Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy What??

I am embarrassed to admit that I forgot today was Thanksgiving (my favourite American holiday, no less!). I forgot because here in South Africa, I had to go to work and the kids had to go to school. It is not a holiday here, so life continues as normal.

When we first moved here, we had so much to learn and we wanted to fit in. Now that we've been here one year, we still want to learn and fit in, but we also don't want to completely lose our cultural identity. How much of the South African culture do we adopt? How much of our American culture do we maintain? Finding that balance is, right now, difficult.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Two Random Stories

  • Today at lunch Lucy randomly asked, "What's a glutton?" I told her a glutton is someone who loves food so much that they become addicted to it and eat even when they're not hungry, as food becomes something they love more than anything else. She said, "Well then it's a good things these crackers are glutton-free!" I was a bit confused until I looked at the box of crackers - rice crackers - that said "gluten-free". I had to keep myself from laughing out loud! I suppose that rice crackers really aren't on top of the desirable food list, so in a way they probably are glutton-free!
  • I wanted to make beef stroganoff for dinner tonight. I had great plans for a nice dinner. As luck would have it, the store was out of both mushrooms AND sour cream, so now we're just having beef without the stroganoff.
Ah, Africa... the only place in the world where you can eat glutton-free crackers and mushroom-less, sour cream-less beef stroganoff. And I actually think this is funny, so maybe I'm finally learning to be flexible! (See mom? There's still hope for me!)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Lesson of the Ants

I had choir practice yesterday, and my friend challenged me to find a reason for Friday's ant attack. She said maybe there was a lesson to be learned. I said, "Yeah, right. The only thing I learned was:
  1. Don't take walks around the perimeter of the Botanical Gardens;
  2. Sometimes nature can be more distracting than the office; and
  3. Always carry a can of DOOM with you (that's the local brand of ant spray...rather appropriately named, don't you think?)"
She said, "I'm serious." I said, "So am I." But upon further reflection (and another day of recovery), I had to concede that yes, I did in fact learn something:

There is power in numbers, but more specifically, there is power in unity. One ant can't do much to one human. I'm bigger, stronger, and more scary-looking! But when all the ants work together to accomplish a goal (like scare the wee out of me), they can really do a lot, can't they?

Jesus prayed in John 17, "I pray also for those who will believe in Me... that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me... May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me." vv. 20-21, 23

I can't help but wonder, if Christians could stop their bickering and disputing over petty things, if we could shake the critical and judgmental spirit and unite towards a common goal, that is, sharing the love of Jesus with a world that desperately needs hope, would we be as powerful as an army of ants? Could we take down giants, swarm the world with love?

Something to think about, at any rate.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

An Indiana Jones Moment

Everyone talks about the violent crime in South Africa, and how "horrible" it is to live here. I can honestly say that I love it here and have never felt any fear... until yesterday. Yesterday I experienced one of the most terrifying moments of my life, only it had nothing to do with violent crime or even people. It had to do with the National Botanical Gardens and some ants.

I was taking a walk around the perimeter of the Gardens, working on a speech I have to give in two weeks. I thought it would be easier to be alone with my thoughts and really tackle this speech than to be at the office or at home where there are too many distractions to break my concentration.

While I was enjoying the beauty and solitude of the Botanical Gardens, I was getting some great ideas and really making progress on my speech... until I looked down, that is, to find my shoes covered in ants. Not tiny American ants, but big African ants. I shook my shoes, but the ants wouldn't come off. I tried to brush them off, then I tried to flick them off, but they wouldn't budge. It was like they had hooks and were hanging on for dear life. Then they started to bite. That's when I started to stomp my feet, and then run, but they *still* kept coming.

I looked ahead of me, and the brick path that I was on was covered in ants as far as I could see. That's when I began to panic and pray like crazy. It took me about 25 minutes to reach the exit of the Botanical Gardens, and when I got to the parking lot I kicked off my shoes, only to find my socks covered in ants. I peeled my socks off, and the ants were INSIDE my socks on the bottom of my feet!

I ended up using my car keys to scrape off all of the ants, and then I got into my car and cried for fifteen minutes! I phoned Dan, who calmed me down, and just when I was about to start the car and drive home, I realised that some of the ants had crawled up my jeans and were on my legs. That's when I *really* lost it!

I am happy to report that I made it home and that my feet are now fine. It really was a bit traumatic though. That feeling of having no way out was most unpleasant.

I went to the Botanical Gardens to work on my speech with no distractions.... but I think I would have been better off at the office!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Letters, Letters!

I love my job! We are starting to get correspondence flowing between the orphans and their sponsors. It is really precious to read what some of them write. One little girl drew a picture of a cigarette with a line through it and a caption that said, "Don't sock!" There was an "m" inserted above it which corrected it to "Don't smock!" Some of the children ask for prayer as they are struggling with illness or school work. Some share their favourite Bible verse or talk about what they want to be when they grow up. Those are the ones that make me cry, because statistically, some of these children will not live long lives due to HIV/AIDS. They are already affected by it, having lost one or both parents to AIDS, and the odds of them going to university are not good. YET....

