Thank you for all of your love and support I am so excited to share this experience with all of you!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A South African Christmas

Merry Christmas!

I hope you are having a blessed Christmas season. South African Christmas is different than anything I have ever experienced, most notably the summer weather! I miss you all very much and know that I am thinking of you often. I'll be celebrating Christmas with my South African hosts with Christmas morning church and lunch. My Christmas present will be landing on a flight from the United States landing at 5 pm Christmas Day. My boyfriend, Josh, is coming for a 2 week visit! I am beyond excited. We'll be spending time in Soweto as well as traveling to Cape Town! I'll be back in Soweto on Jan 10! I'll be back on the blog then :)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thanksgiving and Beyond

When I first arrived in South Africa I knew that the time I spent here would fly by. I knew that there would be events that would seem far away and then suddenly in a blink of eye would be here. Thanksgiving was the first of these events making the holiday and our first volunteer retreat. Leaving orientation with the other volunteers in the first week of September we knew that we would not all be together again until Thanksgiving; it was 12 weeks away. Looking at the calendar and first adjusting to the new surroundings it looked like the end of November was ages away. Now Thanksgiving and the retreat have come and gone.

Our first retreat was exactly that a retreat. It was a great time to spend together, have fun, and reflect on our first months in South Africa. As we came together that first night it was clear that the 11 young adults who left in September where 11 different people than who gathered together at the same hostel. We laughed, we shared stories, we just enjoyed being together. Through the retreat we were able to spend time in Pietermaritzburg were we celebrated a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with the Konkol family. It was amazing how being outside of the United States you can truly experience the spirit of Thanksgiving. Following Thanksgiving day we traveled into the Drakensberg mountains and did quite a bit of hiking. The mountains were beautiful.

Following the retreat I had the opportunity to travel with 3 other YAGMs. Our first stop was to Bloemfontein. We spent 3 days working on a farm, there are pictures to proof it :)! We also were able to accompany the 28 orphans who stay at the farm to a day at a waterpark. These kids did not know how to swim but had a great day gaining confidence in the water and by the end of the day they were all able to hold their breath and go under water! I was also able to travel to Kimberly to serve with another volunteer. After being on the road for almost 2 weeks it was great to come home to Soweto.

The chance to serve with other volunteers is such a gift. See what a day is like for them. Seeing a totally different part of South Africa. While we are all in South Africa the experiences each of us have are so different. I loved being on the farm and being able to sit outside and see the thousands and thousands of stars while fighting mosquitoes after a long day of hard work outside. I also loved being in Kimberly and seeing how this community was shaped by the mining of diamonds that continues today. Being away made me appreciate being in Soweto so much more. The old saying of absence makes the heart grow founder is so true. Soweto is busy and loud and something is always happening I love it all. I know that each volunteer is partial to their area and I know that each of us is exactly where we are suppose to be. Coming home I truly realized that Soweto has become home and that simple statement makes me so happy. I know that my time here is short and will go quickly but I know that come July when I do have to pack my bags and leave I will leave part of me here in Soweto.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Power of the Game

In case you were completely isolated for the past year, or made it to November without looking at a calendar it is 2010. 2010, what South Africa has been waiting for since it was announced that South Africa would be hosting the 2010 World Cup in May of 2004. For 6 years there was a focus on 2010. Five new soccer stadiums were constructed while five other stadiums were improved. Airports were built and improved along with countless hotels and hostels. Infrastructure projects were begun and while the World Cup championship game and closing ceremonies were held months ago one trip down any highway in Johannesburg will prove that the building was not quite completed on time and we still find ourselves in construction related traffic standstills. It was clear that the World Cup was a success. Fans, teams, and all of South Africa were able to celebrate the World Cup. The initial costs for hosting the World Cup were greatly exceeded all estimates. It is still up for debate whether the costs will benefit South Africa into the future.

I enjoyed watching the World Cup in previous years. However, this past summer I was much more invested. I watched and celebrated with the rest of the world but; I caught the 2010 fever. Like many people in South African I can pinpoint the exact date of the start of my World Cup Fever. My fever began to rise in April of 2010 when I accepted my current YAGM opportunity. From that point on I began watching the World Cup in South Africa realizing that only a few weeks after the championship game I would be moving to the area I was watching on TV. I joined millions around the world cheering on teams, arguing calls and watching South Africa shine. I eagerly awaited the time when I would be experiencing it all in person and not through a television. My roommates deemed me the most annoying person to watch the games with because I would get so excited about the whole event.

