Thursday, December 19, 2013

Meeting On the Road

Written Dec. 18, 2013

It was a rainy day. Most people don’t go outside on these days. It was my birthday the day before and so we had left over cake. No playing outside equals sitting inside, munchin’ on cake. Deciding that I had done this long enough, I put on my raincoat and left the house in the late afternoon to walk to the Post Office through the misting rain.

There were very few people out. And no one was out on their porches like usual. As I walked, I heard someone jogging behind me. I turned around to see my friend, Happy! I was so excited to see him and now have someone to walk with. (Side note: I always find it such a gift and joy from God when she has me run into friends of mine along my way). Happy told me that he was going to the church to check on something. I told him I was going to the Post Office, which is quite a distance further, and he kindly expressed his shock at the distance I had decided to travel in the rain (about a 20 minute walk). When we got to his church (it sits on the main road we were walking along) I bid him farewell and started to continue across the street. I heard him say something about accompanying him and I immediately jumped around with a huge smile and skipped to catch up with him to the church. I thought to myself, Duh, Elle. This is what people here do. We see each other along our way, join then, and then continue to venture together. Nothing is more pressing then spending time with friends anyway. So, I walked with him to the church and he walked with me to the Post Office and back.  

This happens more often on my way to and from the local grocery store, USave. There are times when I am on my way in and see some friends walking out. We stop and chat and then continue our separate ways…so I think. By the time I exit the store, I see them sitting and waiting for me on the benches outside, ready to walk back with me. I have also been the one exiting the store and met friends just about to go in and they tell me “wait for me, I’m coming.” So then it is my turn to sit on the benches and wait for my companion to journey home with them.

This waiting and journeying has been a blessing to reflect on. I love this accompanying that I get to partake in—as the giver and receiver. But I really love reflecting on the waiting that we do. I have been reading a devotional book for this Advent season called Sacred Space, and for one week I was reading a section called “The Waiting Days.” It starts out by saying “Waiting takes up a large part of our lives. Often we see waiting as ‘nonproductive,’ as a waste of time, and are frustrated.” This is totally how I have seen waiting a lot of the time, as wasteful. In the stories above, I am not sure if these situations would have happened back in the States that I would have waited my friends. The American culture says you can journey with someone, but then when the road splits you continue on so that you get to your destination, no detours necessary. But here it is all about the detours and the friends and sites along the way. It is all about the journey and the waiting. No hurry. Enjoy each moment. Be present where you are. So with that, I encourage you all to journey together. Meet someone along the road and go with them, even if that means that you have to wait. J

Pride vs. Faith in Self

Written Dec. 17, 2013

The difference between believing in one’s self and having pride.

The difference is at the center. Who is there? You or God?

You believe that you can do it; but because of who? You or God?

Confidence that you can achieve and be great; but who is the reason for it?

When you have pride, you feel that you need to be able to accomplish tasks on your own; you are in the center and in charge. Pride; unable to ask for help; feeling weak when unable.

Having faith in yourself and believing in yourself because God made you good is something else. God is in the center. I can do ALL THINGS…here’s the important part that makes the difference…through CHRIST who give me strength. (Phil. 4:13)

I have been reading Rob Bell’s book Velvet Elvis when all of this hit me.

I have pride, and more of it than I would like to admit. This is usually not apparent and easily hidden in my daily life. But since moving and being thrown into a world and culture unknown to me, my pride has surfaced more often than before, and in deeper ways.

I have become frustrated because I am not able to do things that everyone else can do. I have a hard time learning language. I don’t chop food well and it hurts my hand doing it for hours when we help prepare food for weddings or funerals. I forget places and people that we have seen and I feel that I should remember them. I am not Super Woman like I want to be-and it shows big time here. I don’t have tricks to make up for my short comings and I can’t hide behind anything. My Super Woman powers don’t work. And I get upset at myself for failing. My pride damages my mood . I have feelings of inadequacy and am too afraid to ask for help—because why? I should be able to do it myself – pride.

So here is what I have learned (and am still learning as I forget it and then remember and then forget and fail and then remember and forgive): I am not Super Woman. I am just Elle. But being ‘just Elle’ is more than just Elle. When I am just me, and me first, I am the person that God wants me to be, the person God made me to be, good and bad. I am a child of God, loved through and through. I am a part of creation. I was created ‘good,’ which means that I am not perfect. But because I am good and not perfect (finished) there is room for growth. I am not a static being; I am a growing, changing, forming being. And I can do all things because of the One who created me. 

Now back to pride and having faith in one’s self. My pride is because I think I can do it; and frustration sets in when I can’t ask for help (damaging my pride) and lose hope in succeeding. Having faith in my self is knowing that I can because of God. I become full when I believe in myself  and understand that God already does. God chose me. No work of mine can make God believe in me more or less. And asking for help- showing my weakness- only allows for other’s strengths to shine. Not only do I accept who I am fully, but I allow space for God to do her work and let others share the light and strength they have been given.

