Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Identity and Tradition

Lately I have found that it seems that some of the most challenging and fruitful periods of time that have occurred are when I have been able to get completely away from what others think, from expectations and daily demands, and gain perspective on why I am really here. The time alone in my flat in the rural area of Loskop, especially the last couple days, has really allowed me to think over the last few weeks.

I recently had the opportunity to travel with my local pastor deep into the rural areas, about 50km from the community I have been working in, to do house visits and spend some time with people who were no longer physically able to go to church on Sundays due to age, illness, or other physical conditions. We drove from one house to another, sharing the sacrament of Holy Communion and just spending time with elderly people who most likely do not have regular visitors. While I did not understand most of the conversations, there was always the time when the pastor would explain who I was and what I was doing and at that moment there was a certain shared feeling and bond between myself and whomever we were visiting with. Usually it came through in the form of a great smile and a thank you; not that I was the one needing thanks, I should have been doing the thanking for the blessing I received in those moments.

It was very powerful to spend time with these folks but one thing that stuck with me even more than the house visit itself was one of the conversations we had while driving from one location to another. While we were driving along we got talking about some of the most common and important struggles that he faces in the 12 congregations that he serves. Living in a rural environment has its challenges. The same government that can build beautiful multi million dollar stadiums and host a fantastic World Cup soccer tournament often ignores the most basic needs of rural communities, such as wells from which people can pump water, so that it can focus the majority of its attention on building up and maintaining large cities such as Durban, Cape Town, and Johannesburg. It is in the rural areas, much like the Loskop area that I serve in, where the majority of South Africans live. The issues of the community that were brought up by the pastor included lack of proper education or below standard education, heath care, unemployment, water, and sanitation. In addition, while it wasn’t brought up in the conversation with the pastor, it has been brought up before in talking with other folks that many people in the rural areas feel as if they are no better off than where they were 20 years ago; which is a profound statement considering the apartheid laws at the time and the conditions in which people were forced to live.

Out of all the struggles of the congregations within which he works, the one struggle that struck me most was around the topic of identity; specifically, the identity of young Christian Zulu adults. The rural areas have a significant number of people who still embrace and practice traditional Zulu healing and other spiritual practices, thus Christians in the rural communities experience a large tension between their indigenous identity and the “western” Christian faith. To get a scale on how great this tension is, the local pastor estimates that somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of the people who attend a Christian worship service on Sundays and identify themselves as Christians also visit a Sangoma, or a traditional healer in times of crisis or to pray to their ancestors.

The identity crisis, or the uncertainty and confusion in which people are struggling with, lies within the question of whether it is possible to be a Christian and still practice traditional beliefs. While I have no answer to this question, I will try to voice the opinions of those in my community and within my church in an effort to put some understanding behind this major issue in the Christian church in Southern Africa. From my understanding, based on the conversation with the pastor, Church has adopted the viewpoint that people can essentially do what they want in terms of traditional practice and still be considered an active participant within the Christian faith and church. But is this really what Christ calls us to do?

To try and put some perspective on this issue, lets look at one of the most important and significant ways in which one identifies with someone or something which usually is through the use of names. The use of name is always a sign of ones identity. Whenever someone asks who you are the first thing you say is your name; it is the fundamental part of who we are. Yet if you look at times in the Bible when people come to know God, there are many examples of them receiving a new name (GE 32:28). This is symbolic to them leaving their old way of life behind and becoming a follower of Christ. Therefore, shouldn’t someone upon starting a life with Christ leave their old ways behind and only follow the way of life that Christ put forth for them? And wouldn’t this include leaving behind cultural practices that call upon ancestors and traditional healers in times of crisis in an effort to only rely and serve Christ? After all, God’s commands are found in scripture and are binding. The traditions of elders are not biblical and therefore are not authoritative. There is even a warning against following certain cultural traditions found in Mark 7:8: “You have let go of the commands of god and are holding on to the traditions of men.” There is a strong argument that upon getting to know and follow Christ, one must denounce their past ways of life and take up a new life in the eyes of God.

