Posted by: sammileeharc | May 1, 2012

The Gift of Giving

After having celebrated a Christmas service full of joyous singing and thankful praising, I was looking forward to how the Easter service would differ from that of the traditional Lutheran service I attend back in the States. Going into Holy Week, I was ‘warned’ by our country coordinator that Holy Week is really like a marathon of worship services: back to back days of worship with long hours and lots and lots of singing. Well, he wasn’t wrong- and I’m glad.

My whole congregation traveled every day from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday an hour away to join up with 3 other congregations to celebrate our savior’s death and resurrection. The services were full with hundreds of South African Lutherans.

Maundy Thursday, as shown through the gospels as Jesus shows his disciples the act of humbling oneself to serve all, everyone took part in foot washing.

Good Friday service started at 8am with a procession around the street, and continued inside the church until 4pm. Much different than the tanebrae service held at my home church, which still remains one of my favorite worship services, I did take with me a new experience and lesson as the service was full of light and life.

Easter Sunday began at 9am after a morning tea with everyone, and continued until 2pm where after the service, everyone shared in a large Easter lunch together which was given to us by the hosting congregation.

What I found most inspiring was the two hours spent on Friday and an hour on Sunday singing choruses and dancing as people gave offering. The average time offering takes at my home church is give or take 5 minutes. The time and celebration spent during offering here has given me a whole new perspective behind giving what you have to God.

I’m going to go ahead and say that the sum average of wealth is much, much, higher at my home congregation in America. These people make significant amounts less than we do, yet I see the smiles and laughs while voices grow louder in singing, as the offering baskets become more and more full. The pure joy behind giving what they have to God is incredibly moving. It’s not only that they are giving, but they are giving with such joy and praise. They gave freely and with great joy knowing that as the offering baskets rose they were giving their money to a community of people, God’s children, each other.

They are acknowledging that each person plays a role in another person’s life. Through giving what they deemed as excess for themselves, they gave to the Church in hopes that the Church will use this money to help support, lift up, and care for those who are in need.

I was once again shown what it truly means to be fully human. What it means to be able to look into yourself and see that you are not fully human without those around you. I was shown Ubuntu. “I am because we are.” I witnessed the body of Christ; A body which we are all a part of.

This joy for which I am sharing with you about offering doesn’t happen only on Easter. Every Sunday at my church in Embalenhle, voices are lifted as people clap and dance down the aisle to give.

As my mind travels back to many church services at different churches I’ve been to in America, I can’t really recall seeing people express such enthusiasm as they give money to their Church. Perhaps it’s because people have lost hope in where their money goes, maybe we are a bit too hesitant to give what we ‘earned’, some will argue it’ a ‘cultural-thing’, but why? Why aren’t we rushing forward to give our excess money to those who need it more? Why do we come up with excuses of reasons why we need a “new this or that” instead of being thankful we have the “old this or that” to begin with? Why have we made it a cultural thing to find great joy, praise with each other, and show God our thanks when giving?

While I cannot fully understand or explain why these differences are, I know that my flame for giving has been re-lit in a new way. That the light that shines in every one of us, the light that leads us, is not fully lit when we keep hold of money, things, and time which we could be giving to others. And I hope, with the hope that Christ brings, that I am able to keep this flame lit and show others the power behind giving; The power behind coming closer to being fully human.


Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I begin my day with my walk along a grass path where the dust from the ground stains my feet a dark brown for the day and the sun shines down on me and gives me a healthy feel as I listen to music in my headphones and make my 20 minute walk to the Home Based Care Center. This past week the sun, however, lost its shining presence and felt like it was beating down hot rays on me and the dirt from the path lost the sandy sea shore feeling you get when first removing your sandals on the beach, and felt more like tiny rock pieces nudging themselves in my shoes and aggravating my toes causing me to stop and shake my foot around every few steps. This change in perspective has been eating at me like a fruit fly consuming a moldy bag of apples, and I find once again find that it is through my host mother’s incredible presence of peace, compassion, and hope that I’m too trying to take steps forward.

Before I go any further, I’d like to explain my reason for change in perspective as I mentioned above. It’s not that the sun or dirt is the core reason behind my sudden lack of spirit. The sun is not really beating down any hotter (nor has the dirt changed from sand pieces to rocks), but this past weekend our home-based care center received some news that shook us all to the core.

Abasizikazi Home Based Care Centre, where I have been volunteering for the past 6 months, is one of only two home based care centers for patients with life-threatening diseases in all of Embalenhle. I will try my hardest to briefly explain the make-up of Embalenhle. Embalenhle is a community (or “township” as it is referred to in SA) of around 500,000 people that for the most part shapes their every heart beat around Sasol (South Africa’s largest coal mining industry). I’m told that the only reason Embalenhle even exists, is because the Sasol Plant. To give you some insight into my township, about 60% of people living here work at Sasol. There are no other large industries, malls, nor to mention corporations in Embalenhle. The average income is below R1500.00 per month (the current exchange rate being around $1US to R8) and the unemployment rate is approximately 35%. Not to mention the cramped living situation that most reside in, and lastly, similarly as everywhere else in South Africa, HIV/AIDS and TB have sadly become household diseases, not to mention on top of other life-threatening diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

A bit about Abasizikazi:
Abasizikazi Home Based Care Center was started in 1999 by my host mother when she saw a great need for palliative care as HIV/AIDS quickly began to spread across Embalenhle. With little access to medical care at the time and poverty of course adding in halting any form of recovery, Abasizikazi became the first out-reach home based care program. Much has happened since 1999 when the organization was only 5 people going door-to-door offering spiritual conversation, home aid (such as helping patients in cleaning their homes or even themselves), and food distribution. In 2005, a center was built with rooms for patients and OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children) to come and stay during the week. There are two small offices for the management to work (this is where I’ve spent most of my time) along with a large central room where couches, beds, and a TV are set. Today, there are now 13 caregivers that go door-to-door in Embalenhle to care for patients, not to mention the co-coordinator who is in charge of all the caregivers.

“The Center” as everyone calls it, has become a place of refuge for patients who have no family to care for them during the week. Only being here 6 months I have seen patients come and go, and some return again. I have watched as patients get up for the first time in months to walk around the room freely without help and dance to a song that was playing on the TV. I have witnessed patients forming strong friendships with one another as they support each other through their recovery, no sign of stigma attached (for once). The OVCs who stay here are able to go to creche or school, some for the first time ever, because the center pays for their fees, uniforms, and supplies. I have grown especially close to the OVCs who stay here during the week, helping a few of the ones in grade school with homework, and often times just offering myself as a vessel of love to them. From painting the girls nails, playing pretend with them, (which can vary from allowing them to play with my hair and pretend we are in a salon shop to being a student in school who forgot their homework), to chasing the boys around the yard and throwing/kicking a ball with them, I have tried to be presence (for the short time that I am here) in these children’s’ lives. As you can see, I believe “the center” has offered these patients and children support, opportunities, and care that they might not receive otherwise.

