Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Joys of Studying With My African Sisters and Brothers, Contextual Bible Study, HIV and AIDS, Empowerment, and Abba

“Bayete, Bayete Inkosi, Bayete, King of Kings, Bayete, Bayete Inkosi (singing),” ☺

I just came back from a chapel service with a group of Lutheran students from all over the continent of Africa. How awesome it is to fellowship with brothers and sisters! For the last week and a half I have been at the University of KwaZulu-Natal School of Theology studying with people from all over the continent of Africa. Today I listened to a South African Indian woman present her research about the indentured servitude of Indians to South Africa in 1860 from India and current implications for working women in the context of a patriarchal Indian society. I listened to a man from Burundi speak about how the Pentecostal church needs to stop focusing so much on prosperity, but needs to focus on assisting with social issues in the community such as HIV and AIDS. I listened to a man from Tanzania speak about the importance and helpfulness of organic farming in rural areas. In my African Woman’s Theology class I listened to African women and men share their stories of polygamy, domestic violence, patriarchy, motherhood, education, being refugees, strong mothers and so many other realities in their context. I walk around and I see brown faces, black faces, white faces. It’s interesting because not so long ago White, Indian, Colored, and Black people had to attend separate colleges because of the color of their skin (only 17 years ago). But, now you see people of all ethnicities sitting in the same classroom. Reminds me of Dr. King’s dream. However, the interesting thing for me is that after the class ends you see a division of race very clearly. The Indians are together, Whites together; South Africans together, then foreigners are together (people from other African countries). This makes me think about Beverly Tatum’s book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race.”

I feel very blessed to have this experience. I have been focusing a lot on how to put into practice something called contextual bible study. This is where bible stories are used to actually help people dig deeper into certain societal issues and in turn used as a tool of liberation for people living in intense situations. The bible story is presented in a way that the community can work to make meaning and interpret the story in their own way. The text is then used to dig deeper into societal issues, and also used as a call to action in many cases. I have been focusing a lot on the text of 2 Samuel 13: 1-22. This is the text of Tamar, David’s daughter, who was raped by her brother Amnon. The abuse happened in her own home. The focus of the text is sexual violence and incest, but it is also focused on Tamar’s courage. In the midst of everything Tamar in 2 Samuel 13: 12 did say “NO”! And even after her rape she did all that she could in that context to embrace courage and strength in the midst of be violated. It is texts such as these that I hope to bring to communities to assist them in engaging more about societal and communal issues, while also working to provide tools for liberation and healing.

One of the very empowering women I met this week is doing this good work with people living with HIV and AIDS. She told me that 5 of her siblings died from complications, which came from AIDS. She is now raising 6 of their children. Sometimes I wonder how and why we are called to do certain work. Today I shared my story of sexual violence with Maria who is doing lots of work with contextual bible studies and gender based violence. I told her that before seminary I used to say, “what the devil meant for evil God meant for God.” However, my theological training has caused me to question what this really means. She encouraged me to remember who God is for me. And noted that throughout her life the experiences that she thought were going to take her out is what actually drives her in the work that she does now. Those bad experiences, those bad relationships, those rough times actually allow her to be able to minister and serve the way that God has called her to. So today, I embrace again, “WHAT THE DEVIL MEANT FOR EVIL GOD MEANT FOR GOOD!” Hi-FIVE! ☺

Sometimes I think about my life and I am like, “God, really, what’s going on? Why am I here? What are you preparing me for?” But, then I stop over analyzing and I realize just how good God is. My professor here often talks about my Pentecostal background and my faith in God. I told her 2 years ago that I was going to come to South Africa for the summer and that I believed God. 2 years later, she couldn’t believe that I actually made it here. This week I did not have a ride to go visit an AIDS clinic I wanted to visit. I told my professor that it would all work out. Last night I met a student who agreed to drive me to the clinic, and she actually knew already where it was in this rural area of the country. Today my professor stated, “I wish I had your faith.” She stated, “I am a liberalist, but I wish I had your faith.” The bible says that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed it can move mountains. If we believe, if we truly believe in God and in the gifts that God has given us in our own uniqueness we can go anywhere, we can do anything, we can accomplish anything. Now, I am not saying that I never doubt. We are all human. But, what I am saying is when you believe, have faith, and trust in something beyond yourself the unthinkable, unimaginable can happen.

