For the last three years, the Division of Overseas Ministries/Global Ministries has sponsored summer College of Missions Internships for Disciples of Christ seminarians. Each year these summer interns are assigned to serve in various program offices at our Indianapolis location. In 2010, four seminarians participated in this program, namely: Kimberly Proctor, Mission Interpretation and Constituency Relationships Office; William Almodovar, Latin America and Caribbean Office; Chesla Nickelson, Africa Office; and Lisa Grace, Office of Mission Personnel.
The 2010 interns had the opportunity to visit Zimbabwe, South Africa and Swaziland as part of their summer experience with DOM/Global Ministries. “Four Chosen, One Journey” is their testimony of their journey to these four African nations, July 11-26, 2010, accompanied by Sandra Gourdet, Africa Executive, and Julia Brown Karimu, DOM Vice President and Global Ministries Mission Personnel Executive.
We thank God for the lives of William, Lisa, Kimberly, and Chesla, and their commitment to witness as part of a true Global Ministries Church.
David A. Vargas
Four Voices One Journey
Seminarian Interns Journey to
Zimbabwe, South Africa and Swaziland
I slept just a little last night as we were closing the tasks of the Asamblea Hispana (Hispanic Assembly) in Orlando, Florida. We woke up at 6 am to make the flight to Indianapolis and wait for the other seminarians and Julia Brown Karimu and Sandra Gourdet from the Global Ministries office. We were meeting at 12:30 pm, so I spent two hours at the airport reading more information about the countries and churches we were about to visit.
Finally, we were together and getting prepared to embark on a missionary experience, a transcultural one, that is offering us the opportunity to meet God’s people in their own context in a different part of the world. Usually long flights like this get me very nervous, but this time that didn’t happen. Contrary to other times, where flights over three hours made me impatient and nervous, this time was different. There was no anxiety, no nervousness, just a calm and peaceful 16 hours. We were not there yet and we were already having a good experience.
We only spent one night in Johannesburg as in the morning we were leaving for Zimbabwe where we will be visiting, meeting, and enjoying the company of people from the United Church of Christ of Zimbabwe. The travel was long and it took almost two days to get here, but no doubt we are here to see what the Lord has done in Zimbabwe and what else we would experience with the churches over there.
The emotion won’t let me sleep. It is very late and I am still awake. Tomorrow Zimbabwe will be awaiting us. Let’s see what the Lord has prepared for us there. The Lord has shown to be in control of everything so far, and this is only the beginning.
What a MIGHTY God we serve! Angels bow before Him, heaven and earth adore Him. What a MIGHTY God we serve! We began our journey yesterday with excitement, insecurities, anticipation, and maybe even some reservations. To some of us, Africa is only the images and stories to which we have been exposed on TV. To others, it is a homecoming and a place of compassion and hospitality. Even in the midst of our fatigue from long travels and lack of sleep, we stepped off the plane with joy, excitement, and disbelief by saying to ourselves, “I can’t believe we are in Africa!!”
The first sign displayed to commemorate what we all believed to be the beginning of a life-changing experience was “Welcome to South Africa: Land of Happiness.” From the smiles, friendly exchanges of “hello” and kind gestures to help us as we made our way to our “home” for the night, all the fatigue, doubts, and insecurities did not seem to matter anymore. Our entrance into the front doors of the Dove’s Nest in Johannesburg was not cold and uninviting; rather we were received with greetings that warmed our hearts while also taking in the lovely smell of curry chicken to tickle our taste buds. As we dined and enjoyed our first hearty meal of curry chicken, rice, sweet potatoes, carrots, and spinach, we each shared what we were thankful for, and our anticipation of a MIGHTY move of God over the course of the next two weeks.
What a MIGHTY God we serve that God would grant us the opportunity to experience the many great works that God is doing in South Africa. As we said our good nights, longing for a good night’s rest, I believe that our minds and hearts were busy pondering “God, what will you show us next!” Can I say it one more time? What a MIGHTY God we serve!