Why the sad face then? This past weekend our board members and management of Abasizikazi had a workshop and training session with The Hospice Palliative Care Association (HPCA). HPCA is an umbrella organization funded through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) that offers educational training, mentorship, and fiscal support to Home Based Care programs through-out South Africa. Abasizikazi is currently being mentored with HPCA in hopes to reach a “one star” rating. The highest a home-based care can receive is 5 stars. As the stars go up, the monetary support also rises. I like HPCA because they’re true to their word in terms of mentorships. Since being here, Abasizikazi has received multiple training sessions and mentorship meetings to help our organization produce legal policies, plans, and procedures required for Home-Based Care, yet I digress.

At the workshop this past weekend, the HPCA mentor told us that without 24hour professional nurse care or qualified care, the patients and OVCs cannot stay at the center any longer- it’s illegal. My initial thought before coming to work for a non-profit in South Africa would have been, “okay, no problem. We’ll get right on that and be all set. We’ll just get the money and hire a professional nurse” –but remember what I said about Embalenhle? Most people who live here work for the Sasol plant. There aren’t a handful of professional nurses or qualified care personnel waiting around. My next multiple thoughts were a Cosmo of overwhelming ideas and situations, past, present, and future: how the center has done just fine and cared for so many patients and children- legal shmegal, how Jesus calls us to help those in need and isn’t that what this center was offering?! Legal or not?, how if anything bad happened to any of the patients or children since there was no professional nurse care the whole center would be closed down for good eliminating any help to anyone in the community, which would be awful. The reality was, and is, that with what little money Abasizikazi receives it cannot afford 24 hour professional nurse care right now, and because it is still getting its feet on the ground in terms of trained home-based care, there is no room for an additional program for care to patients and children at the center.

This last thought is what has caused a lapse in my normal happy mood. It has my mind spinning as I think about the patients who must be told that “the center” can no longer offer them a place to sleep. It has my heart aching thinking of where those children are going to go now. As those of us in the office have been discussing how we are going to explain to these children that they will no longer be living here anymore, all I can think of is how many “homes” some of the kids have gone through. One of the girls, whom I’ve formed a strong connection with (and in that perfect world you day dream about when sipping on tea and starring out the window, I’d adopt her in a second and sweep her and myself away to this fictitious place) is only 5 years old and this center is her fourth home. The thought also rushes through my mind that many of them come from child-headed households because their parents have died from HIV/AIDS. The overwhelming feeling of confusion and loss in hope seems to be eating away at me and caused me asking myself and God, “Why?” Why am I here? Why is this happening? Why now?

The past couple of nights I’ve spent the evenings with my host mother discussing the recent news. As we talk, I can see that she too is just as upset, but her outlook has challenged me to try to think positively. We don’t have all the answers, and perhaps we are meant to rustle with the here and now situations and not just let them pass under us. The greatest hope that I can hold onto now is that God’s miracle did happen and I am still living to help spread the Truth and Grace he brings.

While the day care part of the center will be closed now for a few years, the home-based care program has high hopes. Soon the center wants to have around 20 caregivers offering more trained counseling sessions to patients in the community. The Home-Based Care program has plans to expand to casting its vision statement across Embalenhle to give hope to all those living in the community who are struggling with HIV/AIDS or TB through offering care support at the home (be it individual counseling, food parcels, family support, OVC care, spiritual counseling, home aid, etc) and my host mom has shown me hope in knowing that HPCA will be with us each step of the way to help compose proper policies for better care for the patients, compassion in remembering all the care that still needs to be given to people in the community, and peace in knowing that through God all things are possible.

The honest truth is I’m not going to end this blog telling you all the answers to the “whys”. I don’t have the answers. Often times we can’t see the answer to the “why question” until time has passed, regardless of how hard it is to comprehend. The whole situation makes me mad, frustrated, I feel it’s unfair and have an overwhelming sensation of helplessness. But perhaps it is not these feelings alone that are bad, but what and how I live my life after that makes all the difference.

Posted by: sammileeharc | January 13, 2012

YAGM words, by Heidi Trogerson-Martinez

I came across this excellent article today and want to share with all those following my year. It’s written by Heidi Trogerson-Martines the Program Director for Young Adults in Global Mission. It articulates greatly the year many of us across the world are and will be experiencing, along as serves as a great way to read more about the ELCA’s YAGM program, and calls us all to challenge oursleves and truly discern what and who God has called us to be in the world.

Click on the link below to take a read.

Posted by: sammileeharc | January 11, 2012

Embracing the true meaning behind the Holidays

Coming into this year I expected that the hardest part for me would be around the holidays. Thanksgiving, I figured, wouldn’t be too difficult as I had spent it out of the country before, but Christmas and my birthday were two events that have always intertwined with each other and are the highlight of my countdown of being busy finishing finals and the cold December month.  However, I found myself this year engaged in the holiday spirit in a whole new way, and re-evaluating the way I’ve typically, selfishly, treated the last week of December.

Weather, I knew, would be much different. I’m used to wearing my jeans, closed toed shoes, and a sweater- along with a jacket and perhaps a hat and gloves. Here, my typical wear for December has been a short sleeved shirt, shorts or a long skirt, and sandals. My sunglasses are always on, and I’ve already gone through two bottles of sunscreen I brought from the States. This, I was prepared for, and honestly when my birthday and Christmas were fast approaching I felt more like I was in mid-July getting ready for a BBQ.

On the 23rd of December, before my alarm even went off at 8am, I heard my four year old host brother outside my room yelling my name. In his hand he proudly held a wrapped gift. It was unexpected and I was surprised and smitten with the gift my host family so graciously got me. For my birthday, I was unsure what to expect. I thought maybe my family and I would share a meal together- a large meal, traditional for Holidays, including meat, rice, and various sides of vegetables. I didn’t expect a gift from them, oh, and did I mention the sheep slaughter that took place outside our house for the celebration of my birthday and Christmas?

