Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Eyes Opened

Do you see them?

Did you notice?

They’re right outside.

Always there.

And yet somehow we miss them.

Washed away in our busy routine

In our isolated space

In our empty stare

We see right past


We don’t register them at all.

Invisible they stand.

Who? you may ask.

Your brothers and sisters.

They live here.

And yet they live a different life than you, who missed them.

They are the family who wait for their children to come home from school so they can walk together to the store to buy groceries and have enough hands to carry all the bags home.

He’s the man that stands for the Pace Bus with his briefcase and phone waiting to go to work, or to an interview in hopes of securing a job.

They are the men and women who walk with their life attached to them because they do not have a room of their own to lay their things, or their head.

They are the couple crossing the street with bags in their hands from doing some after work shopping.

They are the young men and women standing on the street next to or near that pole that you never noticed that says “Pace Bus Stop 714”.

And I never noticed them either.

Until recently.

I came home from my, now, second home in South Africa, and my mom signed me up to help with PADS. I have done this before and thought it would be a good transition. And then I also volunteered to ride the Pace Bus to interview people and see what the limited public transportation is like and how helpful it is to those who use it.

My eyes were opened like never before.

At PADS, I stared the systemic issue of poverty in its face that night and my mind did not stop spinning.


God’s people

Their faces etched in my mind. Their voices and conversations playing in my memory.

And some showed up again when I rode the bus.

More thoughts racing through my mind.

Now as I travel, I see only the bus stops.

The people that stand by.

I see those who walk on the street, for whatever the reason.

I see the way that we live,

Individuals in an empty car,

Me driving alone.

And it is not sustainable.

What is the solution?

How do we create community?

What can we have change?

How do we open our eyes?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Limbo Forest

It is freeing, being deep in the forest. Surrounded by nature.  Wandering. Just wandering. Having the time, space, and choice to see and go wherever the path or wind takes you.

The forest is large, and there are many places to go, and many different ways to get out, but before you do so, it is nice to explore. Sit. Walk. Talk. Be. in limbo.

The vast diversity of trees towering over you, giving you shade, shelter, oxygen, beauty. You can walk and smell the flowers, turn around to find the moss that you missed growing next to the stump. There is a dung beetle that you watch, as it pushes a ball across the path, and you lose it under a pile of fallen leaves. But waiting and watching you can see the rustle of leaves as the beetle fights and works to push the ball through, and it emerges after some time on the other side.

It is relieving to sit and watch creation grow and change around you, not having to work or do, but just be and see, absorb and experience.

But the forest is not only a place of light and relaxation. The sun does go down. Darkness comes. And fear can creep in the shadows that are created as they dance across the unknown paths.  It is unnerving walking around not knowing where you step, what you will land on, or what will suddenly come across your path. Even known and familiar paths can be daunting and eerie when seen with different lenses.

But dawn always comes. The promise of light is fulfilled each morning, as the earth continues to spin. And the exploration goes on.

Being alone.
All alone.
There is silence.
But being still and alone in the forest of limbo does not mean we are sole independent beings that have to journey by ourselves. No, being still and alone in the forest of limbo can opens our eyes to the WIDE and WHOLE web that we are wonderfully woven into. We are connected to each piece of creation, witnessed and unseen, known and stranger.

There is so much beauty that can be found and unveiled in the forest. But there comes a time, when a path is chosen, and the walk begins. A new light is found, and we go towards it, remembering the lessons and treasures that we discovered while in the forest, and forever knowing that we will return, maybe after a short time down the currently chosen path, or after years of walking the same road, we will return to find new gems that twinkle and add a spark to our world, or new beams of light that illuminate pieces of ourselves that we never knew.

The forest is a mysterious place, one that holds wonders and fears. But one will never know the power that the forest can give, the life and affirmation that it offers, until one allows oneself to empty out and walk in faith through the forest for a little while, witnessing the gifts that limbo has to give. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Passover Remembered...

This is a beautiful poem that was creatively read to us during orientation in Chicago back in August. I recently have been thinking about it again and want to share it with you all.

