Reflections on being a volunteer in South Africa

I was asked to reflect on my life as a volunteer worker in South Africa for Urban Kids Educentre and Urban Life Church.

I’ve volunteered in many different places in the world. I’ve built houses in Mexico, taught Sunday School in Siberia, and acted in a Gospel presentation on the streets of Northern Ireland. And now I’ve been living life as a volunteer in South Africa for 18 months and have just applied to extend my stay for at least 3 more years.

I was thrown in the deep end when I came to South Africa. IMG_1981_2You can read books and talk to people who stress being flexible to expectations but the reality of it can be very difficult sometimes. I arrived on a Wednesday, visited the school on Thursday and Friday afternoon was in tears as I faced the reality of having a class of my own on Monday. A class full of wonderful and challenging children. I had different teaching practices to get used to. New language to learn. New coworkers to get to know. Let alone figuring out life in South Africa. I was overwhelmed as my jet lagged brain tried to cope and face the reality of a whole new life here.

But that didn’t last forever. I’ve enjoyed the children here – even if they can be a handful sometimes! I have wonderful new friends in the people I work with everyday. I’ve cried, I’ve laughed, I’ve learned, and grown. IMG_3035I came expecting to only teach in the classroom for 4 months and that has turned into 18 months and more. IMG_2196_2I’ve also been helping with media at the church, teaching youth, doing computer training, and more.

I’ve been on safari’s, IMG_2503attended weddings and funerals, been to baby showers and birthday celebrations. I’ve even fallen in love with an amazing man here. I have invested my life in South Africa and I’m giving it my all. I’m not thinking: “I’m going to be gone someday, so I shouldn’t do too much”, but I’m pouring my life out to the community around me with all that I’ve got.

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I just glanced through all my blog posts since I’ve been here. I’ve grown so much. Been through so much. The biggest thing I’ve learned during my time here, is the importance of reaching out and relying on other people around you. I was very self-sufficient back home in San Francisco. I could take care of myself and my needs. But here, I have learned I need to include people in on my life, and how I’m feeling and what needs I may have. It’s an ongoing lesson, that even last week I struggled with as I faced difficulties involving extending my visa renewal.

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Being a volunteer worker is a great privilege. I love blessing the people around me and sharing with family and friends back home all that is happening in this country across the world. It’s amazing to be making differences in the lives of children. I’m so thrilled to have built new friendships here.

IMG_1772I value being involved in teaching the youngest child their colours and shapes and then the next day teaching a women in the township how type a document on a computer.

Life is amazing and I am so blessed!IMG_2013_2

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:: A broken vessel ::

I discovered the following short allegory I wrote years ago. I don’t remember when or even if I posted it on an old blog… but it needed to be shared again.

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There once was a very plain, dirty, and cracked earthenware vessel. All sorts of filthy and dirty liquids would be put in her. But because of her cracks, the liquid would never stay and spill out all around her.

She would look longingly at other vessels. Those who stood tall and were filled with the clearest, purest, water. She would pretend she had that water, but realise it would never work because her cracks and blemishes would never hold such things.

One day, as she sat, dejected, dirty, and seemingly forgotten, there was a mighty jostle of the table she sat upon. With her weak base and foundation, she suddenly found herself falling toward the hard floor. The earthenware vessel hit the floor, shattered, and laid there, broken, unusable, hopeless.

“What shall I do now!” She trembled and cried. “I am forgotten as a dead man, out of mind; I am like a broken vessel.” (Psalm 31:12)

As she lay there in pieces, the familiar feet of the master Creator came toward her. To her surprise, He didn’t pass her by, but gently swept her up and placed all the broken pieces on his workbench.

The Master heated and moulded. Worked with each shattered piece, and grafted in new ones. Slowly and deliberately the broken earthenware vessel was shaped into a new vessel. The broken pieces were strengthened, the cracks sealed up, her foundation made solid and strong.

The Master, after restoring her, passed her off to His very best apprentices. The first, polished her so that she was no longer dingy and plain. She shone and glistened, no longer resembling her former self.

The second apprentice, filled her to the brim with the most beautiful and pure living water. Oh how the new vessel loved the pure liquid filled to her brim. It was so good and she let every drop saturate her new form as she stood strong and secure.

The third apprentice then came. He saw how she stood tall and strong. Fashioned with expert hands, strengthened, and filled with the very best.

He took the new vessel and seeing another small, broken down vessel, dirty, and cracked, poured out the beautiful living water into the lesser one.

The new vessel was confused and hurt. Should not she, the beautiful vessel, keep the living, pure water all to herself? It was safe with her and made her feel so beautiful and important.

“Why, that other vessel is so dirty and broken. Look, my water is not even making a difference. It’s seeping through the cracks!”

As the new, but now empty, vessel, sat there wondering what to do, she became discouraged and felt all alone.