Yet, one would think there must be a way to preserve cultural practices without having it be a way of worship or a way of putting trust in a higher power other than the Lord in times of struggle or crisis. As Christians we are supposed to put our faith in Christ alone and not with anyone else. I think there is a way to acknowledge the Zulu traditions and to keep them within the Zulu culture such that one does not lose their heritage and their way of life. I don’t have the solution to this problem nor do I know if this is really the direction people should go in general. Or is there even a reason that someone should not practice their traditional beliefs, visit healers, and consult their ancestors if they are believers in Christ. Is there really something wrong about that or is it really just a unique expression of faith within a different culture that should be encouraged? The bottom line is that there are solid arguments in favor of both sides of the picture and it is a major struggle for people, as they don’t know who they are within their cultural heritage and their Christian faith.

In addition, I have found that in order to try and understand the identity of others one must understand their true identity first. This identity crisis is seen within our own culture as well. It is not so much of an identity crisis between being American and being a Christian, rather the crisis lies within being part of the secular American culture and being a Christian. I know I am guilty of treading the line between acting in a secular and in a “Christian” way almost on a daily basis. Whether it is the music I listen too, the books I read, the difference between catching me on a bad day and on a good, how I treat others, and generally how I carry myself, it is a constant struggle to identify with the Christian faith within the secular American culture that surrounds me each day. While the question for my Zulu brothers focus on whether or not a Christian can visit a Sangoma, my fellow American brothers struggle with questions such as: can I be a Christian and still listen to the popular filth that comes out of our radios these days, can I got to that party and have a few beers, can I watch that violent movie, can I support a government and a president that is actively facilitating wars in two countries?

It seems to me it would be a horrible thing to have to profess a set of beliefs against traditional and cultural ties, in order to remain in ones religion. Maybe I am too liberal in my religious thought, too worldly, or just confused as to what Christ asks of us. Yet, I have found that in the long run, it does not help to act as though I were something I am not. For my fellow brother and sisters here in rural SA, they are Zulus and they are Christians, and for me that is the bottom line. If the church tells them that they must denounce cultural practices in favor of the western viewpoint of Christianity there are going to be problems in the long run. What is most important is that everyone must try to permit themselves to understand the issues of identity within the Christian faith throughout the world so that we might really understand our fellow brothers and sisters and so that that understanding might change us and how we think. The bottom line is that as soon as a fellow brother or sister becomes a Christian their identity must change in some form or fashion. The question remains though how does that change reflect cultural ties and the deeper meaning who one is as a person within faith and traditional culture.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lessons From a 6 yr. Old

I have come to the realization that life, in a general sense, is most enjoyed when it is experienced in a free flowing, moving, ever changing process in which nothing is fixed. Now that statement can have different meanings for different people but my feeling is that I find I am at my best and feeling most alive when I can allow the flowing experiences of life to carry me in a direction that appears to be forward and most often towards goals of which I am but dimly aware. Living with such a viewpoint immediately opens a vast and complex number of experiences ultimately shaping who and what I become. It also means that I try my best to live with an open system of beliefs, an ever-changing set of principles that I hold. But after all isn’t that what living and abroad is really all about?

One principle that I have started living by here that reflects this is the idea that when an activity feels as though it is valuable or worth doing, it is worth doing. This has led me to spending more and more time at the Kwethu orphanage in Gourton (small area just about 20k down the road from where I live) and through my time there I have been reminded of some of the most important lessons in life.

There is a popular verse found in the book of Proverbs 27:17, which reads “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” This verse has come up a few times in the first couple months here between other fellow YAGM and our fearless leader Rev. Konkol. Now I have to admit that the first couple times this verse from Proverbs was brought to my attention I looked at it from a real surface level approach without having ever truly thought about it in a deeper sense. Or truly experienced this. To “sharpen another” is to develop and mold one’s character and that is exactly what I have experienced in many ways from spending time at Kwethu. Though, my experience would lead me to re-write the verse (I hope that’s not a sin) to read: “As iron sharpens iron, so one child can sharpen the world.”

