Thank you Madiba…

seed of hope

4 years ago, I walked on South African soil.  A while back, I attended an event at the Edinburgh Book Festival featuring a South African writer. A man attended who was very critical of the speaker and he was telling me all the things I should see in Johannesburg, talking of Soweto and things he’d seen and the very fancy sounding hotel he’d stayed in. He was a lovely, kind gentleman with genuine compassion for all human beings. But I think he thought that I, like him, only knew white people. The fact is, until a couple of years ago – most of the South Africans I call friends are do not share my skin colour. The man was quite shocked when I explained that I knew very few ‘white’ South Africans, but I had made several ‘black’ friends in Durban.

This week, Nelson Mandela died. I find it tough to imagine a world without him in it. I am happy he is now at peace, no longer suffering from the lung diseases/illnesses. I happened to be in Glasgow the day after, who were the first UK city to give him ‘freedom of the city’ while he was still in prison. When the Conservatives were still calling him a terrorist. There was an event where people gathered to remember him. I’ll admit that I kinda love that the street that the apartheid governing South African embassy sat on in Glasgow was renamed ‘Nelson Mandela Place’ (while apartheid was still going on I believe). That’s just a great creative way of standing up for injustice and making your point. :) On its corner, people were leaving flowers, candles etc to pay their respects.

I don’t believe that Nelson Mandela was any more perfect than any other human being. I wish there had been no militant aspect to the ANC. But more than that, I wish there had been no violence, injustice, colonialism and apartheid in the first place. I have a lot of admiration for his grace, forgiveness, humility and the way he led during the few years he was President to allow healing and create a ‘Rainbow Nation’. Without his (and others) leadership, the photo above would never exist. When I was that little girl’s age, it would have been illegal for me to be married to a person that had a different colour of skin from me in South Africa. I imagine that little girl would not have been allowed to climb into my arms every day, or the many other kids that used us as human climbing frames!

So I want to say thank you to Madiba – for the way you led in your final decades especially. I am glad I can now visit and sing Zulu songs, and be friends with who I’m friends with! May you rest in peace in a world where no one gives a crap about your background, skin colour, sexual orientation, size, age or ethnicity. I hope one day I’ll be there too.

To all my online friends from 4 years ago…and to Mama Africa…

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4 years ago, as the 8th July dawned, this was the view from my window as the plane I’d been on all night flew over the continent of Africa.

As I reflect back, one of my vivid memories, was the overwhelming amount of support I got from my online community. I remember people e-mailing me and sending me money to help fund the trip. But more than that, I remember spending a year humming and hawing and spilling out my nerves about going and everything that would be involved to get there. The main one: flying on 6 planes.

The last time I had been on a long-haul flight from Sydney to London and a young girl had got travel sick while sitting next to me. To say I flipped out would be a mild understatement. But as I sat in Edinburgh Airport I remember the tweets from friends all over the world letting me know they were praying that it wouldn’t happen again. I remember texting my wonderful friend Vicky every day – fitting all I could into the precious 150 characters so she could relay it to our smallgroup.

I remember the day the lovely Michelle let me use the internet in her home so I could leave a message on my blog – I knew lots of people wanted to know if I’d met ‘the woman in red’ and how things were going.

I met amazing people. So many friendships began in Durban. I left part of my heart in South Africa that year. It’s true what they say about ‘Mama Africa’.

So today, I want to say to my friends – the friends I made offline and the friends I made online – THANK YOU. You helped me to get South Africa and back. You helped me discover the meaning of themba.

I don’t think I could have got there without you. Those tweets, blog comments, e-mails and facebook messages those years ago meant more than the world could to me.

And South Africa — I hope I can return to you one day…

A call out to my prayer warrior friends…

This one goes out especially to everyone – my amazing twitter and blog friends – who supported me so, so much when I went out to South Africa 3 years ago.

Those of you who did, may remember how I was somewhat freakishly changed into a different team a few weeks before I headed out, and ended up in the same church as woman who had invited me to come out to visit pregnancy crisis centres in South Africa a year before.

I was finally able to meet Gail during my last hours in Durban. We have kept in touch through facebook and e-mail since.

I found out this week, that they’ve found a tumour on Gail’s brain. It’s been causing a number of problems for her, and doctors will be performing surgery in attempt to remove this tumour on 8th Jan.

Her daughter is writing a blog to keep everyone updated here.

For those of you who do pray – please would you join me in praying for Gail?

