What a contrast these past few days have been!
From the dry desert to the sea.
From cattle grazing to tourists sipping coffee.
From countryside to seaside town.
From campuses we have occupied alone, to this one – 6 DTS groups, 1 SBS school, and staff – all under 2 roofs.
It’s hard to explain the contrast fully. Our first days in South Africa have consisted of much settling in. Of much “getting used” and training. We have been blessed as so many ministry leaders here at the YWAM Muizenberg base have poured into us, training and teaching on topics like Anti-Trafficking ministry and Evangelism training. Feels a bit like lecture phase all over again!
Ministry has felt slow to get started. We went from week long camp and/or conference type environments to 2 hours of children’s ministry in the morning, and then again 2 hours later at night. Though perhaps I should not complain – things are bound to pick up!
What has most struck me, since being here are all the differences.
I will try and explain.
While in Namibia we were always living or working right in the middle of a township. “Townships” is a word used in Namibia as well as South Africa to to refer to a low income areas. The areas where concrete homes stand side by side with shacks made out of sheets of “zinc” (zinc coated tin) – the cheapest building material around. In Windhoek we worked in a township setting right in the middle of the capital city, called Katatura. The next in the much smaller town of Rehoboth. We worked or lived in areas miles away from “nice, western” type settings. Things like coffee shops (and indeed white people) were in short supply at most of our locations. English was less frequently spoken. More often a whole conflagration of languages was spoken at our elbows which was occasionally moderated by a dive into English to mercifully include the out of towners!
We spent 5 weeks in Namibia. Out of that time, I estimate we took only 5 trips into the city to drink coffee and check wifi in a setting I would consider (somewhat) like home.
And now, here I am. Sitting in a coffeeshop in Cape Town.
A 1 minute walk from the ocean.
Surrounded by English speakers.
In an ethnic and racial majority at the moment.
Surfers walking by. Hipsters sipping chai.
Poverty so far away.
Comfort bubble finding its way firmly into place again….
And I wonder. How will I live when I get home?
It’s not a guilty question. It’s just…as I sit here, I can feel in myself how easy it will be to settle back. To get overwhelmed by the requirements and responsibilities of my life when I get back. A home (or room), a job, rent, groceries, health care, friends, family, church – whatever!
In fact (minus the ocean) this area is taking me back; making me feel eerily like I’m back home, doing the kind of stuff I would do at home, with (mostly) the kind of people I would meet back home.
No, but this is basically an illusion. There is another difference actually. Because despite what this area looks like, it’s not safe. In fact, the YWAM base hosting us advises that we if we walk anywhere, especially as a woman, we never do so alone. Stealing is very common here. Violence, common if resisted. We’ve had class time on the topic “How to be Robbed Well.” I’m serious.
Not that we need to be crippled by fear. We leave valuables at home when going into high-incident areas. Pray for protection. Travel in groups of 2 or 3 at least – always with a guy. We walk in divine protection and wisdom. But the fact remains that despite the appearance of “just like home” that I feel, there is an undercurrent of potential violence – a sense of insecurity here, that we did not feel in Namibia, keeps all from being as idyllic as it appears.
We’ve taken several trips into townships in this area and I’m starting (just starting) to get a sense of what poverty means in Cape Town. The great gap between rich and poor. The violence it fosters. The feelings of hopelessness. The need for ministry. The need for love and acceptance.
But…and indulge me for a few moments of introspection here…is this not true of every community? Yes, of my own community back home? I consider Troy, NY. There is the hipster area downtown, the one that I visit so very often. With all its cute cafes and adorable shops. An outdoor market, a concert hall. ….and right there, next to my favorite downtown coffeeshop, a high rise apartment building designated as low-income. It doesn’t look quite as bad as the townships…from the outside anyway…I’ve never been inside. Or just down the street…Hoosick Street, isn’t it? One of the most violent areas of Troy.
Schenectady, New York. Downtown Albany. Heck, even Utica, the city nearest my hometown.
I came half-way across the world for ministry I could do in my own backyard…
But maybe it took this. This time spent in a nation so very different to my own, to teach me that the emotional and spiritual effects of poverty look similar the world over…and whether it’s an hour from where I live, or a 22 hour plane ride, I will find myself in and amongst people I am not completely comfortable with. People whose language, or manner of speaking, I may not fully understand. People who look different than me. Places where I stick out like a sore thumb because I am just so different…so unused to what is there. So clearly uncomfortable, though I try not to show it. To clearly out of my depth.
And yet, amongst human beings, made in the image of God, fully loved and known by Him. Can I be his representative, his ambassador even in these places?
I’ve seen people here and in Namibia – laying their lives down for their community. Walking bravely into areas that aren’t safe to show the love of God to a gangster. To a prostitute. Sacrificing convenience to go to rural communities without running water, to teach people what human trafficking is and how to prevent it in their own community. Tutoring children. Running summer camps. Pouring their lives, their time, their emotional and spiritual energies to show in word and deed how very much God loves each child. this to kids who don’t get it. To kids who go home to a fatherless house. To a violent street. Kids with deep scars on their faces, their arms, their hands, their knees. Some from fights. Some from living on streets just strewn with beer bottles. How do you play barefoot on glass and not get hurt? it’s so hard to know if your words make a different story. If your actions will cause change in their lives. How can just one voice, for 2 hours here, 1 day there, 1, 2, 3, times a week, if that….how can that one voice drown out a whole atmosphere of other voices, saying other things? And yet, who else will tell them they have worth and value? Who else will do their very best to show them unconditional love, like what Jesus has for them? We are blessed to be a blessing. And yes, with men this is impossible, but not with God. For with God, all things are possible. This is what we believe. We crazy Jesus-people. Reach change can, and does happen.
Love and patience. Perseverance and fortitude. A life pouring out for those who sometimes don’t seem to care or even to want it.
My prayer just now, guys, is that God would put on my heart even now what steps to take when I get home, that as I settle in, I would never stop doing mission. I would never stop reaching out with the love of Jesus and also his offer of salvation and wholeness – to people INSIDE my comfort zone, and to people OUTSIDE my comfort zone.
Because the truth is. It’s never going to happen unless I am intentional. It’s never going to happen unless I figure out, and have the courage in Christ, to go from smiling and joking with my local barista, to asking how life really is and how God can fit into that. From chats about the weather to asking if I can pray with a friend from church.
In case I sound like what I’m saying is that I want to come home and become super-woman – I’m not!
We are all called to this! And some of you have inspired me so much in our friendship in how you have done this so well. Been intentional in ministry. Loved people. Been the hands and feet of the Father.
I’m encouraged. I’m stirred. And I’m sober. I need prayer. I need the Lord to day by day teach me the mission, the place, the community, the group to which he’s called me. And all will be well.
The promise is all is well. Though not always comfortable!
Blessed to be a blessing,
A (very important) side note…
The Lord does not call us to fix problems. He does not call us to fix people or situations. He calls us to OBEDIENCE. He does alway call us to Love. He gets to decide the contexts and communities and groups in which he places us. And when he does the choosing, he does the equipping too. But we have to take the first steps to be AVAILABLE – to listen and obey.
He is good!
PS Sorry for the lack of pictures. Uploading is being a problem. Check my Facebook group or profile for some pics of our journeys and ministry through lovely Namibia and South Africa.