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.


Naoko said...

it's so strange that you are an episcopalian missionary!