Wednesday, August 22, 2012

One Year Later - “And if you have a minute, why don’t we go & talk about it, somewhere only we know?”

A funny thing happened to me last month. My friend Jen and I decided to take a drive to Hoboken for a girls’ night. We traded laughs and stories of our current struggles and successes, until (mid-giggle) a pair of gentlemen approached our table and pried our focus away from each other. A few minutes into my new conversation, the guy I was talking to said something that astounded me and, as naturally as ever, “YHO!” rolled out of my mouth, as a sign of astonishment. The South African colors of my heart were showing, literally bursting out of my mouth, impossible to contain; just like my New Jersey driving, I take those colors with me wherever I go, eternally proud. Well, somewhere between the noise of the establishment we were in and the fact that “yho!” is just not a common expression around here, I spent the next few minutes trying to convince this man that I had not just rudely exclaimed “Yuck!” in his face. Apparently, the argument that I (some blonde Jersey girl sitting in Hoboken) was speaking South African [English] was not convincing. In any event, the conversation didn’t continue much after that, but the takeaway lesson I learned left a lasting impression. You see, this story is not about being misunderstood; it’s about the love that understands. There are a lot of people I love who will probably never get to even set foot in the Rainbow Nation, but because they’ve loved me along the way and they support me in my continuing journey, they embrace, expect & welcome the stories I tell so frequently from that beloved chapter of my life. Some of them have even picked up a few of my favorite foreign phrases (and learned to expect my classic Afrikaanse toast) over the course of this last year.

I have been dreading this day: the day when I have to admit that it has been a full calendar year since I boarded that plane back to the home of the World’s Greatest Drivers and the winding, hillcresting, roads where my childhood lives. Something about this 365th day makes South Africa seem farther away than it did on the 364th or the 363rd ; it’s like being on a road trip and after a few hundred mile-markers, suddenly crossing a state-line. One more ordinary step down the road has suddenly been made a thousand times more meaningful because of some stick in the ground with a big colored sign on it. In the end, isn’t it really just a line in the sand?

Getting off that plane last year with my heavy heart and starting this new chapter of my life, I didn’t have high expectations. I was excited to resume the ordination process where I had left off and thrilled beyond words to see my US loved ones again, but I was not excited to enter what would I was sure would be some awkward space between South Africa and seminary, full of waiting and reverse culture shock - the intermission between acts of the thrilling show that is my life. Well, at this milestone, I can honestly say that nothing about this year has resembled some block of awkward downtime!

I’m writing all of this right here, right now, after all of this time of bloglessness because I think it’s important to note that my journey did not end when I got off that plane, jetlagged and emotionally overwhelmed, in beautiful Newark, NJ. As Harry, our parish warden and an all-around rock star, said so simply and so beautifully, when I finished the South Africa presentation I gave to my parish; “This is only the beginning!” This year has been full of familiar faces and well-known places, but everything’s been filled with this new wonder and new richness. It’s just like I learned in Mission Personnel Orientation back before I left for South Africa: you have to expand your comfort zone - push your limits beyond your usual shape and broaden yourself to make space so you can comfortably incorporate all of the richness that a new world can offer you. It’s like putting an addition on your house; while it requires a great amount of time and energy, when all’s said and done, you don’t just have something that looks a little different to passers by, you’ve got a ton more living space. With all the living space I came back with, it’s no wonder that I approached all of my old roles, routines, and relationships with more sparkle (sparkling platinum stars, wink-wink), more wisdom, and an even richer heart than before South Africa.

So, what kind of stuff have I been up to? Through committees and interviews and paperwork, I’ve been progressing through the ordination process in the Episcopal Diocese of New Jersey, hoping to be starting seminary in about a year. I’ve returned to monthly dinners with my amazing extended family. I’ve been gathering as much as I can with my marvelous and geographically diverse (at least, by US standards) circle of friends, with whom I continue to enjoy celebrating engagements, new jobs, and the daily bits of happiness, which are much easier to celebrate when you’re one text message and no-more-than one time zone away. There’s the day-to-day stuff, too - working a few part-time jobs and of course, making a point of taking my adventures across state lines at least once a month (Typical, right?). Really, this paragraph is only the very tip of the iceberg; we are talking an entire year here.

In the midst of all of this, I’ve returned to my home parish (the Church of the Holy Cross in North Plainfield) full time for the first time since I went of to university, except this time I get to be an adult rather than a quiet child. I go to more events and more committee meetings, and I even got elected to serve on Vestry, where I co-chair the fundraising committee. But that’s not the really good stuff. The best part is that with every passing Sunday, every conversation, every fellow parishioner I get to know a little better than before, I fall just a bit more in love with this community of souls I’ve been journeying with all these years, and I’m constantly amazed that that already rich love can grow deeper and deeper! Now, that’s Grace – the unending journey of ever-deepening faith and love, running like a river through the heart of what I believe Christianity is all about… and which I believe characterizes the love of the communities I was blessed enough to journey with for my year in the Rainbow Nation.

Sometimes, on my way home at night, I jar myself thinking, “I spent a year living in South Africa.” Sometimes, on the way to the grocery store, I think about how I’d like to buy some pure, exotic fruit juice or a jar of Black Cat Peanut Butter or All Gold Tomato (say: to-MAH-to) Sauce. I can laugh at Matt Lauer for mispronouncing Lesotho during the opening ceremony of the Olympics a few weeks ago. These days, I no longer have to stop and think what side of the car to get in, and I always drive on the right side of the road, even when my AnHouse mix CD is blasting! I do, however, carry around a still, small fear of forgetting things – anything, everything – from that year: the route I’d take to work, the rules of cricket, the look on Subi’s face when he talks about chicken, the feeling of listening to ASFers sing, the shape of the cracks in the wall in the office that I worked in, the sound of the laugh of each and every one of my housemates (individually and collectively). The thing is, I’ve realized (with the little help from an episode of Fringe - I know, AnHouse friends, of all the TV shows, it happens to be ours…) that even when I cannot consciously remember these soul-stirring moments, the mark that they left on my life will be permanently imprinted upon me, sealed on me forever (among other important marks on my soul…).

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

One year ago today. I can play those final days over in my head, scene by scene, like a favorite movie you know all the lines to but still get joy from watching over and over. I lived fully into each heartbeat of my conglomeration of goodbye experiences about offering closure to a chapter of a story that does not end.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Week 52 - "You'll come back, when they call you; no need to say goodbye..."

Readings: (Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 138)  Romans 12: 1-8 & John 15:1-17

I stand here with you all tonight on the eve of my departure. My friends, I thank you for being here with me through this journey we’ve had together. Was it really one year ago that I arrived? It seems like a few short months have passed – a few short months with a lifetime of personal growth, that is.

    As I was sitting down to write this, trying to find the words to say to you all all that I want to say, I found myself looking back on what I wrote before even I arrived. Before I knew any of you or what a glorious life I could build for myself here through a little love and a lot of amazing company.

    Going with the parable you just heard in the gospel, before I answered this call, I already felt like my branch was doing pretty well, staying rooted in the vine of Jesus and bearing fruit by abiding in him, I’ve been very blessed in my journey so far. When God called me to be missionary, I was content back in the US already doing what I was doing: living in Delaware, getting ready for graduation, starting the ordination process, enjoying the company of good friends and family. So much joy was around me already, but in the midst of it, something was pulling at my heart. God was calling – calling me to leave all of that behind and follow Him.  God, the great gardener, was taking out His pruning shears.