All of these thoughts were formed from words written by Rob Bell in his book Velvet Elvis, specifically the fifth and sixth movements (chapters). 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hair Salon

My bus didn’t leave until late on Friday after our retreat. I, and three other YAGM, hung out at the Leiseth house preparing to take the long overnight bus ride back to our site places. I had hoped to have one of the girl’s cut my hair during the retreat, but we did not have good enough scissors. Luckily on Friday, Tessa and Isaac were heading to the salon to get their hair cut and they let me tag along. Fortunately for me the hair salon squeezed me in.

As I was getting my hair washed, I was struck with how similar the salon was to the US and how different it is when I go with my host mom to get her hair done. There were fancy cushion chairs and couches with a table in the middle and magazines full of hair styles. There were crystal looking chandlers hanging from the ceiling and music playing overhead. It felt very…familiar. I sat in a large cushioned chair that reclined backwards for me to rest my head at the edge of the stand-alone sink where the woman used a spray hose to wet my hair and wash it. I then sat in a spinning chair which looked into an individual large mirror, just like the stations in salons in the US. There were four stations. There were even little carts that carried all of the hair “stuff” on them-combs, scissors, brushes, hair dryers, etc. 

As I sat there, I looked at the top of the mirrors and noticed that they had words on them. The four words, one in each mirror, said “Laugh, Love, Live, Hope.” I then realized that there were smaller, cursive words under each. “Laugh often; Love deeply; Live simply.” (I did not even make it to hope because I was so struck by this).  Hmm…simply, eh? When I go with my mom to get her hair styled, we sit on plastic chairs outside in the shade. No fancy sinks, no magazines (although some do have a photo book of hair styles that they have done), no sparkling lights, comfy chairs, or large mirrors; just the wax for her dreads and the yarn and scissors to tie it off.

I sat there, getting my hair cut, holding these two experiences with the phrase ‘live simply’ rolling over and over in my head. What does it mean to live simply? What does it mean to have two very different and both beautiful ways of getting hair done? There are so many more questions of culture, community, accessibility, and influence from others that all I can manage to think about are feelings, and I am not even able to articulate the feelings that I feel, they are just colors inside me. I can’t formulate questions; I can just stand and wonder. No judgment. Just curiosity.


Written on Dec. 5

Her hands.

Her hands are strong. 

They are calloused over from her years of work. They have carried hot pots; stirred delicious food. They have prepared meat, from life to table; sliced, boiled, plucked, cleaned, cooked. 

Dirty clothes become clean through the scrubbing of her hands along the soft wood and slippery soap. They grasp the axe as she splits wood to fuel the cooking fire. They hold onto the broom and mop as she daily sweeps the house floor. They iron, scrub, wash, and cook.  

As tough as her hands are, they are warm and caring. They express love when she reaches out to grab my hand. They are a solid comfort when placed on my shoulders. They are used to greet; a friendly wave; a warm hand shake, pulled into a hug; a gesture of hospitality bringing a cold drink to all guests. 

Her hands teach me. 

They are a part of her body, 

and her being is a part of the body of Christ.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Guardian Angels

Written on 15 October 2013

I am being watched over. 
My guardian angels protect, comfort, and guide me. 

There are many places where I go and have no clue what to do. At school, I can never remember where to go or when in the mornings. But luckily kids come find me and show me where to go. They greet me and tell me to either hurry up and head to the teacher prayer or hold my hand and guide me to the department prayer. They walk with me. As we play, they let me know when class is going to start. During celebrations at school I enter crowded rooms and stare frightfully at what I will have to navigate on my own. But I don’t need to fear; my eyes catch the eyes of my guardian angels and they motion to where I should sit. After school or on weekends, when I walk home through crowded streets, I hear “Elle” being shouted and know I will soon be accompanied by a young friend with a warm smile. As I pass houses on my walks, I find adults outside their homes; some greet me, some look confused and then smile when I greet them, but whenever I hear a high pitched voice say “Elle!” I know to look a little lower and see my guardian angels that welcome me and look after me to ensure that I am happy and well.

I knew this year was going to be about accompaniment. But I did not think that I would be accompanied by so many loving children, some of which I’ve only met once or twice. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Street Friends and Mangos

My street friends. Mangos. Two of my favorite things here. So I would like to share an afternoon where those two met up for a great time-at least in my eyes.

I am an introvert. I enjoy the time I have after coming home from school to sit and re-energize. But that time does not last long. Something I enjoy more is playing. Around 4 o’clock I head outside because I can hear small children coming together to play. My street friends. This is the term I use to describe the kids that live around me who have become my friends. We differ in age, me being almost 23, and they range between 4-8, but that does not matter when we play in the streets. As I walk out the door and down my driveway they usually spot me and come running, screaming “ELLE!” I brace myself for the dog pile I receive-they really enjoy jumping on me to greet me. J We play a game that I grew up calling “criss cross apple sauce” with a circular rope that is held apart by two people, wrapped behind their legs, while the others jump in and out, slowly moving the rope higher and higher. I find it funny because I am always a base person and so is the youngest and smallest girl that comes to play. I have to giggle when they have us put it at the same body part, when clearly my knees are at her hips. But, alas, that does not seem to bother or phase any of the other kids.

