A New Season

I love summer! I love the hot weather, the beach trips, wearing shorts, and eating corn on the cob. It always feels like a season of refreshing to me. It’s like the sun sends it’s energy down to me. I feel relaxed and can move at a normal pace. Despite my love of summer, something odd generally happens around September. I get too hot. The sand from the beach gets too sticky, and if I see one more corn on the cob coming from our CSA box, I might cry. Summer just gets to be too much. I can’t take 108 degrees on a September day, I really can’t. I’m ready for a new season. I’m ready for the crunching of fall leaves. The crock-pot of soup to come home to. The feeling of a hot shower on a cold morning. The drinking of hot cider and hot chai at the local coffee shop. I’m always surprised to hear myself say it, but I think I am ready for fall!

This fall brings with it more than just a new weather pattern, but it brings some more significant changes. This fall, I’ve started a new season in my career. I’ve started working at Azusa Pacific University in the Office of Ministry and Service. See, I always thought I would get back to APU, but I anticipated it to be in more of a faculty role. I thought I would teach students about Hiebert’s excluded middle, or why Cultural Intelligence matters. And I still might do those some day. But right now, what I get to do is so much more cool! (Not that I wouldn’t be a cool professor, because I think I would – but being a cool staff member is much more fun right now!) I am the Program Coordinator of Local Mobilization for the MAS (Ministry And Service) office. That’s a really fancy title to say that I get students involved in local ministry. I get students and staff to see the importance of partnering with out community and working together to make it a better place. I’ve gotten to see some really cool things in Downtown L.A.. I’ve gotten to meet some amazing students who are impacted by service and who strive to impact others. I’ve also gotten to know some colleagues who are passionate about service and student development.

This job suits me in SO many ways. I have been so thrilled to work at an institution where Christianity and higher education collide; a place that taught me so much as a college student about life, Christ, friendships, and service. When I walk around the campus, so many memories come flooding back to me, and I start to see the twinkle of new memories being formed. The Freshman dorm where I lived my first year and my last year is now a place that one of my student workers lives as an RAR just as I did. The caf that I gained many pounds at as a freshman is now where I will potentially gain many pounds as a staff member! :) The list goes on and on.

So as the fall season approaches, the fall season of my career also is upon me, and I am pretty sure I am ready for both.

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Transitions

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. If I’m honest, I’ve been a bit scared to. You know when you’ve got things to tell people but you aren’t sure how they are going to take it? I hate that feeling. And for the record, no, I am not pregnant, but it does feel like I am letting go of an child in someways. A season of transition is upon me. It’s time I let you all know what’s been going on the past two months. And by saying you all, I am assuming I have some faithful readers…but if I’m just kidding myself about that, that’s okay. It’s time I let the world know what’s going on. So here goes nothing.

I’ve resigned as the U.S. Coordinator from Out of Africa Missions.

It’s been a hard decision up to this point, but ultimately, I know this is what God has wanted for me. I’ve loved so much about being the U.S. Coordinator for three years. I’ve loved helping teams get to South Africa. I’ve loved the process of starting a non-profit from the ground up. I’ve loved working with people embarking on the journey of missions. I’ve loved teaching people how to incorporate what they learn on the mission field into their daily lives. I’ve loved seeing the faces of African people year after year and getting to know them more deeply each trip. I’ve loved getting to know college students as they embark on a journey across time zones because it reminds me so much of myself. I’ve loved journeying with Out of Africa Missions as it’s grown into an organization that sees lives changed on a consistent basis. Most importantly though, I’ve loved who God has made me to be throughout these past three years. So while this transition isn’t going to be easy, it’s the right thing.

My last day with OAM will be on October 15th. From now until then, I will be working to make this transition as easy as possible for the organization. But it kinda feels like ripping the band-aid off quickly. It’s for the best, but it’s not easy.

While I have enjoyed so much of this job – it’s hard seeing it go. This has been my life for the past three years, full time. I’ve lived and breathed the world of missions and Out of Africa Missions especially. In all reality, it’s been my life for the past 7 years, because it’s been that long since my first trip. I can still remember that feeling of anticipation as I got on the plane for the first time to head around the globe. I was wide-eyed and naive about things but had a heart to learn. And learn I have. Since that time, I’ve been able to get a lot of both practical and theoretical experience surrounding missions. I’ve finished my Masters Degree, I’ve led more teams, and I’ve been more exposed to the world. In essence, I’ve transitioned. I’m no longer the college student seeking to know more about injustice, but I am the one who’s seen injustice first hand. I am no longer the one hearing about reconciliation, but I am the one who’s written quite a bit of material on the topic. I’ve transitioned from just a short-term missions participant, and am now a trained missiologist (fancy, huh?)