As 2010 begins winding down I find myself wondering what will happen now. How does a country that has focused on this one year move on to the next year? I am constantly reminded that the World Cup was here. Nearly every person I meet in South Africa is shocked to learn that I came after the World Cup was over. Walking through the streets of Soweto I see images that were painted on the cement and while I can imagine what they looked like bright and freshly painted they are now not so bright and gradually fading into the cement again. What will it mean for South Africa when 2011 is rung in?

While in the United States soccer is struggling to be a more mainstream sport in South Africa it is THE GAME; it was here long before the 2010 fever and will continue to be the national pastime. Soccer has been played in township streets for years long before South Africa would even dream of hosting an event like the World Cup. It has only been 16 years since the democratic elections that mark the official end of apartheid. In 16 years South Africa has been able to transform itself and host the world, and as many signs in Joburg will tell you, “This is a world class African Host City”. It only seems quite fitting that it is soccer that brought South Africa back to the front pages of the world’s newspapers. Now it was not the cries of the oppressed, the tireless work of the new government that was the focus of these headlines, but it was on a people and a game that were worth celebrating. The world soon learned the joys of the vuvuzela and was celebrating along with South Africa. I cannot imagine any other place on earth that it would only take 16 years to go from their first democratic election to hosting the world. But in the few short months I have been here I have learned that there is something special in South Africa and it is not surprising that they made this remarkable turnaround.

There are still the scars of apartheid. Unfortunately the world of sports is still divided in South Africa. Soccer is a black sport that is played in the townships. Rugby and cricket are white and colored sports that have fields in the cities. Perhaps the biggest legacy of the World Cup will be the start of those lines blurring. For example due to the World Cup schedule the Blue Bulls Rugby team had two matches moved to Orlando Stadium. This stadium is in the heart of Soweto. It was the stadium that was the focal point of the 1976 Soweto uprising. Now the mostly white rugby fans were following their team right to this stadium. The New York Times documented the event on June 1st 2010 (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/02/world/africa/02soweto.html?_r=1). The article focuses on the white Afrikanners who never stepped foot in this remarkable area called Soweto, and where I now call home. They were not expecting to be welcomed with open arms, but that is exactly what happened. As the article states, perhaps this was the watershed in changing the racial lines of sports in South Africa.

While Soweto did host those rugby games there is no doubt that Soweto is a soccer city, and not just because of the stadium with the same name sitting right on the edge of Soweto. Soweto could arguably be the heart of South African soccer. The two most popular teams in South Africa claim Soweto as solely their own. Everywhere I look in Soweto I see soccer jerseys, kids playing in the street, games on TV, soccer is everywhere. Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday are soccer days and I hear the vuvuzelas on those days incase I have forgotten what day of the week it is. This past Saturday I had the privilege of joining in what can only be described as soccer mayhem. The Kaizer Chiefs were taking on the Orlando Pirates in the Soweto Derby, the biggest soccer game in South Africa that is, excluding the World Cup games. After all my watching of World Cup I was prepared, or so I thought. I knew what a vuvuzela was, I knew about dedicated fans, and I knew how the stadium looked. I had modestly decked myself out to show my loyalty to the Kaizer Chiefs. But Saturday afternoon everything was new. There are no words to describe the feeling of being at the game. There is a passion for the teams and the game which I have never experienced before. While you cannot buy friendship you can buy a soccer jersey and that jersey will sure make you a lot of friends. Everyone either would high five me and chant “Amakhosi for life” the rally cry for all Chiefs fans or shake their head and show me the crossbones of the Pirates. I cheered, I played my vuvuzela, and I celebrated as my team, the Chiefs, beat the Pirates 3-1. Leaving the stadium it was still a party atmosphere all fans were celebrating regardless of their loyalties. It is a memory of South Africa and the sense of community, friendship, and belonging with the other fans that I will always cherish. My hope is that the legacy of the World Cup is all of this. That the spirit and celebration will continue through the love of the game and after experiencing just one game on Saturday, I have no doubt that it will.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Universal Truths

