On Corporate Confession: A Prayer for Black History Month

Over Christmas break, I was drinking coffee with two of my favorite people in the world (who actually had never met each other). We only had an hour, so there was zero small talk and we went straight to the good stuff like the role of women in the church and diversity and reconciliation and these pressing issues that keep us up at night. At one point we were talking about reconciliation in the church, and black lives matter, and why our white churches can’t/aren’t doing anything on this issue. And at one point I said something like,

“The white church’s problem is we see everything as individualistic, and so we think if we’re individually nice to the black people we know then we’re loving our neighbours and everything is fine. (Like this study pointed out). But if the problems are bigger than that—if they’re structural, if racism is more about a system—it’s harder for people to grasp that.”

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Blog posts I should have written, and a hike!

So, there are many blog posts I could have written in the past few weeks. I in fact, wrote them perfectly and completely in my head. They were things like:

“Black people don’t camp”…and other race lies we believe that actually have nothing to do with race… based on going camping with the other iThemba staff (most of whom are black, most of whom had never camped, and most of whom loved it and are planning on doing it again, but because they didn’t grow up camping, it just wasn’t on their radar). A prime example of a class/structural thing that we like to say is a race thing- if, for generations, the majority of black people are working minimum wage jobs, do you think they would have tons of time and money (and TRANSPORT) to go out to the mountains, book a campsite, purchase camping supplies and camp?! Leisure activities like camping also run in families. Like- my husband’s family is a camping family. Hardcore. But I have white, middle class friends who have never been camping, because their parents didn’t take them and it’s not top on their list of fun things to do. (** edit: reasons why you should write full blog posts and not paragraphs: By this, I am not dismissing the fact that stats show that it’s mostly white people who camp. What I’m trying to say is there are larger, structural reasons why it’s mostly white people camping, and not because there’s “something about white people” that just loves camping or that black people are born with this innate desire to never camp in their lives. Which is kind of the way we tend to talk about it here in South Africa: White guys can’t dance. Black people don’t camp. End of story.**)

“Isn’t it a cultural thing?” and other things white people like saying to explain stuff we really don’t understand and are actually too lazy to go find out about. Maybe it is a culture thing. Maybe that person is just weird. But instead of idly making comments like that, what if we became actual students of another culture? We say we’re proudly South African rainbow nation and all that stuff, but beyond eating Indian food and the stereotypes we laugh at with Trevor Noah, what do we actually know about _______ culture? Are we really learning from each other? Or are we patting ourselves on the back because of what we already know? This was sparked by some missionaries visiting our church and talking about the process they went through to learn about the culture in the country where they serve. I think all of us should be required to do those things. Things like: attending weddings, funerals and celebrations from another culture with someone from that culture. Learning another language. Finding out what people talk about and in what order. How do people spend their free time? What do they value? Shop where they shop.

Leaving: I prefer the ripping off the bandaid method. There are two kinds of bandaid removers in the world. Here’s the picture: You’re five, and you have a bandaid that’s really, really stuck. Do you slowly wiggled at the corners,  easing it off millimeter by millimeter? Or, you were one of those people who just gritted your teeth and yanked it off as fast as possible?  We’re leaving in just one week to hike El Camino, and then on to the USA for David to do his masters, and as we’ve been packing up and saying goodbye and being with everyone these past three weeks, I keep wishing I could just yank the bandaid off, get everything over with, and move on. I. Hate. Saying. Goodbye.

But I’m trying to be present, and to be grateful, and I read Daring Greatly and this is a perfect opportunity to practice my “leaning in and embracing the moment and being vulnerable skills” and yeah. Mhmm. Whatever.

So, all that to say– I haven’t written any of those posts, but there they all are for you to think about for a month while David and I hike El Camino de Santiago through Spain. I will probably blog about the hike after the hike, because that’s how I process things, but I don’t think I’ll actually write during it. If I feel divinely inspired, I might change my mind, but that’s the plan right now.

Then, we’ll be back in the States, finding jobs and settling as David starts his Math studies, wooohooo. I’ll still be doing iThemba’s communications even from the States, so I’m sure you’ll still hear stories from Sweetwaters/Mpumuza, but also some of our adventures trying to live in America again and what that looks like! But probably the blog will be quiet for a while as we find our feet, and figure out this new chapter of our lives.