As you just heard, every branch of the vine that bears fruit, God prunes so that it can make more fruit. So I started to discern and pray on this call and eventually told the Church to send me where they thought I should go. Fundraise for the unknown and put my future in the trust of the Mission Personnel Office until I was told where I’d be going in South America, Africa, or Asia.
So, my friends, I came to journey with you here. Amanda and I disembarked from our airplane and embarked on the unknown. My great adventure began, guided by faith and the light of Christ. One of my favourite lines from the hymn Amazing Grace is; “My faith has brought me safe this far, and my faith will lead me home.” At the beginning of this year, that meant that I would finish up my year of work and go back to the US. That’s all it meant, but then my life changed when I wasn’t looking... and my faith led me to see AnSoc/AnHouse/ASF as my “Home away from Home” and so while it hardly seems like a whole year ago that I arrived, the person I was back then seems very different.
I came here for a lot of reasons, part of which was some idea I had to serve... to “pay it forward” so to speak and give back for all of the blessings that have been given to me. While I did my best to do that, I cannot imagine that what I did for you can come close to what you all have given me.  I’ve learned so much here.

Some of these lessons have been very simple:

  • Just now, now now, and now refer to three different kinds of timing.
  • Public transportation here is never boring.
  • Africa time is a way of life – especially in ASF
  • The kitchen is the most important room in the house.
  • When travelling witht he ASF, the closest thing you get to a departure time is a twelve hour window. And don’t bring too big of a suitcase.
  • A pause is not just a reference to things that have stopped moving.
  • Every successful organisation should have an HH folder and a good supply of board games.
  • (And some of my favourite ASF experiences get full credit for this one) I don’t need nearly as much sleep as I thought I did.

Once I had mastered these simple lessons, as well as pretty much getting the pronunciation of most of your names down, finally, the road was paved for me to learn much more important things.

Let’s go back to gospel reading. We are branches of the vine; to bear fruit, we must be rooted in Jesus, for no branch bears fruit without its vine. The reading continues to tell us that those who abide in Jesus and allow Jesus to abide in them bear much fruit and may become disciples. What does it mean to abide in Jesus? I think that’s a question we try to ask ourselves everyday in our faith journey as Christians, trying to live as Jesus taught us in the gospels – trying to figure out exactly what it means to live as Jesus taught us in the gospels. At least, that’s what I’ve tried to do this year as your Episcopal missionary in Cape Town.

What does it mean to be a missionary? Well, for me it’s not standing high up on a soapbox saving some so-called heathen. It’s about standing next to people on the same soil. It’s not yelling at or condemning people on Delaware street corners or Cape Metrorail trains. That’s just talking at people. No listening or learning or understanding. For me, those things are essential to this journey of mission I’m on. Or ministry in general. Ministry is about journeying with people. It’s about me walking beside you as my true self, and sometimes revealing my growing edges along the way. I figured this year would be good for the future of my ministry, but I don’t think I realized just how fruitful it would be. Now, as I prepare to go back to my side, I see God taking out the pruning shears again, and I endure the pain of being cut back– of saying goodbye to you here and now – and go on and try to bear the fruit of the spirit in the future. And what incredible examples of that I’ve seen in ministry here this year!

AnHouse, AnSoc, ASF, before I came to the other side of this world to serve you, to journey with you, I was in a position very similar to where you are now. I was a campus ministry student discerning where God was calling me and trying to figure out what my gifts are. I didn’t think I could ever take a leap of faith to the other side of the ocean like I’ve done (and highly recommend), but with God everything is possible. In the reading from Romans tonight, Paul wrote, “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” We all have gifts, gifts that differ with our different roles and callings.  Radical young theologian and author Shane Claiborne once wrote, ““The question is not whether you will be a doctor or a lawyer, but what kind of doctor of lawyer you will be.  What would a 20-year-old Jesus have said if they asked him ‘What are you going to do when you grow up?’I don’t know, maybe something like, “I’m going to turn the world upside down. I’m going to hang out with prostitutes and tax collectors until people kill me.”Or what would Peter have said? “Well, I was going to be a fisherman, but then I met this dude, and he messed all that up.’”” Claiborne understands that sometimes our gifts lead us places that we never would have dreamed. My friends, do you know how gifted you are? Do you know how much you’ve given me?

AnHouse, you are the people that I go home to at night, after a long day. A separate piece of the rest of AnSoc, a separate community, each with your own gifts participating in the whole. Subi’s noises, Tatenda’s magical laugh, David’s ridiculous sense of humour, Lyle’s sarcasm, all of your listening ears, too many to name! I could go on for days. Between the fourteen of us, I feel like we can conquer any problem; there is at least one expert on any given area. I’m not sure it will do all that feel justice to tell you that I will miss coming home to each and every one of you each night after work. It will be so late for me when I can’t sit in my room working while your laughter carries up the stairs and I know that all is just as it should be. What will I do with a quiet kitchen?

ASF. I started work at the ASF office on my second week here. Within a few months, I could tell you about WHAT the mission and the work of ASF looked like on paper – what the office’s function is. That was easy to get down... but then I got to know you people.  You welcomed me into your ASF family with such love and such warmth.  Your conference blew me away.  The time and energy you all put into your AGM was completely envigorating but exhausting, but then you just turn around and stay up til4 am at a mojikelo with unrivalled passion for God and ministry. Sitting there in the middle of all of you that night at the mojikelo, that’s the night that I knew without a doubt that I had fallen in love with ASF. You don’t just kneel and say a prayer. You don’t just stand and sing a song. You worship with your whole body moving when you sing a chorus. Your whole being. It doesn’t matter that I can’t sing with you because I don’t know the words or that I make a fool of myself missing steps when I try to join in. As far as my ears are concerned your speaking in tongues, but I feel the heart of your worship in my heart... In my heart that aches to think I’m going back to a church where we stand still and sing everything in English from a book. Your passion for worship has spoiled me.

I have one last story for you before I close. Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the first meeting of the current PEC, the provincial student leadership, with Tshepo and Yanga and others from all over this glorious province. That first morning, we did some team building exercises and one of them was called the trust fall. Have any of you heard of that? Well, what you do is you stand up on a platform or atop a small staircase with your back to your friends, who are all standing beneath you, in two lines, facing each other and putting out their arms. On the count of three you close your eyes and fall back, letting go completely and having faith that these people will catch you when you fall. You can’t see them, but they’re there for you. The idea reminds me of what I did when I boarded the plane into the unknown coming here, answering God’s call. It’s how I feel now as I stand here having to leave and it’s how I encourage you to go on in your own ministry, each with your own gifts. Remember your 2011 conference theme and put your faith in action! Don’t be afraid to follow God up to new heights when he calls you; I can tell you from experience that while it can be scary at first, it’s worth the work. Trust that God will catch you and with that trust each other. Trust your community. Catch each other because that’s what working and ministering and journeying together is all about. You just heard in Romans, that “as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” Church. Worship. Faith. ASF. AnSoc. AnHouse. It’s about community and how strong yours can be if you work together.

