Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Out of the darkness

I have just returned from 2 weeks in South Africa, what a wonderful time, as you may be able to tell from my previous posts. It was fun celebrating the purely American holiday of Thanksgiving on the other side of the earth, but returning home the first week of December I launched headlong into the “Christmas Season.”  Thankfully, I accomplished purchasing most all of my gifts while there. However, shopping is not what is on my heart at this time. Rather I have been pondering the grayer side of Christmas, the side hidden from the lights and stores, but something I dare say most people experience.

Isaiah 9:2 “The people who dwell in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” With these words, Isaiah begins his description of the coming messiah. Many people know this verse as it is often referenced during Christmas. “For unto us a child is born…” another verse from Isaiah 9, known by many because of Handel’s Messiah. The Christmas story is filled with the physical darkness of night. The angels appeared to the shepherds at night; the wise men followed a star, something only seen usually at night. In each case, a great light split the night.

Each year during this time bell ringers from the Salvation Army greet us at the stores; there are many requests to assist those in greater need. I don’t know about you, but each year it seems to get increasingly more difficult to make ends meet at Christmas. It is a time when families gather, that is if you have a family to gather with or a family you get along with. It is a time when we are pressured to do more, more parties, more gifts to give, cards to send…etc.  As most know, I am un-apologetically Christian in my beliefs and views. This stance however is not without its challenges for me. I attempt to ostracize myself from the world and pressures, attempting to ignore the news only listening to the weather (which in and of itself is a challenge.) Regardless of my efforts I am still affected by the looming “fiscal cliff”, the wars and turmoil in other parts of the world and the overall despair permeating our society. I must believe there is a bigger, better plan working out in the world or I would fold into myself, withering and whimpering through life. I must believe in the light splitting my darkness with “glad tidings of great joy”, in a star shining in the east, which I can follow and rejoice with “exceeding great joy.” I gain a bit of perspective on life at Christmas when I reflect on the shepherds who didn’t have a great deal of earthly wealth, on the political oppression in the land under Roman rule; Joseph having to take his very pregnant wife to register for taxation. I can take comfort in knowing the darkness, which overwhelms me today, is the same darkness that overshadowed the birth of Jesus Christ. I am blessed to have a family and close friends I can share this season with, but am still mindful of those who do not. I am choosing to look for HIS star in the east; to listen to the angel’s glad tidings and join with the heavenly host singing Glory to God in the highest, Peace on earth and not allow myself to be swept into the maelstrom of darkness so prevalent at this time. It is a hard choice, but one I believe I must make.

As always, this is my opinion and that and $2.50 may get you a hot cocoa on a cold winter’s night, blessings to everyone during this holy season.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Reflections of South Africa 12-1-12

Madela Capture Site, Howick
I have been in South Africa for just under two weeks now and am within the last few days of the second “trip of a lifetime.”  My mom will be happy to read this!  The plan was to post more often, but time has a way of slipping past and, the adage of “time flies when having fun” certainly applies here.  This will probably be my last post until I get home, but certainly not my last commentary on what I’ve experienced while here. I decided to write some reflections of South Africa, with the focus being on the Natal Province since this is where I have spent my time.  I have been told the other provinces, like other states in America have their own personalities.
The Midlands
I have been awakened each morning by the musical offering of the Hadeda and other bird life, the hoots and cooing of birds whose calls are foreign to me. Last weekend found me in a beautiful part of South Africa where I experienced the “un-expected familiar” for there were maple and pine trees mingled with spider plants and Eucalyptus trees spotting the rolling green hills of the Midlands, reminding me of the rolling hills of Vermont.  Then within an hour I was in the “bushveld” observing Zebra, Giraffe, hippos and rhinoceros in their native habitat.

I-Care with boys from the street
But it is in the people some of the greatest joys and interest have been found. I have had the privilege of interacting with a variety of people: the everyday working person, the homeless, the elderly, and the orphan. Each offering a special view into life here. A common thread through all has been a love of song and music. Regardless of language, financial status, or living situation everyone enjoyed a song from the women from America. The children were fascinated with the guitar and like a pied piper I drew a crowd as soon as the case opened; the first chord strummed. I was blessed with the sound of older voices singing Christmas carols and seeing smiles appearing on otherwise sober faces. Surprised by the influence of American music when asked to play Crosby, Steels and Nash, Eagles, Peter, Paul & Mary and other distinctly U.S. music groups.

Feeding the men who live at the Taxi Station
Three phrases seem to have assisted in defining this trip for me.  “Looks are deceiving” defined the first few days, the “un-expected familiar” applied to the weekend in the Midlands.  This last week has had a focus of “the appearance of things that should work.” Whenever the wind blew and the Internet went down or you had to turn a faucet handle three times to turn on the water we would say “the appearance of things that should work,” followed by “this is Africa.” As western as this country appears, I have learned it is the “appearance of things that should work,” which applies to much of life here. I can see how it could be frustrating on many levels as an American living abroad.
Leopard's spots orphanage
I’m certain I will be “chewing” over my memories for months to come, like a piece of Kudu Biltong.  I know that as I fly home to my comfortable little house in the woods of Maine the sights, sounds, faces and people will stay with me as I pray for the ministries my friends are involved with.  I will remember Violet from the Nursing Home, The men who live at the library and taxi stop, Eric & Tracy and the children from Leopard Spots orphanage, the boys and workers at I-Care, as well as all of my new friends from Life Group and One Heart International.
Market in Kwa-Mashu

I pray I return with greater patience, appreciative of the conveniences I have and not frustrated when they don’t work, as I would like. I pray I remain thankful for what I have and don’t have in my life; remembering there are those in the world who have much less.  As I was 12 years ago, I return from South Africa with a different perspective, for which I am most grateful.