-for peace for her and for her family

-for protection from complications

-for wisdom and skill from the medical team performing surgery and treating her

-for complete healing

Thanks everyone xx

The story behind the ink…

I realise a few people have not pieced together the what or why of my tattoo. On Tuesday evening I was at my friends’ home having dinner and we were reflecting on where life has taken us over the last 5 years. We were talking about the tattoo, as I had shown my friends Kathy & Vicky the design on my birthday. They know the journey because they were my sisters who supported me through it.

It all began 3 years ago.

I was down at a church in Watford with about 300 others to get our training and team building for going to South Africa a few months later. At the time, I had an infection in my gum which was causing my jaw to freeze or click out of place a lot. Near the end of the day, a guy felt God was saying to him that a few of us needed to be specially commissioned to for our trip, and one of those people had a problem with their jaw, and it had stemmed from a gum infection on bottom left molar.

Pretty specific. And no way I could deny I fitted the description.

I went forward, and some women prayed for me, and as soon as they begun praying I fell back onto the floor. No one pushed me, I hadn’t fainted and I hadn’t done it voluntarily!

While on the floor I had a vision of a woman wearing red, I sensed she was south African, and heard a word. I assumed it was a name at the time. (I later googled it, but I’d spelled it wrongly!)

Over the next few months, every obstacle believable stopped me from getting South Africa. To the point where my Mum said to me ‘There’s so much going wrong, maybe it’s a sign you shouldn’t be going, maybe if you go you’re going to get killed or raped or something’. 

To list the ones I remember: My passport application being denied 3 times (because of the photos), my payment not going through as my references got lost in transit, almost being denied a place because of food allergies, my team host getting ill so my original team had nowhere to go, getting a sinus infection and not  being able to get my second set of vaccines when I was supposed to, extra bills and debts…Even the day before we departed there had been a terrorist alert and Edinburgh airport had been shut for several hours. Oh, yeah, and finding out that my Dad was in court and could go to prison while I was in South Africa.

But I got there. And it turned out God had reasons for some of it.

On our second day while in the minibus during our orientation, I asked Calvin (an intern in the church) and Ntuks (a young pastor) if they knew anyone in with this name or if it was a word they knew.

Do you mean themba?‘ they asked

I said I guess that’s what I meant.

It’s a Zulu word – it means faith or hope or love’.

I was floored.

On Day 7 I injured my knee, and on Day 8 I was hopping around the Seed of Hope centre and was struggling to join in as we taught a song that became the kids favourite. The premise of the song is based around the story of Noah and the ark, and how to show God’s promised convenant with his people he puts a rainbow across the sky.

That day we came out, to find a rainbow across Bhekuwandle.

The next day, I met my woman in red.

At the time the blog readers who knew the story from March were leaving me tweets and comments about whether I’d met ‘the woman in red’ yet. So I was relieved she did exist! And that what I shared with her was an answer to something she had been praying about for a while.

After that, I wanted to remember what God did that year. Not only in asking me to trust Him that I was meant to go to South Africa, but the fact that I have no other explanation how a woman who had no knowledge of Zulu language could fall the ground, hear a random word, it turn out to be quite  a poignant meaning and in Zulu and be told something and see someone in a vision who she’d never met before then meet her 4 months later in another country.

It was bizarre.

And I wanted to remember.

Because there are days when I question my beliefs and think I’m totally mad. There are days when I wonder if God exists, then where the heck is He? (I actually think Kevin Bridges theory on this at 8:16 is more accurate than he maybe realises). Shitty things happen in life and I have no answers for why one person dies tragically and someone else experiences a medical miracle or by chance ends up not being in the plane they should have been on that crashed.

I just know there is always, always hope that good will come out of the crap.

I trust in that.

An extra bit to this story that made me feel a little bit emotional when I went to get my inking done is that on Tuesday evening, a friend of mine – in fact one of the people who supported me in getting to South Africa those years ago – text me to say that her friend’s daughter had died very suddenly with no explanation to why.

It’s difficult to trust in faith, hope or love when you hear news like that.

But I’ve seen the resilience that themba brings to people who have faced unimaginable pain and heartbreak.

And so now, I’ll always be reminded.

Even when I don’t want to be reminded – it’ll still be there.

Inked on my skin.

Trust. Hope. Faith. Love.

Themba.

 

Mirriam House needs our help

South Africa.

A country that has a lot to teach us. A country full of stories that should never be forgotten. A country of huge contrasts. A rainbow nation. A place where God proclaims hope – and reminds us with rainbows over townships that His promises are true.