When that game wears out, we move on to another one. Hide and Seek. Their rules are slightly different then what I grew up playing and the person seeking has to ‘scope’ someone (call their name and say ‘scope’) before the hider runs back to the starting spot. I usually count. They hid all around my house, and this time I had to circle it before finding all of them. When we went running around the side we noticed the mangos on the ground from one of our mango trees. So we paused the game to collect mangos. There were enough good mangos on the ground for each of us to have one (over 6 good mangos). Luckily there is a water spout right there where we all wash the mangos to then bite into.

It was so joyous to be able to share that time with them. I found so much happiness in running barefoot around the house, finding mangos on the ground, washing right then and there and eating them in the company of friends, and then washing sticky hands to return to playing. It all felt natural, I felt close to the earth, I felt in touch with creation, I felt near God. I could see what she had created, yummy mangos, fresh water, tough feet, smiling children, and loving hearts. Things I am so grateful for. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Typical Day

Here is a play by play of a typical day with no extra meetings or gatherings that I get to attend.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

5:30 a.m.- Wake up. Go for a run around Shayandima. Admire the beauty of the mountains in the morning with the sun coming up opposite of them. Come home and collect (on average) the 10 mangos that fell from one of our mango tree last night. Sometimes I can carry them all in my hands; sometimes I need the help of my shirt. Eat breakfast – a delicious bowl of cereal. Read my morning devotion. Get ready for school.

6:55 a.m.- Leave for Tshilidzini Special School. If I time it right I usually run into a friend along the way and get to walk with them for most of the trip.

7:15 a.m.- Morning prayer for the teachers.

7:30 a.m.- Class begins.

10:00 a.m.- TEA TIME. Everyone breaks and the teachers go eat a lunch/snack and drink tea, and the kids go eat snack (they don’t have tea J). I have started going to the lunchroom with all the kids. I eat my apple and 2 mangos while they eat their pap, and fish (or beans and butternut squash, or another protein and vegetable) and apple.

10:30 a.m.- Class resumes. More learning. We have been doing a lot of reviewing because they have their exams soon. School calendar follows the year calendar here because our summer break is during the months of December and January.

1:30 p.m.- I knock off (finish work) and head for home. I have learned that the sun is really strong and hot. I have less than a 15 minute walk and have learned to use an umbrella to keep me shaded during this quick trip. As I walk there are many school children also on their way home. (There are 4 other schools that I know of on or near the main road that I walk, which creates for busy streets full of kids walking home). Many of them call to me, some know me and yell “Elle!” others just greet me in English and then are shocked and giggle when I respond in TshiVenda. J

2:00 p.m.- Home and usually eating lunch, which consists of pap and some meat (yesterday was chicken that my aunt cooked over the open fire-we call it braai, American version is bbq/grilled). I veg out for a little while eating and watching T.V. My aunt comes to join me with her lunch (the same thing). I then retreat to my room to rest and recharge during the hot hours of the day. Introverted time usually consists of either a quick power nap, letter writing, journaling, or just thinking.

3:30 p.m.- Small voices cry from outside our house “Elle!” “Ahh” (a greeting that females use) which means I am being summoned to go play. J They usually come sometime between 3:30 – 4:30. My neighborhood friends range from the age of 4-13 and the number of them ranges from day to day. There is never less than 3 and has made it up to 15. On Tuesday, there were 6 waiting for me at the end of our driveway. We sing songs, and play games in the street. When a car comes we yell “goloi” (“car”) and move to the side. I am thankful and lucky enough to be able to speak English. Many of them know English and some of them are learning. So we teach each other. I teach them English and they teach me TshiVenda. It is really funny when Edzi tries to get me to pronounce words. She speaks slowly and syllable by syllable, but does not understand that some letter combinations (vh- or fh-) do not happen in English (and therefore I will not be good at them) and we will sit for a while with me poorly repeating the same sound over and over while I watch her 7 year old mouth move. There is much laughter and we have a lot of fun.

5:45 p.m.- They now know that I LOVE watching the sun set behind the mountains and that I think it is just beautiful. So if I do not suggest it first, my friends will say, “let’s go watch that beautiful sun set.” It is our evening practice. On our way down the street we usually see more friends that we greet, and when we turn the corner the sun is beautiful. And of course our trip would not be complete if one does not just on my back for a piggy back ride, which then usually turns into everyone wanting a turn to jump on me. J Luckily they are small and the trip is not long.

6:30 p.m.- It is getting darker and roughly the time we all head home and inside. I go in and watch our favorite T.V. shows with my aunt. Before I do so, I go to close the windows in my room and shut my door and any other bedroom door that is still open. Sealing the rooms at night helps to keep the mosquitoes out.

8:30 p.m.- I head to bed. I get to practice saying "edele zwavuhdi" (sleep well) each night. I finish journaling for the day and tidy my room of whatever mess I created that day. I thank God for all the joy and beauty that is in my life.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


My journey is a puzzle that I am working on. But this puzzle is one of those puzzles that doesn't have a defined edge, so any piece can go anywhere. And I don’t have the box with a picture to help me know what the final piece will look like.

