Sunday, July 10, 2011

Goodbye, The Beloved Country

In August 2010, I boarded a plane to Chicago in which would be the beginning of my year living abroad.  I had to say goodbye to all my friends and family, knowing that I wouldn’t see them on Christmas, my birthday, Easter, or any other special holidays.  At that time, it was the hardest goodbye I’ve ever had to experience.  I was leaving all that I knew, and leaping into an unknown world.  But now, a year later, the goodbyes I have to experience with my South African hosts hurt worse than those a year ago.  I find difficulty leaving the people who have supported me during my most vulnerable times, and I cannot grasp the reality of this experience coming to an end.

When I left to come to South Africa, I didn’t expect to fall in love.  But I have felt a love stronger than any love I’ve felt in my past.  I’ve fallen in love with the generosity, hospitality and Ubuntu seen in every South African I’ve met.  I’ve fallen in love with Jesus like never before.   I’ve fallen in love with the rolling hills of KwaZulu-Natal, the golden velds of the Free State, and the crashing waves along the coasts.  I’ve fallen in love with the world’s most marginalized people who have taught me so much.  And my love for the majestic Maluti Mountains of Lesotho has been renewed, and so has my love for its people.  Now my heart truly belongs to Africa.

This past year has been the most challenging, difficult, stressful, agonizing and unpredictable year of my life...and it’s been the best year of my life. 

Despite the numerous hurdles that presented themselves this year, I wouldn’t be who I am today if I never faced them.  I was challenged in ways I never could have imagined.  I saw things I never saw in the flesh before, and felt emotions I didn’t know I had.  I walked alongside those I once ignored, and I felt the presence of the Lord in places I’ve never known.  I was at my most vulnerable this year, but fell upon a plethora of grace and love by my hosts.  And this year I lost someone very important in my life, but gained so many new wonderful people. 

I admit that in the beginning of my experience here, I wasn’t quite sure how what I was doing benefitted the ELCA and the partnership with ELCSA.  But as the time progressed, I began to see how my presence here was impacting those around me.  I began to see how accompaniment was a powerful tool and a way to break down cultural barriers.  And I began to see how relationships with our fellow human beings are the true wealth in life, and without them I am nothing.

I am forever thankful for the love, compassion, grace and hospitality I experienced from my South African hosts.  I cannot express how blessed I feel to have experienced what I have with the people I have.  I was blessed with the most loving and caring host family anyone could ask for.  I was blessed with the most amazing supervisors at work.  I was blessed with a spiritual church parish full of love and praise.  I was blessed with wonderful co-workers who are now simply my brothers and sisters.  And despite these people being “assigned” to me or stumbled upon, I now consider them family.   

I must say goodbye to the beloved country, but thankfully I will say hello to a new life as a more globally formed and informed person.  I have a better understanding of the realities and pains of this world, and know how to live simply.  I was told when I first arrived in Bloemfontein a saying that says, “You cry twice in Bloemfontein; once when you arrive and once when you leave.”  I have not only shared those tears at those times, but many others in between.  I’ve had tears of joy of the wonders of life, but also tears of sadness for so many people in despair.  I cannot, and will not, forget the tears I’ve shed.  I will hold dear to me every happy experience and every painful one, for it made me who I am today.

There is an endless list of the things I’ll miss when I leave this Rainbow Nation.  But I know that despite leaving Africa, Africa will never leave me.  I will carry with me all that I’ve learned this year and will share my experience with all those around me at home.

Thank you South Africa for shaping me into the man I am today.  My heart will always long for your sunsets, clear night skies, hospitality and inherently beautiful essence.  I will always carry your spirit with me.

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