We’re halfway through day three in South Africa, and I am not surprised that my body demanded to be ‘grounded’ today. I mean, we left Ann Arbor less than 90 hours ago and when all we’ve done, you’ll wonder why I didn’t get benched sooner. I already know the reason why — I have been flying high on adrenaline and intrigue. I have not stopped being amazed since I got here. And, you know, I’m not even upset that I’ve been plunked down on a couch for the day. I am enjoying the time to reflect and process all that we’ve seen and heard. Want to join me?
For forty-eight hours before we left on this trip, I kept telling people, “I’m a bit anxious about being on a plane for fourteen hours straight.” I was worried about claustrophobia mostly, but I was also concerned about the wear and tear on my body. As it turns out, it wasn’t terrible! We had a little hiccup in Detroit when I made it easily through the security lines only to see that all the machines had shut down just as my husband’s backpack went into the x-ray machine. Not to worry, within fifteen minutes, someone restored the machine and we were on our way to our gate.
We were also a little concerned that although I had purchased side by side seats for the long leg of the journey our boarding passes had us sitting one behind the other. We checked with the gate agent in Atlanta, but he said he was unable to help us. Not to worry, the woman sitting next to me, a nurse on a mission trip, offered her seat to my husband even though she had already wiped it down with disinfectant, unpacked her belongings, and situated herself.
Then, when it was time for take-off and everyone was comfortably seated with their items stowed, the captain informed us of a delay — the baggage compartment wouldn’t lock. We waited and chatted, wondering if we would have to de-plane and reload before we took off. Not to worry, the problem was resolved and we were on our way. I will say that flying coach for fourteen hours is a bit cramped and sleeping is difficult; however, we both did sleep for large chunks of time — even without taking the melatonin we packed. We ate well (they even provided me with all gluten-free trays), we chatted, we read, and we watched three movies each as we crossed the Atlantic.
We arrived in Johannesburg and wondered how we would connect with our friend who was picking us up. We didn’t think our cell phones would work in South Africa. We didn’t know how long it would take to get through customs or how long we would wait for our bags. Once again, not to worry. We waited in line at customs for what seemed like fifteen minutes; our bags arrived in about that much time, too. When we exited the secure area, our friend was right there, waiting to buy us bottled water and tea.
We had arrived unscathed in South Africa.
You would think that after twenty-four hours of travel we would have collapsed. Not at all. We arrived at our guest house and met our new friends. This couple, retired teachers/administrators from Texas, have volunteered three months of their time to come alongside the teachers here in Middleburg. They are observing, evaluating, coaching, and supporting these teachers. Over glasses of South African red wine, we discovered our shared purpose and kindred spirits. We chatted late into the evening.
The next morning, (and, yes, we slept that first night — despite our confused body clocks), we made our way to St. Peter Confessional Lutheran Church for its 27th Anniversary Celebration Worship. I’m pretty sure that this service should have its own dedicated post, but let me summarize here by saying that for three and half hours my eyes were wide and my smile was broad as I witnessed these people singing, dancing, celebrating, and worshiping.
From there, we walked a short distance to the elementary school, which is called St. Peter’s Lutheran College. At this site, we were ushered to VIP seating inside a tent. Many people were acknowledged and recognized, we were entertained by a local jazz/brass ensemble, and then we were fed. I suspect a whole post will be dedicated to the food and beverages we’ve enjoyed, but just know that the red carpet has been rolled out for us — this group of about a dozen Americans who have come to celebrate what God has done and dream about what He has yet to do here.
After the meal, we were entertained by a local group of male dancers and then a group of female dancers. By this time, I will admit, I was utterly exhausted. The festivities were wrapping up, so we headed back to our guest house where I decided to lie down for a few minutes. After a short but intense power nap, I was whisked away to visit our friends, the Bersons. We enjoyed snacks and more South African wine, played with our soon-to-be five year old “niece”, and were then delivered back to our guest home where we ‘slept the sleep of the dead.’ And that was just day one!
Yesterday, day two, we toured the preschool and the elementary school. The schools are just several years old and have grown from several dozen students to almost 900 between the two sites. Classrooms are crammed with bodies and very few resources, yet the children are well-behaved and very attentive to their instructors. Classrooms are continuously being built.
We ate lunch, then traveled about an hour to the home of a local naturopath — a doctor who uses nutrition, herbs, and the like to treat maladies. He is partnering with one of St. Peter’s pastors to build a worship location where people can receive not only physical but spiritual healing. Right now, about forty people are worshiping in his home/clinic every Sunday while they plan to build a worship site.
The doctor and his wife joined us for dinner and then we began our journey home. My body was already in distress, but I was drinking in all the details. Over dinner, I heard the stories of a couple from Chicago who are on their third trip to this ministry. I chatted with my husband and a friend from MI as we sat in the back seat of a van. When we arrived back at the guest house, we sat up until late again, sipping great South African wine and sharing our observations and our hearts.
My body cried all night long; it wouldn’t let me sleep. I wasn’t angry or disappointed but rather apologetic. “Yes, yes, I know. I have expected so much of you, haven’t I? Shall we stay home today to rest, reflect, and recover?” A resounding yes could be heard throughout Middleburg.
Most of our group traveled today to another site — a location that wants to build an orphanage. They will drive a bit, tour the site, eat lunch, then visit another site. I am sorry to miss these experiences, but I am looking forward to joining the group this evening to hear their stories.
Right now I am drinking in details. I am filing evidence in folders called ‘juxtaposition’, ‘contentment’, ‘vision’, and ‘commitment.’ I am learning, to be sure, but the fullness of the lessons has not yet been made clear. I will keep you posted, but right now, I am going to put my feet up and enjoy being grounded.