Have a number of friends who have relocated to South Africa to live in community with the people there, and one of those is Caroline, her husband and their sons (I haven’t met Blake yet mind you – hoping that may happen in September?). Caroline, Mark and Asher met Mirriam who has taken in kids and brought them into her family at a wonderful place called ‘Mirriam’s House’.

Mirriam’s House burned down the other night. They lost their home, their belongings, but even more sadly they lost one of their own. There’s more information on Caroline’s blog about what happened here.

They need our help.

Mirriam and all the people in the Mirriam’s House family – they are our brothers and sisters.

Do you have 2 coats? Can you give one of them away to someone with none?

I’ve copied this off Caroline’s blog – but here are some of the ways you can help Mirriam and the kids rebuild & restore.

First, {if you’re the praying kind} please pray for Mirriam and the kids as they make it through this tragic ordeal.

Second, please think about how you can give.

Mirriam and the children have been overwhelmed with donations in the form of goods, and financial gifts are one of their primary needs at the moment.

I’ve created a GivenGain page for Mirriam House, so you can give online right here to help.

If you are in South Africa and would like to donate food, clothing, building materials, or any of the other previously mentioned needs, please contact info@thegrapecommunity.org.za or leave a comment if you would like more details.

If you are in South Africa and would like to make a financial contribution through a bank transfer rather than by giving online, these are the Mirriam House banking details: Mirriam House — TGC Community, FNB Cheque – 62261357571, Branch code – 200110.

Third, you can tell this story. Share it on Facebook. Tweet it on Twitter. Forward it to your contact list.

A seed of hope & fear

I think for a lot of my blog readers who prayed, encouraged and supported me on my journey to South Africa in 2009, the above photo is the one that most remember. I wonder what people see as they look at it. I know that every time photos are put on the Seed of Hope facebook page, I search for the little girl (whose name I won’t disclose here) in the pictures. I wonder about her family, how she is doing and remember her mischievous spunky personality hidden behind a great deal of shyness and timidity. I remember that day so clearly – it was Wednesday, the day after I’d injured my knee. It was one of the days I was feeling poorly (and I know I can tell from the photo!). It was the day that the Soul Survivor team came to visit our project, and the day we were singing and dancing to the Hillsong Kids song Rainbow – and we came out to see a rainbow across Bhekuwandle and the other surrounding townships.

A few weeks ago, it was my turn to be prayed for by my inter:act peers, and I shared about how I felt that my time in South Africa was not done.

However, I know that there are many obstacles in my way. Things tying me to Scotland – like increasing student debt, my loyalty to the work of the pregnancy centres here, my flat and a lack of funding. There are other things too – the fear that I would not have much needed support from the church here. The fear of going on a plane (never mind 3!!) again. The fear of going alone. The memory of how sick and ill I felt throughout my 2 weeks in Durban last summer. Even without pulling knee tendons or scraping my leg across a playground :)

And yet, I can’t get the memory of the visions revealed to me, the ‘coincidences’ that happened in the 2008/09 period, and today an e-mail landed in my inbox which caused both hope & fear rise up in me!

In 2007, I found Australian soil. In 2008 I stayed in the UK. In 2009 I found South African soil. In 2010 I stayed in the UK.

It makes me wonder what soil my feet may walk on in 2011…

South Africa in my soul

One year ago today, I was saying goodbye to many friends, including the best roommate a girl could ask for, Ruky.

One year ago today, I was meeting with Gail, the director of a network of pregnancy resource centres across Africa in Durban Airport.

One year ago today, I was feeling horrendous and was beginning my 3-plane journey back from South Africa to Scotland.

One year ago today, I left a huge chunk of my heart in South Africa.

Yesterday, I booked my appointment with a nurse to get my 1-year booster of the Hepatitis A/B vaccine. I can’t believe how fast this last year has gone by. Over the last few months, South Africa has been on my mind increasingly more and more. I simply cannot escape it.

It had been a while since I’d watched this video – the one that spurred me on to SEND my application to be part of Soul in the City, having been part of something similar in Manchester in 2003.

Brett has it right…the people, the children especially….they get into your heart and soul. And you just never want to leave.

I don’t know if this will ever happen…but…I’m definitely open to it.

The Albertines

Do you ever get to the end of a week, look back and think….Did that really all happen?

