As she visited the classrooms, students asked: When are you coming back?
She answered honestly, telling the children she’s not sure when she’ll return.
The good-byes closed a year of eye-opening experiences for Kate Hagen, who serves as a Young Adult in Global Mission in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Ministry Upstream and Downwind program.
This ministry is a partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa.
Kate arrived in South Africa with the North American idea of productivity as doing.
During her first few months of teaching in a small town elementary school, she found that “doing” became more and more difficult because of language barriers and a financially strapped school system.
These challenges created opportunities for Kate to just “be” with her students, making room for something greater: Relationships.
“In the relationship-focused culture at school, I feel a revitalized awareness to the beauty of being,” Kate explains.
This new awareness also allowed Kate just to “be” within her host family.
A particularly touching time came while participating in her host sister’s coming of age ceremony, where her host family welcomed 400 guests with “humility and selflessness,” Kate says.
The emphasis on hospitality underscored the importance of interdependence.
“In U.S. society, dependence is often seen as weakness,” Kate says, “yet, in order to survive and thrive, we need to realize our interdependence.”
Affirmed in Her Faith
The 23-year-old St. Olaf College graduate from Appleton, Wis., feels faith surround her in her service in South Africa.
“My faith is affirmed every time someone squeezes my hand, lights up with a soul smile and sings to glorify God without reservation. The best feeling is to feel loved for exactly who I am and to feel united by love with my brothers and sisters in Christ.”
She already misses the children, who were just a sea of faces at morning assembly nine months earlier.
“On my final day, I looked out at the hundreds of faces and saw unique personalities,” she says.
The members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Southern Africa’s Youth League call her “Kethiwe,” which, in Zulu, means, “Chosen One.”
“They tell me that they love me,” Kate says. “I love them, too.”