I have learned more in 2 months about sharing, hope, survival, love, and kindness through watching a 6-year-old boy by the name of Kwanele than in the other 22yrs I’ve been around. While sharing, hope, survival, love, and kindness are clearly not new ideals for me, I have never seen them acted out in daily life as fully as Kwanele embraces them. Kwanele has lived a tough life for someone who is only 6 yrs old. He was abandoned by his father, is HIV positive, only has 1/3 of a lung left due to TB when he was young, and has some other health issues that have an impact on his daily routine.

Despite the hardships that he has had to experience, Kwanele could quite possibly be the happiest (and cutest) kid I have ever seen. My heart melts a little bit each week that I am at the orphanage and Kwanele provides me with a model of how to live in a God loving manner.

Just last week I made a trek up to a store just a few meters from the orphanage to purchase a ma guina (deep fried dough…its quite delicious really). The first kid I saw upon my return was Kwanele, so I gave him a piece of the cake. While I was breaking off another piece for one of the other boys, Kwanele beat me to the punch by breaking his piece in half and giving it to a boy next to him. While this might seem like a small gesture, think about it a little deeper with me. Here is a boy who only eats a few meals a day and rarely gets a treat like a fat cake and yet before even taking a bite of the piece I gave him, he is ready to make his portion smaller so that another boy can savor the moment with him. In the book of Hebrews 13:22 we are reminded to “…not forget to do good and share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” But the teaching that really brings Kwanele’s act of sharing to light for me is similar to the story of the widow’s offering found in Luke 21:1-4. The poor widow gave what she had not out of her wealth but rather she gave all she had. In a similar fashion, Kwanele was willing to share really all and everything he had with the boy in a similar state next to him. Kwanele has no worldly possessions to share; all he has is the bit of cake I gave him and without even thinking twice he broke it in half to help out a friend. 2nd Corinthians 8:12 tells us that “for if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.” What matters here and in life is the willingness to share or the motive of true generosity no matter how small the amount that can be afforded is.

While there are countless other lessons and stories I could pull from the time I have spent playing and hanging out with Kwanele, I think his simple act of sharing is one that has moved me the most. I feel that many of the problems in the world today could be solved by a bit of sharing and looking out for the person next to you. The person next to you may be in a similar situation as you are, or in much greater need for something than you are. Either way, each and every person is a brother and sister in Christ so we must break off a bit of our own bread and share it with them.

Until next time...Cheers

Monday, October 11, 2010

Great Times in SA

Greetings. It has been a busy couple of weeks for me since my last blog post so I figured it was time to let you all in on the seemingly secret life of Josh in South Africa once again.

It is safe to say that I have finally found the little bit of routine needed to keep one sane, I have fully settled in, and I feel totally at home both with those around me and in my general location. My week that was once totally empty and fully open to whatever I chose to fill it with has become filled with great opportunities and different experiences. Early in the week I spend my time at the school for the physically handicapped up the road where I have gotten to be good friends with the assistant principle and a few other staff members. While I still have no clear active role in the school it is a great work in progress and some day I am confident that the teachers will actually have the meeting they have promised me to have to sort out how I can be of service to the school and its wonderful students. I have also been splitting my time early in the week working at the center doing various projects. The most recent of these is a serious painting project that I just started on today in fact. And when I mean serious I am not kidding…last week we picked up no less than 360 liters of paint. I have a feeling that I am going to be busy with this project until Christmas, as they want me to paint every building at the center. It is a good thing I enjoy painting and who can complain with working outside in the African sun…not me.

Wednesdays I have found myself heading to town with a lady from the center by the name of Goodness. In town I help ship off communion wafers through the post, help out with the banking for the centers various accounts, and help out with the weekly grocery shopping. By heading into town I mean heading into Estcourt, a small town with everything one would need and absolutely nothing more. It is also the time that I try and do my weekly grocery shopping so all in all Wednesday is pretty much spent in town doing one thing or another. Wednesday evening I have found myself heading back into town to meet up with a few new friends that have come about from getting to know one of the therapists from the school for an evening Bible study and a bit of home cooking.

