Stories from the Global Church

Here you will find stories from the global church by ELCA global missionaries, scholars, and churchwide staff, brought to you by the ELCA Global Church Sponsorship team.

A beautiful vision

Posted on July 9, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Taisha McWilliams is an ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission volunteer in South Africa. The program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance.  To support a coordinator, go to  www.ELCA.org/4missionaries. Inspired by an experience at one of her service sites, Taisha  writes:

Taisha McWilliams

Taisha McWilliams

I saw the Father today. He was small, but strong. He was poor in the worldly sense. He was a father. His wife was dead, and he lived with his sons. As we pulled into his kraal, he was bathing his son in a plastic tub next to the house. His son was about my age. He was intellectually and physically disabled, so he was not able to wash himself. The father took his time washing his entire body with a cloth, then scrubbing with a stone, and then rinsing off. He washed with diligence until the son was truly clean. When finished with bathing, the father went inside and brought out lotion and soothed his son’s entire body.

I saw Jesus today. He washed his child, just as he washed the feet of his disciples.

I felt the Spirit today. It descended on a child of God and cared for his needs. It descended on his child watching the humble scene before her eyes.

I saw God today. The God I know washes us. He cleans every part of us and makes us whole. He gives us fresh life. He smooths us out when we have rough spots. He knows everything about us and cares deeply about us. I love that we have a Father who loves us so deeply, a Savior that taught us so much about how to serve, and a Spirit that lives within and guides us all of our days.

Laundry time

Posted on June 4, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Laura Castle is nearing the end of her year in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, as an ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission volunteer. The program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a coordinator, go to www.ELCA.org/missionarysponsorship.

Another task Laura enjoys is cooking.

Another task Laura enjoys is cooking.

Hand washing laundry allows me time to think.

When I am back in the United States, I’ll never be able to do laundry with a washing machine and dryer without thinking about all the time I spent hand washing my clothes here. Many Saturday mornings you can find me in the backyard of my house, with a heaping wash bin of clothes stacked in front of me. I use the rain water that’s collected in a huge tank underneath the roof gutters and begin scrubbing with the same pale green bar of soap that my family also uses to wash dishes and bathe with — smelling of a sweet mint aroma, with a hint of pine, a smell I will never forget. The process of scrubbing, rinsing, hanging, taking off the line and ironing has become a process that (call me crazy but –) I actually enjoy.

There is so much to think about here. Finding time to process and reflect on all that’s going on in my life and in the lives of the people around me is not easy. When I sit down and stare at a fresh empty page in my journal, often I don’t even know where to begin writing. Or when I am lying in bed at night trying to fall asleep, my mind wanders in so many different directions. However, during these Saturday mornings, somehow I am able to just sit and think, and it’s a wonderful feeling. I don’t have to concentrate too much on scrubbing my clothes, as it has become quite a familiar task. As I hold each piece of clothing, I’m reminded of the places I’ve been, people I’ve conversed with, and situations where I’ve witnessed God’s presence — all since the last Saturday I did laundry. When I’m back home in Minnesota, I know I will need time to just sit and think, and for that reason, there is a very good chance I will continue to hand wash my clothes (as long as the weather allows!) They become a lot cleaner this way anyway!

It’s a beautiful world

Posted on April 30, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Katie Justice is spending a year in South Africa volunteering as part of the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program. The program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance.  To support a coordinator, go to www.ELCA.org/missionarysponsorship.

Katie Justice

Katie Justice

So you know there are some days that I just get caught up in all the craziness of the world. Watching the news can be depressing a lot of times and sometimes it just makes me angry. I start to wonder as I am watching the news here with my host family if this world can get any better. I have come to realize that it takes small things for me to see this.

This past weekend, I went to Taung, Northwest, with my host family to visit one of my host mom’s family friends. When we pulled up late on Friday night, we were immediately welcomed by the family. I was greeted with a big hug and I even got to see an adorable baby. We were there for the baby’s dedication at church the next morning (Saturday). It is always amazing to me that even though I am going to someone’s house as a stranger, they still welcome me with open arms. I know that the hospitality that I have learned here will be something that I will take back with me when I go home. Anyway, on Saturday we had a big celebration at church for the baby and even had a big meal afterward. I was able to meet more people and I had a gogo (Zulu  for “grandmother”) tell me that I was her long-lost family member. As I sat down with gogo, she said something that I will never forget. She said that she and I are one. Black and White we are one. Talk about having tears come to your eyes.