I have been at my placement site in Soweto for a full 2 months now. I have been in South Africa for almost 10 weeks. I don’t know if I will ever be completely “settled in” this whole year but I am finding a routine and my place slowly. Through this all I have found some things are similar no matter where in the world I go:

1. Technology and I will never get along. Since high school I have known that computers and I have less than a stellar track record. Through high school every computer I would attempt to work on would inevitably crash. The librarian and the technology department and I all knew each other by name and they would take turns attempting to help me. In my last job the internet would be fine for everyone else and I would try and everything would suddenly crash. I had hoped that this problem was only USA specific. As it turns out this is a world wide occurrence. At DAM we have a limited internet usage each month. We are only pay for so many gigabites and once they are out we are without internet until the first of the month. Once we ran out in October we thought nothing of it. However, it is almost the first full week of November and we are still without internet. Apparently one of the cords that actually connects us to the DSL line is malfunctioning and our internet providor will have to send someone out to fix it. While it could be a coincidence that this has just happened now that I have arrived, past events have made believe otherwise. Worldwide technology and I have our differences.

2. I love peanut butter. I have found at the grocery store that the generic brand, “Pick and Pay No Name Peanut Butter” tastes and is the exact consistency of peanut butter found in the states. This is only sold in 1 kg tubs. Living on my own for the first time I have found just how much peanut butter I eat. I knew it was a lot but I am currently averaging 1 kg per month, I know none of my roommates from Denver are not the least bit surprised by that figure.

3. It is really easy to make me laugh. My coworkers at DAM have found how easy it is for me to laugh. We are all constantly joking around. Sometimes the jokes are not in English but I find myself laughing along with everyone else. Also, the three chickens living on the compound have been a source of great laughter. I am terrified that I will have to someday eat them. Whenever we have chicken at DAM I try to locate the chickens to ensure that I am not eating them. People have combined that fear with my love for the restaurant Nandos, which serves primarily chicken. All 3 chickens are now referred to by many people around here as Nandos.

4. I have an amazing network of friends and family. I love getting notes from each and every one of you. Knowing you are there for me supporting me in so many ways leaves me speechless. You are all an incredible gift. Thank you so much for sharing in this journey and adventure with me.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I have been reading Desmond Tutu’s phenomenal book No Future Without Forgiveness. It is incredible to be reading this book and living in Soweto. Having always loved history I have never been so close to so much history in both location and time period. There are times when I must sit back and remind myself that people my own age were not only born under Apartheid but have memories of life under the system. I walk around the neighborhoods where so much of the anti-apartheid movement was born. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that Tutu chaired does not have documents that need to be translated or put into historical context. The goal of the TRC as described by Tutu was to find the truth of horrors that occurred under Apartheid, grant amnesty to those willing to come forward and confess, a place for victims to tell their story and as a nation forgive. I received this book as a gift from ELCA Global Mission in June, it sat on my desk to read all summer , I had the best of intentions to read it before I left, but like many good intentions I ran out of time. Now that I a here, “in-country,” I have a much deeper appreciation for the work of the TRC and Tutu’s insight end eloquent writing of his experience chairing this revolutionary commission.

Tutu introduces Ubuntu as a concept numerous times throughout his writing. He explains Ubuntu as the essence of being human. If you have Ubuntu then, “you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have.” For a Western audience Tutu breaks it down as it is not the “I think therefore I am” mindset, it is “I am human because I belong. I participate, I share.” (From page 31 of No Future Without Forgiveness.) In terms of the TRC Ubuntu takes the center stage of Tutu’s theology and philosophy. We are bound together as humans, according to Ubuntu, and therefore must acknowledge wrong doings and forgive in order to have the opportunity to move forward together. The horrific crimes and human right violations that occurred under Apartheid needed to be acknowledged, there is no doubt about that. But simply punishing those who committed this horrendous acts punishes everyone since, through Ubuntu, we are all connected. In acknowledging and forgiving we are able to grieve, learn, and grow together. The TRC is a unique in both it’s approach and philosophy. It is through Ubuntu that it was able to be such a success in uncovering the truth and building a new South Africa out of the horrors of Apartheid through years of hard work, hearings, testimonies, and a final report handed to then President Nelson Mandela on October 29th, 1998.

