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.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Journey Begins

Well the many adventures of my journey started long before I arrived here in South Africa. The 11 of us left for South Africa last Wednesday, August 25, and we didn’t arrive until Friday the 27th. We grew accustomed to airports, layovers, and cramped leg space on long flights. On our way to Johannesburg, we had a 9 hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany. This gave us an opportunity to get out and stretch our legs. So we jumped on a train and went into this city, searching for an authentic German Pub or somewhere to have a bite. And, of course, we ended up at an Irish Pub. No worries though, the food was still good and we still got to check out the city. When we finally arrived in Durban we were very anxious to see if all of our luggage did as well. And by the grace of God, it all showed up! Brian and Kristen, our Country Coordinators, were at the airport to greet us. Our week of orientation had officially begun.

We have been staying in a Backpacker’s residence in Pietermaritzburg, walking distance from the Lutheran Theological Institute. It is a very comfortable, cozy place. The weather has been amazing, with temperatures reaching into the 90s by day and dipping into the 50s at night. We have taken advantage of the weather and spent a lot of time outside, even at the LTI during breaks or while listening to others. We have spent some portions of each day, if not our entire day, at the Lutheran Theological Institute where we have met and spoke with a Bishop and Dean of the ELCSA as well as others representing the ELCA and ELCSA. It has been an informative week, with many thought provoking questions and statements.

When we are not fully engrossed in conversation and theological though at the LTI, Briand and Kristen have given us opportunities to be active and do some fun activities. Last Sunday we attended a professional soccer game between AmaZulu FC and Maritzburg United held in the World Cup Stadium in Durban. Of course we all bought a vuvuzela and became quite good at playing it by the second half. Our neighbors at the Backpacker’s probably aren’t too happy we bought them however. We also have been on a few hikes around some Game Reserves in the surrounding area. It gave us our first glimpse into the divine beauty this country has to offer. We were literally walking amongst Giraffe and Zebra, and were able to get quite close for our obvious photo Ops.

And today we were able to visit the Ecabanzi Zulu cultural homestead, in which we were treated to traditional food, dance, music, and history of the Zulu people.  It was a great chance to see what life is like in rural South Africa, and to learn about some of the country's rich history.

This week of orientation has been an amazing experience. Getting to know the other volunteers has been one of the many highlights this week. Each night after dinner we get the chance to talk and discuss an array of topics. The lack of technology is nice, it gives us a reason to communicate and express opinions we may normally suppress.

Our week ahead looks exciting. We will be traveling to a traditional cultural Zulu village, going on more hikes and visiting a local tradition church in which the music and service is apparently amazing. On Monday we will all depart for our placement sites all throughout South Africa. It will be the start of our independent lives and our first real test as we enter a year of service. However, despite the unknown, I have faith that no matter what it will work out. No matter how lonely I may feel, I will never be alone because I will always be with God.