The encouragement of one person can be huge, can't it? That's where our orphan centres, the local church, and sponsors come in. Hopefully there will be a whole group of people encouraging these children to keep going, to not give up. "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." -Philippians 3:12

The sponsor letters are precious as well. Some write of losing a spouse and can easily relate to the sense of loss these orphans feel. Some write of life lessons learned. All are encouraging and uplifting. The power of the written word is tremendous. How often have you read and reread a letter that was special to you?

Here's your challenge for the day: write a letter to someone and encourage them. You never know how much it might mean, how timely it may be, or what the impact will produce in that person's life.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wednesday Quote

We stand in awe of the ocean,
The thunderstorm,
The sunset,
The mountains;
But we pass by
A human being
Without notice
Even though
The person
Is God's most
- St. Augustine

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Full Circle of Life

Yesterday in church the pastor said we had a special guest. He then introduced "Auntie Doreen", a 91-year-old woman who's been a member of the church since 1929 and taught Sunday School for 60 years. The pastor wanted to honour her, not for being at the church for so long, but for living a godly life and being an example and inspiration to the rest of us. When he said that, the congregation spontaneously gave her a standing ovation. The pastor encouraged us all to find an older person to mentor us. And THEN all the new babies in the church were introduced and dedicated. It was the full circle of life!

What I love about this is that there is room for all of us. We nurture the little ones and learn from the older ones. In my own culture, it seems like once the older generation passes the baton to the younger generation, they are forgotten, or worse - cast aside. We honour them when they die, but we seldom value their wisdom and experience as we are too busy with our fast-paced, technologically-advanced world. I realise I'm making sweeping stereotypes here, so maybe I should personalise this so as not to offend anyone:

I was pleased to see the church honour someone who has lived their life well. I hope that I never get so caught up with my iPod and email (or blog!) that I fail to enjoy the older generation, share a cup of tea, and just... listen.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Once upon a time we had been in South Africa for only five days and were feeling very culture-shocked. In an effort to find something familiar and comforting we went to a pizzeria, only to be shocked by the pizza topping options:
  • bacon and banana
  • chicken livers and peppadew
  • mince meat and avocado
  • feta and kalamata olives
Fourteen months later, we have learned that while South African pizzas are completely different than American pizzas, they can be equally as good; we just had to change our expectations. Instead of expecting a Round Table American Pizza Supreme, we expect a thin crust pizza with toppings uniquely South African.

So here's my advice for today: When you move to another country (or just visit) and you find something that is called by the same name as in your home country, remove all expectations! It might be completely different BUT equally as good. If you expect it to be like it is "back home", you might miss out on the discovery of a new food (which coincidentally is called a "burger", "pizza", or even "ice cream").

In fact, today we ordered a Fetaroni Pizza, which consists of feta cheese, pepperoni and hot chili peppers on a very thin crust. And it was good!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hopelessly American

This morning our power went out at 6:15, right in the middle of our morning rush. I had to go to work with unstyled hair, we couldn't make our morning pot of coffee, and we couldn't get the garage door open to back the car out (Dan had to manually open it and hold it open while I backed the car out). We have gotten used to power outages in the past year, but they have always been during business hours, never during the "getting ready for school and work" hours.

I was not a happy camper this morning. In my opinion, the power should never go out until I've done my hair and had my morning coffee! After that I can face the day, with all of its joys and challenges, but this morning, I was not ready for Africa. I wanted to be in America, which reminded me that no matter how long I have lived in South Africa (or will live), I will always be an American. That has its strengths, and like this morning, its weaknesses.

Food for Thought

I read the following quote today and wanted to throw it out there for discussion. What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?

"Let us be humble in acknowledging that Westerners do not have exclusive insight on all that is right and wrong. God is not restricted to Western ways, and He has not exhausted His wisdom and grace on North America and Western Europe... People of the Word [of God] need each other to exercise collective discernment in interpreting the Bible, which stands as the final authority and judge of all that distorts God's glory in any culture." - Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Conflict

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Unusual Kindness

"The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold." - Acts 28:2

Unusual kindness.... I love that phrase. I think we can all think of someone who, just when we needed it most and were on the verge of desperation or losing faith in mankind, showed us unusual kindness. Just the other day I went into a shop where the employees are known for being UNkind. I was having trouble finding something, and one of the employees went out of her way to help me. Unusual kindness. It made my day. I left smiling and wanting to pass that kindness on to someone else.

Funny, though, that it's often hard to show "unusual kindness", as it can involve going out of our way, taking more time than we want to give, or require more patience than we think we have. I expect others to be kind to me and make allowances or give me the benefit of the doubt, yet I am not so quick to extend that grace and understanding to others.

I love it how one phrase in the Bible can stand out and inspire me. I want to make more of an effort to show "unusual kindness" to those I come in contact with each day. I am reminded of something C.S. Lewis once said, "The opposite of selfishness isn't unselfishness; it's love."

