“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”
This following story is, as I think about it, a story not so much about something I wanted to happen but was perhaps something I greatly needed at the time. Through some minor toils and miseries, such as one of the knees of my pair of pants became muddy, came great joy out of this one particular day and evening. To make sense of what I am saying here requires somewhat of a story. As I tried to think of the emotions I felt throughout the following order of events, a number of images and memories popped up in my mind. So, without further ado, here is the story that has become of the tapestry of those images and memories from that particular day and evening I had while in Masealama. It all began one cold, windy and a very rainy Saturday morning when I awoke to the sounds of thunder in the distance and rain gently tapping on my bedroom window…
Quiet. The occasional faint pitter-patter of drizzle on the corrugated iron roof would perk my ears up. Then more quiet. The only sounds above a whisper that reached my house over the course of a 34 hour period, from 2am Saturday morning until 12pm Sunday afternoon, were of families chatting and laughing as they cooked their meals over fires or gas stoves.
The reason behind this silence and darkness was that the electricity had been snuffed out from a most terrible and great thunderstorm. A thunderstorm so great it had the capabilities of shutting down the electric grid across an entire collection of villages. In addition to electric damages, there may have been some emotional damage as well. That is to say, I wasn’t scared out of my wits at all. No, that’s a lie. I was scared to death by the lightening and thunder, which decided to have a light show and make awesome cracks and rumbles just above my house.
Adding to my uneasiness about the thunder, I began feeling lonely and isolated as the silence penetrated my mind. I just needed to hear something other than rain and to be with someone other than me. Please, just anything other sound than rain pelting softly on the roof, which only made me extremely sleepy. Anything. On top of it all, the gray of the clouds muddled my spirits. So, I began humming, whistling and singing tunes to myself to brighten the day. Or so the theory goes, but only would temporarily lift the spirits. The occasional “moooooo!” of a cow or a “baaaaa” of a goat would interrupt the day’s silence, then nothing.
I did manage to walk over to a neighbor’s house through typhoon of wind and rain in search of social interaction and to use her gas burner stove to heat some water. To say in the least, I was extremely grateful for both. We chatted for a while about the weather and how crummy it was outside. I laughed as she joked, “Eish, we are just here and it is so cold and we are without electricity. Yoh! You can’t do anything other than just to sleep”. A wide smile then spread across her face and she gave a laugh, as if stating our shared feelings made her feel better. I certainly felt better from her smile and laugh.
She had a puddle building outside of her house, which I became quite worried that it would seep into her house. She, however, was not worried in the least. I guess she had been through worse or similar weather than what we experienced that day. Besides, what do I know? I’m only here for a year.
After a while of some well-needed social interaction and a time to heat up some water, which I was extremely grateful for both, I went back up the hill and back to my house. Despite the comfort of having friends and neighbors around me throughout the quiet day, however, a feeling of eeriness settled over my mind.
On any normal day, the village was filled with a vibrant social hubbub from the chatter and the laughter of people going about their daily business. Walking to the local water taps to fetch water or over to the tavern to buy bread or to play a game of pool are a few common activities in which people regularly participate. These sounds of normalcy, of people going about their daily business with family and friends, then radiate throughout the entire community. No matter where you stand across the village: its streets, yards and into the living spaces of each household, one can here these most common and comforting sounds of Masealama’s people. A social buzz filled with the dynamics of friendship, family and of people finding a place within their community. For me, the regular village sounds of conversation and laughter have become a source of comfort not only in observing these things but being an active participant in village life. I too enjoy making jokes with friends around the village, playing pool and feeling present in today’s world.
This day, however, was different. No one was walking around or doing any activity, really. It was as if everyone had up and moved out of the place, which rendered Masealama a “ghost town”. And who would want to? It was raining cats and dogs outside and it was pretty cold, too. The heaviness of the rain was just too powerful a force to keep people from going out at all, including myself. It seemed to me, both from experiencing this “ghost village” during the storm and speaking with people about it the next day, that many people in Masealama had the same mindset. The mindset of staying in and getting cozy, that is. Familiar village sounds as powered by electricity, such as the rhythmic beats of house and techno music of the nearby tavern, were silent. There was little doubt in my mind that the rest of the day, into evening and deep into the dead of night could get quite dark, lonely and cold.
When afternoon shifted to evening and when night quickly set upon the world, I realized that the next few hours had the potential to go well, or not so well, to put it plainly. The transition from the grey and cloudy day into night was moving very fast, as night does here usually, and I was given a limited amount of options. Here in Limpopo, electricity serves many numerous purposes for people. For instance, with electricity you can perform many different functions such as: turn on a light bulb, charge a cellular phone for communication purposes, keep your food cool with the refrigerator, watch television, and magically and instantly turn on a stove burner for your most immediate cooking needs and much, much more. Oh, the wonders of electricity!
Besides, what were I to do if this was a regular occurrence or if this were every night like it is for many people around Masealama? I began to collect every light-emitting object around the house.
