Wednesday, February 22, 2006


In a very success and results oriented society, the simple pleasure of enjoying something is sometimes not seen as a worthwhile expenditure of time, energy and money – perhaps something best left to children. But if you are up on your Westminster catechism, the following will sound familiar:

What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

Enjoyment was not something I captured as a mainstay of my faith in my conservative Mennonite upbringing, but I am trying to rectify that now. No, I have not become a hedonist, but this great big life that God has given to me as a gift is to be thoroughly enjoyed as an act of worship to the one who gave it to me, and I will not be found ungrateful if I can help it. Enjoyment involves the senses as well as the heart, mind, emotions, and imagination. I can enjoy a good meal, a drink with friends, a good book or movie, a sunset, a walk in the woods, good music, dancing, playing a game, working hard, sex, traveling, meeting different people, creating something new, resting, feeling God near me, and even my cats!

My trip to Africa was wonderful food for my senses and even now I feel occasional twinges of longing for some of the things I experienced there. Here are a few:

1. living with a family instead of spending much of my time alone
2. incessant teasing and playing of games at which I really sucked!
3. fresh, tasty, and varied fruits and vegetables
4. having healthy and well-balanced meals prepared for me!
5. warmth and sunshine pretty much every day
6. landscapes wild and tame
7. water time including swimming and boating and wakeboarding
8. plants and animals that we don’t see here
9. flying a lot and seeing the world from above
10. the ocean
11. shopping at the market where everything is so much fun to look at i.e. the packaging, the different products, figuring out the pricing, etc.
12. driving around and the view out the window never getting old
13. walking into different people’s homes and despite the fact that you have never met them, being warmly welcomed
14. lots of colour!

look around you and ENJOY!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Comfort, Africa and a few random things

Discomfort is such a maligned word. Since I have made my peace with it and started to realize that awkwardness is usually a symptom of change and often an invitation to be real and give up one’s insecurities, I seldom suffer from it at all. I was surprised how little culture shock I felt in Africa. Though I can be known to be somewhat shy and quiet, I think I did pretty well for meeting tons of new people on an almost daily basis and managing to say at least a few intelligent, and hopefully the odd meaningful, thing. The two things that did affect me the most were the level of security one has to live with (at least in Pretoria) and the stifling sense of cultural conservatism in the church which reminded me just too much of my own repressive Mennonite upbringing. Don’t get me wrong, I am not dissing either the African church I attended nor my childhood church, but let’s face it, we all have our trappings, and I am simply mentioning one that I have spent a lot of my life trying to get over and to encounter it again…well, it was uncomfortable. But in that very place of awkwardness, I turned to God and said, “Teach me,” and when I stopped focussing on the people around me…a most profound and personal encounter happened. I still can’t really talk about it because it was so personal, but maybe someday.

Anyway…the security issue. I can’t say I enjoyed always looking behind and around me, locking everything, bars and gates and security cameras all around your property, scanning the area for suspicious behaviour whenever you are out, keeping a careful hand on all my belongings, closing my car window at a robot, not trusting the pizza delivery guy, driving past your own house instead of turning in because there are a few people walking by, feeling a little apprehension every time you use a bank machine, and hearing gunshots in the neighbourhood. No, I don’t miss that at all. The only place you feel really safe is in the relative prison of your own home and I believe this contributes to the isolation and lack of community people might feel there. On the other hand, I made it a point never to be alone anywhere, so in that way, perhaps it fosters community, I don’t know. But it is the way things are and you do what you have to in order to be safe and alive. I don’t know what the solution is to their incredibly high crime rate but the discreet and wise acts of kindness that I witnessed my friends partake in left an impression on me.

And now just for fun…random facts about my trip:
- the jet lag going there was wicked (I woke up at 3 am and just lay there for hours listening to every noise and wondering when they would fix that squeaky bed!), coming back it was almost non-existent
- going out to eat was incredibly reasonable. One fast food place that my friend took me to had fresh and healthy meals like wraps, sandwiches, smoothies, etc. all for under $3!
- though I did miss Diet Dr. Pepper a bit, the fresh fruit, rusks, butternut soup, and coconut rice more than made up for it.
- I could probably have taken the car for a spin around the block and done okay (one of my friends offered to let me drive a bit), but I was hesitant to try it in a busy section of town where I would have had to deal with driving on the left side of the road, a manual gearshift on the left, having to look left first when entering traffic, finding my way around, AND lots of others doing the same at relatively high speeds!
- I still have some sort of rash on my back and front that developed at the end of the trip. I am trying to narrow down what could have caused it – some say it is food related (I ate meat everyday which is kind of a big deal for a long-time mostly vegetarian), others say it is likely topical and could be the soaps, water, chlorine, or some hideous bug I came in contact with! Any insight?
- What did I miss the most while I was there? Besides my husband (and the cats, sorry guys), not much really. I would find it easy to live there (every place has its frustrations but the few things I did encounter were not a big deal), and I especially enjoyed the climate and the food and the artwork and the little kids I met.
- Things move much slower there. We in the west are so used to rushing everywhere and being efficient. Though there is something to be said for our drive, there is an enjoyment of time and a lack of stress in Africa that we could take a few lessons from.
- While many things here are moving towards self-service and automation, there almost every area of your life is serviced by someone who needs the job. You have a housekeeper, a gardener, someone who pumps the gas into your car, someone who checks your oil and cleans your windscreen, someone who finds a parking space for you, someone who watches your car while you are away, someone who guards the bank machines, someone who will sell you a globe or backpack or a watermelon or a box of peaches on the side of the road, someone who will open a gate for you, someone who will put things into bags for you, someone who will supervise someone fixing something, and if you don’t have someone to do something you need done, then you head to the designated street corner where willing workers arrive early in the morning and hang out in the hopes of finding someone looking for an odd job to be done.
- Wakeboarding was not as hard as I thought it would be.
- Breathing was harder than I thought it would be.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Friendship and Africa - #1