Image (The sheep that was slaughtered for my birthday and Christmas)

If you ask any of my friends at home, I’ve typically celebrated my birthday by having a ( large) party at my house. My friends from college travel to central PA and old friends from high-school all gather together to celebrate my birthday. I’m used to gifts on my birthday from friends and family, gifts on Christmas Eve from letters received in the mail from relatives, Christmas Day from family and friends once again, and even the 26th of Christmas where the other side of my family gets together or I do a gift exchange with my girlfriends.  Sadly, as I sat here just a few days ago thinking to myself what were my top favorite Christmas gifts from the past five years, I couldn’t name them off hand quickly at all. I’ve grown up associating Christmas with an overconsumption of gifts that I can’t even remember what my best friend Sara got for me last year.

This year after the Christmas week has come and gone, I’m left feeling different. Yes, I have received less quantity of gifts, but in truth I will remember these gifts and this Christmas for years to come. Too often, I feel, we are overwhelmed by Christmas. We miss the pure joy and blessing which Christmas is all about. God gave us an incredible gift. A gift bringing peace and hope to the world- a gift that the world has never forgot.

The amount of gifts I got this year would have left me in previous years asking myself, “wait where are the rest of my presents?” But it’s this year that I’ve truly realized the amount of selfishness I’ve placed on this holiday to revolve around me. And honestly feel embarrassed by it. This year  it’s the green stocking from my best friend from college, Liza, who wanted to send me some Christmas joy, it’s the picture frame and honey mustard (because they know how much I love it) from my two best friends from home Sara and Meagan, it’s the soap and hand wipes from a mom at church and the note attached reading “Sorry, it’s the mom in me”, it’s the silk black and white shirt picked out from Connor a boy in my home church’s youth group, and it’s the used clothes from my mom (when upon receiving them they felt like a new wardrobe, and were an additional reminder of how much ‘crap’ I’ve collected over the years of asking for so much).

Every year I think we all try to remind ourselves what the Holiday should truly be about. But every year, I know I’ve found myself lost in translation as I’ve focused less on just spending time with the people around me and truly being thankful for the things, tangible and not, they have given me and more on making my Christmas list and checking the latest adds online and in the paper for the best deals on presents I want.

Image (Me and my host brother on Christmas Day)

As the New Year begins, and next thing we know it’ll be the spring and New Year’s resolutions begin to fall heavy with dust, I pray that we all remember the greatest gift God gave us.  And I hope that we embrace each other and the blessings we give to each other. I hope that as the year continues and the holiday times begin to dwindle away, we don’t lose that spark of enthusiasm for each other and we remember, that being in presence with one another and truly, honestly, being thankful for the things you are given- hope, joy, love, peace, grace- is the greatest gift of all.

Image (Me and my host family outside our church on Christmas Day)

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, …. The three R’s have been echoed across America for as long as I can remember. In elementary school I was taught the importance of recycling and taking care of the environment where I live, but what does that really mean today? 2O some years later, after my days of recess and learning compound sentences, America- and the rest of the world, is still struggling on how to reduce our electricity, reuse our products, and recycle our waste.

Earlier this month I traveled with my host mom to an HIV caregivers debriefing in Piet-Retif, South Africa. The week was full of sessions discussing HIV/AIDS related treatments and ways caregivers can better care for their patients. The second day some of us took part in a morning hike up a mountain near-by and played games outside as caregivers talked amongst each other of struggles they are experience in their home-based care centers. The final day, a man from the South African government who works for the Environmental Sector came and spoke to us all about climate change and the importance of our role in helping reduce our intake of the world resources. I was not expecting that at an HIV caregivers debriefing there would be a session on environmental hazards and ways to reduce climate change.  “How odd,” I thought to myself, “this week is supposed to be focused on HIV issues. Oh well, it’s good for people to learn how to better care for the environment. I mean I’ve been learning about it for years…”  

The cargivers and myself at the HIV debriefing in Piet-Retief

The speaker’s presentation focused around the importance of reducing, reusing, and recycling- a role any individual, he said, can play in helping stop climate change. As I sat there listening to his speech, I couldn’t help but feel proud that I came from a family in America where caring for the  environment is the norm. My father works for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and my mother is an avid tree lover, and especially cares for animals that are affected by environmental changes.   I thought to myself, “I grew up where recycling plastic, glass, paper, was a part of my everyday life, but here in South Africa, I see children and adults throw their trash onto the ground without, it seems, thinking twice.” As the speaker discussed ways to reuse products, my mind focused on my efforts in college when I purchased reused printer paper and re-useable grocery bags. I was feeling pretty good about my personal efforts to help reduce climate change. I liked the idea of “being green” and was sure that many of my friends back home would associate me with such a title. However, when the speaker moved onto his last part of his presentation on reducing energy intake and gave statistics on countries that use the most amount of energy, I felt like a giant poster was etched onto my forehead: “American. Consumerism. Wasteful. Uses too Much.” My pride of feeling I was a great advocate for the environment trickled away and I was left feeling like the black sheep in the room, the one who came from American the country that uses the most amount of resources for the least amount of people.

Around Mid-November I was able to visit another volunteer, Katie, who is volunteering in Soweto, South Africa. We spent one of our days attending a Greenpeace Rally at a local park. We were able to watch a short play on climate change, and there again was the feeling I had before. As the actors acted out scenarios where people use too much electricity, I felt like I was watching your average American family, or at least to me, it seemed they were acting out behaviors that seemed habitual to me: having the lights on during the day, watching TV while using the computer to check my facebook and meanwhile texting my friend as my phone was plugged into the wall, and eating processed meat such as hamburgers and steak. As the play continued, the actors explained different ways these all impact our environment, and my heart sunk as I realized that my actions half way across the world are impacting people all around the world. The droughts in Africa are an effect of the continued climate change. Hundreds of people are dying as the world’s climate changes. This especially affects those people who rely heavily on the soil and crops they have to feed their families. After the play, Katie and I signed a petition to challenge the African Government to go into the upcoming COP17 (Conference of the People) meetings with a policy that has binding agreements from all governments across the world to make laws to reduce our fossil fuel admission and come up with ways to help stop climate change. Actually, as many of you read this, meetings are going on right now in Durban, South Africa as government officials and world leaders across the world gather to discuss the world’s climate change.

At the GreenPeace Rally in Soweto


The short play put on by GreenPeace Actors/Advocates in Soweto

This whole past month of November has been a constant reminder and learning experience for me on environmental awareness. Its help me tune in and realize that while I came from a country where children know what the “Three R’s” are in third grade, our actions to reuse, recycle, and especially reduce seem far from it. And while many of us refer to these movements as “Going Green,” I’d challenge us all to realize that this isn’t some fad that is going to fade out or some movement for the hippies, but a movement that God is calling us into. This isn’t a “Go Green Movement” it’s a “God Movement.”

