Staying on this Mountain

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I have a view from my house on the side of a mountain (actually, it is more akin to a hill but we like to be dramatic) that overlooks the green, rolling hills of Kwa-Zulu Natal. This view reminds me of two things: how far away I am from home and the beauty of God. Something can be simultaneously melancholy and beautiful, challenging and good for you. If I am stretching the analogy, I guess it is a bit like the decision I made a few weeks ago, which has led me to finally write a blog post after so many months of silence. The truth is that I have not had much burning on my heart to share with the world. Life here can be pretty same-same once the novelty of rural living has worn off. Yet now, at last, the time has come to let the words flow into this slightly disjointed blog post…

Over these last few months, I have been wrestling with what next year holds for me. Do I stay in Ingwavuma or move on to a new place? I have had so many mixed feelings about this decision and still do. There are things I enjoy here but so many more that I find difficult and challenging. Yet I have not wanted to be swayed by my own emotions or other people’s voices but have been trying to seek God’s plan and desire for me. Does He want me to stay or go? This question has plagued me and caused a lot of inner stress and struggle. I think I knew the answer for a while but it filled me with fear and uncertainty. A few weeks ago, however, I finally gave in to obeying God and have chosen once again to trust Him. Trust. Something that never comes easily to me yet of which God keeps asking for a greater degree. So, dear reader, my decision (or should I say God’s) for next year is that I shall be staying in Ingwavuma for another year and will continue teaching at Khethani Christian School.

I cannot honestly say I have a lot of excitement or joy about staying but I have peace that this is what God wants me to do. Sometimes obedience does not result in joy in the here and now. When I was praying about this decision, I realised that leaving would be like running away from difficulty since living here is not always easy. I also realised that I cannot chase happiness. There are challenges wherever we go in life. We must simply follow God, be where He wants us and learn to be content in every situation. God brought me here and I do not want to leave until He tells me to. Obedience looks a lot like sacrifice and surrender where we have to lay aside our own desires, emotions and plans in order to persevere in walking along the path God has set before us. As different as our paths may be, I know that many of you reading this post are facing your own very real and painful challenges and have been asked to obey in hard things. I want to say this to you: do not give up. God is with you, He goes before you and He will give you the strength to persevere. We simply have to keep pressing on, one step at a time, trusting God all the while.

I recently returned from a lovely visit to Stellenbosch where I was confronted with two popular questions: “Have you decided what you are doing next year yet?” and “What is the plan after that?” Basically, people wanted to know if I plan on growing old alone in the bush. I have only just figured out the answer to the first question so I cannot begin to answer the second. The clichéd truth is this: only God knows. I guess I am just in a place in my life where I have no idea in what direction I am going or where I will be or what I will be doing in a few years’ time. And I am learning that that is okay. God gives me a tiny glimpse of the coming year and I walk half-blind in that direction, desperately trying to trust Him in the not-knowing, in the waiting. Does this lack of having any plans scare me out me of my mind? Yes, but I choose in the midst of my unbelief to trust that God has plans for me, plans that are good although at times painful. All I know at this point is that I will be teaching in Ingwavuma next year and I do not know what comes after that. I will simply try to follow where God leads and lean on His grace to carry me through each season I am in. For now, the season requires me to stay on this mountain until God whispers that it is time to move on once again…

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The Beauty of Relationship

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In the frequent quiet, alone moments that are part of my rural life, I feel challenged to embrace them as opportunities to grow closer to God, who is softly, gently drawing me into deeper intimacy with Him. He is showing me once again – and somehow so much more poignantly than ever before – that He alone can satisfy and that He is enough. He is all I need: the pearl without price. I came out to Ingwavuma thinking I was here to help people and change lives – and part of my frustration has been that I feel as if I am doing so little. Yet God has quietly humbled my heart and shown me that He brought me here for another reason: for Him. He drew me out here to pull me into a deeper relationship with Him. At first, I struggled to understand that. I always feel that I need to be serving and doing, doing like the proverbial Martha. However, Jesus is so much more interested in us and spending time with us than anything we could ever give Him or any grand acts of sacrifice for Him. Jesus wants our hearts. His death on the cross revealed the lengths He goes simply to have a relationship with us. He cherishes us so much that He will pay the highest price in pursuit of our wayward hearts. He loves you; not how many good things you do, not how many hours you have spent serving, or how talented you are or anything of the things others measure you by. That is the beauty of God’s love for us.