Passover Remembered…
by Alla Bozarth-Campbell

Pack nothing.
Bring only your determination to serve
and your willingness to be free.

Don’t wait for the bread to rise.
Take nourishment for the journey, but eat standing.
Be ready to move a a moment’s notice.

Do not hesitate to leave your old ways behind-
fear, silence, submission.
Only surrender to the need of the time-
love justice and walk humbly with your God.

Do not take time to explain to the neighbours.
Tell only a few trusted friends and family members.
Then begin quickly, before you have had time
to sink back into old slavery.

Set out in the dark.
I will send fire to warm and encourage you.
I will be with you in the fire, and I will be with you in the cloud.

You will learn to eat new food
and fine refuge in new places.
I will give you dreams in the desert
to guide you safely to that place you have not yet seen.
The stories you tell one another around the fires in the dark
will make you strong and wise.

Outsiders will attack you, and some follow you
and at times you will get weary and turn on each other
from fear, fatigue and blind forgetfulness.

You have been preparing this
for hundreds of years.

I am sending you into the wilderness to make a new way
and to learn my ways more deeply.

Some of you will be so changed by weathers and wanderings
that even your closest friends will have to learn your features
as though for the first time.

Some of you will not change at all.

Some will be abandoned by your dearest loves
and misunderstood by those who have known you since birth
who feel abandoned by you.

Some will find new friendships in unlikely faces,
and old true friends as faithful and true
as the pillar of God’s flame.

Sing songs as you go,
and hold close together.
You may at times grow confused
and lose your way.

Continue to call each other by the names I’ve given you
to help remember who you are.
Touch each other,
and keep telling the stories.

Make maps as you go,
remembering the way back from before you were born.
So you will be only the first of many waves
of deliverance on the desert seas.
It is the first of many beginnings-
your Paschaltide.

Remain true to the mystery.
Pass on the whole story.
Do not go back.
I am with you now and I am waiting for you.


South Africa is a very communal culture. I see how this rings true in a lot of different areas of life. One especially, is at funerals. Now, before I came to South Africa, I can only remember going to two funerals, they were for my grandfathers. Some may count that as a blessing, only two. But that does not mean that I only know two people who have passed. They were just the only close family members to die. But here, in South Africa, it does not matter how close they are to you, or even if you even knew them well. You go. I learned this the first week I was here. My mom’s uncle died just before I arrived and so that weekend was the funeral. Mom told me we were going. Me, having just arrived and still confused, asked if that would be okay if I went. She looked me straight on and said, “If I died, would you go to my funeral?” A little taken aback, I said, “yes.” “So then you can come to his,” she told me. It does not matter if you knew them, you are there and supporting those who did. Beautiful.

Since then I have attended a handful of funerals. All of which I did not know the person, or met them once for a second, but they were either family members, family members of a friend, a church member, or neighbor.

This past weekend I had the heart wrenching experience of attending the funeral of a friend, a co-worker. He was one of the kindest people I have ever known. I would run into him at school, he worked as a teacher in the blind section, and we would talk as we walked together, arm in arm, because he was blind. He never was angry or sad, always had on a smile and was ready to laugh.

Saturdays are funeral days. I woke at 4 to be at the school by 5, to then catch the bus with other teachers, support staff, and students to ride the hour to his home for the funeral, which began at 6 (all funerals begin at this time). It was like all other funerals that I have been to. It began in a church with a small service where people get up to talk. The small church was packed full of people. It was a beautiful moment when the visually impaired students who came with got up and sang a hymn. Then one of the young girls came up to sing a solo. He was a lovely man who touched many lives. We all processed out of the church and headed to the graveyard, mavhidani. There were so many people that many were not able to see what was happening. The crowd gathers around the spot where he is laid to rest. My heart was warmed when everyone made space for the students to have a front row stand (there are no seats except a tent that is set up at one end with seats for the close family members, like his wife, kids, and parents. Everyone else gathers around standing). They lowered him down, and then mixed the dirt and buried him. Sometimes men from the community will step forward and each take a turn in burying the deceased. Communal. The whole community is there, singing songs, lamenting, leaning on one another, gathering and being together in their loss. It is a beautiful thing, community.