Thursday-Fridays I have found myself working at an orphanage in Geurton, just a short kombi ride down the road from Loskop. The orphanage is run by a lovely American couple who have been expats for quite some time now. The orphanage has about 40 orphans in total ranging from infant through high school. Overall I have spent most of my time there just playing with the kids or helping them with their homework. Last week the topic we work on was long division…long division has never been (taken)…well so long. It is a work in progress. There is also another long-term volunteer working at the orphanage from Wheaton College so it is nice to see a friendly American face and spend some time in conversation without the language barrier. He has been at the orphanage for about 4 months and has just over 2 remaining before he heads back. In general though I roll into the orphanage early on Thursday, work the day, spend the night, then work the following day before returning to my home. It’s really a great place that is providing a great service for the surrounding community. The orphanage is run in a way that there are women who volunteer and live at the center as “mothers” so that there are just about 4 kids to each mother. It is really a great system from what I can tell.

My weekends have continued to remain open but recently have spent the majority of them in Estcourt at the assistant principles house as he has welcomed me into his family as if I were a son. Mr. Mbhele has 3 sons of his own, ranging from 9-17ish, and a very nice wife who also happens to be a great cook. Along with spending time at their home in Estcourt I have gotten connected with a local soccer team that I am now coaching to some degree of the term. The “team” consists of boys from around the neighborhood and kwaza area. They are really pretty good soccer players and it has been fun to play some pickup games with them. Just a few weekends ago I was able to play in my first game, which my team thankfully won as there was quite of bit of Rand exchanged in the form of betting for or against the American. In the next few days or so we will have our first real practice and soon enough the season will be underway…or at least that is my understanding of the situation at this point.

In addition, I have been able to get out of my community and stretch the adventurous legs a bit. On September 23rd I set off toward the Durban area to meet up with some of the other YAGM and partake in the biannual ELCSA young adult league conference. The best part about this adventure is I really had no idea where I was heading or who I was meeting up with. My only directions were literally: take kombi to Pietermaritzburg, grab another kombi in PMB to Cato Ridge, then proceed by walking to a school where the conference will be taking. Not exactly the clearest of directions but hey what was I to do other than give it a shot. I got up early and grabbed a taxi into Estcourt without problem as per usual at this point. Got to the kombi (taxi) rank in Estcourt where I wandered around for a bit before asking a nice looking gentleman for a bit of help finding the Martizburg taxi, waited only about 45 min for the kombi to fill (a very short time), and soon enough found myself on the road to PMB. The ride into PMB was only about an hour but in that short while I saw some great countryside, a few cows, oh and I nearly died…literally…came within inches of getting in a four car/kombi/bus/truck pile up as a truck in front of us decided that it was going to change lanes with no regard to those around them. There was quite a bit of screaming, slamming on the breaks, cursing, and general confusion throughout the kombi as we were suddenly rolling on the shoulder going 125 km/hr with a tanker truck just inches from the side of the kombi. Good times…have to say the only though that rushed through my head was “really?… This is how is going to end…in an overstuffed mini bus in South Africa?” But no worries made it to PMB in one piece. Once in PMB I was supposed to meet up with another YAGM before heading out on the second part of the journey together. I happened to get a call informing me that there were a few other YAGMS in the area and they possibly had space in their car for us to join. I quickly booked it all the way across town to meet up with them and see what they were all about. Turns out they were traveling with a pastor (Trevor) from their area (close to Joburg) and had some extra room. Extra room entailed cramming 4 YAGM ladies in the back seat of Trevor’s 5 series BMW, while he and I rode up front in style and comfort. We set off toward Cato ridge, as my directions would have lead me, quickly got lost and once we found our way and almost as soon as we got in the general area of where we thought we were supposed to go, Trevor got a call informing him to head to Durban. The ride from Cato Ridge to Durban should have taken only about 15-20 minutes but it took nearly an hour as there was traffic. Durbs is really quite a large city and it runs right up to the Indian Ocean so I enjoyed the view as we sat in traffic. Once in Durbs we met up with some folks whom were also with ELCSA and heading to the conference. Trevor parked the car on a random sidewalk, told us to stay put and proceeded to walk off/drive off with the other ELCSA folks. We waited for just about an hour and a half or so sharing some stories, having a coke, and a laugh (it was the first time we had really had a chance to catch up with each other in about a month). Trevor eventually came back and told us it was time to go but we “don’t know where were going.” So we started to drive…in the general direction of where we had eventually came from. We eventually got off the interstate a few exits before Cato Ridge (about 15km before) and drove for a bit until we ended up at a school that was really in the middle of nowhere. At this point it was about 6pm and I was very thankful that I had met up with Trevor and the other YAGMs as I never would have found this place on my own. Everything happens for a reason I guess. All in all the travel day took from about 7:30am-6:00pm when I should have taken less than an hour and a half to get to where we ended up. Great times…just another day in the life of a YAGM in SA.