I realized that even with all this craziness that I have seen, I also have seen and experienced many beautiful things in this world. I was telling someone today that I am living a beautiful life, and it is true. Being with my extended family in the Taung and with my family throughout South Africa made me realize that regardless of all the craziness, I do still believe that I live in a beautiful world.

Gratitude

Posted on March 5, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Kaleb Sutherland is spending a year in South Africa as a volunteer in the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program. In a recent entry in the YAGM in Southern Africa blog, Kaleb writes that, far from being a sacrifice, his is very grateful for the privilege of this year of service. There are over 50 young adults around the world serving in the program, which relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a coordinator, go to www.ELCA.org/missionarysponsorship.

Kaleb Sutherland in South Africa.

Kaleb Sutherland in South Africa.

A recent conversation at Umphumulo Hospital:

Doctor: What are you doing here?
Me: I’m a volunteer with the Lutheran church. I stay at the church center up the hill. I’ll be here for about a year total.
Doctor: Oh. And where are you from?
Me: The United States.
Doctor: What a sacrifice!

I left the hospital that day with a pit in my stomach. And I’m not talking about the stomach bug that was the reason for my visit. Sacrifice?! A good intention on the doctor’s part, but that word caught me off guard big time.

Yes, there are naturally sacrifices associated with spending a year living in another country. Like being away from my family and friends in the United States for a really long time.

Or living without Snickers bars for 11 months. Rough life. Ha.

But seriously. As my gut reaction to the doctor’s comment reminded me, I would never choose the word “sacrifice” to define my life in South Africa. So if anyone out there was considering feeling sorry for me or commending me for making such a big sacrifice … I appreciate the kindness, but please channel your emotions into a sentiment that better fits the situation.

Like gratitude. Because at the end of the day — no matter how confusing or frustrating or exhausting it may be — the opportunity to live as a member of this community is an overwhelming privilege. To have the support of so many wonderful people in the United States is an overwhelming privilege. To be molded by an increasingly expansive vision of church and family and faith is an overwhelming privilege. To be invited into spaces of deep heartbreak and deep joy within the lives of my neighbors here is an overwhelming privilege. To become a neighbor, a brother and a son in Umphumulo is an overwhelming privilege. To wake up each day to a God and a community who relentlessly love me even when I feel unlovable is an overwhelming privilege. And to realize that I did absolutely nothing to earn any of these privileges … that’s grace, my friends.

And so no matter how overwhelmed or confused or frustrated I may be at times, I pray that the emotion that rises to the top of the jumble is one of overwhelming gratitude. For this place. For this time. For this family. For this global church. And for the grace that binds our gratitude together.

Being there for the children

Posted on January 29, 2013 by Hand In Hand

Mary Borgman works with the Diakonia AIDS Ministry in South Africa, which includes an after-school program for children. Many of the children have been affected by AIDS in their families. In a recent entry in her blog she looks back on some important moments in her ministry in 2012. Here is an excerpt about two of the children in the program. To support Mary, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries, go to www.ELCA.org/missionarysponsorship.

Two boys in the after-school program wait near the kitchen for lunch.

Two boys in the after-school program wait near the kitchen for lunch.

We began the after-school program in August 2011 so the relationship with the children had been deepening for a while. This month (March 2012) several children opened up about their home circumstances. For example, a young boy came into my office to talk with me. He had not eaten the lunch we served at the program because he was saving it for dinner. There was no food at home. His parents had passed away and he lives with his granny, older brother and four younger cousins. At the after-school program children bring their own food container so when there is extra food we can pack dinner for the most needy. He was added to the dinner list.

An older boy came to us about shoes. All the children in South Africa wear school uniforms, which generally require black shoes. The only shoes he owned were school shoes. The sole of his shoe had split at the ball of the foot down the whole shoe, but that’s all he had to wear. We were able to find a special donation of black dress shoes which met the uniform requirements. I have never seen a pair of shoes so appreciated. The boy is the head of a child-headed family, and he cares for his younger brother.

Another special donation of sandals was received in his size. I was going to take the sandals home to wash but when the boy came to the program he was wearing a pair of bed slippers with no sole with a hole in the bottom. I asked why he was wearing slippers when we had just given him shoes. He explained he was not wearing his school shoes because he only wears them at school to make them last. When looking at the situation, it suddenly seemed not quite so important to wash the sandals, and we gave him a little soap to go with them instead. He thought the sandals were so nice. At that time I knew he needed other shoes as we head into winter, but at least we had been able to respond to his needs in some way.

These are just some examples of the challenges children who attend the program face. I was encouraged we had created an environment in which the children felt safe to talk about their concerns. I am saddened by the need in the community but hopeful at the ways God is working in the community.