ASF prides itself on providing a home away from home to students. My ASF family here, along with AnHouse and Hope Africa: well, you all have become my home. It hurts my heart to say goodbye, so tonight, I just say “Until we meet again.” Theologian Frederick Buechner wrote more eloquent words about goodbye than I can say; he wrote “When you remember me, it means that you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me.” Being called here to you has been my deepest, greatest pleasure. The love I have for you is a part of me now. Wherever I go, I will remember you and I will carry you with me in my heart.

Highlights of the Good Life

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Week 51 - “Never let your praying knees get lazy and love like crazy…”

You say to-may-to. I say to-mah-to.

No,  really. Believe it, my fellow Americans. I say to-MAH-to now. I’m not totally sure when that started happening. When I started saying “Is it?” even when it is not grammatically correct, what I started saying tomato sauce instead of ketchup, when I stopped fearing the public taxi, when I turned green.

Kermit the Frog is one wise amphibian; he was spot on when he said that it’s not easy being green… but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain to you what it really means to be green.

When I first signed up for YASC, the program that brought me here, and I was at the discernment weekend, I met a woman who served in Liberia with YASC a few years ago. She told us a story about what it means to be in YASC. She said, “As you are now, living in the US, you’re blue. Everything around you is blue: the buildings, the people the culture. When you do YASC, when you go somewhere else, you’re going to be this blue person living in a world where everything is yellow: scary yellow, exciting level, new yellow, challenging yellow.  One day, while living in this yellow world, you’ll look into a mirror and realize that some of this yellow has seeped in your blue and you’re green now.  As much as that blue will always be in you, that yellow has worked its way into you to, and when you go back to your blue world, you won’t be able to revert to being blue anymore.” I’m pretty sure Kermit and I would also agree on the fact that we wouldn’t trade being green for anything and that being green feels like one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to us.

I’m not sure how to fully explain where I am right now. I know I haven’t written in two months and I’m getting ready to leave. I’m writing this “Goodbye, I love you,” sermon and I don’t want this blog to turn into that sermon. That sermon will have its own time this Sunday evening – my last night in this glorious city.

I’ve reached this point where everything is winding down and I’m finishing up all of my work projects, at least in an official capacity. At AnHouse, I’m finalizing the plans for the formal (aka one of the best ways that I can imagine spending one of my last nights in Cape Town) and tonight’s the last compline. Tomorrow’s the last Alpha and Thursday’s the last Bible Study. As for the ASF office…

I’ve always enjoyed my work with ASF, but it’s only in the last few months that I’ve really, deeply, gotten to know it and really, deeply, gotten to love it. One of the hard parts as I say goodbye (one of the many many parts) is that I say goodbye with the knowledge that with the knowledge I’ve gained this year, I could so much more if I stayed another year. I’m not sure I’d be able to refuse staying another year… but I’m speaking in “What Ifs” now, and “what if” just might be the only phrase worse than “goodbye.”

I know I didn’t blog about the ASF conference as I hoped to and even now I’m not sure I can tell you exactly what being there felt like. I will say that while much time and energy was spent on their Annual General Meeting, the time and energy and spirit spent on worship blew me away.  I’m going to miss their choruses in African languages. The singing and dancing and praying with one’s whole body, one’s whole being. It’s going to be late for me when I get back to the US and am standing still with a hymnal and a service in one language.  While I miss my church and my Book of Common Prayer and my worship home, I know I’ll miss ASF’s worship – “the home away from home” I’ve found in it - that feeling that I hope to carry with me.  There are two somewhat corny quotes that come to mind:

First: “You forget what people said and you forget what people did, but you always remember how they made you feel.”

As much as I’m a word-centric English major who loves to remember the heartfelt words of friends, I cannot deny the key point that is made here.  One of the many many beautiful things about living here is the fact that I hear multiple languages every day, especially where ASF is concerned.  Pretty much all of those choruses that I was talking about are not in English, but while I was at conference, I realized that that doesn’t matter at all. You can feel the prayer, the community, the Church, the love in the echoes of the clapping and the dancing around you, through you. The noise makes your heart vibrate as it beats in your chest. The Holy Spirit is everywhere around, in every note of the song that speaks to your soul in the words your ears don’t understand.

Ministry is about journey with people. Holding their hand when they need it, even if they don’t know why. It’s sitting in silence or talking for hours. It’s about being the white chick dancing and singing with your ASF family, even at the risk of looking like a goof who doesn’t know the steps. It’s not about knowing the steps it’s about knowing the feeling. The feeling of love I will carry with me always tucked in my heart. The beautiful memories stamped like handprints on my heart. I only hope that until I make it to my next ASF gathering, the feeling that I leave behind with my ASF family, when they conjure me up in their memories (hopefully YOUR memories – I hope some of you darlings are reading this), some of that love is what they feel, even after these words fade.

Second: “You love somebody, and then you don't love them anymore. But if you really love somebody,
You always love them, don't you? Isn't there always some small part of you that reads their horoscope in the paper every day?”

This one is simpler to explain. While I don’t put my stock in horoscopes, I believe that when you love someone in any capacity you’re stuck with them. Years from now, even when the memory of that person’s face or voice starts to fade, the love you carry with you comes with mindfulness for them. For wherever you are and wherever they are and however long ago it was you last spoke, you still always wish them well.

I leave South Africa on Monday night with the fondest of memories and heart that’s swelled in size to make room for all the handprints.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Week 43 – “Wait, don’t go so fast. I’m missing the moments as they pass…”

It’s been awhile since I’ve written, but I did finally remember that I have a blog  I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere along the way, the way Amanda and I speak about time changed. We first arrived in South Africa on August 26, and from that point on, almost every month we’d say to each other, “Wow! Can you believe that it’s been one month… three months… five months?” After the holidays, things started to get really crazy. In early March, while preparing for my mom’s visit, I found myself asking Amanda, “What happened to February? Did it actually happen?” The weeks started to fly; a mash of late nights sitting around the AnHouse kitchen table talking and laughing, Bible studies, compline, Alpha, the ASF office, and no shortage of random adventures (including one platinum star road trip). Suddenly, when I spoke to Amanda, we’d say to each other, “Can you believe we only have 5… 4…. 3… 2 months left?”

No, I can’t believe it.

Here’s just a couple of reasons why the time has FLOWN....

Until recently, when the students left for winter break, my work at AnSoc has been the best kind of busy. Weekly Bible studies, compline services, and an Alpha course have been the focus of much of my attention amidst a varied mixture of special events that includes both landmarks on the AnSoc calendar and random last minute outings with my housemates to go to dinner or go shopping. I’ve enjoyed sharing compline with them and participating in the discussions and meeting new people at Alpha. The biggest weekly challenge (which is also sometimes the biggest weekly reward) is the weekly Bible study. I generally went the theme-based route, so some went better than others. A few times, I used Rob Bell’s NOOMA videos, but I think the best week (Holy Week) involved a discussion of the life of Christ and a few passages from that awesome Rob Bell book, Sex God. I think one of my favorite days in my life in AnSoc was Saturday, May 14. While this may not be a holiday in the US or in SA, it’s was a holiday in AnHouse – an AnHouse Thanksgiving! This was my fourth Thanksgiving in this lovely country and certainly was also the one with the most food. With lots of help from friends and housemates, I supervised the cooking of a dinner for twenty: two turkeys, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, giblet dressing, gravy, three pumpkin pies, three apple pies, and two pecan pies. I do believe it was my greatest moment of domestic glory to date. Our Thanksgiving was just what Thanksgiving should be; a kitchen full of people cooking all day and a dining room filled with family to eat the food. Love, laughter, full bellies, and leftovers for days. I hope my housemates are enjoying their winter breaks now, but the house is quiet without them. As the last few get ready to depart, I already find myself looking forward to joyful noise of their return.
An AnHouse Thanksgiving
In the mean time, I find myself at the ASF office with only a few days to go until we head to Limpopo and join 250 AnSocers from all around the Anglican Province of Southern Africa for the annual student conference. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of stories when I return from that adventure, and plenty more when Sarah Cardwell comes back to Cape Town.