The word for the day is mashuma. Mashuma is Shona for "thank you," and we have plenty to be thankful for. Thus far, we have made it to every destination safely—and with our luggage. We have been greeted with joy and love by Rev. Matuvhunye. I have clearly never met the man, but I felt like he was my father welcoming me home as he talked about all the changes in the city while driving us to the hotel. I am grateful for the almost instantaneous feeling of family and camaraderie. We are also thankful for the time spent meeting the leadership at the Untied Theological College where there is progress being made and classes being offered that I would love to take.
Having dinner at the training center for women, whose name translates to “Open Your Mind,” was a great blessing. The facility where we dined is a place where women can go to learn to be self-sufficient economically, spiritually and mentally. We were also able to have conversations with the leadership of the United Church of Christ of Zimbabwe (UCCZ). I was particularly grateful for the presence of Dr. Lovemore Madhuku who began to explain the process of establishing a people’s constitution. It was also at this lovely dinner that I learned that in Zimbabwe, mashuma is not just a polite word or the right thing to say. Often saying mashuma also includes clapping three times. This is the same type of clap that is used in greetings. This clapping is an additional offer of appreciation and respect for the person or group you are communicating with. If one bends at the knees while saying mashuma and clapping this offers the utmost gratitude. Consequently, when one does this during greetings it means the same. In a culture that emphasizes groups and family there is a profuse affirmation and appreciation for the individual as a person and for their gifts, time and talents.
We began the day in Johannesburg where it was so cold we could see our breath when walking outside. We ended the day warmed by the new relationships formed, old relationships rekindled and the generous hospitality of the UTC and the UCCZ leadership and their spouses. For that warmth I bend my knees, clap my hands, and say mashuma.
Flexibility is the word of the day. We were to depart from Harare to Chipinge, stopping along the way to visit Africa University and a few congregations, such as one in Mutare. We were going to leave most of our luggage at Rev. Edward Matuvhunye’s house and travel with just what we needed for the next couple of days.
Getting the luggage to Rev. Matuvhunye’s house went just fine. After that, well, nothing went quite as we planned. The eight-passenger van we had reserved fell through the cracks somewhere. Instead we departed almost three hours late in a 27-passenger van. Trust me, none of us were complaining about that! The delay in getting started meant all of our visits were going to have to be canceled in order for the 8-hour drive to conclude at a reasonable time.
When we arrived in Mutare, however, we found that the pastors we were going to visit in their churches had congregated at a market in order to spend five or ten minutes meeting us. They were very excited to learn that we were all on our way to being ordained. One, Rev. Pierre, kept inviting us back to Zimbabwe after we graduated. The time started at one month, and just kept going up from there.
The hospitality here has been amazing. Everywhere we have gone we have been greeted with smiles and handshakes, and people genuinely asking how we are. They are eager to share some of their lives here with us. They welcome questions, and are especially keen to talk about the political situation. The pastors here all take great interest in what’s happening and are often vocal about it. There is little separation between the church and the rest of their lives here.
Our journey to Chipinge took us to one of the two UCC congregations in this town. The two congregations came together to greet us. The host church was considered a large congregation, and therefore had two pastors: the senior pastor and the evangelist. The people willingly left their warm fires to sit in a dark church—lit only with a few candles—to wait for us. They met us with drumming, singing, and dancing.
About a third of the people there were high school age and younger. Most of them even looked excited to be there on a Wednesday night! They got into the dancing and singing, and listened with interest as we talked. They hung around for a little bit after the service to ask for addresses and to take pictures with us.
The ladies of the church are the strength and the hands. They were telling us about a center in town they were working on. They had built a few buildings, and were looking at putting a garden in so they could provide as many people as possible with vegetables. The youth were also very active. On Sunday afternoons, they would go visit any youth that had missed worship, and they met on Friday nights as well. They, too, had projects they would work on such as printing T-shirts in order to gain skills and the right mentality to make jobs for themselves.
The employment rate in Zimbabwe is very poor, and without a great deal of determination and patience it can be very hard to find work. That is another sphere the people of the church are working on. They pay attention to the changes in policies and to the economic situation, and do whatever they can to make a difference. The youth’s projects tie into this, as well as the center the women were working on.
Church, for these people, is not some far away, removed sphere of life that you access only within a church building. Church extends into every part of their lives, and God has called them to help improve the conditions within their country. It is a sin to see and refuse to act.