So I puzzle.

Each piece I ponder over, turn it in different ways and try fitting it in.

When I learn where a piece goes I rejoice. Each new word I learn or cultural concept that I understand is a moment to celebrate. My puzzle becomes more and more filled in and clear.

Then I return to the pieces I have. These cause me to think, wonder, question, and search. I sometimes become frustrated and annoyed when I can’t seem to fit them in anywhere. I wonder if the puzzle will be a rectangle or some animal. I never know if a piece is the edge or not. Sometimes I collect like pieces, fuss with them for a while and then just leave them collected together on a section of the table. Sometimes I leave them liking the progress I made and sometimes I leave them to save my sanity.

Another catch to this puzzle is that I didn't start with all the pieces and I don’t know how many there are. As I walk through my day I find them. Sometimes they come out of my mouth in conversation. I find them when I walk down the street. Some are picked out of my food. Others fall off of my friends. Sometimes there is just one and other times it is a collection. But each time I find a new piece, new emotions are brought about; Joy to have new pieces to play with; Anxiety because I already have enough to fit in; Excitement because I know exactly where it will go; Frustration to have a random useless piece.

There are also helping hands, for puzzles always are more fun when you do them with someone else. My companions in my journey help me puzzle. Sometimes they work with me on a section and we can organize it way better than when I was trying to by myself. They help me to find like pieces to collect. Sometimes they even bring my attention to pieces that I have dropped on the floor which connect to other pieces.

For anyone who has done a large puzzle before, you know that it can be tiring and can take a few days (or at least many hours if you choose to just chug along). So as I puzzle, I need breaks. But each time before I break, whether due to exhaustion, dizziness, frustration, or just a change of scenery, I take a good breath and step back. I look at the work that I have done on the beautiful puzzle that is forming and I smile. I break for a while to clear my head and rest, and then I come back later to continue, curious to know what new insight I will bring with me.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

God is Community

Before I begin I want to let you know I cannot take credit for some of the wonderful insight that I have been pondering over. My YAGM loved ones have been teaching me more than they even know. Credit goes to Tessa-God is community. Emily-we are human beings not human doings.

I am a human being. God help me to remember that I am not a human doing.

I have been stuck on thoughts of what I am doing. They are not aggressive thoughts (thankfully) but curious ones. Wondering what am I doing, what worth do I have to give to my community and how do I do so? To counter this I have been trying to think more about the relationships that I form or deepen as opposed to the works that I do. I try to rework my brain into thinking about who I've talked to or what information I learned about someone that day. This is a hard job for the task minded person. But it is also hard for an introverted, shy, and prideful (afraid of rejection or looking dumb, also fear that language will get in the way and we will spend the whole time either just nodding to move the conversation along or asking over and over “what? what does that mean?” and becoming frustrated) person like me. Putting myself out there, going out of my way to find someone to say hi to, start a conversation with, or sit with is hard. It can be scary and at times it can seem exhausting. But that is also why it is considered work.

Getting to know my community. God is community. The more I learn about my community, the more I learn about God. God is like a book, it may be a good book but I won’t know it until I take the initiative, open it up, and spend the time to read it. Just like my community, they are wonderful, but I don’t know that until I step out of my house. It requires work, and sometimes will and determination to get out of my room or off the couch. But, I must say, every time I have, I have returned more joyful than when I left and I return having talked with a friend or met someone new, seen something beautiful, or laughed. I am filled by my community, by God. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Space to Remember

Upon entering a new culture your brain can become filled with many new things. My mind usually spins with different thoughts, and now as I walk with my community and experience life differently my mind seems to never stop processing. I think about the new experiences, sights, smells, textures, relationships, events, outings, sounds, silences, nature, and all the roles that these play within each other. As you can start to sense, continual spinning.

And yet I have noticed space. The first few weeks I did not have a “job” to attend to. I was getting to know the community and area and they were getting to know me to find where I would fit and where some of my skills could be used. I encountered different places and people because I have a lovely host mom who takes me everywhere she goes. She tells me “let’s go” and we go. I usually don’t know any of the details about our trip, but that is not a concern that I should have, I travel in the safety of her hands. Because of this I don’t have to think or worry about future things. If you think about your brain space in three parts, past, present, and future, I have realized that I have a third of my brain space that is not being occupied by chattering thoughts. And I only realize this when encounters happen with people I have met where I remember something that they told me. Usually I have a hard time remembering details about another person’s life; I am busy trying to remember what is going to happen next in my busy, super jam packed filled life. But being here and not having to worry about planning, I have been able to remember birthdays (which I have never been able to remember my friends’ birthdays who I’ve known for years) and different weekend trips that people in my community have gone on, and I can remember enough to even ask them about how it was!

