July 30, 2007

Such Sweet Sorrow

I've heard it said on numerous occasions that "parting is such sweet sorrow" but I'm not sure I ever understood the meaning of the phrase until this weekend, when I find myself about to leave my home of the last two years, Nome, Alaska.

I continue to be convinced that moving to Mthatha is the best thing I could do right now but there's a part of me that still wishes, "Could we just move Mthatha to Nome?" I have become so integrated into this community with so many deep connections that it is like ripping part of my body out to leave. And I know that I am still in denial about leaving and won't truly realize what I've done until I get on the plane on Wednesday night.

On Friday night, the community threw what was billed as "JesseFest," a night of family fun in celebration of my contribution to the community. It was supposed to be a night of dancing and games on Front St. but the weather forced it inside so it became a grand ol' time under the roof of the Nome Rec Center.

I had an absolute blast, particular as the fun was clearly targeted towards ages 12 to 18, which is probably closer to the age I act. But it was so humbling to see the hundreds of people who came out to support me (many of whom I only tangentially knew), realize the town was willing to shut down one of its main streets for this gig, and see the hard work so many people put in to make the event a success. They even managed to raise some money for me while they were at it!

At least with "sweet sorrow," there's that measure of sweetness and I definitely tasted it everywhere Friday night.

July 26, 2007


As my life has progressed, I've developed a greater appreciation for music, particularly the making of music. I took guitar lessons briefly in middle school but picked up the instrument again mid-way through college and have been hooked since.

Here I am playing at a recent open mike night:

And here I am with the now regrettably-defunct Talent Brothers, the band my former roommates and I formed when the occasion demanded:

So one (of the many) parts of this South African move I'm really looking forward to is the music. Our morning show DJ was talking this morning about the music of South Africa and had me to speak. I said South Africa should really be called the "country where everyone is born to sing in 4-part harmony at least, but usually 6-part, and maybe 8 if we're in a good mood."

Among the questions I want answers to are:

  • Can even people like me learn to sing in harmony?
  • Is Ladysmith Black Mambazo really the best South African music group or did they just get famous because Paul Simon decided to work with them?
One theme of many that I hope will shape my time in Mthatha.


I've become the poster child for the Young Adult Service Corps and will be coming soon to a bulletin insert near you. You can find the insert on the website of Episcopal Life.

If you've come to this web site because of the insert, welcome! I'm glad you're here. If you've got questions or comments or even want to support me (!), send me an e-mail at jesse zink at gmail dot com. I'd love to hear from you.

Of course, it would help if they spelled my name correctly. I don't think I've ever seen it so creatively mis-spelled.

The Peripatetic Life

When you've moved from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia to Chicago to Nome (with moves to summer camp interspersed each year), you get pretty handy with a roll of packing tape and a cardboard box. So I find myself yet again in the position of packing my earthly belongings into whatever is handy and heading down to the post office to send it on its merry way to ever-growing storage location, i.e. my parents' basement. I will be in Nome for one more week before heading east for a few weeks with my parents and then Mthatha.

One thing you don't get any good at, however, is handling the emotional baggage that comes with taking leave of your friends. Nome has come to mean more to me than I ever could have imagined and I find I am plumbing both height and depth of both parts of the word "bittersweet." YASC and Mthatha are still definitively the right decision for me at this point in my life... but I sure wish it were easier to get there, both physically and emotionally.

July 10, 2007

A response

During our mission training in New York City in early June, I pressed a lot of people about how they interpreted the Great Commission in light of their mission work. How do we "make disciples of every nation, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" and "teach them to obey all that I have commanded you"? My inspiration for evangelism and mission work does not come from the Great Commission but I want to be honest to the Bible and be able to interpret this passage in a way that is consistent with my faith.