So this isn’t going to be an easy transition, but it’s the right one and it’s time I let you all know. Please pray for me. Part of me feels scared about this transition, but part of me feels very empowered. Part of me feels confused, but part of me feels clear as day. Part of me likes to dwell on the past, but part of me is excited for the future. And in case you haven’t noticed yet, I’ve got a lot of parts :)

There have been and continue to be some great things on the horizon. I’ve started an amazing new job that I plan to write more about soon, but suffice it to say that I get to see those college students that remind me so much of myself every day!

Finally and most importantly, I want to thank you. From the bottom of my heart, friends, thank you for the support you’ve given me the past three years. For all my teams and team-mates, thanks for making my five trips to South Africa so meaningful and special. Thanks for letting me learn with you what it takes to live in community, what reconciliation looks like, and how God uses us together truly as the body of Christ. Thanks for supporting me and Out of Africa Missions as we learned the world of missions together.

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A few things I learned in South Africa

 

  • Sudafed is a must during airplane landings. If it is not taken, it can lead to excruciating head pain that then dulls upon landing but sticks around for a day or so.
  • Always pack light on your carry-on luggage. Seriously. No one wants to be stuck in an airport for 5 hours lugging around two pieces of luggage that weigh like 10 pounds each. Even if your checked luggage is overweight, don’t pile it in your hand luggage.
  • If you have a kindle, you have it for a reason. Don’t bother traipsing around with two extra books with you because “You swear you’re going to read them”. Especially if they are school books, because then you can’t leave them.
  • Your body can become dependent on caffeine in 3 weeks. Fact.
  • Trying to explain to a Mugg & Bean worker that their Maple Cinnamon Latte (a new menu item) tastes like Christmas in a cup is pretty invalid considering South African Christmas is generally around 90+ degrees Fahrenheit. The concept just doesn’t translate well.
  • Global warming is truly affecting the globe. It can go from pouring rain for a week straight and seriously cold, even to the locals, to about 80 the very next day.
  • It is a comfort to hear the voice of another American in a foreign land.
  • Friends are your friends for a reason. It’s amazing how you can live thousands of miles apart, see each other infrequently, but have the ability to pick up right where you left off, like nothing ever happened.
  • The majority of other cultures eat off of the back of their fork. Not only that, they also tend to eat everything with both a knife and fork in hand at all times.
  • If someone says to you, “Wanna go for all-you-can-eat-pizza?”, Do it. And seriously try to eat all you can.
  • Despite what people tell you, you can find Asian people in Africa. And yes, they do make sushi.
  • Churches around the globe sing the same songs. And when you hear one your church sings, it instantly makes you feel at home.
  • Songs about bananas can be hilariously entertaining. Especially when sung by the Irish.
  • Wise council is important for so many reasons.
  • A short-term mission trip is not complete without some form of a hook-up.

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Ek is Vrydag!!

In case you were wondering, the quickest way to make yourself feel stupid and out of touch with reality is learning a new language. And that’s not just opinion…it’s FACT. I’m serious!! Learning new sounds that are not in your own language, staring intently at people’s mouths as they talk to you, and repeating the same random word over and over and over again does NOT equal coolness. It is a recipe for disaster, foolishness, and at some points a really low self-esteem. Often, that self-esteem bit comes in when you are sitting at a table and trying intently to listen in on what seems like other-worldly words, and stupidly think you can be a meaningful contributor to the conversation. So instead of keeping your foreign mouth shut, as you should, you boldly shout “Ek is Vrydag!!!”. The crushing blow is delivered when instead of a chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” that you were hoping to receive, you instead have the honor of giving everyone at the table a chuckle that is so hearty, they loose their breath and turn red. Yes my friends, this is a tale of language learning at its best.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve been studying Afrikaans with a good friend of mine. We have daily lessons together over a cup of coffee at various places around the city (a personal favorite as of yesterday is the Maple Cinnamon Latte at Mugg & Bean. It’s like Christmas in a Cup, I tell you! And when it’s wintery here, Christmas in a Cup is just what the linguist ordered!). Often these lessons consist of her patiently going through random vocab with me and correcting my horrible mispronunciations. Today, we moved onto words and phrases. Let me tell you – Merry Christmas is a friggin’ hard thing to say here! It’s a wonder people bother wishing one another well at all! And Happy New Year?! Don’t even get me started. Let’s just say we don’t have a sound in English that equates to “New” in Afrikaans.

