Morgan and I went to a ministry conference in South Africa last week. I am still sleeping when I‘m supposed to be awake and awake when I’m supposed to be asleep, so forgive me if this post has a stream of consciousness that only a two year old would find acceptable. I am so tired that I have basically become a two year-old: I can’t nap even though I’m exhausted, all I want to eat is sugar, and I really don’t want to clean up the giant pile of stuff that used to be in my suitcase. I need my blankie and a juice box (or maybe my favorite sweatpants and a gallon and a half of coffee) to get through this.
But our trip was amazing, and I wish I could wrap up all we saw and learned in Africa and put it in your hands and heart.
All I can give you are a few glimpses of it, though.
First of all, in South Africa, my husband overcame every carefully formed instinct in his brain and achieved greatness as he drove a stickshift on the left side of the road. We all chanted, “Turn left, stay left. Turn left, stay left!” when proceeding out into an intersection. Every lane change was a victory. We only nearly died ten times.
We stood above the clouds on Table Mountain. It was real and it was spectacular. Either heaven’s beauty had come down or we had been carried up by it. Then we hiked Lion's Head, climbing ladders and scaling rock walls so we could look out over the city and the sea, in awe of the God who has made it all.
In a room full of thousands of international people, we sang a Zulu hymn of praise to God. Many of the people in that room live as missionaries in lands where it is dangerous to follow Christ. I felt small in the midst of God’s powerful way of uniting His people.
Every single person we spoke with asked us about the election in America. What would we do? How would we vote? Even all the way across the earth, we could not escape the ugliness of our current political climate. We expressed our deep apologies for our national condition many times last week. Most people chuckled, some suggested we move to South Africa if the election turns out badly.
We drove through a township, which are the areas that non-whites were forcibly moved to under the apartheid government. They are still full of families living in small one-room shacks. Children played and pointed at us as we drove through. People live their lives there in ways most Americans couldn’t imagine.
We made new friends who work to feed, educate, and offer healthcare for people in the townships. We heard first-hand how much healing South Africa needs. Languages and customs are different, but the suffering and vulnerability that is unique to humanity are the same everywhere.
In our last moments in South Africa, I stood in the rental car parking lot, and a young mother with her baby strapped to her back searched the trash can for food. I regretted giving our last 100 rand to the man who kindly helped us load our luggage into our car. I had nothing to offer this mother except a smile and a nod of my head. Then suddenly a security guard appeared and the mother began to run. He shouted at her, chased her away from the cans of trash she hoped held something to fill her need.
This is a scene that plays out here in America every day. Our homeless friends at church have stories and carry fears because they have been shooed away from places they aren’t “supposed” to be. But poverty, hunger, and need aren’t shameful. Woe to all of us if they were. How would we ever find the good news accessible if we shooed away our lack and our deep need for belonging and care? When we embrace and care for the poor, we are all set free.
I died inside a little for that mother. I thought of the day we hiked up above the sea to a place paragliders launched themselves off of the cliff. Bright orange and green sails carried tiny looking people over the expanse of water that separated us from Antarctica. God spoke to me there, above that ocean.
“As big as that ocean seems, I am even greater. Wherever you land, Carrie, however you sail and then land in your life, you always land in Me. You can’t go anywhere that I am not.”
This is true for me, and it is true for the running mother and her baby in South Africa. It is true for whoever ascends to the presidency, and for the security guard who has been instructed to keep the ugly part of his country away from the airport. The questions we must answer are these: How will we fly? Who else will we carry up with us? How low are we willing to go to fill the needy around us?
Because we can go all the way to the ends of the earth or we can go right around the corner, and still, we land in His midst. And if we are in His midst, we ought to be seeking to love and serve like He has asked us to. Even in my two-year-old state of mind, I can see the importance of that.
For more information about helping to restore hope and transform South Africa, you can visit the Thembalitscha website: http://www.hope.org.za
For more information about Chi Street, Mosaic Church's homeless community and outreach, you can visit: http://www.mosaicchurchaustin.com/chi-street