Peace is Joy at Rest

ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission, Southern Africa

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What's Up in Upington?

It has been three months in South Africa, three months since my first 12-hour Intercape bus ride from Joberg to Upington as I pulled closer to my new home. As my wide eyes took in the muted browns and greens of the dusty landscape, I felt prepared for a new season of openness in my life. No matter what I was expecting or what advice I had been given, South Africa was going to reveal itself in ways that were completely beyond my preconceptions. The bus pulled into Upington’s Intercape station, and I stepped into a period of wide newness and great dependency.

I am convinced that three months is inherently a weird amount of time, but ask me what six months feels like, and I will surely be singing the same tune. And while I thought that me titling this first chapter Be Open on a clean page and closing the book for three months had settled it, I have come slowly to reexamine that first chapter, this time with a bit more honesty. Including the previously unwritten subtitle, this first part now reads Be Open; Do Everything Right, and the World Will Bend to Your Will. Now, it takes up so much more of the page. It's very inconvenient.

I absolutely want to honor the opening that has happened in me since arriving in Upington. It takes some fortitude to have life made completely new just as it takes fortitude to have the American that you’re graciously hosting present you with a dinner of essentially raw chicken.* With all of the opening, however, was this lurking expectation that I was going to make this year happen for myself, and that while, inevitably, days would feel unsettled and free-floating, with some determination, all of that could be smoothed away. I would excel in Afrikaans if I studied hard enough, and I would find my place here if I made enough of an effort. By Christmas, I kept telling myself. Three months is enough to find your footing.

Well, Geseende Kerswees, Christmas has finally arrived, and I am far less functional in Afrikaans than I would like to be and not everything makes sense. I am still trying by doing a bit (‘n bietjie) of studying each day (elke dag), but whenever I am feeling over-confident, the fast-talking, Afrikaans soap opera, Binnelanders, reminds me that I am still completely dependent on subtitles, both when viewing that show and in most daily interactions. I am still dependent on those around me to help me find the right hymn number in church or to find where to buy a bus ticket. People are still graciously bringing me along in so many ways. Last night, Auntie Charmaine brought me along to her huge family’s Christmas Eve celebration, and among the decorations was a sign that said, “The miracle of Christmas: We are never alone”.

And I haven’t been.

All along, I was harboring this conviction that if anything decent was going to happen here, I must be the one to make it happen by trying hard enough and by being good enough—that the ultimate responsibility for this year rests with me. This Christmas season, I am reminded that the beautiful and the grace-filled has not happened because I have earned it. This year is a YAGM year in South Africa, but this, too, is real life. When before has everything in my life made sense by Christmas? God simply operates outside of my arbitrary timelines. I can do only what I am able and trust the rest to other hands. The world is not here to bend to my will, and I’m slowly realizing, neither was the world I came from—a place that felt deceivingly more manageable.

Yesterday afternoon, my host mom Sissy called me into the living room and surprised me with a 3-foot Christmas tree, leaning against the couch. “Will you decorate it for us?” she asked, and 3-year-old Stanton and I went through what must be universal struggles of uncooperative lights and an untrustworthy tree-stand, trying to make it perfect. She arranged for an Aunty to bring that tree over to our house so that I felt more grounded during this sunny Christmastime. That felt like blessed timing.

*Sissy very politely asked me “Is this how you people eat it?, and I kept replying “Yes!”, thinking that she was commenting on my great breading techniques. I finally looked over and saw her very concerned face and the blood squirting out from her fork.

Snapshots from Upington

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[pictured above] SA Country Coordinator, Tessa Moon Leiseth, snapped this picture of Auntie Mariana, the director of Oasis, and I standing outside the main office.

I think that maybe

I will be a little surer

of being a little nearer.

That’s all. Eternity

is in the understanding

that that little is more than enough.

-R.S. Thomas

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[pictured above] "Post out for Peace" seen on a mural on my way to Afrikaans lessons.

Read With Me!

The SA coordinator, Tessa, has cultivated a rich program library filled with South African fiction, American fiction, memoirs, and so much great non-fiction that I am working my way into reading. Pick up one of these great books and let's read together.

All-Around Best

Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer

I knew a lot of folks reading this for career discernment classes in college, and I can't believe that I missed it until now. Palmer directly spoke to my greatest anxieties about the world with compassion and great insight. His writing is simple, quiet, and accepting of the brokenness and beauty in each of us.

“We must come together in ways that respect the solitude of the soul that avoid the unconscious violence we do when we try to save each other that evoke our capacity to hold another life without dishonoring its mystery never trying to coerce the other into meeting our own needs.”

Best American Fiction

Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. Really troubling, very honest portrayal of consequences and inevitabilities involved in mission work.

"Africa has slipped the floor out from under my righteous house. No other continent has endured such an unspeakably bizarre combination of foreign thievery and foreign goodwill.”

Best South African Fiction

Jump and Other Stories by Nadine Gordimer

Gordimer writes this collection of short stories set in post-apartheid South Africa. In writing about South African politics, race relations, and postmodern anxieties, Gordimer is not aiming toward profundity and her fiction does not attempt to present a sanitized picture. Her fiction upholds a meticulous sense of description that makes few judgments beyond a basic humanistic loyalty. It feels incredibly accessible for someone embracing what feels big and unanswerable.

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{pictured above] Carmen and Perra wrapping the wors at the Youth League braai.

Superhero by Eden

This Afrikaans pop song is popular with everyone in Upington, and I, too, am obsessed with it. For Christmas, the kids at Oasis learned a dance where they mimed each of the superheros. Take a listen to the One Direction of the Afrikaans pop scene!
Super Hero Eden

Pocket Lessons for a New Year

1) If you have never purchased spray deodorant before, now is not the time to start. Rather than adding a whimsical burst of joy to your day, it just ends up leaving white patches on your clothes and might not even be deodorant. The jury is still out. Oh, and you only have to spray it for like a second or else that's just your whole day.

2) Pre-YAGM, ice cream, popsicles, and frozen grapes were the sum total of my frozen food consumption. Now that I am living in a place where the temperature hovers around 100°, I am freezing and eating all matter of things to varying levels of success. Most successful: watermelon, bananas. Least successful: green beans.

3) Some habits are hard to break like my tendency to say “noon”, even though it’s not at all understood. Ok Taylor, you can go buy watermelon, but what is noon?