The conference as a whole was an interesting experience. It was a great lesson on what productivity, community, and adlib musical numbers are really about. We all got a good sense of the YAL, their goals, issues, and role in the greater ELCSA. We were able to hear insight from Bishop Biyela of Eastern Diocese, Bishop Bowles of Cape Orange Diocese, ELCSA General Secretary Rev. Mathe, and our own fearless leader Rev. Brian Konkol. And of course, tt was great to meet up with the majority of the SA YAGM group again to share stories about our first couple months. Everyone is having a very unique and different experience so it was great to come together and get the rundown from everyone. Overall it was an interesting weekend that can be chalked up as a win.

Last week Friday I had the opportunity to join Mrs. Constance on a road trip into the Drakensburg mountains to visit a group of ladies whom hand weave baskets that are then sold in the center I am living at. We set off early in the morning in a bakkie and headed west toward the mountains. The trip itself was pretty uneventful but I got to see a great deal of countryside, enjoy a tasty sausage roll, and finally get a glimpse at the mighty Drakensburgs. We drove for about 2hrs on paved road before heading another 30km or so on a dirt road to a small community tucked into a beautiful valley. We met with about 15 or so ladies from the area, paid them for the last 3 months worth of sales and then loaded up the bakkie to the max with more baskets to sell over the course of the next 3 months. A full days road trip was very much enjoyed and I will be returning to the mountains for some further adventures and exploration sooner than later.

Looking back on the last few weeks its been a wild and crazy journey that has entailed getting on the wrong taxi more than once, getting moderately severely sick with food poisoning resulting in the loss of about 10lbs, becoming the local billiards shark at the corner store, fixing the many holes in my TOMS with a needle floss and an old bit of fabric, growing a very poor moustache, waking up with a general plan for the day and having it totally go out the window within the first few hours, having a few laughs after hours with some of workers from the surrounding areas, navigating the most vague directions ever, playing barefoot soccer in a field, popping two soccer balls in less than one month, my Rooibos tea addiction has become serious, my Zulu is still quite poor but it’s a continued work in progress, the weather is amazing and only getting warmer, I got to experience my first SA thunderstorm, and the sunsets are amazing.


Learning to Walk with Others

Why am I here? What do I hope to accomplish? What does a “successful” year in South Africa look like to me? What is to come after this? What does globally informed and transformed really look like? What does accompaniment mean to me? Where do I spend my time? What is of value to me? How did I end up here?

These are some of the questions that have been both posed to me and are issues that I think about on a daily basis. Some questions that have really stuck with me these first few weeks are in regards to what do I hope to accomplish and what am I really doing here. These questions have been of particular interest and struggle for me these first few weeks as I try and get involved in the community in which I am living. There have been many quiet days here where I cannot help but feel that I have done or accomplished anything. Many days I feel as though there is no real use for me at the center where I live as it runs smoothly and efficiently without my help. It has taken many weeks to seek out the necessary people at the school where I am trying to get started working in, it took a few weeks to get to the orphanage down the road where I am looking serve, and I have very few projects around the center to keep busy. In short, there have been many days where I feel like I am simply hanging out being more of a consumer at the center rather than being the producer or a helper that I came here to be. At times I have felt useless, alone, bored, and uninvolved.

