Friday, July 13, 2012

Home sweet home

"It's a funny thing about coming home, looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You realized what's changed is you." ~Benjamin Button.
After nearly 20 hours in airplanes we finally landed safe and sound at Raleigh-Durham airport. This was likely the last time all 11 members of team Namibia 2012 would be together in the same place. We were met by Morgan, Parker and Brook's families who greeted us with balloons and signs. After saying goodbye to Brook and Parker we loaded up the Taylor's trailer with the remaining bags and drove over to the Knight's house. From there we would all go our own separate ways: Lauren, Meghan and Katie back to Michigan and Jes, Jill and me back to Charlotte.

As we step back into the lives we left behind, everything is so familiar, but something seems different. Over the next few weeks we'll reconnect with friends, remember our old routines, re-acculturate to our American lives. But the thing that's different is us. Our two weeks in Africa has left an indelible mark on our lives, for some more deeply than for others, but a mark nonetheless. To all our friends back home, I encourage you, challenge you, to please ask us about our trip. We need you to ask and to keep asking as we process all the things that took place these last few weeks. You play a key part in helping us solidify in our minds and communicate the things that God has done during this trip. Be patient with us, but don't think that one conversation is enough either.

Thank you so much for following our adventure these last two weeks. Thanks for all the encouraging comments. And thanks so much for all your prayers and support. I know I keep saying this, but we truly could not have done this trip without you! If following the blog has given you an itch to go yourself, then keep in touch with Fred and Linda because there's sure to be more teams in the future. But for now, I'm signing off for Namibia 2012. Until next time...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lions and monkeys and bats, Oh My!

On Sunday night the tone of our trip took a turn. Having said all our goodbyes we transitioned from a ministry mindset to thinking homeward. During the next few days we would reflect on our time in Arandis and start thinking again about the lives we will return to back home. Monday morning we set out for Okahandja where we would spend the next days debriefing. Okahandja is home to a few wood carvers markets where we were able to do some souvenir shopping. From there some of us took a quick swim in the nearby reservoir to cool off before heading up to Monkey Mountain for sunset. Make sure to ask the girls about their interesting 2am wake-up call at our new accommodations. I’ll give you a hint: it’s nocturnal, has two wings and rhymes with ‘fat.’

Tuesday morning we were up and out early for our game drive at Erindi Game Reserve. We purposefully saved our touristy activities for the end of our trip as we’re transitioning back to our American lives. We were able to see a large variety of game animals including kudu, oryx, wildebeest, water buck, steenbok, warthogs, giraffe, baboons, and more. There were hippos and crocodiles at one watering hole. But our highlight of the day was finding a recent lion kill. The guide said there were 2 lionesses and 3 cubs nearby, but we only saw one lioness up close and personal. The rest, he said, were hiding in the bush watching us from a safe place where we couldn’t see them.

For our last night we went out to eat at one of my favorite restaurants, Joe’s Beerhouse. There we were treated to some true southern African dining. Some enjoyed kudu, oryx, or zebra steaks while others opted for the variety of a Bushman’s sosatie (a kebab that included kudu, zebra, crocodile, ostrich, and chicken). Katie and Jill were really craving some American-style dishes but we talked them into getting some African game meat instead. Everyone enjoyed their cultural meals and we headed home with full stomachs and full hearts. Knowing we would need to be up early for our ride to the airport some went to bed early. Others, knowing it was our last night in Namibia together, took advantage of late night hot cocoa and conversations.

Morning came too soon for most, but we packed up the kombies with all our gear and headed off to the airport. As we walked across the tarmac to the plane we breathed in our last Namibian air and waved goodbye to the nation that had been our home these past two weeks. Some are anxious to get home while others are sad to leave. But every season comes to an end, and for us, the end of this season is almost here. Our two hour flight to Johannesburg was uneventful and now we’re relaxing during our 6-hour layover in South Africa. By this time tomorrow we’ll be back on American soil. Please pray for safety in our travels. See you soon!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Weekend Fun

Friday the clouds had rolled in from the coast and it was the coldest day we’ve experienced so far. It was our final day in the schools and to finish the painting. But mostly Friday was spent looking forward to the Open Stage night in the evening. We had prayed for the weather to warm up because the performance was to be held outside at the amphitheater, but God had other plans. So we all layered up in multiple sweatshirts and bundled up in our sleeping bags to brave the cold evening. There were dance performances from all the different age groups, the youth group, and a special dance which Lauren choreographed for her, Jes and Pearl. There were raps, songs, and dramas, including our two which got the crowds roaring. The whole evening was a blast and Jes and Lauren felt like proud moms watching all the dancers performing on stage. It was a great finale to all we’ve been doing all week.