While adjusting to life in South Africa I have found myself seeing Ubuntu everywhere I lay my eyes. Ubuntu is clearly evident in both the small daily interactions I am apart of and the larger society I have been welcomed into. I have been raised to be extremely independent. I have a hard time asking for help as I have been taught that I should be able to do anything if I work hard. I am the Westerner Tutu speaks of having no context in which to be able to even explain or understand Ubuntu. My language focuses on self; self-control, self-esteem, self-improvement, self-discipline. One of the biggest adjustments I am making is changing from the mindset of self to Ubuntu. My role in accompanying my South African hosts is not about me; it is about how we are all connected. It is learning from each other. The days that I feel like I am doing very little I look around and see how everyone’s work fits together. I can easily see how this work fits together by living in a compound that forms a community built and sustained by those who those who live here, those who work here and come here for support. All these of these things are tied together and I see the tangible examples of Ubuntu by looking out my window. There is a garden at the compound, a part of the DAM support group, but everyone here takes responsibility. Together we reap the benefits, share the work, and are all able to experience Ubuntu

With this changing mindset I have been able to see Ubuntu in the larger society. I have always used the language of social justice to describe how my faith is most fulfilled. Once again focused on myself, this time being self-fulfilled through action. My mindset and philosophy are not changing but my understanding of the world and how I articulate this understanding is slowly moving from my independent Western ideals to an understanding of all people being connected as humans. Social justice exists because of Ubuntu. For example, at morning devotion every morning we pray for those “infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.” At Diakonia AIDS Ministry (DAM), my primary placement we not only work with those who are HIV positive but also those who are directly and indirectly affected by this virus. The reality of South Africa and the entire world is that we are all affected by this pandemic. What happens to one person will affect each one of us. Perhaps not directly but since we are all connected it changes that chain of connection.

The other aspect of my placement working in the Soweto Circuit has also opened my eyes to another aspect of understanding Ubuntu. This past Sunday I was able to accompany my Dean to a ecumenical service in Soweto with the Catholic, Baptists, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and other Christian denominations coming together to worship. Through college I was interested in ecumenical work and even spent a j-term looking at the work that had been done in the United States and Europe for ecumenical services. While the concept seemed simple enough, we all believe the same major aspects of our Christian religion it seemed that the details kept people from seeing eye-to-eye. Papers on ecumenical relationships took years between each denomination. Sunday I witnessed a service that everyone was participating in, simply worshipping together. There were no large document discussions or debates. It was a chance to come together as Christians. We came together no longer defined by our different denominations but joined as one Christian community. On the way home the Dean and I spoke about how this group came together 6 years ago. The ministers worked together and realized the importance of joining together both as ministers and as parishes. The group is continually changing as the pastors have been moved around to different parishes but the service still takes place once a month. The location changes between all of the churches and a different minister preaches each month. As I continued to reflect on this coming together of faiths, I could not help but return to the concept of Ubuntu. Since we are all connected it only makes sense that we can easily come together. When we look at the larger picture of being connected and not the details of self it becomes much easier to see our connections rather than our differences.

Ubuntu has been, perhaps, the most tangible way I can express my understanding of South Africa and my experience thus far here. Ubuntu as given me the language to express what I see all around me, in my living space, work space, and spiritual life. How will this understanding change as I spend more time and grow more connected to life in South Africa? I am eager to see how I retain the concept of Ubuntu in my own life when I return to the United States, the land of self and independence. It is my hope that I not only continue to see Ubuntu but am able to show others this beauty and understanding of the world in which we are all connected.

This blog entry was written for the ELCA MUD3 (The YAGM program of South Africa) blog, which can be viewed at: http://elcamud.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Diakonia AIDS Ministry and an Address!

Diakonia AIDS Ministry (DAM) is one of my primary placements for this year. It also happens to be where I live. To say that I spend a lot of time here is an understatement. But it is a great place to be. I love the fact that I live here, I am meeting the people who come here often, and feel like I am starting to become part of the DAM community. It is a community in every sense of the word.

DAM was started in 2002 by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (ELCSA) and the brain child of Bishop Phaswana who felt the church needed to respond to those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Thus DAM was created. It is on the same compound grounds as the ELCSA Central Diocese office and is an official part of the diocese, directly linking it with ELCSA both in doctrine and in physical location. Through its eight years the programs have morphed and changed into the DAM that has welcomed me with open arms.

