Barbed wire

Barbed wire

By Mandy Cloninger

Written after visiting Robben Island

Barbed wire.

Blue sea.

Rocky waves.

An empty cell.

Folded blankets.

The chill.

The trauma.

The weight.

Twenty seven years.

A beating heart.

Evolving.

Forgive.

Freedom.

Justice.

More barbed wire.

Matthew 25 Revisited

Matthew 25 Revisited

By Mandy Cloninger

Matthew 25 has been a personal call to action and service for me for some time. I’ve felt it as a calling in both my personal and professional life. Until this trip to South Africa, I thought I had this particular scripture all figured out.

This time though the tables were turned. As part of our pilgrimage, the PSALM (Paul, Susan, April, Leslie and Mandy) group committed to staying with host families. It was one of the things I looked most forward to about our whole trip. We stayed in these families homes, traveled with them to and from work as well as served and worshiped alongside them to build relationships and learn more about them and the mission, Phakamisa. Each person’s experience was unique. Paul was with Amos’ family in southern Pinetown, Susan and Nelly in Burlington, April and Japu, as well as Leslie and Sdu, were in Klaarwater, and Mandy and Thabisile were in Shongweni.
The radical hospitality that our host families showed us is difficult to convey. They went out in faith too welcoming strangers from America. Many families had suffered in the years of apartheid decades before, yet they welcomed us, white Americans, a minority in their townships and rural areas, inviting us in with open arms. We asked, we prayed, and we received. Then the blessings flowed.

Thabisile and her family lived about 20 km outside of Pinetown in Shongweni, a rural area. Her husband Victor and children: Mpumelelo (Blessing), 21, Mazinde, 13, and Luyanda, 9, lived in a beautiful burnt orange 3 bedroom home that they built themselves with a Ronda veil as well as a studio for the eldest, Blessing.

I learned many things from Thabisile. She is a Proverbs 31 woman. She rose early every day between 5-530a, preparing her families lunches (including mine) and getting the children and Victor off to start their days. She took my hand, shepherded me along and made sure I was safe during the significant daily commute via taxis. We sat in her kitchen sharing stories and cooking family meals just like I often did with my mom. Life is truly lived in the small things. We can travel thousands of miles, yet dinner at home, conversation around a kitchen or dining room table offers the most comfort. Her beef curry and uphuthu is so magical, it’s going to be a staple in my home too. Her delicious recipe is below.
She is also a steely woman filled with a quiet determination. After her youngest Luyanda was born, she decided not to return to working in local restaurants, rather to volunteer instead at her local church and child care center. That’s how she first came to Phakamisa to take one of their classes. She returned and did another, and helped the teacher sometimes as well. Phakamisa eventually tapped Thabisile to join their team. During her tenure as a monitor of the child care centers, she coaches students and teachers who have pursued training at Phakamisa. Phakamisa offers two education classes that build upon each other for free to women serving in the crèches (child care centers), as well as gardening, beadwork, and more for gogos (grandmothers). While excelling in her role, she also pursued her bachelor’s in education from the University of South Africa (UNISA).

Thabisile is a beautiful example of how Phakamisa’s work empowering women and lifting them up changes families at the cellular level. She’s a first-generation college graduate with her eldest following in her footsteps at UNISA. Education is the great equalizer. Phakamisa and its programs make significant strides in an educational system that is disparate.

I found family with Thabisile in Shongweni and on the streets of Pinetown. She is a fierce provider and protector, a generous mother and wife with a steely powered determination to lift her family to greater success.

In Matthew 25, the disciples asked Jesus, when did we see you hungry and offer you something to eat? When did we see you naked and offer you clothes? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in?

Thank you to Thabisile and all of our families for inviting us in. Matthew 25 is forever changed for me. Your grace and love exceeded our every expectation and in your service,, we saw Jesus.

Thab’s Bodacious Beef Curry

Carrots

Bell pepper

Onions

Broccoli

Cauliflower

Butternut squash

Stew meat

Curry powder

BBQ spice

Worcestershire sauce

Brown onion soup

Uphuthu

Cook veggies till tender. Cube and boil butternut squash separately till it can be mashed easily. Boil uphuthu and keep stirring till fluffy and all water gone.

Sauté butter, onion, pepper, add curry and BBQ spice, 1-2 tbsps each, stir fry a bit then add meat. Let meat cook until super tender and falling apart, then add brown onion soup and water.

Dish with uphuthu on bottom of bowl, side salad on one side, butternut squash on other and beef curry in middle.

My Gift from God

My Gift from God

By Leslie McCabe-Holm

This morning Sipho, whose name means Gift from God, gave us a ride into town to Pinetown United Methodist Church and Phakamisa, and the day turned out to be such a Gift from God for me.