Saturday was our tourist day in Swakop. We drove the 30 minutes down to the coastal town for shopping, swimming, sandboarding and more. Katie and Parker were the only two willing to brave the cold waters of the southeast Atlantic. But everyone took a turn at bartering with the local woodcarvers and at sandboarding. Meghan and Parker tried the stand-up boarding which is much like snowboarding, while all the others tried the lie-down boarding which is more like sledding. Everyone had a great time going down reaching speeds up to 75 km/hr (Jill held the record), though the hike back up the dune proved quite the workout. At the end of the day everyone had a great time despite the sand in places they didn’t even know they had places!

Sunday was our day to say goodbye. We went to church one last time where we saw many of the children in Sunday School. Lauren, Jes and Pearl performed their dance once again during the service. The afternoon was our final chance to hang out with our new friends for the last time. In the evening we led youth group. Parker organized some big group games which everyone loved. Then I led in some worship songs which only some of the group seemed to know. Seems I need to work on my repertoire of Afrikaans songs! For the lesson we talked about how God makes all things new. Not only does He restore all things at the end of time, but He begins that restoration in our lives today! Parker then shared his testimony as a powerful, concrete example of that very truth. He had many of the youth coming to him afterward asking questions and it was evident that his story paralleled many of their own. After youth group we stayed for quite some time exchanging email addresses, getting photos with people, and saying our last goodbyes. It will be sad to leave, but for those who have the sand in their blood, it’s not “goodbye,” it’s “until next time.”

Friday, July 6, 2012

What time is it?!

Those who have been helping in the preschool have discovered their new favorite time of day: Hug Time! It's when all the children go around and hug their friends. When it's early in the morning and the temperature is chilly outside, hug time is sure to bring a smile to even the sleepiest, coldest teacher.

On Thursday morning Parker was recruited to help with some surveying work so Katie stepped in to help at the preschool. She had heard all about it from the others and wanted to get a taste for her herself. Meanwhile, Fred and Lauren did a great job finishing up painting the fence and trim at this house. They will finish up painting the blue house on Friday. This may seem like a menial task, but there is no underestimating how it feels to come home to a house that looks new instead of looking poor and run down. Also, we serve as if we're serving the Lord and not men, so even painting a fence or drawing a survey line or organizing a closet is done for His glory.

Our afternoons continue to be a mixture of homework, play and dance. Jes and Lauren keep working with the different age dance classes. The rest of us go to the ministry homes to help the kids with their homework. After homework is done we take a ball out in the street and kids come out of the woodwork to play. Once the sun set it started getting cold so we headed home for dinner.

One of the American volunteers who is teaching here for the year, Anna, joined us for dinner with a special Namibian treat, mopane worms! We fried them up for dinner (although the American chefs overcooked them) and everyone tried at least one. The facial expressions were priceless as you can see! Anna also brought a delicious chocolate cake for dessert (which we are quite glad Katie didn't throw up on). After dinner we had the dress rehearsals for our skits for the Open Stage Night. We're quite excited for them and are sure that we'll have the whole amphitheater rolling with laughter.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


[Guest post by Lauren]

Today, Meghan discovered that one of her preschoolers did not know the word for “cloud.” In the desert, clouds are rare—and yet, we have now had clouds two days in a row. I also wore my sweatshirt most of the day, remembering how just a few months ago, these “cool” temperatures were a sign of incoming summer and called for t-shirts, not midwinter weather calling for coats.

I now have minor paint splatters on my sweatshirt: permanent reminders of my projects here. The blue house is now mostly done, so Katie and I started (and nearly finished) the brown fence next door. Painting is peaceful. It has a simple rhythm and easy pace, with satisfying results. In the afternoon I have been getting my people fix: hanging out with the team and going to pastor’s for dance class with Pearl. I’m coming to love the kids and teens who come to her classes. They do not have the resources or opportunities that I did dancing in the states, but they put so much heart and passion into their dancing.

Last night, Pearl and another girl, Connie, taught Jess, me, and a couple other American girls their step dance. It involves a lot of stamping and clapping and singing. It took some practice, but with repetition and patience, we’ve managed to figure it out enough to join in the group for Friday’s performance.

Friday’s performance seems to be growing. In addition to Pearl’s dance teams, the kids’ skits, and our dance with Pearl, our team has agreed to put on two skits, fondly nicknamed “The Motorcycle Gang” and “The Movie Theater.” Both star Parker and Mike in the lead comedic roles; both will hopefully earn at least as many, if not more, giggles than our Broadway-worthy Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego skit from last Monday’s school assembly.

God continues to be good to us. During our debrief team time we’ve been blessed to have solid worship time and good discussion. As we pray for each other and encourage one another, we grow closer together and (hopefully) closer to God. Thanks again for your continued prayers!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Small Things with Great Love

Our Tuesday schedule finally provided a bit of familiarity. Jes and Jill were up early for a beautiful sunrise and off to school to assist the 4th-6th graders. Starting Wednesday they will take over for the teachers of those grades who have to be out of town. They’ve asked me to teach Religion class for them, then they’ll teach everything else…except maybe Afrikaans!