In Genesis, God gives humans the land and all the animals to have dominion over. Dominion, is different that domination. God didn’t give us his beautiful creation so we can do as we please, but he calls us to care for his creation. At a summer camp where I staff, one of the sessions begins with how God is the ultimate Artist. He created all living and breathing things. Everything he made is pleasing to us. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t see the beauty in a rainbow or sunset, or whose breath isn’t taken away by large mountains or the endless sea. But, why is it then that we as Christians, continue to ignore that the earth we are polluting and abusing, is the earth that God gave to us a gift? Why is it that after years and years of learning about how to reduce, reuse, and recycle, we still find adults and youth in America not thinking twice before leaving a cell phone charger plugged in all day or having the lights on at 11am? Why is it that large corporations in America and government officials call themselves world leaders, yet aren’t budging on making adjustments to their energy intake until other countries do? Why are people not writing to their senators and government officials to make changes in the way America is abusing our earth’s resources?  Why is it that people continue to call this a green movement and not a God movement? Why is it that after reading this article many people will go about their everyday life without making a single change in their life-style in how they are effecting the rest of the world- the earth, plants, animals, crops, and people that God himself created?

Is it because we as Americans don’t think it affects us? Is it because we are raised in culture where we like to see instant results and because perhaps this talk of climate change isn’t intimately effecting us, we don’t feel the need to make some changes? Is it because the task seems too difficult and too impossible? Is it because we just think it’s a temporary fad with fashions we’ll support such as recycled t-shirts and paper, but don’t buy into the whole climate change thing? Is it because we feel there aren’t enough people on board to make anything happen?

When you read about the radical changes Jesus made to the world and the love he brought and taught us all, we are called to act regardless if we think it’s affecting us personal, because it’s affecting the world. The body of Christ as stated in 1 Corinthians 12:12 “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” God’s creation, the world and all the people and living things, make up the body of Christ. The body is full of many members, with different roles, but it is only together that they make up a full body. We are only made full through other people.  And we cannot work without the other. So really if it’s affecting someone else, it is affecting us. In referring to my last blog, and the idea of Ubuntu: I am because we are, we can once again pull this message together- I am affected by the world’s climate change, because the world is affected. If we continue in the behavior of abusing our earth, we are turning a blind eye to those in the rest of the world that climate change is affecting. We are ignoring the horrible way we are treating God’s beautiful creation that he has given to us that he has entrusted to us, not entitled to us.

Jesus disciples at the beginning were small in number. They were believed to be crazy by many and seen as a temporary movement. But thousands of years later, we are living witnesses to the power that a small group of believers can have on the world. Jesus disciples changed the world. And as I come from a country that seems to pride itself on being a world leader, I’d challenge us to look at how we are leading and the true impact we are having on the rest of the world.

Just this past week I traveled with all the other Southern Africa YAGM volunteers for our November re-treat. We traveled to Durban to be a part of the We Have Faith Act Now opening rally for COP17. We were blessed to be able to see Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak about how he views climate change and all of our roles in helping reduce the people’s intake of the world’s resources. It is a day in my life I will never forget. Being able to Hear Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and one of the world’s greatest peacemakers of our lifetime, was truly amazing. My stomach was full of butterflies and as he spoke, I listened to him as if there was no other person standing in that stadium. He spoke to all at the Rally by saying that this is a movement for the masses. It’s a movement for me and for you and that together we will do this, because it is only together that we are united in Christ and connected in the body of Christ. If we believe that we don’t need to make any effort to stop climate change, we are hurting our fellow brothers and sisters, and frankly hurting the body of Christ and the earth in which God created.

Some of the other MUD volunteers and myself at the We Have Faith Act Now COP17 opening Rally in Durban

A few of us got onto the grass area about 50 feet from the stage. Here Desmond Tutu waved back at us as I snapped a photo of him.

So as leaders of the world focus their attention to COP17 this week in discussing climate change issues, what are you going to do about it? I challenge us all to first realize that this isn’t a movement separate from the church, but a movement to rejoice in God’s creation by better caring for it- a movement the church should be leading.  It’s time we start realizing that our actions in America affect the rest of the world- God’s people and God’s earth. We are called by God to take care of the beautiful world he has created us. Romans 1:20 states, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” He has made us a visible, beautiful, breathtaking world and given it all to us. We stand outside in our gardens, go for a hike through the mountains, enjoy a family holiday to the beach, and see the beauty God has created and entrusted to us to have dominion over- to take care of. We don’t have an excuse that we can’t see God’s divine nature, because he has placed it right in front of our noses. And we must start understanding only through being good stewards to our earth are we caring for all of God’s creation and uplifting the body of Christ we are a part of.

One of our last days together as a MUD group during our November re-treat, we spent a day hiking through the Drakensberg Mountains, which were second in running to be where the Lord of the Rings was filmed- needless to say they were absolutely breathtaking and I’m planning to take my family back there when they visit in March. Looking around at all the beauty it was hard not to feel a sense of peace and calmness that I believe comes from feeling close to God as I looked out across his most beautiful masterpiece- our world.

In the Drakensberg Mountains


Rachel, another YAGM/MUD volunteers and I at the bottom of our hike

Posted by: sammileeharc | October 21, 2011

“I am human, because I belong” – ELCSA WPL Conference

Two weekends ago I traveled with my host mother to Mpuluzi, South Africa for the 2011 ELCSA Easter Dioceses Woman’s Conference. Having attended the past seven or so Synod Assembles back in Pennsylvania for the Lower Susquehanna Synod, I was excited when Mama asked me if I wanted to go with her to the Women’s Prayer League Conference. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa’s WPL (Woman’s Prayer League) holds an annual conferences within their diocese, where women get together to discuss current issues they’re dealing with, pray together, lift each other up, and just be together.

Thursday afternoon Mama and I packed our bags for the weekend into Baba’s bakkie (truck) in preparation to head to the church to get ready for departure. When Mama asked me if I had a sleeping bag, because there aren’t beds at the conference, I was super happy for once that I had brought along my camping bed roll. (This bed roll gave me extreme difficulties in the airport arriving in South Africa as it continued to fly off my backpack and onto the airport floor. As the 12 of us volunteers dashed through the Johannesburg airport to catch our flight on time to Durban, a handful of times I had to turn around and pick up off the ground or was handed the bed roll as we made the mad dash to get to our gate on time.) “Yes,” I said to Mama “I have a bed roll and I can bring along a blanket.” I grabbed my bedroll and stuff it into my backpack and loaded my last bit of luggage into the bakkie.

