and Mrs. Snyman.  We went to the “Spur” restaurant, and thankfully I didn’t have anyone sing to me!  We spent the afternoon relaxing at their house, sharing stories and getting to know each other some more.  They have truly made me feel like part of the Lebone family already.

I have to admit, despite me being an extreme outsider to this region and country, I feel anything but.  The people here have truly welcomed me with open arms.  There is such a strong faithful connection between me and my supervisors, and I feel more and more like a member of community here.  I look forward to continuing my faith journey, as well as our journey of accompaniment with the people here. 

Something that I have noticed while in Africa is that I am more of a morning person than ever before.  Each morning I wake up, I find myself full of energy and ambition.  The African mornings have certain smells, sounds, and sights that make me excited for my day and for life.  I don’t know if it is the subtle beats of the Dove’s call, or the intensely bright Sun shining through the windows.  Maybe it’s that each day in Africa is different, with certain challenges and rewards undoubtedly awaiting you.  This is a special place, a place that will surely change anyone who has the opportunity to experience one of the mornings, or more simply, to experience Africa.