Friday, February 11, 2011

Justifying an Adventurous Month

Sorry I havent been too good at updating my blog lately...between the combination of no internet and my computer going down with a broken charger it hasnt been the best couple months technology wise. this reflection was written based on my experiences during the holiday month(s) so it mostly looks at my time in December. the January post will be up just now. cheers


This past month I was blessed with the opportunity to head to the Drakensburg Mountains and work at the Champagne Castle Adventure Centre for the holiday season and when I think back on this past month I think I could write about 5 different reflections on a variety of topics, yet I struggled to put to words any of the emotions, feelings, and overall reactions from the past month. I think the main reason for this is that it was an amazing and incredible whirlwind of a month. This past month included my first (and maybe not my last) African Christmas and New Years, a whole new “home,” meeting many great people, and working in a whole new environment that drastically varies from my normal “home” and work in South Africa. The month was full of early mornings, long nights, braais, after hour adventures, and too much wors.

Working at an adventure centre was a great fit for me as I have a deep love, to the point of addiction, with adventure sports, mountains, and getting that adrenaline kick. I might go so far as to say that if I go for an extended period of time without getting my adventure fix I find myself getting irritable easily, bored, and generally anxious to get out and “do” something, much like a habitual smoker who has been deprived of their cigarettes. The adventure centre offers activities including: white water kayaking, abseiling, jumping from a 6 meter platform and swinging between trees, zip lines, and white water tubing to name a few favorites. But at the end of the day, the question of how this fits into my year in SA and my role as an ambassador and representative of the ELCA and ELCSA remained in the back of my mind.

The very first thing that any of the clients I took out on an activity would ask after hearing me speak was to find out where I was from. That then led them to inquire what an American is doing in the middle of the Drakensburg Mountains in South Africa. Which, at least the first couple times I was asked, led me to really deeply think about “what I am really doing here.” The response I gave was that I am a long term volunteer from the ELCA in partnership with ELCSA and that I ended up in the mountains for a few weeks working at Dragon Peaks while my normal work was shut down for the holidays. Sometimes that was the end of the conversation and then I would proceed to walk off the side of a 25-meter cliff and that was that. But many times, often times, it led to a much deeper and lengthy conversation about projects I am involved in, where do the kids I work with come from, what kind of church is ELCSA, is ELCSA different than ELCSANT, and what are my viewpoints on faith, religion, and politics. I was also asked why SA and not another country that was more developing or why even leave the US; “you guys have poor people too right?” Now, one of the major parts of the methodology and goals of ELCA- M.U.D is “ministry” and another is “Upstream.” In addition, Throughout my time in SA there have been a few consistent “themes” that have been brought up and discussed around our role here and what are we really looking to accomplish. The theme that repeatedly comes up is rooted in the idea of accompaniment. The idea of accompaniment is that an individual walks hand in hand, in solidarity, on the same playing field with another individual. Now what better to experience accompaniment than to take someone who is deathly afraid of heights and have to “walk” them through stepping backwards off a 25-meter cliff so that they can abseil down, while at the same time discussing my role here within the church and my service with the poor and marginalized people of SA whom are often forgotten about by the very people asking me these questions at Dragon Peaks. By discussing my work, the reasons I decided to become a part of YAGM and how I ended up in SA I was able to change how people view post graduate young adults from the states and bring up important issues like division within the church and why I am a volunteer for ELCSA and not ELCSANT. The last point became particularly interesting when I got into a deep conversation with an ELCSANT pastor about my service here and how it ties with ELCSA while we were out abseiling. I do think it’s a bit interesting that most people, who are within the “Lutheran” church, generally know where I live at Kwazamokuthle based entirely on the fact that there is a VERY nice ELCSANT church just up the road. It always takes a bit of convincing and putting up with some upturned eyebrows when I explain that I am with the ELCSA church down the road before the nice ELCSANT church. Many people in the area have driven right by my ELCSA church on their way to their ELCSANT church and never even seen it.

Another part of my service in SA is to work on becoming “globally formed and globally informed.” Working at Champagne Castle Adventure Centre was like working at the United Nations. Every day I had the opportunity to work with people from all over SA, India, Europe, Asia, etc. This gave me the opportunity to tell people from really all over the world why I was here, who I was working with, about the M.U.D and YAGM program and how my time here fits into the larger global picture. On the flip side I was also able to hear opinions and thoughts about M.U.D and YAGM from entire different viewpoints and cultural backgrounds.

Lastly, when I look back on times I spent at Dragons working in the adventure centre for 4 weeks or so I think of the many blessings I experienced and witnessed. The biggest one for me was working in an environment that catered to a love for the mountains and at a place that was run by a very solid couple who rooted their business in faith. Each day before we went out on our various activities we would start the morning with a scripture reading, mediation on the reading and then prayers for safety and the day in general. Every one of the 8 people working at the adventure centre we rooted in faith so while we were having a late night at our little shack in the mountains we could have good conversations. We were all in the same place in terms of faith, a love for adventure and a love for the mountains.