Once again, the familiar form of her Master creator came near the empty vessel.

“Why are you so sad, my creation?” He lovingly asked.

“I have nothing left inside me,” the new vessel responded, “I’ve been poured out and am dry again.”

“My beloved vessel,” the Master admonished, “I created and formed you. I picked you up out of the miry clay, and made your foundation firm. I put you in the care of my very best apprentices. They filled you with my living water. What better and most noble of responsibilities for you, then to be used to refresh those who once were as broken as you? ‘Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honour, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.'” (2 Timothy 2:21)

The new vessel began to understand.

As she dwelt there, in the presence of her Master, she was delighted to find Him filling her up once again. She loved the refreshing water, slowly filling her to the brim. It came to the point where she once again could not contain a single drop and she knew, that to whom much is given, much is required. (Luke 12:48)

“My Lord,” she said, “please pour me out again, to those that need it most. I’ve been fashioned and moulded, filled to the brim. Use me now, all of me, that I might return and be filled again. ‘…we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.'” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

:: molly ::

The community was dark. The embers and sparks of a fire, reflecting off the tin walls of the shacks, cast a glow on those gathered around. Hushed tones murmured through the cool evening air.

A mother had passed away. We gathered to honour her life, hear from her friends and family, and encourage and comfort the two children that were left behind.

As the courtyard filled, songs began to fill the air. Not songs of mourning, but beautiful songs of worship and praise. Sung in Zulu, Tswana, English, and more. Women with heads covered and colourful blankets or skirts wrapped around them, raised their voices, clapped their hands and danced around the fire. Stomping feet, moving to the beat of a make-shift drum played on an overturned bucket. The men joined in, and the celebration of life consumed each person there.


Our friend, our sister, our auntie, and mother is gone from this earth; but I imagined, as I joined the people jumping and twirling around the fire, that Molly was doing this very same thing with Jesus in heaven. In her new body, no more pain, no more sickness. Just Molly in the arms of her Saviour, where we will join her someday, in a beautiful new dance, by the light of the Father.

:: delight ::

Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.

– Psalm 37:4 –

A few weeks ago I went to a conference in South Africa. One of the speakers was speaking about unfulfilled dreams. He had everyone write 2 things on the same paper. The first was to write down a dream that has been fulfilled in your life. The second was to write a dream that has not been fulfilled. Then we were to bring that paper up to a cross that was placed in the church and put our fulfilled dreams and unfulfilled dreams symbolically back at the foot of the cross.

For you see… those dream that have come to fruition, as pure and amazing they may be, can become idols in our life. A point of pride where we may forget it was God’s doing and not our own.

Those dreams that have yet to pass… God has not forgotten. He sees you. He knows your heart. But you can’t make your dreams become fulfilled on your own willpower.

I wrote my 2 things on the paper. I submitted what was and what had not been. I remembered who Christ was and the promises He had made to me. The words He had revealed to me in scripture. I remembered I was not in control but the creator of the universe who also created my heart and soul.

And then… this last week… my unfilled dream started to come to life. I have been delighting myself in the Lord and He is giving me the desires of my heart. It was certainly not my own doing, or in the time frame I ever thought. A part of me thought it would never happen. I’m still in awe as it is unfolding before me.

I’ve been delighting myself in the Lord… that part has to come first. That is the most important part. As I delight in the Lord, spend time with him, pray, and seek Him, then my heart is made right. I hear more clearly what the Lord has to say. And He has been speaking to me. Nothing complicated… just: “Do you trust me?”

And now… I’m walking in answered prayers and the Lord’s amazing plan. It’s beautiful and wonderful. I’m so excited for what the future holds. But this dream needs to be put back at the foot of the cross as well… because it’s not me… but the power and grace of my Saviour that has brought this new season into my life.

Praying Forward

 

Some children just have you the second they walk into your life. Forward is one of them.

His English is not good but his heart is big. He is forever asking me: “What is?” and pointing at every little thing. He is so concerned about a child if they are absent and is constantly amazed at looking at himself in my iphone reverse camera.

“Where’s Forward?” he asks me insistently, multiple times a day.

“There he is!” he exclaims when I resolve and turn my camera  on for him.

  A couple weeks ago, Forward and his mom were in a hectic taxi accident.

Taxi’s in South Africa are very different than in the states. They are more like 15 passenger vans that speed recklessly through traffic and down streets. Seat belts are often not worn here, and the majority of children are never in a child seat.

When the accident happened, Forward was unharmed, but slid under the seat in front of him, and became stuck. The driver and some other passengers were very badly hurt. Forward’s mom sustained a minor injury to her chest.

It took 2 hours to free Forward from the mangled taxi. He, and his hysterical mom, spent the night in a government hospital.