Parker, Brook, Morgan and Meghan will continue assisting the 4 preschool classes all this week. It seems they had forgotten how much fun preschool was: singing fun songs, games, snack time, recess, circling P’s in the newspaper, talking about bread, and everyone’s favorite time of day…HUG TIME! Their game for this morning was to blindfold different kids and have them search for a ball while the rest of their team shouted directions to them. When it was the teachers turn to be blindfolded our team members pulled one over on them and had Parker hold the ball in his hand the whole time.

Fred, Lauren, and Katie have made great progress on the fence repair and painting at the ministry homes. The part they have completed is now the brightest fence on the whole street! Linda has been teaching the devotional story at the preschool in the morning, then helping organize the ministry store. The mommies of the ministry families came yesterday to “shop” for items they need for their children. Meghan already noticed an old pair of her shoes on the feet of one of the children!

After lunch we spend our time in the ministry homes or at the school helping students with their homework or review of what they learned in school that day. After homework it’s time for fun! We head out to the yard or the street to play games of soccer, throw a football, or some other game they teach us. The Namibian adults stop in their tracks and watch the novelty of us playing with kids. Here adults don’t play with kids. It may sound like just fun and games for us, but it’s truly a ministry. It helps overcome old apartheid barriers and gives the kids positive role models. They learn character and social skills from how they play together, so we hope to be good examples of playing well.

Once the sun starts to go down and the cold begins to set in we know it’s time to head home for supper and team time. We gather together each evening to worship together, read blog comments, and reflect on the events of the day and what God has been teaching us. Then we close the day by praying for each other. Bedtime comes earlier these days because of our early mornings, but that’s good because it ensures we’ll have the energy for whatever tomorrow may bring.

And lastly I'll give a quick plug for the photo album. We've been uploading lots of pics for you to see what we've been up to so click on the Photo Album link in the right column to check them out!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Back to School, Dancing to the Beat

[Guest post by Lauren]

The morning was surprisingly cool—after less than a week here, we’ve already take for granted that the days will be sunny and hot, often forgetting that it’s winter. We piled out of the kombie and filed into the preschool’s yard to wait for the kids to line up for assembly. With permission from a teacher, we wandered through the classrooms in the grade school buildings, hugging the kids we recognized (and a few we didn’t) before going back to the yard to lead song and Bible story time.

After a bit, the kids finished lining up in the yard, organized by class: the tiniest preschoolers, who barely speak English, on one end, and the grade six students on the other. Mike strummed a chord on his guitar, launching us into “Every Move I Make,” motions and all.

In roughly twenty minutes, we led four fun songs with motions and delivered a dramatic (or as Parker enthusiastically described it, “corny,”) reenactment of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. Despite our questionable historical accuracy, we earned giggles from the kids and had fun pretending to be golden statues, deadly fires, and royal sovereigns. From there we scattered to our various projects for the week: Jes and Jill to classroom shadowing; Parker, Brook, Morgan, and Meghan to the preschool classrooms to assist the teachers; Mike to blog posting and teaching a Bible lesson; Linda to sort donated clothing; and Fred, Katie, and I to do fence repair and repainting.

Our time in Namibia has both moved slowly, ambling from projects to soda/ice cream/bread runs to soccer with the kids, and very fast, powering through our short time in Arandis. Post-dinner debriefs have ensured bonding on our team and simply paying attention to them has ensured the love of both the majority of the town’s kids and the neighbor’s big dog. In so many ways, two weeks feels too short a time to spend in this place.

Personally, I know I wish for more time to develop the growing friendships and work on more projects. My current project is repainting the fences and accent trim on a couple of houses in town—a project that suits me better than keeping track of twenty-plus three-and-four-year-olds. But when I am not there, I am with the pastor’s daughter, Pearl. She leads dance classes for a range of ages, from preschool to high school aged kids. Jes and I have gone to har classes almost every day, helping with warm up, teaching a few simple ballet movements, and enjoying Pearl’s company. She does not have the formal ballet training that Jes and I both do, but she moves with a beautiful, flowing rhythm and dedicated sense of worship in dance that puts me in awe every time I see her move. She teaches her kids with a sweet gentleness that they all love. She really is a special woman of God.

This coming Friday, Pearl will host an “open stage night” and, on impulse, I suggested that she join Jes and me in a special dance that we would make up ourselves. So since Saturday, Jes and I have been giving crash courses in ballet and developing our own strange mixture of choreography. So far I am excited by what we have developed. Two former ballet dancers years removed from their training and an African dancer with no classical background make a unique set of partners—and I love all of it.

I can’t tell you yet what Africa has been teaching me. Nor could I tell you if the sand has “gotten in my blood.” All I know is that we all—our whole team—were brought here by God. Thank you so much for your continued prayers. We all love to hear your comments after you’ve read a blog post (one of the highlights of evening debrief!), so again, thank you for everything.