It’s been great traveling with you all over these past two and a half years! Thanks for reading, and hopefully we’ll catch up again in a few months!

Asidlale–Siyazama Creche

Here’s a video I made to be sent out as a thank you to the people who help support Asidlale, our Early Childhood Education programme. I thought since I talk so much about these creches and kids, you might like to watch a 1min 30s clip of them. 🙂

Also, for those of you who are following this and are the praying kind– today is the start of 3 days of prayer and fasting for iThemba and the work in Sweetwaters. I have a prayer guide for the three days, just click here to view it: prayer guide August 2013.

Thank you for joining us in what God is doing in the community! 🙂

One Year

Mbubu mountain (also called Swartkop). This is the hill that is in the painting I use for my banner. :) It is the hill that overlooks all of Sweetwaters/Mpumuza

Mbubu mountain (also called Swartkop). This is the hill that is in the painting I use for my banner. 🙂 It is the hill that overlooks all of Sweetwaters/Mpumuza

I can’t believe that David and I have been here for one year already! It’s been a wonderful, exciting year–sometimes difficult, but always good. Here are some moments I have loved about being in South Africa and working with iThemba:

  • The moment when kids stopped excitedly waving and shouting “Mlungu, mlungu” (white person) when I drive through Sweetwaters, and instead shout, “Steph! Steph!
  • Also, that one time when I was at kids club and a new child said something about “her mlungu” (meaning me) and this other four-year old very primly said, “No, that’s not your mlungu, that’s Steph.”
  • Speaking of my name, I always enjoy people calling me “Steve” because they can’t pronounce Steph. And when iThemba staff call me Thandi, my Xhosa name, that makes me smile, too.
  • Every day that I get to drive in these beautiful rolling hills— whether they are green in summer or brown in winter, they are just amazing.
  • Finishing a project: Whether it’s the new volunteers manual and prezi, or writing a really good thank you note to a funder, or updating the iThemba blog…I love that feeling when I’m done with something and can be proud of what I made.
  • The first fifteen minutes of every day when people are all arriving at the office, laughing and chatting and finding out how everyone’s husbands, wives and babies are doing.
  • Any time I get to work with my buddies Thulani and Sizwe— they really are like the big brothers I always wanted, and they always are so encouraging and make me laugh. Their commitment to their work and to the kids is so inspiring. And also Wendy, Gugu, and Mashinini and…basically, all the iThemba staff are amazing!!
  • Worship on kids camp. Hearing all those kids singing is just…wow.
  • Hearing from “iThemba team alumni” who are now doing cool things with their lives, or hearing how working in South Africa with iThemba has changed them.
  • Seeing God working. Seeing hope planted. Seeing slow changes in people’s lives.
  • Seeing how God has provided every step of the way…I had 4 months of mono, David had 4 months with out a job, we had car-break downs… and yet it when we were going through it all, it didn’t seem to be a big deal. It’s more like looking back I’m astounded at how peacefully and joyfully we came through those challenges– and I know that is only because I was surrounded with the love and prayers from people like you all!
  • I love getting to tell people about iThemba, and just how cool what they are doing is. That is one of my favorite things.
  • I love that I can just be me. I often feel like I don’t quite “fit”– I didn’t feel like I “fit” in college, and sometimes now with my Hilton friends, I don’t feel like I “fit”– but when I’m hanging out with iThemba staff, playing with kids in Sweetwaters, getting to totally embarass myself doing silly dances, getting to sing with people who actually sing louder than I do– I just feel so comfy and so happy and so content.
  • I love that I can be a part of a group of people that I am so, so proud of. I love that I can go to work and KNOW that I am going to do something that will help bring Jesus love and hope to the kids in Sweetwaters, and kids lives really are being changed. I love that iThemba is not perfect, but is committed to growing better at doing community development right.

Lastly, I just want to thank everyone, once again, who has given, or is still giving, so that I can be out here and help iThemba. I don’t even know some of you personally, yet you have donated your money so that I can continue to assist iThemba in this work. Thank you for “running with me”.