DAM is organized by departments; each of these departments focuses on a different part of the community affect/infected by HIV/AIDS:
Orphans and Vulnerable Children(OVC) which works to support children who are orphaned, both in child headed households and living with extended family members. These children receive packages of food and household items when they are available. They are also assisted with obtaining IDs and government grants. The children come to the compound about once a month.
Support Group/Income Generating Projects
this is for people who come to DAM and reveal their HIV status. They join the support group and also join projects that generate a monthly income. The current projects include a garden, daily meals prepared and sold to staff of both DAM and the Diocese Office, chickens for sale (hence the chickens who also live here and will never ever let me sleep past 7 am), and bead work.
Home Based Care (HBC)is on the ground around Soweto caring for HIV patients. They go out every day and literally care for people in every sense of the word care. They travel door to door checking on patients. They ensure that people have all IDs and grants they could obtain as well as nutritional food and all medications needed and that those medicines are administered as prescribed. When needed they schedule and accompany people to appointments.
Education and Training goes out and makes sure people have up-to-date and correct information on HIV/AIDS. They go to churches, malls, parking lots, and sometimes create their own events with simply a truck and loudspeaker!
is the final department. This department sends out a quarterly newsletter. The newsletter includes testimonials from members of the DAM community, what is new, what is continuing, and what is starting.

I am helping in whatever manor I can be of service. I have filed papers in the office. I have sat in a meeting with HBC learning about the challenges they face day-to-day. I have even spent an afternoon weeding in the garden! For more information about DAM check out the power point at this website: http://www.mcselca.org/who/companion_synod/ Hopefully that gives some idea of what DAM consists of, it is so much more than the small paragraph I received in June. There is no way words can do DAM justice, how can you describe a community using words? It must be experienced but hopefully I can share the experience with you through this year.

Unrelated but very exciting....I have an address! The mail is not delivered to individual houses here but to the post office. People have post office boxes and it took some asking to figure out where exactly my mail was being sent and who I needed to speak to about picking up mail. As it turns out my mail is sent with the Central Diocese mail. It works really well as the bookkeeper of the Diocese goes about every other day to pick up mail. If you decide to send anything please let me know and I can give him the heads up that something is coming for me! Rumor is that it takes between 2-3 weeks for anything to reach here from the states. So if you want to find me:

Joy Waughtal
C/O Diakonia AIDS Ministry
PO Box 1210
South Africa

As always thank you for thoughts, prayers, and support. I cannot say thank you enough or tell you how much it means to me. I am so thankful to be able to share these experiences.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

End of September

Hello Everyone!

It is hard to believe that I have been in South Africa for a month already! I have continued to learn and experience new things everyday. Each day I am settling in more and more. I am continuing to split my time between DAM and the Soweto Circuit. Everyday is a new adventure. I am even starting to get use to the slower pace of things. Recently I have had the opportunity to travel a little bit. Thanks to my flexible schedule I hope to see more of South Africa. This past weekend the Evangelical Church of Southern Africa (ELCSA) held 4 conferences across the country. I was fortunate enough to attend the Young Adult League (YAL) Conference in the 1000 Hills area, located between Pietermertzburg and Durban, though I thought it would be closer to Durban and the beach it was a beautiful very hilly area. The conference itself consisted of many meetings, chances to worship, and much fellowship. I am not sure exactly what I expected but I was surprised with the full schedule and formal meeting structures. Everyone I spoke to on the final day was pleased with how the conference had turned out and felt like much had been accomplished. The YAL is the newest league in ELCSA and is still working out what exactly this league will look like. ELCSA has a Men’s League, Women’s League, and Youth League already well established. These leagues offer meetings, prayers, fundraisers, rallies, and conferences. Attending a church service it is easy to see who is who as each league has their own uniform which they were proudly every Sunday morning. As a new comer I have felt so welcomed by each league and enjoy seeing the unique aspect the leagues play in the church. They are a way for each person to be more involved in the congregation than just simply attending church once a week.