I have space to remember and build and nurture relationships. There are many good things with being busy and involved, but there are also so many good things that come with simplicity. Culturally there is a difference between South Africans and Americans and their ideas of planning. I am starting to like not having many things planned and not having to worry about where I have to be next because there is more space (both time space and mental space) for me to be in the present and with those whom I am surrounded by. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Disrupting the Single Story

Learning and understanding the danger of a single story has been a part of our orientation for YAGM. We addressed it again specifically in our in-country orientation. Single stories are dangerous because they only paint a piece of the whole picture of a person, people, culture, or place. And usually that single story does not even apply to all that it generally addresses. More commonly we think of single stories when we use stereotypes. We use these to categorize, but these generalizations do not apply to all, and are only a fraction of the whole story that someone walks with.

No one is immune from being single storied. I am sure everyone has had a time when someone has taken a piece of their being and single storied them. But when we live in relationships with people, we get to know them more fully, we get to disrupt those single stories and see people for who they are and create new, specific stories of people who we love and care for. And even then, we are still only telling the story from our perspective, for a person is too deep for another to fully know them and understand exactly the life that they live and experience.

But as we live and grow with others we can have stories explode and open out eyes to differences that we did not expect.

I was sitting at home knitting one morning and a visitor came by. I have met him before and we have talked, but he did not know that I could knit. When he saw me sitting on the couch, he sat adjacent to me and watched intently. He then looked up from my knitting and said “you know how to crochet?” I told him that crocheting was with one needle and knitting was with two, and I knew how to knit. He then asked if I knew how to sew too. I told him that my mom taught me when I was little and just recently my friend taught me how to knit. He looked at me and said “Oh. I didn’t think whites knew how to sew. I thought only blacks knew how to do that.”

Another time I was talking with a friend and he was laughing at me because we were talking about how technology and I are not the best of friends and how I don’t understand a lot of it. He told me that when they said someone from America was coming, he assumed that I would be attached to my phone and all up to date and whatnot with technology, and then they got me. J

In our packing list they told us to bring nice clothes, there may be weddings or funerals that we would be attending in our year. How nice is not something I have a good gauge for, and what my single story was did not assist in proper packing. In my first week at my placement site I attended a funeral, a church service (where Sunday best has been re-defined), and a Gala dinner. Each of these required nice clothes. The attendants for each of these wore very nice clothes, clothes fit for weddings or banquets. Men wore suits. Women wear dresses or skirts and a blouse and jacket.

Disrupting the single story. I am humbled and blessed when each experience comes that disrupts the single stories that we inaccurately have created to create in us a more full picture of the world in which we live. 

Here is the link to the TED talk about the danger of a single story

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ndi ngani thusa

As I began learning, people took different methods to teach me Venda. One of those approaches that some took was to ask me “what do you want to know? Tell me in English and I will tell you it in Venda.” Helpful, but I usually could not think of anything. What would help me the most? What phrases would be useful in my daily life? How many phrases are short enough for me to actually learn and remember them?

Ndi ngani thusa?

This phrase has been the most helpful to me. I realized I wanted to learn it a few days in when I wanted to help out around the house but did not know how. Ndi ngani thusa means “can I help?” This phrase has opened things up. I follow people around, watch what they do, and then say “Ndi ngani thusa?” They look at me and smile, and usually give me a try (which means I do it ten times slower than they would-but I’m learning J). Because of this phrase I have cut green beans, stirred pop (the staple grain food that is eaten with everything), picked leaves off stalks, cooked meat, swept, put away groceries, done dishes, and carried in many different things.

This simple phrase has given me language to offer help and by doing so it has also given me a hands-on way to experience some of the culture that is in Venda.

Now, just because I ask to help does not mean I always get to. There are limits because we don’t know each other all that well yet and they care for my safety. At home we used all the split firewood we had, so the woman I stay with was cutting more. Splitting wood with an axe looks like a very dangerous task-especially if you misjudge and follow through into yourself (which is what my mind kept envisioning happening to the woman I care for because I was scared and concerned the axe would miss the wood and skip back). The wood was tough and she had to use a lot of strength, and yet the wood was still not splitting at the speed I thought it would be. So I ran inside to get my boots on and came back out and asked “Ndi ngani thusa?” She kindly looked and me and sternly said “no.” As much as I did not trust that she could do it alone and would stay safe, I had to. And she did not trust me that I would be safe, regardless of the fact that I put on boots. J So with asking to help I have learned that there are many more layers to the answers of this question.    

Monday, September 9, 2013

Bag Lady

They call me the bag lady. I have a colorful bag that I use to carry things with me. Being a camp counselor for four summers means there are some pieces of you that will never change. I always have a bag of tricks with me because you never know what life is going to throw at you. Every time we leave the house they ask if I am ready and if I am not I go to get my bag and shoes. Then when we arrive to where we are going, I get out with my bag and they joke here comes the bag lady.