PS – YASC Team South Africa took a week of vacation just after Easter. We went all tourist and drove the famous Garden Route, taking in even more of this country’s glory all along the coast, then up to Grahamstown and culminating in Mthatha.
Our South African Road Trip

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Week 32 - "Home is wherever I'm with you..."

There’s a picture on my desk in my bedroom here.  Actually, there are several pictures, but right now, I want to focus on just one. It’s one of my favorite pictures of all time and was taken a little over a year-and-a-half ago on the night before one of my best friends, Anne, left to move to London. Anne was going to London and with the end of summer, most of us were returning to university or graduate school. So, a whole bunch of my favorite people gathered at this little Irish pub in the town my mom lives in.  There’s a whole slew of awesome photos from that night of all of us together, but this photo is of just a few of us.  My friends Anne, Jess, and I tried to get together for a group shot, but then a bunch of our other friends jumped in and the result is well… this:

All of us laughing together in a candid you could stage if you tried.  I can’t really remember most of what we were laughing at, and I know that whatever exactly it was that we said that night in the midst of our goodbyes is not what really mattered. What mattered is how we felt together – that feeling that still keeps all of us coming back together after all these years of making each other feel this way that can all be traced back to high school lunch tables. To me, that feeling is home – that feeling makes those people my home, wherever we find ourselves. It’s the people that make the place.

The reason I have that picture on my desk to look at every day is because it makes my heart smile as I remember those many laughs we shared that night and every night that we were all together. So, why am I telling you this story in my mission blog when I’m here in Cape Town now?

Like I just said (and recently heard in a good movie with bad dialogue), it’s the people that make the make the place. it's the thirteen housemates who make me laugh pretty much every day - usually multiple times.  When I’m bored in the evening, I just stumble downstairs to the kitchen, join in the banter as we all cook our dinners, and wait for the punchline, gesture, or other wordless noise. It’s the Ladies’ Nights at the Radisson, courtesy of the women at Hope Africa.

Home snuck up on me here, when I wasn’t looking. I must have been too busy laughing.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Week 28 - "The beauty of the light upon this earth..."

Life in Cape Town has been treating me very well! I’ve enjoyed the last few busy weeks with Anglican Society at the University in Cape Town and at the Anglican Student Federation office. I’m also very much looking forward to my Mom’s arrival on Wednesday night! She’ll be spending a week with me here in the Mother City!!!!
 Last night, at the Sunday evening student service at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Rondebosch, I had the privilege of giving the evening’s sermon.  I didn’t even think about the fact that it was World Mission Sunday all around the Episcopal Church community back home as I went on living out my mission here. Anyway, here is what I shared last night, based on the gospel reading Matthew 17:1-9:

As we sit here, pressing the pause button on our busy lives to enjoy our Sunday evening service, I’m sure many of you are plagued by the question, “Is tomorrow Monday already?”  Just knowing that when I go to bed tonight, I have to set that early weekday alarm again is enough to make me feel a little bummed, too. For students, Monday brings with it work and classes and for me it brings, my personal favorite, commuting in the summer heat. You go from one responsibility to the next – hardly able to process the nuances of your busy student day until it’s over, and by then, you don’t want to sit there reflecting. If you’re anything like I was last year, you’re probably really tired of thinking. All you want to do is zone out and get some sleep before another day of the madness.
    Now, Peter, James, John, and nine of their closest friends had a pretty intense daily grind of their own. They followed Jesus around watching him perform miracles and preach sermons people would remember for centuries. While I’m certain that this kept them exhaustingly busy, I’m also quite certain that it’s probably the coolest way to pack your daily routine in the history of the world. How do you even write a job description for something like that? In his book The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne speculates that Peter would answer: “’Well, I was going to be a fisherman, but then I met this dude, and he messed all that up.’”
    When Peter, James, & John follow Jesus up the mountain in Matthew 17, they doing it having already seen some pretty cool stuff. So when Jesus starts to shine like the sun and converse with the ghosts of miraculous leaders long past, Peter doesn’t hesitate to start suggesting ways to commemorate this Miracle of the Week… so they can climb down the mountain and do the next cool thing in the course of their daily gospel-spreading grind…. But this is clearly not what God had in mind, when God arranged for the Transfiguration of Jesus!
    God interrupts Peter and calls to him to attention, saying in v5, “This is my Son, my Beloved [with a capital B, I might add]; with him I am well pleased; listen to Him!” Listen, Peter, listen up! God knows how busy Peter is being a disciple. He knows how busy you are and how busy I am, but being busy is no excuse for ignoring the acts of Grace and the miracles present in our lives! No matter how frequent or infrequent.
    While Peter may not have so much ignored the truly awesome sights that he witnessed at the Transfiguration of Jesus in the Gospel reading today, he didn’t fully take them in either, which is part of what God means when he tells Peter to listen. Hit the pause button and take in the moment around you. “Life is a matter of a miracle that is collected over time by moments flabbergasted to be in each other’s presence.” So, you all too, take a moment to be flabbergasted – to be truly and deeply amazed. As they sing in the Broadway show Rent, “there’s no day but today.”
    Now, we may not have the privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration in the middle of our daily routine this week, but when something even just a little awesome does happen, will you be like Peter and rush through the miraculous moment, racing towards the next thing? Or will you be able to pause and listen long enough to take in the simple beauty of the light upon this earth.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Week 26 – “I found the photo of the friend that I was looking for…”

(As I was posting this, I realized that my Week 16 post from December never went up properly, but it’s there now. Check it out!)

I’ve already been living at AnHouse, the student house for the Anglican Chaplaincy at the University of Cape Town, for over a month now. In that time, I have watched the house come alive as the students return and a new school year begins.  With O-Week long complete, we’re starting to settle into our weekly routine.  Last Tuesday night, I began what will become a weekly routine: 9:00pm evening prayer or compline in the AnHouse lounge. Even more exciting, on Wednesday, we had our first evening Bible Study.  We read John 11, the story of the death of Lazarus.  It led into this really interesting conversation about resurrection and afterlife and purgatory; one of my housemates even covered his face and started laughing because if made him think of an episode of South Park where Michael Jackson’s in purgatory. Life after death, Michael Jackson and South Park!?!?! To think, this was only our first week! What might we cover with an entire semester?