Today was an interesting day. We woke up early to have breakfast and get on our way to Chikore and Mount Selinda. At Chikore we found a massive mission that has two schools and a hospital. We visited all their facilities. The primary school has a lot of rooms. Most of the teachers and hospital personnel graduated from these schools.
The high school is a coed boarding school, but is well separated. When they are done they will be ready to select any career they are interested in. We met the headmasters and even a past headmaster, Samson, who held the position for 35 years. The kids might not have a lot, but something they have is a strong desire to learn and give their best at school, even with all the limitations they might have.
The hospital visit really touched me. They have rooms like little houses over a hill that sit above both the school and most of the workers’ residences. We saw their water tank and the separate wards for women and men. For me, the most difficult part to internalize was the labor room. It was just a stretcher with a cloth on it and a pail in a corner, I guess for hot water when the babies come. This made me think how much more dependent on God they might feel every time they need to deliver a baby.
We had lunch at Rev. Peter Koshah’s house right there in Chikore and it was another wonderful experience as they shared their places and their food. Later, we discovered that the pastors sometimes go a few months without receiving their pay. Occasionally, they get paid on time and maybe even for a few consecutive months, but other times they have to wait long periods before the money arrives. They probably shared with us all they had to eat for a few weeks, but for them sharing what they have materially, spiritually and emotionally was an important thing.
At Mount Selinda we found another hospital, another boarding school, an orphanage, and we met the missionaries assigned there, Don and Mary Jane Westra .They are an incredible couple whose happiness to serve can be seen in their faces.
The hospital has slightly better facilities than the one at Chikore, and they even have little huts on the right hand side of the hospital where women expecting babies go to wait together. They stay there sharing with one another and receiving medical care until their time to give birth comes. This is where it really hit me—these people are doing incredible things in incredible places with an incredible lack of resources! It is clear they are not depending on the outside or locally help, but rather they are depending on God, understanding that is where God wants them and where their ministry will develop.
We had dinner cooked by the nursing students of the high school who also sang for us, and we spent the night at the Westra’s house, at least Julia and I did. Everyone stayed at the home of a different person in the area and it was a wonderful experience. We spent nights at comfortable guest houses with all the commodities, but for me it doesn’t compare to staying with the people in their own environment and becoming part of that environment. At Mount Selinda, God brought us to see hope for better hospitals, education and services for children in a new Zimbabwe, one is touched by God’s hands through the people of God.
It is so amazing how God works! In these five days, we have seen and experienced a lot. The hospitality has been remarkable and there have been so many surprises. The food and fellowship brings about the same enjoyment and comfort of soul food and spending time with family back home in the U.S. I have noticed that the people here are not time-oriented, but task-oriented. It seems as if everyone is busy doing something, even the children, and when they are not working, they are sitting and enjoying the company of one another. For example, on one of the flights, I sat next to a woman named Christine, who was from Kenya. After greeting her once we boarded the plane, I began to immerse myself in the book I was reading and looked forward to drowning out the noise around me with the sultry sounds coming from my iPod. Yet a few minutes later, I found myself having an interesting conversation with Christine about all sorts of things, and although the conversation was pleasant, I still desired to shut out the world and have some “Me” time.
On another one of our trips, we were heading to our next destination via bus, and there was a man who insisted on talking to all of us because he felt that the bus was too quiet. I am not sure whether he knew that we were all tired and just wanted to sit in silence with books and music, but he sat down beside us with a smile and asked that we all share funny stories. After a few stories followed by silence, he decided to move once he saw that we had nothing left to say, and in a sense, we were relieved once he moved on to his next destination because we could all finally get to that place of solitude that we so desired. But why? He was a nice friendly man, who wanted to know more about us and enjoy a time of fellowship. I realized that there are so many aspects of our culture that emphasizes the need for solitude, so this opportunity that may have seemed to be an inconvenience to us was just a cultural attempt to enjoy the company of another person.