When we met with the Presiding Bishop, I asked her the same question and got a good answer but one that was off-the-cuff. Now, I've got an essay-length response from her:

I met recently with a group of appointed missionaries of the Episcopal Church. They gathered for 10 days in New York for orientation before leaving to do mission. It was an enormous privilege to meet them and see their energy and enthusiasm (which means "filled with God") for this adventure.

We had an opportunity for conversation, and one young man shared his concern about how to understand the Great Commission, particularly the directive to baptize, especially in a multifaith environment. It was a wonderful question that engages us all at one level or another.

How do we engage in evangelism, and particularly in the specific directives of Matthew 28:19-20? Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Check 'er out.

July 5, 2007

Eagle Update

My latest update for the July issue of The Eagle, the newsletter of St. John's, Northampton, Massachusetts, the church I grew up in.

In February, I decided to join the Episcopal Church’s Young Adult Service Corps and become an overseas missionary of the church. Since then, my life has become a whirlwind of determing where I will be serving, raising money, and beginning the transition – physical, emotional, and spiritual – to this next stage.

In June, I spent two weeks in New York City (Staten Island, actually…) in mission training. I learned I will be moving to Mthatha, South Africa and working with a husband-and-wife mission couple who have been living there for over 20 years. The husband is the only orthopedic surgeon within hundreds of thousands of square miles. The wife is a nurse and runs a clinic, pre-school, and feeding program in a shantytown outside of Mthatha. I will be assisting her and working in all aspects of the program. Mthatha was the capital of the largest apartheid-era black “homeland” and is still one of the poorest parts of the country with one of the highest rates of HIV and tuberculosis.

Mthatha is largely Xhosa, who speak a language characterized by its “click” consonants. There are 27 letters of the alphabet and three are actually clicks made with the tongue. A few years ago, I worked with someone from South Africa who spoke Xhosa and we tried to get him to teach us the clicks. I gave up quickly, convinced it was too hard and content in the knowledge I would never have to speak the language. Now I learn many of my patients next year will only speak Xhosa. If you needed any more indication of God’s sense of humor…

Training was a life-altering experience as the conversations about cross-cultural communications, theology of mission, and Bible study with the other mission trainees from a broad spectrum of the church opened my eyes in ways I had not expected. We met with the Presiding Bishop and had lunch with the Executive Council and I realized the leaders of our church are very excited by our mission work and deeply supportive of it.

My on-going challenge is to raise $10,000 in support. Thanks to the generosity of St. John’s, this diocese, and other people and congregations, I am well on my way to that goal. We were repeatedly told at training that “communication is witness” and half our job is to educate our supporters about what we are doing. I am grateful for your support and look forward to telling you more about God’s work in other parts of the world.

Sometimes it seems the logistics of this move overwhelm all other considerations and make me forget why I am going in the first place. It seems I am consumed with matters like visas, shots, how to buy more shorts when you live in Alaska, and so forth, when I want to be thinking about what God is calling me to do. Then, there are the deeply bittersweet emotions that come with leaving Nome, Alaska, my home for the last two years. While I am more excited than I can say about South Africa, this town has come to mean more to me than I ever anticipated.

The basis of the Episcopal mission theology is that God’s mission is a mission of reconciliation in which we are invited to join. We do so by building relations with and serving our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, knowing they have at least as much to offer us as we do them. It is in that spirit that I am preparing to leave for South Africa. Again, my thanks for your support and I look forward to continuing to hear from you and tell you about our work in South Africa.

July 3, 2007

They like me, they really like me!

Received in the mail this afternoon:

Resolved, that the Executive Council, meeting in Parsippany, New Jersey from June 11-14, 2007 express its deep appreciation to the missionaries of the Episcopal Church, who, during their missionary training program, took time to meet with the Executive Council; and be it further

Resolved, that the Executive Council offer its prayers and best wishes to those missionaries in training, and to all missionaries of the Episcopal Church, as Ambassadors of Christ and of this Church; and be it further

Resolved, that the General Convention Office communicate these prayers and sentiments to the missionaries with whom we met.
"Ambassador of Christ" - what a title!