Yet just today, it became clear that despite not having a clear direction as to what I am to be doing here, I have had a positive impact on people and the community in which I live. At the end of the work day, around 4pm, people tend to congregate the local corner store and pub to gather around share a beer, a smoke, and take each other on in a casual game of snooker (pool/billiards). With little to do in the later part of the afternoon I have found myself heading to the corner store to talk with people, share a story, hear a story, and just be present with my brothers who live in my community. I never thought it was a big deal; I was merely trying to pass the time and have a few conversations with others.

My daily trip to the store took on a new meaning today when a man, whom I had never talked with nor seen before today, greeted me and asked if we could talk for a bit. He started by saying that I was different from most of the white folk he had met. When I asked him to explain what he meant he said it was easy. The very fact that I was there at the corner store, talking with him and others as if I was one of them, a friend, a colleague, a fellow brother, just enjoying other’s company was very different from what he had seen before. After all, I was and continue to be the only white person who stops in at the store and spends time just hanging out with those who are there. He continued by saying that it was great for people who shared the same god and believed in Jesus were able to come and share a moment together and talk about life. We are all going to the same place the day we die so why not share the time on earth together as well? He continued by thanking me for spending time with him and his friends from the area, coming to serve for a year, and for breaking down barriers of race that many were fearful of doing themselves; and that he was proud to welcome me to South Africa as a fellow brother in Christ.

I have to admit I was a little taken back that my very being present with those around me was so impactful to those around me. Despite having no physical proof that I have accomplish anything I suddenly felt like I had accomplished a great deal. I finally understand what accompaniment means. It is not about getting things done, fixing walls, teaching English, coaching soccer, or anything in the physical sense. It is about walking together with others. It is about entering into an unknown path where we don’t know where the road will lead, but we will walk it together. I did not come here to start anything big and grand. God is already here and by his grace he has asked me to join in what He is already doing. I am simply a participant in God’s mission.

As an American it is hard to avoid being caught up in only focusing on getting things done, getting involved, and accomplishing tasks. We are trained to get involved. Hanging out and simply being with people without a clear task or objective to accomplish is against our viewpoints of productivity. The real reason I am hear is to live in solidarity with those around me. Today I created a new relationship with a fellow brother in Christ and for me that is more important than anything I have accomplished in the physical sense these first few weeks.

So now when I am asked what have I been doing, I will respond that I have been present with those around me. My very being present in this community has provided me with the knowledge that life is not about getting things done, it is about slowing down and hearing what others have to say. As an American I have not come here with the answers to poverty, race issues, church issues, or anything else that I am looked to as a resource in solving. I have come here to listen, learn and become open to encounters with god daily in the known and unknown. Everyone can tell us something about God. Everybody and everything has a story. I have something to learn; those around me have something to teach.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Greeings from Kwazamokuhle

Well then. I’ve been gone for just about 6 weeks, been in South Africa now for about 3.5 weeks, and living at my placement site in Loskop at the Kwazamokuhle center, for about 2.5 weeks…I figure its time to get going on this blog. Hard to know where to start and what to say, so I will give a few more newsy based highlights to get things rolling.

It took a while to get to where I am (currently I’m sitting on the front porch of my flat looking out at the sun setting behind the distant Drakensburg Mountains.) Spose it started with a weeklong orientation in Chicago with all of the people in the Young Adult Global Mission program. There are about 50 or so of us scattered throughout the world in Palestine, Uruguay, Paraguay, Mexico, the UK, and of course South Africa.