Advent waiting

Posted on December 18, 2012 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Tessa and Jon Leiseth are the Young Adults in Global Mission program coordinators in South Africa. In this entry in their blog, Tessa writes about experiencing Advent in a different culture. To support Tessa and Jon, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Jon and Tessa Leiseth and their children, Isaac and Sophia.

Jon and Tessa Leiseth and their children, Isaac and Sophia.

I’m horribly fond of Advent. But this year, it hasn’t been the same. Instead of snow and darkness, I have been in light and heat. In the midst of simple living as well as having recently relocated with only suitcases, there weren’t the usual bins of Christmas decorations to pull out or the typical rituals of Advent worship, Christmas programs, baking cookies, etc. And while I was missing the cultural rituals we had established for December in the United States, I was also missing the crisp cold and hushed silence of early December darkness I knew so well.

But are these things Advent? Of course not. They are my cultural experiences of Advent. But Advent itself is not about cold or dark. It is not about making Christmas cookies or decorating the tree. Yes, those things can help one prepare and anticipate. But they are not Advent.

In the midst of those ponderings, I realized that I am actually experiencing Advent. Advent, in my definition this year, is a season of waiting, yearning, and hoping for the in-breaking of God’s fullness. It is a season where we are clearly close to the “now” of redemption and we are clearly “not yet” arrived at God’s fullness of redemption.

I have been immersed in South African life for the last six months. I have been accompanying young adults who are living and serving in places that know marginalization — economic and racial marginalization. We have together exclaimed an Advent cry:  “Come, Lord Jesus. This is not the kingdom you spoke of. This is not your dream of fullness of life for everyone. Come, Lord Jesus. Set us all free.”

In my own life, I, too, am in Advent. Our family is now in the United States — to celebrate the holiday with family but especially to access some health care so that Jon can figure out some medical issues he’s been experiencing. We have been plunged back into the crisp cold and hushed silence of December in the far reaches of the Northern Hemisphere. We wait. We wait for knowledge, for understanding, for health. We wait for the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. And while we wait, our hearts are in several places — here with our bodies in North America. And with our sisters and brothers in Christ in South Africa. We all wait. And we all cry, “Come Lord Jesus, come!”

 

Seeing God through the eyes of others

Posted on November 6, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Brian KonkolBeing an ELCA missionary meant “seeing God in an entirely different way than what I was accustomed to,” says Brian Konkol, adding that it also “kept me open and vulnerable.” Brian and his wife, Kristen, served in Guyana and South Africa, an experience that “blessed them in countless ways.” To watch a video of Brian’s reflections, click here. Thank you for supporting Brian and Kristen. To support another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries, go here.

 

The language of love

Posted on October 9, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Katie Justice is beginning her year in South Africa as an ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission volunteer. The program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a coordinator, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

I want to give you a glimpse of my life here in Bloemfontein. Before I begin, I do want to say that I have the permission to tell you this story from my wonderful host mom, Mama Shoni.

Yesterday, as I sat outside on the porch at Mama Shoni’s house thinking and looking at the view of the township of Manguang where I am living, a little girl approached me and sat  right next to me on the porch.

This little girl’s name is Neo. She is a beautiful child. She is Mama Shoni’s granddaughter. She is about 7 years old and she loves to talk. The thing is … she only speaks Sesotho. She does know some English, but just the basics like hello, goodbye and few phrases. She is also autistic. I honestly wouldn’t have known this until Mama told me.

As I have gotten to know Neo, autism does not define her. She is a normal young girl who loves to play and laugh like all the other kids. I also want to mention that she has a beautiful singing voice. She and I have become really good friends. It did not take her long to get used to me nor me to her. At the beginning of our friendship, she would always call me doctor. This is because all of her doctors are white, so it is easy to understand why she would think that I am a doctor. It did take a while but now she has started calling me by my name. When she says it, you can tell that there is something special behind it.

You see although I am not able to always understand exactly what Neo is saying, I can understand it in a different language. That language is the language of love. This language can be understood anywhere regardless of where you are. It always warms my heart when I see the great big smile on her face and she says “Hello Katie” and I reply right back in that same language with “Hello Neo.” She has already won my heart and I know that she will be someone that I will never forget. She has been helping me understand why God has placed me here in the first place. Meeting her has really made my heart learn how to receive love as I give it. All I can tell you is that when I see this little girl, I see the face of Jesus.

