Change is Inevitable….

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“Life is about trusting your feelings and taking chances, losing and finding happiness, appreciating the memories, learning from the past, and realizing people change.”                                                                                                                                            – Atul Purohit

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I have not done well with this blog this time round. Sorry. It’s been all the changes! And here we are again, at the point of another one!!

We have been back in South Africa for over a year now with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) working as Reps for South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho. It has been a joy to be back, to do good work and to return to a place and people we love! However, because of many, random life events and reasons we are returning back to Indianapolis, Indiana in December. We are trusting our feelings, taking a chance, seeking to find happiness, thankful for amazing memories, learning from the past and going with the change! We covet your prayers as we seek this new transition and the journey of unknown that lies ahead.

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Ukuhamba kuzala Induna

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Ukuhamba kuzala Induna. Traveling begets a chief.

I learned this phrase last week at the African Peace Institute (API) from a fellow Zimbabwean student. API is in its 16th year and is a 4 week course about peace building, conflict resolution, mediation and so much more! It attracts people of all faiths from across Africa. I met fellow peacemakers from Angola, Burundi, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan and Uganda. It is an amazing experience of not only content but fellowship as well.

20160510_150749It has been travels and experiences like these that have broadened my horizons, my life learnings and have formed my faith. My Zimbabwean brother told our group this Ndebele saying as we were reflecting on our cultural values and beliefs on peace, theology, mediation and just being in community and accepting one another. He expounded a bit and said that it is not just traveling but experiencing “the other” that expands our minds, opening our hearts to meeting new people and cultures. With these experiences we then return to our villages and we share the things we learned with others. And it not necessarily about becoming a chief in our village, but about becoming implementers of change, teachers, guides in our villages. It becomes our role to share the new experiences and teaching with our village. Travel changes you. Travel changes people. Travel changes villages.

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API seeks to empower its travelers with a theology of peace in hopes to change many villages and many communities in Africa. I have been challenged by this time together. I’ve been privileged to have traveled and experienced many places and contexts. But how am I sharing these insights and experiences? Who is my current village? What is my responsibility with all that have experienced and learned by this stage in life? How have these learnings changed me? My family? Where are we traveling to make change? How can we travel in a way that we learn and share and change our village?

Ukuhamba kuzala Induna. Traveling begets a chief.

May our travels promote change. May they promote love, life and peace. 20160515_080314

Looking for Love…

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Looking for love….

Over the past several months I have been overtly, actively looking for love. It’s been a rough few months and I’ve needed to seek out the love. And as they say…Love is all around! I’ve found it in unexpected places…..

Along a fence in Swaziland, it was growing at this crèche20151015_094038

In the face and song of this young boy at a daycare center20151125_105131

At the MCC retreat centre in this garden reminder of peace20151022_164425

Inside the old cells of the prison where we live in Pietermaritzburg in the form of art20151126_082041

Sweet kitties who have befriended us20151209_154305

Rainbows that give us hope for a new day20151212_184847

Advent Hope with summer flowers20151210_203007

It’s there, it’s all around us, but we just have to see it. Where do you find it? Where do you seek it? Do you recognize it in the ordinary, in the mundane? In the everyday routines of life, we can tend to get so caught up that we lose sight of love. In the horrors on the news, in the tornadoes and storms, in the poverty and sickness and in the trials, we tend to readily pick up on all the bad, the negative, the hard stuff. That’s the easy part. The hard work is finding the love….why is that?

The last couple of months we have had 3 of our parents in the hospital. And it’s hard to be away from home….one worries without knowing all the details, there’s nothing we can actually do and the unknown is blinding. Work has been difficult. It’s new, there’s a huge learning curve, some days a bit overwhelming and it has been all consuming at this time of year. Jon had a major medical scare. He has a huge blood clot in his leg and small pieces broke off and moved into his lungs.  He was in the hospital for 4 days and is on a long road to full recovery. So it has been a hectic few months back in South Africa!

However, we’ve been looking for the love! We have had such wonderful support from so many all around us in the new community we are building. A great working team within MCC, random visits from friends old and new, wonderful children who have pitched in to do chores and nursing duties, blessings of technology with Skype and Whatsapp, and good medical care. We could choose to focus on all the bad, but the truth is there is just too much goodness to ignore. The beauty of rainbows, of friends, of reminders of God’s presence with us, Emmanuel, is just too good to ignore!