Monday, November 10, 2008

You Know You're Feeling Settled in South Africa When...

  • You're starting to think your son looks cute in shorts and knee socks (school uniform)
  • Your honey mustard salad dressing is grey, but as long as it tastes okay you don't care about the colour
  • There is a flock (flock?) of beetles mating on your roof, and you think it's rather romantic

On Birthdays, Seasons, and Minor Delusions

I'm about to confess to you one of my many delusions: my birthday falls in autumn, and every year I like to think that the trees changing colour is God's birthday present to me. Silly, I know. They change because God commands them to, and the colours are a blessing to everyone, but still... it was sort of a "nature birthday bonus" for me!

When we moved to South Africa, not only did I have to adjust to the fact that Christmas is now in summer, but - gasp! - my birthday is now in spring!! While I appreciate the beautiful (and just as colourful) spring blossoms, it's just not the same as autumn leaves. I was mentioning this to my friend (who, amzingly, is from South Africa and now lives in my hometown in California! Her birthday falls during the same time of year, so she was lamenting the opposite - that her birthday is now in autumn and not spring!)

Anyway, to make a long story short, I got a package in the mail the other day. It was from this friend. Guess what was inside? A bunch of autumn leaves from my hometown!! When I opened the package, the smell of a California autumn greeted me. I cried! It was wonderful! What a special gift (and lightweight to ship!). I now have my very own California leaf pile here in South Africa!

I think next year I should send her some jacaranda and coral tree blossoms. What do you think?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Yay! A Visit From Friends!

"A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." - Proverbs 11:25

Our friends Steve and Dianne came down from Kenya for a visit this week. Wherever we went Steve would pull something out of his pocket and have a bunch of kids captivated. This time, it was a surgical glove. He blew it up, drew a face on it, and instantly had a flock of kids smiling, laughing, playing.

Beyond the kids, he and Dianne also had our family smiling, laughing, crying, as they encouraged us, spent time with us, babysat the kids while we went out on a date, and even cleaned my floors!

They are amazing servants, not because of what they did for us, but because of their hearts for the Lord. Whether ministering to people in the prisons of Costa Rica, working with street kids in Kenya, or just encouraging some friends, their hearts beat with a single purpose: to share the hope they have in Jesus with others. May it be so even with us.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Apartheid Museum

Today we went to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. When we bought our tickets to enter, we were each given a card that either said "Whites Only" or "Non-Whites". We had to use separate entrances based on our cards. We entered the museum and walked down separate hallways (depending on whether we were "white" or "non-white"). We eventually met up together and could walk through the rest of the museum as one group. Right from the start... wow. There are just no words.

The building of the museum feels cold - it is all concrete and filled with razor wire - so you sort of feel like you're in prison, or being interrogated, or just... unsettled. I suppose this echoes that time in history, in which case the museum does an excellent job of setting the mood. It was strange watching television clips of the apartheid government defending their actions, seeing footage of riots, hearing the testimonies of those who lived through those times.

The very last exhibit was current newspaper articles that related somehow to apartheid or equal rights. Today as we left there were articles about Barack Obama being elected President of the United States, and Nelson Mandela's congratulatory letter to him.

I haven't even begun to process my emotions from this experience, so I feel a bit scattered writing about it. Still, if you're ever in the Johannesburg area, you really must visit the Apartheid Museum.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Holy Moment

Last night we went to a good-bye party for some friends of ours. In the course of the evening there was an opportunity to stand up and share how these people have impacted our lives. At one point a woman got up and said, "I was sick for two years. My daughter was also sick. But then I met my friend, and she loved me. She cared about me and loved me enough to help me. I got the medicine I needed. I'm HIV-positive, and my CD4 count was 4. I'm standing before you tonight, a changed woman, because someone loved me with the love of Jesus."

One thing you have to understand is that no one - NO ONE - publicly admits to being HIV-positive here in South Africa. The stigma is still so strong. People are often ostracized and rejected by family for admitting to such a fact. Consequently many refuse to be tested and would rather face death than isolation from their community.

I've never seen such courage before. This woman is an amazing testimony of what happens when we are touched with the love of Jesus. She radiated beauty from the inside out. It was one of the holiest moments I've ever witnessed.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Let Earth Receive Her King

Today I had a four-hour choir rehearsal in preparation for our Christmas programme at church. In the course of our music we sing some lines from "Joy to the World." I've grown up with that song since childhood, but a phrase from that song stood out today like never before - "Let earth receive her King."

I suddenly had the image of a South African township in my mind, of women sweeping the dust outside their corrugated tin shacks, roasting mealies in old oil drums, boiling water to make pap (maize meal), tidying up whatever property they own, cooking what food they may have, in preparation to receive their King. And when I saw this image, as sparse and simple as it was, I thought, "Yes, this is an offering fit for the King." And I wept through the rest of the song.