(from an email to my parents)
I write you in the best mood I have been in in longer than I can remember. Imagine me making a goofy face with this awkward red hat that says, "succulent salads for a song" (don't ask, cuz I don't know...the things people donate to the warehouse that they put off on me...sarcasm) and beaming from every part of me, and you will about see what is up with me today. Let me explain, if possible.
I have felt God working today in so many ways. First of all, the days started off with a frustrating prayer group (good start to the story eh) in which one of the warehouse staff expressed fear about stuff in sweet home (where the hiv support group is). She asked the question, "should I expect God to be protecting me? or what is God's role in it?" something to that extent where she admitted that she was
afraid of the prospect of rape. One of the women responded right away, "that is fear and that is a sin, so I think you just need to repent and rebuke the evil in you." I was pretty angry at that point, thinking that was about the same response that the woman from our HIV group who was raped got from the counselor-- so I thought about what response I thought God would actually give, and that I had witnessed the support group give that woman.
After a prayer time of frustration and having to sit through repenting of a very human fear, I got into an amazing conversation with a person in the warehouse where so much about my own faith and beliefs became clear. All of a sudden, I realized the problem that I have with this whole "living freely" and repenting business. Don't get me wrong, there is a place for repentance. But what is missing is
the realization of our humanity, our imperfection, and God's grace. If we are always trying to beat out evil spirits and say any fear or anger is from the devil, then we are failing to realize that we will engage in a very human battle with ourselves that drives for quick fix answers and a cycle of frustration. Jesus never comes and says, "repent of that fear. It is a sin and an evil spirit." Jesus says,
"i am here with you in that fear. My light can overcome that fear."
The fear doesn't have to be rooted out, thrown away. Fear of rape in a community plagued be rape is ok to have. It is part of being realistic, part of being human. What I realized is that God doesn't promise to rid us of fear like that and of anger that we often have-- because those things are a part of our humanity. God says that he will be with us, that the comfort can be greater than the fear, that
the fear does not have to control us. I don't know if this is making sense, but a lot more did this morning as I explained the problems I have with all of this, "god answers quickly if we listen, puts pictures in our minds, frees us of fear if we repent." I realized the power of God's love in my life-- not because I do a good job of repenting all of the time-- but because God is with me in that pain,
in that fear, in the overwhelmed feelings I have had by the hurt, the disparity, the extremes. The darkness will be here. I will hurt and I need to hurt. And God is with me in that, not telling me always to repent of my sins (though there is a need for that at times) but telling me that love will overcome. Well, anywho, email is
insufficient. Needless to say, I finally think I realized (though
this doesn't explain) what exactly grace means, and it goes way beyond
all of this evangelical stuff. And I was able to talk to the girl about it that had been vulnerable, to say that I thought God's love works in a very different way and it wasn't about some evil spirit in her, that it was about her being her and needing to feel the fear that people like the woman in sweet home must feel quite often-- and legitimately so. but also that God is with her, that she doesn't have to be paralyzed by that fear but also doesn't have to try to fight it all of the time.
Anyway, it was about the first time I have really voiced beliefs of
mine and actually felt like I really believed what I said. Not to mention great conversations about challenging our educational systems and reforming them in whole, which I would love to continue on some time...
And then we made our way to sweet home. And God was alive in that place. Asonda was beaming, her smile having returned almost more than ever before. The women wanted to read scriptures, and picked ones (in xhosa) from romans 8 and psalm 31 and on and on. Then they prayed, sang, "I am going home, to die no more, to die no more," proudly held up necklaces and bracelets they have made out of beads for me to take pictures of, laughed as I told them my name was bulumko, and shared bread and coffee with all of us, giving us big hugs as we left. For the first time in weeks, I did not feel a heaviness about it all. And I wasn't overwhelmed when they told of many of the struggles that others in the group were going through because I could feel the joy and see it in each of their eyes-- and the hope of the prayer
"sipuxolo" (give us peace). Ah, how the burden was lifted, not because the place was
void of the darkness, the pain, the struggles, but because there was a
stronger presence among it all. and the community, the honesty, the
love was there in many forms. how beautiful it was (the waterfront on
monday was nothing to all of this).
Anywho, so I feel quite alive today, even though I will not being
going to my newfound home (khayelitsha) but will be staying with craig
for a few more days (guys still on retreat). It is nice to have the
family atmosphere for a few days though, to play crazy monster games
with the three little ones (1, 4, and 6 years old).
Oh and to quickly mention: I met up with fellow UNC student Matt Craig at the waterfront this week. It was the first time I had made it in my month here to the tourist center, and after waking up to gunshots in khayelitsha that morning, I really felt like I was in two worlds in the same day. Something felt awfully wrong about the resorts and all of the flaunting wealth. I must say that I missed my khayelitsha home immediately and felt almost wrong just walking around the waterfront and then that night going to a part in constantia (rich area). It is amazing the kind of work that South Africa and America have to do. And the part we must play in that change...but today, all of that doesn't seem too overwhelming. There is hope in each smile of the women in Sweet Home today...hope is alive.