After the burial, everyone heads back to the house to eat. This is where even more community takes place. The neighbors and distant relatives come together the night before and the morning of with their large, LARGE pots and spoons to cook for the entirety of people that attended the funeral, so the mourning family does not have to worry. Everyone then gathers after the burial and stands in line to get food to eat. Once they are full, people usually go and greet the close family members of the one who died, and then they head home.

Funerals are a very hard part of life. But there is a bit of beauty that I see when gathering amongst hundreds of people, singing and lamenting. Community is something that God intended, called for actually, and being in community, seeing community while suffering from loss, makes it all a little more bearable.

Being an Introvert

I love my alone time. I need it; to recharge. But I am realizing that I LOVE witnessing my community, and one of the times I love it most is when I am recharging. How?

I spend a lot of my recharging time in my room. But, I usually leave my door open. As I sit on my bed I can hear and see my community still engaged. I love to listen to my auntie and mama watching TV. My favorite is when soccer is playing at night and I hear screams and shouts of “YES! YES!!!!” coming from the sitting room, and I can’t contain my smiles. Or when naps are in order and I can hear through the wall mama or my auntie snoring as they rest. I also love to look out my window and see small children at play in the streets. Or watch as beloved neighbors walk by on their way to someone’s house or the store. If it is Sunday, I get to hear music as drums ring out beautiful sounds and people sing loud praise from my neighbor’s house church, which continues well into the afternoon. Sometimes if it is a nice day and I’ve been inside too long, I will hear “Elle!” being called from friends as they walk by looking to play. And it is not only my community here that I see when I recharge. I have on my walls cards and photos from loved ones and community members from back in the States that they have sent me throughout this year. I get to see them and the love that they represent, and I am just filled with joy. My alone time to recharge is not really alone time, I am not isolated, but witnessing, like a fly on the wall, the beauty of my community as it swirls and dances about, and I love it.

Muledane Drop in Center

I have been so blessed to be surrounded by more love and friends. Recently I have begun volunteering with the Lutheran Church’s Far North Community Care & Development (FNCCD). They have four different programs, one of which is Child and Youth Care Development. Part of the FNCCD’s mission is to provide quality care and support to youths, orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs). The Drop in Center at Muledane stared in 2011 and reaches 58 OVCs. This is one of the two Drop in Centers that FNCCD currently has. Drop in Centers provide a wide range of critical services to OVCs, including homework support, psychosocial support, life skills training, and recreational activities. 

There are four BEAUTIFUL women that I get to engage with. They have some of the largest hearts that I know and are unbelievably welcoming. They also have a lot to do. These women know each child that comes to them. They have designated days in which they go to the homes of the children to check in with the guardians and see how the kids have been doing since they started coming to the center. They have a schedule for each week with different activities that the kids will do, teaching them about hygiene, culture, arts, sports, etc. They also provide a meal each day for the children. This means that there is cooking that must be done at the center every day. They are given food from FNCCD to provide the kids with a meal. These women are saints.

The children are also fabulous. They start to arrive around 2, after school is let out, and leave at 4. I have only had a few hours to interact with this beautiful gathering of people, but it has been some of my favorite and most cherished times. We joke and play, do homework and sing. I have read stories with them, some in English and some in Tshivenda. Mostly we just enjoy the company of each other. One girl, after making her nearly roll on the ground with my silly behavior and inability to succeed at playing a rock game (similar to Jacks), touches my shoulder or arm every time she passes me so that I turn to see her smile and wave. EVERY TIME. And I love each time she passes. Her smile is so warm and genuine. I feel indisputably welcomed into this community, family, home that these children of God have made.   

The photos are of two of the women preparing plates full of pap, cabbage, and meat for the children. The other two are of some of the children playing outside. This was the first day that I brought out my camera so I was swarmed by smiling faces wanting a picture.