But I guess the real adventure started on a few Wednesdays back on August 25th when 11 of us boarded a plane in Chicago to set off to SA. We knew it would be a bit of a journey to get there, but man it took a while. We first flew from Chicago to Frankfurt Germany where we had a 9-hour layover. With so much time we got out of the airport, snagged a train into town and spent some time walking around and stretching our legs. To be honest many folks in the group, myself included, were on a mission to find food in the confines of an authentic German pub. We never did find that aforementioned German pub; we ended up at a quaint little Irish pub, but the food was very good as was the German beer. Following the stop over in Franky we soon found ourselves back on a plane headed to Johannesburg. From Joburg we had another flight to Durban where our fabulous program coordinators, Brian and Kristen, who run the YAGM show here in SA, met us up. From Durban we traveled to Pietermaritzburg where we had our in country orientation. All travel considered, we did not arrive at our final destination until mid day on Friday the 27th. We all got real familiar with airports, long layovers, multiple flights, little legroom and sleeping upright to say the least.

We spent about at week in Maritzburg orientation ourselves, or as Brian would say disorientation ourselves to what the next year was going to entail. We stayed in hostel within walking distance from the Lutheran Theological Institute, which served as our base for discussions and various sessions. We met with a Bishop and Dean of ELCSA as well as people representing the ELCA. I will get into what those discussions entailed and stirred up inside me but lets say for now that they were very thought provoking and challenged many viewpoints, in addition to presenting many ideas I had never thought about.

We also had our fair share of non-intellectual fun during our time in Maritzburg. We able to get out and see a few things around Maritzburg and Durban including catching a professional soccer game where AmaZulu FC took on Maritzburg United at the Durban World Cup stadium. It was really spectacular to see the actual facility that I saw when I was glued to the tele during the Cup this past summer. The stadium is really something else and we all bought ourselves some Vuvuzelas and got into the spirit of things. It took a while to get the hang of them…actually takes a little skill to make them sing properly, but by the end of the game most of us had it down well enough to make ourselves a little tone deaf.

One of the other highlights from the week also included the chance to get out and visit a traditional rural Zulu homestead, which was particularly cool for me since my placement site is primarily Zulu based. We got the chance to learn quite a bit about their culture and history in addition to sampling some very delicious food, making total fools out of ourselves trying to learn their dancing, stepping up to the challenge of the casual stick fight, and learning how to properly clean the floor of one’s home with cow dung. Great success all around.

We also took the chance to get out and take a few hikes around on some reserves located just a short ways out of dt Maritzburg. Its really pretty amazing to witness driving 10 minutes out of town to find yourself walking within a few yards of Giraffe and Zebra. We got a few good group photos with some giraffe in the background to say the least.

One of the last highlights was our first experience of a true ELCSA church service on Sunday. Within South Africa there are two Lutheran churches. There is ELCSA, which is primarily the “black” church, and there is ELCSANT, which is the “white” church for lack of better labels. The Young Adult in Global Mission program within the ELCA is partnering with the ELCSA church so on our final Sunday together as a group we drove a ways from Maritzburg to a neighboring township where we got our first taste of what church is really about…and what is should be about for that matter. Having never really been a fan of church, I think it was the first time since Christmas that I deliberately made the effort to go, I had a few doubts that this would be as amazing an experience as everyone else was prepping it up to be. In short it was a fabulous 3hr service that was filled with beautiful music, glorious singing, worship, and a pretty stellar message by our fearless leader and pastor Brian. It was very lively, and energizing throughout and this was without the usage of musical instruments, PowerPoints, bulletins, or other distracting things found in our services back home. It was just pure, simple, and really quite spiritually enlightening to see a packed church just loving the moment.

All in all, the weeklong orientation was really a fabulous start to this year in SA and I can’t wait to see what else will come about when we all get the chance to meet up again. There were many good conversations, quite a few laughs when we had to figure out what to do at night without the crutch of technology, a few off pitch notes sung out during a random karaoke effort (for all the Gusties…there was no O.C.M.S Wagon Wheel effort…though the request was made), and overall just a great few days spent together getting to know each other.