And Advent was an appropriate time of waiting with and on God for us this year. We were so grateful for Jon to be alive and with us, yet we wait for his full healing. We were waiting and waiting for this holiday to get here so we could have a reprieve – a time to stop and heal, to refresh, to be together as family and to be with our great, great friends (the Couper-Valiquettes’ in Durban). We were waiting on news of our parents…for healing and hope to be in the midst of their health concerns. And it arrived! Jon is healing, our parents are home and the holidays are upon us. We have had a beautiful few days of rest, of celebration and fun. It’s often times the darkness that reveals the light and the love, is it not?

It is my prayer that in 2016 love will reveal herself to us and that peace will prevail in these days of brokenness. May love, peace, hope and joy find you and yours! Keep looking for the love….

 

Even the Cows are Thirsty….

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I’ve carried a water bottle with me for the last 4 months. I don’t leave home without it. Either Jon, the kids or I have needed it and usually finished it before our return trip “home.” This particular water bottle came into our family in New York. The lovely Toni Reynolds gifted it to us and it bears the name of her alma mater, “UNION,” where we stayed while on our visit there. It has been to New York City, all around Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, on a plane across the ocean to South Africa and most recently to Swaziland.  It has been a constant reminder of this gift of life that one can pour into a container and drink to be renewed. It has also been a reminder that this gift has not been given so generously to all……

We have been privileged to return to this wonderful land of South Africa for about one month now. We have returned to a land that is so familiar to us…the stunning scenery of both sea and mountain, her people of all skin colours and a mesh of languages that shares life so vividly, smells that arise memories from deep within, the birth place of our children, emotions that swing from happiness of returning “home” to tears of leaving “home,” a place that is dear to both heart and soul. Yet we have begun this new journey with a new organization and the learning curve is steep. We are honoured to be a part of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC for short). Check it out online if you want to know more (www.mcc.org) but the basics are: Mennonite Central Committee is a worldwide ministry of Anabaptist churches, sharing God’s love and compassion for all in the name of Christ by responding to basic human needs and working for peace and justice. MCC envisions communities worldwide in right relationship with God, one another and creation. And you know we are all about this!  So, here we are as Country Representatives for Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa for MCC. And it’s a BIG job…even for 2 people!! And it’s really, really good stuff. There are peace clubs happening in South Africa teaching children about non-violent ways of dealing with issues in schools, families and communities. There is HIV and AIDS community care in Swaziland. There are food security and conservation agriculture efforts in Lesotho. And so much more – I can’t share all the good stuff in one blog! We have been in orientation with the outgoing repsKids and it has been so great to glean information and history from them.20151009_101911

And this week I accompanied them to Swaziland to meet partners. Jon stayed behind with the kids as it was their first week of school. And they have done so well. They look so cool in their uniforms. They are learning Afrikaans and Zulu and even tried out for the swim team – all in the first week! I have missed out on quite a bit this first week but from the sound of it, they have new friends, settling in quite well, enjoyed taking P.E. barefoot.  Aly loved art, they both checked out chapter books from the library and have had their fair share of homework! We are away next week for work unfortunately, so they have to join us and miss out on another week of school. However, their teachers gladly shared work to take with them!

We have settled into our new home that happens to be inside the walls of the Old Pietermaritzburg Prison! The grounds were a prison during the apartheid era and have been beautifully refurbished into a hub of learning and hope. These walls are now home to the Gateway Project () and houses a primary school, a museum about the prison, training facilities, and office space (so our house and office are both here!). The walls are tall and thick so it is a very safe and quiet space to be. We have lovely garden space and even an old guard tower to climb up in for city views!

So that’s us in a nutshell…but back to those thirsty cows. I spent 4 days in Swaziland this week talking with partners and listening to the good work that is being done there amongst many struggles. And in almost every conversation there was reference to the current drought they are facing. There hasn’t been rain, rivers are dry, wells are running dry and the water is not flowing into rural homes. The land is parched, trees are dying and people are worried. Prayers for rain are being lifted. And today…as we were driving out to leave, the rains came.  The droplets came fast and they hit the ground hard.  There was lightening in the distance and huge claps of thunder rumbled through the mountain ranges. Earlier we passed at least 2 cows lying dead on the side of the road. We were told that months ago the government advised people to slaughter their cattle ahead of time because the drought was inevitable. But how can you slaughter not only what you hold precious but literally your food for months to come? I will never, ever become comfortable with the fact that I see all of these things I describe from the windows of a car, with gas in the tank and heading out of the country, snacks in my bag and my handy water bottle filled to the rim for the trip, knowing that I am heading home to a house that has running water, food in the frig and to a family and job I love. It is a position of sheer privilege. I will never, ever get used to the fact that we live in this world that is parched, where people don’t have water and food and cattle and sense of security. Today….even the cows were thirsty. As we drove….these cows were trotting to the rain puddles to get a drink of water. Biblical stories about water, about hope, about being refreshed flooded to mind. That sense of hope is what I have to hold on to. But for now, even the cows are thirsty…….20151016_141640

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And we are almost on our way……

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It was suppose to be September 1. Then it was to be September 19. And now it is stands as September 24.

