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.
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.