My bag is bigger than usual because I never know where we are going next or how late we will be out. Since it is usually hot in Venda, many buildings do not have heating, which means at night it can get chilly (and this time of month we are in transition from winter to spring, so the chilliness can vary). So I carry a zip-up and a scarf. Being involved with the church, we will go to church events. Each person has their own Bible and hymnal, and there have been times where we just pull out the hymnal and sing (most people know the songs by heart—I like being able to read the Venda words that I am saying). So I also have my Venda hymnal, Venda Bible, and English Bible (to understand what verse we are talking about). Now, since I am a visual learner, I need to write things down (specifically words) so I have in my bag pocket a small notebook and pen. I also like to write down events or random thoughts to journal about later so I do not forget, so I also have a larger notepad. Oh, and I need a mode of communication, so I have the cell phone that was given to us by the YAGM program. I also have a snack and a water bottle because I never know how long things will last and when you may feel like your blood sugar is low. J

I am the bag lady.  

The Little Things

My first week has been an interesting one. Being the first YAGM in this site means many different things. One of which is that they may not know what to do with me yet, and the South African culture is great at allowing time for people to get to know the community and culture and for the community to get to know the person. But that also means that I do a lot of sitting.

One day I found myself sitting at home with a woman whom I call Titi. Her English is not the best but I follow her around and learn from her actions and we have small verbal exchanges. There was a lull in the days work and she invited me to sit and watch T.V. Instead, I asked her if she could teach/show me the Lord’s Prayer in the Bible (Matthew 6:9-13). I had my Venda Bible and English Bible in my hand ready. We sat down on the couch together and she read the Venda version and then motioned for me to read the English version. She then quickly went to get something from her room and told me “I’m coming” (I have learned through many mistakes, when they say that they mean I am coming back and NOT for me to follow J ). She returned with a book and on the back pages was written different Bible verses. She does prayer every night at 7 and uses this book. So, she would choose a Bible verse, we would both open to it, she would read, and then I would read.  It was a beautiful exchange that we had back and forth for quite some time. I thank God for the beautiful time that I got to spend with her reading the Word. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013


This photo is from the top of the Bisley Nature Reserve. 

God is SO cool! 
There have been so many different magnificent things that our group has experienced in the past week. 

We have been blessed to visit and see different wildlife when we visited the Lion Park in Johannesburg and when we went to the Bisley Nature Reserve in Pietermaritzburg. We have seen lions, zebras, giraffes, dogs, impala, monkeys, etc. We learned about the Apartheid and visited the museum in Johannesburg. We have shared our stories and our expectations with each other. We have gathered together in great fellowship and shared meals. (Avocados are in season and we have definitely eaten our fill--on sandwiches and pizza) We have worshiped with a community in Wattville. We met new friends after chapel at the Lutheran Theological Institute (LTI). We have learned valuable information at LTI from many different people. 

Yesterday, we navigated the public transportation. Here there are Kombis (come-bees), which are 15 person vans. Tessa told us to go out in small groups to the Midland mall. We were going to 1) pick up anything that we did not pack and planned on buying here/forgot and 2) try out and learn how to use a Kombis. It is a different culture of transportation than many of us are used to. And to be frankly honest, I was really nervous about this. Before yesterday morning I had done pretty much everything in the large group (10 of us) and did not have confidence or awareness for what it would be like. I was unaware of what Kombis looked like and where I would even start to find one. So, I set out after breakfast with another member of our group, Keenan. It was great to be in a pair even though I was still very nervous. I did a wonderful job at following his lead but being aware of all that we encountered. We went to the grocery store (Checkers) and asked someone where we could find a Kombis. He kindly pointed us in the direction and the two of us found it and hopped on. I ended up all the way in the middle back and he ended up in the front seat (the last two seats open in the Kombis). Another thing about Kombis, they don't leave until all the seats are filled. Once it starts, people start to pass their fee forward. I took my que from the other passengers around me. I was not sure of what to expect or of exactly what I was doing. We had been given advice about how to navigate and were told to follow what others were doing. I saw that people were passing forward 10 rand, so I did too. Then money was coming back and the man next to me handed me some coins! It was my change. At that moment, with no words ever spoken, I felt at peace and looked out for. I did not know what I was doing, but I knew that the people around me were good people and they were going to help me. 

With every moment and every encounter with someone new I become more and more excited about meeting my host community in Thohoyandou, which I have learned is pronounced more as toy-on-dough. Thanks be to GOD!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Lean On Me

I know that community is a powerful thing, but I am learning it in new ways.

Our flight out of Chicago was at 10:15 pm and we flew all night long to arrive in Germany at 1:30 pm. Many people slept, or at least got a nap in...I tried very hard. I switched into every position possible to get comfortable. I was normal, cross legged, curled up, backwards, nearly upside down, on the floor, standing, kneeling, and backwards kneeling while hugging the back of my seat. I could NOT sleep. Then I leaned into Abby to rest my head, and boom I was out (at least for 45ish minutes). I realized that although I wanted to desperately be able to function independently and not invade anyone's small space on the plane, I needed to, and was welcomed to.

In that moment on the plane I realized the power of leaning. I can't do it alone, no matter how hard I try. :) I need the community that is around me. That is also a blessing about having orientation, out of country and in-country. There is this time to build up community to lean on, for sleep and support. None of us can do it alone and are blessed with so many different communities to lean on. I am really excited to meet the community that I will be living with this year. It will be many different emotions trying to feel out everything, but I know that I will rejoice in those moments when God shows me that I can't do it by myself and blesses me with people who will help to hold my hand, feed me knowledge, and give me a shoulder to rest on.

