Originally posted June 29, 2012, at Come Alive. Republished with permission of the author.
Although it’s hard to believe, I have arrived at my last 10 days at the Kwaz and my final two weeks in South Africa. On July 10 I will head to Pietermaritzburg for a few days with the rest of the volunteers before we head our separate ways and return to the States.
I find myself filled with a myriad of emotions as the end draws near: sad, happy, proud, anxious, nervous, excited — to name a few. It feels like I’m coming to the end of a book. I can feel that the pages in my right hand are limited and I am trying to balance between wanting to know the ending and enjoying the rest of the story. However, if this is the end of a book, then it would have to be a part of a series because just as my story didn’t start when I boarded the plane to Chicago over 10 months ago, my story does not end when I go to Pietermaritzburg or when I get off the plane in Lincoln, Neb.
The difficulty now will be to figure out what the point of this book was and how it fits into the series. What has all of this meant? What has it meant for me, my community in South Africa, my community in Nebraska, my role as a young adult global mission volunteer, as a church member? I don’t know if I will ever be able to come up with an answer that anyone else will fully understand but I will try to head in that direction.
David McCullough Jr. recently told a group of graduates, “Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb the mountain so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. And then you too will discover that the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is.”
I think that this is a great start to talking about my year. I didn’t come to South Africa to say that I’ve been to South Africa or to say that I’ve lived in another country for a year. I came to experience.
I came to accompany the people, to experience a new culture and customs, to learn about the struggles that others face, to grow in as many ways as I could and to be challenged by all of it.
And to be honest, my time here was more challenging than I ever thought it would be, but at the same time, I know that the struggles I faced helped me to grow and to learn lessons I never could have been taught in a classroom or read from a book.
- I experienced and saw the challenges that South Africa is facing; I learned awareness.
- I attempted to speak isiZulu which gave many opportunities for laughter; I learned humility.
- I lived in a culture that lets time happen instead of being controlled by time; I learned patience.
- I sang at vigils for families who had recently lost love ones; I learned empathy.
- I watched those same families dancing at a funeral a few days later; I learned hope.
- I celebrated during weddings, youth gatherings and holidays; I learned joy.
- I met people living in poverty but full of life; I learned faith.
- I lived simply, which allowed me to better understand the lives of those around me; I learned gratitude.
- I had days where nothing seemed to go right but would wake up to the sun rising the next morning; I learned grace.
- I became part of a family and community in rural KwaZulu-Natal; I learned Ubuntu.
The reality is that this experience was never about just me. I do not live in a world that is isolated from everyone else. If you haven’t read any of my previous posts, “Ubuntu” is a Zulu/Xhosa word that basically says that a person is a person through other people. We are all connected to each other as humans and, because of this, we are called into a greater community.
There are so many people that have made this experience possible and made it what is has been. For that, I am forever grateful. I was blessed with an amazing opportunity and I hope that I was able to be a blessing to those that I accompanied throughout my time here.
I am especially thankful for the Rev. Xaba and his willingness to help me get involved, everyone at the Kwaz for their daily smiles and greetings, Goodness who became my South African mom, the people of Ephangweni Parish and Ondini Circuit who welcomed me into their churches and communities, friends from Estcourt who gave me relief from the day to day grind, and everyone else that I met in South Africa this year.
Whenever anyone asks what I will miss about this place I think of the people because they are what make this place so special. I am also thankful for my global mission volunteer family for all the great memories we shared this year and for always being willing to listen and discuss anything and everything.
I am also thankful for everyone in the States who has supported and continues to support me. As Frederick Buechner says, “You can kiss your family and friends goodbye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.”
So a huge thank you goes out to the Sheridan, Neb., community whose financial and prayer support allowed this year to happen, my parents and family who have always supported me wholeheartedly, my friends who were willing to listen to my frustrations throughout the year, and everyone else who supported me with prayers, or reading my blog or sending letters, emails, cards and packages!
You have a part in this book too and I can’t wait to share it with you — I’ll see you all soon!
I think it will take a while for me to truly understand everything that this year has meant and I might not ever be able to grasp its full impact but, as this book comes to an end, I am also eager to see what the plot of the next book will be.
Above all, though, I pray that I am able to continue to experience new things, to learn, to grow, to hope, to be grateful, to need less, to give more, to love much, to laugh often and to have a good time doing it!
And so my prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home, some summer and some winter, some roses blooming out like children in a play. My hope is your story will be about changing, about getting something beautiful born inside of you, about learning to love a woman or a man, about moving yourself around water, around mountains, around friends, about learning to love others more than we love ourselves, about learning oneness as a way of understanding God. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it? — Donald Miller, “Through Painted Deserts”
Find a link to Jordan Muller’s entry on the blog Come Alive at Lutheran Blogs.