I have approximately 2 more weeks left in South Africa. It is quite hard to believe that time is flying by so fast. I am making friends. I am seeing new things. I am hearing so many African languages daily. I am seeing the beauty of Africa and it’s people. I am seeing the beauty of intelligence and the privilege of education. I am seeing a history of people who have been oppressed and who have also been liberated in a sense. I am seeing and reading the Bible in a new, liberating way. I am seeing really how good God is. This week for the first time in my life, while in prayer I unconsciously started calling God, Abba (Aramaic word for daddy, papa). I am grateful.

Tomorrow I will be going to visit a hospital called the Don McKenzie Hospital located in the Valley of 1000 Hills. This place serves a lot of people with Tuberculosis, HIV, and AIDS. KwaZulu-Natal has the highest rates of HIV and AIDS in the entire world. How intense is that! I will be visiting the hospital with a group of New York University Public Health Students. I hope to also go to this place that still preserves traditional Zulu culture. I’m going to a funeral on Saturday, another contextual bible study, then to a local church on Sunday. Next week I have class, will visit another HIV and AIDS org, the World Methodist Conference, another day with Ms. Ela Gandhi and the Gandhi Development Trust, then off to Cape Town, South Africa to spend 5 days with Sivan! Life is Good! Dare to Dream! PLEASE.


Argrow "Kit"

PS: I have not been taking as many pictures because I have been around people and often don’t want to seem like the tourist on campus taking pictures of daily behavior! :-p My mother turned 61 last Sunday! I do miss my family and friends. But technology is the best! The lizard in my bathroom had to be captured by the maintenance man who helped me! The lizard and I were not good roommates! Until next time...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

On meeting Ela Gandhi, the Secret, and Reflections on South Africa

A couple of days ago I was blessed with the opportunity to meet and spend most of the day volunteering with Ela Gandhi. Ms. Gandhi is the granddaughter of Muhatma Gandhi. I also met and spoke with her son Kidar and others from the Gandhi Development Trust. Peace radiated from Ms. Gandhi. She was calm, cool, and seemed to extend the same peace to the politicians, volunteers, adults, and school children alike. I asked Ms. Gandhi, “What is the secret to embracing peace the way you do?” She smiled at me and noted, “Peace is something that lives within you. It is something that we are born with.” I smiled. You know what? In actuality she is right. So many times I believe we think we have to be a certain way in society to be accepted, to get ahead, to live, to function in the world. But, the reality is in a sense the light of peace is already inside of us, we just have to tap into it.

Today I watched a movie called the Secret. The movie was quite inspiring to me. It talked about the law of attraction. Whatever energy you focus on or envision is what will actually be manifested in your life. If I believe that I will never live my dream then it will never come true. But if I see my vision, if I believe it, and act on it eventually these things will come to a reality. I do believe this is true. The same goes for the peace that Ms. Gandhi spoke about. Peace, joy, happiness is inside of us and does surround us, we just need to identify it as such, hold on to it and not allow the abundance of negative or hurtful thinking to consume our thoughts. If we do, negativity is what will manifest. I’m creating me a mobile vision list/wall today. These things will come true. I know they will.

I am now at the University of KwaZulu Natal School of Theology in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. I came here to study a model of bible study called contextual bible study. More specifically they have a curriculum called the Tamar Campaign which focuses on using bible stories to focus on liberating people who have experienced gender based violence. They also have a program using the bible as a tool of liberation for people living with HIV and AIDS. On Saturday I will go into a local community to see how this curriculum is put into practice. I start auditing classes on Monday. I am meeting so many students from across the continent: Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the list goes on. It’s so interesting because though we are all from such different contexts we have so many similarities.

I have a comfortable little apartment here. Other than the fact that I saw a little gecko lizard friend in the bathroom today, I am comfortable. Sometimes, I hear some noises at night which wake me, but praise God that I am always able to go back to sleep. I haven’t ventured out as much here as of yet. But, I hope to explore some sights this weekend. I also hope to visit an HIV and AIDS hospice that is close by in a more rural area.

You know I often wonder what this life is about. I really am learning that life really is about understanding what you love and tapping into those things. Eventually, we can use these things to not only allow us to live a happy life on purpose, but we can also use these things that we enjoy as resources to serve others.