In other news, last night I joined my housemates in attending my first rugby match! It was a short walk up the hill to the University of Cape Town’s Upper Campus to watch their team, the Ikey Tigers, conquer the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University Mandibas.   Rugby’s similar in many ways - from what I have made of it so far – to football, but the fact that they don’t have pads (yikes!) makes it also remind me of wrestling a little as they all pile up trying to grab the ball.  The rugby rule that seems the strangest to me - as an American used to watching the very occasional football game – is that you can’t pass the ball forward towards the goal. You can only pass sideways or behind you.  Another thing I learned about rugby: it’s played in two 35-40 minute halves with a 10 minute half-time that lacks both a marching band and cheerleaders. Like football, after a touchdown (although I’m not entirely sure it’s called a touchdown in rugby), teams get to kick for the extra point.  I still have a lot to learn about this rugby stuff, but I would go again. My housemates were good company and the ones who knew what was going on were very helpful in trying to convey it to me.

Here are some pictures of us at the game and then back at the house celebrating our housemate David’s birthday:
My First Rugby Game

 In closing, I want to that all of you who have supported my journey and who have taken time to follow it.  Once upon a time, long long before I thought I might take this journey, when I was in high school at the great Watchung Hills, I had the pleasure of managing the Watchung Hills Warrior Wrestling team.  While being a stat girl seems like a past life to this missionary, there are things that I will always carry with me from that long ago chapter.  The reason that I’m writing all this to you is that I would as you faithful readers to check out the story of someone I knew from those days and to send some extra prayers and love and light in the direction of his family today most especially. Here is his site, his blog, & his story.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Week 24 - "The sunshine shines and it warms your skin & the soul within..."

It was about twenty-four hours after the Superbowl was actually played while I was skyping with my fellow YASCer Jonathan when I finally found out that the Green Bay Packers won. Last year, I spent Super Bowl Sunday at Camp Weed, just outside of Jacksonville, Florida, at an interview for YASC – aka the interview that got me here. I was on my delayed flight home when the pilot announced – much too my joy – that the Saints won! My sources tell me that fifteen young adults spent their Super Bowl Sunday getting interviewed at the same discernment weekend.

With no thought of the Superbowl (except where it’s related to Glee) and no worries of winter weather, the UCT Anglican Society (AnSoc) Committee and I spent this week marketing our fine campus ministry! Remembering Delaware’s Activities Night and UD Episcopal Campus Ministry’s opening picnic, I found myself the same thing totally differently in my new home in the Southern Hemisphere. Sunday evening marked the first evening student service of the academic year and Monday began O-Week (or Orientation Week) madness! From 9-3 on Monday-Wednesday, AnSoc members and I worked a table on main campus with no more than the little shade offered by a small tent. On Wednesday, we spiced things up a bit with a visit to the med school campus (Gold star to anyone who hasn’t been to South Africa and can tell me why Groote Schuur is famous!) in the heat of the day to promote AnSoc to the students there. Wednesday evening we celebrated being finished sweating it out at the table for six hours a day– I mean, celebrated having most of the students back and welcomed new members – by heading to St Peter The Fisherman Anglican Church (which reminded me of the lovely St Peters By-The-Sea, where I once interned!) in Hout Bay, which is a beach town on the inner coast of the Cape Peninsula (look for welcome signs reading “Welcome to the Republic of Hout Bay”).  From there, we walked to the beach and got our swim on in the cool (but not cold) water for a few hours before heading back to the church for a fish braai. All in all, a winning O-Week - exhausting, but glorious!

One of the super-cool things I get to do here when I’m not working with AnSoc or at the ASF office is see other pieces of the Anglican Communion in this area. On 30 January, this took the form of attending a meeting of the Cape Town Diocese’s Diocesan Environmental Group. They had a guest speaker: Brian Cuthberson from the Diocese of London.

Cutherberson spoke about environmental initiatives that the Anglican Church has in the London area. Since the city area of London has more than one diocese, the London Churches’ Environmental Network is inter-diocesan.  In addition to workshops all around London that primarily focus on the reality of climate change, the initiative promotes ideas for parish-level environmental engagement like the “Transition Towns” movement, which is an initiative that promotes sustainability in local communities, encourages practices like producing and buying locally grown food, and recognizes the need for self-sufficiency. The London Churches’ Environmental Network also encourages partnering with communities in other places such as Angolo or Mozambique, where one parish partnership has resulted in a project to provide clean water. They have targets for 2012, 2015, & 2020 for shrinking their carbon footprint; at the parish-level, this is based on individualized plans for each parish based on that parish’s individualized circumstances. I’ve never been to London, and I think this may be the most I’ve ever learned about it outside of a classroom!

After Cutherberson’s  talk, the conversation moved towards plans for the Cape Town Diocese for 2011. Since the meeting only had around twenty people, those attending expressed their eagerness to grow! They have some great projects that they’ve already done and that they want to continue, such as having a diocesan clean-up day at a public park, which is an even I attended my second week in Cape Town! Also, they have a curriculum for the Season of Creation to be used in parishes and can get involved even the youngest parishioners in Sunday School. Churches that are already engaging in “green” practices should be recognized as well, and other parishes should be provided with more opportunities to hear what the Cape Town Diocesan Environmental Group is doing.

Listening to their conversation, I realized that between living in the Diocese of Delaware for the last five years and immersing myself in all kinds of campus ministry, I don’t really know that much about what’s going on in my sending diocese of New Jersey. I do have fond memories of my church in Delaware, St Thomas in Newark, in this department (and countless other non-environmental ones) such their thin service leaflets and general avoidance of paper towels. Most of all, I remember their desire to preserve the beauty of the Grove, a large piece of beauty right next to the church that was purchased a few years ago to help the growing parish.  While there are many ideas for development, the land’s beauty is never forgotten.

It’s hard to believe that I’m almost halfway through my time here and some of my fellow YASCers have just passed their halfway points.  The time is flying by. In a few months, one or two of those fifteen discerning young adults will probably be sending an email in Amanda’s and my direction asking about our lives here. Right now, my biggest challenge is how ridiculously hot it is to commute on public transit and walk uphill, but if that’s my biggest challenge, then what do could I possibly complain about? :-)

(PS - Sorry my last post only JUST appeared - I thought I had published it when it was written, but bBlogger had other ideas!)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Week 22 – “Quiet as a Sunday morning, change without any warning…”

There’s been plenty to do around here this week as I settle into my new routine of being at AnHouse two days a week and ASF three days.  The house is still pretty quiet, but in a week or two, things should be quite busy! Both parts of my job are going well, although, I’m really excited for the students’ return and the beginning of Bible Studies at the University of Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. I love the discussions we have!
The biggest challenge recently has been the heat! While most of my loved ones are snowbound, I’m sleeping in front of a fan.
As AnSoc at UCT gets ready for orientation week, the officer board is putting together a newsletter to give out to students with jokes, games, and articles from the students and chaplain.  This year, I get to include an article, too! For most of you who know me, this is stuff you already know, but here is is nonetheless!