Around 4pm we pulled into the church yard to depart with 7 other women. We were traveling in a Kombi (the name for taxis, which most are closer to the size of a large mini van) and attached to it was a small trailer packed tight with our entire luggage. The 8 women, including Mama, were dressed in their Woman’s League Outfits: black tops and skirts, with a white collar and white hat. As the Kombi started, and we began to pull out of the yard, the eight of them began singing. I recognized the song from church. It was a song thanking God and saying that with God in your life, you have no problems. It put a smile on my face. After the song, they all began to pray out loud forsafe travel to the conference and to have the Holy Spirit be with us all this weekend, and then, we were off.

When we arrived in Mpuluzi, it was already dark. The kombi pulled into the grounds of one of the township’s high school yards. Each parish had their own classroom where for the next 4 days we were to sleep, eat, get dressed, and as I found out the next morning, wash in. The classrooms were bare with all the tables and chairs pushed to the side. We loaded all of our bags in and I helped put down our congregation’s mattresses (or in my case the infamous bed pad) onto one half of the class room. In total there were 6 parishes there, and in each parish there maybe 2 to 3 congregations. The parish I was with is the Bethal Parish, making up our Embalenhle congregation as well as a congregation from Bethal. The Bethal congregation arrived shortly after us. There were in total about 8 of them as well, and they were all dressed in their Woman’s League outfits. They used the other half of the classroom to place down their belongings and make their beds.

The schoolyard and classrooms in Mpuluzi

Once we were all moved in, we walked out of the classroom and down the outside steps to a building adjacent to ours. This was to be where all the large gatherings were held through-out the day. (I believe it was the room where most of the high schoolers had their lunch) The conference began with all the women who were there so far (about 50 in total) gathered in the room to have an evening service where the Dean of the diocese presided.

Women at the conference singing in the large gathering room

Once the service was over it was close to 11pm. I was thoroughly exhausted and my throat was beginning to ache. We all headed back up to our perspective rooms, and I was ready to go right to bed. As I sat down on my bed pad, I realized the women were beginning to get out their dinners. I had completely forgotten that we had packed dinners to have once we arrived. I told Mama I wasn’t feeling well and was just going to head to bed. “Okay,” she said smiling, “We’re going to go have dinner then be up for bed. Goodnight” I feel asleep within a few minutes.

 The sleep was not to last, however. I was woken up around midnight with the sounds of talking. I turned over and found the room was still very much alive. The lights were on and everyone was chatting and laughing. At first I, I have to admit, I was annoyed. No one likes being woken-up, especially when they’re not feeling well. I looked around the room and found all of them changing into their sleeping clothes while talking to one another. Some telling stories so dramatically and others were laughing hysterically. The whole scene reminded me of a sleepover party: women in bed chatting with each other while a container of cookies was passed around to share. I was feeling frustrated, exhausted, and my throat ached more than earlier in the night. It was only after seeing my host mother laughing so hard ( harder than I’ve seen her laugh yet…there were tears rolling down from her eyes) that I began to relax and get over my prima donna moment of needing everyone to be quiet so I could get some rest. It was then that I began to think of this conference as also a time to just be together, in community with one another.

 I don’t remember when I feel asleep, I think around 2am. I was woken up around 7am as the lights were turned on and I heard the sounds of water splashing around. I was so exhausted, and my throat was hurting even more than the night. Breakfast was being served at 8am and the day was to begin at 9am with a morning prayer, so I figured I could get in 15 minutes more of sleep. As I laid there trying to fall back to bed, I heard around me all the women chatting. I couldn’t understand much of what they were saying, and feared that I wouldn’t be able to understand any of the conference.

When we were all finished getting ready, we walked over to the other building to the larger room where the evening worship was held the night before. I was still feeling a bit sick, and looked around for where the tea mugs were that everyone was carrying around. Upon filling up my mug with water and beginning to stir in my tea packet, I turned around and was welcomed by dozens of women, whom not even knowing who I was or why there was a twenty-something white girl at the conference, gave me large smiles and countless hellos. It was comforting having this positive morning encounter with all these women, especially after having a night of such little sleep and feeling sick. I felt…well honestly, special. Not that I was more special than them, but special to be in such a situation. Blessed to be around such welcoming people. I can’t help but think of times in the U.S. when we see someone completely different looking than us and shy away from them. I stick out like a sore thumb in the places I’ve been volunteering in South Africa. I am in black communities, and I am white. For the most part, except when I traveled to a nearby town close to Embalenhle , I have been the only white person in sight. Not once have I felt ostracized for looking different, or for that matter, speaking different, but instead embraced and welcomed. I can’t help but wonder how those people who “look” and speak different in America feel when we make assumptions about who they are or where they come from, instead of embracing them as a person.

If the interaction was reversed and I was placed in situations I can think of in the U.S. where ones sticks out so obviously as being different, I can’t imagine, in most cases, receiving such a warm welcome. Having been feeling sick and tired, and all together new and nervous, I’m thankful that this wasn’t the case. I wonder how people in American feel who can’t speak perfect English, or dress “differently” than most Americans  when such strong negatives comments have been made towards them? I fear that without even knowing someone’s story, judgments are all to often made- I myself have been responsible for such instances. These women didn’t know my story, didn’t know that I was sick, didn’t know that I was volunteering or why I was even here, and and quite frankly after the reign of the apartheid, could have displayed negative feelings towards a white person, but no they didn’t. They asked me to sit near them, asked me why I was here, waved, smiled…. they were curious and delighted to have me at their conference. One of the pastors even asked me if I would like him to interrupt what all the speakers and pastors were saying for the weekend. I did not even ask this gentleman to do this for me, he volunteered his time and sat next to me the whole conference interrupting every word that was spoken.

Desmond Tutu’s book, “Not Future Without Forgiveness” has an excellent passage in it about embracing community and other humans… this idea of Ubuntu that I believe was (and has been consistently) displayed so well during my stay at the Woman’s Conference ( and in South Africa). He writes, “Ubuntu is very difficult to render into a Western language. It speaks of the very essence of being human…you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have. It is to say ‘My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up in yours’ We belong in a bundle of life. We say ‘A person is a person through other persons’ It is not, ‘I think therefore I am.’ It says rather: ‘I am human because I belong. I participate, I share’ A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole…” This is not really different at all from what Christians say they follow. Jesus spoke of the same ideas in Matthew 22: 39 “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I added the emphasis there, but think about how much power that has behind it. Loving someone as yourself, is embracing them for who they are. Is saying we are all bound up together because I am to love you as I love myself. These women were displaying Ubuntu, and consistently did the whole conference, not only to me but one another.