A total of 8 YAGM volunteers were able to make it to this conference. Seeing each other for the first time since orientation you would have thought we had been separated for months not just weeks the way we were talking and trying to catch up. It is remarkable to realize that while we are all in the same program and thought we would have similar experiences due to the fact that we are in the same country on the same program but in reality things are very different for everyone of us. Each of us is experiencing a different South Africa. I think I was silly to think that just because we were in the same country we would have similar experiences but I try to think about the reverse if there were 11 volunteers who were spread out across the US how different their experiences would be. A few of our volunteers are in urban settings like myself. Others are very rural. Some are in the mountains, some near the beaches, some working with children and are very busy while some like myself are still working on finding our place at our sites. Some people are well on their way to learning a language while others of us are still trying to figure out what language would make the most sense to start learning. Spending time with the other volunteers made it easier for me to reflect on where I am. Some days are still hard, they will be the whole year. But compared to where I was a month ago I have learned so much. I know more of what is going on each day. I can talk about locations in South Africa, about South African politics, almost tell you the streets to get in and out of Soweto, but most important I can tell you about the people I see and talk to everyday. The conversations we have shared. The insights I have gained. It was good to see the other YAGMs we felt recharged and ready to see how much will have changed by the next time we are together. Some of us will try to gather for Halloween at the end of October; we will all be together to celebrate Thanksgiving and for our first of 3 retreats. To say I am looking forward to it would be an understatement. I feel like these times we are together are like when you are growing and you make a mark on the wall to show where you are. It’s a chance to check where you are, where you came from, and where you are headed.

Sorry for the delay in posting. While I have internet access on my compound it is not the most reliable so I am posting this from an internet café. Please stay in touch and let me know what is happening to you! E-mails make my day and I love staying connected to home.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Week One

I have been in Soweto for a week. There have been surprises, joys, and moments where I wonder what in the world I am doing here; I am sure all of these things will continue for the entire time I am here. Through it all I am trying to soak everything in and capture every moment. I know that looking back these first few days and weeks will feel like a blur.

Soweto is huge. I have been told 3 million people live in the area that is considered Soweto, Soweto is short for South Western Townships, it is a compilation of many townships that have all merged together to form one sprawling area known as Soweto. I also was surprised at how in an "urban" environment I feel both rural, suburban, and urban rolled into one. There are chickens, goats, donkeys, and horses that I see every day giving a very rural feel. There is also a large feel of what I would call suburbia with large shopping malls full of chain stores,McDonalds, and KFC. But at the end of the day I know I am in an urban environment with people everywhere. There is constant noise, dogs barking, car horns honking, people everywhere and I love it. On Saturday night the two big Soweto soccer teams played each other and the vuvuzelas were wailing! I can't even imagine the sound during the World Cup!

I am in the midst of figuring out my role here. I am splitting my time between DAM (Diaknoia AIDS Ministry) and the local church circuit. My first week was spent
learning about DAM and beginning the process of finding the where I fit in the different departments. This week I have spent time with the church circuit learning so much.

I am officially moved into my flat! It is located on the compound housing DAM,
the Bishop's Office, a church, and the Dean's (the Dean is a role in the church directly under the Bishop) house. I am sharing it with a woman from Germany who is working at DAM for her gap year before she starts University. There is another German man who works here as well and lives across the compound from us in his own flat. I have my own room and bathroom, something that I have not had in a long time! We share a kitchen and living space as well. I have started decorating my room with lots of pictures that make me smile everyday. It is starting to look like and feel like home.

One of the challenges that I have encountered is language. South Africa has a total of 11 officials languages. One is English, most people speak English as well as 4 or 5 other languages. I can tell when I am getting tired because language becomes more of a problem. People combine all of the languages so I can usually stay focused and catch a few English words in the midst of everything and follow what is happening, but when I am tired it gets harder and harder. Language has also been a blessing! It is a great way to start a conversation with someone new, asking what languages they speak and how to say hello in each.

Church services are something that have been absolutely wonderful and breath taking. Services are not one hour and done. Last Sunday I was in church for 3.5 hours and this morning I was there for 4 hours. I loved every minute. I have never experienced a worship in a language I did not understand but it is amazing how much of worshiping transcends language. Everyone is so happy to be there. Song are not just sung but clapped and danced to. Offering is not just taken but brought up
as true gifts. Both services I have found people to be so welcoming. Everyone brings there own hymnal. Today the women sitting next to me shared hers with me and also passed me candy to eat during the sermon and complimented my attempts at singing in Zulu. I have always loved the community I've found in church and I am learning that the church family extends everywhere with the same love and welcoming spirit.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The First Days

I have been in South Africa for 8 days. I can already tell that I am a different person than the person who stepped off the plane wide eyed on Friday morning. Some of that probably has to do with getting caught up on sleep after 2 full days in transit. They aren’t kidding about the long flights to get here. At one point on the flight from Frankfurt to Johannesburg and seeing the screen say we had 5000 miles to our destination. A little extra sleep combined with amazing speakers and an orientation that’s entire purpose is to disorientate leads to looking at the world through different lenses.