Not only was I going to survive this impenetrable night, I would embrace this opportunity to learn and be thankful for what I had. Thankfully, I had candles. Thankfully I had matches and a little dry wood, despite the damp conditions, to start a fire. Thankfully I had tin foil, food such as potatoes and canned food and a metal grate upon which to cook. Uffda I had fun putting this all together. Though fun for the first night, I’m not entirely sure how many more days the fun would have lasted. I now feel like I have greater appreciation for those who, day in and day out, live a life relatively free of electricity.
The people of Masealama are a social safety net for me. When I feel lonely, others are around for conversation and to allow for me to heat some water. When I feel isolated, others are around to comfort me and teach me valuable lessons on companionship and hospitality. Wherever there is darkness, there is the light of thankfulness, resourcefulness and companionship. Thanks be to God.
A squashy raw crunch
The taste of an earthy meat
I ate Mopani
Gazing out from the shore of Flathead Lake
How does the Spirit lead and guide me? How do I follow the Holy Spirit on my own journey?
Nestled in the northwestern-most corner of the state of Montana, Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp (FLBC) is in the midst of tall, jagged, snowy mountains and lays along the banks of a cool, clear, snowmelt fed lake. This lake is named Flathead Lake and it lays cradled in the basin of a great geological feature. A cradling bowl where water laps onto mountains and where mountains are pushed evermore upwards. Surrounding these shores are remnants of what used to blanket most of the western United States in hazy yet sharp colors of greenish-blue; the remnants that are miles and miles of untouched pineland forests.
Gazing out with a reflective eye at this mountainous, forested and watery precipice of FLBC’s lakeshore, it could almost be that time escapes itself. An elevated feeling that, like the breath of a pure wind, whisks me off to a distant time and place. Perhaps Lewis and Clark gazed upon this same image as they passed through this part of the country? Perhaps there is a Flathead, Kootenai or Blackfoot name for it?
Peering into the past, my own thoughts expand with the breathing in of the crisp fresh air and are elevated beyond a day’s doings. I feel closer to our living God, though her presence is ever beside me. She whispers untellable words of timeless wisdom into my ear with a flick of crisp wind. Chills are sent down my spine and goose bumps radiate to my arms and legs. These are thoughts and moments when the Spirit seems so close as it wraps around my body and soul like the softest knit woolen blanket. Stretching far into the distance are the great and mighty Mission mountains that scrape the Big Skies of eternity. This is a holy place for me.
Thinking of my encounters with the Spirit in Montana, which is now halfway around the globe, I am now keeping my finger on the pulse of where the Spirit is active currently in my life in South Africa. One such place is at the daycare center where I work in my home village of Masealama. The reason behind my thoughts on the Spirit and my work life in the village is because I may be pulled, physically or spiritually, in any one direction at any given time.
Every day I enter the gate of the Masealama Play Centre to be greeted energetically by the children I have come to know and adore over the past six months. Some mornings my mind is still too dull and hazy from sleep that I seldom realize the far-reaching meanings of such special and deeply spiritual moments. The children here lighten my mind for the day as they are seldom serious. From earlier posts in this blog, I am aware that I have repeated this story time and time again. Though I’ve told this story before, the play center where I work is so closely tied to my personal experience here in South Africa. I just can’t help but write about it. So much of the reflections I have splayed on this page about the community, province, and country I now live have been deeply bedded in the care and development of these little people. And what special little people they are.
There is always so much for me to do with my own body and mind in the care of these children. I can fetch wood in the nearby bush, get high-fives from the children, carry a crying baby, put that crying baby to sleep, feed that same baby its breakfast and lunch and afterwards change that baby’s diaper. I can think of how not to give favoritism to one or two children or limit my care in any way. I can be open to new ways of doing things such as how to cook food in a pot over a wood fire. I can be willing to do the most undesirable jobs, such as changing diapers. I can be polite and cordial despite being tired and having fatigue. I can always improve and delve deeper into this community of servant-leaders, the women workers at the crèche, and always try to improve my patience. I can always try harder not to expect thanks or praise for my work.
I can always try to be a more responsible, disciplined, intentional and caring disciple of Christ.
Just this morning I was wondering if, by any chance, I would be able to use the internet today and a few thoughts immediately came to mind.
1. I have to fetch water today after work at 1pm (See post from November 10th)
2. There are cows in my yard…I should get them to politely leave, as cows only sometimes do. They also left me some brown, smelly presents in the yard while on their way out. How rude.
3. I need to wait to catch a taxi (can take up to thirty minutes, then another thirty to get to town)
4. I need to eat lunch, which can be found in the form of grilled, spiced chicken on the street
5. Now, to get to the building with internet. Anywhere from a fifteen to twenty minute walk.
6. Get home before dark – 7 pm!
Those sweet two hours on the internet, jam packed with email responses, updating this blog and checking Facebook…etc were totally worth it!