Wednesday, January 29, 2014


"Well, but how deeply I regret any sadness you have suffered and how grateful I am in anticipation of any good you have enjoyed.  That is to say, I pray for you." -Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

We've been doing something pretty cool at work recently:  morning prayer!  Any opportunity for our patients to participate in worship is cool, but our morning prayer is extra cool.  Why?  Because it is led by a rector on another continent, and the service is conducted in three languages!

The story of how this awesome service came about is worth telling.  When I had been in South Africa for a couple of months, I started to really miss my home parish, St. John's.  I emailed my rector, Laura, and told her that while I'm very happy here and have found a great local church in Hermanus, I still miss St. John's and the Episcopal services I'm used to.  The Anglican service is very similar, but a few small thing are different (like we use the modern version of the Lord's Prayer here, and I find myself missing the thee's and thou's).  Laura came up with the idea of doing the morning prayer service over Skype.  The thing kinda grew from there, with Laura suggesting that we open it up to the rest of the St. John's parish family, and then it occurred to me to invite my coworkers and patients.  See, many of our patients are fairly religious, but they aren't able to attend services at their churches when they're in the care centre because of their medical conditions.  So I think it's great to give them an opportunity to come to a formal prayer time right here in the centre.

Remember, most of our patients are Afrikaans speakers, but some speak Xhosa as a first language.  I don't speak either Afrikaans or Xhosa, and neither does Laura.  Luckily, I was browsing through one of the bookshops in Hermanus one day and I came across the Anglican version of the Book of Common Prayer in both Afrikaans and Xhosa!  I bought them, and now I have access to the service in all three languages.  So that's how our morning prayer came to be in three languages.

We had our first multi-continent, multi-lingual morning prayer in December.  Originally, Laura and I had just planned to have it be a temporary thing during advent, but we have been enjoying it and it is so good for the patients that we have extended it and are now meeting via Skype every week.  There have been a few hiccups, of course, like Skype not wanting to work properly, me not being able to find the right prayers in the Anglican prayer book (remember, it is in a different order from the Episcopal one, and I don't even know enough Afrikaans or Xhosa to find the right page number), and of course 'morning' in the US is actually late afternoon in South Africa.  But all that is small potatoes when you consider that a group of people has gathered across an ocean for the mutual purpose of worshipping the one true God.  To me, that is Chruch (with a capital C).

If you're one of my readers in Richmond, please consider joining us!  Morning prayer is at St. John's parish house, 2319 East Broad Street, every Tuesday at 9.15 AM.  If you happen to be reading this and you live in Hawston or Hermanus, you can also join us!  It's at 4.15 PM our time, at the Care Centre building.  (Still on Tuesdays.  We're on the same side of the international date line as America.)  Ask me for directions to the centre if you need them.

I look forward to praying with you soon!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Beautiful Detour

Last week I had the privilege of attending the HOPE Africa staff retreat.  The best part of the week was reconnecting with the staff members from the HOPE offices in Cape Town.  I hadn't seen most of them since Thanksgiving, and even then it was only for a few hours and I was terribly stressed about cooking the turkeys properly, so getting a whole four days with them was awesome!  We all drove up to Paternoster, which is about two hours north of Cape Town on the west coast, for our retreat.

The first thing you need to know about Paternoster is that it is gorgeous.  I mean yeah, everywhere in South Africa is gorgeous, and you probably get sick of me saying that, but it's true!  The area surrounding the town is quite dry and sort of desolate.  Actually, it looks a lot like New Mexico.  

The second thing you need to know about Paternoster is that it is a fishing community.  So is Hawston, but Paternoster has a very different feel.  I imagine life there is the same now as it has been for a hundred years.  In the morning, people wake up early and go catch crayfish in their wooden boats.  Crayfish are delicious, by the way.  They are not the same as the crayfish in American rivers.  These are as large as and look very similar to a lobster, but they don't have the big pincers.  (Side note:  I have been crayfish diving in Hermanus.  It is fun.  And no, I didn't actually catch any crayfish, but I did hold one that my friend caught.  They are fast little buggers!)

Our retreat programming was led by Diana, an Anglican priest from Uganda.  Diana has been involved in with HOPE Africa for many years, and it was nice to have her back here with the HOPE family.  

The programming that Diana prepared for us was powerful stuff.  The session that stands out in my mind was the one where we discussed detours.  We talked about detours in our work life and our personal lives.  I think this theme resonated with me so much because my life has been full of detours recently.  My work at the care centre certainly provides lots of them!  In a typical day, most of my time is spent dealing with issues that crop up.  Medical issues that the patients have, or staffing issues, or not having the right medications, or our equipment breaking, or any number of frustrations.  That's the way I tend to think of detours, as frustrations.  A detour is IN MY WAY, and I don't like things in my way.  It makes me very upset.  

But then, sometimes a detour can take you in a new direction.  It can change the way you get from point A to point B.  It can be enjoyable.  It might even be beautiful.  This staff retreat was a bit of a detour from my usual work in Hawston, but it was lovely.  I can't imagine I will soon forget standing by the Atlantic ocean at 6.30 in the morning singing hymns with my coworkers (we sang in at least seven languages.  I actually lost count of how many different languages  used) and seeing dolphins swimming right off shore.  What an incredible experience!  

You could argue that my entire year here in South Africa is a detour.  My life in Richmond was pretty settled.  I am married.  I have a house and a dog and a cat.  I had a steady job as a labor and delivery nurse.  I had my friends and my family and my hobbies and my plans for the future.  Yet here I am on another continent, surrounded by unfamiliar people, hearing another language, living in a former safe house, working in an unfamiliar area of nursing.  And you know what?  It works!  I am soaking up this experience of working somewhere that I am really needed, trying new things, enjoying the alien (but stunning) landscape, and most of all getting to know the awesome people here.  Yes, this is a detour, but it is certainly a beautiful one, and I am not nearly ready for it to end.  