Before this, I really thought I had a knack for languages. I’ve got a good memory, and I am eager to learn. But Afrikaans is HARD! And my wonderful teacher Desire isn’t even bothering to teach me sentence structure and everything because it’s too hard to learn in three weeks. So I am busying myself with learning vocab and small sentences. I am hoping to know all the Afrikaans words for the things I want to grow in my garden at least! I know the things I eat, and I know the clothes I wear, but I just can’t help like feeling that something is missing. See – language is the ESSENCE of a culture. It’s what they use to communicate. It’s how people express sorrow and joy and love and frustration. It’s what people use to tell jokes and how people say “I love you”. Not many people walk around saying “Green Beans!!” repeatedly (which is “groen boonjies”, by the way). But that’s what I am doing.

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul tells us, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” The language lessons have me feeling like a child again. I am ready to communicate as an adult does. But then I remind myself of what Jesus says in Luke 18, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it”.

So if being like a child and feeling like a child, but doing it in faith because I know it’s where God has me right now, means that I shout a million times over “I AM FRIDAY, I AM FRIDAY!!” then I will happily do it! My Afrikaans lessons have become my time to be humbled and my time to become child-like, and I just need to learn to be okay with that. The communication of the deep things will come. And it’s not going to happen overnight…or before I leave next week. But as Christ grows us into maturity, so we learn to communicate with maturity. However, in closing, I want to wish you all a very early Geseeende Kersfees and a Gelukkiege Nuwe Jaar, because by the time they roll around, I might be able to pronounce them for you.

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It’s Metro MAN!!!!

Ladies and Gentlemen…I was on the radio. Yes…THE radio. South African radio. It was a wonderful local station here in George that covers around 300 square miles. The host for the hour, Phil De Vries, gave me conservative numbers and told me that my voice was being broadcast to at LEAST 20,000 eager and listening ears! :)Weren’t those listeners lucky!?

But in all seriousness, I was on the radio! It was for the “No More Poverty” Hour hosted by Phil De Vries, who is the Director of Eden Leadership Foundation and his wife runs the Life Community Center here in George. He hosts this program once a week, having a radio background from when he lived in Pennsylvania. The show is centered around poverty, as the name suggests and last night, he tailored the discussion towards my degree in Intercultural Studies. It was pretty intimidating but super awesome at the same time.

Here’s a few of the questions we touched on:

“Everybody has been shaped or mightily influenced by their heritage and environment. Please talk about your life from the beginning until adulthood.”

“Having observed our community for a short while, what is your perception of this area and your concept of the potential here?”

“Recognizing that this program is about dealing with poverty, give us a glimpse of what you would stimulate in order to eradicate poverty.”

“Let’s do an analysis between a first world environment like the USA and the predominantly third world environment of South Africa.”

Pretty loaded questions right?! I was actually surprised at how fast the hour went! We played three songs in between our discussion time, but I think Phil and I could have gone much deeper into our discussions surrounding poverty and the political climate of George, South Africa, and the world! I mean, there’s only so much world problem solving you can do in a one hour radio program, right?! I also got the opportunity to plus Out of Africa Missions, Azusa Pacific University and Fuller Theological Seminary, some of the things that are closest to my heart!

They’re working on getting me a CD copy of the discussion to bring back with me and add to my reel…that apparently I just started! I always get roped into doing fun and interesting things while I am here in South Africa and last night was no different! I’ll keep you posted on how to listen to my discussion when I get back! Also – apparently, I have a voice for radio, because their producer, Metro Man (what a DJ/producer name, right?!) asked me to do some radio spots for them. So I finished the night by recording, “You’re listening to the Top 20. Less Yada Yada. We rock the spot in a BIG way!”. I also got my friend Desire (who roped me into this in the first place) to do one with me and Phil. It went a lil’ something like this:

Desire: “Look, It’s Superman!!”

Karen: “No – it’s Spiderman!!”

Phil: “No!! It’s METRO MAN!!!!!!”

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The Collective

I’ve been reading this book called “The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University”. It’s by a guy named Kevin Roose and he was a journalism student at Brown who transferred to Liberty University for a semester. The book is for the part of my practicum that is focused on American Christian College/University students. It’s actually a really interesting ethnography. He says, “The more I read, the more I began to realize the importance of knowing about my Christian peers. This isn’t a fringe culture, after all. According to the Barna Group, an evangelical polling firm, a full one-third of America’s teenagers self-identify as born-again Christians”.

The book goes through his journey of life at Liberty University, which was started and maintained by the late Jerry Falwell, however at the time of this writing, Falwell was alive and kicking. Roose describes a good majority of Christian college life, including classes, dating, dorm conversations and more. He wrestles with issues like the Christian response to homosexuality, environmentalism, dating before marriage, missionary work, evangelism, and the like.