On September 6th it was time to depart from my YAGM family and head out on my own to my placement site in Loskop, SA. It was time to see what I where I would be living, meet the people I would be surrounded, and face the challenges that this year of service would present me with.
Ms. Constance and her husband picked me up and we all crammed into a small bakkie (pick-up) and set off toward Loskop. What should have been about an hour or so ride ended up taking most of the day, as we made several stops along the way. But I was in no hurry…not like I had anywhere else to be and it was nice to see the countryside along the way. We got to my flat, which is a separate “house” towards the back of the Kwazamokuhle center around 5pm. The flat is really pretty nice and is equipped with everything I really need. It has a separate kitchen, full sized bed, living room, and it has a real nice front porch that faces the mountains. No complaints.

The first couple weeks I have been getting used to where I am at and getting a sense of what all goes on at the center. The days here start around 7:00am and end by 4:00pm with the sun setting around 6:00 so it is an early start and a quick finish. I have been spending time in and around the center trying to get a sense of where I can help out and spend my time. There are 3 schools, a primary, secondary, and a school for the physically disabled just up the street so I have been visiting around and trying to get plugged in there. There is also an orphanage just a short ways down the road towards Gourton that is owned by an American couple that I will be checking out as well. In addition, there are some projects around the center that I have been getting going on including during a little mudding and painting, fixing some chairs, and helping with the grocery runs into Estcourt. The center’s main economic source is making communion wafers, which are sent throughout Africa, Europe, and even the US, so I have been observing the process as well.

If nothing is going on for the day, I just grab a kombis (taxi/mini bus that is crammed with anywhere from 16-20 people with loud reggae or African house music bumping) into town to walk around and explore. I have also done a bit of hiking around as I am in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains. There have been many days where I simply just don’t have anything to do yet so I just hang around the center and talk with people as well. The first couple days were really quite lonely as people did not quiet know what to make of me yet and I did not know anyone other than Ms. Constance. I have made quite a few friends, particularly with a few high school aged chaps that live at the center, and people kinda have a sense of who I am and what I’m doing now that a few weeks have passed so they are much more engaging and comfortable talking to me.

Looking back on the first few weeks it’s amazing to see what I have already experienced. I have navigated the local taxi system to varying degrees of successfulness, made friends with local school kids at the center, gone through sleepless nights, experienced loneliness and boredom, developed a serious love for Rooibos tea and the daily 11am tea breaks, navigated the local markets, consumed my weight in bread in an effort to fill my bottomless pit, learned a few basic phrases in Zulu and when I use them around the women in the center it always brings a smile to their faces, repaired the mosquito net so that bugs are trapped outside rather than inside to buzz in my ears at night, learned to successfully do my laundry by hand, and I’ve managed to entertain myself after the day ends at 4pm and with the sun setting by 6 leaving me to my thoughts in my humble abode.

Have to say it has been a very busy and at the same time very slow first couple weeks. This upcoming week things should pick up around the center though as I am planning on finally getting started at the orphanage just down the road. I’m also planning on meeting with the principle at the school for the physically disabled early this week to have a discussion on what my role can be and what I can potentially help out with for the next 11 months or so. I am also heading off to Durban for an ELCSA Young Adults League meeting from the 23rd-26th so that will allow me to get out and see a little bit more of this beautiful country and meet up with my YAGM family. Well the sun has set so its time to retreat inside to find a little dinner. Until then… Lalani kahle, sizobonana! and salani kahle!


My postal address:

Josh Busacker
Kwazamokuhle Diaconic Center
P.O. Box 108
Estcourt 3310
South Africa

And a few helpful Zulu phrases: (it’s a work in progress)

Ngiyakwemukela – Welcome!
Sawubona! – Hello (good evening, good morning)
Unjani? – How are you?
Ngikhona, ngiyabonga. Wena unjani? – I’m fine, thanks. And you?
Heyi! Mngani! – Hey Friend!
Zithini ezintsha? – Whats new?
Lutho Oluningi – Nothing much
Lalani kahle – Good night
Sizobonana – See you later
Salani Kahle – Goodbye