I have been having a lot of conversation with other folk about South African soap operas. There is one soap that comes on every week night at 8:00pm called GENERATION. This soap talks about so many real life issues, while also keeping the drama to keep the audience engaged. The topics go from HIV and AIDS, homosexuality, drugs, domestic violence, etc. One young lady told me that its actually a conversation starter in her home. The family speaks about these issues when the soaps are on. But, when they go off the conversation ends! Very interesting. I wonder what it would be like if we had such soaps in America. Instead of reality television, wouldn’t it be nice to have programming that is entertaining, yet socially informative assisting people with consciousness and social change. Whatever happened to this kind of programming? I remember it once existed on BET when I was a young girl. What’s up now ya’ll?! Maybe one day… oooohh America!

When I’m walking down the street most people think I am from the area and speak Zulu to me. Until I open my mouth and my North Carolinian accent comes out with a smile! I wish I could speak Zulu. The interesting thing is everywhere I have went there has been a different language spoken. There are so many tribal groups and languages here. In Giyani there was Tsonga, in Joburg there was Xhosa, in Durban there was Zulu. There is much beauty in these native tongues. Maybe one day I will be more engaged in African languages. The languages are quite beautiful and a few of them (i.e. Zulu and Xhosa) have a distinctive clicking of the tongue. I have yet to master this (fyi: the children laugh at me when I try! Lol). But, at least I try.

God is good ya’ll. Really! If you ever have dreamed of doing something in your life do not let anyone tell you that you can’t. If God put it into your spirit to dream it, to think it, then you can live it! See it, believe it, and act on it!

In Peace- Kit

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Durban, South Africa

You know. When I write these blogs I usually am thinking of what is it that I need to say that’s deep, but what I need to do is just write so here we go! I have been in Durban, South Africa this week and it is quite a beautiful place. There are beaches, palm trees, good food, lots to do, and also some beautiful people. This is the place where the World Cup took place last year and I often hear stories from local people about how great that experience was! It is winter in South Africa now, so I have been going to bed with my 3 shirts on and a bed full of blankets. Today, the director of the children’s home loaned me her space heater for the night. I am soooo grateful for that. Sometimes, it’s the little things that are big things! I have been volunteering at St. Philomenas Children’s Home this week. The girl’s ages range from 7 to about 18. Meeting these beautiful young ladies on the street you would never think that they were living in a children’s home because of abuse, absentee parents, orphans whose parents died of HIV and AIDS, behavior issues, etc. The girls are warm, beautiful, intelligent, and playful. Throughout this week while working with them I have heard several of their testimonies. It is a blessing to be present to see God work in these young girls lives. The staff and volunteers at St. Philomenas are assisting these young girls in their healing journeys at such young ages. What a blessing to have the opportunity to observe this. Now, there have been times where I have watched a couple of them behave as off the chain as my former 6th grade students, but overall these girls are doing the hard work of healing quite young. I pray that this type of support is available to them for years, and years, and years to come!

Understanding race has been quite interesting while in Durban. My intro to race issues showed up while on my flight here. I had wiped my mouth with the airplane napkin. The Black man sitting next to me took my trash and stopped the airline stewardess who was either Indian or of mixed race (colored). He placed the trash in her hand. She looked at him, then me with disguist. She then shrugged her shoulders and stated, “How rude.” I’m thinking, “ummmm, isn’t this your job!” Little did I know that the dynamics and division of race was quite separated. The children and adults have made it very clear to me that there are 4 divisions of race here in Durban. The hierarchy goes as follows: White, Indian, Colored (Mixed race), Black (African). I am considered colored here because of my complexion, but I clearly note that I am Black. Apartheid only ended 17 years ago. I have heard so many people here in Durban clearly separate their ethnicity. And when it is done, for those who are at the top of the hierarchy it seems to be done with pride. “Yes, I am WHITE, I am INDIAN, and I am COLORED.” I have not heard many people say with pride, “Yes, I am BLACK.” Although, one of the young girls pronounced, “I am Zulu” with her head held high during my first night here. Tonight, I saw a young Zulu (Black) woman perform. She was encouraging the young people to embrace their beauty as African people, to embrace their hair, to embrace their color, to embrace their rich history as a people. I can’t help to be reminded of the many times where I as a kid wanted “good hair,” lighter eyes, and skin that was brighter than my own. It’s interesting how I see so many parallels with the history of apartheid in South Africa and the history of racism in America. It’s interesting how people can face similar struggles and live thousands of miles away from each other. The world and life is interesting in that way.