One of the interesting thing he notes is the idea of the “collective effervescence” that comes within the Christian College experience. This “collective effervescence” comes from a French sociologist and describes the special type of energy that forms around mass gatherings, things like concerts, political rallies, and apparently, the Christian college. Roose believes that the Christian college, more than any other setting, generates collective effervescence with ease. “It’s the sensation you get when your mind is swallowed by a sort of group mind, when the hundred-decibel worship music and the laser light shows and the people jumping and screaming and hollering all around you combine to form a social organism that takes on a life of its own”.

I think this phenomenon could also be applied to mission teams. The mission team experience is a chance to get together with a group of seemingly random people that are united with one goal and one mission: changing lives. The collective works together to change the lives of those they are serving, as well as working to change their own life through their missionary experience. Roose says, “Most of all, I’ve learned that faith, worn correctly, can be amazing and life-changing. Having met Liberty students who use their faith to improve their lives and the lives of the people around them, I can say with relative certainty that although I don’t always believe in God, I believe in belief”. This idea of a collective effervescence can be a very powerful motivator, especially in the Christian community. How do we use this as a platform for moving the spirit of Christ? Could we label this effervescence as the Holy Spirit? I am sure there are times when it is very spirit-led and very spirit-filled. How can we use this effervescence as a community builder, rather than using it as a “Who’s in, who’s out” kind of thing? How can we capitalize on this phenomenon from a short-term perspective to make it transition into a long-term idea? Is that even possible? Just a few thoughts…

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South Africa Re-Imagined

I’ve had an amazing weekend away! It’s been a wonderful weekend connecting with dear friends that I know, and celebrating God’s diversity together! Friday night was spent with some wonderful friends, Wayne and Suzi who work for OAM Sports Academy, and are originally from Northern Ireland (where I am visiting in just 2 short weeks!!). Together, we relaxed, we connected, we laughed, and we celebrated. Then I went to stay with my friend Desire and her Afrikaans family for the rest of the weekend. Together, Des and I had a great time seeing the sights of George, learning and laughing at my Afrikaans and just enjoying each others company.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around somethings here though. I think one of the things I am still really struggling to understand is diversity and reconciliation. See, South Africa is a country FULL of both diversity and reconciliation, but it goes so much deeper than what people think. It’s not just about whites and blacks and coloureds and everything in between. Not many see the Enligh and Boer frustrations. Few are aware of the Khoi people and their alienation from their lands by the Xhosa and the Zulu. Diversity is built into the very fabric of this country, and with that diversity comes bitterness, anger, love, reconciliation, peace, justice and every emotion in between. I’m having a hard time packaging it all together. But I am not sure that I am supposed to yet.

For school while I am here, I need to complete an ethnography. An ethnography is a specific description of a people or culture. But what do I do with the rainbow nation?! There are so many cultures and people groups. And I feel like even though this is my 5th or 6th time here, I am still struggling to wrap my brain around even one. But like so many other things – everything and everyone is so interconnected. This country is no longer just about the whites and the blacks, and what was done and what wasn’t done. Apartheid isn’t so simple anymore. The ANC isn’t so simple. The understanding of democracy isn’t so simple. Afrikaaners aren’t so simple, nor are the English, the Boers, the Zulus, the Xhosas, the Khois, the Coloureds, the Indians, and everyone else in between – the people like Wayne and Suzi who’ve given up their life back in NI to come here and work.

There’s a term in anthropology and sociology called “participant observation”. It means when you are no longer just observing a culture from the outside, but you are actually participating in the culture, as part of it, in order to understand it from within. My time here is supposed to be as a participant observer, but I’m struggling to wrap my brain around what I am observing. I am seeing a mix of people and culture and food and smells and first world and third world. I am seeing hurt, and anger, and love, and confusion, and frustration, and different colored skin. And in all of these things, I really am seeing God. I am seeing the faces of him in Desire, my Afrikaaner friend who wants to understand and appreciate her country of South Africa while trying to grasp what God’s plan for her is. I see him in the face of the black man who came to my car window asking for money to buy food. I see him in the home of Wayne and Suzi and their desire to serve the children of the townships and their need to help the students see their own value. I see it in the Life Academy students who are here and are so excited to do simple things like sweeping for their friends and family who are coming on a team of 33 any second now to stay and work for 2 weeks.

This country is most definitely one of diversity and beauty and people. I’m stretching my cultural muscles here to try and understand things. To grasp what God is doing on the macro level of South Africa, as well as where is moving in the lives of individual people. I’m being challenged in so many ways to look at what I know to be true…or what I thought to be true, and reimagine it. I’m being asked to look at things from a different perspective. But no matter what perspective I see from – I see God. I have to remember that God is in the diversity…and that’s a good place to be.

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