The time away gave me a much-needed chance to reconnect with God and reflect on my reasons for service.
It persuaded me that, no matter the troubles and challenges I face here, I am committed to finding a way to glorify God through my service in South Africa.
Every week, there’s another reason to celebrate the connections the Lord has blessed me with in my neighboring mountain town. Over the past month, my friends hosted me at the school for read-aloud time with Grade 1, pizza parties baked in a marvelous gas stove, and a surprising sleepover with a furry friend.
Attending the bilingual church regularly stuns me with how international this area is: On any given weekend, our congregation unites Zulus, Afrikaans speakers, Zambians, Swazilanders, Swiss Germans, visitors from the UK, and probably others I have yet to encounter.
The children of the local Christian school’s principal speak four languages: English, Zulu, Afrikaans, and Swiss German. They also make mean grilled cheese sandwiches, as I discovered when Talitha and I looked after them one weekend at their beautiful home overlooking the border with Swaziland.
Admiring Talitha’s stock of intricate toys, brewing macaroni and cheese for dinner, and quizzing the junior Sunday School class on the definition of ‘unleavened bread’ was a welcome interlude before my long trip to Pretoria in February.
I broke my journey to the capital city with an overnight at our PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader)’s place. Kolbi treated me to ice cream at the mall and a visit to her organization’s computer literacy class. We also feasted on homemade chicken soup and tickled our funny bones with The Fantastic Mr. Fox – a film that’s totally weird in the best way.
Hopping on a long-distance taxi brought me to the infamous Park Station in Johannesburg, a rank where tourists can find themselves mobbed by hustlers and lobbied for money if they ask for directions. My friend Keiko had supplied me in advance with a map and detailed instructions, so I surged out of the taxi with eyes forward and mouth set, made a beeline for the terminal, and escaped into the Gautrain without facing much resistance. Lord willing, all my future encounters with the Joburg taxis will conclude as smoothly!
My primary purpose in Pretoria: attend my first meeting with the Peace Corps Resource Committee. We have the delightful responsibility of crafting the monthly newsletter, furnishing new volunteers with a USB chocked with curriculum and ebooks, and tidying the Information Resource Center.
This hang-out space and computer lab also boasts hundreds of reference books and novels. My vision for its evolution involves uploading the entire collection into an online catalog designed for small or personal libraries – one shelf down, five to go!
In between dallying with print and digital media, I was partaking of genuine Christian hospitality with Logan and Kris: Americans serving with Campus Outreach at the University of Pretoria. Kris consoled me during training with fellowship and a Zulu Bible when I was missing my church community, while Logan arrived in Pretoria the same time my service launched in KZN–last September!
They introduced me to local life in Pretoria: a hipster coffee shop with mouthwatering dairy-free, gluten-free desserts; a rugby game at the university; the eclectic mix of languages and ethnicities living in the ministry staff house. Without Zulu as the default language, I found myself floundering to communicate–a humbling reality in a country with eleven official languages. (English is nearly universal in the city, but where’s the fun in that?)
Kris’s family also blessed me with a game-changing book: Culture Shock by Myron Loss. I was initially skeptical that it had much to teach me about international travel, but pride goeth before a revelation.
The book investigates the burnout and dropout rates of Christian missionaries newly arrived in developing countries. The author pinpoints a psychological culprit: the loss of self-confidence as we find ourselves less capable, less respected, and less effective than we were in our home countries. Unless we combat it with the peace and dignity found only in Christ, this sense of failure easily overwhelms us.
I drew a new life motto from this little paperback published in the 90s:
Knowing that all our needs for security and significance are met in Christ will enable us to give ourselves for others as Christ gave Himself for us.
This vision for service returned me to site with renewed resilience. Even a twelve hour return trip couldn’t extinguish my enthusiasm! My learners are rewarding my efforts with an unabashed desire to drink in as much English education as I can provide them.
To occupy them during free periods when I am frantically lesson planning, I commissioned them to create a wall calendar for our classroom. Next term we will display everyone’s birthdays so that we can herald each special day with appropriate gusto.
Prowling around the school grounds in search of ideas for Creative Arts taught me an important lesson: I had deceived myself into imagining that our school was a desert of red dust, with nothing green or lovely to draw during nature observations lessons.
On the contrary, several of the classrooms have cultivated mini-gardens for the sheer pleasure of God’s greenery. On the left is a plot that hasn’t received attention, while the right is thriving.
The lesson: It’s not the land that makes the difference — it’s the time we take to water it.