When you follow God’s call, you never know where it will lead you. By trying to keep a listening ear, I have found myself the most wonderful and unexpected places over the course of my life. Most recently, that call has led me here to Cape Town, South Africa, where I am about halfway through my one-year term volunteering with Ansoc at the University of Cape Town and the Anglican Students’ Federation. I also hope for the opportunity to spend time with some of this province’s other AnSocs.
    I am a lifelong member of the Episcopal Church, which is the USA’s branch of the Anglican Communion. I grew up in Watchung, New Jersey, on the northeast coast of the United States about an hour outside of New York City. After graduating from the University of Delaware last spring, I began my participation in a program called the Young Adult Service Corps, which is run by the Episcopal Church. The Young Adult Service Corps, or YASC, sends out young adult missionaries from the United States to places all over the world to spend a year serving as volunteers and hopefully, strengthening relationships between branches of the Anglican Communion. My Young Adult Service Corps mission placement has brought me here to work with campus ministry once again in Cape Town, South Africa!
    While I was at university, I served as President of my campus ministry and of the geographic region of the Episcopal Church known as Province 3. In addition, I had the pleasure of being involved with our national leadership and conference planning team, the Episcopal Student Leadership Team. I was blessed to have had the opportunity to experience campus ministry from so many angles.
    My campus ministry served as my home away from home, where I grew up and grew into (and continue to grow into) God’s call for me. There’s an old saying: “God doesn’t call the qualified; he qualifies the called.” Through my experiences in campus ministry, I went from a quiet girl in the background to a young woman who knows how and when to use her voice. The possibilities are endless. Where will your journey with AnSoc take you?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Week 21 - "Where you invest your love, you invest your life..."

After just starting to get back into my old routine after the holidays, it’s time for a new one in a new place.  Monday morning I moved out of Suzanne’s home to start my time living at AnHouse, the student house for the Anglican Society (AnSoc) at the University of Cape Town.  I love living with Suzanne and her awesome dog Thembi; they were very good hostesses and I was sad to leave. Nevertheless, I am also quite excited to start this new chapter of my time here working with this campus ministry.  Moving into my bedroom at AnHouse on that summery morning felt just like moving into my dorm for another semester at UD! My room has a big window, a bed, a desk, and a wardrobe. It’s a not a lot, but it’s all I need.  I’m still getting into my new routine, but I’m excited to be there. I’m significantly closer to the train station but also am significantly uphill from it. Near the train station is a small shopping mall with a pharmacy and a few grocery stores and others stores similar to what you would find in a downtown college area (Newark <3). For now, AnHouse is fairly quiet; the students don’t arrive for fall semester until the first weekend in February and there are only three summer session residents at AnHouse (the house holds 14 students when it’s full).

The whole gang - campers and leaders - at the end of the weekend!

Another recent experience also merits a blog post. Last weekend, I served as a camp leader at Fikelela’s Agents of Change Camp.  Fikelela is the Anglican Church’s HIV/AIDS outreach program in Cape Town and touches local communities in so many ways.  This camp hosted youth and youth leaders from parishes all over the Cape Town diocese and aimed to educate them as peer leaders and their leaders as peer educators to run the Agents of Change program. This program, as outlined in the manual given to each camper, aims to use youth to educate their peers to make responsible decisions in all spheres of their lives, especially when it comes to safe sex and healthy relationships. It was so exciting and inspiring to work with the other leaders to help the youth work toward this goal. I haven’t worked extensively with youth, but sometimes, when I would sit back and watch the more experienced leaders interact with the campers, I thought of my experiences in campus ministry, going from the little freshmen girl in the back of the regional retreat sessions to leading those retreats and helping to plan the 2008-2009 Gather. More than familiar experience though, I could sense that familiar ministry energy – that passion and love of what you’re doing and how you’re answering God’s call!  In addition to inspiring choosing the above line from a Mumford & Sons song as the title for this entry, it reminded me of the Buechner quote I used in my fundraising sermon; “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” So, where is your deep gladness?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Week 19 – “We always have the rhythm here, in our blood and in our souls…”

Happy New Year from Cape Town!

Today was my first day back at work after the office closing for a very merry Christmas break. For the first time since Toronto, I got to see Sarah and Jessie, my fellow YASCers working in Umtata and Kenya, respectively. They arrived shortly before Christmas and stayed through the New Year; we had plenty of time to explore the city and share stories. It was so much fun to share stories with my fellow YASCers and speculate on where this journey might lead us. It was also pretty darn cool for Amanda and me to be the ones showing Cape Town to someone else on our touristy trips to Boulder Beach, Table Mountain and downtown Cape Town… Our adventures were SO much fun and went by WAY too fast. Let me tell you about the very special holidays we shared together!

New Years' Eve

The first big event of Christmas Eve was trimming our tree! It didn’t look quite the same as the ones we’d have found in the US, but it was ours and it was beautiful and we loved trimming it together, hanging Suzanne’s ornaments on the branches.  As an extra special treat, I received a Christmas care package from my family back home. One of the highlights of the box was definitely the Christmas wreaths my cousins made me; they had a special place of honor on our little evergreen.

For Christmas Eve dinner, we were blessed by an invitation by our friend, and Amanda’s coworker, Mari, who served us an authentic Finnish feast. She is an excellent chef; there are no words for that deliciousness! Over some after dinner champagne and gingerbread people, she also introduced us to the holiday musical stylings of Boney M. I believe it was Jessie who had the moment of clarity that this was surely an occasion for swing dancing, which occurred right there next to the table, between the dining room and the kitchen. I don’t know if it was your typical swing dancing; I think we laughed more. There are some great pictures of this, but I still don’t think they do our joy justice.

It reminded me of dances past. When we were in Toronto for training, our fellow YASCer Steven found a nearby church that had Saturday night contradancing. For those of you who don’t know (and I certainly didn’t when I first heard the term), contradancing is a combination of British line dancing and square dancing. Like every other form of dancing I have ever attempted, it is super fun! From contradancing in Canada to swing dancing in South Africa… I wonder what happy hop New York holds for us YASCers later this year.

Anyway, after our Christmas Eve feast, we went to a PACKED Midnight Mass at St George’s Cathedral. Anywhere in the world, I think this is one of my favorite services of the year: the liturgy, the music, the candlelight. When I went in 2009, I was running late after dinner with my family (Christmas Eve is our big shindig on my mom’s side) and I ended up going by myself… but that didn’t matter. I love it as much as ever. After dinner, I didn’t want to go home yet, so I spent the first hour or so of Christmas Day driving around the area I grew up in listening to my favorite Christmas mix CD and admiring the lights.

Christmas Day was as magical as ever. We spent a lazy morning watching Boney M videos after the swing dancing to their music the night before. Then, before we started our culinary adventures, we followed Jessie’s lead to make monkey bread and drank some mimosas (because on my dad’s side, it’s not Christmas without mimosas).

By the time the monkey bread was done and we were a few mimosas in, it was time to commit some time to the kitchen! I made my first leg of lamb, following my Dad’s recipe. Suzanne made pumpkin pie. Jessie made asparagus, guided through monkey bread, and treated us to her yummy risotto. Amanda repeated her Thanksgiving magic mashed potatoes while Sarah starred as Inspector 29 and let her photography skills shine.

Gathering around the table to eat together – Amanda, Suzanne, Jessie, Sarah and I – there was such… joy. Even far from our families, who were waking to start preparing their meals as we started to eat ours, we were together as our own family with our own Christmas that we had made. It was hard to believe that a year ago we hadn’t even met; we were just finishing our YASC applications. Then, we were sharing a Christmas table, a kitchen, Boney M videos and Love Actually.