Yesterday was a day to see and experience some of the history of Zimbabwe as we visited Great Zimbabwe, the historic site and monuments dating back to the 13th century. It is here that remnants of their history remain in pillars of stone, trees, wildlife, and a museum of how it all began. The day also had in store a visit to Mt. Selinda, and a tour through the hospital and orphanage currently under the leadership of Don and Mary Ann Westra, two Global Ministries missionaries with a heart for Zimbabwe. We heard some amazing stories of how the hospital, clinic, and orphanage are serving so many people in the region, and the dedication of the workers and volunteers who serve with a heart of love and compassion. Even when they may lack resources and assistance from trained medical professionals, the workers still come together and do the best they can to meet the needs of every individual while showing the love and compassion of Christ in all they do.
What a week we have had. It is amazing to think only six days ago we were in the U.S. full of excitement and anticipation. If feels like we have done a year’s worth of traveling and visiting. We have traveled by plane or bus every day since July 11th, and today is no exception. After driving the eight hours from Mt. Selinda by way of Great Zimbabwe, we rested at the Bronte Hotel in Harare in preparation for our very early flight to Johannesburg, which would then take us to Victoria Falls. After a long day of traveling we arrived in Victoria Falls to an announcement that we were going to have a surprise. Sandra had secretly planned a tour of a private game park. It was getting dark so we had to settle in at the hotel quickly.
We took the short ride from the hotel to the park and began to see God’s creatures in their natural habitat. With tired bodies and minds all over the place after spending the week in a different Zimbabwe city every night, we all oohed and awed at the life in the game park. As it continued to get dark we continued to ride around looking at the elephants, rhinos, antelope, birds and the land until we reached the outdoor eating area where we dined by a fire with other travelers.
As I prepare to go to sleep tonight, I realize that today I was reminded that God provides. We spent the week with people who do a lot with a little and share the little that they have. In Chipinge, Chikore, and Mt. Selinda we saw poverty and we saw wealth of spirit, faith and ingenuity. While my eyes are getting heavy now, I am reminded of the words in the gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6,
“26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 2
8"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.
29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.
30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'
32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (NIV)
Our typical American impression of the ecosystem of Africa is that it is either desert or savannah. This was reinforced for me when we were coming in for our landing at Johannesburg last Monday. Everything was the tannish color of sand. Then I remembered it was winter. Of course everything was brown!
This impression was further shattered when we went to Victoria Falls this morning. I’m not sure I was quite prepared for the height of the cliffs. The English translation of the original Kololo name, Mosi-oa-Tunya, is “The Smoke That Thunders”. There were times we couldn’t see the Falls for the clouds of mist rising out of the bluffs. To stand in the spray was like being reborn into God’s creation.
One of the first things we saw was a huge statue of David Livingston, who “discovered” Victoria Falls and named it for his queen—after he had been led there by a native of the area. I was reminded of a song from the Disney animated movie, Pocahontas:
You think you own whatever land you land on
The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name
You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew
Africa’s greatest resources—minerals, land, and people alike—are being exploited without care for them or for the future. We have claimed Africa like it is already dead, not a continent filled with vibrant purpose, spirit, names. And despite warnings, we continue to exploit without care.
The waters of “The Smoke That Thunders” continue to pour down their song of rebirth, renewal, and hope for a future filled with peace and love. May we take enough care now so the song can continue for as long as the earth herself is here.
Today we visited the offices of UCCSA and met most of their general leadership as we participated in their morning devotions led by their staff. Two of their leaders, Rev. Cheryl Dibeela and Rev. Majaha Nhliziyo spent the rest of the morning with us. They both shared their experiences, but from different points of view.
Rev. Dibeela was explaining to us how post-Apartheid South Africa still struggles with their day to day experience of life and Rev. Nhliziyo was talking to us about how they are developing their pastoral leadership academy.
This wasn’t a social visit; it was a learning experience. We were trying to visualize and understand the frustrations, fears, and problems that the new South Africa goes through, even 16 years after the end of Apartheid. The neighborhoods are divided by races that will not get together, even for a better future, because they are still afraid of each other like in the Apartheid times.
The most intriguing thing for me during the conversation with Rev. Dibeela was how she explained her own daughter’s struggle to find a good post high school education and how the different universities and students still prefer to stay in the colleges or universities for people of their own race. The aftermath of Apartheid is still there, maybe not there physically but there in the minds and hearts of a lot of the people where it suggests there is still a lot of work to be done toward a truly free South Africa.