During the Saturday evening activities, a mini-choir competition was held. My parish placed last, and I was completely frustrated by this. My mind was so caught up in the fact that my parish got last place, that I found myself totally zoned out for the rest of the evening. I kept thinking to my self, “but wait, there is no way they should’ve got last. I know, for I’ve been in countless singing competitions, choirs, musicals my whole life, and I know that they did better than so and so parish.” How ridiculous that my mind was so tangled up in my own selfish pride that I couldn’t even concentrate for the rest of the evening? Talk about opposite of Ubuntu! Looking back at that moment, I was missing the big picture of why the choir competition was even being held. This was the first year they were able to get a judge from a university to come. The women were so excited to have this opportunity, and they were sincerely happy for one another when others ranked higher than themselves. They saw the gifts that other parish had, and faithfully and happily acknowledged these. (There was also a hand-work competition as well as different fundraising competitions).

Bethal Parish's hand-work

To bring this back to the idea of Ubuntu, Tutu writes about not feeling threatened that others are able and good, and the Bible too speaks to this message in Romans 12:3-6 “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” Why did I feel so threatened that another group performed better than mine? Why did I lose concentration for the whole evening? Do we lose site of why we do things? Do we let negative emotions control how we feel? I wasn’t thinking about the spirit of Ubuntu, loving others as myself, acknowledging the gifts everyone offers… I was the opposite of what Tutu says about Ubuntu, I felt threatened and I was thinking only of my selfish pride.

 I’m not beating myself up over this, but these women and men at the conference displayed a spirit of community that I find often is lacking in the American culture. Our culture revolves around the idea of the “American Dream” which isn’t how can I embrace my community or love others as myself, it’s how can I get to the top? Don’t misunderstand me, I believe there is beauty behind the American Dream, that there are opportunities offered in America that many other countries around the world don’t have, but in all this I believe there is a lost dimension of appreciation, love, support, and care for our neighbors. When Tutu speaks of being caught up in each others’ humanity, and the Bible says love your neighbors as yourself, I don’t think either is implementing those humans or neighbors that look or speak like us. It means everyone- all humans. It’s when regardless if a person who looks and speaks totally different than you, is embraced and welcomed because, they are human because you are human and we all belong, our humanity is strung together.

Rev Pereira(wife), Rev Mamba, Bishop Mnisi, Rev Pereria(husband), myself, Dean Dlamini, and the alter boy

 At the end of the conference, I was feeling significantly more sick than at the beginning of the long weekend, but I was also more than ever happy that I came. The hand-work made by all the congregations was for sale, and I bought a traditional Zulu pot from one of the ladies (luckily I even got one thing, because everything was going so fast!) I said goodbye to the women I had met, and thanked as many as I could for allowing me to spend time with them. I gave a special thanks to Rev. Pereira for interpenetrating for me and thanked the other pastors, Dean, and Bishop. Our congregation packed our last belongings into the Kombi, and figured out a way to fit our trophy into the van. Oh yes, Embalenhle did win one of the categories as they raised the most money over the year for the church.

Some Women from Bethal Parish with their trophy for raising the most annual money

 As we pulled out of the school yard, the women began singing a song and then prayed once more for safe travels home. While the lack of sleep and forgetting my inhaler did add to my sickness over the weekend, the tight quarters, friendly smiles, willing and thoughtful pastors, and example of the community, gave me a healthy spirit. One of the final messages given by one of the pastors was that no-one likes to be alone, humans need each other to build each other up. While this message was to encourage the woman to go back to their congregations and continue to help in their communities, I saw it once again as the power of community shown through out this conference and another reminder to me (and as I write this, us all) … why not make a valet effort to embrace one another, all people, in the spirit of Ubuntu?


Posted by: sammileeharc | October 3, 2011

It’s time to see the beauty around us- Trip to the Pretoria Zoo

This past Tuesday I woke up early and got ready for my day ahead with 35 smiling excited 4 and 5 year olds; the creche trip to Pretoria Zoo. I got into the car with Baba (my host father) around 7am where we first picked-up Lungile, Andile and Kenneth, three of the children who stay at Abasizikazi care-center, and we were then on our way to the creche to board the bus for our day at the zoo. As Baba dropped us off, and the four of us (three children and myself) got out of the car, I was met with big smiles and shouts of “Mam Samant!” from children at the creche. I smiled and said “Sanibonani!” (hello in Zulu, which literally translates as “I see you”) as the children echoed back saying “yebo!” (meaning hello back, and an acknowledgment that someone said hello to you).

The children, teachers, and parents gathered in one of the small classrooms. This classroom itself is a new exciting addition to the creche where the teachers are now able to separate the one and two year olds into separate classes. All the adults gathered in a circle around the children who faced the door of the class and were seated on the carpet. We began by singing a song together. I sang quietly to hear the children sing, as hearing them shout-sing songs is one of my favorite things so far to observe…I can’t help but smile. They sing with such pride and joy even though, the teachers tell me, they often mumble words or make them up. The parents clapped and chuckled a bit (some parents also finding it amusing and in the same sense adorable seeing how proud their children were of singing, even though some of the words were missing or created.) Lastly, before boarding the bus, we all prayed together. They crossed their legs and closed their eyes, some squeezing their eyes so tightly shut that they’d make a squinted up face, and prayed the familiar Lord’s pray in English and then in isiZulu.

We then all headed to the large bus which was to take us the 2 hour trip to Pretoria….or so we thought. On the way their our bus ended up coming across a police officer who, from what I gathered, asked us to pull over so they could count how many passengers were on board. While we were not breaking any rules and had the appropriate number of people aboard, the process seemed to take longer than expected. All in all the bus was on the side of the road as the driver friendly chatted with the police woman and other teachers for about an hour. ‘Patience is a virtue’ goes along way here. Coming from America where “time” seems to be one of our up most important priorities, so far my experience in Embalenhle has been of a different orientation around the meaning of time. Time so far seems to not be measured by quantity i.e. the second on a clock, but rather the quality. It’s been quite refreshing accepting this idea.

When the driver hopped back in the bus, we continued our journey. We arrived at the Pretoria Zoo around 1130am. As we all got off, the teachers told the kids to all link hands and form a giant chain as we entered the zoo. The chain of orange (all the children were wearing orange t-shirts which had the creche name on the back) marched in the zoo full of excitement and rapidly pulling each other along. In all the hustle and bustle some of the smaller children got yanked off the chain so the teachers and I ended up taking their hands and walking along inside with them. When we entered the zoo there were more clusters of colored t-shirts. Children from different day-cares and schools painted the entrance way in red, yellow, blue, orange, and green as the teachers all attempted to lead them towards exhibits. The scene resembled a shepherd leading its sheep…very tiny excited sheep. The childrens’ eyes wandered and they yelped names of animals they were hoping to see “lion!” “elephant!” “crocodile!”