Why did God have to bring me all the way out here to draw me closer to Him? Ingwavuma has a way of exposing your heart and all that you leaned on or hid behind. The isolated nature of the place also gave God an opportunity to pull me away from all the distractions and the things I sought to satisfy me. I too often looked to people and serving to give me a sense of fulfilment and worth. And it left me empty and tired much of the time. But now that I can only look to God, He is showing me that His love and presence is enough and that it leaves me full of peace and joy. This is a special – although often challenging and difficult – season of just God and I where He can become my all and I am utterly dependent on Him for everything. I know that God has made me for community and serving Him and others is part of living for Him. Yet service should flow from a place of loving Him, not of trying to earn that love. He wants to draw us so close to Him that when we do serve and love others, it comes from a place of feeling God’s heart and sensing Him move us, not from seeking worth or fulfilment. Whatever season you are in now, I know God’s heart is yearning for a relationship with you above all that you can give Him. We do not deserve it and we cannot earn it but a relationship with Him is the best and most beautiful gift we will ever receive. I want to embrace this quiet, and sometimes lonely, season as one where I can spend more time with my King; where I can grow closer to Him and be drawn deeper into His beautiful heart.

“Your hands can so work in service for Christ – that you forget to fall in love with Christ.” – Ann Voskamp

“It’s not our productiveness “for” God that counts, it is our worship, our time at His feet… It isn’t our “world changing” that makes any different, it is the way we let Him change and shape our hearts to more reflect His… the only thing that matters is Him. Not what we do for Him, but that we know Him.” Katie Davis Majors

 

Thoughts on Loneliness

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It is unbelievable how loud silence can be. How the absence of human voices can be felt. I am currently sitting in an empty house with only the humming fridge and a bird singing outside to disturb the quiet. The familiar pang of weekend loneliness hits me now that the bustle of the week spent teaching and interacting with children and colleagues is over. Try as I might to fill this silence with music and movies or to escape the loneliness with keeping busy, it still creeps up on me at times. Especially when I face another weekend alone in my house. It is not that I mind being alone – I am used to my own company (though I really do get tired of it) – or that I am always alone or lonely. It is just that I do not like being alone for extended periods of time. I am a social person who desires to be doing things with others and sometimes my quiet life in Ingwavuma can become a tad monotonous and lonely. Yet the truth is that loneliness is a feeling that is familiar to most of us regardless of our context. I have felt lonely in a small city as a home-schooling teenager, in a busy student town and now in a rural area. It may be a bit more obvious to others when you live in the middle of nowhere but you can feel lonely even in a crowd of people. I think we are all terrified of loneliness. We try to escape it or distract ourselves from it because it fills us with a strange sense of fear.

Sometimes I wonder where this inherent loneliness stems from. Perhaps it is a longing for someone to know us intimately, to fully understand us, to be there for us always and to satisfy that craving to be loved. Most people think they can discover that in a romantic relationship or marriage. Yes, you may to an extent but it will never truly satisfy you as no human being can fulfil that role perfectly. People will always let you down. The more you rely on people to fill you, the emptier you will feel. The truth is only Jesus can reach into our lonely, broken lives and full them with love and joy. He already knows us better than we know ourselves and He is always there for us. The Scripture says that Jesus came to bring us life to the full (John 10:10) and that He will never leave nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8). Perhaps this loneliness points to our inherent need for God.  As much as I do not enjoy being alone, perhaps God is using it to draw me back to the Source of all I need – back to Himself. It is almost as if God has been slowly stripping away everything I depended on – people, serving, church, social student life, busyness – in order to captivate my heart fully with Him.  I hope that you too may discover this sweet satisfaction that can only be found in our good and perfect Saviour.

To all the readers of my last blog post, I want you to know I am doing a lot better since I wrote it. It feels as if God has gently stilled the questions and the storm that was causing such unrest inside. I still do not understand His plan but I have accepted it and, in doing so, I am enjoying life here more for no apparent reason. Perhaps it is merely that feeling – which comes and goes – that I am living in God’s will for my life and the choice to trust Him which has brought this peace. I have realised that I need to simply rest in God and be fully where He has placed me now. And I know that my Jesus is so good and faithful and He is carrying me each step of this journey He has brought me on.