The story doesn’t end here

Posted on June 30, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Jordan Muller is an ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) volunteer, who will soon complete his time in South Africa. The YAGM program relies on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a YAGM coordinator, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Jordan Muller

Jordan Muller

Although it’s hard to believe, I have arrived at my last 10 days at the Kwaz and my final two weeks in South Africa. On July 10 I will head to Pietermaritzburg for a few days … and (then) return to the States. I find myself filled with a myriad of emotions as the end draws near: sad, happy, proud, anxious, nervous, excited — to name a few. It feels like I’m coming to the end of a book. However, if this is the end of a book then it would have to be a part of a series because, just as my story didn’t start when I boarded the plane to Chicago over 10 months ago, my story does not end when I go to Pietermaritzburg or when I get off the plane in Lincoln, Neb.

The difficulty now will be to figure out what the point of this book was and how it fits into the series. What has it meant for me, my community in South Africa, my community in Nebraska, my role as a YAGM, as a church member?  I don’t know if I will ever be able to come up with an answer that anyone else will fully understand but I will try to head in that direction.

I didn’t come to South Africa to say that I’ve been to South Africa or to say that I’ve lived in another country for a year. I came to experience.  I came to accompany the people, to experience a new culture and customs, to learn about the struggles that others face, to grow in as many ways as I could and to be challenged by all of it. And to be honest, my time here was more challenging than I ever thought it would be but, at the same time, I know that the struggles I faced helped me to grow and to learn lessons I never could have been taught in a classroom or read from a book.

The reality is that this experience was never about just me. I do not live in a world that is isolated from everyone else. If you haven’t read any of my previous posts, Ubuntu is a Zulu/Xhosa word that basically says that a person is a person through other people. We are all connected to each other as humans and, because of this, we are called into a greater community. There are so many people that have made this experience possible and made it what is has been. For that, I am forever grateful. I was blessed with an amazing opportunity and I hope that I was able to be a blessing to those that I accompanied throughout my time here.

As this book comes to an end, I am eager to see what the plot of the next book will be.  Above all, though, I pray that I am able to continue to experience new things, to learn, to grow, to hope, to be grateful, to need less, to give more, to love much, to laugh often and to have a good time doing it!

 

‘A person is a person through people’

Posted on May 12, 2012 by Hand In Hand

Jordan Muller is part of the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) program. He is spending a year in Estcourt, South Africa. The YAGM program is reliant on coordinators who facilitate the young adults’ ministry and provide mentoring and spiritual guidance. To support a YAGM coordinator, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

 

At a taxi rank, or terminal, there can be hundreds of minibus taxis waiting for passengers.

At a taxi rank, or terminal, there can be hundreds of minibus taxis waiting for passengers.

There are two things that I really struggle with when riding the mimibus taxis here. The first is that the taxi doesn’t depart until it is full so you never know when you will leave. The other problem I have is that they are always so hot! For some reason no one likes having windows open no matter how hot it gets so I often arrive at my destination feeling sweaty and gross.

Last week, when I was going from Estcourt to Pietermaritzburg, my tolerance for the taxis was maxing out. After 90 minutes of waiting, the taxi was full but for some reason the manager decided we should go in a different taxi so all 15 of us had to get out and move to another taxi. I had been in the back by a window which was great because then I could control how hot it was by me. However, upon moving to the other taxi I ended up being the last one to have to squeeze into the back row. I got to Pietermaritzburg and told Elise, another volunteer, that I don’t know how many more of those I’m going to be able to handle!  Then, right on cue, my return trip to Estcourt was very different.

Because there are so many taxis in one rank (or terminal), it can become confusing and difficult to find the one that is going where you need. On my way back to Estcourt we had just gotten on the interstate when an older woman a few rows ahead of me started asking about where the taxi was going. I couldn’t understand most of the conversation as it was in Zulu but I did hear her saying, “Tugela” several times, which is another hour past Estcourt. She was realizing, too late, that she had gotten on the wrong taxi.

She soon began to cry as she did not have enough money to then make the trip from Estcourt to Tugela. Without pause, a girl sitting next to her began asking everyone to put some money together for her. Through everyone’s donations the woman was given  more than enough to make the next leg of her journey.

I watched the whole thing in awe and humility. God knew that this was just the thing I needed to renew my spirit as frustration and annoyance had begun to take over.  “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” is a Zulu expression meaning, “A person is a person through people.” In other words, we do not get where we are solely by ourselves. There are so many people around us that make us who we are and help us along the way. The spirit of Ubuntu filled that taxi as a group of strangers were willing to help another stranger for no benefit of their own. Such a small but awesome experience to be a part of and one I will not soon forget!