We are still in South Africa with the Derr family and we are getting more anxious than ever to get to Swaziland. The anxiousness is multi-faceted…we are anxious to get there because each day we spend here is one more day we are not learning the language, the culture, and the people there. We are after all, called to be in Swaziland. AND… it’s just time. Time to have a house… a home… a routine again. We have been on the move since February 2 and I am ready to settle in and stay put for a bit. If you had asked me before we left if I would be able to handle living in basements, dorms and hotels for nearly 5 months, I would have said, “No way!” I am pleasantly surprised to find that I can do it, and WOW, I cannot believe how well the kids have done with this. They must be extraordinarily gifted in the flexibility department because they have ridden all this change like true champs.
That said, it is important to acknowledge the graciousness and hospitality of friends. Twice now we have had friends allow us to invade their homes, and twice, what we thought would be a couple of weeks turned into several. The Padburys and the Derrs must also be super-flexible because they have not only been champs for tolerating the Taylor invasion, but have championed for us… each going way beyond expectation in helping us get to Swaziland.
One of the fun things about staying with the Derrs is that they have a little game reserve behind their house, so we decided to go for a walk and get some pictures of the animals. We took all of the kids. I think all of the different kinds of “bok” are cool, but for sure I think it is awesome that zebra live there. I was determined to get a photo.
I know that zebras are striped for a reason: camouflage. I admit, I don’t really see how black and white stripes are concealing in brown grass. I get it that when they stand in a herd all the stripes can be dizzying to look at, confusing the predator, but I wasn’t sure about the camouflage thing until actually tried getting a shot with the camera. Getting one to stand out against the background was tough.
What I could see with my eyes didn’t necessarily show up well in a photograph.
Among the many decisions we have had to make, we had to consider where Matthew (our 16 year-old) would attend school. We contemplated both a school closer to us in Swaziland and a school in South Africa that the Derrs attend. After much debate and prayer, we settled on the school in South Africa. Matthew really felt it was the best fit for him, and I would agree. He has friends and a built-in system of support through the Derrs and their church.
In order for this to work however we had to get Matthew a student visa in South Africa. This demanded a trip to the city center of Johannesburg. Actually, it required 4 trips into the city and countless copies of our documents. Seems like every time we headed downtown we needed something new. There is a whole story in itself in the process of getting the student visa; making it abundantly clear just how foreign we are. Coming from an efficient, task oriented culture, I am blessed to experience a relational culture…that is until I want to be efficient and get a task done.
Aside from the frustration of trying to get the student visa in a timely manner, I really enjoyed downtown Johannesburg. Sure…waiting for long periods of time wasn’t exactly thrilling, but I felt like I got to see another side of Johannesburg that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. It was crowded, busy, the building was run-down, and fear was definitely a temptation. Thrilling! We stood out…our fair skin (luke’s blonde hair) and our American dress made us visible from blocks away. We drew looks. I loved the challenge of relating to people along the way. There was no camouflage for us those handful of days. The choice was to retreat, be fearful, judgmental and aloof… or to smile, engage and relate. Africans are a lot of fun when you smile…they smile back, laugh, and draw you in.
One side-effect from standing out is your hyper-awareness of self. I suddenly recognized that I was representative of many things, whether I liked it or not. In the moment I represented Americans, Christians, and missionaries. Probably other things too, but in this self-awareness I found myself watching my steps. I did not want to be found with a bad attitude. I smiled more, looked others in the eye more, tried to be more responsive…
I was thinking about the idea of missionary work being like “miracle grow” on your sins (see the last post, “We Made It.”) and in these days spent standing out like a sore thumb, I am compelled to add to that thought….
As we are called into cross-cultural ministry, our difference…what causes us to stand out… exposes our sins. No camouflage for us here. Of course, that would be in addition to the miracle grow thing. I think it is kind of refreshing to get the exposure. It begs the question though, doesn’t it? How do we “hide” or “blend in” to cultural norms that are less than Godly? Are we like the zebra… all working together to hide each other’s sin? If we are all running together in a herd, unable to see the sins of the group (This might also apply to groups of ex-pat missionaries running together) then how do we get the exposure we so desperately need?
Some other things to note (besides Matthew’s student visa) since my last post:
1. We bought a car. Leather seats and cup holders for me and 4-wheel drive, dif-lock and towing for Rob. Amen. We know how to buy a used car in the U.S. A whole new ball game for us in South Africa…
2. We went to Swaziland for a quick visit and found a home. Another thanks to God…He has provided for us in every way.
3. We lost a notebook that contains the personal information on all 6 of us. SSN numbers, copies of passports, bank accounts, passwords… everything. OK that was a big bummer, but so far no fraudulent activity and we have closed accounts and changed the passwords. We are praying for the best.
5. We realized that South Africa gets cold in the winter. That’s right…. it’s almost winter here… Brrrrr…The church we have attended for the last month meets in a local school gymnasium (read uninsulated, unheated). it was quite the sight this morning to see all the faithful parishioners bundled up in winter gear, praising God with frosty breath. How much we didn’t know.
As you can see, I also updated the blog page a bit. I was hearing from a lot of folks that they couldn’t get to our Picasa page to view photos, so I created a page here. Don’t forget to look under the “Snap-shots” page to see more of what we see. I managed to get a slideshow in. You can check out our hike on the reserve and some shots of Swaziland and the New Life Homes farm. If you have been looking at Picasa, I will continue to upload there too. Let me know what you think!
We still thank God each day for all of you….financial supporters, prayer supporters, and followers who keep informed about what we are doing. Thank you! We couldn’t do this without you.