As I prepared my heart and my soul this year for this journey to South Africa, many fears emerged. There were times that I said I just couldn’t take this trip at all. One of the worst times occurred during our “Say Yes” sermon series in the spring and as I watched online one Sunday morning, my husband asked me what the theme was and when I told him, he said that I should just say yes to South Africa. I said I didn’t know if I could.

Yet God has a way of working with us and molding us as his clay. Eventually I realized that the fears I was feeling were not my own. I often say that empathy is such a blessing, and it is also my greatest weakness. I ultimately discovered that the fears I was holding were not my own, but those of others, and it felt so freeing to release them up to God.

I began to get excited about the trip and since I had released the fear, I felt like an empty and open vessel ready to experience all that God had to fill me with in South Africa. I also had a sense that there was something–a gift, if you will–that God had prepared and was waiting for me in South Africa. That realization helped me know that I did indeed have to say yes to South Africa and with very open arms.

Arriving in South Africa I was of course taking in everything–the languages, the culture, the beauty, the hospitality. I was also looking for that gift, though. I found God present in so many ways and places. In one conversation that Vicki and I had had about my fears, she asked “Don’t you know that God is already in South Africa?!” Yes, indeed. He had been doing so much to prepare for our arrival.

This morning we arrived at Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary (SMMS) early enough to experience morning worship, which was joyful and enormous in its praise of God. Afterwards we had the opportunity to be a part of a debriefing discussion on the FEM (Field Experience Ministry*) experiences that the seminarians have been having. All students at SMMS serve in a local ministry–hospital or prison or mental health facility, etc.–and they had been feeling discouraged and burned out from the experiences. So, the session was on Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Trauma.

Compassion Fatigue we had discussed in our group preparation for this trip. Vicarious Trauma, I had never heard of, and yet it was exactly the description of what I had felt a few months ago. Tears started to roll down my face in class as I realized that I was sitting in the midst of my gift from God. There were a few slides describing these experiences, and one of the symptoms of Vicarious Trauma is intrusive imagery. Yup. That was it. More tears.

So many tears, and yet such joyful ones. God had been in South Africa preparing this experience, this PowerPoint presentation so that I could put a name to my experience and my feelings. Vicarious Trauma with intrusive imagery. The question was asked of the group “What are you feeling?” I wrote it down and answered with the word “Love.” God has wrapped his arms so tightly around me that my cup that was empty when I arrived is now overflowing with love. I pray that He will use me to embrace others with that love. I am ready to be emptied again so that he may refill it again and again and again.


Thank you, God, for this beautiful gift.

Pictures taken on the campus of Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.
By Leslie McCabe-Holm

*These FEM experiences and the course were initially set-up and designed by Doug and Cheri Roland, missionaries from Hyde Park United Methodist.

One who serves

One who serves

By Mandy Cloninger


I did not expect to add a pool of tears to the sand, salt and African dust I washed from my body.

Thabsili invited me into the bathroom to check on the water temperature, “Is it hot enough for you?”

“Of course, it’s perfect,” I said.

I then mentioned what a labor of love it was to draw me a hot bath.

Not since my mother did it, can I recall another human being taking this radical care of me.

The mama lion ushered me closely by her through the busy taxi station as we traveled home today, saying stay close. Then we piled into the taxi with about a dozen others to head home. We enjoyed seeing sugar cane, rolling hills and the South African land from the taxi and a steady conversation.

Thabsili means happy in Zulu. I was instantly drawn to her earlier in the day as we arrived at Phakamisa. She smiled as big as I did when our team arrived, and I went over to introduce myself. We laughed like school girls when I drew her name as my home host, since we were already sitting next to each other. Our goal on this mission is simple: to build relationships and make God’s love real.

Thabsili and I danced, hula hooped, sang and prayed together today as we fellowshipped and traveled as a group to South Beach and the Indian Ocean. Our two teams came together for a day of fun and spiritual celebration as brothers and sisters in Christ. Susan taught us all a bit of yoga, and we hopscotched on the sand. Roger and Tokazani showed us their dance moves, and we joined in dancing in the aisles of our boat in the Indian Ocean as we cruised around the Durban shore line. We ended our afternoon together enjoying a bit of KFC fried chicken along the South Beach.

This is the day the Lord has made, and we will rejoice and be glad in it

Our cups and our baths were filled with laughter, new experiences, and fresh friendship.

Thabsili and I have been knitted together by a love for God and serving others. She served by inviting me into her home, and there I saw Jesus washing his disciples feet.

“I am among you as one who serves,” Luke 22:27.

My bath was salty, sweet and filled with love. My hope is Thabsili’s bath will be as sweet.

News Three

News Three

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News Two

News Two

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