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.