16 October 2010

God at Work in Diverse Ways

This post was intended to go up a few days ago, but I've been sick the past few days.  I apologize for the delay.

I've heard it said that God works in many wonderful and diverse ways, but rarely have I been as aware of this fact in such a concentrated period of time as this past weekend (Thursday to Sunday).

God works in diverse ways in the administration of ministries. This weekend alone, I was able to witness this diversity present through parish council meetings, circuit planning meetings, website designs for the circuit and creche, congregation AGMs, and hospital board meetings.

The diverse ways in which we worship God reflect the diversity in God's Works. Whether conducting traditional worship services on Sundays or holding prayer and praise sessions during exam preparations, God is at work whenever we are worshipping.

All of God's Children are vessels for godly works, regardless of their diverse ages. One way in which children are a blessing is through their uninhibited faith in God. One way in which youth are a blessing is through the fearlessness in proclaiming what they believe. One way in which adults are a blessing is through the wisdom that comes through years of experience. God makes use of the blessings of each generation, and I certainly got to experience that this weekend.

Beauty exists in all of God's diverse creation. As I was travelling with my supervisor to a hospital board meeting about 350 km (~220 miles) from Durban, I witnessed the beauty in the diverse landscape along the way. Later that same day, I was blessed to attend a presentation by the first African (South African) to mount the seven summits. He videoed all of his climbs, but this presentation focused specifically on his Mt. Everest expedition. I was reminded again of the majesty and beauty in God's creation.

10 October 2010

First Newsletter is Done

My first newsletter has been sent out.  If you want a copy and have not received one, please email me and I will add you to my mailing list.

03 October 2010

Proactivity and African Time: Two Lessons in Accompaniment

First, let me explain what I mean by “proactivity” and “African time”.

My second day in Durban, I attended a Bible study at the student Y where I will eventually be living.  The theme of the Bible study that day was being proactive – or taking responsibility for your actions rather than blaming them on something else.  So when I talk about “proactivity”, I am talking about living in a state of being where you consciously choose how to respond to various stimuli.

I come from a culture which values punctuality highly.  Events are expected to start when announced and run for the prescribed amount of time.  “African time” is the norm in the culture in which I find myself now.  Meetings typically start 30-45 minutes after the announced time and run until they logically should conclude (rather than at a prescribed time).

At first glance, these two concepts may seem to be unrelated, or even run counter to each other.  Yet, I have found that much can be learned from both when viewed through the lens of accompaniment.

Proactivity applies as much to what we do as to how we choose to interpret the situations we find ourselves in.  Take, for instance, the fact that I will not be moving into my long-term residence until roughly a month after arriving in Durban.  Two possible reactions presented themselves: I could have gotten angry about the situation and blamed nature, nurture, or the environment I am in for my reaction to the situation, or I could go with the flow and look for the positive in the situation.

In the first possible reaction, I would be casting blame for my actions (in this case how I reacted to things not going according to my plans) onto some force outside of myself.  While these outside forces certainly can influence how I react, in the end, it is up to me to decide how I will respond.  Rather than get upset at my plans being cast aside, I choose to trust God look for the positive that has resulted first.

By moving around a bit this first month in Durban, I have gotten to see and learn more of the city.  By having my ideal plans cast aside, I have been forced outside of the shell of individual reliance that I tend to operate inside of.  As a result, I have depended heavily on the community which I have become a part of.  My first weeks, I relied heavily on Jonathan, the German volunteer living with me, to help me around the city.  We have become close friends and I look forward to sharing the rest of this year with him.  I have no doubt that God was at work in countermanding my ideal plans.  I have benefited tremendously from these altered arrangements.  By choosing to trust God and not be upset, I have been able to see God's blessings in the deviations from my plans.

What this means is that proactivity is a change in mindset.  Proactivity is a mindset that acknowledges outside influences in our lives, but does not allow them to rule our lives.

Similarly, accompaniment requires a change in mindset.  Accompaniment seeks to focus on the relationships we have with others.  This requires a change from the individualistic, top-down approach to mission, to a communal, two-way street approach to mission.  How does this affect me?  It changes the questions I ask from “How can I help them?” to “How can we grow together in Christ?”  Accompaniment also requires owning up to the fact that I am an imperfect human being and only through trusting God and being in community with all of God's Children am I made whole.  In other words, accompaniment requires choosing to live in community with God's Children.  That is where proactivity comes into the picture.

I guess what this all comes down to for me is choosing to trust God and allowing God's blessings to overwhelm other outside factors in my outlook on life.  When we take the time to look for the good in any situation, it is amazing how abundant God's blessings truly are.  “Bad” situations become opportunities for growth and “Neutral” situations become opportunities for joy.  In a sense, we can echo Paul's gratitude to God by “Rejoic[ing] in the Lord always!  Again [we will] say Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

I am still learning to see the blessings in each situation, but it becomes easier and more natural each time I do it.  As I mentioned in a previous post, before this year, I never would have imagined that I could work with children easily; however, I find that the days I spend in the crèche are full of blessings.  The international nature of Durban provides blessings in the thriving cultures present in the city.  Various meetings and lectures provide opportunities for spiritual and intellectual growth.  I have been blessed to attend various ecumenical gatherings such as the Inner-City Ministry (ICM) meeting I attend a few weeks ago.  God's work shows itself all throughout my experiences in South Africa!

This past weekend (23-26 September), I was blessed to be able to attend the ELCSA church-wide Young Adults League conference held in Durban.  No matter what was on the agenda, various choruses and songs praising God were bound to spring forth.  These spontaneous musical offerings provided an example for me of rejoicing in God's love always!

This coming weekend (1-3 October) I will be travelling with the Durban Circuit Men's League Choir to the South Eastern Diocese (SED) Prayer Men's League (PML) Rally.  I look forward to the fellowship, worship, and praise that this weekend is sure to offer.  I also look forward to joining in song with people from all over SED.

This brings me to my next point which is how African time provides many blessings when seen from the lens of accompaniment.  Coming from a culture which views punctuality highly and appreciates sticking to schedules, it would be very easy to succumb to the influences of my nurture and be frustrated with African time.  However, I see African time differently.  To me, African time is valuing being in the present entirely.  It is a way of saying that whatever I am doing currently is the most important thing for now.  It frees us to be completely focused on here and now so as to not miss out on opportunities for relationship formation and community building.  When you are focused on “Where do I have to been next?” or “How long will this take?”, opportunities to be aware of God's Love are missed. 

For me, African time is an expression of love.  After all, are we not commanded to “Love our neighbors as ourselves?”  And isn't love patient and kind?  (For more on love I recommend the entirety of chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians.)  If we are not devoting all of our attention on where we are in the present, how are truly loving those we are with?

With this understanding of African time, it is easy to see how it fits in with accompaniment.  After all, if we come into an encounter without restrictive presuppositions as to the length, we free ourselves to be in the moment and truly walk alongside the Children of God we are sharing this precious Earth with.  Whether we are practising with a choir, or worshipping God, or sharing tea co-workers, this understanding of African time liberates me to be free to love without artificial, self-imposed restrictions.

Now, as an imperfect being, I am still learning to cope with African time.  However, it is my hope that by understanding African time in this matter, my accompaniment experiences will be continue to be enhanced.  I certainly feel that I have all the time in the world to continue my growth in this manner.