December 3, 2007


One of the most humbling and impressive parts of life in Itipini and Mthatha is seeing how much people can do with so little. Particularly in Itipini, people are scrapping by for everything they can get, absolutely nothing is taken for granted, and every opportunity is taken. I made the mistake of sorting through some donated clothes in the clinic the other day and before I knew it had given away half of them to the three young mothers and their babies who were waiting to be seen. If I have food in the car, I try to hide it because if a child sees it, he or she will say, “banana!” in such a hopeful and expectant voice I can’t not give it to them. These people aren’t being pushy or forward but they are also not about to turn down opportunities for a little bit more.

Around Mthatha, I continue to be surprised by how tiny the cars are, particularly the trucks, and how full they are. In Mthatha, the taxis are minibuses (smaller than an American minivan) that are crammed full of people (the joke is that no taxi driver ever thinks his taxi is full). Goods are delivered out of trucks that are smaller than, say, a Ford Ranger or a Toyota Tacoma, even gigantic items that sometimes make the truck look like a little clown car. I’ve been up and down the southern coast of South Africa and I’ve yet to see a full-size pickup, like a Ford F-150 or a Toyota Tacoma.

I came across the phrase “enough is already a feast” in my diocesan newsletter recently and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. The idea, as I interpret it, is that when we have enough, we are participating in the great feasts that Jesus talks about in the Gospels, like in Matthew 22. Most people here don’t have enough but I still see the feast in their lives. But that’s a hard lesson for us to learn when we are conditioned by the belief that bigger is better and our economic system is based on the accumulation of profit, or the accumulation of more for more’s sake.

I’ve been trying to apply this lesson to my time in Mthatha. I end up with a lot of free time, certainly more than I am used to, and sometimes I think I should be using that free time more wisely in service to the people in this region. But then I think that I expend a lot of emotional and physical energy working in Itipini every day and the free time is important for me to recover for the next day. What I’ve realized is that by working in Itipini every day, investing myself fully in the community, and doing my best to actually do something, I am doing “enough” mission work and simply enough is alright. As you can read here, I am certainly seeing the feast-like results of that work.

The English “satisfaction” comes from Latin words “satis,” which means enough, and “facere,” which is the verb for to do or to make. (I might as well just re-name this blog the Etymology blog.) When we are satisfied, we have done enough. But I think we’ve become conditioned that “only” enough is not satisfactory. What I’m learning here is that enough is a true gift and a blessing, both in what we have and in how we spend our time.


Leigh Preston and Andy Thompson said...

You make a great point about "enough." I know we have those feelings from time to time, that there's always more we could be doing. And in our work, the results are a lot less obvious than in other kinds of work. So I appreciate your perspective on it.