The plan-wrecked life

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Just when I was beginning to feel more settled and content here “in the bush”, I went home for the holidays and was reminded of the life I left behind and that I too often long for. When I arrived back in Ingwavuma after a week and a bit in comfort and familiarity, homesickness and confusion hit me. I felt torn between two very different lives and between different desires and dreams, many of which I have to lay down in living here. It is so difficult to hear God’s voice when my emotions and desires are so loud and other people’s voices begin joining in the noise. I do not think I am the only one who finds it so hard to discern God’s plan for one’s life- or who finds it difficult to be obedient when God wrecks one’s own plans. Yet in the confusion and the doubt, I need to simply trust God’s heart and believe that His hand is in everything that happens in my life. Each time I doubt why I am here and worry about my future and which path my life needs to take, I must go back to God and His plan every time. I need to return to trusting, obeying, surrendering and bringing glory to Jesus my King-as we all do in every season of our lives. And I know that every time I look back, I will see His faithfulness. Which brings me to a reflection of my first three months in Ingwavuma…

It is so difficult for me to explain to people what it is truly like living here or whether I am happy or not because, firstly, it is one of those things that must be personally experienced to be understood and, secondly, my emotions are a roller-coaster ride every day. This has been a hugely challenging and stretching year. My first month in Ingwavuma was really difficult. Most days, I wished I could go back to Stellenbosch and questioned why God ever brought me here. This year does not look at all like I had hoped or planned and I am still not entirely sure what God’s plan is for me here.  Living here as a young person is not easy – I live a quiet, though busy, life with a minimal social life. I feel like I live between work at school and my house and I do not have access to the things I am used to having or doing. I do not have the time or energy to be involved in the community as I had planned for this year, which has been rather frustrating. Yet after weeks of adjusting, questioning God and longing for my old life, Jesus began gently calming my heart and speaking to me about trusting Him and having faith in His plan even when I could not see or understand the bigger picture. Yes, my plans have been wrecked again as my life here looks very different from what I expected.

But God has been working in my heart and, without knowing exactly how or why it happened, aspects of my new life tugged at my heart and I slowly began to enjoy life here more. He is teaching me to keep looking up, to keep focusing on Him, when the confusion and longing for my old life pull me down. He is teaching me to take each day at a time, to count the positives and to see the beauty in the simplicity. Most of all, He is teaching me to trust Him each day and every time the questions rise as His plan unfolds. I need to trust that He wrecked my own plans for a reason and that His are so much better, even if harder, than my own. As I surrender to His will, I do begin to see the beauty in my new life and how much He has blessed me with. I can learn so much from the people here and the way of life- I know that I will never regret this year. It is so refreshing to interact with people from different walks of life and to not live in that materialistic, success-driven lifestyle anymore. I am learning that there is so much we can live without and that the materially poor are often so rich in love, joy and faith.

I may not understand His plan, but He has given me the peace that as I walk in it, He will do incredible things. I still do not know how long God wants me here or where I would even go from here. Yet I am realizing that even though the future feels like a huge blank since I have no tangible plans because God took them out of my hands, no one actually knows what the future holds. We can kid ourselves by writing our five-year plans and deciding exactly what we want for every aspect of our lives until something happens and we are reminded that we are not in control. Because of my current circumstances, I am just more aware of this simultaneously terrifying yet comforting thought: God is in control, not us, and His plan ultimately prevails. So this control-freak here is going to try and embrace the plan-wrecked life as she watches God’s beautiful, perfect plan unfold before her eyes. Whatever your story looks like right now or whatever battles and questions you are facing, I want to encourage you to hand it all to God and trust His plan – He knows what He is doing and “He is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

Letting Go

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How do you let go of a life you loved, of people you loved? How do you let go of the past, the what if’s, the could-have-been’s or the life you wanted before God came and turned your plans upside down and inside out? How do you let go so that you can move on and accept the new life in front of you? I have been struggling with these questions and many others since I packed up my life and moved to the other side of the country to a small rural town called Ingwavuma. Perhaps it has been partly my struggle with these questions, partly the never-ending work of a teacher or the fact that I lead a quiet, simple life here that I have taken so long to write a new blog post. Some people can bounce into a rural area like this full of passion and vision, ready to take on everything and anything. Then there are others, like myself, who struggle to uproot from one place in order to put down roots in another. It is like trying to dig up a solid tree with deep roots out of one area to plant in another: it takes time. When I arrived in Stellenbosch, I knew no one and was so uncertain of everything.  I was insecure, unsure of myself and so young. Over the four years I spent there, I grew in every way- except perhaps physically as I have not grown since I was 14. I sowed a lot into my time there and the people I met there. It became home; the friends I made there became family. And leaving has been so hard. I think a part of me did not want to try settle in this new place because that meant I had to accept that I was not going back to Stellies, because it meant I had to let go of the life and people I grew to love there. And Ingwavuma is polar opposite to Stellenbosch in nearly every way. Yet I have realised that to be fully effective and present in Ingwavuma as well as to simply enjoy living and working here, I need to let go of Stellies and stop wishing I was there. It is one thing to obey God physically in doing what He asks and another to obey Him with everything. I need to obey Him with my emotions, attitude and heart as well.