It’s funny to think that a year ago, I was watching for news on my father daily while half my family were in another country, and I was fighting the passport office to please just accept my photos for my replacement passport and cursing whoever it was that broke into the safe where my passport was stolen in Cairns 2 years prior. Wondering if I’d ever get to South Africa. Had I just misheard it all?

And I wonder how this little one is doing…

I wonder what’s happening with the young people I used to work with in Stonehaven, Johnshaven, Inverbervie and Aberdeen. I wonder about the girls in the Brownie & Girl Guide groups I used to lead a decade ago in some cases. The girls and boys I helped teach dance to. The folks in high schools I’ve visited as a Youth Worker, Community Learning Worker, SU group leader, Pregnancy Crisis Advisor…

It’s so lovely the difference that social networking resources have made to help with some of those things. It’s lovely to see photos of things that have continued to happen out there. Just the other week, the intern at the church in ‘Toti was chatting to me on facebook asking when I was coming back to Durban, and talking about the after effects of our visit there last summer during Soul in the City.

There’s so much that I’ve seen and experienced in my short 26 years so far.

And as I’m wondering what the next steps are, as I try and get our organisation to a firm foundation (either for me to be able to stay on, or to move on and (hopefully) have someone take my place), I was reminded last night of little seeds planted by a mentor and a pastor back 3 years ago, not long after I moved to Edinburgh.

Anyway, tonight I downloaded this song off iTunes because it was playing on my heart…I know exactly what Brooke Fraser means as she is singing these words…

What a difference a week can make…

So I had my first week off from work of 2010. It’s been tough to find some time to take off, but the Easter holidays gave me an opportunity as we don’t have any training sessions to run during the school holidays, and we were finally finished with schools work. Usually I go totally insane during a week off work when I’m stuck in Edinburgh so I was a little anxious…I feared I’d be running back to the pregnancy crisis centre by Tuesday.

This time it didn’t happen.

We’ve been blessed with some gorgeous sunny weather. A couple of days this week, it’s been even a little bit warm! Now, my standards of ‘warm’ are fairly high compared to most Scots so know that I’ve been wearing my cropped jeans a lot this week. It hasn’t been warm enough for flip flops though.

And it turns out I’m thankful that I can’t afford to go on holiday anywhere because I surely would have gotten stranded thanks to a volcano in Iceland that has created havoc in the aerospace of most of Europe. Friends in Aberdeen came out to find their car coated in a film of volcanic ash the other day. Others have been unable to get to destinations for holidays, trips home and so on. Uncool. But better than being in a plane crash.

But most importantly it’s been a week to regroup. I’ve been able to get started on ‘the secret project’, and I couldn’t have asked for better circumstances to be doing that in. I’ve been able to catch up with friends old and new…I really should buy some shares in Starbucks or something! I’ve even had the chance to read, finally finishing Stripped: Uncensored Grace on the streets of Las Vegas by Jud Wilhite (a fantastic read!) and finally got around to starting an Alexander McCall Smith book I got for my birthday last year and finishing a book by Rob Bell.

I’ve had the chance to sit back, watch and listen.

And it’s been lovely.

One of the most lovely things for me this week has been reading my good friend, Caroline’s blog. Remember when I introduced you to Caroline, Mark and ‘the Bear’? Well…this week they did the first of the Samaritan’s Feet shoe distributions. Go check out some of Caroline’s photos & stories…it will warm your heart.

And make me yearn for South African soil… :)

Faith, hope, love & tattoos

I was twittering away to Keepfishing about tattoos earlier today. He confessed to the blog world he wanted to get one almost 2 years ago.

I’ve been debating the tattoo thing for a while now – probably not long after I came back from Australia. I probably would have gotten one back then if it hadn’t been that another scar was in the pipeline when I had a wee bit of a skin cancer scare & had to get a mole on my stomach removed.

I kinda like scars. Scars tell a story. Scars can remind us of things which are important.

I now know what I want my tattoo to be about – South Africa – there was an important word God shared with me 1 year ago as I lay on a floor in Watford…I didn’t find out until my second day in South Africa if it was a real word, but it turned out to be a very significant word in the language of Zulu.

And I want to be reminded of that forever.

My only question now is the design and where to get the tattoo.

For sure I want it small (if only for the fact that’s less time with needles, thank you) and somewhere you can see it, but also cover it up if I want to.

Someone did say to me ‘You know if you get a tattoo, it’ll be there forever

And I replied ‘Yes, that’s the point

So…any decent artists/designers out there, or people got suggestions of where to get it done?