During in-country orientation we have been building community and journeying together as we take in all that is around us. We have been processing things that surprise us, things that were different than we had expected, and things we experience. Johannesburg is a great example. It is a city. Sometimes we forget that Africa is bigger than just the African plains with zebras, lions, and giraffes. There are many more that we have discussed and we continue to have our eyes opened to new things. May God bless us with eyes to see and minds to be open to understanding--turning judgement into wonder.

Friday, August 16, 2013

What To Think

Orientation. It has begun, and with it so many other things have begun as well. 

When we arrived on Wednesday I felt all feelings and none, all at the same time. There is no other way to describe it. It was all and nothing all at once. 

Words. I have none. There are so many that I want to put on this page, and yet there are none that seem to want to flow coherently.

Luckily there are many wise people here to support all of us in this difficult roller coastery whirl of a week right before we fly out. 

The staff, the Alumni team, and the current YAGM participants have been very helpful in conversations and giving language. We all have felt or are feeling everything and have many different words that we need to describe and articulate where we are at. 

  • The first piece that I liked was a conversation about feelings. When do we stop feeling all the feelings, and do they ever go away? The response from a very wise alumni was do you want to stop feeling all those things? And I think that is accurate. It is hard to articulate with words (and even sometimes with gestures) the emotions and feelings that are dwelling within ourselves as we prepare, but I don't think we always have to. And when we are overwhelmed with sixteen different feelings all at the same time, that is also okay and good. We should and get to sit with that. 
  • Another piece of language that ties in with all that we are feeling and experiencing is 'grace space'. Someone during orientation coined it and many of us have begun to use it and dwell with it. This is space that we should give ourselves, space to be gentle with ourselves, to give ourselves grace. 
  • Seasons. Another term that I had not heard of before this. We talked about how other people sometimes can view our year as differently than what we think it is. It is nothing different than a different season in our lives, a new place, a new community, a changing of the seasons to experience new life.
  • Which was a piece of this grand conversation that I loved and have been dwelling with. Language is very important and can alter what we mean. So we have been challenged to remove "I" and "My" from the title of our year. (Bear with me as I try to put this into correct words that articulate what I want). When we think about this year, we can be tempted to think in terms of "my year," "the service I did," etc. But it is not. We even discussed that it is not even YAGM that we should replace it with, but God. We are responding to what we feel that God wants us to do. We are living out God's service and His will. 
All of these are bits and pieces that we have been discussing and sharing with each other to understand more fully who we are and what we are called to do. We are missionaries. We ALL are missionaries (me, the other YAGM, and you. Yes, even you reading this right now). A missionary is someone who is responding to God's call and looking to live that out in their life. We, the YAGM, are just responding to a call.  

Monday, August 5, 2013

Community Support

Blessings. I can never stop talking about all the blessings that God gives. I have been so blessed to be surrounded by communities that care and love me and want to support me. Part of my responsibility for this next year is to raise money for my year of ministry. I had faith that I would be able to rely on the communities that I am a part of to support me, but it is a lot of money that I have to raise, and I was a bit nervous about reaching my goal while spending my summer, and fundraising time, at camp. In the beginning of the summer I got a wonderful e-mail that said a church, which I had never been to or heard of, was going to sponsor me for part of my year of ministry. I was, and still am, silenced by their kindness. This is such a generous gift. I then got the chance to go thank them personally and talk to their congregation about what I am going to be doing and what I know so far. They welcomed me in with open arms and let me talk at multiple different times so many people got to ask questions and I got to thank many people. I can't wait to stay in touch with them throughout this next year and then meet up with them again when I come back to the States. There are no words that can accurately describe what it feels like to know that a group of people who do not know you or anything about you are willing to support you in the works that you are going to do, even when you are not sure of exactly what those works are. They not only said they were going to support me financially, but they said they were going to pray for me and some members talked about sending me mail. Knowledge that people who just met me are praying for me and looking to keep in touch with me while I am in South Africa is a very comforting thing to know. This community that I am blessed with, that keeps growing, is a blessing that I cannot articulate with words (or motions and sounds for that matter).

Now, my community of support has grown in size and in strength. As I mentioned above, I was nervous about how I was going to fund-raise while working at camp this summer. I was concerned that I would not have enough time or enough people to talk with in the communities that I am a part of. But the blessings in my life have been abundant and I cannot give enough thanks to God for them. I was anxious about getting enough funding, but I found out earlier this week that the communities that I am a part of have been so kind and have supported me over and above for me to reach my goal. I am grateful and so blessed.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

So Many Emotions

I leave in 37 days. I am filled with so many emotions. So many that my mind has a hard time resting. I want to jump up and down and scream, I am so excited. I want to throw up, I am so nervous. I become giggly because I don't know what to think. I freeze because I am overwhelmed. I cry because I am so blessed.