It's like this whole town has swallowed some magic...

If you look for it, I have a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Week 16 - “Take me to the end so I can see the start…”

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Recently one of my friends back in the US posted a Facebook status about how cold it’s been there; she made a remark to about breaking out her fur coat. Her friend commented about how it’s seventeen where she is farther north. Meanwhile, at my desk in Cape Town, I sat missing air conditioning in the 90ish (31 C) weather. It’s funny; you’re just as likely to hear “Winter Wonderland” or “White Christmas” here as you are in a mall back in the States. How about that?

While I may be more aware than ever before how frequently the word “snow” appears in so many songs on my Christmas playlist,  it doesn’t dampen my shining Christmas spirit , which grows brighter with each white candle lit on the wreath at St George’s Cathedral (is pink and purple an Episcopal thing?). Christmas parties are in season and the ASF office has closed for a three-and-a-half-week holiday, which starts with a public holiday.

Today is the Day of Reconciliation, which came into effect in 1994 after the fall of apartheid. The day is mean to foster national unity and the spirit of reconciliation after so many years of divisiveness. After apartheid, new holidays were introduced and old holidays were - in some ways – tweaked in the spirit of being a day that every person in the country could observe. Before 1994, 16 December was known as the Day of the Vow, which celebrated the victory of the Boers over the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River in 1838.  The white Afrikaaners prayed before battle and promised God that if they won, they would hold the day in reverence for all time.

In commemoration of this day, I spent the morning walking around Cape Town on a special community walk organized for the day. With Suzanne and many others, I walked from St. George’s Cathedral to a Temple on the City Gardens and then to the oldest mosque in Cape Town. The whole thing took about two hours since at each location we heard a speech from a different person; each speaker was of a different faith, as well.

Apartheid ended sixteen years ago. The Civil Rights movement in the US was over forty years ago, but there are still too many lingering views of hatred between neighbors of different colors or faiths or backgrounds or lifestyles. My parents were still in college during the Civil Rights movement. When apartheid ended, I was eight-years-old, ending first grade and starting second grade. At twenty-four, that time in my life sounds so far away, but what about in the life  - or the mind - of a nation?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Week 15 - "Above is the summer moon..."

Summer has set in and schools have let out, so as we make our way deeper into advent, things are getting pretty quiet here in the Anglican Students’ Federation office. The chaplains’ conference is usually the last big show of the calendar year, so now that that’s done we’re looking towards the 2011 provincial student conference, which will be for one week in June next year. My boss, Odwa, the ASF organizer, and I will probably be going to Limpopo, the future conference site, in January to start more planning. Around that time, students will start to come back and I’ll be able to help out with Bible studies and such again, but for now, it’s pretty quiet here.

Still, since it’s Christmas season in Cape Town, there’s no shortage of exciting things going on. A few weeks ago, I went with some new friends to see the Christmas lights come on in the city bowl; it reminded me of the tree-lighting ceremony in Watchung, where I grew up – only, you know, a WHOLE lot bigger (oh, and there wasn’t some gorgeous pine tree all ugly-ed up with vertical lights, but you know…).

There's definitely no shortage of gorgeousness around here...

Very near where I live in the suburbs, in a carefully position right by the mountain, is the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.    I’ve gotten to see a bit of its gorgeousness on a couple of occasions.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

While Longwood Gardens back home is getting all lit up and featuring Christmas music, Kirstenbosch is kicking off its summer concert series! Every Sunday, they feature a different artist live in a special pavilion area in the park. Sweeping up from the pavilion is big grassy hill with a few small seating areas off to the side. The vast majority of concert-goers bring a blanket, a picnic supper, and a bottle of wine – which is exactly what Suzanne, Amanda, and I did this past Sunday when we went to see Mango Groove in concert. I hadn’t heard much about Mango Groove before and only had a two-day crash course from Suzanne’s CDs, but the show was AMAZING! The energy of the show and of the crowd was awesome, and the music made me just want to get up and dance. Sitting on a grassy hill in the sunshine only added to the ambiance; it was so much better than sitting in bleachers in a stadium.

Mango Groove Concert

This Sunday, we have tickets to see Freshly Ground (who sang the “Wacka Wacka/This Time for Africa” with Shakira)!
Sometimes, it’s difficult to remember that it’s December when I’m wearing shorts or applying sunblock or missing air conditioning. Also, for the first time, advent’s “light in the darkness” themes aren’t reflected by a season of shortening days leading up to 21 December, the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.  Still, it’s Christmas, and one of my favorite times of year! I love the “waiting for the light” theme of advent and listening to Christmas music (although it did seem kinda funny to me to hear “Winter Wonderland” playing in the mall), and while I miss my family this time of year… ;-)

 I’m so excited for Christmas here – and the YASCer visitors that it will soon be bringing!

PS  – Let’s go Blue Hens! I hope there’s a football victory to celebrate when I wake up on Saturday!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Week 14 – “O come, desire of nations bind in one the hearts of all mankind…”

…And what were you thankful for this year?

I can appreciate how wonderful my life is without trying to count my blessings and running out of fingers… and toes. While I may have been an ocean and more away this year from the distinctly American day, that only made it easier to leave behind the not-so-great parts when Amanda and I decided to share the holiday with our new friends here in Cape Town. For instance, in my mind, Thanksgiving is about being thankful, spending time with family, consuming gluttonous amounts of turkey and pumpkin pie, and starting the holiday season – my favorite time of year. I felt no longing in my heart for the missed opportunities of Black Friday, the over-crowded airports and interstates, and the holiday’s swept-under-the-rug history.

Let me tell you a little bit about how my Turkey Day was spent here in Cape Town… After picking up some supplies, Amanda and I headed over to her apartment to cook our first turkey and a delicious batch of cornbread dressing. Since the bird and its dressing were reserved for our Thanksgiving feast on Friday, Amanda and I celebrated the day with a dinner of turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce, KinderEggs, and cinnabons (the original)! While the bird was in the oven, we passed the time with a marathon of all the Home Improvement Thanksgiving episodes! Our culinary adventures lasted the better part of the day, but I still made in home in type to skype with my family. It was so wonderful to see all of their smiling faces or, in the case of the Box branch, hear their voices and the accents of home. I think the most vivid reminder of why I bought my webcam would have to be when my five-year-old cousin Daniel showed me the Thanksgiving turkey he made at school – ‘cause you just can’t do that stuff over the phone!

Friday morning, we made the mashed potatoes and green beans and then headed over to the Hope Africa office to serve our friends. In addition to our work, Suzanne made some scrumptious pies (apple and pumpkin) and her friend Peggy made some delicious gravy. Then, we served the whole glorious meal to a dozen of our friends at Hope Africa. As a thank you, they bought us Dr Pepper – a rarity in South Africa and an American staple I had never actually tried before (but there’s no time like the present). Between courses, we even went around the table to all say something we were thankful for. While I thought lovingly of my family back home, I couldn’t have wished for a better South Africa Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving in Cape Town!!!!