We ended our positions at the Disciples Center at the end of June/beginning of July. We left our house, our friends and our church in Indianapolis on July 7. We spent a month in Pennsylvania training with the Mennonite Central Committee. We rented our house on August 1. The plan was falling into place very nicely…until the visa process! And thus the multiple departure dates!

Our suitcases are packed and weighed in at 50 pounds. We have work waiting for us in South Africa. Our kids have been out of school now for going on 3 months! We have said all but one of the difficult goodbyes. We are ready to go. So here’s hoping our departure date will be on Thursday!

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Pause the Show!!!

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These words were written on my soul with laughter just a few shorts weeks ago by my 6 year old nephew. He, his brother and our children were putting on a Thanksgiving play and he couldn’t remember his lines so he yelled out, “pause the show” while he took a good look at his lines. A moment later he just said, “Okay” and proceeded on. We all struggled to hold back the laughter for such a cute, sweet gesture!

But over the last few weeks, those words have really sunk into my heart, my soul…they really are quite wise words!

Pause. Not rewind nor fast forward. Not stop. Just pause. Take a breath. Regroup. Let the thoughts settle. Not necessarily reflecting on what was or what is to come. Just a comma in time. Pause.

I think that is what I have realized for Advent. In the mist of year ends, of moves, of the holidays approaching, family events, church activities, etc…hit pause. Just for a moment. Don’t hit the rewind or fast forward button. Live in the moment. Take a breath. Pause………

Now press play. Say “Okay” and carry on!! 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”– Luke 2: 8-12 from The Message

Happy Hallows!

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And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.
-1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, From The Message Translation

Samhain (pronounced /ˈsɑːwɪn/ SAH-win or /ˈsaʊ.ɪn/ SOW-in) is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year. It is celebrated from sunset October 31 – sunset November 1. It was observed in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Samhain is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature. Many important events in Irish mythology happen or begin on Samhain. It was the time when cattle were brought from the summer pastures and when livestock were slaughtered for the winter. In much of the Gaelic world, bonfires were lit and there were rituals performed. Samhain was seen as a time when the “door” to the Otherworld opened enough for the souls of the dead, and other beings, to come into our world. Feasts were held at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them. It has thus been likened to a festival of the dead. It has also been linked with All Saints’ Day (and later All Souls’ Day) since the 9th century, when the date of that holiday was shifted to November 1. Both have strongly influenced the secular customs of Halloween. Samhain is still celebrated as a cultural festival by some, although it has mostly been replaced by Halloween. Halloween or Hallowe’en (a contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening”), is known as All Hallows’ Eve, and is celebrated on October 31. -Information from Wikipedia

After living in Africa for 10 years, I learned a lot about the dead. I sat by many who were dying in the HIV/AIDS hospice with which I worked. I buried many, not in a mass grave, but in rows of graves that were “pre-dug.” I ate nearly raw chicken livers before a funeral so that the blood would be present and flow before a family burial. I’m pretty sure I participated in prayers for the ancestors to be present at funerals, in church services and in homes. I celebrated with families who had “tomb stone” unveilings (a ceremony about year or more after the person has been buried and finally the money came to purchase a “proper” tombstone). Africans have really good relationships with those who have “passed on.” And I thought since it was “Halloween” it is a good time to lift up these practices.

I wish that we, here in America, did a better job of rejoicing and remembering those who have gone on. The scripture says that death does not have the last word! So why don’t we join with our Gaelic family and light bonfires, bring the cows home and open the doors to celebrate? I’m not saying that we have to go all out with the zombie movement, but rather than see the negative, the finality, the “other,” can we not rather focus on the hope, the rejoicing, and the remembering? After all, Jesus broke loose from the grave, remember?!

Remembering this week all that have gone before us yet living in the hope. And for those who enjoy the celebrating…..enjoy the bobbing for apples, the costumes and the trick or treating… Happy Halloween/All Hallows’ Eve/All Saints’ Day!!