I believe that God is teaching me to be a friend, and in that way, opening a door on my friendship with him as well. In my opinion, the fact that I flew halfway around the world to see some friends says a lot about my values. Some people seem to be a bit awkward with this bit of information, for while it seems totally acceptable to spend vast amounts of money and time touring the world and that is thought of as adventurous, using your resources to visit some exotic place mainly to invest in people and relationships instead of seeing the sights just seems sentimental or needy or I don’t know what people assume it is. Frankly, I don’t care. I was privileged to live with a family for two-and-a-half weeks and have lots of good conversations and get to know them better by listening and watching and playing and eating together and seeing what adventures and challenges they face in their adopted, temporary country. I feel I gained much more than I gave (they gave me non-stop nutritious meals, regular swimming lessons, introductions to their friends, taking me along on jaunts around town, arranging day trips, praying for me, going shopping with me, and in general, taking good care of me in a strange land), but I pray that in some way they are richer as a result of my visit and know how much being in their home as an honorary family member meant to me. Their acceptance and love remain the highlights of my trip.

I was also privileged to stay with another family for 4 days that I did not know very well at all. They, too, embraced my presence wholeheartedly and offered that unique combination that I love so well: accepting me while challenging me to try new things. Though our time together was shorter and not as profound, I felt the weight of God’s hand on several conversations and encounters and I hope that I cross paths with these folks again.

Whether we live in Africa or Canada or anywhere in the world…the main struggle in relationships is how close will we let people come? How much will we trust? How much of ourselves are we willing to show? How far out on a limb will we go for one another, especially if we do not know them that well? The example is clear: while we were strangers, God died for us. Let me offer my heart and life just as freely – that is the greatest gift I can give.

Friday, February 03, 2006

africa one

I just returned from three weeks in South Africa and here are the answers to the questions I am most frequently asked:

1. No, I did not go on a safari and no, I did not see any lions. But I did spend a few hours at a game park and see rhinos, giraffes, an elephant, hippos, zebras, wildebeests, an ostrich, warthogs, guinea fowl, a wide variety of birds and various small bucks.

2. No, I was not there to work with some humanitarian organization. I went to visit friends, but I was privileged to see the child that I sponsor through South Africa Cares For Life and meet his family. They struggle with poverty and health issues and live in a small leaky tin shack situated on a garbage dump, but they have a flourishing garden in the back and smiles for strangers from Canada. I felt honoured to be invited into their home.

3. No, my worldview has not changed drastically. If anything, it confirmed for me how much people all over the world are basically the same – we all share in this thing called humanity. We all wrestle with different aspects of survival and finding our place and breaking down barriers and developing relationships that are meaningful and feeling we are doing something worthwhile.

4. No, I did not find it all that hot. Though it was mid-summer in that part of the world, they were having an unusually cool and rainy few weeks, but anything above 20 degrees and sans snow was fine with me.

And here are some answers to the question I deem more important...why?...that come from notes I made on the plane on the way there:

1. I went to Africa to be a friend - to live with people and share in their lives; to hopefully bring a presence of peace, love, joy, passion, and a deep ability to be moved by the lives of others; to help with an everyday task, to listen with patience, to ease a burden, to utter a prayer, to see the world through another’s eyes, and most of all…to be present instead of absent.

2. I went to Africa to be uncomfortable. While there I changed almost everything about my daily routine: my sleeping, my eating, my drinking, my climate, my culture, my soap, my daily activities, my housemates, my clothes, my money, my security awareness, and setting my own agenda. An entry in my journal says this, “A change in culture is especially stressful because it affects all of the senses and so many of the things we use as points of reference. It is an excellent exercise in helping one focus on the items that are foundational and necessary in our lives and pries our fingers off many of the security blankets we tend to cling to, mistakenly thinking that they provide real comfort.” There is no change without discomfort and I am constantly in need of positive, forward-motion change.

3. I went to Africa to enjoy – It is an act of worship to enjoy God, his creation, the expression of his character in the people he made, and to recognize his care even in strange and dire circumstances.

4. I went to Africa to change the world by setting foot in a part of it, bringing myself wholly there, choosing to be vulnerable, and carrying the presence of God.

I will let you know how I did in all 4 areas in subsequent blogs.