Later that week, I helped out with a Christmas party at Bishopscourt, the home/offices of the Archbishop of Cape Town (ie the Presiding Bishop of the Province of Southern Africa). Suzanne organized a party for the children in Anglican homes around the Cape Town area – all 160 of them. It was a ruckus – a wonderful exhausting funny rewarding ruckus. There was food and games and swimming and lots of exhausting helpers, but even after lots of preparation and managing long lines of children wanting lunch or popcorn, even seeing all the games they played, the best moments were when I actually got to talk to the kids. They were so sweet and so appreciative of the party. It warmed my heart and filled me with holiday spirit

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Week 13 – “Night swimming deserves a quiet night…”

My grandfather used to love to read National Geographic, the magazine known for its photos; he was a subscriber for longer than I can remember. He stored his decade-spanning collection in the basement of my grandparents’ house – shelf after shelf of bright yellow spines sitting neatly in chronological order. Every once in awhile, when I’d go down there to get something, I’d pull one out randomly and flip through the pages to some of the pictures before carefully reinserting it into its proper place on the shelf. Somehow, no matter how beautiful a photo may be (and National Geographic has some of the best), it’s just not the same as the real thing, is it? Knowing something’s there and seeing something’s there can be completely different things.

In my thirteenth week here in the Rainbow Nation, I went on my first South African road trip! My dearest American friends know how much I enjoy a good loud ride on I-95 to see some of my favorite people and places, and I was quite excited to do some driving this past week and have a chance to see some more of this lovely country I’ve been enjoying. I started this past week off with a lovely trip to Betty’s Bay with the Anglican Society (AnSoc) from the University of Cape Town. As you know, summer is starting is South Africa, so after a fierce bout with exams, students are ready for break. Before they scattered, seventeen of us came together to get away for a retreat/vacation/planning weekend. Betty’s Bay is a quiet beach town nestled between the ocean and the mountains. The houses are spread out and the city seems much farther away than it actually is. It’s the perfect place for a retreat. Although it was a little crowded fitting seventeen of us into a four-bedroom house, it was so very much fun – and so very relaxing. The beach was a short but adventurous walk away. To get there, we had to climb over a few steep dunes, following twisty paths through the brush and passing a lovely lake.

During the planning activities, we not only discussed what we wanted the ministry to look like next year, every person got some time to reflect on this past year. Then, we got to talk about our journey in small groups. So much can happen in a year. Looking back on my past year – and my year before that – reminds me just how much madness (both wonderful and not-so-great) a year can hold! It was a great time to get to know more of the students better – although at one point we were interrupted by a wild baboon peeking into our living room. The guys chased him off easily, but he served as a vivid reminder that I’m not in Jersey anymore.

Once we’d finished our planning, adventured on the beach, and enjoyed a nice braai (or barbeque, as we say in American), it was time for my first game of 30 Seconds – the board game of South Africa. The game is played in teams. On your team’s turn, you draw a card with a list of things on it (anything from cities to people to brands – all known well in South Africa) that you have to get your team to say by describing them yourself – but you only have thirty seconds – hence the name. You then move your gamepiece the number of spaces equivalent to the number of clues that your team got right. Even though I was a rookie, our team was the clear victor, but everyone had fun. There were some really funny – albeit ridiculous – clues people used to get there teams to say the right answer. I look forward to seeing everyone again after the holidays!

Betty's Bay Weekend

Leaving right from Betty’s Bay, my next trip took me to Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape (Cape Town is in the Western Cape) for the annual provincial Chaplains’ Conference at the College of the Transfiguration, the Anglican seminary. The drive was quite long, but it was so amazing to see all the scenery along the N2 highway: farms with horses, cows, and OSTRICHES; beautiful coastal towns; curving mountain roads; and the lights of Port Elizabeth. My friends, co-workers, and travel companions, Odwa and Tshepo, were amused by my excitement at the mass-ostrich sightings.

The conference was an exciting opportunity to finally meet some of the chaplains I’ve been emailing and to hear about their respective ministries (and how they’re so similar but also quite different from my knowledge of Episcopal campus ministries). The chaplains are a fairly diverse group. I also got to spend some time with the ASF President, Thandeka and hang out with my fellow YASCer missionary, Travis, who lives at the monastery. It was fun to catch up and hear about his experiences on the other side of the country.


The trip concluded with the overnight drive back to Cape Town, which included a stop in East London… which is three hours in the other direction – but was still a fun sight to see. I got to meet Mama Gonya, my boss’s mom and, for the first time, I saw the Indian Ocean!!! I was equally excited when we spotted some zebras while driving along the curvy mountain roads, decorated by the occasional rural town, which gave new meaning to the phrase “quiet, country, life.” I got home Thursday morning just in time to cook a turkey… which I will describe in more detail in next week’s blog!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Week 12 – “Wasn't it beautiful runnin' wild 'til you fell asleep?”

In case you missed one of my shouts of excitement (or in case there is somewhere on this planet where the sound of vuvuzelas did not reach), some friends and I had the privilege of going to the USA vs SA game at the World Cup stadium in Cape Town!!!

I’m not usually a big sports fan… Don’t get me wrong – I love me some home team victories from the Yankees or the Giants… but as for live sports events? I went to a bunch in high school and a few football games in college. There is something about being at the actual event. The power of the crowd hums through you like it’s got a heartbeat all its own (or too many vuvuzelas).

My friends Suzanne, Helen, Amanda and I decided to take the train into the city and then do the Fan Walk through the city center to the stadium. The forty minute train ride was a riot! We sat roughly in the middle of the train, between the two sets of doors on either end of the car. In the aisle between each pair a group of particularly excited fans congregated: one group was drunk, the other was still drinking on the train. The still-drinking group rocked out on the costume front; they donned flag-decorated hats, face paints, jumpsuits, wigs. One guys was dressed as Batman! They weren’t as loud as the less-costumed more-inebriated group, who started with the songs (singing everything from the South African national anthem to “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas and vuvuzelas right away. The train literally shook with all the fan excitement. It was like sitting in a train car with two vying fraternities on either side of us – each competing for the honor of most school spirit… while simultaneously celebrating homecoming. I had a flashback to the type of antics I often observed homecoming weekend during my years at university.

Surging with fan energy from the train ride, we enjoyed a warm summer night’s walk through the city center. The stadium grew larger and larger in the distance – more and more real. As if to herald its approach, the vuvuzelas seemed to multiply – as did the number of South Africans around in us in their yellow and green Bafana Bafana (South Africa’s soccer team) shirts. Occaisionally, I caught a US fan in the midst of us: a man with a flag tied like a cape, red-white-and-blue shirts or groups, a guy singing the Star-Spangled Banner. When we finally reached the stadium, the US fans were even harder to spot. Bafana Bafana fans cheered and shone like sunshine against the black night sky visible above the roof of the stadium, which was lit as bright as day. (Did I mention that the game didn’t start until 9:30pm in order to air live in the US at a reasonable time?)

The teams were a good match for each other – neck-in-neck. No goals were scored in the first half. In the second half, Bafana Bafana seemed to get more aggressive. While no goals were scored for most of the second half, those South African boys seemed to want it more in the face of all of their fans. I was starting to lose faith in those US boys I was cheering for. They just didn’t seem to want it the way their opponents did, but then, out of nowhere, GOAL for the USA! Typical, America :-) And that right there is how the US beat SA 1-0!