The program, organized by Rev. Nhliziyo for their clergy after seminary, is well organized and has been well received by the leadership and the recent graduates that go through the program. It is designed to emphasize preaching and pastoring for recent seminary graduates, but it also has an alternative course for lay people who really want to get a better knowledge of how to prepare for church leadership. The way he described the program and walked us through it we could sense his passion and commitment to that project. It was an opportunity to see their development and how serious they are in their commitment to building new effective leaders for a better South Africa.
The past few days have been a rollercoaster of emotions. At some points, we were all basking in the awe, mystery, wonder, and beauty of God’s creation as we experienced a wildlife reserve, ate dinner around a campfire, and visited Victoria Falls. Only God would make it possible for us to find places of peace and tranquility in the midst of our journey, places where we could bask in God’s glory and stare in awe at the work of God’s hands. These past few days also brought a spirit of sadness, anger, shame, and so many other feelings as we walked through the history of South Africans at the Apartheid Museum. It was here that some of us found ourselves angry with those who brought pain and misery to the South Africans, as well as, sadness and empathy as their struggle resembled the same struggle of African Americans in the U.S.
It was also here that even in the midst of that pain and struggle, we could find our spirits lifted with the hope and tenacity of South Africans to rise above the pain of their history in order to build a better future for generations to come. The people and their stories, not only in this museum, but also from the stories of the people we have met, show that South Africans are a people who still have hope and joy in their hearts. The music, dancing, pictures, and artwork all conveyed their pain, but also conveyed a sense of peace that the bad parts of their history could not keep from them. I found myself not completely understanding all that I saw and experienced in the museum, but I did leave with a sense that their struggle is my struggle. I can never fully understand what it was like to walk in their shoes during the apartheid era, just like I cannot fully understand the struggles of African Americans during the time of slavery and the Civil Rights Movements. Somehow, I still felt connected enough that I can share their stories with others when I return to the U.S., and do what I can to be an even greater activist for social justice.
Everyone speaks of the abolishment of Apartheid as a great victory—and it is, indeed. It was the end of legislated racism and discrimination. But the segregation that Apartheid maintained has continued to exist. There is great mistrust between the various races living within South Africa. The years of dissension and suspicion fostered by the Apartheid regime cannot be erased in the few years since the fall of the regime. You can see it driving through Soweto—there are nice houses; there are middle class houses; and despite the supposed equality and equal opportunities now, the shanty towns continue to exist. And yet there is a fierce pride that the people faced down the Apartheid regime— and won. Despite the decades of being told they were ugly, useless, less than, that their ancestral land was not theirs (but still equal to being able to work on the land they cannot own!), they never, as a whole, lost that sense of human worth and dignity. They reached a point where they had had enough of being told they were worthless, and rebelled. And won!
Interwoven into the story of the suffering and pain and despair of the Apartheid years is the story of hope and belief that this way is wrong, and furthermore, there is a better way to which we are being called. This place will be a place of redemption for everyone. There will be redemption from fear, hate and distrust, and a movement towards hope and love and respect. This place will be a place of restoration. Restoration from wounded, broken hearts—hearts of stone—to hearts that beat with hope and love. Maybe we can even hope that this new place will be one of forgiveness and reconciliation—forgiveness of the wrongs done on all sides, and leading to reconciliation, and the breaking of the suspicion and fear. A movement towards a harmonious whole. A new place.
My more pragmatic friends would tell me that my head is in the clouds, and I need to return to earth. The wounds here are too deep to be healed. I say to them, what do we have, if we do not have hope? Is God not calling us to make a new place? We see it over and over in scripture. Isaiah 65:17-24 speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, once formed in peace. Galatians 3:28 proclaims that it shall be a new place of equality: neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, man nor woman. The Book of Revelation continues the theme, when John looks up and sees a new Jerusalem—a new city of peace—descending to the world (Rev 21:1-2).
If my head is in the clouds, then I certainly am in good company! The lessons of Apartheid are there for those who look. Visiting the Apartheid Museum and touring Soweto shows those lessons in harsh reality. Yet the story of hope continues on.