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It is so hard to let go. Yet in order to go deeper and to truly embrace the life God has chosen for me, I need to trust that He knows best and surrender everything to His plans and purpose. Even though I did not know what to expect, this year is very different from what I expected. People think you come into poor area and just start making a difference and transforming lives with the flash of your smile and the wave of your serving hand and that the people are simply waiting for you with open, welcoming arms. There are several things wrong with this picture: the arrogant, hero/saviour complex, the view of poor people as needy, helpless and not quite like normal people and the fact that the reality is so different. Perhaps I had a similar mindset when I arrived here but I am learning a lot. I am learning that people might be physically but not spiritually poor, that relationships are key and people do not trust or open up easily and that I am only human and have the capacity to do only so much. I am also learning to accept that if the only one to change after my year here is me, it is okay. If God brought me here simply to work on my character -which is stubborn and slow to change- and teach me lessons and grow me, it will have been worth it. He is certainly exposing my heart and areas where I have depended on others or other things instead of Him. He is teaching me to abide in Him, surrender everything to Him and trust and obey Him even when I cannot see the bigger picture. These are not easy things for an independent, strong-willed girl to do but I am slowly learning. I know that I need to let go of my own plans, desires, dreams and the life I had before and to trust Jesus completely in order to go deeper with Him. As I am doing this, the more settled and at peace I feel. I know that, in the end, it will all be worth it and that, ultimately, God will get the glory.

Rural Living

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One of the things I am enjoying the most about living here is the open space around me. I feel as if I live on a farm minus the fields. I can go for walks down the rocky dirt road surrounded by bushes, flowers, long grass and the occasional house. There are even cows that graze wherever their bellies take them and I can hear chickens cackling in the distance. I have no idea who owns the land I walk quite freely on but no one has chased me off with a pitchfork yet so I shall continue to take my chances exploring. Rural living is not always easy, especially during this adjustment phase. Depending on how tired, hot or homesick I am, life here can either feel too hard or like an exciting adventure. I still feel as if I have not quite found my feet and it is taking time to settle in. I struggle to fully capture the difficulties and joys as I do not want to sound negative but I also do not want to create the impression of a “romantic rural life” yet I will try my best to provide a true description.

Due to the drought, we use rain water from large, green tanks which is pumped into the taps. Unfortunately, as with many things here, the pump does not always work. Last week, we did not have water for two days and had to fetch it from the tanks by standing on a chair, opening the top of the tank, dipping a jug into the water and pouring it into buckets and bottles which we carried into the house. When I say we, I mean my housemate did most of the carrying because I still to need to build up my guns, Twiggy and Ziggy. We constantly recycle water and use it to pour into the toilet, which seldom flushes. I have to hand wash my clothes in buckets in our little bath. Living 5kms from the few shops on offer without a car is a challenge that makes me feel stuck and isolated at times. The other day, I needed to go to the shops and a birthday party nearby. So I, a stubborn, strong and independent woman, decided to embark on the hour long walk to the main part of Ingwavuma. This entails strolling along a sidewalk on the main road past small plots of land and areas covered in bush. I charged away on my little mission armed with my housemate’s sunhat and Zulu greetings. I felt quite a sense of accomplishment when I finally reached my destination. Sadly, for those who know one of my favourite past times, there are no coffee shops like Hazz or the Blue Crane where I can stop for an iced red flurry or a slice of cake. However, Ingwavuma does boast of having a single restaurant that doubles as an NGO.

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I walk to school on a red dirt road in the sweltering heat carrying too many teacher’s supplies. I count this as my daily gym exercise strengthening the aforementioned Twiggy and Ziggy. Because of the dust, my feet are always lightly covered in red sand and nothing stays clean for long. I teach several subjects a day and teach grade 8 and 9 at the same time. My classes are small and my students are respectful and hardworking; they are a pleasure to teach and the other staff are friendly and supportive. Teaching is tiring and requires a lot of work and commitment but it is a profession that I love. People often come to areas like this with a hero complex of “I’m here to fix all the problems and change lives”. I wish it was that easy and that I could just simply walk into this place and start making a difference. You must first take time to build trust and get to know people. I still feel like an outsider in a foreign land looking in and wondering when I will feel a part of this place that is so different to what I am used to. I do not know if I will impact any lives here but I do know that being here is going to change and grow me. I am realising more and more that only God can change lives and heal brokenness and I need to trust that God will take the little I have to offer and use it for His glory.

