Reflecting on our Time in the Kei Region
Greetings from South Africa! We hope this letter finds you well. As we write this, we have just celebrated a wonderful Christmas holiday here in East London.
Greetings from South Africa! We hope this letter finds you well. As we write this, we have just celebrated a wonderful Christmas holiday here in East London. Since it is summer here and schools are out for an extended break, our family enjoyed quality time together, including a few days camping with close friends near the beach in Port Alfred. In the past couple of weeks, however, our holiday ended and life has returned to a more normal flow. A highlight of this return to normalcy is that both our kids are in ‘big school’ now, which is quite hard to believe! Khaya started Grade 1 and he is proud to wear his school uniform each day, while Aly started Grade R (kindergarten) and is happy that she is now at the same school as her big brother.
In addition to getting back to work, we are also starting the process of winding down our time here in East London and the work in which we have been involved in the Kei Region. Our second four year term will end in May and we will be returning to the US for a time or itineration until the end of 2010. And as we are preparing for these coming changes, we are beginning to reflect on the last eight years of work in South Africa.
There is no doubt that we have been privileged to be involved in a number of projects here in the Kei Region. We have worked with our partners as they have started agricultural businesses involving the growing of crops and the raising of chickens. We have been blessed to be involved in assisting the churches of the Kei Region to actively address the pandemic of HIV/AIDS. In the past few months, churches in Bedford and Peelton have started providing home based care for the sick, including gardening projects to help with nutrition. A number of churches continue to support the work of the Samaritan Care Centre here in East London, which provides home based care as well as an inpatient hospice unit. We have participated in worship services of thanksgiving, rejoicing, and reconciliation. We have buried loved ones and unveiled tombstones of people we only know through their life stories. And we have preached from many a pulpit to share the good news of Christ together with our African family.
However, in looking back at the work with our partner church, the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, what we cherish most are the relationships and friendships that have been built with our sisters and brothers. It is wonderful to recall the many instances we have been invited to participate in the lives of people here, from being invited into the homes of friends and colleagues to share meals and worship together, to being present at an emgidini (a traditional celebration once a boy has been initiated into manhood), to being with the ministers whom we work with and listening to them recall how they sought to minister during the terrible days of the Apartheid regime. And because of these relationships, we have been privileged to help connect our Disciples and UCC family from the United States to our African family here. These relationships are cherished beyond what words can say or that one’s heart can hold.
One of Global Ministries’ Guiding Principles states that ‘We commit ourselves to discovering and sharing exciting new ways to sing the song of faith … hearing, telling and participating in the story of God’s love in Jesus Christ.’ And in our time here, the only way to share and participate in the story of God’s love is through relationships. An African theologian and scholar, Jehu Hanciles, calls this emphasis on relationships ‘witness as with-ness’ and describes it as an approach that ‘accepts cultural diversity and promotes mission as sustained interpersonal engagement.’
We are blessed to have so many friends here who have allowed us to journey in life with them, and who have witnessed to us the love of God through their ‘with-ness’ in our lives. Our hope and prayer for each of us is that as we all seek to let the presence of God shine forth in our lives, we will remember to cherish the relationships that are built on our journey. For by participating in the lives of others and allowing them to participate in ours, we are continual witnesses to the story of God’s love for each of us.
Revs. Jon and Dawn Barnes
Jonathan and Dawn Barnes are missionaries with the Kei Regional Council of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa, South Africa. They serve as development officers in the Kei region of the Eastern Cape of South Africa.