In school, when we talked about Apartheid—if, indeed, we talked about Apartheid at all—the lectures centered around Johannesburg as if that was the only place all the “action” occurred. I sometimes forget that South Africa is much larger than just Johannesburg, and therefore Apartheid was enforced in a lot more places. There were riots and strikes on the docks in the coastal regions. Bantu education—education designed to ensure that blacks knew only enough to make them good laborers—was enforced everywhere, in both rural and urban settings.
In Durban, you can still see the housing regulations that were decreed during Apartheid. The required No-Man’s Land between the zones of settlements are still there. The shanty towns are big because the education needed to get a decent job that would give the resources necessary to move out just aren’t there. During Apartheid, there would be a single road in and out of the zones. That made it easier for the military arm of the regime to choke off a settlement if they became troublesome. After Apartheid, in Durban at least, that hasn’t changed. The education is not any better than it was before, unless you happen to be able to afford the fees to a better school.
And yet, Durban is a beautiful coastal town. It has a new airport. It built a new soccer stadium for the games it hosted for the FIFA World Cup. Luxury hotels line parts of the coast. Citizens of Durban can be seen fishing in the Indian Ocean.
It is a pretty backdrop for the unrest there. During the day, Scott Couper, one of the Global, spoke of the anger and hatred and suspicion between the different races, especially the Indian population there. It is a dislike that is heartedly returned.
In the midst of all of this is Inanda Seminary. Inanda Seminary is an all-girls boarding school established by American missionaries over 140 years ago. Girls can come as early as eighth grade, and can stay through the twelfth grade.
The classes are taught in English and Zulu, the two languages at the school. The girls must learn both. They are taught all the standard subjects and must take some sort of physical education class as well (we saw the karate class warming up). The classes are taught by a diverse staff—South African and foreigner; black, white, colored, and Indian; male and female. Judy Tate, the current principal of the school, said that the diversity of the staff helps prepare the students for the diversity of the world. Susan Valiquette, another one of the missionaries at Inanda Seminary, is available to the students as a chaplain, and she leads the Chapel services.
The school was started long before Apartheid was established. Somehow, it survived the tumultuous politics that led to the emergence of the Apartheid Regime. It survived Bantu Education, even attempting to teach more than was legally allowed. It was the years immediately following Apartheid that Inanda Seminary nearly did not survive. With all of the shifting policies, education got a little left behind. The school was losing money, and the Church running it had just about decided to close it when the “old girls” stepped in.
Inanda Seminary has a rich history of producing strong, educated women. Girls who attend there are called members, and are very proud of it. The alumni are called Old Girls, and they give back in whatever way they can, from teaching to stepping in to stop the school from closing.
Today, Inanda Seminary continues its tradition of producing strong, educated women, who understand the dignity that comes with being human, no matter the skin color. These girls all look forward to the same goal of a South Africa where all are equal.
Today we arrived in Manzini as we prepared to be part of a historic event for the Zionist church in Swaziland. We will be part of the consecration of a new bishop and that could be something common in other places, but this one will be different for two reasons. First, this is the first time a bishop is leaving his position voluntarily to give space to new leadership; and secondly, we will be able to see how they celebrate this special moment with us.
There are some concerns about unity issues because Bishops don’t leave their positions until they pass away or are moved to a higher position. For that reason the news was received with mixed reactions by other bishops, leadership and churches. Hopefully they will see that this is a time when God wants to do something different with them, and hopefully most of them will be able to see it and accept this new process. They have seen this as an opportunity to let God lead them to wherever God needs them to be at this important time in the Zionist Church history.
We had the opportunity to meet Bishop Dlamini today. We went to his house and we were received as if we had been there before. We were not treated as visitors but rather part of the family that you haven’t see in a long time. It was clear by his reaction he was pleased with our visit and we enjoyed it as much as he did.
During our visit there the Archbishop arrived and also the new Bishop candidate. It was a moment of celebration and a simple visit turned out to be a moment of solidarity, of hope and of new family ties. This was no longer a courtesy visit; it was celebration time in a house filled with the love of God and his presence and the opportunity to see people of God getting together without thinking where they are from, what language they speak and style of worship. It was a time to be one and celebrate as one—the body of Christ.