The more I think about all the emotions that fill my body, I realize the one that is the strongest and the one that drives the others is the feeling of gratefulness. I can't wrap my mind around how blessed I am, but I know that I am very blessed. I am grateful to have the time and health to have an opportunity to do this. I am blessed to have multiple communities to support me through prayer and in financial ways. I am grateful to have my parents support and walk with me on every journey that I make. I am grateful to know that they will do what they can to help me accomplish my goals. I am blessed to have my parents encourage me and stand with me through the joys and struggles that I face as I approach this year. I am blessed to know that God is with me through every step in this process. I am thankful to know that He will not leave my side as I try to do His will and follow His call. I am grateful to have space to respond to a call like this, to be able to live out this type of ministry, to grow in my own faith. I am grateful to know people who will listen to all of my fears and joys. I am blessed to know people who can help give me vocabulary to describe what I feel, what I need, what I don't understand and what I can't know yet. I am unbelievably blessed and when I start to think about this truth all I can do is cry tears of gratefulness. Thank you all for blessing me with so much joy.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Open Heart

I found out! And I bursted into sparkles.

I received an e-mail earlier this week and it had the information of roughly what I will be doing in South Africa. I will be living in Thohoyandou, South Africa! I will be hosted by the Devhula Leboa Circuit and I am blessed to have the opportunity to live and grow in their community. As to what I will be doing...that is the best part. I get to learn from the Dean of the circuit and follow in the ministry that he does. Tessa (my country program coordinator) wrote in my letter that she feels I will be enriched by this because of my plans to go to seminary and become a pastor. And this is where the open heart from God comes into play. I have been wrestling with whether or not I am going to seminary for about the last year or so, and I have not been sure if I want to be a pastor for the last year and a half or so. And before the summer started I was pretty sure that pastoral ministry was not a job that I had the gifts or skills for. But this summer I am in a leadership position at Lutherdale Bible camp (where I have worked as a cabin leader for the last three summers) and as this summer has progressed I have started to think that yeah maybe I can be a leader and yeah I might have some leadership skills (this is something that I have NEVER thought I was, a good role model, yes sure, but a And so when I received this letter from Tessa about where I was going and what I was doing I was surprised when I didn't respond with resistance, but with an open and excited heart for what is to come. It is by the grace of the Holy Spirit that I heard this news with an open and excited heart. I read the letter and thought "oh my! This is going to be so cool. Wow, maybe by the end of this summer and then by the end of next year I may be called to pastoral ministry." I am overcome with joy and excitement to see where I grow this summer and then with the opportunities that I have for this next year, where will I grow in all of that. It is amazing to see the Spirit working, and it is SO COOL when our lives are changed by it. Please be continually praying for me as this journey continues to twist and turn with so much joy and excitement.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Excitement and suspense

Every moment I think about YAGM and moving to South Africa my heart starts to beat just that much faster and I can hardly contain my excitement. I am becoming very excited for this upcoming year. I have been working at camp for the last three weeks and it is one of my favorite places with some of my favorite people. Camp has been great to keep me focused on the present. Living in the present is something that I wish to do more of. Each moment is precious in its own way and everything has something to give that we can appreciate, but if we move by too quickly or are not focused on what is in front of us, we will miss the chance to witness beauty and God. And this is why I am so glad I get to be at camp before I move. This is a community where I have had practice with living in the present, focusing on the campers and people in front of me, and where I am in a routine to am able to look for God in my daily practices. I am blessed to be practicing this, but also extra challenged by it this summer and the past few days as I await my placement. It will be coming soon!! Let the patience, presence, and excitement continue!! :)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Getting Support


I am grateful for all of the wonderful people that I know and the grand experiences that I have had. In August I get to begin my journey in South Africa with YAGM (Young Adults in Global Mission). I find out where I will be living and what I will be doing at the end of June. For now, I get to talk with others and share the exciting news of my future. The ELCA is very supportive of young adults in global mission, and work with us to make sure we create a community of people who will support us, financially, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. We are not in this alone and I LOVE that aspect of mission. With my busy schedule, and all of your busy schedules, I have been looking to find ways to get in touch with people to let them know about this, and I knew I would be blogging while I am in S. Africa, so why not start now? I want to reach out and ask for help. With this lovely experience of being sent out to be messed up, I need support. The ELCA requires that each YAGM member raise $4,000.

Here is the tricky part- finding ways to raise support in the few days that I have before I head off to camp for the summer. Talking with my housemate, I found a wonderful online tool called You can go to my page at This website provides an easy way to coordinate funding and will allow you an easy way to donate. Since I am using a sponsored website, there is a charge of 5% from every donation. If you would like to write a check and send it in directly to the ELCA, you can click on the support a volunteer link and download the donation form on the ELCA webpage. (click here YAGM Support ). If you would like to do this, please make sure to include my name and GCS3052 (Elle Janss -GCS3052) on the memo line of your check. By doing this, you will ensure that the money you donate will go support me. Thank you all for your support financially, and spiritually. Please continue to be with me this year as I grow and learn.