I am so thankful that Forward was not injured physically, but he has been badly traumatized. Over this last week I noticed him going blank. Not responding. Then he would quickly snap out of it. Last Thursday we took a walk and could see a line of taxi’s parked. “Mama’s crying!” he suddenly exclaimed, to nobody in particular.

Yesterday the children in my class gathered chairs together and were pretending to be in a taxi. I looked over at Forward at one point and noticed him sitting blankly with tears streaming down his face. It took him a long time to come back from this one. It was as if a switch had been turned off.

Amy, the principal, took him and prayed over him. Our prayer has been that he would forget this traumatic event and he would continue to grow and flourish.

An hour later the “switch” had turned back on and I got this picture of him dancing with his friends:

Please pray with me. For Forward. For the safety of the 94 children in our care. For wisdom. For healing. For a future and hope. Praying Forward into his life and the lives of all the children that I have the privilege of teaching.

|| surpassing knowledge ||

“… to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Ephesians 3:19

What is knowledge?

Google defines it as: facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.

Every Monday night I get together with a few others and we have been unpacking the book of Ephesians together, verse by verse. Tonight we were in Ephesians 3. Verse 19 stood out to me over all the rest. So here are my thoughts. It’s so simple yet so deep and beyond understanding at the same time:

God is more than knowledge. There is no practical understanding of Him. That’s partly why He came to earth, as Jesus Christ, so that we can know Him. And how do we know Him? We accept and live in the love of Christ and what He accomplished on the cross. To know this love will enable us to surpass the human desire of knowledge and result in a fullness of God beyond anything physically attainable.

|| a new day ||

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Before the dawn when the world is still

A future before me

Things unknown

The birds sing their morning song

Dew clings to the blades of grass

A breeze softly caresses my face

The moonlight dims and stars fade away

The evening is over

A new day begins.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Psalm 27:1

my little sister…

Today is your 30th birthday. I don’t know how that is possible because I still think of us like this most days

  Too many years have gone by. Too many things to say. I know we have never been close but for you I have love and hope. You have potential and a future. Please don’t give up. Don’t settle for who you think you were but press forward into who you can be.

That means making hard choices. That means seeking change and goodness. Letting go of anger and anxiety. Accepting input into your life. You are so smart and can do great things.

It’s my prayer for you that 30 can be a brand new start.

Much love to you from your big sister.

Soar, Grow, Thrive …

A caterpillar has a dismal life. Crawling along leaves. Inching through the dirt. Avoiding being squashed. Escaping hungry birds. 

But a caterpillar was not created to remain in such a state. The time comes for that caterpillar to be wrapped in a cocoon. All is dark. He has no control over the transformation that is to come. 

And what a transformation it is! Light breaks through as the caterpillar struggles to emerge from its confinement . He comes forth; but not the worm he once was. Wings unfurl, and a breeze lifts him up to heights that could have never been achieved before in his former body. 

   

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:1-6; 10

I’m sure the butterfly never dwells on its life as a caterpillar; neither should you, who have accepted the life transforming power of Jesus in your life, dwell on who you once were. 

You have been created for good works by the same creator who breathed galaxies into existence. Your past, my past, no matter what it looked like, the great moments and the horrifying ugly ones, have been wrapped in a cocoon of grace and mercy. 

Don’t look back. Soar. Grow. Thrive. God has created you for good and not destruction. Your past has shaped who you are but God has created you for more. He has redeemed you to not live in fear, but, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to soar to new heights for His glory. 

|| 5 ||

5 years ago, 7 April 2010, I made a choice.

Little did I know the significance of this choice.

When I moved to San Francisco, I knew I was called there by God. But I had no job. For 3 months I was searching and failing and living on very little money. I applied to be the secretary at a preschool. I had a lot of experience working with kids, had 1 Early Childhood Education class, and was very comfortable behind a computer and dealing with an office. They offered me a position assisting in the classroom instead as they had just hired someone to fill the secretary role.

I happily took it. 4 months later, the secretary quit and a lead teacher quit. I remember my boss sitting down with me one afternoon on a bench outside. He gave me a choice. Step into the role of secretary or become a lead teacher for a classroom. I was way more qualified to be a secretary. It was the easy path. But I knew it wasn’t the path for me. I chose to be a teacher. This meant taking evening classes at the local city college after working 8 hour days and on the weekends. This meant struggling, crying, growing, and learning. I wanted to step away so many times. Wondering often why I had not chosen the easy path.

But that path would not have led me here. I would not be teaching in Africa today had I chosen to stay within my comfortable box full of safe and familiar surroundings. I would not have become a preschool teacher. I would not have returned to school. I’d probably still be sitting behind a desk instead of teaching children in South Africa and on my days off hanging out with elephants and lions.

The path that seems impossible often leads to the most growth and opens up unbelievable opportunities… even if it’s 5 years later.

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