We gathered in a large grass area and sat down all of our boxes and coolers where the food was being kept for lunch. Then all the children, 3 teachers, and myself began our journey around the zoo. We first walked past all the birds. Next, we enetred  the “dark reptile land”. We encountered dozens of snakes from all over Africa and the world. Tiny snakes which moved quickly, and large ( I mean LARGE) snakes, which would engulf a person if we got in its way, that moved rather slowly. The kids pointed, yelled, and laughed.

After exiting the dark snake room, we wandered around the corner where we found the American Alligator. I laughed a bit to myself. How funny was it that I came almost as excited as the kids to go to the African Zoo and one of the first things I see is the American Alligator. The kids, however, could care less where it was from and took in the beauty and amazement this large creature brought to the zoo. Watching their eyes get bigger as they saw the alligator move, I smiled realizing the beauty in ignoring for a moment where these animals came from, and instead rejoicing in the incredible creatures they are. For a moment the alligator even seemed to cock its head upwards towards a few of us to show off its dozens of sharp teeth.

Soon enough it was lunch time. We walked back to the large grass area and found waiting fresh braai, or as known in America BBQ. Two of the young men who came along were cooking and some of the other teachers who stayed back were busy preparing portions for all the children on little styrofoam plates. I sat with the other teachers on some benches as the children sat next to us on large blankets. Along with our braai we also had bread and “cold drinks” (soda).

After we finished eating, we started on the second half of the zoo. We walked up a steep hill towards the larger animals. This area was much larger as the bigger animals are not kept in cages, but huge land plots. We first came across the elephants and then we passed where the bears would be, but we couldn’t see any. After searching tirelessly for the bears, we stopped to take photos at a fountain. A older gentleman had come along with us and he was carrying a old cannon film camera. I remembered seeing him a few weeks back at the creche when it was one of the boys birthdays. He had come to take photos of the class. Each child lined up and was plopped on the stone structure around the fountain. “Mena Shoot!” they would say. Mena, meaning Me or I, and “shoot” referring to the camera. Needless to say lining up and photographing 35 kids took awhile. Some of the kids would be distracted by the falling water and wouldn’t even look at the camera. Since it was a film camera, the photographer couldn’t just snap away until he got his shot, but had to wait for the right moment for when the child was actually looking at him. The teachers and I tried to help by yelling their names. We all couldn’t help but laugh knowing that some of the photos taken would turn out being the kid staring into the water or up at the sky.

Andile, Lungile, and Kenneth getting their photo taken at the fountain

At last, we came to the large cat area: tigers and lions. The tigers land was on a hill which at the end dropped about 100 ft to the ground and then back up again to the fence. Where the tiger was and where the fence sat were at about eye level with one another, but because of the large drop, the tiger stopped about 50 feet from the fence. The tiger paced back and forth staring at all the people on the other side of the fence. The kids put their faces up to the fence and clawed their fingers around the openings. They starred in awe and when the tiger growled they all echoed the noise with a loud excited roar. Up the hill a bit more was our last and final animal to see: the lion. The lions fenced in land was the same set-up as the tigers, but instead of pacing back and forth, the lion sat elegantly amongst the tall grass quietly looking around. It was beautiful. Even I turned into a little kid for a second and placed my face up against the fence to get a look at this exquisite animal.
As we all turned around to walk back towards the exit, I turned back and saw Kenneth, still gazing into the lion area. He was sitting on the ground, and when he looked up at me he said “khathla” (tired). I picked him up in my arms and walked back down the hill towards the others. On the way back, we kept having to stop, however, because he’d say “bheka!” (look!) at every animal cage. At first I thought to myself, Kenneth, I’m carrying you. Do we really have to stop at every cage and see the animals…again? When we caught up to another teacher she told me how happy she was for having me come and how great this trip always is for the kids. “Many of them,” she said “won’t go back to a zoo for years” I stopped at every cage he wanted to stop at after that, even though my arms began to ache. And as I looked at his smiling face, I too smiled and felt a spark of joy knowing what a great day I just shared with all these children.

The lion at the zoo

The ride back I thought about my day. I often tell people that one of the times I most see God is through nature: the mountains and valleys, ocean and lakes, forest and deserts. As I rode back I thought to myself what beautiful animals  has created for us to look at too. At one of the camps I staff at during the summers, we run a session about God as the Ultimate Artist. In Genesis God creates the earth, the plants, the animals, and us. We talk about how everything God has created is esthetically pleasing to our eyes. The trees aren’t fluorescent pink and the sky isn’t polka dotted yellow and green. As the little kids today were in awe of all the creatures around them, I find too often I forget to look around and see everything that God has created amongst us. The beauty in the trees, the sky, the animals, and each other. If we just took the time- quality time-to not rush through our day, but look around, I bet we’d notice a lot more of the beauty God has created for us.

Posted by: sammileeharc | September 20, 2011

Music to my ears

These first two weeks in Embalenhle have been filled with curiosity and excitement. I spend my week days either at the Lutheran Creche (day care) or the Abasizikazi Home Based HIV/AIDS Care Center.  Having worked at a daycare in America and having never worked in a non-profit health organization, this year gives me a good mixture of the familiar and the new. Days at the creche I rotate classrooms spending time with the 2 year olds up to 5 year olds. Days at the care center I have been working in the office helping the organization work towards obtaining their non-profit certification for palliative care.  I have been learning a lot about non-profit health organizations as I work with the project manager and managing director on different projects. On the weekends I have been taking walks around town, spending time to myself, and going to church for the youth meetings on Saturday and service on Sunday. Having experienced two Lutheran services my first couple of days in South Africa during orientation; I was looking forward to the powerful singing and worship that took place. And once again, I was not let down.

The Lutheran church in Embalenhle is a small building with plastic black chairs lined in rows facing the alter and table. People travel from nearby towns, because this Lutheran Church is the only one for a few miles. Pastors are rare in the Eastern Dioceses, where I am located, so often members of the congregation preach the word. A 22 year old man named Raymond spoke last week, and this week Mr. Pooe, who works with the Bishop and lives just a few houses down from where I stay, spoke to the congregation. Although I currently can only verbally  pick out a few Zulu words or understand the English words, I was able to follow along in my bible with the readings. In giving their sermons, they both were so passionate and every now and then the congregation would echo their words with an “Amen!” or “Jesus!”, or “uNkulunkulu” (Zulu for God). At the Lutheran churches I have attended back home, I have to admit I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable thinking of someone mid-sermon shouting an “Amen” during a service, but in this church people spoke with confidence and passion. Songs were sang through-out the services some in English and many in isiZulu.