This is the last day of the trip before a day and a half of traveling back home to the U.S. Today, we experienced worship as we shared in the celebration and installation of the new bishop for the Zionist Church in Swaziland. The current bishop and his wife, Happiness Dlamini, welcomed us into their home last night. Although the bishop’s health is fading, he lost his first wife, and he is completely blind, his love for people and for God was so evident in his hospitality and love for the church. It takes a great person of faith to not fault God for changing his circumstances, and he humbly state that he knew all that has happened in his life was part of God’s great plan. It was amazing to see how the people at the church celebrate together with singing, dancing, and complete devotion to God throughout the ceremony. This is truly an awesome way to end a great two week experience because we started this journey with the praise and spirit of God on our hearts and lips, and we ended the journey the same way.
Words cannot begin to express what we have seen, heard, and experienced these past two weeks, but a recurring question that has been on our minds is, “God, where do we go from here and what do you want us to do when we get back?” We have all agreed that it will take some time to fully digest everything that has happened, but I am confident that these stories of hope and perseverance will continue on even as we go back to our regular routines.
This past week, as I was leading devotion at the beginning of our day, I shared a song with the group that God placed on my heart soon after we arrived in Africa. It is a song that truly captures the range of emotions we have felt, the confusion, the questions, the awe, and so many other things that we experienced. Even when we felt that we did not have the words to convey what was on our hearts, God was still speaking….
I’m finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is its okay
The last thing I need is to be heard
But to hear what you would say
Word of God speak
Would you pour down like rain?
Washing my eyes to see your majesty
To be still and know that you’re in this place
Please let me stay and rest in Your Holiness
Word of God Speak
I’m finding myself in the midst of You
Beyond the music, beyond the noise
All that I need is to be with You
And in the quiet, I hear Your voice
Word of God speak
Would you pour down like rain?
Washing my eyes to see your majesty
Be still and know that You’re in this place
Please let me stay and rest in Your Holiness
Word of God Speak
We just got on the plane in Manzini. This is the first leg of our long journey home. This plane will take us to Johannesburg, which has become our oasis. We will wait in Johannesburg for about five hours before we board our plane for Atlanta, and then a little less than three hours in Atlanta before we board our flight to Indianapolis. That is the psychical process for returning home, but I wonder what our spiritual and emotional process will be. Will there be phases to our re- acclamation into our daily lives in the USA? Will we be and act and think differently? Have we truly been transformed or have we merely compartmentalized these last 15 days?
My body is now in the U.S. but my mind and my heart are still in southern Africa. I did not sleep well on the flight. Every time I woke up the airplane travel monitor said we were in the same place with 8 more hours to go. The system was telling me we were not moving but I knew we had to be making progress. In the same way I realized that I am moving forward, I am going home but my heart has been stagnant. My heart is not quite ready to return to life in Indianapolis.
In my first journal I talked about “mashuma” as the first and one of the most important words I learned while in Zimbabwe. The second word that has resonated with me and was the overarching theme of this journey to the other side of the world, which became a journey inward, is “ukama.” Ukama, I was told, while looking at a banner behind the pulpit of the church in Chikore, means family. The banner I was looking at in Chikore was a symbol of the partnership the church in Chikore has with a church in the states. However, the word partnership is almost an insult to the people of Zimbabwe with whom we work. Ukama is the more appropriate word to describe the relationship. You see, partnership denotes a formal business relationship whereas ukama is a family bond. Ukama indicates a relationship that binds us like the common blood of relatives. As ukama, we are in a mutually beneficial relationship that stands the test of turbulence and time. Ukama is the living expression of the essence of Lilla Waston’s words, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” We are bound together not by a contract, not by a covenant, and not by some benevolent idea of service; we work together because our destiny is the same and because we are family, one body in Christ.
Thinking about ukama and my heart I realize there is a part of me that will always be in southern Africa. As a result of developing ukama with people in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Swaziland I don’t’ have to worry about my stagnant heart. The people are now a part of me and I them. While the plane has to move forward and land in the U.S. my heart, like the plane’s travel monitor, has the ability to stay in southern Africa with my new ukama.