This country is beautiful. We experienced the traditional first day of spring, September 1st and even some spring showers! Everything is still dry from winter but we are told that in a matter of a few more spring showers everything will pop green. With spring tempturues creepy close to 100 I am not sure I am ready for summer! We spent two half days hiking. It felt a little like Colorado on the hike with foothills but then the zebra, giraffes, and wildebeest reminded me that I am most definitely not in Colorado anymore.

Orientation has been eye opening. We have had speakers from Lutheran Church of Southern Africa, ELCA (American Lutheran Church) and our own group discussions. Friday morning we talked about tensions. I kept telling people I was preparing myself for being uncomfortable all year. In my mind I was thinking physical; not having air conditioning in the summer or heat in the winter. But each day I am realizing how uncomfortable everything will be and how there is tension everywhere. We spoke of the tension between: rich and poor, patient and pro-active, doing and being, settling in and getting going, and knowing what our gifts are and seeing what our gifts could be; I know I will struggle with all of these things. Each of these tensions brings discomfort. But instead of tension in a negative I think it can be looked at as growing. And with growing comes growing pains.

So bring on the growing pains. Monday morning I board a bus to Johannesburg. Where I will be picked up and taken home to Soweto. I’ll have my own apartment in a compound with families I cannot wait to meet and get to know. It is going to be hard, I know things that I don't expect will challenge me. But bring on the growing pains I am exited to grow.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

All My Bags Are Packed....

I have said good bye to 32 YAGM today. There are just the 11 of us going to South Africa left on campus. Much to everyone's surprise I am packed with 2 hours to spare! We leave for the airport at 6 tonight. Fly out at 10:30 to Frankfurt, Germany. Frankfurt to Johannesburg Thursday night. Then Jo-berg to Durban Friday afternoon. Needless to say, I am ready to be in the clothes I am wearing for quite some time. If everything goes as planned by Friday at 6 AM central time I will be where I am suppose to be! I feel all the things that are to be expected: excited, scared, nervous, ready, and joyful. One thing that I have been pleasantly surprised by is the way I feel ready spiritually. This week has literally filled me up. I know that I am with amazing people and an amazing opportunity. I cannot wait to see how I grow and learn from everyone I have yet to meet.

Love and Peace,

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Step One

Hello Everyone!

I am writing this entry from a dorm room at the University of Chicago where all new YAGMs are congregating before we head off around the world. There are 43 of us YAGM here. Most are fresh out of college but there are some here who have been working or other volunteer programs and a few our taking time off of school to do YAGM. It has been really fun to get to know everyone but we are all getting a little ansy to get to our countries.

Orientation is going well. We have structured activities and speakers from 8:30 till 5:30 each day with 2 hours for lunch. Then the nights free to explore the Hyde Park area of Chicago. Tonight a bunch of us walked down to Lake Michigan. Sunday we have the whole day free. It's the ideal mix of preparation and relaxation before taking off Wednesday evening.

This is a short little post but really this blog is about my time in Soweto and right now I don't know much. I know that I am going to be living and working in Soweto outside of Johannesburg. I also know that my work will be out of the Diakonia AIDS Ministry. Which "integrates HIV/AIDS education, prevention and care in all aspects of the life of the Lutheran Church; ministry with compassion to those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS in a manner that reflects Christian values, beliefs and traditions and addresses social and economic forces that contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS. The objective of the program is: 1. To develop and run an awareness program aimed at curbing the rates of HIV/AIDS infection. 2. To train pastors and lay people of the Diocese in counseling skills. 3. To equip lay people, especially women, with care-giving skills. 4. To set up centers of home-based care using existing diocesan buildings." At least that's what the e-mail told me:)

Again a big THANK YOU to all of you for your support in this next adventure. Knowing I have all of you behind me makes it so much easier to take these first steps. I truly appreciate you. I'd love to hear from all of you please keep the e-mails coming!