Thirteen years ago, our family stepped off a United Airlines jetliner onto a mobile ramp stair-apparatus at the Oliver Tambo International Airport outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. I carried two-and-a-half year-old Caleb. John held four-year-old Jake. Six-year-old Micah descended the ramp with tentative steps between us. It was a muggy, overcast summer day.
I’d never stepped foot on the African continent before this day. Nor had our children. Only John had visited South Africa. Two and a half years before, in September 2003, his purpose-filled trek determined that this country would be our future home one day. We said “YES” to South Africa and made the decision to leave our Oregon-life behind.
Alighting from that plane on Wednesday, February 8, 2006, we had no clue how our new southern African life was about to grow us, transform us, and change us.
I remember that first year being an incredibly good but oh, so hard, season of learning.
Excitement danced with confusion as we immersed ourselves in the people, in the geography and in the culture of this jaw-dropping, never-for-a-minute-would-we-be-bored-again place.
Our joy burst forth and bustled with South African song.
Heartbreak and horror jarred us, too. We came face to face and heart to heart with the AIDS pandemic for the first time in our lives.
Patience, patience and more patience were learned from our Zimbabwean brothers and sisters as we developed a first-hand understanding of our northern neighbors’ economic, educational, and societal crises.
So much self-examination.
Questions, so many questions emerged and pressed into our minds and hearts during that first year.
What cultural norms and biases did we pack with us?
What was our God and our Lord Jesus Christ doing in South Africa as compared to our home country? How could we join Him?
What did we believe about child-raising and education? And why?
How could we integrate with a team that had been together for 10+ years and already enjoyed a strong, purposeful rhythm?
What would it look like to really live out and model loving, humble servant leadership in a culture of tribalism and patriarchy?
Was it possible to contextualize our strengths and our experiences to best meet the tangible and heart-felt needs we identified?
To build authentic and sustaining relationships of trust, what steps would we need to take?
Could we make it in South Africa with two autistic children? In a country where special needs children are often kept out of sight and are often separated away from society? We were unaware of this reality when we said ‘yes’ to the invitation to South Africa. Our children’s educational needs as well as the needs specifically associated with their autism would turn out to be one of the most significant and influential issues of our mission career.
Did we find answers to our myriad of questions?
We’re still learning, growing, and transforming as we live each day in southern Africa. I expect we always will be growing in our relationship with others and with our God in southern Africa as we continue to seek answers and live with the tension of these different, but critical questions.
It’s who we are.
And this is who the people and places of southern Africa are too. The beautiful people of southern Africa and its stunning landscape are always changing, always growing, always developing, always becoming.
No day is the same. Not one.
I think that is why we love it here so much.
In each day, we dance with joy.
We struggle with confusion.
We sit with silence.
We contend with injustice.
We juggle pressing, inescapable tensions and we jump over obstinate, never-ever-going-away obstacles.
We speak truth – gently and resolutely.
We excavate mounds and mounds and mounds of patience and perseverance.
We pray like crazy – for everything.
We honor the forgotten and we uplift the heart-sore.
We remain present and near – relationships in southern Africa require ongoing, genuine touch-points.
We are blessed by the love we have for so many, many, many African brothers and sisters – and who graciously love us, too.
We sing. We sing. We sing.
We live our lives – loving our God, listening to His voice, and holding fast and hard to Him in each moment of our day.
Our family has been living this way for the past 13 years and I expect we’ll be doing the same as we launch into our 14th year – tomorrow. This time though, 19-year-old Micah is growing and transforming on a completely different continent. Jake and Caleb are with me – contending with a myriad of grade 10 school subjects and growing socially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. And eating cake in celebration of 13 years!
And John? He’s currently in Zimbabwe – excavating patience with his Zimbabwean brothers and sisters during yet another economic downturn.
For each of us, there’s no other place we’d all rather be right now.
Our God has brought us closer to Him. Of course, there is so much more to be gleaned from our relationship with our Heavenly Father, his Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and with others in southern Africa in the days and months and years to come. We are very conscious of this truth – we have so much more growing up to do!
Thank you, Friends, for joining in our mission journey. Your prayers, encouragement and support continue to make this all possible! We are beyond grateful!
We’re 13 years and counting and it’s all good. Really good!