Music is a huge part of my life as many of you who know me understand.  I would find it quiet impossible to go through a whole day without humming or singing to myself….or out for that matter. The music these past two weeks in the services has been beautiful and puts me a good mood. Much of the music as an organic feel to it and seems spur of the moment spirit lead. Sometimes the lecturer will state what song is to be song, and other times a member of the congregation will just beginning singing a song and others will join in. During the offering, people sing songs while dancing down the aisle to give their money in offering plates placed on a table in front of the alter.  People  danced and sang along at the top of their lungs while many were slapping their bibles to make a drum noise…(oh and yes, people do bring bibles to church and read along with them during the readings and gospel, a slightly different story than what I’m used to back home).  Many members of the congregation were even raising their hands up praising God when dancing. While back home in central Pennsylvania, the image of people raising their hands or shouting “Amen” often gets associated with non-denominational churches or “young people at camp”, these were Lutherans of all ages moving their hips and clapping their hands to praise God and it didn’t look or feel forced.

After the service I spoke to some of the youth who asked me what I thought of the services. “They’re great! I love the music” I said. They smiled at me and shared with me how the music is a powerful part of the service for them too.

These past two plus weeks, I have seen the holy spirit alive in this community. Even though people may worship differently around the world, doesn’t mean anyone is worshiping “better” than the other.  The spirit is alive within the members of this congregation as they have no fear of taking time to celebrate God’s grace and love. Rather than standing still and feeling awkward, I began to dance and slap my bible right along with the congregation. I received smiles and warm embraces.  A lesson learned here is don’t fear the new. Embrace it. Embrace the spirit alive in yourself. Let lose, sing loud, praise God, move your hips a little. Clap. Let the spirit move within you and take over.


Posted by: sammileeharc | September 6, 2011

I’m here, bags and all.


We all carry around baggage- our past relationships, friends, jobs, camps, clothing, family, food, religion, hobbies, culture, etc. I’ve heard the saying many times “leave your baggage at the door.” It makes sense, right?… You don’t want to drag around past situations that could effect you negativley. But in reality is it even possible? Can one really “drop their baggage” and  have a completely clean slate?


Our first week in RSA was incredible. We played soccer (or football as they call it in South Africa) together, we walked together and saw beautiful giraffe, zebras, wildebeest and buck roaming around, we spent time at a Zulu homestead and learned about the traditional Zulu culture, food, dance, and homes, and we even experience our first Zulu worship service together (lasting over  3+hours, but with all the singing and dancing it seemed to go by quicker than some worships I’ve experience in the US). We also spent sometime together in sessions, where Brian and Kirsten Konkol (our counry cordinators) spoke with us, and we had guest speakers.


On our frist Monday in SA, Phillip Knutson, the regional program assistant for Southern Africa with the ELCA,  came and spoke with our MUD4 group and shared with us many stories and things to ponder, but his thoughts on our individual baggage stuck out to me. He asked us to go around the circle and describe something we were wearing and why it meant something to us.  I told the group about the 3 rings I have on my fingers: a tanzinte from my father, a blue topaz from mother, and a silver friendship knot from my two best friends. After the group finished sharing, Phillip continued with his comments on our baggage. Everything we described had a story behind it, and you could label it as baggage. These items we shared were important to us, and all of us admitted it would be hard to have to drop these things in order to claim ourselves as being baggage free. In my earlier statment I wrote, “you don’t want to drag aroud past situations that could effect you negativley,” but is all baggage negative? As Phillip showed us, their are somethings in our lives that we just don’t want to let go of, and we don’t have to. Meeting new people and forming relationships shouldn’t be focused around how we can drop our baggage, but on how  we can learn how to shake hands with someone while perhaps holding our baggage a little differently.


Rachel and I boarded our bus to Mpumalanga yesterday morning. On the ride we meet a young bubbly white female Afrikaan girl who, after laughing at our “ridiculous accents” and shaming us for not knowing what biltong was (beef jerkey), she told us how recenetly she lost some of her horses and most of her barn because of a fire. We spoke with a talkative Indian man who travels weekly from Durban to Evander where he works at the Sesol Oil factory to make money for his family. And finally, we stepped off the bus 6 hours later to meet my Zulu host mother and 3 year old younger brother. All these people are South African, and with all these people Rachel and I shared a little bit about ourselves as we learned a little bit about all of them.


This year I’ve been told many times that I will be changed. What this means, I have no clue yet. But I believe this  doesn’t meant I need to try to drop who I am, but learn how to share who I am so others can share with me who they are.

Posted by: sammileeharc | August 24, 2011

Beginning in Grace

Starting off this next year with the Young Adults in Global Mission program began just a week ago in Chicago. Arriving after not seeing one another since the  DIP (Discernmeent, Interview, Placement) event in April, we were all anxiously waiting to see what this week of orientation and training had in store for us.

One of the main themes that struck a chord with me this week, was community. Of course it is easy to say, “I will need to strive to be in community with those who I will be living with this next year”… but to do/act this out all the time is going to definitley be a challenge for me. I never actually thought about the strong importance that comes along with this bond.

As a Christian Lutheran, I’ve grown up learning about the main ideas of our theology. Ask any Lutheran and they’ll most likely be able to tell you the basic premis of our theology, sounding somewhere along the lines of, ” its about Grace! -God’s gift freely given.” But this gift of Grace really is calling us to community with one another. Martin Luther wrote about this tendency humans have to look in on themselves and to focus on their own problems, concerns, and wants. The gift of Grace not only allows us to not focus on ourselves, but really calls and beckons us to reach out towards others and to create community with others. Because we are not focusing on ourselves, we are able to focus on others. God is calling and yearning for us to form relationships with those around us. Even the Trinity: father, son, and holy spitit, is in a constant relationship with itself.

Through many sessions this past week, this message hit me hard and I know that I need to remember that even in tough times when I don’t understand something or feel at a total lost, that God is calling me to be in relationship with the people I am living, learning, and serving with. Jordan, a fellow YAGM who will be serving in South Africa with me this year, shared with us all a quote,”If you judge people you have not time to love them” -Mother Teresa.  As I get ready to leave in the next few hours to head to South African for our in-country orientation, I hope this next year that I remember this quote when I get scared or nervous, and remember that this isn’t about myself, but about the people of South Africa, the other YAGMs around the world, and about God being in relationship with all of us and with one another.