This week I also connected with some nonviolence education educators at the University of Kwa Zulu Natal and the International Centre for Nonviolence (ICON). It was a blessing to see Gandhian principles taught in Durban. It was also a blessing to hear about what’s going on at the Gandhi Trust Institute. They are working with government and the education system to integrate a nonviolence education curriculum into the life skills programs for primary school children in public schools. How awesome is that! I wish we could integrate such a curriculum in our American life skills programs in public schools. Maybe this is something I am called to help make happen. It’s definitely needed. And the thing is the resources are already out there, they just have to be integrated i.e.. the Students Against Violence Everywhere curriculum. Ideas, ideas, and contemplation…

Yesterday I went to something called an informal settlement with a youth community development worker. These communities are like slum areas where there are hundreds of shacks, lots of pollution, and houses are made of garage doors. These are the communities we may see on SAVE the Children or something like that. The interesting thing is though there was much poverty, very intense smells, lots of teen pregnancy, large numbers of HIV, Tuberculosis, etc… the people seemed to embrace a very proud sense of community.

Today, amongst other things I went to a graduation for the girls. The older girls have been participating in a leadership institute for high school students. Each one had to speak today. It was so powerful. Tomorrow I will go with them to celebrate at Shaka Marin (Waterworld park). This week I preached, taught, danced, read the bible with, watched movies, etc with the girls. But you know what? The most important learning is what I have learned from them. Learning’s: Healing is possible, enjoy life, be grateful for the small things that are actually big things, laugh like nobody is watching, and sing anytime you feel the need. When things seem rough, God makes a way out of no way. God has made a way for these girls… for you and for me…

I have a few more days in Durban. Talk to you soon.

Argrow “Kit”

Monday, July 4, 2011

South Africa: Overcoming Fear With God

May 13, 2008, while serving in a country overseas I became a survivor of an extremely violent sexual assault. A man broke into my apartment, beat me, cut me, and attempted to rape me. Since then I have been on a conscious journey of healing working to get back on my feet. I accepted my call to ministry, started seminary, went to counseling, and spoke out about sexual violence and the importance of working to live a non-violent lifestyle. The journey has been good, but also rough. There has been a lot of fear, a lot of hurt, some resistance, and probably hundreds of restless nights. However, I am now realizing that with all of the pain as well as joy this journey is leading to something.

Today I travel to South Africa to serve for the rest of the summer. This is the first time in three years I have stepped out and worked to serve in another country. Am I afraid? Yes, the thoughts of fear enter my mind often. But, I know I am called for a purpose. Today I reached in my wallet and found a silver coin that a man in the store randomly handed to me with a smile. It read, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and future (Jeremiah, 29:11).” This text was encouraging to me. It made me realize that if I allowed myself to be overcome with fear and the negative, traumatic experiences from the past I would not be able to serve the way I have been called to. And I would live in fear everyday of my life. Today, I declare that the God of love and peace extends that same love and peace to me and to you. He is rooting for us and is actually holding our hand every step of the way. Even when things get or seem rough.

Over the next six weeks I will be in South Africa. I will be in Johannesburg, South Africa visiting a women’s shelter with People Opposing Women Abuse. I will then preach in Giyani, South Africa. Next, I will travel to Durban, South Africa to visit Ela Gandhi and to also volunteer at St. Philomenas Children Home. Finally, I will travel to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa to study at the University of KwaZulu Natal and volunteer at the Ujamma Centre. The goal is to learn a model of bible study called contextual bible study where the bible is used as a tool of liberation for people living with HIV and AIDS. My goal is to learn this model and adapt it for survivors of sexual violence. I am excited about learning and serving again without limits. There is some reservation, however, I know that Big G (God) has my back. What happened to me 3 years ago will never happen to me again. Regardless of the situation the God of love covers me.

If there is ever a time where you fear, doubt, or have feelings that keep you from moving forward in your purpose. Please do know that God will never leave or forsake you.

God Bless You,

Argrow “Kit”