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I have a choice on how I am going to experience living in this rural area. I can choose to view this as a growing adventure or as a burden too heavy to bear. I can choose to complain about the things that do not work or exist here or I can rejoice in the simple blessings. Yes, water does not always come out of the taps but now I appreciate every drop we have. Yes, the cell phone signal is on and off but now I appreciate every minute of connection with the outside world. I know when I go into a city, I will appreciate the variety of shops, food and things to do as well as how conveniently close everything is. I appreciate every friendly face and encouraging word and every tree I see among the excess of bushes. One learns to appreciate every day you are given and everything you have. When I look around me, I see needs and challenges far greater than my own. I have heard of a family that went without food for days and could not afford to pay for their children’s school clothes. I have electricity yet half of Ingwavuma goes without it and students study by candlelight. Most people do not live in nuclear families with a mom and a dad but are brought up by grannies and aunts, teenage pregnancy is common and there is a serious lack of fathers. I teach three orphans who have no families at all. I feel helpless at the need surrounding me but I know I must trust God to guide and show me how to best love and serve this community.

Hello Ingwavuma

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When I said that I was going “into the bush”, I thought it was more of a figure of speech. How wrong I was. The further we drove away from Durban, the more rural the area became and the vegetation gradually changed from trees and open fields to bush. We passed pockets of populated areas which became smaller and smaller until we arrived in Ingwavuma, which is nestled within a long mountain range. This place is even more rural than I expected but it is also more beautiful than I imagined. It has a raw, untouched beauty in the lush rolling hills below and the intensely green bushes which cover them. Houses are scattered across the mountainside and most people grow their own vegetables in their small plots. Once you drive off Ingwavuma’s one main tar road, the small, nameless streets are made of red sand, rocks and stones. Even as I was struck by its beauty, I think I was also shocked by how isolated the place was and how far away I was from the kind of life I was used to, as well as from home. I also realised that not having a car is going to be a challenge as I live 5kms from the tiny shopping centre. I think God is teaching me true dependence on and trust in Him that He will look after me and that He has a plan for me here. My emotions have been a whirlwind of fear, excitement, joy, sadness, painfully missing friends, family and my old life, wondering if I have lost my mind by coming here and knowing that this is where I am meant to be, as well as just plain old panicking. On top of all the newness of life here is the newness of working as a teacher in a very different context. I feel a bit overwhelmed and I know that I cannot make a difference- not without God. I cannot cope with everyday battles here-not without God. I cannot learn the language and culture here- not without God. I cannot do anything without God- I need to depend on Him more than ever.

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I think I will never fail to have little “adventures” in Ingwavuma where I will be experiencing many things for the first time and will have to adjust to a different way of living. For example, I caught my first public taxi from the shops, where I had a rather interesting shopping experience. I have also been turned into a bit of an insect killer as my new ceiling-less home attracts them in abundance. The other night, I shared my room with a huge gecko who like to drop “gifts” from above onto my bed, a frightened and confused moth and three cockroaches, two of which I managed to kill. Currently, I do not have a cupboard or much storage space in my room or a washing machine. However, not only do I have the most stunning view from my house but Ingwavuma is filled with the most beautiful people. Everyone greets you with “sawubona” or “kunjani” as you walk along the road or go to the shops. As I was walking to the main road a few days ago, a lady greeted me and promptly gave me some of the mielie she was eating, introduced herself and invited me to come visit her someday. Time is not seen as that crucial here- people take the time to stop and chat, to find out how you are, which is probably why things may not always run on time. But perhaps they have discovered that people are more important than time and convenience. I have only been here for a few days but it already feels much longer. I have met so many welcoming people who are truly happy to have me in Ingwavuma and have an incredible housemate. I have met people here who know the true meaning of following Jesus and carrying one’s cross daily and who also follow Jesus’ example of inviting the stranger in. I know that I will face many challenges, fight bouts of loneliness and missing my life and friends in Stellenbosch and that overcoming language and cultural barriers will take time but there is something about this place that gives me the feeling that it has the potential to become a beloved home.