Speaking of that, I have now been in South Africa for more than five months.  I would say 'where does the time go?' except that I remember reading a quote somewhere that said 'Time doesn't GO anywhere.  Time just IS'.  I like that.  You can't slow time down or speed it up, no matter how much you want to.  You just have to be in the moment and enjoy every second.  And I am going to soak up every last frustrating, challenging, surprising, invigorating second of this beautiful detour.

I could live in South Africa for a thousand years and never get sick of looking at it.

Looks like New Mexico, except there was an ocean right behind me when I took this photo.

During our last session, we broke into pairs and did something creative to summarize the discussions we had had over the past few days.  Here are Thaboso and Thandeka singing their HOPE Africa song (which was in 3 languages).

Iggy and Jenny read their prayer for HOPE Africa and the people we serve.

Delene and Patrina recite the Psalm 151, the HOPE Africa psalm.  What?  Your Bible doesn't have a Psalm 151?  That's weird.

Melanie and Mari display their depiction of personal and organizational wellness.

Rev. Diana celebrates the closing Eucharist.

Mari is teaching us a song in Finnish.  It's about elephants.

HOPE Africa explores the less affluent areas of Paternoster.

The team:  Thandeka, Jenny, Melanie, Thabiso, Delene, Kholiwe, Mari, Patrina, me, and Ignatius in the front (possibly proposing to Jenny?  Sorry Iggy, she's already married.)

And, just because I'm super excited that I've found a way to post pictures again, here is your customary sunset photo.  This one is from Hermanus, where I was having a lovely dinner with the charming Hananja upon my return from the retreat.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Christmas at the bottom of Africa

So much has happened in the past month that I don't even know where to begin!  I guess I will start by explaining why I am not posting pictures of my holiday.  The reason is simple: my phone, which had every single picture I've taken since I got to South Africa in August, was stolen.  So sorry, blog readers, you're stuck with my bad writing and no lovely photos until I figure out a new plan.

Now for some happier talk.  I had a wonderful Christmas and New Years.  I took a whole two weeks off from work at the Care Centre and spent the time with my husband Jacob.  I can't even find words to tell you how awesome it was to see Jacob after spending four months apart!  The best part of it was that I got to show him all the parts of South Africa that I've fallen in love with, and I introduced him to some of my friends here.  When Jacob first got here, we spent four nights in Cape Town and did all the touristy stuff, like the Company Gardens, District Six museum, and a Table Mountain hike.  My favorite part of his whole trip was the night we hiked up Lion's Head, the steep spire of rock just to the northwest of Table Mountain.  Apparently it's a Cape Town tradition to do this hike at sunset when there is a full moon.  Jacob and I were joined by my friend Hananja, and the three of us had a fun hike that culminated in a spectacular sunset and moonrise, complete with wine, craft beer, and snacks (note: bring a dietician hiking with you, and the quality of your snackage will improve significantly.)

After our time in Cape Town, Jacob and I headed to Hawston.  We spent a week at my house, just enjoying each others company and exploring the area around me.  Jacob also ran his first race on another continent, since the athletic club I've been running with hosted a 10 km run the weekend before Christmas.  We went to midnight mass on Christmas Eve at the church I've been attending in Hermanus, St. Peters.  We spent Christmas day on the beach.  I have to say, there is something to this Southern hemisphere thing!  It feels a little weird to wear a swimsuit on Christmas, but I like it!

After the holiday, we headed to the wine country for a few days.  I can't believe it took me so long to make it to Franschhoek and Stellenbosch!  These towns are really quite close to where I'm living in Hawston, and they are gorgeous!  There are a ton of wine farms around this area.  Like literally dozens and dozens.  I think you could spend a month there and still not visit all the wine farms.  But besides for great wine, these two towns are also just really nice places to visit.  There is good hiking close by, and the town centers are quaint and historic.

Jacob left to head home just before New Years.  Good thing I had Paul and Maurice, otherwise known as Team Grahamstown, to keep me company for the holiday!  It was really fun to be reunited with two fellow YASCers and hear about all the good they're doing in their placements.  If you haven't ever read the blogs of the other YASCers, you really should.  If these two are any indication of the rest of the YASC team, then it's clear that God is doing some amazing work through my friends!

Now that the holidays are over, I'm back at work at the care centre.  I have to admit, by January 2, I was actually excited to be back at work!  Don't get me wrong, I obviously loved my holiday, and I think I did need a break, but by the end I was missing work!  I mean, the whole reason I'm over here at all is to work at the care centre!  So it's kinda nice to get back to that.  

What is in store for me in 2014?  A lot!  Besides my normal patient care work, I'm going to continue to develop the multi-lingual multi-continent morning prayer service that I started with Laura, the rector of St John's Richmond, during advent.  I am going to enjoy the summer weather that is gracing us in the Cape right now.  (Side note:  apparently the entire United States is having something called a polar vortex.  That really sucks.  I mean even the name sounds terrible.  I don't think I want to be in a vortex of any kind, especially not a polar one.  I'm awfully glad I'm not you guys!)  In my free time, I need to start checking off some of the fun stuff I want to do while I'm here, like take a surfing lesson and go shark cage diving.  And of course, I'll keep developing the friendships I've made.  So keep reading, even if I don't have any more photos to entice you.  And please drop me a line and let me know how your holiday was, and if you're surviving the sub zero temperatures.