This list does not include the wonderful times that we’ve had with family (both US family, and family here) the fun that David and I have had in our first year of marriage, our great small group and church, getting to eat avocados….it’s been fantastic! 

I love this picture of me and Nompilo. It was taken on the day she was helping me at Running Club. I blogged about it here: https://bridginghope.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/farther-together/

I love this picture of me and Nompilo. It was taken on the day she was helping me at Running Club. I blogged about it here: https://bridginghope.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/farther-together/

Farther Together

Nompilo competing during a race. She was NOT running this fast when she was helping me. :)

Nompilo competing during a race. She was NOT running this fast when she was helping me. 🙂

When we have a team visiting us, it means I get to go be involved with every aspect of iThemba’s work for a few days. This week, that meant I visited running club for the first time since I got over my mono (glandular fever). I have posted about running club in the past, but for those who don’t like hyperlinks, running club is a group of students from a local high-school coached by Thulani, one of our discipleship fieldworkers. There are about 40 of them, and this term they are competing (and winning) against super-priviledged schools in the area.

I took the team to meet the club and join in with the practice– and hopefully encourage the kids to keep going and be dedicated. Thulani had us start by running a few warm-up laps around the stadium (which also doubles as a cow pasture). Since I didn’t want to be lazy, and I wanted to set the example by participating, I decided to run one lap. My friend Nompilo, a student in running club who also was in art club last term (and is one of the fastest on the team), was very kind and slowed pratically to a walk so she could jog with me. Then, as we approached the end of the first lap, I was going to stop, when she wrapped both her arms around me and said, “No, it’s okay, I’ll be with you, you can do it! Keep going.” And so I kept going. 

On my own, I would have done just one lap, but with Nompilo  I was able to do two. 🙂 What a beautiful picture of encouragement, teamwork, and the fact that we really do go farther together. We really do need each other. 

Many of the discipleship fieldworkers have been facing very serious situations in the community with the kids they work with: suicides, abuse, death from AIDS– and all of this has been taking a toll on them. Thankfully, this team we recently had from Restroation Hope was able to pray for them and encourage them to keep going. To see the American church come hold hands and gather around the South African church, praying for the Spirit help them finish strong was a beautiful picture of Christ’s body at work.

  • Pray that the discipleship fieldworkers will continue to be encouraged. 
  • Pray that the running club will become a group of students who support each other in making wise choices. 

Welcome Home!

David and I have been here for just 6 days, and it has been a wonderful week. We have been blown away with how God has provided for us through the love of friends and family. Things we are currently praising God for:

  • Only 19% of my funds are left to be raised! THANK YOU to everyone who has pledged to support me! We also have several friends and family who are in the process of donating, so really, we are even closer than 19% to our goal. Praise God!
  • Both our bags arrived with us in Durban. We had some pretty close connections, but both our bags arrived with us, in tact, and on time.
  • Our flat where we are staying is well-stocked and the fireplace has been keeping us warm (remember, it is the end of winter here).
  • David and I have not had to cook once this week, thanks to friends and family inviting us over for meals, or bringing us food.
  • We have already had 2 braais (a South African cook out–see the picture above).
  • It is avocado season….which means I have 6 avocados at home waiting to be eaten from our landlord’s trees. YUM! 🙂
  • My first week at work was so great it needs it’s own blog post.

Please keep joining us in prayer for the following:

  • David has begun the job search for a Maths teaching post. This next week he will be driving around and handing his CV (resume) in person to all the principals in this area. Please pray that God will open doors for him.
  • Justina, the first short-term iThemba partner arrives on Tuesday. Pray that I will do a good job orientating her, and she will connect and get to plug in to iThemba projects quickly.
  • That my remaining funds will come in.
  • Driving…driving here is not like in the US. Roads are twisty, there are people, cows and mist, it’s on the left-hand side of the road, and there is no power steering. We also don’t know where things are yet, so whenever we drive it is pretty stressful. Pray that we will quickly learn where things are, and that we will adapt to this new style of driving.

Flat

Here are some pictures of the flat I will be staying in when I get to South Africa in August. It is fully furnished, so the only thing I have to bring with me is my suitcase of clothes. Praise God!